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Weekly Wrap

Weekly Wrap: Rejected But Not Defeated

by Susan Henderson on February 29, 2008

Here’s a rejection I got once: “Not for us, but cool stamp.”

I used the Animal stamp from The Muppets collection, which, I agree, is pretty cool. The story was picked up elsewhere, nominated for a Pushcart, and later reprinted in a second magazine. Submitting stories is like that. It’s all about one person’s (or one small group of persons’) opinions. That is not to say that there weren’t plenty of rejections I received that had some hard truths in them – stories that weren’t ready, stories that were never going to be ready, and stories I should feel grateful are not out there, representing my body of work.

Rejection letters are part of the life and character of any writer brave enough to put her work out there in search of a larger audience. These letters also prepare a writer for what’s to come when her book is published: single-star Amazon reviews, Kirkus, and other body blows.

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Like this week’s guest, Jessica Keener, I’ve been on both sides of the rejection slip. I know some of you who read my blog have rejection slips signed by me, and I know that even when an editor tries to be gentle and even when a writer tries to have a thick skin, these little notes can hurt. They can chip away at your confidence. They can make those around you question why you stick with it.

When I was reading 25, 50, 100 stories a week, the main thing that struck me was how few stories got me where it counted – wowed me with every sentence; took me somewhere I didn’t expect to go; made me forget I was working; made me forget my phone, my email, the other stories waiting in the stack; left me utterly buzzed, emotional or changed. I never wanted to settle for an excellently-crafted story; I needed to be brought to my knees. (Think William Maxwell, Toni Morrison, Tim O’Brien, Nicole Krauss, Cornelius Eady, Virgil.) To be a great editor, you have to toughen up and say no to anything that falls short of that standard, knowing all the while that your standard is completely subjective.

What I hope I never did, however, was crush the spirit of a writer. Even a bad writer. This doesn’t mean I’m in favor of giving false encouragement, but it does mean that I’m in favor of remembering the impact of words, particularly to people who are feeling vulnerable. I talked about this extensively with Wayne Yang over here.

With experience, we all get better at judging when our stories are ready to send out, knowing what markets to target, and building those relationships with editors. But mostly, I think writing and becoming published is a game of endurance. If you think you have “it,” then you have to be bold. You have to write and write and write, revise and revise and revise, send and send and send. Some of us can only make our skin so thick, but you have to get your work out there because, unless you’re writing purely for therapeutic reasons, it’s not really a story until it has a reader.

I like this NPR piece about some of the famous writers who were rejected by Knopf. It puts these little slips you hate to get in perspective. And I think I’ll end on that note.

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I am behind on mail and on comments here. I’ll catch up, but be patient with me. I’m staying focused on my book edits these days and have to make them my priority.

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Thank you to my guest this week, Jessica Keener, and to all of you who left comments.

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Weekly Wrap: This Is Not Actually Copping Out

by Susan Henderson on February 22, 2008

Now, don’t get mad at me, but there’s no weekly wrap. The answer to this week’s question is pretty much the story of my novel, which I need to focus on today.

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Thank you to this week’s guest, Oronte Churm, otherwise known as John Griswold; to everyone who offered up prizes for The Little Truths Writing Contest: Inside Higher Ed, McSweeney’s, featherproof books, and Les Chauds Lapins; to Steve Davenport for judging the contest; to all the folks who played here this week; and finally, to everyone who linked to LitPark: McSweeney’s, Masters of Miscellany, In The Life Of, Doreen Orion, Lily White Intentions, 52 Projects, Smile Politely, The Publishing Spot, The Split Infinitive, Lally Andreevna, The World’s Fair, Practicing Writing, FACE Talk, and The Education of Oronte Churm. I appreciate those links!

See you Monday for a new question of the week.

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Weekly Wrap: Creative Writers, Creative Drivers

by Susan Henderson on February 15, 2008

I asked Mr. Henderson how he would characterize my driving, and he said, “Timid… to the point of being unsafe.” My back-seat driving, on the other hand is all confidence!

I was surprised to learn that most of you who answered this week’s driving question characterize yourselves as bad, distracted, or exceptionally cautious drivers. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I dislike driving for two main reasons: My head likes to wander, so I find the whole experience of remembering where you’re going and reading signs and knowing which lane to be in incompatible with daydreaming. And I find being strapped in and forced to keep my hands on the wheel incompatible with being a restless workaholic.

I’ll tell you a little driving story, but first let me tell you where I’m giving a reading this weekend:

Saturday, Feb 16th, 12-3pm – The Bowery Poetry Club – $10
308 Bowery, New York, NY 10012
212.614.0505

The club is right across from CBGB’s, at the foot of First Street, between Houston & Bleecker. (That’s the F train to Second Ave, or the 6 train to Bleecker.) If it looks long and expensive to you, well, hey, I was thinking the same thing. But I hope some of you come down and keep me company while my hands and voice shake at the microphone.

The reading is called: Paper Dolls: Live Lady Essayists, and I’ll be reading with Kim Brittingham, Heather Maidat, Carol J. Clouse, and Shoaleh Teymour.

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Okay, here’s a little driving story. I’ll call it, The Fog Storm.

When I was fresh out of graduate school, I answered an ad for a counselor in a group home. I was just right for the job. The trouble was getting there. I’m not good with directions, so Mr. H and I did a practice run and it was pretty far away.

I have some unusual phobias related to driving, but most seem to go away if I just close my eyes. For example, I can navigate a tunnel better with my eyes closed because that keeps me from overcorrecting and hyperventilating about hitting the wall.

I felt confident in my get-the-job outfit. I am a great interviewee and I knew I’d land the job if I could just find the building. I started early, didn’t want to be rushed, didn’t want to get anything wrong. And since it was raining, I wanted extra time to perhaps blow dry my hair in a bathroom before my appointment.

What I was unprepared for was the fog storm. By the time I got on the highway, the fog became so bad it was like driving inside a thick white cloud. I couldn’t see if I was in my lane, much less see exit signs. I slowed to under 20 MPH. The amazing thing, and what made me so angry about the selfishness and impatience of other drivers, was that other cars whizzed by, despite the weather and the danger it could cause.

Somehow, though I have no memory how I did it, I found my way to an exit and pulled into a 7-Eleven parking lot. I was in a terrible mood because I didn’t know how I’d get to the interview on time (and I am never late to anything). I was mad at the weather and mad that I’d pulled off the road and was no longer able to follow the simple directions Mr. Henderson had written down for me.

I called him from a phone booth, described the fog storm, told him there was no way I could go back out there. In fact, I admitted, just before I called him, I’d called the person I planned to interview with and explained that the drive was just too far and I was sorry for any inconvenience I caused. “Are you still there?”

“Mhmm.”

“Good. You weren’t saying anything. I’m so embarrassed about the whole thing. I’d rather have told them after they offered me the job. Now here’s the pesky part,” I said. “Kind of a favor.”

More quiet, so I proceeded.

“I need you to come and get me so I can follow you home.” And before he could fuss, I said, “Please don’t be mad at me. I can’t help the weather.”

Mr. Henderson listened carefully, continued his silence a while longer, then calmly asked, “How is that fog storm now?”

I looked around, and can you believe, it was gone. “It’s gone,” I told him.

“Remind me to show you where the defrost button is,” he said.

I waited in my car until he found me. Mr. Henderson is one of the kindest, least likely to anger people I know, but he suggested that I just follow him home, and when we got there, to leave him alone for a while.

Unfortunately, the very things that make some people angry, I find hysterical. I rolled up my window so he couldn’t hear me laughing. Do people really know the function of every single button in their cars?

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Quick but cool announcement for those who don’t hang out in the LitPark Comments section…

My girl, Tish Cohen, has not only had her book, TOWN HOUSE, optioned by Fox 2000, with Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter Doug Wright (Quills, Memoirs of a Geisha) adapting it to screen, but now…

TOWN HOUSE is on the short-list for the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book in the region of Canada and the Caribbean. How great is that?!

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Thanks for those of you who left comments and stories this week. And thank you to this week’s guest: author and director, Bridgett Davis. Those who rock because they linked to LitPark this week: A Mesa de Luz, She Shoots to Conquer, the Cape Cod Times, Holly’s Fight for Justice, and The Inside Cover!

See you Monday with a new question of the week.

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Weekly Wrap: We Can Say a Lot in Six Words

by Susan Henderson on February 8, 2008

I have to stay focused on my edits, so my wrap will simply be a picture of my page in the book of six-word memoirs:


NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING (HarperPerennial, 2008), page 45. And my six-word entry is this: Mistakenly kills kitten fears anything delicate.

You’ll have to hurry to get this collector’s edition of the book with Brian McEntee‘s name misspelled in it because future editions will be corrected. And if you want to hear a little more about kittens, I blogged about them here.

Brian, as you may have guessed, is the lovely one in the cow costume… see Monday’s post. I think he’s great.

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Thank you to this week’s guests, Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser of SMITH Magazine. And thanks to all of you who added your own 6-word memoirs to the discussion. Much appreciation to everyone who linked to LitPark this week: The Boston Globe, The Publishing Spot, A.J. Davis, Roy Kesey, SMITH, Indigo Editing!

Okay, Mr. H is in London and my kids are in bed, so back to the novel edits I go. See you Monday!

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Weekly Wrap: Staggering Generosity

by Susan Henderson on February 1, 2008

Quickly, before I get to the weekly wrap, I have a some music for my friend, Patry Francis, who was the focus of LitPark this week. This is a little gift to her from my kids, plus my very good friend, Kenny, who is the heart and soul of my Sunday soccer team.


“Time” – Pink Floyd

Also: “You Better, You Bet” – The Who; “Strawberry Fields” and “A Day in the Life” – The Beatles

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I am overwhelmed with gratitude. And speechless, for a change. So instead of sharing my thoughts from this week, I’m going to quote some of the people who participated in the amazing, world-wide LIAR’S DIARY Blog Day.

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Today is the day that we, as a community of writers, show our support and encouragement for one of our own, Patry Francis, author of The Liar’s Diary. I remember how thrilled I was leading up to the publication day for my first novel. The idea of going from city to city and meeting people who had or would read my book was incredibly exciting, and I looked forward very much to that day in June. I cannot imagine what I would have felt if, after all the hard work writing the novel, editing it, meeting my publisher and publicists, and all the planning that goes into launching a novel, I discovered that I had cancer and that I would have to shelve all the plans that I had worked so hard for.

This is what happened to Patry Francis. I don’t know her personally, but I feel bound to her by our craft and by the deep and intimate love that we writers have for it. I am proud to be one of hundreds today to show support and encouragement for her. I urge you to visit her site and read her blog. And of course read The Liar’s Diary.

And Patry, here is to continued recovery and a prosperous and healthy 2008 to you. ~ Khaled Hosseini, THE KITE RUNNER

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Dear Patry,

Health care professionals thought I had a mere two weeks to live. In 1999. I was so weak, I could barely lift my T-Square off my drawing table. When I attended my first and last book signing for “Chili-Chili-Chin-Chin,” the distance from my parking spot to the fairgrounds where my books awaited me seemed like the Long March. I needed to sit down every few steps in order to gather strength and breath. My voice—my “chi”—was a mere whisper.

The night I came home from the hospital to continue infusions at home, my great grandfather came to me in a dream and said I had no excuse to be in bed when I still had his story to complete. Today, nine years since that dream, I am my healthy self—new and improved 😉 I am certain my deep desire to complete the manuscript kicked my body back on the path to life.

Patry, I know you have many more books to send out into the world. They are awaiting your return to vibrant health, stories that only you can tell.

Now that my legs are muscular and my voice strong and clear, I will be your legs and voice in helping you carry “Liar’s Diary” out into the world. I promise I will send emails to friends with the link to your webpage http://www.patryfrancis.com/ in the weeks to come. ~ Belle Yang, BABA: A RETURN TO CHINA UPON MY FATHER’S SHOULDERS

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About two years ago, a galley of a debut novel called LIAR’S DIARY by Patry Francis turned up in my mailbox. I receive galleys all the time, and the author of this one was unfamiliar to me, so I had no reason to pay any special attention to it. Often I don’t have the time to even crack open the covers, much less read them. But this one had a seductive cover, and since I was headed up to Canada for a medical conference anyway, I threw the galley into my suitcase. A day later, sitting in my hotel room in St. Andrew’s, I started reading it. In straightforward but compelling prose, it opened quietly. No explosions, no murders, just a gnawing sense of domestic unease that grew more acute and more disturbing with every chapter. I was caught like a hooked fish and reeled helplessly into the story. I recall sitting in a seaside restaurant, my outdoor table facing the water, but my eyes glued to the page. The waitress who came to refill my water glass commented, “Wow, that must be a good book.”

Damn right it was.

I was delighted to give that book a blurb, and delighted to hear that so many other readers shared my opinion of it. Patry thanked me profusely and although we never met, we did exchange several emails. The book was released, Patry’s career as a novelist was launched, and I looked forward to seeing other books from her.

Then, on Patry’s blog, she recently revealed that her life had taken a sudden and devastating turn. She was diagnosied with an aggressive cancer, for which she had to be hospitalized. Although she’s home now, and her prognosis is good, naturally it’s her recovery that’s consuming her attention. Not the novel writing. Not anything as trivial as fictional stories and people who don’t exist.

She is coping with real life.

We writers often get so caught up in our fictional worlds that we forget our own lives and our own needs. It takes something like this — a real illness, a real crisis — to make us focus on what’s truly important.

Here’s to you, Patry. May you come back from this illness stronger than ever. May you go on to write many, many more books like LIAR’S DIARY. All of us — readers and writers alike — are rooting for you. ~ Tess Gerritsen, THE BONE GARDEN

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I wasn’t really going to blog about Patry Francis today. I told myself that she had so many other amazing bloggers and writers in her corner, helping her celebrate and publicize the paperback edition of her book, The Liar’s Diary—what could I add to the discussion? In the grand scheme of things, my voice is very small. So I would sit on the sidelines and cheer for the important players on the field.

And then I realized—how utterly un-Patry like of me. She is someone I deeply admire in part because she has insisted on putting forth her words and her vision—even when she was a working mother struggling to balance the needs of her children with her writing. Even now after the diagnosis she received—an aggressive strain of cancer.

Last year, she fulfilled a long standing dream and published her first book, The Liar’s Diary, a psychological thriller about how the friendship between two women exposes dark secrets at the heart of their lives and families. Throughout the process of getting the book written and published, Patry shared much of her experiences and wisdom on her blog, Simply Wait. Those of us who are still writing, still dreaming, still hoping, found a champion in her…someone who had some of the same limitations, the same (or more) responsibility, the same STUFF that makes up a life, and who still realized her dreams through her talent and her tenacity. She’s such a vital presence in our creativity community, always ready with encouragement, humor, wit, perseverence, and breathtaking writing.

Patry has shown me that it doesn’t matter about the size of your gift, or your audience, or your voice.

It just matters that you open your mouth, pour out your words, and sing.

So, everyone, go out and support this amazing woman and writer. Go buy a copy of the newly published paperback of The Liar’s Diary.

You’ll be so thrilled that you did. ~ Mardougrrl

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Today, while stealing time for some all-too-brief blogrolling, I kept encountering the story of Patry Francis. There certainly were a lot of people blogging about her, so perhaps you’re familiar with this story too now. But, in case you aren’t, you can learn why today (er, yesterday now, as it’s past midnight on Wednesday) is The Liar’s Diary Blog Day.

I’ve been thinking about Patry Francis all day, thanks to her friends and the perfect strangers who’ve agreed to write about her. She sounds like a wonderful person, and I wish her the best of health and many years of productive writing. Patry Francis reminded me of something that, just now, I really needed to be reminded of, and that is the nobility of the struggle to create.

We all have things we struggle through, and yes, it can be easy to both dismiss our own challenges or to grow them into monsters and then cower under the bed. I don’t have all the details of your struggles, and you don’t have all the details of mine, but they’re not really necessary, are they?

My point isn’t so much about keeping things in perspective as much as it is about remembering to keep up the fight–and encouraging those around us to do the same.

At the end of the day, we’re the only ones who can decide how to make our dreams come true while continuing to work day jobs, take care of our families, maintain friendships.

Patry proves it can be done. Patry proves it should be done. Today was about Patry’s fight for so many people, but, more than that, it was about everyone who struggles to type a line of dialogue that doesn’t sound fake or get a description down on the page that does justice to the image in your head.

So it’s not saving the world. (Except I’ve got a theory that says that it is, actually, doing just that on a small scale, every day. I can make these kinds of sweeping, arrogant statements, not because I’m a writer and I think my work is going to change the world, but because I’m a reader, and I’ve read books that have changed mine.) It’s not a waste of time, writer. It’s well worth the struggle.

I solemnly swore I wouldn’t buy any more books until I’ve whittled away at the bins of To Be Reads by my nightstand, but I’m bending that rule in honor of Patry, my own particular struggles, and yours, too. I ordered her book just now, and I’m bumping some things down the list so I can read it as soon as it gets here. The way I see it, Beowulf’s waited for centuries; it can hang out another few weeks.

And frankly, I don’t think I can stomach epic poetry right now–I’m in a liar’s diary kind of mood, you know? ~ Jennifer Duncan

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This morning I sent out a mailing to the 4 or 500 people who read my political rants and forwards, only this morning, I urged them to buy Patry’s novel as a way of helping themselves and of helping her. I felt particularly good doing this, because I’ve been cranky of late about how a ‘virtual’ community is not really a community at all, and how much of the blather about the Internet is really self-congratulatory, and basically a very watery meal. A community brings you soup when you’re sick or buries you when you’re dead. They pick up your children from school when you can’t.

The deficiencies of the virtual community become stark to me when I consider that at this point in his Presidency, Lyndon Johnson was a broken man, unable to rule and exercise power, while George Bush, despite low double-digit approval figures, is still planning and conducting pointless wars and destroying the economy. The largest contributing difference to these two times is, to my mind, the internet and the unintended consequences of fragmentation. While we stay home, composing and forwarding political screeds, and blogging our asses off, the apparatus in Washington continues unabated.People are not “out in the streets”, or attending teach-ins, reveling in the visual affirmation of thousands of like-minded souls rubbing shoulders with them, demonstrating and practicing civil disobedience.

However, this morning, by linking Patry’s work to a far-flung community of disparate souls, by joining this conscious community effort, and by asking my “reader” friends to enter the world of Patry’s imagination, and support her , I felt the hard-and-fast line between virtual and actual communities soften and blur a bit. The blurring of hard and fast lines, reminded me, how in most cases, life presents itself as “both-and” and not conveniently as the “either-or” I try to bend it into. I’m grateful to Patry for being the occasion of that insight, and grateful to this community who have banded together to try and be of help to her. I’m grateful for the invitation (and occasion) to sit and re-think a bone-dry prejudice. A deep bow to all. ~ Peter Coyote, SLEEPING WHERE I FALL

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You shouldn’t buy a novel because the writer has cancer.

You shouldn’t buy a novel because a writer is poor, or talented but unnoticed or has an abusive husband or lives in a besieged place.

You should only buy a novel because it’s good, and I know that Patry Francis’ novel ‘The Liar’s Diary‘ is good wrting and even better reading. I know because I read it and loved it and wrote about it a year ago when it was only in uncorrected proofs.

It’s a story of murder and love and betrayal (always a promising mix) but more than that, it’s a story with honesty and skill burned into every line.

And Patry Francis, whose book, ‘The Liar’s Diary,’ comes out in paperback today, does have cancer, and is fighting it with every ounce in her body — just as she fought to write when she was a waitress on Cape Cod with three kids and no hope of ever being published. It’s an aggressive form of cancer but Patry is an aggressive sort of woman who won’t let this bastard win without a fight down to the mat.

If you’re in the market for a good book today, and it’s my way of thinking that everyone should be… every day, follow this link to Patry’s website or to the place on Amazon where you can buy ‘The Liar’s Diary.’ It sounds a bit odd and silly; but I want to help a good writer write more. We writers are seen by others as grasping and greedy, unwilling to write kind things about others’ books unless we’re sure those books won’t pose a threat to our own.

That’s not true.

Or it’s not true for many.

The very best writers have mighty hearts.

Most of them whom I know have an excess of compassion for others who serve this demanding goddess.

And so, today belongs to Patry. More than 200 other authors are mentioning her today, in their blogs, as well. I’m only one of them, but proud to be. ~ Jacquelyn Mitchard, THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

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Now, many of you know I told Patry not to comment on every blog and every post because the whole purpose of this was to allow her to rest and focus on her health. But, okay, Patry has really wanted to say something to all of you, so here she is…

Talk about spinning heads! When I first wrote about my illness, I decided that if I was forced to drink an ounce of pain and trouble, the only answer was to counter it with two ounces of bliss. Little did I know that through all of you, I would consume a whole case of it. As a consummate daydreamer, I’m in awe of Sue, Laura, Karen, Jessica, Tish, my agent Alice, Sue’s agent, Dan, the folks at Backspace and Red Room and Circle of Seven Video and so many others who envisioned this day, pooled their resources and really made it happen. To them, and to all of you who have responded with such amazing generosity, I send a bottomless case of gratitude. Huge thanks and love to all of you. ~ Patry Francis

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Thank you. All of you.

I’ll see you Monday for a new Question of the Week.

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