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Exclusive Author Interview...

Irish American, Agatha Award-nominated author Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) gives LitVote an exclusive author interview for St. Patty’s Day…

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Book Review


  • Author Interview: William P. Wood

  •  by Mary Yuhas

    William P. Wood on turning books into movies, catching lightning in a bottle, and working with his father

    bill wood public radioWilliam P. Wood is the author of nine novels and one nonfiction book. His work in the District Attorney’s Office inspired him to pen an array of acclaimed legal thrillers.

    Many of his books have been translated into multiple languages and optioned for motion pictures, two of which were produced. Wood’s latest release is, Sudden Impact. He currently lives in Sacramento, California, where he is working on his next novel.

    LitVote: Do you write about the cases that most disturbed you?

    Sudden Impact
    Bill: I don’t. People, situations, strange facts mix together and the combination turns into a story. The characters, their hopes and fears and ambitions and escapades are what matter.

    LitVote: Your book, Rampage, was optioned and made into a film. Court of Honor was made into a TV movie, Broken Trust on TNT.  Can you explain the process once a producer expresses interest in adapting a book into a film?

    Bill: I was lucky. Both of those books became movies quickly. Other books were optioned, had screenplays written, and shopped around and nothing happened. Turning books into movies, especially today, is like catching lightning in a bottle. The basic straightline process, which rarely happens, is that the book is optioned, a screenwriter and or talent, like actors, like the idea, and folks come up with the money to film. But it is an eccentric process.

    LitVote: Were you happy with the adaptations?

    Bill: Very much so. Rampage had one of the world’s most talented and visionary directors, William Friedkin turn it into a striking film. He was incredibly gracious and generous throughout the shooting, editing and later events associated with Rampage. The cast was superb too, starting with Michael Biehn. Likewise, Broken Trust was a terrific film. Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne are not only superb writers but extraordinary screenwriters, which is very different process. Tom Selleck turned in a profound, layered performance in the lead with Marsha Mason and Elizabeth McGovern giving the whole enterprise depth, suspense, and drama.

    LiteVote: How long does it take you to write a book?

    Bill: Pick any time. I’ve written novels in forty-five days and my one nonfiction book, The Bone Garden about female serial killer Dorothea Puente took nearly four years. On average a novel, from first to last draft, takes about eight months.

    LitVote: You also were a co-writer for several episodes of the CBS-TV series “Kaz” starring Ron Liebman (a former car thief-turned-criminal attorney Martin “Kaz” Kazinsky.) What was that like?

    Bill: Wonderful. Frustrating. Fun. One episode starred the great late character actor Eugene Roche as a judge going crazy during a trial. He was astonishing. But as the series went on, there were more people trying to shoehorn ideas into scripts and things got very cumbersome. My late father, Preston Wood, and I wrote three episodes together, based on my experiences as a deputy DA like my novels, and working him was one of the proudest and most satisfying experiences of my life. He wrote for almost every major TV show, “Adam-12”, “Addams Family”, “Emergency!”, “Bonanza” for example.

    LitVote: What is the single most important thing an author can do to improve his or her writing?

    Bill: Read a lot. First last and always. Rewrite. Okay, that’s two things.

    LitVote: Any tips for first-time writers?

    Bill: Write because you enjoy it. Write because you have something to say. Don’t worry about anything else.

    LiteVote: What’s next for you?

    Bill: A movie version of my latest novel, Sudden Impact, I hope. And finishing a new novel.



    Author Mary Yuhas, is the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother, featured tree times on Scribd.

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  • Dark Lady in Detroit, Gets Rave Reviews

  • Diane at B&N
    Native Detroiter Diane Haithman, a freelance author and journalist living in Studio City, CA, signed copies of her new novel, Dark Lady of Hollywood, in her hometown last weekend and read selections from the book based on her experiences as an arts and entertainment writer.

    B&N WB2

    The event, which takes place from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10, at the West Bloomfield Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 6800 Orchard Lake Road, is part of the book store’s Roeper School Book Fair, which supports a scholarship fund for the private day school.


    Dark Lady of Hollywood


           — ForeWord Reviews


    “sly, cynical, sublimely entertaining”
           — Burbank Leader


    “deadly guilty pleasure”
           — Broadway World Los Angeles


    “hilariously funny . . . deeply satisfying”
           — Booklist


    All The World’s an Indie Stage

    Allyce Amidon is the associate editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow her on Twitter @allyce_amidon

    Allyce Amidon, Foreword Reviews

    The day Shakespeare stops being relevant is the day I chuck my phone and laptop, move to a hermitage in the woods, and give up on humanity. Luckily that day is not today. Today, Diane Haithman, author of the biting comedy Dark Lady of Hollywood, is partnering with Coeurage Theatre Company, donating a portion of her sales for the aforementioned book to this daring young company during their run of Shakespeare’s Andronicus. Indie books and theatre, plus bonus points for Shakespeare—what’s not love?

    Published by Harvard Square EditionsDark Lady of Hollywood is a merry mashup of the worlds of Shakespeare and the television industry that tells the story of a dying TV executive’s murderous search for a soul mate like Shakespeare’s mysterious Dark Lady of the Sonnets. We reviewed this book in our Spring Issue and reviewer Jill Allen gushed, “It takes a special kind of talent to simultaneously skewer Hollywood and Shakespeare while writing a thought-provoking novel, and Dark Lady of Hollywood proves Diane Haithman has this genius. As a former arts and entertainment writer for the Los Angeles Times, Haithman’s book explores themes of the ephemeral nature of show business, a human desire to connect, and what really matters in life, while causing chuckles at the same time. … Anyone who appreciates comedy and either loves or disdains Tinseltown will adore this breezy, biting book.”

    Said Haithman, “I’m delighted to support a company that has the nerve to take on Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first tragedy and most violent play. Coeurage is serious about finding the humor in Shakespeare’s darkest moments.” In Andronicus, deliciously twisted humor gives way to unexpected poignancy in this bold take on William Shakespeare’s original horror play The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus. Reveling in the darkest corners of human nature, Andronicus is a streamlined adaptation of Shakespeare’s most violent play; the bard’s masterful dramatic structure and brutal tale of revenge have been carefully preserved.

    If you would like to take part, you can buy an autographed copy at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Cafe on performance nights, off theCoeurage website, or by contacting Haithman directly at dianehaithman@gmail.com. Any Kindle eBook sales during the run of the show will also count towards the Coeurage contribution. Andronicus runs weekends through August 17, but check the Coeurage website for exact dates. All seats are available on a “Pay What You Want” basis. Harvard Square Editions is also working with other theatres and their outlets (like gift shops) to market this highly theatrical book.

    Read an excerpt of Dark Lady of Hollywood

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  • Letter from Amazon on eBook Pricing

  • Dear KDP Author,

    Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

    With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

    Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

    Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

    Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

    The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

    Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

    Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

    But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

    And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

    We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle

    We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

    Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

    Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

    Please consider including these points

    - We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.

    - Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.

    - Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.

    - Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

    Thanks for your support.

    The Amazon Books Team

    P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

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  • Environment, Ethics, and ‘Endgame?’ — How do we approach Cli-fi writing?

  • by Charles Degelman

    As writers hell-bent on creating a new and vital fiction genre, cli-fi (climate fiction), we’re probably aware how research via scientific thinking and and information can support and enrich our fictional world-building. But how what about the scope, scale, approach and desired outcomes of cli-fi creation? 

    Sea level, Nat'l Geo

    Do we reflect our faith in the ingenuity and good intentions of homo sapiens? Do we point the finger at ourselves as Walt Kelly (Pogo) did on the first Earth Day (1970) —”We have met the enemy,” he wrote, “and they are us”? Or do we accept the inevitable and write to the prospects and percentages of planetary collapse?

    What is eco-etiquette and how does it apply to or optimism, or pessimism, objectivity, ethical responsibilities and creativity as cli-fi writers? — all questions worth considering as fiction writers and all questions raised by scientists and scholars of our planet’s trajectory past, present, and future.

    Many of us have discussed public response to dystopian, disaster-oriented cli-fi in terms of its potential to desensitize, guilt-trip, or fulfill self-destructive fantasies. Okay. But what are non-fiction climatologists and environmental prospectors thinking? And can they give us any helpful clues as to how to approach our work as novelists?

    The essay, “Endgame?” just appeared in “The Nation,” the United States’ oldest running (and most consistently progressive) periodical. “Endgame?”, written by an urban affairs activist named Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, is actually a survey of current non-fiction writing and thinking on climate change and the ongoing speculation about potential climate disaster.

    “Endgame?” asks many of the questions we do about the impact of our writing, various stances that enviro thinkers are taking, and introduces us to six books written across the spectrum of current thinking about… yes, the endgame — what leads up to it, what happens after. Rather than delve into the specifics of the six books, I urge you to read this informative and relevant multi-review of the way people are thinking about and writing on global warming.


    Charles Degelman is the award-winning author of A Bowl Full of Nails


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  • Excerpt of the Novel: Dark Lady of Hollywood


    by Diane Haithman

    pic of Diane


    Chapter 1


    Since nor the exterior nor th’ inward man

    Resembles that it was.

    — King Claudius, Hamlet


    Dark Lady of Hollywood

    “See, here’s the thing, Kenny . . .”

    I’d forgotten how my immediate supervisor, Danny Gordon, never really shook hands. He’d just put his in yours and leave it there, like a small, limp package waiting for UPS. We’d been holding hands like this ever since he walked into my office to welcome me back. Sweet.

    “The thing?”

    “The . . . thing.” Dan nodded then fell silent. I decided it was up to me to end the non-handshake and gentlly disengaged myself from it. Dan still said nothing. The pause was clammier than his hand. “Say whatever the fuck it is you have to say, Dan,” I suggested pleasantly.

    Danny winced; he tended to take profanity very personally. His small brown eyes had been fixed on the floor. Now, as he looked up, they darted every which way behind the narrow glasses — furtive weasel eyes trying to escape from his desperately hip green rectangular frames, from his head, from my office. From me. (more…)

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  • Virtual Writers Workshop, Sunday August 3rd

  • Drum Circle 3

    Virtual Writers Workshop at the Etopia Island drum circle

    Join us live online for another book launch and group readings at Etopia Island in Second Life.

    The reading and book talk at 12 p.m. Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific time. Get writing for our monthly Sunday meeting of the Virtual Writers Workshop, bringing published authors together with writers for synergy and exchange.

    The group offers useful feedback on original fiction, poetry, and lyrics. Writers read their work in the magical ambiance of the Etopia Island in Second Life to the beat of conga drums. After each reading, participants type their real-time reactions in the chat box and discuss each work.

    Etopia Island’s virtual venue is the ideal place for this kind of writers’ focus group. Participants as far flung as the Brussels Writers Circle  and Brazil regularly attend. (more…)

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  • Interview with Vera Lam, author of THE LONELY AMERICAN

  • Vera Lam

    Vera Lam

    Inspirational and unforgettable, bilingual novel depicts the American war in Vietnam as it has never been portrayed before. Vera’s novel was just released in March 2014.

    LitVote:  How did you, an entrepreneur and executive in Silicon Valley, take up writing novels in the first place?

    Vera: I started writing dairy when I eight or nine.  My diary was my best little friend.  I would tell her everything – when I was scared, when I was happy, when I was sad. In many ways writing was a way to channel my feelings and to record incidents that had happened in my life.  The reasons for writing The Lonely American are more or less the same.

    LitVote: Was there a particular theme or question that inspired you to write your novel?

    Vera: I began writing the book several months after my father died. His passing brought back memories, both happy and sad memories that I had wanted to erase from my mind. My father was a brilliant military strategist. He told us lots of war stories. That was almost all he talked about at the dinner table.

    LitVote: How long did it take you to write the novel?

    Vera: It took me 6 years to complete the English version of The Lonely American, and one year to translate it into traditional Chinese text.

    LonelyAmericanLitVote:  The Lonely American is dedicated to your father and all the soldiers and civilians who died in the Vietnam War. Why?

    Vera: The Vietnam war began in 1954 and ended in April 30 1975.  During those 20-plus years, 1.4 million soldiers  and 4 millions civilians died or wounded. I consider myself very fortunate to have survived through that horrific war.

    Why I dedicate this book to my father? In my mind, my father was an unsung hero. He dedicated the best part of his life to serve his country (Taiwan) for over there decades. He placed his duties and responsibilities to his country before his own family. I think that’s quite admirable.

    LitVote: How much did you know about your father’s true occupation when you were in Vietnam?

    Vera: Very little. He disguised as a businessman. He travelled a lot and he had a lot of friends from foreign countries. (more…)

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  • Is the Universe a Simulation?

  • code-man


    IN Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita,” the protagonist, a writer, burns a manuscript in a moment of despair, only to find out later from the Devil that “manuscripts don’t burn.”

    While you might appreciate this romantic sentiment, there is of course no reason to think that it is true. Nikolai Gogol apparently burned the second volume of “Dead Souls,” and it has been lost forever. Likewise, if Bulgakov had burned his manuscript, we would have never known “Master and Margarita.” No other author would have written the same novel.

    But there is one area of human endeavor that comes close to exemplifying the maxim “manuscripts don’t burn.” That area is mathematics. If Pythagoras had not lived, or if his work had been destroyed, someone else eventually would have discovered the same Pythagorean theorem. Moreover, this theorem means the same thing to everyone today as it meant 2,500 years ago, and will mean the same thing to everyone a thousand years from now — no matter what advances occur in technology or what new evidence emerges. Mathematical knowledge is unlike any other knowledge. Its truths are objective, necessary and timeless. (more…)

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  • Amazon Publishing’s advances move ahead of the market

  • William Lashner‘s latest novel, the Kindle-only thriller The Barkeep, topped last week’s Digital Book World ebook bestseller chart with two more Amazon Publishing titles coming in at four and 11. Not bad for a company which George Packer characterises as having no real interest in books.

    The way the money is moving … dollar bills being minted in Washington. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

    William Lashner‘s latest novel, the Kindle-only thriller The Barkeep, topped last week’s Digital Book World ebook bestseller chart with two more Amazon Publishing titles coming in at four and 11. Not bad for a company which George Packer characterises as having no real interest in books.But why would an author who wants to break out into “the true mass market” limit herself to the Amazon universe? It seems that it’s all about the future, with Amazon offering terms for digital royalties which Quinn’s agent described as “decidedly more generous” than those offered by traditional publishers.

    According to new figures from the self-publishing champion Hugh Howey, ebooks may account for as much as 90% of current sales in bestselling genre fiction and signing with Amazon unleashes the shopping site’s “incredible ability to market their own works”. Amazon Publishing puts out only 4% of bestselling genre ebooks, but those titles manage to snag 15% of daily sales. As for the big five, they’re converting 28% of these titles into just 34% of daily unit sales.

    (via The Guardian)

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  • What a Glorious Day

  • by Keith Raffel
    A Fine and Dangerous Season
    Sometimes good things do happen to us writers. In September an editor from Amazon Publishing got in touch. She wanted to buy rights to A Fine and Dangerous Season, the Cuban Missile Crisis thriller I’d published as an ebook on my own last year.
    Amazingly, six weeks later — today! — the book is out in a re-edited version with a new cover in both ebook and trade paper editions.
    Here in Palo Alto, it’s bright and sunny and in the high 60s.
    What a glorious day!
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  • Kent University – Revisited

  • UniBy Sarah Strange
    I thought they would come back to me
    Those years I lived in Kent
    In the Sixties when both young and free
    A degree was my intent.
    But as the bus came round the hill
    I saw to my dismay
    Though Eliot college stood there still
    There were buildings in its way!
    We strolled around the grounds awhile
    Found a cinema on site,
    And library – modernised in style
    PCs, not books, in sight!
    Even the bus stop is displaced
    And instead of lawns, paved ways
    Of my time there barely a trace
    What tricks my memory plays!
    (c) Poet in the woods 2013
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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

    All at Once

    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet.


    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.” (more…)

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  • The Business of Mass Incarceration

  • Chris Hedges holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. His recent book is Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

     By Chris Hedges

    This article first appeared in TruthDig

    Debbie Bourne, 45, was at her apartment in the Liberty Village housing projects in Plainfield, N.J., on the afternoon of April 30 when police banged on the door and pushed their way inside.


    The officers ordered her, her daughter, 14, and her son, 22, who suffers from autism, to sit down and not move and then began ransacking the home. Bourne’s husband, from whom she was estranged and who was in the process of moving out, was the target of the police, who suspected him of dealing cocaine. As it turned out, the raid would cast a deep shadow over the lives of three innocents—Bourne and her children.

    * * *
    The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty. Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations and private contractors if they are on the street. In jails and prisons, however, they each can generate corporate revenues of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. This use of the bodies of the poor to make money for corporations fuels the system of neoslavery that defines our prison system…[more]

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  • Spotlight on the Alternative Justice System

  • The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay
    There is a higher probability of doing time in the ‘land of the free’ than in any other country.

    On its way to becoming a prison state with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the U.S. seized the center stage again when it provoked the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.


    Wall Street Journal reporter and author Jess Bravin (HC ’87) highlights some of the differences between U.S. prisons and Guantanamo and discusses where to try suspected terrorists in this exclusive author interview.


    Jess: There’s one tremendous difference. In U.S. prisons, people are there because they have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a term of years or life. At Guantanamo, as we know, almost no one there has actually been convicted of anything. They’re being held preventatively.

    LitVote: Can you tell me how many are in there for no reason at all?

    Jess: Sure. Well, right now there are about 166 men still held at Guantanamo Bay. Congress has imposed a lot of restrictions preventing the president from transferring people out of Guantanamo, and the United States is having difficulty finding places to send them since it won’t accept them on its own soil, so it has to try to negotiate or persuade or pay other countries to take them. Most of the prisoners cleared for release are from Yemen, and U.S. authorities believe the environment in Yemen is too unstable and risky for these men. Other detainees, such as the Uighur Muslims from China, are at risk of persecution if repatriated to their home countries. And the US Congress has imposed restrictions on the president’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo.

    LitVote: How come they’re all men? US prisons are 92 percent men and 8 percent women.

    Jess: … there don’t seem to be a lot of women who were involved in very high levels or involved in organizing terrorist acts or taking up arms who were fingered in this way.

    LitVote: What about the people in the orange suits with the bags over their heads?

    Jess: I did see in January of 2002 a military transport plane that was offloaded with detainees coming off, and they had those famous orange jumpsuits, and they were handcuffed and they had on blackout goggles and earmuffs and facemasks and gloves, basically to deprive them of most of their senses. I did not see any abuse, and my visits there have been many, but my visits at Guantanamo have all been under military escort, so I can’t see anything that they don’t choose to let me see when I’m there.

    LitVote: When do you expect it to be shut down entirely?

    Jess: Well, I have no information on that. The president said he was going to do it when he ran for office the first time in 2008. They recently reassigned the State Department official whose job was finding new homes for the detainees. I suppose the questions is whether President Obama wants to leave off in four years having accomplished that campaign promise from 2008 or having it be one of the things that is a mark on his report card as incomplete. (more…)

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On Editing: Part One — Before the Fact


© New Yorker

By Charles Degelman

You probably don’t think about editors when you first sit down to write. You’re driven by the strength of an idea, you’re in love with words and eager to see them pour from your keyboard or pencil tip. You may be immobilized, intimidated by a blank page or screen. Either way, you begin to write your story or make your claim and you may realize that you already have an editor — perhaps more than one — perching on your shoulder.

The more you write, the better you’ll get to know these editors. They’ll bark at you, coo at the grace of your prose, haunt you with questions, call you an idiot or a genius. Whoever they are, regardless of your doubts and dreams, you will want to shape them, train them to work for you because — before you submit your work to an editor — you will want to edit yourself.

Whether we’re writing fact, fiction, memoir, or poetry, we’re not looking for a thoughtful fellow with a bowtie, a pipe and leather patches on his tweed-jacketed elbows. Not yet. First, we’re talking about recruiting ourselves as editors, to win our editorial voice over as an ally. The plan? To develop our work as fully as possible before we turn it over to outside eyes.

To best estimate what we need to self-edit, let’s walk around the desk and sit in the editor’s chair. Editors exercise their skills in three areas. First, they scan the long lines of your work, its themes, content, and structure. They ask “what claim do you want to make? What story do you want to tell?” This long-line overview is particularly important in fiction, where writers must define their own format, structure and style. Along the way, don’t waste time with “I want to write in the style of…” Chances are, the author you wish to emulate did not start out with “a style.” Just tell your story. A writing style comes with time and should be dictated by content, not adulation.

Second, bow-tie editors review the lines of your prose, including syntax. What is syntax? Syntax has to do with the way you choose and arrange your narrative, “getting the words right,” as Hemingway put it. Syntax can have rhythm and tone, just like music. Tone in writing is carried by your narrative voice, the way you tell your tale. To self-edit your narrative voice, including syntax and tone, consider developing an awareness of your audience. As you narrate your story or support your claim, you will want to bring your audience with you.

When we write, especially at the beginning, we tend to write for ourselves. We have an idea — vague or clear — of what we’re trying to say, we’ve been thinking about it, we “get it.” But does your audience get it? You’ve been tossing your story around in your head for days, weeks, months. Your audience is reading your words for the first time. Out of consideration for your readers, scan your work for clarity and simplicity. Do I need all those “due to that fact that[s]…” or “To tell you the truth[s]…”? Do I need all these adjectives and adverbs? Sure, some of them add color or essential focus to a description but too many can cloud the picture. You don’t need them. You are the author, i.e., an authority. Have faith in your core narrative and the power of your ideas.

Have your self-editor check for logic, too. Writing is a linear form. Therefore, sequence is a big deal. Do your sentences unfold sequentially, with strong transitions between images, actions, ideas? Stop here, get some distance and ask once again — am I bringing the reader along with me? Clarity, simplicity, and logical sequence will help keep them turning the pages.

As you work, your tone will begin to emerge. By tone, I mean that sense of how your writing would sound. In fact, a great way to gain distance from your work is to read it aloud, or have others read it to you. Listen. You’ll be looking for your work to fall somewhere between too extremes — conversational and lofty. Conversational tone often sounds as if you’re talking across the table from a friend who knows you well, having a glass or two of wine. It’s chatty, full of starts and stops, slang, and “… do you know what I mean[s]?” It’s you thinking out loud. If you’ve ever transcribed a conversation, you’ll know that spontaneous chatter reads like gibberish. “Ahs” and “ums” and “do you know what I mean[s]?” are fine in conversation, but on the page, even dialog needs to be shaped.

The other tonal extreme is the lofty tone. It’s usually the result of authors being anxious or uncertain of their credibility, so they fill the narrative with big words, often incorrectly used, flowery adjectives and adverbs, long-winded introductory phrases. Try to find a middle ground, a thoughtful, personable balance between the two poles of lofty and conversational tone. In time, this balance becomes your narrative voice and your self-editor will recognize when you’re being authentic and when you are not.

Finally, your self-editor will want to check punctuation, grammar, typos. Don’t neglect this stage. Details do count. Nothing will flag writing as amateur as too many commas, sentence fragments or run-on sentences, using “its” when you mean “it’s,” writing “1” instead of “one,” describing an African American man, rather than African-American man. Don’t leave this work for the editor. Don’t expect them to pick these things up. Of course they will, once you get your work to them, but before that, you want to make sure that you have edited your own work as thoroughly as you possibly can on every level.

Now set your work aside. If you can, let it sit for a night, a week, a month. Get up from your desk, stand on your head, run around the block, get a friend to read your work, or simply change type fonts — anything to give yourself a different perspective on your work. Then, go back, and do it all again. Writing is rewriting and rewriting requires editing. The more you edit before the fact, the more control you will gain over your creative process.

Charles Degelman is a writer and editor. He currently teaches narrative and dramatic writing at California State University, Los Angeles. His most recent novel, A Bowl Full of Nails, a suspense tale set in the counterculture of the 1970s, will be published by Harvard Square Editions in February, 2015. Degelman lives in Hollywood with his wife, playwright Susan Rubin, and four cats.

(originally published in Bookpleasures)

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Susan Cox on her cash advance and publishing contract after winning writing competition

By Mary Yuhas

Sue CoxSusan Cox is a former South Florida journalist who also lived and worked in San Francisco for more than twenty years. During most of that time, she was a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, including the Bar Association of San Francisco and the University of San Francisco School of Law. 

She has a master’s degree in writing (MAW) from the University of San Francisco and has taught writing workshops. Cox maintains that as a teacher, she learned as much (or more) from her students than they learned from her.

Recently she moved back to South Florida to devote herself to her writing career. Her first mystery novel, The Man on the Washing Machine, will be published by Minotaur Books in the fall of 2015.

LitVote: You entered your book, The Man on the Washing Machine, in the annual First Crime Novel Competition, jointly sponsored by Minotaur Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA). What happened next?

Sue: Two years ago, I left my job to stay home and write. I wanted a career as a mystery writer and couldn’t devote enough time to it while I was also committed to an absorbing day job. It was a financial risk; I gave myself 18-months to get an agent and a publishing contract before heading back to work.

In addition to plunging feet-first into new characters and new stories, I took another look at a novel I’d written some time before. It had taken me about a year to write, and I’d always liked the main character and the plot line. In the rewrite, which I did along with other things over six or eight weeks, I changed just about everything, from the opening chapter to the identity of the murderer, to the title. I thought of it as a learning exercise rather than with any real hope of seeing the book in print.

At about the same time I read about the annual Minotaur Books/MWA contest for new mystery writers and decided to aim at producing a polished MS in time for the December, 2013 contest deadline. The prize is a cash advance and a publishing contract–the Holy Grail for a first-time novelist. The winner is announced in March, so I knew I’d have three months to toy with the idea of winning the contest in the same way that buying a lottery ticket allows you to dream of buying a big house with a swimming pool on the Cote d’Azur. You can dream about the French Riviera without buying the ticket, but sticking the ticket up on your bulletin board makes it seem more real, right?

I sent off my MS–along with 500 or so other aspiring novelists–and sat back to wait.  The winner is contacted in March, and I did a lot of new writing in those three months. On March 31st, at about three in the afternoon I thought, ‘better luck next year’ with no great sense of surprise or disappointment. At almost the same moment the phone rang and Kelley Ragland, Editorial Director of Minotaur was calling with the news.

It’s difficult to explain my reaction because I honestly had no expectation of winning. I suppose dumb astonishment describes it best. I think Kelley had to repeat everything two or three times before I understood what she was telling me.

LitVote: After you learned you won the contest, how did you celebrate?

Sue: I was asked to keep the news a secret until the annual MWA Edgars Banquet in early May. I asked Kelley if I could tell family or friends, and that seemed to be okay as long as I didn’t announce it on social media or take out an ad in the NY Times. I called my mom right away and swore her to secrecy. Next I told my best friend and swore her to secrecy. Then I told more friends and swore them to secrecy. Before long I was telling strangers who called to sell me aluminum siding! For the next two weeks I had a series of (quiet-ish) celebrations with dinners and champagne. It was enormous fun.

LitVote: What are the steps once your book has been accepted until it is published?  

Sue: I’m still going through the steps. The first was the announcement at the Edgars Banquet, the mystery world’s Oscars (which I attended, and it was wonderful), followed by the very exciting arrival of my contract, then by a check for half the advance. In September I received editors’ notes. I made those changes and returned the revised MS to Kelley. Once the MS is deemed acceptable, the second half of my advance will arrive. At some time in the process (I’m not sure in which order) will be copy editing, galleys, choosing the cover, and being slotted into the publication schedule for next Fall. I can’t wait!

LitVote: Do you have a literary agent?

Sue: Because I had already signed the publication contract for the Man on the Washing Machine, I didn’t think there was any reason to sign with an agent this year. But the Editorial Director at Minotaur Books (who is editing my novel) and several writer friends (who have agents) convinced me that an agent’s skill set would be valuable beginning as soon as possible. After interviewing several I signed  with Susanna Einstein of the Einstein Thompson Agency in New York.

LitVote: How do you come up with ideas for mysteries?  

Sue: I read a lot of news and current events and that often contains the germ of an idea to build upon. In the case of The Man on the Washing Machine I’d been reading for some time about the multi-billion dollar illicit trade in rhinoceros horn. I’d also wanted to write a novel set in San Francisco. And, since the city is so open and progressive in its ideas, I thought it would be interesting to contrast that with a heroine who had dark secrets to protect.

LitVote: Are you strictly a mystery writer?

Sue: I think of myself as a mystery writer and that’s where my interest lies, but I’ve also tried my hand at romance and science fiction. I find mysteries appealing, both as a writer and a reader. There’s something about them that appeals to my sense of justice.

LitVote:  Do you recommend writers groups for first time authors?

Sue: I do, with a couple of provisos. The members of the group need to know how to give and take criticism as well as praise, which is not as easy as it sounds. I’m a former journalist, and, believe me, nothing knocks the “precious” out of you like an over-caffeinated city editor on a deadline. If you know you are very sensitive and every comma is critically important to you, then try finding one friend you know well—and who knows you–with whom to exchange your work.

Writing group members should agree on a few ground rules and, if possible, be writing in the same genre. I have belonged to several wonderful writing groups, but the most helpful has been the one I belong to now, which is made up of mystery writers. I met them originally through the Mystery Writers of America, so I would also recommend you join a professional association and go to the meetings; you will meet like-minded writers there who might be looking for a writers group, too.

LitVote: What other advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Sue: My own story is outside the norm, so I’m not sure I have a lot of advice to offer.  The most important thing is to keep writing, talk to other writers, and keep alert to changes in your chosen genre. The publishing field is changing every day it seems. Query agents when you feel ready. Ask writer friends for recommendations or, if you are a lone wolf, research potential agents, query them, and then send them your very best work.

Since I was so astonished by my win, I would recommend that you enter contests in your genre.  Because you should be submitting your most polished work, they are terrific learning experiences. And you might win! To give just two examples: The Minotaur/MWA contest for crime novels is annual, with a mid-December submission deadline. A winner is not chosen every year, but the prize is a cash advance and a publishing contract. For romance writers, look into the Mills and Boon “So You Think You Can Write” contest, which also offers a publishing contract. The deadline for 2014 has passed, but there’s always next year.  There are many others. Google, “writing contests.”

LitVote:  What are you currently working on?

Sue: I’m working on a sequel to The Man on the Washing Machine, as yet untitled, which will also take place in San Francisco.


 Author Mary Yuhas, is the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother,  featured three times on Scribd.

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#InArk Book Launch

by Lisa Devaney

In Ark: A Promise of Survival (Mya and Ark Book 1)
I am so grateful to everyone who made it out in the rain on Saturday, 8th November 2014 to celebrate with me for my book launch of my In Ark: A Promise of Survival. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Despite the challenging weather – hey, it was kind of a dystopian mood-setting rain – more than 30 people joined me at Victoria Park Books shop in East London’s Hackney for the event. Guests were treated to drinks and futuristic nibbles & cake. DJ Tunesmith (aka Joan Smith) played a non-stop set of enjoyable house music songs and I got brave and took to the stairs to entertain my guests with some SLAM-poetry.

Lisa Devaney dressed in the protective clothing that Mya wears in the year 2044
Lisa Devaney doing SLAM poetry, dressed as her book’s main character Mya would dress in the year 2044
I think everyone also enjoyed the short excerpt that I read.

It was thrilling to do my first ever book signings for folks, and I’m exited to know that so many are now reading my futuristic cli-fi tale about a woman who gets abducted by an eco-survivalist cult group. It was also exciting to see my books displayed in the bookshop’s window and to know now that my work of fiction is available to many more people.


Lisa Devaney doing SLAM poetry, dressed as her book’s main character Mya would dress in the year 2044

For my virtual book launch, I was terrified to host the live G+ Hangout On Air, and bumped into a few technical difficulties in getting it to go live. If you had difficulty finding it I am very sorry – it was my first attempt at such an endeavour. Having a camera pointed on me for ½ hour, was daunting. If you missed that adventure, you can still check it out on YouTube – here.

My book is now available in print and as a paperback version. So if you missed the event where books were for sale, no problem – you can order the book off of Amazon, anytime.

Again, I want to thank everyone who was involved, everyone who attended and everyone who made this book possible. Here’s a few shout outs:

John and Truman Devaney, my son and husband

Joan Smith – not only did she, DJ Tunesmith, play music at the launch event, but she also conceived the idea to call my futuristic cli-fi tale Ark waaaay back in 2012.

Monica Wanat, editor

Aidana WillowRaven, illustration and formatting

Liz Mabry, proofreading

Albert Griesmeyr, book marketing consultation

The shops — Victoria Park Books, Amandine Café, Namo Vietnamese Restaurant and Bottle Apostle of Victoria Park Village

And YOU! Thank you for reading this blog post, supporting me, putting up with all of my tweets and being kind. I promise that tweets about my book will calm down now. And I hope you enjoy reading my #InArk!

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New York Street Scenes


by Michele Myers,

Author of Fugue for the Right Hand


I live on Riverside Drive near Columbia University, right across Riverside Park and the Hudson River. It is quiet here, the silence broken in the afternoon by the voices of children playing in the park. Only a block East, Broadway teams with Columbia students, faculty, and staff from all over the world, and you can hear a multitude of languages spoken on the wide sidewalks and the restaurants near campus. Other “regulars,” who more or less make Broadway their home, are the older men and women who sit on the church steps, or on the sidewalk in front of a grocery story, or simply stand and hold their hand out.

There is the old man who stands at the corner of 116th and Broadway, or in front of Morton Williams, the local grocery store. He is there every day, and he sings. Once when I passed him as he was singing, he pointed at his throat and said: “Do you think this is easy?” and he smiled. He has few teeth, all of them dark brown. He is thin and stoops, and his clothes are an assortment of discolored grayish, brownish shirt and pants, a rope for a belt, and flip flops in all seasons. He sometimes wears a wool jacket with tears in the sleeves. All of it grungy. When I give him a couple of bucks he is always effusive with thanks. If I pass him by and simply nods, he nods back with a grin and continues his own mumbled monologue. He has been on that corner for over thirty years.

There is the large woman who wears layers and layers of clothes, of all colors and shapes, and who talks out loud all the time. She doesn’t smile. She doesn’t hold her hand out. She just glares at you, and tells you she needs money. If you don’t give her any, she tells you to go to hell.

There is the man who has a cart with him and sits on the steps of the church pretty much every day. He doesn’t talk, he has a paper cup in front of him, and when you drop some coins in it, he doesn’t look at you but says thank you.

What do they do when the weather is stiffling or freezing cold? Where do they go?

It was their faces I saw when I began to write Fugue for the Right Hand, the story of a bum who sleeps on a park bench and a woman who teaches at Barnard and Columbia. What would they have to say to each other, I wondered, and how could their back stories make their encounter plausible? Because, most of us, in fact, don’t get tangled up with bums in the street. Most of us don’t know their stories. We can’t even seem to imagine who they might have been before they became homeless. At best we give money and look the other way. But some people actually get involved. A friend of mine told me that a woman she knows who lives on Riverside Drive, befriended a homeless man who slept in the park, took him to her apartment, helped him with food and clothing, and drove him to a program in upstate New York that provides shelter, food, and job training so homeless men and women can get back on their feet again.

Fugue for the Right Hand is a work of fiction. I am not a politician, nor a journalist, nor a public policy expert. I don’t know how to solve the problem of the homeless in our cities. I wish I had a clue for how to reduce the vast economic gap that exists in front of our eyes, right where we live. I am a writer. And I wrote a fable.

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A passionate quest for romance and justice

Living Treasures

A Bellwether Prize finalist

A top 3 historical novel of 2014

Living Treasures

by Yang Huang


Yang Huang talks about her interview on her novel Living Treasures, a passionate quest for romance and justice, on KTSF TV

“Living Treasures is a book that breaks your heart, and then mends it with hope. Best book I’ve read this year.”

—Jiayu Jeng, KTSF Channel 26 Talk Tonight host

I was fortunate to be invited to Jiayu Jeng’s Talk Tonight show on KTSF Channel 26. I enjoyed her shows and loved her warm manners and engaging style. My mother was a fan of Jiayu. She wanted to advise me on how to answer the sensitive questions about the Occupy movement in Hong Kong.

“Mom,” I said. “If she were interviewing you, you could give her your answers.”

I didn’t mean to be rude but had to clear my head. I wrote in English, in part to avoid being judged by my own family. Now an interview in Chinese would put me in the spotlight. I would only give my honest opinions.

Jiayu was tall, slim, and gorgeous, wearing a white dress sewn with black stars at the bosom that flaunted her enviable curves.

“What does my dress remind you?” she said. “Look, black and white! We’re going to talk about pandas.”

My jitters relaxed into warm gratitude. I felt like royalty even in my plain clothes. (more…)

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On the verge of CLOSE


Erika Raskin’s launch will be at ‘Over the Moon’ book store Saturday, November 8, 2014

On the verge of her book launch, author Erika Raskin writes:

So Keith came home from the hospital put down his computer bag in the kitchen where I was cooking and announced that we should start practicing the reading for my book party.

What?” (Generally I have to chase him around the house to listen to my essays.) My heart began pounding, the potato masher stopped mid-mash.

“If it were me,” he said in that calm medical-educator voice that generally inspires a transient surge of violence. “I would start practicing.”

“The party isn’t for five days!” I sputtered.

The established division of worry in our relationship is that I do and he doesn’t. What was going on? Seriously, I almost passed out.

To be fair, he had no idea I’ve been promising myself that I needn’t begin obsessing about the reading until Friday evening around the time Brian Williams comes on. I swore there’d be no angst about delivery, or remembering people’s names, or having too few/ too many attendees until then.

What the hell?

Also, Keith’s strange behavior followed a day of him continually switching channels between a show about taxi driving in Mumbai and one about gatekeepers for cruise ships dealing with frantic passengers whose passports didn’t make it into their carry-ons. It was like mainlining caffeine.

Suddenly I began to think of Charles Boyer in Gaslight. How he methodically drove poor Ingrid Bergman around the bend.


Come anyway.


(via Erika Raskin’s blog)

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Thaw reveals Antarctic explorer’s century-old notebook

via AFP

A notebook from Robert Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition which was found after a century trapped in the ice of the frozen continent, October 23, 2014

A photographic notebook from Robert Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition has been found after a century trapped in the ice of the frozen continent, New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust said.

It belonged to scientist George Murray Levick and was discovered outside Scott’s 1911 Terra Nova base during last year’s summer ice melt.

Writing in the notebook remains legible but the binding has been dissolved by years of ice and water damage, the trust’s executive director Nigel Watson said.

“It’s an exciting find. The notebook is a missing part of the official expedition record,” he said.

“After spending seven years conserving Scott’s last expedition building and collection, we are delighted to still be finding new artefacts.”

He said the pages of the notebook were taken to New Zealand and individually preserved, then given new binding and returned to Antarctica, where the trust is working to preserve five sites used by explorers Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary.

Scott’s expedition split into two groups after reaching the Antarctic, with the leader’s contingent reaching the South Pole on January 17, 1912, only to find Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them there a month earlier.

Scott and his companions later died of exposure and starvation.

Levick was in the other group, which travelled along the coast to make scientific observations but became stranded from the base camp when pack ice prevented their ship from picking them up.

The six men all survived the Antarctic winter by digging a cave in the ice and eating local wildlife, including penguins and seals.

Other discoveries made by the trust include bottles of whisky taken on Shackleton’s 1908 expedition and lost negatives from his 1914-17 foray to the Ross Sea.

The contents of Levick’s notebook are fairly mundane, comprising the dates, subjects and exposure details of photographs he had taken.

Much more interesting was a scientific paper he wrote titled “Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin”, which was lost until researchers at London’s Natural History Museum rediscovered it in 2012.

In it he records observations of the penguins’ “depraved” habits, including homosexual behaviour and males trying to mate with the bodies of dead females.

Levick was so horrified at the penguins’ antics that he wrote down some of his observations in Greek so the average reader could not understand them and his paper was never publicly released.

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Grist Fellows

Want to grow as a journalist while absorbing a universe of green knowledge? Apply for the Grist Fellowship Program. We are an independent nonprofit media organization that shapes the country’s environmental conversations, making green second nature for our monthly audience of 2,000,000 and growing. At Grist, green isn’t about hugging trees or hiking — it’s about using humor and real talk to connect big issues like climate change to the places where people live, work, and play.


What is the Grist Fellowship Program?

The Grist Fellowship Program is an opportunity to hone your skills at a national news outlet and deepen your knowledge of environmental issues. We’re looking for early-career journalists with a variety of skills, from traditional reporting to multimedia whizbangery. We will offer exposure to the leading sustainability thinkers and theories of our time, real-world experience at a fast-paced news site, and the occasional toothsome fruit leather.

Fellows work out of Grist’s Seattle office. Fellows must make a six-month commitment. The fellowship pays $2,250 per month. In special cases the fellowship will be renewable once by mutual agreement between the fellow and Grist. Renewal candidates will be considered alongside the applicant pool for the next fellowship cycle.

Who should apply?

Any curious, self-motivated, hard-working individual who wants to raise the bar for environmental journalism and grow as a storyteller. We are looking for writers, reporters, and editors, as well as all-stars in areas such as video, social media, data visualization, animation, and multimedia programming. Candidates are most likely college or j-school grads, with some experience in the field.

Apply – via Grist

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Eco-fiction.com Announces Climate Change Story Winner

Artists and authors are among those working to send a message about climate change. Mary Woodbury, owner of Moon Willow Press–which promotes climate change literature and art at Eco-fiction.com–announces the results of a climate change short story contest, with Robert Sassor winning with his story “First Light”. The contest began in June and ended August 30, 2014.

Eco-fiction.com has cataloged climate change novels for over a year, creating a database of more than 220 novels (with more on the horizon) with eco-, science-, and speculative fiction that have environmental themes. It has also newly created an artists and authors discussion group at Google+. The climate change story event was its first contest, and the submissions were overwhelming. The rules were pretty simple: craft a short story about climate change. There were also language and word count guidelines. Sending a nature photo in established bonus points.

Mary said, “Out of dozens of entries, I selected just over 20 stories to be presented at the website in a multimedia presentation, which includes photos set to music. I was struck especially by Robert Sassor’s piece, though other stories by JL Morin, Craig Spence, Rachel May, Anneliese Schultz, and John Atcheson recieved an honorable mention. I also enjoyed reading climate stories from authors in other countries such as Spain, Germany, Nigeria, and Cambodia.” The final presentation started Saturday, September 27 at Eco-fiction.com/contest.

The contest is a collaboration with 100,000 Poets for Change, which happens in hundreds of cities simultaneously on September 27, bringing together poets, authors, and artists working for peace and sustainability. Mary has run the event in the past few years in Vancouver and has chosen projects such as an anti-pipeline poetry reading at the Carnegie Centre, a beach cleanup at False Creek, and an Earthwalk around Stanley Park. This year she opened the contest to Vancouver authors at first but decided that since climate change is a global problem, it would provide a more genuine perspective to allow everyone a chance to submit a short story.

The winner, Robert Sassor, from Portland, Oregon, said it was quite an honor to receive first prize. Robert studied English at Willamette University and has a history of incredible leadership in creative writing and environmental issues, including his work in conservation planning in Tanzania at the Jane Goodall Institute.

(Excerpted from Moon Willow Press and SustainableBusiness.com)

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Author Interview: Luke McCallin on a character that could be you

Luke McCallin

by Mary Yuhas

Luke McCallin expounds on Bosnia, mysteries, knowing what is right and what is wrong, and giving it all up to write.

Luke McCallin was born in England, grew up in Africa and was educated around the world. He worked with the UN as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people put under abnormal pressures, inspiring a historical mystery series built around an unlikely protagonist, Gregor Reinhardt, a German intelligence officer and a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. The Man From Berlin, was published in 2013, followed by a sequel, The Pale House, in 2014.

LitVote: One night, you had a dream and after you woke up, you quickly wrote it down. That dream was the foundation for your first fictional book, The Man From Berlin, the first of three book in your historical mystery series. Can you expand on that?

Luke: It may sound clichéd, but Gregor Reinhardt walked into my dreams one night, said hello, and then sat quietly to one side for months and years, not saying much, not doing much, just waiting for me to find the time and the courage to start writing his story.

I was a political advisor to the United Nations mission in Bosnia when Reinhardt appeared. I worked with people from all walks of Bosnian life. With policemen and judges and lawyers, with mayors and town councilors, with priests and imams, with refugees and people still living in ruins, with war criminals and those who survived them, with those who had lived the war and those who fled from it, with women holding families together, and men who had fallen adrift of life. I began to build up a collage in my mind. I kept wondering, asking myself, what would I have done in their place, and I began weaving that human and historical tapestry, which is one of the most complex and fascinating you can imagine, into a story, and then into a book, albeit into another time, that of the Second World War, and the book had at its heart a man on the edge of despair at what his life had become, and his name was Gregor Reinhardt.

In creating and writing Reinhardt, one of the things I wanted to do was to make people think that he could be you. An ordinary man in extraordinary times, still trying to behave and believe in what makes sense, but so painfully aware of his own fears and limitations, and still knowing what is right and what is wrong. If you give someone like that an opportunity to do something, be someone, what would he do? What would you do…?

LitVote: Gregor Reinhardt is the conflicted protagonist in your series. Despite his heroic behavior in WWI, the Nazis chased the once German intelligence officer and detective out of Berlin after he refused to join the party. How did you develop his character?

Luke: His character really grew out of my own experiences with the United Nations, and from my fascination with history. I’ve lived and worked in a lot of amazing countries and situations, but the six years I spent working in Bosnia were among the most intense, and you can’t live there, or in Sarajevo, for long without it seeping into you. As much as it’s an overused analogy, Bosnia really is a historical and cultural crossroads, and it’s so contested. It defies any simple explanation, just like the finest puzzle or book or question. No matter the need to reduce and simplify it, there’s no one way to read it or play it, and a place and time like that gives someone like me, someone who had always wanted to write, so many options as an author, for drama, action, reflection, for asking big questions and trying out the answers to them. I could say so much more about the themes I wanted to develop. I could entice readers with the promise of adventure in the Balkans, a part of the world known to most as a by-word for intrigue, or treachery, so it was a chance to show readers another side of that region. It was also to make readers more keenly interested in the characters. They’d have to be tough or resourceful to survive the Balkans, right?!

Out of my experiences there, came the first outlines of Reinhardt’s character, and the ideas for The Man From Berlin and The Pale House. The time of the Second World War is one that fascinates me, when the fates of individuals—or the ability of individuals to decide their fates—were cast into the fire. We like to think there is not much we cannot control, but in fact the raw edges to life are closer to us than we like to think. Not only that, but all a person can be can not only be undone and brought to nothing, but warped away from what that person might have been. Trying to understand the human motivations or conditions in all that, that’s what inspires me to write. That, and the sheer pleasure of creation and sharing.

For sure, all the places I worked and lived in—in Africa, in Russia, in Haiti, in Pakistan, in the Balkans—taught me something, or I saw something, or felt something. About what happens to people—ordinary people—put in extraordinary situations. Right now, watching the news from Ukraine, I get awful flashbacks to my time in Bosnia, to when neighbours turned on each other. Over the years, I’ve found that no amount of work we, as humanitarian workers do, will ever suffice to overcome those impulses. You are always going to be frustrated in what you achieve, to only get halfway to where you want to be, and often—far too often—the guilty get away with it.

I try to understand and explain what makes friends of decades suddenly believe the worst of each other. What makes a delivery man become a gunman? What makes a woman arm her husband or son and send him out to fight the sons and husbands of other women? What makes one man stand up for another? What makes one man resist, while another man gives in, or collaborates? I think with my writing I’m trying to find some way of coming to terms with that. I don’t write about white knights on white horses—Gregor Reinhardt is certainly not one of those—but I try to ask those questions that seem to haunt me, and I try to find answers, and a sense of closure.

LitVote: You were concerned about writing your first book because you thought it might come off as an apology. Can you further explain that?

Luke: The Man From Berlin was nearly eleven years in the writing, but there were a lot of fallow periods, a lot of dark periods, and a lot of those periods coincided with angst about the story. It was not so much a question of could I write it—I had a degree of confidence in myself as a storyteller and a writer—but should I. I often felt that what I was trying to write could so easily have been misunderstood as an apology. The time, the place, a character such as Reinhardt—a German, a soldier, a servant, however unwilling of a regime such as the Nazis—when what I was trying to get at was the human aspect of one man caught between choices.

I was very concerned that in writing about a man like Reinhardt people might only fasten onto the visual elements, like the uniform, the swastika, or some of the key historical elements, like the Holocaust, the invasion of the USSR, the Nazis’ policies of persecution and repression. All of that happened, and it makes for a daunting challenge to write a story in it, and to develop a character that I could firstly bring myself to have confidence in, that I could then write about, but who could have existed in those times.

The watchwords to Reinhardt’s character and story are probably ‘change’ and ‘consequence.’ Reinhardt’s story is a thread woven into a tapestry of a continent in upheaval. He goes through those times initially just trying to keep his head above water and survive, but he changes. It’s impossible not to. I wanted to make people interested in those changes, interested in the consequences of those changes, and to make people believe Reinhardt has something to bring to the table, so to say. I wanted people to care about him, and to survive is not enough.

LitVote: What was the biggest mistake you made while writing your first novel?

Luke: When I imagined Reinhardt, and his time and place, I was not much of a fan of the mystery or crime genres. As time went by, and as Reinhardt sat quietly but insistently waiting for me to write his story, I began to read in the genre. I read the classics, like Chandler and Elroy, and then I discovered that others had written in the same period I had thought of, notably Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series. I almost packed it all in when I came across Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy, thinking they couldn’t be bettered in terms of time, place and character, and character.

I realised two things. That I was going up a series of blind alleys looking to write about a white knight in a dark time until I realized—and this was why my time in Bosnia was so important—white knights hardly ever exist. Instead, you have people, with all that makes them good and bad, and what makes them good or bad is partly their nature, but it’s also the opportunities they have, and the decisions they take. And the second thing was that you need to have confidence in yourself as a writer that the stories you have to tell are as good as, and different from, those written by those you look up to.

LitVote: Any suggestions for first-time authors?

Luke: I had a rather unusual initiation into the world of publishing. Of those people who write, some finish a novel, some then find an agent, and some are then fortunate to get a contract. I sort of short-circuited that in that I pitched my novel to editors at one of the Algonkian writers workshops in NY, and one of the editors bought it.

What are the things I think I’ve learnt as a writer…? There are no magic bullets, and that includes social media. Unless you are a complete genius at it, or you hit on some amazing formula for using it, there really is no substitute for hard work at the core of your craft, which is your writing. And the one thing a writer should do is write, and not to be afraid to write badly, or with difficulty because, as someone once told me, there are no good writers, there are only good re-writers. Just write. Don’t wait for the perfect idea, or the most ingenious plot. Don’t be afraid to show what you’ve done, and show it widely. Writing is a lonely business, so it’s important that you as a writer get out and about, and that you show your work to people, as many people as you can. You want criticism, and you want that exposure of yourself and your work. It was looking for that exposure that lead me to the Algonkian writers’ workshops, and to the editors.

A couple of other things. Read outside your genre and comfort zone, and read widely and voraciously because you’ll never know what you might find, and where you’ll find it. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are all kinds of resources out there: workshops, writers’ groups, online courses and coaches. Make friends with writers so that you have a community. For my second novel, I was something of a rabbit in the headlights as the publisher wanted to keep a year between books, so I went looking for help, and benefitted enormously from an online coach who taught a great course on plot development.

LitVote: Do you use social media to help market your book? If so, which one(s)

Luke: I use social media—mostly a blog on my website, Facebook, and Twitter—not nearly as much or as well as I probably should. I work full time, and the social media/marketing can take up an awful lot of the time I otherwise need to devote to my writing and family. Everything I’ve seen, heard, read or been told, has explicitly or implicitly convinced me that using social media requires you to sometimes minimise the ‘me, look at me!’ aspect of your publicity efforts, to grow connections and networks progressively, and to understand that using it well means using it over the long term. I remember some excellent advice I was given, which is to try and find your niche on social media, and to become something of a curator for a certain kind of information. In being that curator, you establish trust, and in establishing trust, you can grow your audience. I’m pretty sure I’ve not quite found that niche, but I’m still looking!

All that said, I enjoy using the blog and Facebook most, I enjoy the connections it makes as, being in Europe, I don’t have an easy way to connect with readers. I’m in something of an unusual situation in that I have my books published primarily in the United States, but I’m living in France where social media for publicity is much less important, and so there’s much less of an imperative to use it, and not much of an enabling environment to use it well. I completely understand the value of it, though. It really is a combination of time to use it, and confidence to use it, too. I find for confidence, Facebook is a much more forgiving place: Twitter seems a little too daunting, sort of ‘fire and forget’!

LitVote: What tips do you have for beginning authors who have to perform a lot of research for their books?

Luke: Don’t let the facts get in the way of the story! That’s something of a cliché, and it’s not meant to be a throwaway comment. An author who wants to write historical fiction needs to know the times and the people he or she wants to write about, but there’s a fine line to be drawn between keeping slavishly to the facts, and allowing the facts to support instead of dominate a story.

I really came up against this when writing The Pale House, as it was my intention to use an actual historical figure—Vladimir ‘Valter’ Perić, the Partisans’ commander—in the story. There is obviously a strong temptation in historical fiction to use real people as characters, and in many ways it provides for thrilling and meaningful literature. I approached using historical figures with extreme caution and—I hope—a lot of humility. In so far as a writer should be confident enough to bend facts to tell a good story, I personally do not feel confident enough to do the same to the thoughts or motivations of people who once existed.

As well, for what I want to say and do with my writing, I do not want to have real people take too much away from my characters, so my approach was to use such historical figures as made their way into my novels as added layers of authenticity to set my own characters more firmly in context. It was more important for me to distil characters from historical sources, and to use that distillation to shine a light on the times I write about and the characters I populate it with.

LitVote: How did you find your agent?

Luke: Thanks to the efforts and help of a friend and fellow writer, called Charles Salzberg. I came at this whole book business from an unusual angle, getting a book contract before I had an agent. This was because, as I mentioned before, I pitched The Man From Berlin straight to editors at one of the Algonkian writers workshops, and one of the editors was from Berkely Books, who ended up making a two-book offer, and the first thing they said to me was that if I didn’t have an agent I needed to get one! Charles had led the workshop I attended, and had read the manuscript and was very supportive. He put me in touch with several agents, until I found one, and finding an agent, given I already had a book contract, was the trickiest part of the whole book-writing and book-selling experience for me! Some agents did not want to take on an author who already had a deal, or others did not want to work with that particular publishing company, or else would have preferred an author with a blank slate, so to speak. But given that many writers are never able to get an agent, let alone a book deal, I was fantastically lucky!

LitVote: What are your future plans?

Luke: Mainly to keep writing the Reinhardt novels. I’ve got ideas for another three or four, in addition to the two published and the third I’m currently writing. A lot of people ask when I’m going to give up working with the UN, or if I ever think about doing it. I’m really not sure I want to do that. I know that I get a lot of inspiration from my work. For sure, Reinhardt’s stories would not have been the same without my own personal experiences working with people affected by war in Bosnia, or Chechnya, or Gaza, or disaster in Pakistan, or Haiti after the earthquake.

I do a job I love, in an organisation that is aspirational and inspirational, with people from all around the world, and every day brings something new. My wife does similar work to me. So do most of my friends. It’s a source of renewal and of great pride and satisfaction, and I think I would turn away from that at my peril. I do sometimes dream of giving it all up to write. Who wouldn’t?! But I wonder if giving up work would deprive me of that inspiration. So far, I’ve been able to juggle both, or make room for both, and for my family. So long as I can keep doing that, I’ll keep writing the way I do. There may come a time I’ll do just that, but it’s not yet.


Author Mary Yuhas, is the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother,  featured three times on Scribd.

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How the filmmaking industry really works

By Mary Yuhas

David Belenky

David Belenky and Julien Magnat share the facts


David Belenky was a 2014 semi-finalist in the Blue Cat Screenplay Competition for his current feature, ‘The Fabulous Sylvester,’ based on the life of the first Queen of Disco by the same name.  It is co-written by biographer Joshua Gamson. The project is currently in development. He lives in Los Angeles.

third JulienJulien Magnat has written and directed many films ranging from shorts to full-length features. His short film, The All New Adventures of Chastity Blade’ starring Lisa Wilcox was Oscar nominated for Best Student Short in 2001. Since then, he has penned over 150 screenplays for various cartoon series including The Garfield Show and Marvel’s Iron Man: Armored adventures. He directed Milla Jovovich and Julian McMahon in the psychological thriller ‘Faces in the Crowd’, which he also wrote. Julien is represented by Rich Cook at William Morris Endeavor. His managers are Allen Fisher & Brian Dobbins at Principato Young.


LitVote: How did you get into screenwriting / directing?

David: When I had first moved to Los Angeles, I had nailed a plumb internship with casting directors Jeanne McCarthy and Juel Bestrop. I had allusions of being an actor at that time and I thought this would be a great opportunity to really learn the “inner workings” of how actors get parts. There were always potential scripts around their office; on a low day, I picked one up and started to read.  After a few scripts, I started to absorb the consistent act breaks, transitions and overall rhythms of how the story plays out. They were mostly bad scripts, but it was an early lesson that writing a good script is almost impossible.

Julien: I wrote stories since I was a kid. Growing up, my two biggest influences were He-man & She-ra, the old 1980’s cartoons, and the anthology books of Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. These two writers wrote the absolute best short stories ever written, many of which ended up in the old Twilight Zone series.

Later on, when I was sixteen, I went to see a midnight screening of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ and had a total epiphany. That was what I wanted to do… Movies!

‘Temple of Doom’ is to this very day my favorite movie of all times. It contains everything that I love. It’s always painful to hear Steven Spielberg himself totally trash ‘Temple of Doom’ in interviews, but for me, it’s still the most exhilarating, crazy, entertaining movie experience ever.

After studying film and drama at Reading University in England, I was accepted into the national film school in Paris, France where I wrote and directed many short films there, including ‘The All New Adventures of Chastity Blade’, my final studies film, which was nominated for a student short Academy Award in 2001. I then went on to write and direct ‘Bloody Mallory’, and ‘Faces in the Crowd’, a psychological thriller starring Milla Jovovich and Julian McMahon that came out three years ago. In the last ten years or so, I’ve also penned more than a hundred screenplays on various cartoon series. I moved to Los Angeles four years ago.

LitVote: Once the screenplay is written, do you shop your scripts to producers?

David: I have great nostalgia for the chutzpah I had shopping my first script around. You become more cautious as you write more, but I just gave it to anybody that would read it. Agents I had met through my internship, unsolicited submissions to management companies, even my neighbors…everyone in Los Angeles got a copy. It somehow landed on the desk of a literary manager and an intern had pulled it from a hopeless stack. He had responded to it and passed it on to his boss.

Julien: If you’re writing a screenplay without any production attached (99 per cent of the time), it’s called a ‘spec’ script. You write it hoping you can sell it / have it optioned by a producer once it’s all done.

Sometimes I’ve worked with producers who had a story in mind and wanted me to develop it. But I mostly do spec scripts. It takes a lot of time to write a good screenplay. You have no guarantee that it will get picked up, so it’s a big time investment for a writer. You’d better know which project you want to develop for a year or so.
LitVote: Are agents a good route for selling your script? If so, how do screenwriters find one?

David: I’ve only worked with managers so I really can’t speak to the agent experience. There is this fantastic podcast by Craig Mazon and John August, ‘Scriptnotes,’ that I listen to every week. When asked the same question about how to find representation, they compare screenwriters to snowflakes…no two are the same. And no two paths are the same. It’s a frustrating part of the business, so if anyone has a clear path, please let me know.

Julien: Agents in the U.S. have access to talent and so on, but they’re more involved in the business side of things, rather than the creative side. The manager is usually the one who’s really supposed to follow your career and help you make the right decision. When I have a new screenplay I first go to my managers who will give me notes etc. then to my agent.
LitVote: Are novels that directors can adapt themselves more sought after these days than screenplays?

David: I wasn’t aware that directors were adapting novels themselves. That’s cool! Novels in general are always more desirable; producers can track its built-in audience. They can follow trends and really get a scope of how to sell that story to financiers. Original screenplays are tough because you really aren’t sure who is going to respond to it. I feel (now more than ever), there seems to be a more concerted effort through foreign distribution to really figure out how to sell a movie these days. But I could be wrong.

Julien: If a book / comic book / existing story has already been told in one form or another, it already has a public, a loyal fan base, and producers might feel more confident when they’re investing a lot of money to put it onto the big screen, instead of spending big bucks on something that no one has ever heard of. (Like a Spec script!) This is why these days blockbusters are mostly adaptations from famous books or straightforward remakes of already existing movies. So to answer your question, I think a novel that has been a bestseller will be more sought after than an original screenplay, no matter how good the screenplay is!

Then again, adapting a novel is not easy. It’s a very different exercise. You lose all the introspection. You cannot have the character “think’ out loud in a movie like you can do in a novel. Or if you do, it gets pretty boring. So you have to rethink the story to externalize all the struggles of the main character so that they can be felt and understood without a voice over.

LitVote: What traits in a novel – regardless of genre – make it desirable to producers?

David: There are always trends. They always change. I think the Young Adult Adventure genre is a bit saturated now, but no one saw that billion dollar combustion coming. Smaller movies in general aren’t really getting wide distribution anymore, EVENT movies have to come from EVENT books. Take, ‘Gone Girl,’ by Gillian Flynn for example –  that was a huge, monster runaway best seller. I can’t speak to the content or what kind of film it’s going to be, but it’s going to explode on opening day. Its review proof and the producers know the book has legions of followers.

Julien: Again, if a novel has had some sort of exposure, and made the front page news, the producers will be more inclined to option the rights. It gives more value to the project.

If you look at the amount of adaptations that came out last year, it’s crazy. Hunger games… Divergent… The Hobbitt… etc. etc.

LitVote:  Do you recommend attending screenwriting conferences to learn the business of screenwriting? If so, which one(s)?

David: I’ve never gone to a ‘screenwriting conference,’ but I did go to a ton of social mixers only to realize how depressing most of them can be and how drunk I would get at the open bar. I had to flip the script and stop viewing them so much as ‘networking’ events, but rather just meeting other writers and swapping ‘war stories’ about how challenging things are. Always keep in mind that breaking in the business is a business onto itself, so don’t break the bank doing it. But just go to as much as you can and have an open heart about it. At worst, you’ll meet another screenwriter who is as drunk as you and you can laugh at how drunk the panelist is.

Julien: The problem with screenwriting conference is that you just sit there and listen to something that’s really valuable but that you will likely forget, because you cannot go back to it later. I always advise people to read the books instead. It leaves you more time to digest everything and take notes for yourself.

In terms of business, there are countless books telling you what to do / what not to do.

In terms of learning screenwriting, there are three books that every aspiring screenwriter should have read: Robert McKee’s Story, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat (nauseatingly overused in Los Angeles, but a classic nevertheless) and ‘Into the Woods’ by John York. That last one, a recommendation from my writing buddy Kelly Smith, is absolutely brilliant.
LitVote: What is the biggest mistake most first time screenplay writers make?

David: To be honest, the ‘biggest mistake that first time screenwriters make,’ I don’t often see them making. I didn’t make it. I wrote something personal, non-commercial and something that completely gave the reader a sense of my voice. A lot of my writer friends did the same thing. I think it’s a reflex we have when dipping our toes in screenwriting. Most writers come to the table to share a personal experience and unless you conquered a nation or led a revolution of some kind, it’s usually a pretty small, yet meaningful event.

Julien: To not follow the rules and think ‘to hell with the rules, I’m better than everyone else!’ The rules are there for a reason. If for the last two thousand years people have usually told stories in three to four acts, there’s gotta be something to it. Even the most convoluted Charlie Kauffman movie is usually based on a classic 3 act structure.

LitVote:  Do you have to be in LA to get noticed?

David: I’ve noticed many writers branding their voices by way of developing small projects through social media, which is something I’m too lazy to do. Los Angeles isn’t a requirement these days. But the weather is truly fantastic and you can’t beat our farmers markets. So if for no other reason, come west for that!

Julien: Not technically. If you have a kick ass screenplay, you can send it to your agent, no matter where you are. The problem comes when they call you for meetings. If you cannot be in LA, they tend to forget you very quickly. Unless your script is absolutely ground breaking.

LitVote: What’s in your future?

David: I just finished co-writing a story about the disco legend Sylvester – the first openly gay African America pop star. I wrote it with Joshua Gamson, who wrote the biography it’s based on.  A wild and raucous gospel/rock n’ roll/disco, hi-NRG movie musical, it was the most ambitious and challenging thing I’ve attempted to do.  We recently optioned the script to Alan Poul and Rob Epstein. So having just finished that, I’m going to take a very long nap and then do what we screenwriters do – start something new.

Julien: I am working on a series of projects: more cartoons in the work,.. a couple of spec scripts and a graphic novel. So far so good!


Author Mary Yuhas, is the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother, featured three times on Scribd.

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Europe Rallies in a Solidarity Climate March


September 21, 2014 Brussels


Upwards of three thousand protestors in the capital of Europe turned out at 10:30 in the rain in a show of solidarity for the New York Climate March later today, ahead of Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit.


Protestors started in front of Brussels’ Palais de Justice and marched down Avenue Louise. A brass band led the procession of people of all ages and nationalities.












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Irresistible Impulse

A well-read robot, an ice cream loving ghost, and a redheaded avatar as well as ordinary mortals longing for love are all here in this collection of humorous short stories by award-winning author Barbara Alfaro.

In Irresistible Impulse, the title story of this collection, a robot named Shelley muses on the unfairness of the family pet, a disobedient little dog being “petted, cuddled, and snuggled on the living room sofa” while he, who has never disobeyed a single directive from his human owners, is kept in the kitchen along with coffee pots and can openers. Sibling rivalry is tested when the little dog who isn’t good needs rescuing.

Timid and extremely well-read Bette wakes up one morning to discover she has the wrong color eyes. Perhaps there really is a parallel universe and one of its inhabitants now has Bette Luckington’s Eyes. In spite of this bizarre occurrence, Bette will find an odd kind of comfort.

All of the eight stories in this collection by author Barbara Alfaro are quirky, fun, and quick.

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Malorie Blackman faces racist abuse after call to diversify children’s books


Malorie Blackman
Children’s laureate vows she will not be silenced by ‘hatred, threats and vitriol’ after appealing for more representative range of fictional characters


By  This story first appeared in The Guardian

Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman has vowed that “hell will freeze over before I let racists and haters silence me” after facing an outpouring of racist abuse following her call for more diversity in children’s books.

The attacks began after the award-winning author spoke to Sky News about diversity in children’s literature, saying that although “you want to escape into fiction … and read about other people, other cultures, other lives, other planets”, there is “a very significant message that goes out when you cannot see yourself at all in the books you are reading”.

“I think it is saying ‘well, you may be here, but do you really belong?'” Blackman told Sky. The piece was given an inaccurate headline claiming that Blackman had said that children’s books “Have Too Many White Faces”, and, later in the piece, that the author “believes there are too many white faces in books and fears the lack of diversity stops children from reading and pursuing the arts”. The piece prompted a wave of racist attacks both on Sky’s website and directed personally at Blackman on Twitter.

Blackman told her almost 14,000 followers on Twitter that “not once did the phrase in the banner headline pass my lips because I don’t think in those terms”. She complained to Sky, and the headline was changed to “Call For More Ethnic Diversity In Kids’ Books”. But what Blackman described on Twitter as “hatred, threats and vitriol” continued.

“Deleted the worst of the racist tweets received today as a result of the Sky article. #bigmistake Should’ve left the tweets for all to see,” wrote Blackman, before, on Monday, announcing: “I’m leaving Twitter for a while. Bye!”

Support for Blackman, the UK’s first black children’s laureate, was immediate from both her fellow writers and from her readers. Carnegie medal winner Patrick Ness tweeted: “I adore @malorieblackman. I think she’s a brilliant Laureate. I’m seething. Why have we agreed we’re OK with this? I’m bloody well not.” The novelist Matt Haig announced he was “disgusted that the wonderful @malorieblackman, one of the great forces for good, has had to come off Twitter because of racist abuse”. Chocolat author Joanne Harris told Blackman: “Don’t read below the idiot-line. You are loved and appreciated here … “, and Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon added: “I’m proud to be a children’s writer with the marvellous @malorieblackman representing us.”

Blackman returned to Twitter on Tuesday morning to say how she was “so overwhelmed and humbled by the messages of support and love I’ve received since I posted my last tweet”, adding: “I only meant to take a few days’ break to write an article about this whole issue. Racists and haters will never make me run away. Ever!”

Blackman said that “hell will freeze over before I let racists and haters silence me. In fact, they just proved to me that I was right to speak out. So thanks so much everyone for your support. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I walk hand in hand with you. #WeNeedDiverseBooksUK.”

Blackman was made laureate last year. Her more than 50 books include the prize-winning Noughts and Crosses series, which imagines a world where the dark-skinned ruling class of the Crosses look down on the white Noughts. She has won prizes including the Red House children’s book award, the Eleanor Farjeon award in recognition of her contribution to children’s books, and an OBE for her services to children’s literature.

Earlier this week, she made the call on Twitter for “diversity and inclusion. More books featuring kids/YA with disabilities, LGBT, people of colour, travellers, different cultures, religions pls”, a sentiment which was echoed by others. “Hey, guess what? Diversity in children’s books helps all of us. Everyone,” wrote Ness. “How can you write a story about real life and NOT have it be diverse? It’s what the world is, unstoppably. I don’t write books with diversity to ‘instruct’. I write them because not to do so would be a lie. As a gay kid, I had NO SINGLE BOOK that told me I wasn’t alone. Never again. Not if I’ve got anything to do with it. And guess what? All of us, who don’t mind diversity, who in fact rather like it? We’re gonna win. Yep. Yes, we are. #WeNeedDiverseBooksUK.”

Ness and Blackman were both referencing a wider social media campaign, #weneeddiversebooks, launched by authors including Ellen Oh and Chelsea Pitcher in response to the all-white, all-male group of children’s authors who had been brought together for an event in May at BookCon in the US. The organisers cite American statistics which show the “dearth” of diverse children’s literature: according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Centre at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2003, 171 of 3,200 US children’s books received by the centre were about black people. In 2013, 93 of 3,200 books were about black people. Tracking of this kind has not been carried out in the UK, but the lack of people of colour in British children’s books has been described as a “huge problem” by experts.

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Jungle Horses

junglehorsescoverJungle Horses, the new eBook by Scott Adlerberg, has everything you could possibly want: a suspenseful plot, well-developed characters, and a genre-bending blend of genre and fantasy.

Arthur lives a quiet life in London, wandering from the bar to the racetrack and back again. When his pension check dries up, Arthur decides to win it all back with one last big bet at the bookie. When that falls through, Arthur borrows money and repeats the process, until he’s in too deep with a vicious gang of leg-breakers.

The plan to save his skin will take him far from his home, to a place where a very different breed of horse will change his life forever.

“Adlerberg is a master of deadpan noir with seamless plotting, and Jungle Horses is his best yet.” ― Jason Starr, international bestselling author of Wolverine Max and The Pack

“A hothouse combination of noir and fantasy, Jungle Horses is a viscerally strange tale that refuses to settle into any predictable pattern. It’s an intense and suspenseful ride into unknown territory, mapping out unusual psychological states and sinister landscapes. Scott Adlerberg makes it hang together seamlessly, the way that only the best nightmares can.”  ― Jeff Jackson, author of Mira Corpora

Jungle Horses is available for only 99 cents from Broken River Books.

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Floodlanders, by Wayne Marinovich

Genre: Action Adventure, Thrillers, Cli-fi, Dystopian

Format: ebook

In 2025, teen journeys with his father into the dangerous Central London Floodzone for the first time to sell their farm products at a market. The post climate change neighborhood is home to a hardened breed of humans, known as Floodlanders. Brutal tragedy strikes, and changes their lives forever.

This short story with chapters is a tiny gem. Marinovich’s storytelling is captivating, from the moment a Warlord guard tries to bribe the father and son on their way to market, saying,

The soldier looked down at the passbook again, then said, ‘anything in the back that I can take home to my family?’

Wayne Marinovich is an independent author and wildlife photographer who grew up on a farm in South Africa, where he spent most of his time sitting in trees and climbing up on the barn roof, fighting imaginary villains. He is the author of the Kyle Gibbs series.


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In ‘After Water’ Project, 12 Writers Imagine Life in Climate Change-Altered Chicago

From Inside Climate News

Ecoterrorists, saboteurs, orphans, activists muck through their separate realities. ‘This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become.’

By Hannah Robbins

Aug 19, 2014

Fiction author Nnedi Okorafor gives a talk in Seattle. She’s one of 12 writers who participated in the radio project called “After Water” that blends climate science and fiction.


Credit: Luke McGuff, flickr


Four emaciated boys share a canteen of fresh water. They pass the stolen treasure around as they huddle on a raft made of broken furniture, drifting on toxic flood waters. The future has come to Chicago—or at least one future imagined by Abby Geni, a fiction writer in Illinois.

Geni’s story, “World After Water,” follows four brothers growing up in a world irrevocably altered by climate change. Drinkable water is scarce, the Great Lakes are polluted, and only the rich can afford purified water.

“World After Water” is one story in a series of podcasts produced by WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago. The series, called After Water, seeks to blend science and storytelling to create new shades of understanding about what the Great Lakes region could look like in the future. To do this, WBEZ reporter and project producer Shannon Heffernan approached fiction writers in Chicago and across the country. She gave them research papers and connected them with scientists, advocates and policymakers who could answer their questions. She then issued the 12 writers one challenge: to take what they had learned and create a story that reflects the difficulties Chicago and the Great Lakes region may face in the decades to come.

“This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become,” Geni (pronounced GEE-nie) told Heffernan. (Geni usually writes fiction about the connection between humans and the natural world and stages her work in the present.)

The result is a collection of stories that look at not only how nature will change, but also how that change will shape society. The characters live in worlds where men trade invasive zebra mussels for whiskey, the poor receive welfare water, and children sing nursery rhymes—akin to “London Bridge is Falling Down” or “Ring Around the Rosie”—about water theft. They experience water scarcity, mass human migration, conflict between states, poverty, segregation, riots and death.

A character named Udara, for example, lives in a Chicago where the lake water is toxic and scientists genetically engineer fish to glow blue when they swim in polluted waters. Nnedi Okorafor’s story is called “Poison Fish,” but the heart of her piece is the effect polluted water has on society and on Udara herself.  Standing on a pier at Rainbow Beach, the site of infamous Chicago race riots that killed 38 people in 1919, Udara thinks about her parents, killed a year ago during a peaceful protest. Chicago is on the brink of a water riot, and Udara’s story addresses the social and racial tensions that underlie the struggle for clean water in her city. The Wall, a barrier more than 150 feet tall and 50 miles long, separates the haves from the have-nots, those who can afford to buy bottled water and those who must drink the polluted lake water, those of white middle class and those of color who live in the slums.

By comparison, Max Andrew Debunisky’s “Thirst” has very little tension. His unnamed characters slip into the false security of inaction. “We got good, and then we got better at pretending everything was fine,” Debunisky’s narrator explains. Time drags on and water restrictions grow tighter, but still the characters continue life as normal. They go to prom, they drink coffee, they party. They even turn the rising temperature into a game, challenging each other to see who can stay under the scorching sun the longest. While the world changes around them, the main characters seem unimpressed. When they are finally forced into action, it may be futile.

Many of the stories may seem bleak or alarmist. Ecoterrorists, saboteurs, orphans and activists muck through their separate realities. Perhaps that tone is to be expected in the science fiction genre. J.P. Telotte, author of “Science Fiction TV,” participated in a New York Times commentary debating the question “Will Fiction Influence How We React to Climate Change?” He argues science fiction film does not “detail the realities of specific problems so that we might avoid them, but rather represent our most pressing cultural fears.”

For some, science fiction is the expression of our cultural anxiety—it is what we are worried will happen. A grim future isn’t the exclusive preoccupation of science fiction authors and screenwriters. Climate scientists—whose job is to separate fact from fiction—are worried, too.

Dr. Terry Root, a Stanford University professor who studies the way climate change affects animals and plants, questions how long she can continue doing her job: “All I do all day is think about how species are going extinct,” Root told Michele Morano, a creative writer. WBEZ connected with Morano early in the After Water project. Morano, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, was already calling climate scientists to ask how they emotionally handle the coming realities of climate change. “[Scientists] are not just crunching numbers and throwing out predictions,” said Morano. “They are really grappling with what climate change means and how to deal with it.”

Just as the writers handled the future differently, scientists also cope in different ways.  Listening to Morano’s interviews, Heffernan noticed a range of responses. Some scientists were distressed. Many conveyed hope. One scientist told Morano he has faith in human ingenuity and engineering. More than one told her the most important thing a person can do is focus on the impacts of climate change and action in his or her community.

Keeping the focus local was one of Heffernan’s goals for the After Water series. Climate conversations often address global issues, but she wanted to scale down the dialogue. “There is no denying that there are certain areas of the world that are going to get hit harder [by climate change],” said Heffernan, “but I wanted to make sure people knew what was going to happen in their own backyard.

“I think it’s harder for people here in the Midwest to wrap their brains around how their world could be changing.”

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Carol White finds success as an author and playwright

By Mary Yuhas

Carol White, a Boca Raton, Fla. resident, is an award-winning novelist, playwright and freelance writer. Her essays, stories and columns have been published by The Sun Sentinel, Writers Journal, Insight for Playwrights, Working Writers, Woman’s World, The Florida Writer, and Senior Scene. She is a frequent fiction contributor to the East Hampton Star Newspaper. Carol is a long-standing member and officer of the National League of American Pen Women, and also belongs to the South Florida Theatre League, and Florida Writers Association. Her second novel, From One Place to Another won three independent awards, and her third, Sitting Pretty recently won Best Book in the 2014 NABE Pinnacle Awards.

LitVote: How did you start writing plays?

Carol: After my divorce in 2001, I searched out evening activities and wound up volunteering as a back stage dresser for the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Fla. After becoming a costumer there and at other local theatres, I became friendly with the directors and often sat in with them as a sounding board during rehearsals. Shortly thereafter I was appointed to the board of the Boca Raton Theatre Guild, and we did three staged readings a year, plus two full scale productions. Two of the readings were for ten-minute play festivals, meaning eight to ten short plays that were performed in an evening or matinee over the course of two-three weekends. By that time, I was the Executive Producer for the Guild and read, saw, learned, and produced dozens of short plays. I knew what worked and why. That’s when I began to write my own short plays.

LiteVote: On July 25 and 26th, your 10-minute play, The Gluten-Free, Organic, Artisan Date, directed by Steven Strickland, will be performed off Broadway in NYC at The Jewel Box Theater. What’s it like to sit in the audience and watch your play come alive?

Carol: I’ve had good and bad experiences with (more…)

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Winner: best memoir, IndieReader Discovery Awards

Barbara Alfaro, 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir, shares her experiences writing the literature of life.

Barbara Alfaro is a graduate of Goddard College and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for her play Dos Madres. Her poems and essays have appeared in various literary journals. The paperback edition of her poems called Singing Magic and the Kindle edition of her poetry called First Kiss are available on Amazon. Mirror Talk, her memoir about a Catholic girlhood and working in theatre won the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir and is also available on Amazon. Barbara and her husband Victor live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

LitVote: What prompted you to write your memoir, Mirror Talk?

Barbara: Reading Are You Somebody by the late Irish journalist Nuala O’Faolain affected me deeply. Her memoir is heartbreakingly truthful and I think there is something so noble about that kind of honesty. I wanted to write my memoir in the same honest way.

LitVote: Were you more aware of your feelings about people and events after writing your memoir?

Barbara: I don’t think I became more aware of my feelings about people but I seemed to become more aware of the feelings of others toward me. The vivid remembering that writing memoir requires often brings a new clarity to relationships. I realized how much I was loved. Memoir is not simply putting the past to rest, but in some instances, being comforted by the journey there. I saw the connection between my childhood experiences and adult choices, choices that may have sometimes been far from wise but certainly understandable. And I found a quiet joy in weaving the (more…)

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Cassandra Dunn’s debut novel, THE ART OF ADAPTING, gives voice to Asperger Syndrome

by Mary Yuhas

Cassandra Dunn was a Glimmer Train Short Story Award finalist, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist, and Clapboard House’s Best of the House finalist. She’s published 12 short stories. She is represented by Harvey Klinger. Her debut novel, The Art of Adapting, is forthcoming July 2014 from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster. Her website is cassandradunn.com.

LitVote: You broke a cardinal rule in your debut novel, The Art of Adapting, because each of the four main characters speaks from his or her point of view. You did a great job because they are all so believable and real. Why did you decide to use this writing technique?

Cassandra DunnCassandra: I felt it was important to give Matt his own voice, because I didn’t just want to show what Asperger Syndrome looked like from the outside, I wanted to give some idea of how it felt to have Asperger’s: Matt’s interests that bordered on obsession, the logic behind his food issues, his reasons for disliking physical contact. But setting an entire novel within his point of view seemed too limiting, so I decided to balance it with Lana’s perspective as the loving, devoted sister who has seen him overcome so much and appreciates him for exactly who he is. As Abby started developing as a character, with her secrets about food, I realized the only way to tell her true story was to let her it because (more…)

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Interview with award-winning YA and Middle Grade Author, Michael Northrop

Michael Northrop, who shares his love of nature with children through his fiction writing.

Michael Northrop lives in New York City and has written short fiction for Weird Tales, the Notre Dame Review, and McSweeney’s. His first young adult novel, Gentlemen, earned a Publishers Weekly Flying Start citation; his second, Trapped, was an Indie Next List selection and has been translated into half a dozen languages; and his third, Rotten, was named one of the best children’s books of the year by the Bank Street College of Education. NPR selected his middle-grade novel Plunked for its Backseat Book Club. His newest book for kids and teens is Surrounded By Sharks. Prior to his writing career, he was the baseball editor at Sports Illustrated Kids.

LitVote: The Young Adult (YA) fiction book market is hot. How did you become interested in writing YA?

 I was working at Sports Illustrated Kids magazine at the time, writing and editing short sports articles for kids during the week and writing short stories for literary journals on the weekends. Young adult fiction seemed like an ideal way to combine what I liked best about both: writing for engaged, imaginative young readers and writing about compelling fictional characters. This was around 2006, and the YA boom (more…)

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Episode 2: New Climate Change Series ‘Years of Living Dangerously’

“I knew that if people discussed the movie instead of what the movie was about, we’d have failed. I wanted all the script’s banality to work for me, to entice the audience past our subject matter until they were drowning in it,” says director Nicholas Meyer (The Day After).

The new Showtime seriesYears of Living Dangerously, is anything but banal, to judge by the first episode. It uses a brilliant technique of going around the world to explore carbon-releasing activities and extreme weather, through the eyes of celebrities who act as surrogates for the audience. In the initial episode, for example, Harrison Ford discovers mass deforestation in Indonesia, Don Cheadle talks to victims of persistent drought in Texas, and Tom Friedman ventures into Syria and finds that the civil war there was caused, along with other factors, by an absence of rain, then an absence of government response.

These correspondents come off not as experts but as investigators. They ask some of the questions we care about, and listen as we would. Except they are, for instance, Matt Damon (of the Bourne series) , Lesley Stahl (of 60 Minutes), and Ian Somerhalder (of Vampire Diaries), plus many others. They model the process not of already knowing, but of being open to learn.

(via Huffington Post)

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Growing Up White, by James P. Stobaugh

Interviewed on Audible Authors and Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearn, San Francisco Book Review, June 2014

There wasn’t much left to see of Bo Taylor and what there was you wouldn’t want to see, not after Evan Nash and the rest of the Klan had tied him Bo to a tree and skinned him alive. Welcome to Arkansas’ Bayou country in the mid-1960s.


Jake Stevens, who was age 10 when those events occurred, is now just turned 59 and not really handling the number of that birthday particularly well. So as many of us do when the present is grey and the future an evening leading to a dark and endless light, Jake looks back to the sunshine of his youth. Well, sunshine laced with the clouds of tragic killings. Jake is a Presbyterian lay preacher, and using all he has learnt of and because of his chosen life with God … he tries to make some sense of it all.


Author James P. Stobaugh is quite an elegant writer, verging on the poetic. Growing up White is very much a novel of mood and meaning and yes, quite explicit in religious intent. Clearly Stobaugh knows his material as in his day-to-day life he is a pastor as well as quite a gifted writer. One cannot help but admire writers who have a clear love of language and Stobaugh clearly has that. His words, images and just general flow of his Bayou-like pacing are common enough in excellent poetry; a rarity in prose. Rather fittingly, the first song referred to in Growing up White is ‘Moon River’, for Henry Mancini would be the perfect musical accompaniment for the reader to have playing in the background.


Listen to the interview with Dr. James Stobaugh, a Merrill Fellow at Harvard and holds degrees from Vanderbilt and Rutgers universities, and Princeton and Gordon-Conwell seminaries. An experienced teacher, he is a recognized leader in homeschooling and has published numerous books for students and teachers. He and his wife Karen have homeschooled their four children since 1985.
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Oil & Honey, by ‘Unlikely’ Activist Bill McGibben

Harvard alum bestselling author/environmentalist/professor Bill McKibben recounts the personal and global story of the fight to build and preserve a sustainable planet

Bill McKibben is not a person you’d expect to find handcuffed and behind bars, but that’s where he found himself in the summer of 2011 after leading the largest civil disobedience in thirty years, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House.

With the Arctic melting, the Midwest in drought, and Irene scouring the Atlantic, McKibben recognized that action was needed if solutions were to be found. Some of those would come at the local level, where McKibben joins forces with a Vermont beekeeper raising his hives as part of the growing trend toward local food. Other solutions would come from a much larger fight against the fossil-fuel industry as a whole.

Oil and Honey is McKibben’s account of these two necessary and mutually reinforcing sides of the global climate fight—from the center of the maelstrom and from the growing hive of small-scale local answers. With empathy and passion he makes the case for a renewed commitment on both levels, telling the story of raising one year’s honey crop and building a social movement that’s still cresting.


Demonstrate on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Read an excerpt of Oil and Honey

Demonstrate on Saturday, September 20th

(via BillMcKibben.com)

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Study Finds Working from Home is Better for Everyone

A timely publication gives new insight to the intersection of business and environmentalism, pointing human beings and business in a win-win direction.

Nicholas Bloom, Associate Professor of Economics at Stanford, is uncovering profound resources as he runs US and international surveys on work-life balance to determine the benefits of working from home. So far his findings are stunning: “assuming nobody moved house, working from home is clearly going to reduce commuting and hence pollution.” Working from home also results in a significant improvements in performance.

*     *     *

To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home

from the Harvard Business Review

The study: Nicholas Bloom and graduate student James Liang, who is also a cofounder of the Chinese travel website Ctrip, gave the staff at Ctrip’s call center the opportunity to volunteer to work from home for nine months. Half the volunteers were allowed to telecommute; the rest remained in the office as a control group. Survey responses and performance data collected at the conclusion of the study revealed that, in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive.

A Significant Improvement in Performance

After a group of Ctrip service reps were sent home to do their work, they consistently completed more calls than their counterparts who remained in the call center.


The challenge: Should more of us be doing our jobs in our pajamas? Would the performance of employees actually improve if companies let them stay home? Professor Bloom, defend your research.

Bloom: The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away. Ctrip was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit it would take when employees left the discipline of the office environment. Instead, we found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.

HBR: And how much did Ctrip save on furniture and space?

It estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months.

Lower attrition rates make sense—working from home gives you more flexibility if you have kids and so forth—but how do you explain the productivity increases? Why would people get more done out of the office?

One-third of the productivity increase, we think, was due to having a quieter environment, which makes it easier to process calls. At home people don’t experience what we call the “cake in the break room” effect. Offices are actually incredibly distracting places. The other two-thirds can be attributed to the fact that the people at home worked more hours. They started earlier, took shorter breaks, and worked until the end of the day. They had no commute. They didn’t run errands at lunch. Sick days for employees working from home plummeted. Search “working remotely” on the web, and everything that comes up will be supernegative and say that telecommuters don’t work as hard as people in the office. But actually, it’s quite the opposite.

So Marissa Mayer, who famously banned working from home at Yahoo last year, was wrong?

It’s not so simple. There are lots of factors that could lead to such a ban, including a culture where remote workers tend to be slacking because of low morale. Also, we were studying call center work, which is easily measured and easily performed remotely.

Did workers know they were being measured for productivity? Could there have been a grace period when they were trying to prove that working at home works, after which their efforts tailed off?

That’s an important concern. Ctrip tried to address it by running the experiment for nine months. The positive impact of working from home was pretty constant over that entire period, suggesting that it wasn’t driven just by some initial burst of enthusiasm.

Will knowledge and creative workers also be more productive at home?

The more robotic the work, the greater the benefits, we think. More research needs to be done on creative work and teamwork, but the evidence still suggests that with most jobs, a good rule of thumb is to let employees have one to two days a week at home. It’s hugely beneficial to their well-being, helps you attract talent, and lowers attrition. JetBlue allows folks to work as far as three hours from headquarters—close enough to come in now and again but a much bigger radius from which it can draw applicants. When I asked the people at JetBlue about this policy, they said it helped them gain access to educated, high-ability mothers who wanted flexibility in their jobs. The airline believes this policy has improved the quality of its workforce.

Who else likes the work-from-home option?

People who have established social lives—older workers, married workers, parents. We found that the younger workers whose social lives are more connected to the office tend to not want to work from home as much. Right now the employees who spend significant amounts of time working from home are on either end of the income spectrum: solitary, per-hour workers like call center reps, proofreaders, and developers, whose output can be easily tracked; or professionals and senior managers, who presumably are highly self-motivated.

(via HBR)

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Erika Raskin

  • Harvardwood Rocks NYC

  • Harvardwood has put together THREE events (in three different parts of town) for the Harvard community in NY in November!

    First, on Thursday, November 13, one week from tomorrow, Joe Toplyn, who was head writer first for Jay Leno and then for David Letterman, will talk about writing for Late Nite TV–the interviewer will be stellar comic Jane Condon!  We have just four seats left for this one–!

    Then, on Sunday, November 16, we have the latest in our series of classical salons–violist Ed Klorman and pianist Yelena Grinberg giving an intimate concert of some gorgeous music by Brahms and three of his closest musical friends.  The concert will be in Yelena’s living room and we have just 16 seats left for this one.

    And THEN, on Wednesday, November 19, Jay Pilzer, a Nashville based guitar dealer, former SCUBA instructor, and retired history professor, will give what I expect to be a really quirky and fun talk, ostensibly about the cultural history of the guitar in America, but, I suspect, more about the unexpected interconnectedness of things.  This is going to be a lot of fun, even if you have no interest at all in guitars.


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  • Publisher Guidelines

  • Publisher Harvard Square Editions is looking for literary fiction of environmental or social significance.

    Its mission is to publish fiction that transcends national boundaries, especially manuscripts that are international, political, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, utopia and distopia. Send submissions of aesthetic value and constructive social or political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change, deforestation, and conservation.

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  • Get the Buck Out with over 100 Harvard Faculty

  • Harvard_divestment_protest_1978More than 100 Harvard faculty members just co-signed a letter to the university’s president and fellows, demanding that the Harvard Corporation — which manages the 32 billion dollar educational endowment, the largest in the world — commit to divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Now they need support from the climate movement. Sign the petition to support them! If Harvard does it your own alma mater may be next.

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  • What’s On Your Bookshelf?

  • Wilson & Coughlon

    Elliot A. Wilson ’15 and Sarah E. Coughlon ’15 pose with their book collections. They are good friends but like to get competitive about their reading choices. Photo by Theresa Tharakan


    Although many Harvard students find themselves too busy to read for leisure, an affirming amount of the student population collects books and reads for fun, amassing some pretty exemplary bookshelves in the process.

    Competitive Reading

    “We should probably tell her about competitive reading,” Coughlon says to Wilson. It turns out the pair’s massive collection isn’t just a hobby—it’s a full-fledged rivalry. Both friends use the website Goodreads to track what they’ve read. Wilson explains, “I’d started in high school, and was mean to Sarah freshman year about her reading habits, and it just so happened that Goodreads instituted a Challenge Yourself book-reading competition, and so we ended up not only challenging ourselves, but each other. We both read 100 or more books [that] year.” [more via The Harvard Crimson]


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  • Writing Jobs

  • The Sun is hiring

    They’re searching for an Associate Publisher to direct business operations, finance, and personnel. They also have openings for a Manuscript Editor and an Editorial Assistant.

    All three positions are full-time and based in our Chapel Hill, North Carolina, office.

    Click the job titles below for details. (No e-mails, phone calls, faxes, or surprise visits, please.)

    Associate Publisher
    Manuscript Editor
    Editorial Assistant

    More information is available at:

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  • The superstar assigns rights to his song catalog to his own NPG Music Publishing

  • prince

    Courtesy NPG Music Publishing

    Fresh from releasing “FALLINLOVE2NITE,” his latest single on Epic Records, Prince has announced that he is assigning the rights to his catalog to NPG Music Publishing, which means he will be doing it himself with the help of “some of the best talent in the industry,” according to the release.

    Prince’s last publishing deal was with Universal Music, before leaving the company several years ago. He had been inked to Kobalt Music for a label services deal but chose to release his latest single through L.A. Reid’s Epic label.

    The Grammy-winning multiplatinum icon’s songs, which he considers “fit 4 eternal publication,” includes such hits as “Kiss,” “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “U Got the Look,” “Purple Rain” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” most of which he played at a mammoth four-hour-plus show at the Palladium in Hollywood last month. NPG Music Publishing marks the first time Prince’s publishing has been independently controlled and administered in more than 20 years.

    (via Hollywood Reporter)

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  • FacedIn?

  • LinkedIn just became more like Facebook. Now everyone can write and post articles on LinkedIn, not just well-known business names. The new strategy follows LinkedIn’s disclosure that page views slipped for the second consecutive quarter.

    Now that LinkedIn ‘Influencers’ includes all willing and able writers, the company will use algorithms to distribute the most popular articles.

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  • E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps

  • Three in ten adults read an e-book last year; half own a tablet or e-reader


    By and

    Most American adults read a print book in the past year, even as e-reading continues to grow

    The proportion of Americans who read e-books is growing, but few have completely replaced print books for electronic versions.

    As tablet ownership grows, more use them for e-books

    The percentage of adults who read an e-book in the past year has risen to 28%, up from 23% at the end of 2012. At the same time, about seven in ten Americans reported reading a book in print, up four percentage points after a slight dip in 2012, and 14% of adults listened to an audiobook.

    Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits. Most people who read e-books also read print books, and just 4% of readers are “e-book only.” Audiobook listeners have the most diverse reading habits overall, while fewer print readers consume books in other formats.

    Overall, 76% of adults read a book in some format over the previous 12 months. The typical American adult read or listened to 5 books in the past year, and the average for all adults was 12 books.1 Neither the mean nor median number of books read has changed significantly over the past few years.

    More also own dedicated e-reading devices

    The January 2014 survey, conducted just after the 2013 holiday gift-giving season, produced evidence that e-book reading devices are spreading through the population. Some 42% of adults now own tablet computers, up from 34% in September. And the number of adults who own an e-book reading device like a Kindle or Nook reader jumped from 24% in September to 32% after the holidays.

    Overall, 50% of Americans now have a dedicated handheld device–either a tablet computer like an iPad, or an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook–for reading e-content. That figure has grown from 43% of adults who had either of those devices in September.

    In addition, the survey found that 92% of adults have a cell phone (including the 55% of adults who have a smartphone), and 75% have a laptop or desktop computer – figures that have not changed in significantly from our pre-holiday surveys.

    People read e-books on other devices, too

    E-book readers who own tablets or e-readers are very likely to read e-books on those devices—but those who own computers or cellphones sometimes turn to those platforms, too. And as tablet and e-reader ownership levels have risen over the past few years, these devices have become more prominent in the e-reading landscape:

    About the survey

    These findings come from a survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between January 2-5, 2014. The survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,005 adults ages 18 and older living in the continental United States. Interviews were conducted by landline (500) and cell phone (505, including 268 without a landline phone), and were done in English and Spanish. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

    (Via Pew Research Internet Project)

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  • For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

  • This article first appeared in the New York Times

    Say you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

    That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.


    Photo: Casey Kelbaugh
    Emanuele Castano, left, and David Comer Kidd, researchers in the New School for Social Research’s psychology department.


    “This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel “The Round House” was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction.”

    “Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added.

    The 5-Minute Empathy Workout

    Curious to see how you do on a test of emotional perception?

    The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

    The researchers, social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City, recruited their subjects through that über-purveyor of reading material, Amazon.com. To find a broader pool of participants than the usual college students, they used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs.

    People ranging in age from 18 to 75 were recruited for each of five experiments. They were paid $2 or $3 each to read for a few minutes. Some were given excerpts from award-winning literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry). Others were given best sellers like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a Rosamunde Pilcher romance or a Robert Heinlein science fiction tale…[more]

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  • Two out of three

  • parvis de saint gilles


    by N.C. Hogg


    This morning past, present and hoped-for future

    did I glimpse, in crowded tramcar joined.

    Two young, heavily-beluggaged, strangers,

    Placed together by scheming gods,

    contending with each other to recount

    experiences, on the road, before the prof, of their worlds.

    He, his words strutting with wit and charm,

    Gestures well-controlled and movements careful.

    She attentive with ready question, comment and small laugh

    Then in her turn she told him of her lot

    As circus girl, aspirant clown, an acrobat

    Her last show before cheering crowds

    At this  picture conjured, his eyes grew big

    and in wonder did he smile.

    He touched her shoulder in unmistaken sign

    she reached up to put her hand on his

    in proud conquest, their worlds now one.

    Then there was me, my now was as observer,

    I saw my now hyperbolically glorious past

    when in such conceit I did delight.

    I, too, could amuse

    and generate a warm place she’d want to be

    in an, all too often, brief, yet perfect, company.

    Such chance meetings, way stations on

    a changed for-ever-path towards the future.

    Then I saw a woman of your build

    yet able to give you some twenty of her years

    Small, compact, sinewy, tough

    Ten thousand past joys and tribulations in her face

    hesitantly step on at the Parvis

    aided by a man, her similar in stature,

    her complement companion.

    Frail, slender arm about her

    re-offering the protection of a lifetime

    She muttered something I doubt he could have heard,

    his face lit up, in understanding of the deepest kind:

    her recognition of his presence as she snuggled

    deeper into his warm round

    Looking back and foward  in comfortable glow

    A continuum of the marvels in life’s rich flow.

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  • The Bubble Has Burst

  • bubble-flowerThis poem by Sarah Strange first appeared at Poet in the Woods


    The recession hits us long and hard
    Jobs lost, our spending power is halved
    Utilities that we need and use
    Skyrocket – we’ve all got the blues!
    Some social services close their doors
    And luck runs out for local stores
    We grow our veggies, make and mend
    And where possible – don’t spend.
    The hunt for jobs is fierce and long
    And to succeed you must be strong
    The level of skills is very high
    Just the cream of the crop gets by.
    So, many strike out on their own,
    With business cards and mobile ‘phone
    After wading through a paper trail
    Of tax forms, VAT,  junk mail.

    It isn’t like it used to be
    You can’t retire at fifty-three
    And enjoy two holidays a year;
    The good times simply are not there.

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  • A Moral Atmosphere: Hypocrisy redefined for the age of warming

  • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

    This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


    THE LIST OF REASONS for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen… (more)
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  • Cambridge divest from fossil fuel

  • We call on the City of Cambridge Retirement System to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuelcompanies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years (more)

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Around Harvard

Brain Pickings

  • Kierkegaard on the Individual vs. the Crowd, Why We Conform, and the Power of the Minority
    "Truth always rests with the minority ... because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion." Brain Pickings takes 450+ hours a month to curate and edit across the different platforms, and remains banner-free. If it brings you any joy and inspiration, please consider a modest donation – it lets me know I'm doing something right.
  • Close

  • Single-mom Kik Marcheson is doing the best she can. But effort doesn’t seem to count for much in the parenting department.

    Her oldest daughter, Doone, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence. Casey, the middle-child slash good-girl is fraying along the edges and Tess, a quirky kindergartner, has installed an imaginary playmate in the family abode.

    When Doone falls in with the wrong crowd, a TV therapist offers to help. And things do start to look up. But only for a while.

    Close, for future release, October 16th, 2014.

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  • Let your LitVote be heard!

  • Vote for your favorite books by giving them some stars: just click on the book cover and scroll down to the “Write A Customer Review” button at the bottom of the book’s Amazon page to improve their ranking.

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by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

    Then came a surprise Christmas gift.  "In December, I was in my bedroom and my brother was home for the holidays—home from school—and he was like, Hey, my friend is coming over tonight, just so you know.  I was like, Okay, that's weird.  He was being a little weird.  And it turns out she comes walking into my bedroom!  She had, like, planned this all out with my family to come visit for Christmas.&n [...]

Yosem Companys (HKS, ’01) @Liberationtech

Threat of single autonomous system to both ends of anonymous @TORProject connection greater than previously thought http://t.co/QxP3qJXWV3
21 months ago

by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

  • Rap Dream
    Growing up, I had two life goals. The first was to own a half-dog, half-monkey that I would call a "donkey" (pronounced...

Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) – Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Tweets From Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

After last year's drought, this year's floods plaguing Midwest farms: too wet to plant http://t.co/DokC5PkBQK
18 months ago