Monday, March 20, 2017

GIRL: The word, the idea, the phenomenon

I was reading a recent Goodreads Young Adult Newsletter when this cover caught my eye.

More specifically, a word caught my eye: GIRL. Katie Bayerl's book, A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS, looks great. It's already on my to-read list. But that word...that word... It seems to be everywhere. I am not sure whether I am more intrigued or bothered when I see the word "girl" in a title. As a child, being called "girl" or "little girl" felt demeaning. Now, it's part of the formula for high-concept, best-selling novels, many written by women, such as Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL, Paula Hawkins' GIRL ON THE TRAIN, and Jessica Knoll's LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE.  From Lena Dunham's HBO series to Steig Larsson's trend-starting GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, the word is everywhere. And it's plentiful in YA. Look...!

I am not the only one to be Googling this trend. Goodreads has compiled a list of nearly 800 books with "girl" in the title. National Book Award Finalist Emily St. John Mandel has researched the phenomenon. And USA Today is simply "girl tired." As the mother of four sons, I sought comparable lists and articles for the word "boy" and came up largely empty handed (interestingly, the term "son" does yield some titles, though it does not ignite the same best-seller magic). As an English major, I looked for some connective thematic or story thread but the girls of this title trend run the gamut from gritty to destructive to romantic to empowered. I am annoyed, intrigued and, frankly, stumped.

In the interest of not putting any more "fake news" or "alternative facts" on the internet, I won't editorialize some conclusion here. I'll leave it to the linguists, etymologists and other social scientists to posit some reasons for this trend. But there is no denying that, right now, GIRL is a powerful word.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dear NPR...

I am writing to thank you. Not just broadly for Snap Judgement and The Moth and the late, great Vinyl Cafe. No, I want to thank you specifically for your contribution to my work as a novelist.

My strategy for writing fiction involves a fascination with characters, and a great deal of wondering. A great deal of time with sentences that begin, "What if...?" And then, er, a kind of creative plot-building supercollider.

An example: My 2014 novel, THE SOUND OF LETTING GO, began with a love of jazz and a dream of writing a novel about a tough, cool girl trumpet player. An interesting notion but not quite a story. Then, driving to pick up my kids from school one day, I heard an interview with an author discussing his autistic son. Lightbulb! What if my trumpeter diva lived in a house where silence, constancy, lack of "jazz improvisation" was the only way to maintain peace for an autistic younger brother? What if the point-counterpoint of the story was sound versus silence? Making noise (being heard) and staying safe from the emotional and physical outbursts of an adolescent struggling with developmental disability. Research, writing, rewriting and two years later...a book is born!

I am not quite ready for a public discussion of my current work-in-progress but I can assure you the example above is not unique. Thank heavens for a recent report about Velvet Underground founding member, the late Lou Reed's archive coming to the New York Public Library. Oh, and a feature on how insects can be used to track the health of national parks. Essential elements of a prep school thriller, right? Well...yeah.

"What if" is a critical place to begin a story. But then comes the how and the when and the why. Listening to NPR puts me in the near occasion of a multiverse of ideas to which, if I truly listen, I often find a concept or a connection that moves me farther along the path from concept to fully-fledged novel.

I suppose everyone fleshes out ideas--does research--in different ways. But, for me, that meta-state in which I am driving along, holding my novel lightly inside my brain while letting myriad reports and interviews and revelations flow into my open ears, is a gift I do not take lightly.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
 Second Saturdays Writing Program at Woodinville Library 
17105 Avondale Road NE, Woodinville 

What does it mean when an agent of editor requests a synopsis? What do you include--and what do you leave out? At what point should you create your synopsis? Jeanne Ryan, the author of the novels Charisma and Nerve (a recent movie, starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco) will share her insights into this challenging but critical component of the professional writing process. A helpful workshop for writers at all stages of the process!

This workshop is open to writers in grades 7 to adult. Registration is not required. For more details, click here