This Is My Brain On Index Cards

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I could not remember the dead friend’s last name.

I realize this is a problem likely reserved for novelists, because if I had a dead friend, I’d probably recall her last name.

At that point I hadn’t written many pages of my third novel yet, but I had an outline and a short synopsis for my agent, and ideas jotted down on paper just for me. I rifled through all of it.

Cooper.

The last name was Cooper.

I intentionally choose simple last names but obviously THAT memory trick didn’t work this time. I was going to have to figure out something so that this story, the new one, didn’t have me scrolling through pages to remember every name and every eye color.

So you know what this meant. A trip to the corner Walgreens.

There is not a plethora of index cards in Walgreens, but when I’m on a writing roll I am not prone to a shopping trip. So I worked with what I had. I chose the large, white cards because in a moment of stark realism, I know the small ones would not give me enough space because my ideas come out sideways and in large loopy letters, not neatly, and not on little blue lines.

I must say I was disappointed with the quality of the cards. They were more like paper than cards, but I was determined. I wrote each character’s name at the top, and anything I knew about him or her. Boys in blue. Girls in pink. I didn’t have check list or a method, I just jotted down what I knew about the character, mostly things like all their names (middle, maiden, nick—you get the idea), eye color, hair color and style, short or tall, thin or fat, and maybe his or her relationship to another character. I wrote the things that needed to remain consistent through the story, the things that wouldn’t change. Maybe for this novel’s first draft I wouldn’t have to type “find out what color Celia’s eyes were” on page 86, because I’d have a card that told me what i needed to know. I would limit my scrolling backwards and increase my moving forward. And in story writing, that is a good thing.

But I had more cards. What to do?

I don’t use the common novel-writing lingo because it doesn’t work for me. I’m a rebel that way. I find the words CONFLICT and TENSION empty. I look at them and think HUH? But, I do understand WORRY and ANGRY and SCARED and WONDER and SECRET and WANT and NEED.  So I wrote those out on cards for each character. Not in any order. Not the same for each one. Just what I knew to be important. Just what I knew at that time. That’s the great thing about index cards. There are always more.

I also put the major story points on cards. And—I wrote words you’re not supposed to write. AND THEN. That works for me. I wrote each major and minor event (you say plot point, I say event) on an index card followed by the words AND THEN…. This allowed me to consider the flow, and what was happening when and to move things around without major cutting and pasting in my Word doc.

I also wrote themes of the story on cards, and I’ll likely transfer those to—you guessed it—Post It Notes, when it’s time for me to revise. Those will stick all over my computer reminding me of what needs to float beneath the story to give it buoyancy.

For a few weeks I had each stack neatly paper-clipped together and tucked into an adorable little case I could carry around and look all writerly. Then one day I was chatting with my lovely agent and she asked, “What’s the last name of the dead friend again?” (No joke, she really did. She was writing up little blurb for the new book.)

“Oh my god,” I said. “I forget.”

“Well, call me when you remember.”

And then I did remember.

“I have index cards!”

And yes, the last name was still Cooper.

That’s when I realized index cards do not belong in pretty pouches. I wanted the cards out and around me whether I’m on the sofa or in bed (rules out the desk, but I don’t write there anyway).

The cards are like a little pat on the back to myself. I’ve thought it through, I have a plan, there is sense and order where I often feel there’s none. Even on days I get no writing done, I can read a card or two and have a good sense of story, remember something old, think of something new, and add a card to the pile.

I had no roadmap at all for The Glass Wives. When I wrote my debut novel I outlined the Chapter 3 when I finished Chapter 2. Yep, that book took four years to write. Not happening again. Ever. When I wrote The Good Neighbor I started with a (take a deep breath) twenty page synopsis. That synopsis served only as a loose tether to the story, because 1) stories always change as you write them, and 2) who is going through twenty pages to remember what’s just happened, what’s happening now, and what happens next? Not me.

The index cards are manageable size bites of the story and the characters, They’re snippets of time and place, fragments of intention and emotion. And on those days all writers have when the gifts of the writing life are elusive, when the rewards seem improbable and the words are fuzzy, these index cards are tangible rectangular reminders that many thoughts have been already been thought, and much of the work has already been done.

Cooper.

 

 

 

 

Praise Moses and Pass The Matzah: A Passover Primer

MatzosThe Easter Bunny and his entourage are back at the mall, and that means one thing to me.

Passover is coming.

Passover, the eight day celebration of the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, is my favorite Jewish holiday, although I’m not sure why. It entails cleaning and more cleaning and then cleaning some more, and that is my least favorite thing to do. It also involves macaroons, so perhaps that explains it.

In Hebrew, Passover is Pesach — PAY-SACH. The end of the word is that Jewish guttural throat roll that sounds like you are about to hock a loogey. It does not sound like the “k” in Saks or the “ch” in, chosen, as in — people. But I digress.

The first order of business in my household when I’m getting ready for Passover is to plan a Seder (SAY-der). A Seder is the holiday meal that revolves around the retelling of the Passover story through symbol, prayer, song and food. Think Thanksgiving on steroids but without the stuffing. I invite friends who are like family and we sit around the table and squeeze an otherwise four hour long ordeal into a modified fifteen minute yet comprehensive poetic version of the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston without any love affairs or Technicolor. It goes something like this…they tried to annihilate us, we whipped ’em, let’s eat.

During the planning process, I am also faced with the quandary of how to best observe the entire holiday, not just the Seder part. While I don’t change dishes or buy all foods that are “Kosher for Passover,” many Jewish families do. But, during the eight days we do not eat bread or anything that has obviously “risen” and in my house that’s basically just bread, cake or anything we deem to be fluffed up. My own internal debate as to whether Oreos without the middle are flat enough to be eaten on Passover is as of yet, unresolved.

To make room for Passover foods in the house and for the holiday, in our heads, we begin by eating all the chametz (it’s the “ch” sound again), or leavened products in the house. Certainly we could sell it all for a dollar, as is customary, to a non-Jew, but eating it is more fun. We then perform the ritual dusting with the feather to ensure that all the chametz crumbs are gone from the house. The problem is, in my cabinets we need a full feather duster. In Passover as in life, every family has their own rules.

With the cabinets cleaned, the shopping ensues. I arrive home from the grocery store with boxes of matzah, matzah meal, matzah farfel, matzah flour, matzah cake mix and a case of macaroons. I store it all on top of our spare refrigerator in the laundry room right in front of the leftover matzah from 2006, 2005 and 2004. Matzah lasts forever.

And while some of that (new) matzah packed in my kids’ lunches might spark comments among their classmates, I always include extra, because it seems to be the hit of the cafeteria every year.

It’s a time when my kids wear their religion on their sleeve, so to speak. They share a bit of Jewish culture at the lunch table where their friends can taste it, for real. That’s the reminder in one full swoop that they’re different and the same, at the very same time. They’re sharing bland and binding crackers, but part of a rich and colorful heritage of which they are both educated, and proud – and then they go off math class.

Even when I make light of it, it’s pretty heavy duty.

The fact that my kids know what to expect, and therefore, expect it, is very reassuring. They remind me about everything from making homemade matzah to the Passover mac ‘n cheese to our aversion to gefilte fish to who gets to search for the Afikomen (a hidden piece of matzah) during the Seder to the silly props on the holiday table to a debate on why or why not beans or pasta or rice are eaten on Passover.

So I guess the best part of Passover, aside from the macaroons, is the unfailing recurrence of every part of it every year, making it a week filled with our own family traditions.

And for me, that’s enough, or as we say at the Seder—Dayenu!

(Originally published on Imperfect Parent years ago when my kids lived at home and I was bit more ambitious with holidays. This year, it’s me, the dogs, and vegetarian matzah ball soup! Also, my new fave—homemade macaroons!)

Amy xo

Have you entered WFW’s 4th blogiversary giveaway for THE LIFE LIST, THE GLASS WIVES, and WHAT I REMEMBER MOST? Click here to find out more! 

Win 3 Novels by Women’s Fiction Authors! (Now THAT’S March Madness!)

Let’s celebrate Women’s Fiction Writers 4-year blogiversary with a giveaway, shall we? One winner will receive THE LIFE LIST by Lori Nelson Spielman, WHAT I REMEMBER MOST by Cathy Lamb, and THE GLASS WIVES by Amy Sue Nathan (that would be moi)!

Check out the Rafflecopter link  below to enter!

Thank you for being part of Women’s Fiction Writers! 

Click here to enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway for Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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All About That Book Cover

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You might remember the cover story behind The Glass Wives. No? The cover started out with two pink cups. Then we did this. The final cover has one pink cup and one blue/lavender/periwinkle (I was way ahead of the blue/black/gold/white dress curve). It’s one of the favorite stories I tell book clubs and at reader events. It’s that peek behind the publishing curtain that readers (and writers) covet.

So now, I’ll clue you in to the secret behind the cover for The Good Neighbor.

It started out as a red door.

It looked orange to me on my computer monitor, but everyone told me it was red. And I was thrilled! I have always wanted a red front door. It was like the art department at St. Martin’s Press read my book and my mind. While the red door isn’t literal (no red door in The Good Neighbor), it signaled warmth and welcome. And THAT was literal.

But…

Soon someone notice that another book was being published with a very similar red door. And then another. And because the pub date was originally December, we then were concerned The Good Neighbor would scream HOLIDAY STORY, which it’s not.

Back to the coloring board.

I’ll be honest, I am more a blue gal, than a red gal, but I loved that red door. But I took a deep breath and rearranged my thoughts and climbed on board the teal door train.

And now I can’t imagine it any other way. I’m so grateful to the St. Martin’s team who scoped out those similar covers. They want the cover to stand out, not fade in with other covers on the bookshelves and online. I’m very lucky.

But I’ll be honest, I didn’t always feel that way.

When the change came for the cover of The Glass Wives, at first, I was startled and upset. I assured my editor that Evie Glass would NOT have two different cups (since then, I’m not so sure). I persisted. Evie’s cups would match. I was urged to not be so literal, but to think about what the cups represented—and then I understood. The meaning of the cover went beyond the color of the cups to indicate the two different, yet similar, women inside the story.

It was perfect.

The same thing goes for The Good Neighbor. I based the setting on the street I grew up on in Northeast Philadelphia. Our front door were covered by metal screen doors (with screens in the warm weather, glass in the cold). The front doors were somewhat plain. Some had windows, some did not. I remember white doors and wood doors. I might remember a black door. I definitely don’t remember a teal door on my street.

This publishing thing is a learning process, and when I saw the cover I pushed aside my instant reaction that the door was wrong.

No matter the color, the door was right. It matched the tone of the book, the welcoming nature of the characters, and the neighborly sense of story that makes you want to knock a few times, and then step inside.

At least I hope so.

Amy xo

If you haven’t read The Glass Wives, it’s available in every possible way you’d want to read it. Hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audio book on cd or download. Check it out here or here.

Guest Post: Author Rona Simmons Explores How Bad Book Reviews Can Help Writers

PFW cover 1Authors often tell each other: do not read reviews. The reviews that rave about your book go to your head. The reviews that pan your book go straight to your heart. No good comes from either. But author Rona Simmons has another thought. What if we used bad reviews to challenge ourselves? To figure out what works and what doesn’t? What if some of those bad reviews had something valid to say? It’s an interesting thought — and Rona has some great tips and examples below.

Please welcome Rona Simmons back to WFW, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Amy xo

Our Love/Hate Relationship With Books

Can understanding what readers “hate” improve your writing?

by Rona Simmons

Continue reading

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Dating

…in book publishing.

Don’t roll your eyes. It’s not THAT kind of blog. But if you are here looking for a match to keep you busy at night (or in the morning), why not look through some of the books I’ve featured on WFW since 2011—and take your pick?

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***THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT GLADIOLAS (as I said they were) BUT GERANIUMS! THANK YOU BETH HAVEY. As evidenced below, I am NO gardener! 

As most of you know, I was able to share the cover of my second novel last week, just a day after my birthday.

The Good Neighbor boasts a beautiful teal door (no, it’s neither gold/white OR blue/black) with an endearing mail slot and blossoms of fuchsia geraniums poking in from the side. I can just imagine the rest of the scene (of course I can!) — but can’t you? And when you read The Good Neighbor I hope you’ll picture Izzy Lane and her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Feldman, when you see this cover.

I hope you’ll imagine stepping inside their homes and lives.

What you can’t imagine though, is that until a few days ago, the pub date for The Good Neighbor was not mid-October, but the end of December!

I’d gotten used to the idea of a holiday book launch, except for one thing.

How on earth was I going to have fuchsia geraniums at my book launch at the end of December? Yes, folks. This is what plagued me. So, not only am I thrilled that now I almost taste my launch date (8 months is NOTHING) I now only have to keep geraniums alive through the fall! If I can write two novels (and I’m working on the third) I can certainly do that. Right? If I can raise two kids into adulthood on my own, as well as four dogs, I can certainly keep plants alive, right?

Don’t count on it.

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But I’m going to be determined with the geraniumss. (I’ll keep you posted!) I’m also considering painting my front door teal. And if you know me at all, you know, I’m not kidding.

I guess what I really want to share here is that there is so much about publishing that is out of the author’s control. Like a publication date.

You think that one or two people wave their publishing wands and the decisions are made. It’s more like forty-seven people, their marketing teams, their financial gurus. And their mothers. Not to mention some folks who actually sell books and have opinions. (YAY for them!)

I lucked out with this switch-up. I’m thrilled. Giddy. But had the pub date remained in the midst of holiday season, I’d have made the most of that as well, alas, without gladiolas.

People ask when is the best time to publish a book? Is there a benefit to summer, spring, fall, or winter? Perhaps. Or maybe not. I think the best thing to remember is that we can only control our own writing and then, how we react to and capitalize on EVERYTHING ELSE THROWN OUR WAY.

Including that pub date.

I’m ridding my thoughts of holiday tie-ins (and there’s a big one) and coming up with all the long-lead time publications that might be interested in a story set in Philadelphia. Or about blogging. Or a single mom. Or about lies, as the consequences of secrets and lies are a big part of The Good Neighbor.

As is hope. And friendship. And love.

Seems to me those could possibly be things people would read about any ol’ time of year. Don’t you think?

But mid-October sounds especially good.

Unless it changes again! ;-)

As things move along with production and promotion for The Good Neighbor I’ll keep you updated.

And yes, it’s just as exciting the second time.

Amy xo

PS I’ve had fuchsia geraniumss on my FB author page for months. I saw the cover ages ago but wasn’t allowed to share. Now I have new FB cover photo. What? You’re not part of my author page? You can fix that by clicking here: OMG I’M GOING TO FIX THAT NOW! 

 

Book Cover Reveal: THE GOOD NEIGHBOR!

Hi everyone!

I’m thrilled to finally be able to share with you (if you haven’t seen it on Facebook or Twitter) the publication date and cover for The Good Neighbor!

The official pub date is October 13, 2015 but you can pre-order now on B&N and Amazon! Right now it’s just the paperback (ah, technology!) so I’ll let you know when the e-book pre-order buttons go live!

Let me know what you think!

Amy xo

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(The Glass Wives blurb is a placeholder, folks. I have some wonderful blurbs for The Good Neighbor I’ll share soon!)