Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We need a new name: Fictoir? Memtion?

I told myself last time this happened that I would not post again about debunked "memoirs," but then this newest one really put me over the edge. Like the first major not-a-memoir, this one was touted by Oprah (even before its release), which is now in question.

I just want to make one point. Or a few. There's coincidence, the "can't make this stuff up" kind of wonderful, ridiculous but true coincidence which drives many good (and real) memoirs, and then there's preposterously contrived "coincidences" which smell and act like fiction – because they are.

Yes, sometimes the most circumspect nonfiction writers must elaborate beyond what they precisely can prove, such as inventing likely dialogue which can vivify actual events at which one was not present or was too young or impaired to precisely recall. But that's different than completely making up events which the author absolutely knows never to have occurred, and then injecting them into an "otherwise" true account, simply because it will make for more compelling reading (and book sales, and film rights).

I'm thinking the publishing industry needs a new category, just to keep things clear. Fictionish Memoir? Memoirish fiction? Memtion? Fictoir? Hey, I’m only half-kidding.

Here's what actually bothers me most: As a nonfiction writer, I have deep admiration for my fiction writing colleagues, and regard writing fiction as a far more difficult creative literary endeavor. So if one day I ever were to try to publish my (currently very fledgling) fiction, I'm thinking I'd be honored to call it just that -- fiction.

And hey, if you think you want to be a memoirist, but it turns out you can't keep yourself from throwing in made-up stuff, then maybe you are actually a novelist instead, so why not call it a novel? Go ahead, write it in first person if you like, and please do toss in anything that's verifiably true (don't all first novels do this anyway?), but please don't call it NONfiction. Or memoir. Or, please God, especially not creative nonfiction.

Update: In the New York Times, Motoko Rich and Brian Stelter, include this quote:

“It’s a little disturbing that this is happening so often, and as an industry we need to get our act together,” said Morgan Entrekin, president of the publisher Grove/Atlantic.

and this:

Certainly, industry observers wondered how editors at Berkley and producers for Ms. Winfrey did not at least question the veracity of Mr. Rosenblat’s story, given some improbable details. In the book, he wrote not only that he reunited with his wife in New York years after she threw apples to him over the fence, but also that he had actually gone on a blind date with her in Israel a few years earlier but did not recognize her when he met her again.

“You’d think somebody would say, ‘Hmm, that’s amazing, let’s just spend an hour or a day seeing how plausible that is,’ ” said Kurt Andersen, the novelist and host of the public radio program “Studio 360.”

Comments? I'm always interested in what others think about this topic.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One Writer's Holiday Haul

In the spirit of it being a week in which not much real work will get done, I'll simply ask if you got (or treated yourself to) anything this holiday which will make your life as a writer easier, or just more fun? I did:

-An inexpensive, simple-to-use digital camera of my own (meaning it won't always be in my husband's office just when I need it, or in my 10-year-old's hands, or at the bottom of the camping bag, or the dashboard of the car).

- An oversized calendar titled, The Reading Woman, featuring gorgeous images of paintings of a woman alone reading. They are mostly carefully attired and coiffed women in period dress and lush surroundings, although I must say my favorite is At a Book, by Maria Konstantinova Bashkirtseva (Ukrainian, 1860-1884), in which a grey-haired woman dressed in plain black is at a table, her head bent over, ample hand splayed across her forehead and hairline. I guess I like it best because it's how I picture myself, me and something to read, alone, in any simple setting, shielding out the world. (Except that my grey hair is Medium Brown #43). With online calendars, I suppose I don't really need this, but my office walls always have a place for inspiration.

- A book about Latin for word geeks, Carpe Diem by Harry Mount, which I requested, since my teenager is studying Latin (and scoring 98s), and I'm convinced that if I knew more about Latin words, I'd have a better writing vocabulary. Plus, I'm one of those odd people (otherwise known as writers) who like reading about words.

- Paper. Green paper. Rectangular-shaped. With two-digit numbers on it. Every writer always needs more paper, especially that kind. Thanks, Mom.

As a show of support for the print media industry, I gave subscriptions, but since my husband made it clear that war would ensue if one more magazine or literary journal arrived in our own mailbox, this was probably the first year no one gave me one in return. He doesn't really need to know about the ones I get shipped to a friend's address now does he?

Hope you got something nice too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Five things you can do without knowing

My friend Erika tagged me with this, and at the right time, since I was floundering around for something truly meaningful to post, in relation to the season, and coming up empty. While I'm at it, I'm tossing in five things I wish for my writer friends in 2009: Kind reviews, enough acceptances to keep going, fewer rejections, work that matters (if only to you), and that your favorite print publications continue to exist.

What were you doing five years ago (December 2003)?

1. Procrastinating about what to do work-wise, since my youngest child had just begun kindergarten.
2. Filling out, and tossing out, applications to graduate programs in journalism, business, and creative writing (it would take another two years to get serious about an MFA).
3. Enjoying being at my fittest ever, weight- & health-wise (well, that was then….)
4. Working part time as a "real estate spy" evaluating agents.
5. Over-volunteering for my kids' school, scouts, and sports activities.

What were five things on your list for today?
1. Make the absolute, final, last trip to the grocery store.
2. Send my friends this and stop feeling guilty about the unwritten cards.
3. Bake (okay, slice & bake) far too many chocolate chip cookies.
4. Send a bunch of emails about helping to promote Feed Me!
5. Sort, wrap, stack and watch for UPS, fingers crossed.

What are five snacks you enjoy?
1. Sun Chips.
2. Anything with the words "dark chocolate" on the package.
3. Pretzels.
4. Popcorn (preferably kettle).
5. Chocolate chip cookies (see above).

What are five things you'd do if you were a billionaire?
1. Look around and see who needs help, close to home/heart.
2. Say these words to my kids: "Any college you want," and really mean it.
3. Write checks to organizations I care about.

4. Invest in the New York Times so I won't have to one day try to describe it to incredulous grandchildren.
5. Stop saying these words: "Oh, I don't need any new clothes or shoes."

What are five jobs you've had?
1. Retail cheese store clerk
2. Horse show judge
3. Waitress
4. Equestrian photographer's assistant
5. Ice hockey statistician

Who are five people you want to tag?
1. Michelle
2. Isaac
3. Raye
4. Harriet
5. Lyz

In the spirit of the holidays (in other words, because we are all crazed), they have my permission to delay responses till, you know, next year).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guest Blogger Christine P. Wang on the Experience of a Residency Fellowship

I first met Christine P. Wang a few years ago at a meeting of a local writer's organization, where she read a few pages from her memoir-in-progress. Others read too that day, but I could focus only on Christine, whose clearly articulated writer's voice (both on and off the page), reached across the table and grabbed me. We kept in only sporadic touch, but when we ran into one another at a local reading this past summer, it did not surprise me a bit to learn she had been awarded a three-month residency fellowship to work on her memoir. I know one day I'll be doing an author Q&A with her, when she publishes that book, on growing up Chinese American in Tennessee. Meanwhile, I asked her to do a guest post for me, about being in the enviable position of having several months to concentrate completely on her project.

Please welcome , Christine P. Wang.

I started a memoir -- tentatively called The Game of While -- twenty years ago. I wanted to paint the mind of a psychiatric patient who takes off on a cross-country red-eye flight (because all flights to Africa are booked); who hitches rides on 18-wheelers across Tennessee, looking for a place to call home – before deciding that the closest thing is living homeless in New York City.

By 2006, I wanted to finish the book so I could think of other things. I took Mediabistro's course, Memoir Writing Basics, by Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (Villard, 2004). I began dreaming of being “a residency whore” (as Stephanie called it): someone who jumps from one artist or writer residency to another, doing nothing but their art.

In December of 2007 I was laid off as a developmental book editor in northern New Jersey. I was freelancing for a local newspaper. Now was the time. I applied to five residencies. Three rejected me, one offered too little financial aid, and the third -- the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) – sounded too great to be true: a three-month fellowship, stipend, backdrop of the College of Santa Fe. On October 1, 2008, I climbed aboard a flight to New Mexico, free to do nothing but finish my memoir during the next three months.

It took me nearly half of October to find my rhythm (not to mention adjust my lungs to the 7,000 ft. altitude here). I began writing and editing chapters pretty intensely: five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to noon, resuming again 6 to 9 p.m. In between writing sessions, I jogged or biked along a trail filled with local flora, went to dinner with my new friends or just piddled around in my room. I've discovered there is a reason for two-day weekends: It's crucial to rejuvenate.

My room is an incredible space with cathedral ceilings and a skylight in a bathroom I don’t have to share. It's comfortable, amply furnished, well-lit and equipped with answering machine and hair dryer, and the laundry room is free. A communal kitchen is stocked with staples (bread, cheese, eggs, milk, etc.), and although we do our own shopping for anything else and cook all meals, the center does provide monthly communal dinners. At first, food prep was a nuisance, but it’s a welcome break now – any chance for variation in the work routine. Can it get lonely? Sure, but the cure is hiking at gorgeous national monuments in the area and shopping and gabfests with other artists.

There are one or two lectures a month, but finding entertainment is otherwise up to us. Guest lecturers living among us have included MacArthur Fellows, photographer Fazal Sheikh and artist/architect/filmmaker Alfredo Jaar. Sheikh gave a slide show on his images of displaced women and children in the Middle East; Jaar played examples of the migration of sound with international recordings of a song his father used to sing. Both were part of SFAI’s current exhibition theme: “Outsider: Tourism, Migration and Exile.”

Living with 8 to 10 artists and writers can be as intense as the writing. We eat, sleep and work in the same area -- bedrooms, communal kitchen and living area, and studios (for visual artists). Writers who don’t want to work in their bedrooms head out for space in the library, common areas or around town. One of the best parts of my residency is being inspired by other artists committed to their craft.

Still, there have been clashes and close bonding in this microcosm of the world’s personality types. One resident left early because of issues with another resident. I’ve heard another left because she couldn’t handle a communal kitchen. I’ve found the best antidote to the tension – real or imagined -- is focusing on my work. Everything falls into place when I’m writing.

Work habits vary here as much as personality. I came expecting to find a group as obsessive as I was who wanted to do nothing but eat, sleep and dream about creating art. But I learned after the first month to head out each morning to a downtown Borders to write because I found it too hard to say “no" when residents come knocking, wanting to go hiking or take a road trip.
"Freedom" can be either cure or curse, even for the most committed artist or writer. But if "self-starter" is your strong suit, a residency may seem like heaven.

The only thing that really disappointed me about Santa Fe is the preponderance of strip malls and shortage of walkers and bicyclists that I’d envisioned in this southwestern town. That and not having a fiesta every other day.

My three month stay is winding down now. Our third and last open studio is in a week. In an open studio, we get to show the public what exactly we’ve been working on. I'll read chapters from my memoir; visual artists give a short talk and tour of their art studios. I’m only slightly nervous -- even though I’m the only writer, even though a Q&A is planned

I remember the intimidation I felt when I first arrived. I had published little; I imagined that all the others had such courage to do nothing but their art. The life of the artist is one I’d dreamed about, but never thought possible. Making friends with artists here, I see that dreams need the reality of hard work, and intimidation is really the need for a working plan. The most successful artists here are simply ones who committed to a dream, consistently worked hard at it – and always kept dreaming.

Some of us are wondering what to do next.

I came wanting to finish my memoir, not really believing I could. At the end of December, I’ll be leaving Santa Fe with a finished manuscript, an idea for a new project I've been thinking about, and a new conviction, set blazing by this residency and the encouragement of the artist-role-models around me. My art has a place in the world, too, I know now -- as well as the courage to believe: I am a writer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Writers and Plumbers and Others

I'm in a bit of a snarky mood today, which reminds me I wanted to point readers to this recent OpEd piece about writers and other "authors" (think Joe-the-Plumber types who garner huge book deals to "write" a memoir).

I was once at a party when a man asked what I did for a living. I said I was a writer, and he suddenly got this game face on, as if I had just challenged him to an arm-wrestling contest in a seaport bar.

"Oh really? Ever write anything I would have read?" he asked.

I started on a list of my publishing credits but noticed his eyes glazing over, so I simply stopped mid-sentence. He seemed not to notice.

Then I asked, "And what do you do?" The man puffed up and said he was a plumber. Union. Twenty-three years.

"Oh really?" I asked. "Ever install any toilets I might have…." Well, you get the idea.

I've since learned to be nicer, if only to decrease my own agita. But I'm in total agreement with Timothy Egan, who wrote the above OpEd piece. Writers should writer. Plumbers (and other infamous famous folks) should...well you know. There's also this article, about how some publishers are fueling their own demise; hint: publishing so many stupid books is well….you get the idea.

Then there's this, about the over-coverage of the "collapse" of the book-magazine-newspaper industry, which I read somewhere recently but can't find again (and if anyone knows, tell me so I can link it): When Starbucks announced hundreds of store closings, no one wrote 72-point headlines about the end of the coffee industry.

Could it be that publishing is just changing, evolving, as every industry does and must? And that we don't do the industry or ourselves any good running around talking about it all being just about over? Yes, even when we are all losing jobs and contracts and assignments and confidence. Something tells me that, while whining has its function, it's probably better to focus on where the industry is going and how we can find a way to continue our creative endeavors within that new framework.

Okay. Now that's done, I can go back to work. You know, writing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Author Q&A: Christina Baker Kline on the essay collection, About Face

I collect three things: shoes, magazines, and well, collections--essay collections. I recently kicked the shoe habit (involuntarily: heel spurs), and I cancel subscriptions whenever my husband rants about magazines cluttering the living room, kitchen, bedroom, car and loo. But as for the personal essay collections – well, I find it hard to express the circumstances under which I will stop acquiring new ones without resorting to trite clich├ęs: cold days in hell, flying pigs and all that.

About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror, edited by Anne Burt and Christina Baker Kline, had extra appeal, since I know both editors, who live just a few miles from me. And it would have been hard to resist attending their book event held at the Bobbi Brown Studio (Brown wrote a foreword). Beyond that, however, Christina Baker Kline is one of those rare established writers who is known for extending a warm and deep generosity and meaningful support to writers still less well established. It was a delight to talk with her recently about the collection.

Lisa Romeo: About Face was published in August. How is the book doing now?

Christina Baker Kline: I don't even know! This book is published by
Seal Press and they have a different strategy than major New York publishers. It's a small press, but they will keep a book in their backlist for a very long time. They are wonderful. If you go to their website, you will see it looks very different than what you see from a big publisher. It started as a feminist press, and they publish some titles that are very outside the mainstream, and some others that have pretty broad appeal, which I think is the case with this book. Seal seems to be moving a bit more toward the commercial mainstream – by buying books like About Face and The List (which was just published, written by our friend Gail Belsky). Also, they publish fewer books than a bigger house, but they stick to them. So, I actually have no idea how About Face is doing in terms of sales, but the feedback we are getting is terrific. The word of mouth has been great.

LR: What has the response been like at the events you and Anne have done?

CBK: What's been fascinating is that we've now done a wide variety of appearances -- book clubs, readings, presentations, panels -- and we see a huge range of ages, from women bringing along teenage daughters, to college students, and much older women. I did several events in Maine over the summer, and in New York City, Anne and I did about ten events this fall, and no matter where we were, we found the book had something for any age.

Several years ago, I became interested in editing this collection for a number of reasons. A woman in France had just had a facial transplant; a number of plastic surgery shows were on television -- and I was fascinated with the cultural implications of all of this, and what kinds of new choices women were making about their appearance. The question that interested me was: how does what you see in the mirror affect the way you live your life? It begins as a question about beauty, but Anne and I managed to find such a diverse group of writers that the conversation widened to include culture and racial identity, and it became a deeper and broader discussion than I ever anticipated.

LR: At a recent event, one of the contributors, a best-selling novelist, talked about how her first essay was actually rejected. "And you know what?" she quipped, "these two women are my friends!" That must be a precarious position – to commission essays, and then having to edit, and sometimes ask for rewrites, from accomplished writers.

CBK: It is tricky. When you ask an established writer to contribute, I think you always need to know going in that if their first effort is not quite what you were looking for, you have an obligation to them to try to work together to the end product. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping the writer figure out what it is they are really getting at, what they truly need to say; sometimes the writer is dancing around it. Anne and I always tried to help our contributors wring the resonance out of what they were trying to say. In some cases, we sent back the work because it needed more depth, and then it came back much richer.

The really professional essay writers have figured out how to talk about themselves in a way that is both revealing and yet within the very firm boundaries they have set for themselves.
Kathryn Harrison, for example, knows exactly how much she wants to reveal about herself and no more; she is very clear about the territory she is getting into. When you've written personal essay for a while, you figure that out. On the other hand, as editors, Anne and I did have to watch out for the very seasoned magazine writers who may tend to wrap up the pieces too easily with an unearned epiphany. We would push them to go deeper and give those pieces more nuance.

LR: How did you select contributors?

CBK: The contributors range in age from 23 to 75, and the book encompasses a huge range of cultures and backgrounds and ethnicities. With a subject like this, it would be easy to have a lot of repetition, and it is important that the pieces are very different from each other. Early on in the process, our editor asked us to have each piece start with a paragraph in which the writer described her face, but those paragraphs sounded too similar. In the end we took that out, and encouraged our contributors to use their faces as a way to reflect on the larger issues about the way they live or their place in the world.

LR: I noticed neither you nor Anne have an essay in the book.

CBK: Anne was interested in writing a piece, but her life at the time was just too busy. In my case, I have edited three essay collections and have not written a piece for any of them. I love to edit; in another life I would be a book editor. Although it can be very satisfying to take a piece of your life and frame it and give it meaning, I am uncomfortable, myself, with the revelatory aspect of writing memoir. I prefer to write fiction. I particularly like the combination of writing fiction and then editing other people's essays. (I also love to be edited by a good editor when a piece of writing is under construction, and I get pushed to see things I couldn't recognize before.)

Montclair, NJ, where you both live, is extraordinarily rich in writers; you probably could have done an entire collection – a series! – by knocking on doors in your own neighborhood.

CBK: Consider that there are 80 published book authors in Montclair, and this is where we live! We wanted to avoid complications and hurt feelings. Our original plan was to have no Montclair writers, but we ended up having a few after all. Our list came together organically. Anne and I both know a lot of writers and have a broad pool to draw from in the wider world, and there were only 25 slots, so we had to choose carefully.

LR: What's next for you?

CBK: I just turned in a novel that is coming out next summer from
William Morrow/HarperCollins, called Bird in Hand. The book is very different from my previous novels. It's about New York and a suburban town (not unlike Montclair), and it's contemporary and rather dark, about four people whose marriages are crumbing.

I actually started it before I wrote
The Way Life Should Be, but finished it after that book, because it's very intense (it involves the death of a child) and was complicated to write. I just wasn’t able to finish it at that particular time in my life. So I put it aside and wrote The Way Life Should Be, which was great fun – it’s in the first person, present tense; it moves along at a fast clip, and resembles in some ways a romantic comedy.

After that, I was ready to go back to Bird in Hand. I really had to figure out how to make it come together; there were a lot of problems with structure, because it moves forward and backward in time from four different points of view. My editor, Kate Nintzel at William Morrow, gave me such amazing guidance.

I also just handed in a proposal for a new novel, which begins with a 90-year-old woman living alone on the coast of Maine, and in alternating chapters goes back to her life as an orphan in New York City, and how, when she lost her family, she was placed on an orphan train and sent to the Midwest. I’ve been doing a lot of historical research about the
orphan trains in the early 20th century – a fascinating part of American history that hasn’t been talked much about.

LR: If you had no other responsibilities, and were offered a fully funded year's time to do anything you please, how would you spend it?

CBK: Well, I'd write the orphan train novel and travel! Actually this is exactly what I’m going to do this coming year. Next summer I am going to teach at the
University of London in Kensington, four mornings a week. (I get a two-bedroom apartment and lots of free time, so my family will come for a while, too.) Fordham (where I'm Writer-in-Residence) just started a new London program, and I proposed a class called "Writing for Granta" (the literary journal). It’s a creative nonfiction class; at end of the four weeks, the students will have created literary journals of their own, with their own pieces.

Writer-in-Residence at Fordham is my dream job, and I'm sad that it's only a three year appointment (I finish in 2010). I really enjoy working with both undergraduates and grad students. I am teaching the things that interest me most – this year my classes include “Fiction Boot Camp,” “The Arc of the Novel” and “Writing the Personal Essay,” for example. I love the collaborative aspect of teaching creative writing. I work hard to give my students serious advice and encouragement; in turn, they give me new ideas, send me in new directions. It’s a lovely alchemy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bookstore Bailout

Received this timely message from the Author's Guild, and although I'm guessing I'm preaching to the choir a bit, I'm still passing it on. The Guild encourages everyone to pass it along, as well, so please join in and post it (with attribution) wherever you think it may do some good.
I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party.

Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves.

Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: "Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
Authors Guild

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reading on Writing. Reading. Writing. All the same activity?

Maybe I just miss school. Or, now that I'm teaching some, I realize (with humility) how much more there is to learn. Either way, I've been spending time with a few craft books lately, culling bits here and pieces there. The first one's newer, the rest have been around--with good reason.

The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda, subtitle: Great writers talk about style and voice in writing. Those two huge (and largely undefinable) factors separating good writing from great writing - style and voice - are addressed by Yagoda and more than a dozen others.

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood, subtitle: Writing compelling, fresh approaches that express your characters' true feelings. Though aimed primarily at fiction writers, equally necessary for the nonfiction writer -- and especially the essay writer -- who often relies too heavily on explaining emotions, rather than illustrating them. Making myself do the end-of-chapter exercises.

Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, subtitle: A nonfiction writers' guide from the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University. Gold from many top tier literary journalists. (And though I can't, how I wish I could attend the 2009 Neiman Conference on Narrative Journalism.)

Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, subtitle: Instruction and insights from the teachers of the Associated Writing Programs. Gems. Excellently drawn, clear, concise. And killer exercises throughout.

That's it. Try one, if you haven't. And let me know what you're reading, too.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Killer Blog Posts, Killer Writing: No Big Differences

I was talking yesterday to a friend who uses her blog, mostly quite well, as her primary marketing tool for the services she offers. She was looking for input about her posts, how to improve them, and at the same time, refine her writing as well.

Today, I stumbled across
this detailed post, by Chris Brogan. It's not only a brilliant and eminently readable formula for bettering a blog, but it contains some rather excellent writing advice, period.

Like this:

"Deconstruct what your favorite writers do, and try it your own way.
Occasionally, try something completely different.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid of not being interesting enough."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Fridge Clean-Out

► Yes, it's a long way off. But the folks at Nonfiction Now/The Bedell Nonfiction Conference have announced their next date: November 4-6, 2010. Maybe by then the publishing/media/entire world will have rebounded enough so that we can all afford airfare to Iowa. And for those thinking of proposing a panel presentation – no excuses - now you have plenty of time to plan.

► Apparently, I'm a Flower Smeller, according to my blogger-writer friend at Exile on Ninth Street. Yikes, can it really have been almost a month since he said so? I'll be passing on the accolade here next week. Thanks to Todd, who apparently is not only a Flower Smeller himself, but a semi-famous one too.

► I'm intrigued by entrepreneurial journalists like those behind
Spot.us, where writers suggest investigative pieces that think ought to be written, and site visitors vote with dollars to fund the project, so writers can get on with what they do best. I'm guessing we are going to be seeing more ventures of this kind, what with thousands of print journalists being pink-slipped, magazines dying by the dozen, newspapers disappearing, and the trend, unfortunately, likely to continue through a good chunk of 2009.

► Even the grey lady is (finally) getting linky. The New
York Times homepage now has a (sort of hard to find) small square button which says "Try our EXTRA home page." Click it and you get an enhanced NYT home page, with lists of links to relevant stories from other sources. There are the likely, predictable suspects, such as the Weekly Standard, Washington Post, and Talking Points Memo, but many also from less obvious sites – today, for example, Hot Air TV, Half Sigma, even Gawker.

►Blood Dazzler, by my friend Patricia Smith was named one of the top five books of the year by NPR. Patricia's brand new (really new) blog is here.

►Following the advice of a (successful) writing coach friend, I've stuck a name on my next nonfiction workshop series, calling it: Resolve to Write in 09. For info, email: LisaRomeoWrites at gmail dot com.