Thursday, September 24, 2015

casting ...

Invited over to My Book, the Movie. Usually it pains me when someone asks me to think of casting, but this time I had a blast.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Personal for Promotional, one for one swap.

1. Early on when I was on book tours, I used to pretend I was late for flights and sprint through airports. Day after day of late nights and early wake-ups and then feeling penned and shuttled, I was so restless that I couldn't help it; it was like being set loose, something wild in a big enough cage, but also strangely it's one of those rare places that a woman in jeans and boots can start sprinting and it's social acceptable. (Update: I now lounge in airports...) 

2. Just heard that Harriet Wolf is an EDITOR'S CHOICE at AudioFile Magazine and just won Earphones Award! This is really an award for the actors who voiced the roles so I'll pull the part that mentions each by name, "Jodi Carlisle depicts Harriet's anxious, resentful daughter, Eleanor, while Katie Koster and Christine Lakin offer spot-on portrayals of her granddaughters, agoraphobic/claustrophobic Tilton and prodigal Ruth. But Harriet is the story's heart. Susan Silo is outstanding as she rasps and whispers her droll asides, skewering characters with choice observations. Part romance, part mystery, this completely engaging and wondrous tale is an audiobook listeners will want to hear again ASAP."

Here is the full review!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Do I deserve to work in words?

So far the strangest thing about the new novel being out is that people write me that the novel made them cry -- I've never published a novel that's had so many people consistently write me about their emotional reaction -- and then they tell me the lines they love. It's the strangest thing to have your novel come back at you in disconnected lines -- wonderful too, but oddly disorienting. 

Here is a beautiful new review by Lauren Daley in South Coast Today that really allows the novel to speak. Wriiting a novel about a novelist who's never cared for novelists while I'm trying to start writing a new novel, I was surprised the reviewer quoted this line from my novel today. Harriet, a reclusive novelist, wrote, “I’ve never cared for novelists. They don't know how to be essential. They lack self-restraint. If you can’t evoke emotion — twist-tie one soul to another — in the density of a poem, then you don’t deserve to work in words.” 

I know exactly where this idea came from. As a young writer I was a devout short story writer and had no intentions of ever writing anything else, and in my most zealous phase, I once said -- about novelists, "If you can't tell a moving compelling story in twenty-five pages or less, why call yourself a writer?" 

I eventually broadened my definition of a writer.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Day One. Writing.

I want my students to see the scenes in their heads. I want them to know -- day one of class -- that their minds are infinitely generative.
This year, I started with three exercises -- the second is where they offer memories based on prompts and we plot a story together. The lesson here is that their memories are gold -- "Memory is a net," as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it. And Mednick's famous definition creativity being associative memory that works exceptionally well. In this exercise, they see a lot of the basic elements of story being assumed, but subservient to memory.
The last exercise is purely word-based, the simplest and often the one that yields the best results. The lesson being that words alone can save the writer. They have their own generative force, beyond you.
But the new exercise, the first, is where I lead them through five short visualizations. They have to close their eyes for each and can jot notes between them. One, for example, asks them to imagine a woman in a flooded basement, what floats around her ... she wades to a footlocker and opens it and looks inside. That's it.
After the five are finished, I ask them to put them through two lenses -- the first is which is the most vivid. The second is which is the most mysterious -- meaning you yourself, the creator, wants to know what happened before and after.
The homework for introductory level students is to write one as a scene. The intermediate students have to do the same but also have to plot a story in which they use at least three of the visualizations as scenes in the proposed story that they never have to write. They also write prompts for each other to play with. Much of the discussion is about not just what but how they saw what appeared in their minds. And some of the visualizations also ask for listening as well as seeing.
At the end of the first class, they have three ways at story-making.
For young creatives in particular, this speech is a good one.
"I didn't have a choice." -- Steven Spielberg

[Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders is now loose in the world... ]

Thursday, September 3, 2015

On plotting by secrets, just a little note for writerly types.

One of my former graduate students just posted the Entertainment Weekly review of HARRIET WOLF, which circles around secrets and when they're revealed. The student wrote, "Some might say she plots by secrets." And she tagged a number of my students who know my catchphrase "plot by secrets" well. The idea of the secret holding power and the stories we tell are form of currency -- we use them to form intimacy -- and the stories we don't tell are coiled springs waiting to be let loose. The right secret let loose in fiction has consequences, creating more plot. Of course, plot can be revealed by all kinds of metaphors, except perhaps static ones. BIRDMAN was fascinating to me because it had an opposite mechanism for plot. I'd call it "plot by escalating and contradictory truths stated openly." (They actually play truth or dare.) It gave me a new lens to look at truth instead of the held secret. I still prefer what's held close and the timed release.

Monday, August 31, 2015


The Personal: 
My folks come for dinner to see Finn and Phoebe before they leave for college and as Theo and O. prep for new school year. Washing machine flood in basement as Dave puts the steaks on; fire alarm goes off as steaks smoke. Dogs run outside and sit on neighbor's lawn, as if following the safety plan. People eat, shouting between the fire alarms. I drop a knife that stabs the floor next to my foot. It was that kind of meal. 
Later, after everything calms down, Dave calls us all downstairs. "Are we in trouble?" "Are you going to make us look at the moon?" He has us all sit down and play "What's my problem?" -- a game he's just invented. Basically everyone gets 3 minutes to air their issues.
O. (8 years old) says, "I think you shouldn't just have to say your problems. You can be like, 'Socks these days. Am I right?'" We agree. We go around, each timed, and then discuss.
We laugh. We choke up. It's been a strange and wonderful summer -- the kind of tough summer you wouldn't trade.
The next day is the last before Finn leaves. I give him a haircut in the side yard, an old ritual, but it's later when I confess to him I haven't cried yet but I could. He's at the foot of the stairs. I'm at the top. The 8 year old is asking for soda in between. He says that he could dig at it and cry but doesn't feel like it. I say I don't want to either. He continues packing. The 8 year old is still hoping for soda. I wave her up the stairs and whisper that I'm sad about Finn leaving but my voice cracks and I start to cry. She stares at me, wide-eyed. Seeing a parent break down a little is surprising. Then she says in a very quiet voice, "Can I have some soda now?"
The Promotional: 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has a fantastic review of HARRIET WOLF in the current issue. I hear that in print I'm on the same page as Franzen and got a higher grade, but I could care less about Franzen, on the planet and on the page. Hoping to get a copy in hand today. Here's a bit:
"Family secrets make for ripe hunting grounds for novelists. In this evocative book, those secrets hide mystery after mystery, like a set of Russian nesting dolls... No spoilers, but we’ll say this: Baggott knows how and when to reveal answers for the ultimate emotional punch."

Saturday, August 29, 2015


THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW takes on Harriet Wolf, and, wow, it's a great review. I mean truly amazing. And the praise feels good, of course, but, more deeply, there's a feeling of being understood, to have the lines you needed to write singled out as if needed to be heard, to have labored so long and have someone say yes to the work, the ride, and mainly to my characters, who are real to me in all of their joy and suffering, love and sorrow... very thankful. 

And I'm thankful for all of you who have been such great support over the years. It means more than you might imagine. 

(The review will run, full page, on Sunday.)