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A conversation (and apologies for the above headline, which I couldn’t resist) with bestselling author Robert Dugoni:

Although he’s been a lawyer for nearly twenty years, Robert Dugoni has been writing his entire life. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a degree in journalism and clerked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times before obtaining his doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.Bob Dugoni

Dugoni has practiced as a civil litigator in San Francisco and Seattle. He partnered with EPA Special Agent Joseph Hilldorfer to write the groundbreaking nonfiction work, The Cyanide Canary, which exposed one corporation’s crimes against an employee and the environment. The harrowing story of an Idaho mining company’s questionable safety practices, and the ensuing landmark court battle, prompted one reviewer to warn, “Caution: This book will make you angry.”

Not only that, The Cyanide Canary won the award for Idaho Book of the Year, an honor bestowed by the Idaho Librarians Association. Dugoni says, “It was a thrill to receive this award because librarians are so well read and exposed to so many good books.”

Joe HilldorferThe author is also a two-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. He has written two bestselling legal thrillers, The Jury Master and Damage Control, which have been compared to the works of Scott Turow and Stephen L. Carter. Just published by Warner Books, Damage Control features a female protagonist. Dana Hill is in a bad marriage and a bad job when her brother is viciously beaten to death in his Greenlake home. The police are telling her he died during the commission of a robbery, but she doesn’t believe it. The more she pushes for answers, the more some powerful people push back and everyone involved in her brother’s murder is turning up dead.

Dugoni, who is married and the father of two, says, “I’ve always been surrounded by mentally strong women. My mother raised her kids and went back to school at forty to become a CPA. She’s run her own business for thirty years. My three older sisters basically raised me. All are professionals. And working in the law, you’re surrounded by strong willed, competent women. I wanted Dana, my protagonist to have those same qualities and yet, she doesn’t even know how to take the safety off a gun. She’s a different kind of protagonist – relentless and determined to find justice for her brother.”

The book has been praised by critics, some of whom “are surprised a male writer could pull off [a book written in a female’s point of view].” Perhaps the most humanizing element of the book is when Dana is diagnosed with a lump in her breast. “My mother is a breast cancer survivor,” Dugoni explains, “as is a dear friend. My cousin’s wife, Lynn Dugoni, however, died of the disease, leaving behind two middle-school aged sons. It was tragic and her struggle touched everyone in my family. It’s a disease that is far too prevalent and I hope that the book will raise further awareness. It’s a disease that has, and will, unfortunately touch all of our lives on one level or another.”

Dugoni’s works appeal to readers who like suspense novels of all types. Although the main character is a lawyer, and she spends a lot of her time at the law firm, Damage Control is more of a political suspense novel, and one woman’s struggle to find justice for her brother, than a legal thriller. “Each of my books,” the author explains, “The Cyanide Canary, Damage Control, and now The Jury Master touch upon one person’s pursuit of justice as a theme. I guess it comes from being a lawyer for nearly twenty years and seeing how difficult that pursuit can be at times. People who like David vs. Goliath stories and stories in which the outcome remains unknown until the very end will like this novel. It’s also a very personal story of one woman’s battle when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Female readers in particular will relate to Dana’s struggle to be a mother, wife and professional under very trying circumstances.”

Readers who enjoy a local setting will not be disappointed in Damage Control. “This is actually the first book I’ve written in a city in which I was currently living. The Jury Master took place in San Francisco, where I spent fifteen years of my life, but I wrote it after I left, as well as Washington D.C., which required a lot of research. This book takes place in Seattle and Hawaii, and I was in both places as I wrote it. It gave me a chance to really focus on the details and settings.”

Dugoni’s reading preferences and voracious appetite for books of all kinds was fed by his mother, and by his local library. “As a kid, being one of ten kids, my mother often took us to the library to pick out books to read or to do our term papers. I think it was a respite for her and gave us the chance to fall in love with books, as she did. My mother has a night stand constantly filled with books. When I go home to visit its like being in a library and I’ll ask her, ‘What good books have you read lately?’

“Now, as a writer, I rely on the library and librarians constantly to research my novels. I do a lot of research on any number of topics and usually first approach an librarian to get direction. It’s a fun project. Recently I’ve spent a lot of time finding and reading first hand accounts of soldiers who served in Iraq for a new novel on which I’m working. I think I’ve worn out a path in the biography section at the King County Library in downtown Seattle.”

Author Robert Dugoni is also beating a path to Bainbridge Island, Washington courtesy of the Field’s End Conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods,” on April 28. He will be presenting two workshops and signing his books at the say-long event. For more information, please see www.fieldsend.org and visit the author on the web at www.robertdugoni.com.

Author Robert Dugoni’s Five Favorite Novels:

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The Green Mile by Steven King

Hot Springs, by Stephen Hunter

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I still haven’t come up with a title for my book. For me, this is either completely simple–it pops into my head right away and it’s perfect for the book and everyone loves it. Examples: Passing Through Paradise. The Charm School. Other times, I go for months without knowing what the book will ultimately be called. The whole time I was writing The You I Never Knew, it was known as Daddy Take My Kidney, Lover Take My Heart.

Every once in awhile, we think we’re all agreed and I go public with a title and at the last minute, it gets shot down–either by someone at my publisher or by a buyer for a big chain of bookstores. There’s usually a good reason–maybe there’s already a book with this title, or it rubs the buyer the wrong way….This was a problem back when Talking to the Moon became Significant Others and ultimately, Table for Five. The decision was made after there was a “Dear Reader” letter published in the back of one of my books, saying “Please watch for Significant Others next year. I still get letters asking me whatever happened to Significant Others.

Back to the present troubles. It’s a February book. The Catskills, a frozen lake, a lake-effect blizzard. Oh! I’ve got it! Lake Effect. Too perfect. But I’m told this is too cold and clinical for my warm and fuzzy books. We move on to Heart of Winter which I quite like, except it’s already been taken.

Then I thought about the word Midwinter. Wrote it down. Circled around it. Imagined it on the one of my covers. It’s a good word for a February 2008 book, eh? So I went to Google and typed in “midwinter” to see if it would trigger any riffs or phrases beyond “In the bleak midwinter” which is a great phrase but it’s already been used.

Messing around on Google is a dicey thing to do if you’re punch drunk from writing 3500 words and have never been that great at attention and focus. Because the next thing I knew, I was reading (with inappropriately deep absorption) about something called “Midwinter Pottery.” And suddenly I’m helplessly in love. I mean, look at this stuff. midwinter pottery

Could it be any cooler? Those who know me know I am a midcentury modern kind of girl. My house was built in 1961. Some of the neighbors even call it the “Jetson House.” So anything from that era… 

Anyway. I don’t have a title but I have a new obsession. I am in such trouble.

I went away for the weekend–to Klipsan Beach–to find a title for my new book. Klipsan BeachMy ever-wise editor wants it to reflect a) a sense of place and b) a feeling of escape. So I escaped to a place with a strong sense of place and I’m waiting for a lightning bolt of inspiration. You’d think after 30 books, I’d know better.

 The book will be published in February 2008. It’s another of the “Lakeshore Chronicles” books about the made-up Catskills town of Avalon.

How do you find the right title for a book?

Field’s End presents a one-day writers’ conference at the legendary Kiana Lodge on Saturday, April 28, 2007. Owned and operated by the Suquamish Tribe, in whose language “kiana” means “garden of the gods,” Kiana Lodge is a historic waterfront conference center surrounded by gardens, with its own private dock and beach, overlooking Agate Passage between Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo, Washington. This is a rare opportunity for anyone who loves the written word, a chance to spend the day in a very special place with other writers who truly care about the craft of writing.

“Hearing authors of this caliber just talk, just relate why and how they do what they do lifted me up. Thank you, thank you. Also, the Kiana Lodge is amazing. Being here with such good spirit in a place that has worked so hard to heal gave me something I can’t explain–no, I can–a grace, a feeling of grace.”  –2006 Conference Attendee

Past guests at our events include Dorothy Allison, Ivan Doig, Tim Egan, Karen Joy Fowler, Gail Tsukiyama, Elizabeth George, Erik Larson and Field’s End co-founder, David Guterson. This year’s conference features keynote speaker Malachy McCourt, conference opener Debra Dean, moderator George Shannon, workshop leaders Robert Dugoni, Clyde Ford, Mary Guterson, Priscilla Long, Kelli Russell Agodon, Katherine Ramsland, Veronica Randall, Garth Stein, Elsa Watson and Susan Wiggs. Eagle Harbor Book Company, a Booksense affiliate, handles book sales for our events. 

The commute from downtown Seattle is easy and scenic, via ferry and shuttle to Kiana Lodge. Overnight accommodations on the island abound. Our events receive exposure on NPR and in the local and national press as well as on the Web. Here we are in Publisher’s Weekly:

Picture of the Day
  Writer’s Camp
Writers abound at the first annual Field’s End Writer’s Conference, at a writer’s community founded in 2003 by novelist David Guterson on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Pictured (l. to r.) are novelists Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club), Susan Wiggs (Table For Five), Gail Tsukiyama (Dreaming Water) and Bharti Kirchner (Darjeeling).

You’ll enjoy a day of inspiring workshops, the company of writers and Kiana’s incredible food. A full schedule of events is posted here. It is just a short distance to Chief Seattle’s grave and the Suquamish Museum, if you’re so inclined, or you can just relax somewhere with a good book. In the late afternoon, there will be a panel discussion followed by a wine & cheese reception and booksigning. Everything wraps up by 6pm.

Early registration, until March 1, gets you a $15 discount. After March 1, registration is $150. The conference is filling fast, so join us soon.

Pardon me, I have to insert a quick kvell. Just had the nicest 3-way. On the phone, you guys, on the phone. My editor and agent called to let me know The Winter Lodge made it for a third week on the New York Times list and has even climbed several notches. Plus while we were on the phone, my agent (in Manhattan) spied a naked man out her window. Life is good.

I want to go to Istria. Saracen tower near Amalfi

Also Puerto Escondido and someplace in the Bohemian forest where there are castles. And Nantucket. I’m afraid my literary agent will divorce me if I don’t get to Nantucket one of these days. Decisions, decisions.

Mt Rainer with ferryBut here’s the thing. I live in the best place on earth. It’s easy to settle into a comfy inertia and not go anywhere.

Then I remind myself of what happens when you travel–the things you see and the things that happen to you, the surprises you can’t plan for and the experiences you’ll never forget–when you step out into the world.  So okay. I’m up for it.

 How do you choose where you want to travel?

So until I plan that trip to Istria, here’s a recipe for a cake from the region:

Okrugli Vrsak
      Yield: 1 cake

1 1/2 c  butter
      1 lb confectioner’s sugar
      6    eggs
    1/8 tsp salt
      1 tsp vanilla
      1 tsp almond flavor
      1    lemon peel, grated
      4 c  flour
      1 tsp baking powder
           a handful of dried fruits and nuts
 
  Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, one at a time.  Add all  the flavorings and salt.  Add flour and baking powder. Mix only long enough to make it creamy. Add the dried fruits and nuts.  Bake in greased and floured tube pan or loaf pan for 1 hour and 15-25 minutes, or until done, at 325 F.
 
  Source: Mary Aziz
  “Our Favorite Recipes” St. Anthony Croatian Catholic Church
  Typed for you by Karen Mintzias

A quick reminder – Booklovers’ weekend at the Ocean Lodge is coming up! There’s an article about it here.

News flash and a huge, huge thank you to readers–The Winter Lodge is on the New York Times Bestseller list , Publishers Weekly and the USA Today list. On to our regularly-scheduled program….

I write the first drafts of my novels by hand. I’m just as particular about the paper as I am about the ink. I use only a Clairefontaine notebook–wire-bound, graph ruled–and peacock blue ink, which has lamentably been replaced by “turquoise.” The pastel-tinted paper is thick, with a silky writing surface, and putting the words down is a meditation and a pleasure for whole minutes at a time (I’m not one of those writers blessed with effortless first drafts). In French, the notebooks are called “velin veloute,” a reference to the smooth texture of the paper.

 When I’m working on a book, I tend to drag this notebook around with me everywhere. When it’s not with me, I try to keep it in a safe place, like in the freezer. So if there’s a fire, it’ll survive. first draft

 The U.S. distributor put up a list of writers who use Clairefontaine notebooks, including yours truly, as well as the main character of Passing Through Paradise:

“Best selling author Susan Wiggs, in her recent novel, Passing through Paradise, devised a heroine who uses Clairefontaine tablets and peacock-blue ink. This is no surprise, since the author herself always writes her first drafts with a special fountain pen, peacock-blue ink, and, yes, Clairefontaine notebooks.”

 Author Anne Tyler once said that writing a book in longhand is like “knitting a book.” Maybe, but I don’t think that hard when I knit.

I don’t write in the hope that my books will change the world. I write for “Polly B.,” a reader who sent me this note via my web site:

“I woke up to a snow day today. A perfect gift for a teacher.  I fixed a cup of tea and got back in bed with The Winter Lodge and spent 3 hours finishing the book. Thank you for making it a special day.”

She even sounds like a teacher. I’m guessing Grade 3, because my all-time favorite snow dayteacher, Mrs. Green, taught 3rd grade. But that’s just a guess. I get such lovely little glimpses of people who read my books. This one is the kind of note that makes a writer say, “Mission accomplished.”

You can see more of my own “snow day” photos here.

So in the grand scheme of things, this is probably not huge, but this month’s interview in “Heart to Heart” is something I’ve always wanted to do. Thanks to Ginger Curwen for interviewing me, and particularly for asking me a really good question about pivotal scenes. It made me think about the important moments in a novel, and how every choice the writer makes can affect the direction of the story.Heart to Heart logo

“Heart to Heart” started out as a publication for readers who shopped at the B. Dalton chain. Now it’s expanded to a web-based e-newsletter, but I was one of its first fans, way back before the Web. What I loved was that it featured interviews with some of my favorite authors, like Jennifer Blake, Laura London , Kathleen Woodiwiss and LaVyrle Spencer. There really wasn’t anything quite like it out there, so it was a chance to catch a glimpse into the thought processes of a working writer.

Every writer I’ve ever met is convinced that her peers have found an easier way to get the book written. What I discover, in reading various author interviews, is that there are as many ways to write as there are authors–every one of them a tough challenge. And really, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

News Flash! We’ll be talking about this event live or on the Web on KINK-FM on Thursday, February 8, at 9:00a.m. Tune in to 102FM in Portland, or listen on the Web. See you on the airwaves.

Sometimes, serendipity is the best travel guide. I had never heard of The Ocean Lodge  in Cannon Beach, Oregon before the manager, Wendy, contacted me several years ago. She had read The Lightkeeper which takes place in the vicinity, and was inspired to create a theme weekend for guests, called “Romance and a Storm.” Haystack RockMy job was to be author-in-residence for a long weekend, chief Eater of Chocolate Waffles and head letter-writing guru. Since Valentine’s Day was approaching, I decided the writing exercise would be “How to Write a Love Letter.”

For this writing exercise, the only assumptions were that a) everybody loves someone and b) everybody can write. In our diverse room full of people, we had women of all ages, a couple of well-behaved young husbands (any guy who would attend a workshop called “How to Write a Love Letter” automatically falls into the “well-behaved” category) and a kid who was more interested in the chocolate-syrup pump in the breakfast room than any stinkin’ love letter.

In the back of the room was a burly man in a plaid flannel shirt, a red knit cap on his head and lace-up boots, with his sleeves rolled back to reveal beefy forearms. He held his pen like a blunt instrument. He was easily more than six feet tall and had the body of a linebacker. So I’m thinking, this better be good, because this guy could hurt me.

The writing process for a simple love letter starts with brainstorming and visualizing. I encourage people to picture their loved one (sweetheart, mom, child, pet, anyone they like) and to jot down some key phrases and feelings that come to mind. Ultimately, the goal is for them to put their heart on paper in their own unique, sincere way. Everyone went about it with gusto. I looked at Paul Bunyon in the back of the room and was amazed to see him weeping. He wrote and wrote, longer than anyone else, his big shoulders shaking as his pen moved steadily across the page. Then he blew his nose, gruffly thanked me and ducked out.

I found myself envying the recipient of that letter.

The Winter LodgeThe Ocean Lodge tends to have that effect on people. It’s a place so close to the edge of the world that you feel as though you can touch infinity. People who don’t ordinarily write things pick up pen and paper. Unartistic people grab or pastels and sketchbook, and non-athletes find themselves taking a beach walk or hike with a camera. That’s what an Ocean Lodge Event is all about. I have one coming up later this month.  

Please join me for a reception, booksigning and writing workshop in this magical place, February 23-25.

My publisher sent me to an event in Portland called the ABA Winter Institute. It’s a meeting of independent booksellers who seem to care more about what goes into creating a fabulous author event than they do about the countdown to the superbowl.

The author reception and booksigning featured writers with books just out, or galleys to give away. My favorite kind of signing–the books are free, and the room is full of avid readers. What’s not to like?

I made a new friend–Pam Jenoff, who is adorable and talented–got to visit with an old friend–the amazing Cassandra King, introduced myself to a writer I’ve always admired, Frank Deford. He gets the prize for best-dressed writer ever, anywhere. Eat your heart out, Tom Wolfe! There’s a slide show of the event here.

I came home with some incredible-sounding books– The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, The Society of S by Susan Hubbard, Cassandra’s Queen of Broken Hearts, The Dead Father’s Club by Matt Haig and Pam’s debut novel, The Kommandant’s Girl.

So guess what I’ll be doing during the Superbowl? Decisions, decisions.

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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