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Here’s something you don’t see every day. A yard barge. They moved my neighbors’ house away on a barge. Gorgeous day. There’s a slide show here.

house on a barge

I used to really not like Donald Maass, an author, literary agent and lecturer on the art and craft of writing. He had a habit of saying things that annoy writers, like, “Who cares?” and “How can you make this matter more?” Why didn’t I like him? Why did I get annoyed? Because his insights and questions, outlined in his books and workshops, forced me to work harder than ever on my novels. Breakout Novel

His directness forces a writer to take a cold, hard look at her own work. And painfully often, to spot its weaknesses.

Then, as I internalized the lessons in Don’s books and workshops, I noticed a deeper understanding of craft, and I started liking this guy. A lot. I used to be stuck in a quandary about some of the most fundamental aspects of the novel–stakes, antagonists, theme, premise. Particularly building high stakes and creating a compelling antagonist. I used to think my books were lacking in that area. There’s no fate-of-the-world-hanging-in-the-balance. No evil overlord or great battle of good v. evil. Then, reading Writing the Breakout Novel, I had an epiphany: These elements were all present in my fiction. I could make the reader believe it by using techniques of craft like building high human value–making the reader care deeply about my characters.

Donald Maass’s upcoming book, The Fire in Fiction, further explores the concepts that consume a fiction writer. He offers practical methods of bringing passion to fiction writing—every day, every page. The book is slated for publication in 2008 by Writers Digest Press.

He also discusses a topic near and dear to our hearts–how to write not just one terrific book, but to build an entire body of work with consistent quality.

“You know how some novels by your favorite authors disappoint?” he asks. “You wonder, did the author rush or have a bad year?” Not only does he pose these tough questions. He has some answers for us.

“Then there are other writers whose every book is a powerhouse,” Maass observes. “Every novel feels passionate. How do such authors stay on top of their game? More to the point, how does passion find its way on to the page? What does ‘passion’ mean when you’re creating characters, or building the world of the novel?”

Field’s End, an affiliate of the Bainbridge Library, is bringing us an exclusive preview of The Fire in Fiction on Saturday, October 13 at the Bainbridge Pavilion. Both the book and the workshop are geared for professional, published novelists…and for fiction writers who are on their way.

All of Maass’s works have guided writers through the process of making a career out of creating fiction. The Career Novelist addresses the writer’s journey from creative dreamer to published pro. Writing the Breakout Novel and The Breakout Novel Workbook contain practical advice for marrying good writing with good storytelling, elevating craft to the level of art.

Maass is one of the most well-read professionals in the industry, and his books cite techniques from a range of writers, from Barbara Cartland to Margaret Atwood to James Patterson.

“I’m a literary agent in New York City,” Maass explains. “I opened my agency in 1980, after working as an editor. Today my company represents more than 100 novelists and sells more than 100 novels every year to major publishers here and overseas. I…teach workshops all over the country. I’m a past president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc., the national trade association for literary agents. I’m also a fan of the Northwest. My wife [independent editor Lisa Rector-Maass] is from Vancouver, B.C. I spend a lot of time out here.”

He’s been a library patron from birth–or maybe even before that! “My mother is a librarian. She worked at Yale University most of her life, but in retirement she works part time at her local town library. Now, my mom is proud of me but doesn’t completely get what I do. One day the head librarian at her library asked me to come give a talk on getting published. I did, and the place was packed. It was the largest turnout they’d ever had. My mom stood in the back, beaming. I’ve written seventeen books, have sold hundreds of others to major publishers, run a multi-million dollar business…but it was a talk at the local library that finally convinced my mom that I’m for real.”

D MaassYou can find out more about Donald Maass at his web site,, and about the upcoming workshop at

So join us, if you’re in the area. Registration info and directions are here.

Maybe he’ll annoy you. But–no maybe about it–he’ll make you a better writer.

I’ve been harvesting them for weeks! It’s always a feat in this part of the world to get them to ripen after Labor Day. This year I used plants from the farmer’s market, bred for the Northwest.

Here’s what to do with too many tomatoes. Put them all in a deep pan. You can cut them up or keep them whole. No need to peel. Saute them in olive oil with some garlic, salt, pepper and fresh herbs like basil, oregano, thyme and parsley. Put a tight-fitting lid on the pot and cook them very slowly until they’re soft. Let the whole mess cool and put into small freezer containers or zip lock bags and freeze. And there you go. Fresh tomatoes to use in soups and sauces all winter long. Enjoy!

“We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
– Paul Bowles (American Author)

I made some new friends last week when an online writers’ group stayed in my guest house. It was their first time to meet face to face, after getting to know each other so well through e-mail and reading each other’s manuscripts. I really admire these people–who convened here from far away–for giving themselves this experience. It’s a great reminder that we’re never too old to try new things. Ginny, SW, Rita, Mickey

And–bonus–Ginny is an amazing photographer. Stay tuned for a few more of her shots.

My friend Pete took this stunning picture one morning. Arms around Bainbridge benefit swim, photo by Pete Saloutos

He’s a key organizer of Arms Around Bainbridge, an athletic event and benefit for Olivia Carey, a beloved islander suffering from ovarian cancer. I feel so lucky to live in a place where people take care of each other in creative ways. It’s a perfect example of how a person can use his gift and his passion. to help someone.

Last year I wrote a story to benefit Cottage Dreams, an organization that gives cancer victims a week in a rustic lakeside cottage. The topic was tailor made for me–a lakeside cottage? I am so there. I’m proud to have a publisher that gives authors an opportunity to use their gifts and passions to help others.

Here’s a way to find the title of the #1 song the day you were born. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but I’m happy with “my” song–“All I Have to Do is Dream” by the Everley Brothers. And my daughter’s–“Jump” by Van Halen. Way cool.

Good luck (or maybe that’s sibling rivalry taken to extremes?) runs in the family this year. We figured the roadster Jay won was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, but then…

Graeme & Corvette

Here is my sister‘s husband with the 2007 red Corvette he won in a raffle last weekend for a $10 donation. Really. I’m not making this stuff up. Suggestions for vanity plates welcome!

Phyllis A. Whitney will be 104 on September 9. Her writing career has spanned more than eighty years. She was (still is) a favorite of my mom. I often come across her books next to mine on the shelf in bookstores. Here is the URL for the virtual birthday card at her website.

A moment of silence, please. Madeleine L’Engle has died at the age of 88.

Madeleine L

A WRINKLE IN TIME was one of those books I read as a child and thought, wow. I am Meg. To this day, every protagonist I write in my own books seems to be a smart, awkward, vulnerable, strong-at-her-core female, which is the archetype Meg embodies. I didn’t know that when I was in 5th grade. I just know I related to her on every level.

Later in life I read WALKING ON WATER, one of the single best books on the art of writing ever published. It is “must” reading for every writer.

I have a signed copy of A WRINKLE IN TIME because I was privileged to meet Madeleine when she visited a school where I was teaching about 15 years ago. I loved meeting her. She was Meg, all grown up. Smart, awkward, vulnerable, strong-at-her-core. She will live to eternity in the hearts of readers.

All right, grasshoppers, print this out because it’s going to save you all kinds of time and trouble. Oh, and money. How many times have you been asked to send in a photo, “300dpi” or better… Thus leading you on a hunt to a) figure out what 300 dpi is, whether or not your photos possess this elusive quality (probably not; right-click and select Properties and you’ll see) and c) how to get your hands on one without bugging your publisher’s PR rep yet again….Sea Chaser

People will tell you that you have to have “Photoshop,” an expensive RAM-hog program, in order to edit your digital photos. You don’t. You just need to go to and download their swift little free program. To convert a shot to 300dpi, right-click the photo. Select “Open With” and then select Irfanview. On the menu bar, select Image–>Resize/Resample and in the box that comes up, change the DPI to 300. You might also want to reduce the size in pixels, too. Et voila! Your photo is ready for print.

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

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September 2007