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The You I Never Knew was written, sold to a publisher, and edited…and then it was orphaned. In publishing, this means the editor who acquired it moved on while the book was in production. This is usually not the best news for a book,  because that acquiring editor loved the book and was its in-house cheerleader. The project was handed off to a new editor. This is a bit like getting a foster child you didn’t ask for.

In my case, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. They were right in the middle of designing the cover, and it looked like this:

cover never used on the you i never knew

the art i never used on the you i never knew

literary collection of stories

Now, this is a fine piece of original art. The design and layout are Image result for the horse whisperer nicholas evansreminiscent of both The Horse Whisperer and a Nicholas Sparks cover, so those are pluses. It also looks a bit like Annie Proulx’s Close Range.

Does this mean the cover is right for this book? Probably not. First of all, The You I Never Knew would be a paperback original, not a hardcover book, so the art needs to “pop” on the shelf in order to stand out. The colors of this cover are muted and the mood is chilly. It might work on a hardcover jacket, but it doesn’t look instantly warm and inviting, like a “feel-good” novel.

The new editor came into the middle of cover design, knowing nothing about me or the book. There was a bright spot, though. The new editor was the extremely smart Maggie Crawford, and she was the kind of foster mother the book needed–an experienced editor who understood the market for this book. She’d worked with many bestselling authors and had a fine eye for marketing women’s fiction. She took on the cover art issue with aplomb, and came up with this.

The You I Never KnewIt’s one of the least-relevant yet most commercial covers I’ve ever had. Here’s my analysis: Splashing my name on the cover in huge letters gave the illusion that this was a big book by a big author. The lettering itself–big, graceful block lettering–was reminiscent of the font used for blockbuster author Sandra Brown. 22 Indigo PlaceAnd of course, it capitalizes on the galloping popularity of the biggest novel of the ’90s, The Horse Whisperer. Cover Image

So I’m back on track, right? My new editor rescued the novel from obscurity and now all I’d need to do is kick back and let the sales roll in. Oh, and I’d be working with Maggie on the next book, brainstorming the plot and building on the success of The You I Never Knew. Right? Right?

NOT.

The lovely and talented foster-editor for this book was so lovely and talented that another publisher hired her away. By the time my novel was published for the first time, there was no one home. My calls were fielded by hapless assistant. With no in-house cheerleader, no marketing budget, and no PR, my book was destined to die of slow strangulation in that publishing twilight zone known as “the midlist.” If sales were poor, the publisher wouldn’t want anymore books from me, and my days as an author were numbered.

BUT.

I had a secret weapon, and that secret weapon was YOU. The You I Never Knew, aka READERS.

One of the great things about publishing is that readers don’t care what a book’s marketing budget is. They don’t care how it’s positioned on a publisher’s list or catalog. They care about the story. Not only that, when they like the story, they tell their friends. And their librarians. And their hairdresser. And the next thing you know, the book is a bestseller.

Against all odds, the first edition of The You I Never Knew made the USA Today bestseller list. Thanks to readers, the book is still in print, in a fresh new edition this week.

The You I never Knew 2016

The latest edition – in stores now!

The You I never knew-SP

the 2010 edition

 

 

 

 

I’m assuming you read it more than once. Pretty much everybody I know has. To Kill a Mockingbird is now fifty years old. I was ten or eleven when I read it for the first time, and I loved it so much I can still tell you exactly what I wore (plaid pedal pushers) and ate (orange double popsicles), what the air felt like around me (hot) and the glimmer of the flashlight losing battery power as I stayed up extra late to finish. I remember staring at the tree on the cover and trying to picture the characters. I loved Scout. She talked and thought like me, and Atticus reminded me of my dad. I had never heard of rape before, and didn’t realize it was sexual until years later. Racial prejudice did not exist in my town in upstate New York, so it all seemed very exotic and tense to me. But Scout felt so real to me. I’ve read this book several times through the years, and there’s always something new to discover.

mockingbirdfirst.jpg harper_lee_0821.jpg (photo: www.time.com)
It was the only novel she ever published. A tough act to follow. She dedicated her life to books and education, and now lives in New York City and Monroeville, Alabama. I think the only person who has her number is Oprah.

Here is the summary from Writers’ Almanac:

Congrats to Janie–you won the www.random.org virtual drawing for a copy of Anjali‘s book and Just Breathe! Very cool that you support the Humane Society because Anj totally does. See the bottom of this post for today’s drawing.

Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger

Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger

Interesting question posed by my friend Suzanne the other day:

Who did you lust after at age 14?

In literature, people. We’re looking for a heartthrob that went viral, starting with a book–like Edward Cullen in the Twilight books. Readers fell in love with Edward, and then they fell in love with Robert Pattinson in the movie.

In literature. We’re looking for a heartthrob that went viral, starting with a book–like Edward Cullen in the Twilight books. Readers fell in love with Edward, and then they fell in love with Robert Pattinson in the movie.
What character could you not stop thinking about?
Well, lessee. I came up with a few.
Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger, as played by Mark Lester and Jack Wild in the Disney musical “Oliver!” — I remember plastering their Tiger Beat posters all over my room.
And there was Ponyboy Curtis in THE OUTSIDERS. The movie didn’t come until years after the book and I can’t remember who played him. But I had a paperback version of The Outsiders with a photographic cover, and I was obsessed with the boy in the photo. I wanted to marry him.
Oliver Barrett (played in the movie by Ryan O’Neal) in Love Story
Louis & Lestat in Interview With the Vampire (1976)
Here are a couple from my mother’s generation:
Heathcliff (played in the movie by Laurence Olivier) from Wuthering Heights
and Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind.
But to me, the winner is the timeless object of lust, but especially as played by Colin Firth:
Fitzwilliam Darcy. I didn’t read the book until I was sixteen, but I swooned over that man, and when Colin played him, I knew I could die happy.
It’s hard to think of books that went viral like Twilight! Probably Outsiders.
music & film
Jackson Browne
the Beatles
Shawn Cassidy
David Cassidy
John Travolta
Michael Jackson
Donny Osmond
Bobby Sherman
Freddy Prinz
Robert Redford/Paul Newman (tho they’re older)
Andy Gibb
—– Original Message —–
From: Suzanne Selfors
To: susan Wiggs
Sent: Friday, May 01, 2009 5:53 PM
Subject: conference
I have to do a 20 minute thing about summer reading and I’m trying to figure out if there was an Edward (Vampire in Twilight) equivalent for my generation, in literature?
Mark Lester grew up and became a doctor.

Mark Lester grew up and became a doctor.

It took me a while to think of a parallel from the Ancient Past. But I came up with a few. Remember any of these?

Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger, as played by Mark Lester and Jack Wild in the Disney musical “Oliver!” — I remember plastering their Tiger Beat posters all over my room.

And there was Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders. The movie didn’t come out until years after the book and I can’t remember who played him. But I had a paperback version of The Outsiders with a photographic cover, and I was obsessed with the boy in the photo. I wanted to marry him.

C. Thomas Howell as Ponyboy

C. Thomas Howell as Ponyboy

70s sob story

70s sob story

Other contenders: Oliver Barrett (played in the movie by Ryan O’Neal) in Love Story

Louis & Lestat in Interview With the Vampire, later played by Tom and Brad.

Sorry, Robert P. Youve been out-vamped.

Sorry, Robert P. You've been out-vamped.

Romeo has been played by a couple of tasty morsels:

I think Zach Efron is their love child.

I think Zach Efron is their love child.

Leonard v Leo? How are we supposed to choose?

1996 version

1996 version

Here are some from my mother’s generation:

Heathcliff (played in the movie by Laurence Olivier) from Wuthering Heights

Cathy and Heathcliff, a fun couple

Cathy and Heathcliff, a fun couple

and Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind.

Rhett! Oh Rhett! We DO give a damn!

Rhett! Oh Rhett! We DO give a damn!

But to me, the winner is that timeless object of lust, especially as played by Colin Firth:

He must be in want of a wife.

He must be in want of a wife.

Fitzwilliam Darcy. I didn’t read the book until I was sixteen, but I swooned over that man, and when Colin played him, I knew I could die happy.

Your turn! Post your pre-teen crush (from a book that later became a movie) in Comments and you’re automatically entered in the drawing for Just Breathe AND a copy of the latest in Romeo & Juliet stories, Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors.

 

So I wound up the Book Brahmin interview with two more fun little queries:

Favorite line from a book:

“Reader, I married him.”

 

kick-ass writer

kick-ass writer

From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. If you don’t burst into tears when you get to that line, you’re made of stone. 

 

Runners up:

  • “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
  • “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
  • “Thar she blows! A hump like a snowhill. ‘Tis Moby Dick.”

Can you tell I have a taste for melodrama?

Your turn–what’s your favorite line from a book? 

And finally…

Book you most want to read again for the first time: The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. I sneaked my mother’s copy and read it with my jaw on the floor. A story of a naughty man doing naughty things, told with such originality and playfulness with the language that I feel like reading it again right now. 

What book would you like to read for the first time again?

In my Shelf Awareness feature, I admitted to this:

Book you’ve faked reading: Du Coté de Chez Swann by Marcel Proust. In French. I was trying to impress a professor who I later learned was gay. Quel dommage!

 

image from Wikipedia Commons

image from Wikipedia Commons

I wish I could be more patient with this book, because the bits and pieces I’ve read are truly beautiful. All four of them. 🙂 Yet the book was so good that one of the several publishers that rejected it later wrote him an apology. However, the image above stole my heart–it’s a galley proof from a manuscript that sold at Christies for £663 750. But that’s not what stole my heart–it’s his cutting-and-pasting technique. Masterful. But how did the poor man write a whole work of literary genius without Post-It Notes? No wonder he died young.

 

I'm a messy writer, too, Marcel!

I'm a messy writer, too, Marcel!

 

 

And p.s., Proust is wise:

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.”

Your turn–have you fake-read any good books lately?

Nabakov thinking deep thoughts

Nabakov thinking deep thoughts

Shelf Awareness asked me to name my top five authors. This is like asking for my favorite brands of chocolate. How can you narrow it down? Here are some names, off the top of my head:

Edith Wharton, E.B. White, Sharon Kay Penman, Ann Patchett, Stephen King. This list changes every time I try to narrow it down. I also love Vladimir Nabokov. And Anne Tyler. And J.P. Donleavy. And Roald Dahl. And Mary Stewart. And Nora Roberts. And Collette. I am in big trouble.

Can you narrow your list down to five?

Lillian, a reader, and her guide dog Lucy

Lillian, a reader, and her guide dog Lucy

It’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, who invented a way for the blind to read and write. Genius! Another technology hasn’t replaced Braille for writing–it’s still the standard.  I first met Lillian as a reader who wrote me letters about my books. Last year at a booksigning, we finally got to meet. I know she joins me in saying, Bonne anniversaire, Louis!

beaming with pride!

Snowfall at Willow Lake is listed as one of Amazon’s “Best of 2008” editor’s picks! I’m so proud and excited. The full list is here. Enjoy!

a glimpse inside

a glimpse inside

Note: The Michael Hauge workshop notes begin here and continue here and here. This is the 4th installment. Happy plotting!

The INNER JOURNEY is the story told on another level. Stories that are told only on the outer surface, sticking strictly to the visible facts, tend to lack depth, drama and meaning. (Note from SW–this is why the daily news so often fails to satisfy.) Here are some questions to help you discover the key aspects of your character.

1. What is her longing? What is her deeply held desire? This is something she probably pays lip service to, but lacks the courage to pursue. She is enslaved by her own fears and inhibitions.

Some characters are so emotionally shut down that they can’t even express what it is they long for. (Rose in Titanic) It’s a need they don’t know they have–yet, maybe ever.

Show the hole in her soul. A need. A missing piece.

A longing is something the character can express. A need is unexpressed but there can be metaphors to show it–the “Keep Out” sign and fence in Shrek. (Maureen has a tattoo that expresses her unrepressed self, but she keeps it hidden and nobody knows she has it.) What is your character’s metaphorical fence?

2. What is her wound? What is the unhealed source of her continuing pain? What happened to her in the past that is unhealed but suppressed? This is something in the background, leaking through. (Maureen had a disastrous love affair while studying abroad, and came scurrying home to the safety of her family and home town.)

3. What belief has the character formed, based on her experience of the wound above? (Maureen believes passion is dangerous and fraught with deception, destined to fail and leave her hurting.)

[Note to self: This is something that really resonates with me. We all know people whose entire lives are built around avoiding pain. My recent arm mishap is a graphic reminder. In the ambulance, I was trying to make myself pass out just to escape the pain. The thing is now every color of the rainbow and I will do anything to keep from hurting it again. I’m fairly athletic, yet with this arm, I find myself tiptoeing around, afraid to bump into something. The doc said the risk of dislocating it again is high, which makes me horribly cautious. So that’s my story of avoiding physical pain. A person who has been hurt emotionally will show this kind of caution in her relationships, right?]

4. What is her emotional fear? (That the wound will happen again.) This is a belief that is logical, based on her experience, but inaccurate. <–note this; it’s important

5. THE KEY QUESTION: What is the character’s identity? Her ID is the false self she presents to the world–her emotional armor. It what she puts in front of her essence in order to protect her true self from that which she fears most deeply.

6. What is the character’s essence? If you strip away everything the character is attached to, what is left? Peel away the layers of her identity. Who does she have the potential to become? In a love story like the one in Good Will Hunting, he would rather break up with the love of his life than show who he truly is, because in the past, his father beat him and the belief he formed is that those we love and trust the most hurt us. In LC, Maureen would rather let go of Eddie than risk letting him hurt her.

So the character’s emotional arc is her transformation from her identity to her essence. In her essence, she is still fearful and vulnerable, but she is true.
 
Tomorrow I’ll post more about this, because it’s the key to everything in character development. For now, try to explore the contrasts between your character’s identity and his essence.

Like most writers, I’m camera shy. Anyone scrolling through this blog can see I’m much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. Seriously–I would rather have a root canal. However, in commercial publishing, the author photo is a necessity, so off we go (or here they come, rather) to get a shot that needs to be a) flattering, b) honest enough that people won’t be confused when they meet me in person. Let’s hope A and B are not mutually exclusive.

People ask me why I never change my hair. Simple–because that would require me to change my author photo. Here I am, ca. 1988: 

photo by Greg Dawson; blank expression not his fault

photo by Greg Dawson; blank expression not his fault

My favorite photographer (besides the one I sleep with every night) is my friend Pete, whose off-the-charts creativity is like a force of nature. I also love the work of Brad Camp, who
photo by Brad Camp

photo by Brad Camp

has done some fun, creative shots for the local paper.
For a book jacket photo, my friend Christie Jenkins came to the rescue. She completely understands a girl’s need to avoid unflattering angles and wardrobe malfunctions. Her shots will appear on my web site and an upcoming reissue of Lord of the Night.
photo by Christie Jenkins

photo by Christie Jenkins

And then there’s Nina Subin. Like Christie, she’s old-school, using film and camera (Nina’s is a Hasselblad with Carl Zeiss lenses). My pubisher sent her with her assistant–a wickedly talented illustrator–to shoot in and around my home. We also had Jeanne Kobayashi, stylist extraordinaire. I’m not going to tell you how long it took to turn me into a “natural beauty” but trust me, she used all her mad skills.

Are we having fun yet?

Are we having fun yet?

I love Nina Subin’s work, and her portrait of Claudia Steinberg is probably the best author photo I’ve ever seen. The photo above shows us “working” (this is work?!) in my yard. Results to come. Stay tuned!

Did you know there’s a coffee table book of author photos? I kid you not. Porn for English majors.

what’s on my mind right now:

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