Category Archives: writing

What Are You Reading?

Like most (all?) writers, I’m also an avid reader. Ironically, the biggest sacrifice I’ve had to make since I published my first novel has been my leisure reading. On too many airplane flights, rainy Sundays, and sunny summer weekends, the novel that would have once occupied my hands has been replaced by a MacBook Air on my lap.

But lately I feel like I’m back in the thick of it as a reader. Usually a late-summer author, I am waiting until spring for my next book, 212. That has made this summer a longer one for me — more time at home, less on the road, and making a good dent in that big ol’ to-be-read pile.

Hopefully I’m not the only person reading more. The fact that Newsweek devoted an entire (wonderful) cover feature to … books (gasp!) gives me hope. (Be sure to check out the roundtable with authors Lawrence Block, Susan Orlean, Kurt Andersen, Annette Gordon-Reed, Robert Caro, and Elizabeth Strout. Great stuff!)

I thought I’d share with you some of my recent favorite reads, as well as all-time-faves. Have you read these? What do you think? And what are you reading … both now and always?

Summer Reads:
Lisa Unger‘s DIE FOR ME – Lisa adds such a unique voice to the thriller genre, taking her time to establish character but still delivering the requisite thrills.

Lee Child‘s GONE TOMORROW – One of my new favorites in the Jack Reacher series, this one you’ll want to read in one big gulp.

Michael Connelly‘s THE SCARECROW – A different kind of book for Connelly, there’s no whodunit here, but I still couldn’t put it down. This former reporter’s take on the dying newspaper industry is an added bonus.

Philip Margolin‘s FUGITIVE- This one took me right back to the courtroom hallways of Portland. Margolin’s always a pro about pace and plot.

Garth Stein‘s THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN – I wouldn’t have thought that a book written from the perspective of a dog (and a dying one at that) would be my cup of tea, but consider me charmed.

Books I’d Pack for a Desert Island:

Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.

Are Young-Adult Authors Role Models

When I read about James Frey’s collaboration on a series of young adult novels, I found myself immediately irritated. Frey’s bestselling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was exposed as wildly exaggerated if not wholly fabricated. In a world where even respected editors admit plagiarizing Wikipedia, and where every year as a professor I have to explain to a law student the difference between paraphrasing and verbatim quotations without quote marks, do we really need the literary world’s most infamous fibber to become the next generation’s C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, or J.K. Rowling?

But then as a writer, I found myself questioning my first instincts. Had it been up to him, he would have sold A Million Little Pieces as a novel, but publishers only wanted it as a memoir. Sure, he should have put down his foot and cleared up the record, but wouldn’t other struggling writers be tempted? And he has paid a price for his mistake. This country doesn’t imprison writers who lie, but I’d rather be sent to the clink than face the wrath of Oprah. Her on-air excoriation of Frey is the closest thing I’ve seen to a contemporary flogging.

Writers write, even the ones who screwed up. Is he supposed to suppress his urge and his talent for the rest of his life because of one (colossal) error in judgment?

But then, in my ever-Cybil-like way, I found the original, disgusted me arguing with my newly sympathetic me. James Frey isn’t just any writer. His million little fabrications were on Oprah, for pete’s sake. The book sold more than five million copies worldwide, topping the New York Times bestsellers list for fifteen consecutive weeks.

And as the fiction writer he’s always been, Frey has apparently found redemption. His novel, Bright Shiny Morning, reportedly earned him a million dollar advance and debuted at #9 on the New York Times list. Can’t he continue to write for adults? Does he have to move into the lucrative young adult market, selling the movie rights to Dreamworks before the book has even been sold?

I didn’t buy a copy of A Million Little Pieces, and I don’t have children. But if I had and did, I don’t know how I’d feel if Frey’s latest venture becomes the franchise he’s envisioning. On the one hand, any author who gets a kid to read a book is making the world a better place. On the other, we don’t need any more little fibbers out there. The question, I suppose, is whether the target audience for this new book — young adults — can distinguish the work from the author. My guess is they can. Still, I have to admit, watching that guy get richer annoys the heck out of me.

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Michael Connelly on up-to-the-minute changes

The Washington Post had a terrific profile this week on Michael Connelly. I was especially interested in the last minute changes he had to make to The Scarecrow after the Rocky Mountain News, which he references in the novel, ceased to exist just before print day.

I’ve also had to make changes to novels because of real world developments. My next novel, 212, has a plot line involving an actual website devoted to mean-spirited, anonymous college gossip. It bodes well for humanity that the website has gone under, but it did require me to fictionalize the name of the site. Luckily, the book wasn’t on its way to the printer like Michael’s. The fact that he could fix it in one page as he did shows he’s a master. Have you read The Scarecrow yet? It’s another terrific Connelly novel.

In other news, I have a new Facebook Page. Please follow me there!

The Things I Write

I had the privilege this week of meeting Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming memoir, The Happiness Project. Like me, Gretchen is a former lawyer. She went to a pretty decent school called Yale. When I told her that I was working on an essay for the law journal she previously edited, she congratulated me wholeheartedly, noting that it wasn’t an easy publication to land.

Two days later the conversation has me thinking once again about my life as a writer. It makes sense to me. I grew up with a father who was a writer and a mother who was a school librarian. Of course I sit at a desk all day in my sweats and write words. What else would I possibly do?

My life as a writer makes sense to me even though the content of the words changes wildly from day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute. Sometimes I’m working on the fiction that has led to five thriller novels. Other times I’m working on the articles about prosecutorial power that got me tenure as a professor at Hofstra Law School. Either way, I’m writing.

I’ve noticed, however, that other people find my work puzzling. How can I write both fiction and legal scholarship? How can I wear such different hats? Most daunting of all, they ask: How long can I continue to have two jobs?

Two jobs. Wow. That sounds hard.

Some days, the rare ones when I feel sorry for myself, I find my thoughts moving in that direction. I allow myself to feel pulled in two. I make what I do seem complicated. I let myself feel like Cybil, but with a MacBook Air.

But after my conversation with Gretchen, I’ve vowed to set that stinkin’ thinkin’ aside. I am a writer, pure and simple. And real writers write. A lot. About different subjects, in different formats, for different audiences, and sometimes just for ourselves. If I wrote only fiction, couldn’t I knock myself around for writing both the Ellie Hatcher and Samantha Kincaid series, as well as the occasional short story and blog post? If I wrote only as an academic, might I wonder whether I should write only pure theory or get out there in the real world as a pundit/practitioner?

My way of being a writer might not make sense to other people, but I’m continually surprised by how well it works for me. My loftier thoughts about the criminal justice system find their way into the stories of Ellie and Samantha. Translating police and court procedures into stories about actual people makes me a better classroom teacher and academic. My book friends, like my new friend Gretchen, are much more impressed by my academic life than my academic friends are, while my academic colleagues marvel that I publish thrillers. Meanwhile, I’m in awe of all of them because they are writers, too, and I know that all writers, no matter what they are writing, have to work hard.

I finished my first book by telling myself I was a writer. I need to continue to treat myself as one. No pats on the back, but also no apologies or explanations. I’m a writer who writes what I know. That’s not going to change.