How much of this is true? And other questions authors dread * book tour highlights * best books for writers giveaway * breaking into print ebook
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Jan's Summer Newsletter 

Hello loyal readers and writers,

It's been awhile, so I'll catch you up on what's been happening, but be sure to read to the bottom for a great giveaway of my favorite books for writers contemplating publication, as well as this issue's blog post: How much of this is true? and other questions authors dread

As for what I'm working on now? Yes, another novel. I squeezed in a solo writing-camping-road-trip to Oregon in our new family rig in late February. Not sure how many miles I clocked, but I moved my new novel manuscript forward 10,000 words. 

Summer can be tricky for writerskids underfoot, schedules upended, routines abandonedso while my girls are at camp and art school, I've snuck away to a rented flat in San Francisco for a few days' retreat. It's a beautiful morning, clear and cool, and the sun is pouring in through the window. There's something liberating about being in a place that's not your own; no compunction to make home improvements; no excuse not to buckle down and work on that novel. Except, that is, writing this news to you.

I hope your summers are sunny and bright.


You can reach me via email at or on my web site,

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In this issue:

Paperback Tour Highlights 

It's all semantics, but the paperback launched in February, landing on the USA Today bestseller list and heading straight into a second printing, with a brand new cover that includes those two magic words: National Bestseller

The paperback book tour kept me hopping through June with plenty of radio spots, print interviews, book festivals and events, the highlight being the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors, where I got to spend a whole day with an audience of 300 and six fabulous writers, including one of my literary idols, Jane Smiley. 

Here’s a fun video the festival organizers made of four of us talking about our neuroses and challenges, and offering plenty of questionable advice for aspiring writers. Those circles under my eyes? Evidence it was time for the book tour to wrap up and for me to get home and back to my kids and writing. 
Pasadena Festival Women Authors
Pasadena Festival of Woman Authors Video

Summer Giveaway: Great books for writers

Congratulations to February's giveaway winner, Rosa Abraham of Glen Arm, Maryland.

This issue's giveaway is especially great for aspiring writers. Included are two volumes of essays by writers from the New York Times, a collection of writers' early stories and insights into getting published, a signed copy of the brand new book Online Marketing for Busy Authors, which is an invaluable resource from a very savvy book marketing maven, my friend, Fauzia Burke. Lastly, the brilliant collection of essays from the incomparable Robin Black, Crash Course: Essays from Where Writing and Life Collide. (Plus a handy Writer's Block notebook to keep in your purse for those moments when inspiration strikes.)

Click the red ENTER THE GIVEAWAY button below.

Enter The Giveaway

Breaking into Print: Bonus Content for Subscribers

As a reminder, if you haven't yet signed up to receive my quarterly news/blog, you can join my mailing list below. You'll receive my digital booklet, "Breaking into Print: 100 Revisions, 100 Rejections and an O. Henry Prize," the tale of how I sold my first short story then become an overnight publishing success—in just 14 years. "Breaking into Print" includes actual rejection letters, photos, and early drafts of my story, "The Company of Men." 
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Blog: How Much of This is True? And other questions authors dread

Years ago, when the first short story I published was included in the 2007 O. Henry Prize anthology, I was standing out front of my kids’ school when a woman I hardly knew poked her head out of her car to say that she’d only read the first paragraph, but would I be willing to tell her how much of my short story was true? It was the first time the question had been posed to me, and I had no idea how to answer it. Did she only want to read the story if it was “true,” or if it was not?
Sometimes the question comes in other forms. What gave rise to the novel? What was the inspiration for your story? Is it autobiographical?
I am as guilty of wanting answers to those questions as any reader. I’ve just finished Adam Haslett’s heartbreakingly beautiful novel, Imagine Me Gone, and I can not help wondering whether the novel’s brilliance is in part born out of personal experience with crippling depression.
I read Imagine Me Gone at our place in the mountains. I sat beside a lake, oblivious to the sun burning my back and the odd little black beetles stinging my calves. It was a novel that sucked me into its psychology, drowned me in one family’s despair and unfailing love, and felled me with its humor, its intelligence, and its vision. It released me two days later furious, devastated, moved, and envious. As only the finest literature can do, it had altered me. Does it matter how much of it is “true?” It matters only in that whatever tragedies in the author’s life gave rise to it, we can be grateful as readers that he had the courage and tenacity to turn those experiences into art.


As Stephanie Harrison writes in BookPage: “Imagine Me Gone is immensely personal and private, yet feels universal and ultimately essential in its scope. The end result is a book you do not read so much as feel, deeply and intensely, in the very marrow of your bones.”
When literary realism succeeds, it feels like life. When it doesn’t, it feels contrived. In my experience, this is the case whether the events that inspired the fiction happened or not. I have often become burdened by small details from my own experience that I try to manhandle into an evolving fiction. My own nostalgia insists this gem of an anecdote or detail belongs. But often, it’s not the right thing; it belonged in my life, but not in the fabrication it inspired. The opposite is of course also true: sometimes life delivers up a line of dialog, or a situation or detail that can not be matched by invention. When there is a risk of offense, though, sometime we writers have to suck it up and settle for an inferior construction of our imaginations.
In an interview for American Short Fiction, the lovely Rachel Howell asked me how much of my own life, and past, informed my work, and how I managed to keep narrative distance while very much writing what I know.

I responded that I often begin with the low-hanging fruit: places I’ve lived, my own experiences, emotions, memories, observations, friends, family. Stories people tell me or that I read in the newspaper. Conversations I overhear in restaurants. That’s the raw material. And often, the initial attempt to get this material onto the page is done in a voice close to my own.

But once I begin to shape the material into something resembling a story, once characters emerge, the voice, or voices, if there is more than one narrator, will necessarily be transformed. Even though some of what happened to the narrator happened to me, the voice is no longer mine—it’s one that has emerged in the service of the story over years of revision. The story is not my life but a collection of sentences deliberately, fictionally shaped to deliver an emotional truth that becomes clear only as the story unfolds.

In the last year and a half since the book came out, I’ve spoken and written at length in essays and interviews about the features of my own life that gave rise to the novel. All that I’ve said and written on the topic is true. Is it the whole truth? No story ever is.

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