Category Archives: Guest Post

It’s a secret.

Today, over at the new site, Laurel Mayer (debut author of the novel, Pushover), talks about secrets and plot twists in stories, and how to make them work for the reader.

Hope to see you there!

Tell me what you see.

“As human beings, we rarely see ourselves as others see us.” ~Heather Cashman

Imagine if you could see your world and yourself through another’s eyes. All those petty little details would fall to the wayside. That self-deprecation would be neutralized by the good that others see in us.

We’re talking about perceptions. Not here, but at the new site. Pop on over, read what light Heather Cashman sheds on the subject. Plus, get a sneak peek at her new book called – just that – PERCEPTION.

And, remember, the new site is where you’ll find me, in full force. In another week, this place will be quiet. So, if you like what you’ve been reading here, consider subscribing there.

Now, on to Heather!….



Wanted: Time to Write


Today, you’ll find me over at Heather Cashman’s blog, Better Off Read, talking about time and where to find it.

…[T]ime remains a mystery. I can’t figure out how to tame it, so I try to tackle it — stretch it out or squeeze it in or steal a little of it here and there. When I started up my blog a few years ago, I knew time would be my biggest challenge, so I titled my blog “Writing Under Pressure,” as a reminder to myself of what I was up against, and as a battle cry.
Read more….

It’s funny how the writing world works (hello, alliteration). Just as soon as I sat down to put my thoughts on paper, Twitter went all a flutter with links to posts on other writers searching for time, too.

Do a quick search using “find time to write” on Twitter and…No, wait. Don’t. You should be writing. That’s the whole point of my guest post on Better Off Read. So, when you’re done writing for the day, jump back over here and pretend I’m your Twitter feed:

  • From @NataliaSylv: My results from last week’s #writing experiment: How Much Time Do We Really Need to Write? #amwriting >> Where Natalia reveals what happens when you devote an entire day to writing. A whole day folks.
  • From @elizabethscraig: Tips for making time for your #writing: >> Where Mary Carroll Moore guides you through an exercise in assessing your needs and making changes.
  • From @annerallen: Why the Rush to Publish? from Nina Badzin >> @NinaBadzin has written several posts on managing Twitter (while not letting it run your life). This post from Nina suggests that Twitter might not be problem after all (ouch).
  • From @LisaRomeo: Getting ready to kick a few you-know-whats next week when *I Should Be Writing* Boot Camp begins. #writing #writer >> Lisa Romeo offers an online class where she (and I quote) will “help you: create the time to write…develop and maintain regular writing routines, deal with writing obstacles….” Bingo.

Time is money, folks, or at least a lot like money. You spend what you earn. So, hop on over to Heather’s blog and tell us how you tackle time.

*photo credit: blue2likeyou on

Blogs become books. Can a memoir become a sitcom?

Moving to the other side of the cash wrap…felt as disorienting to me as Alice might have felt when she slipped through the mirror into Wonderland, landing unawares in…a world populated by Mad Hatters, rushing rabbits, chatty chess pieces, and enormous mushrooms. ~ Caitlin Kelly in MALLED

Behind the scenes. That’s where Caitlin Kelly takes readers in her memoir Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail (out April 14, 2011 from Portfolio). Today, I’m hosting Caitlin here to talk about her journey from an essay in the New York Times, to a memoir, to contract talks with CBS.

From Caitlin’s bio:

The book combines her personal story of moving into low-wage customer service at 50; others, mid-career and mid-recession, taking these jobs and a detailed, national analysis of this $4 trillion industry.

A regular contributor to The New York Times since 1990, Kelly has written for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, More, and other publications in Canada and Europe. A former reporter for the New York Daily News, Toronto Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette, she is the winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor), and five journalism fellowships. Born and raised in Canada, she has lived in the U.S. since 1988, and has also lived in England, France and Mexico.

As a bonus, Caitlin is giving away a signed copy of her memoir. At the end of her guest post, leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Malled. will choose the winner on Tuesday, September 6th, at high noon.

 Welcome, Caitlin Kelly

If you’d told me that taking a low-wage job folding T-shirts in a suburban mall would lead to negotiating a contract with CBS on my birthday for a possible sitcom based on my life, I’d have laughed hysterically.

But that’s exactly what’s happened to me since Sept. 25, 2007 when I was hired to work as a part-time sales associate for The North Face at an upscale mall in White Plains, NY. I hadn’t worked a low-wage job since high school, was 50 and heading into a recession.

My own story quickly became just one of many in this ongoing recession. In February 2009, I published an essay in The New York Times business section explaining how moving from journalism – my only industry since graduating college in 1979 – to retail had turned out, then, to be a good choice for me. I liked the clarity of retail’s reported numbers: how much I sold per hour, my average daily sale, what percentage of my merchandise was later returned. In journalism, publishing and blogging, all judgments of value are totally subjective.

By June 2009, I had found an agent who felt confident we could find a publisher to take my memoir of working in the nation’s third-largest industry and single greatest source of new jobs. It wasn’t quite as quick and easy as we’d hoped, with 25 rejections before Portfolio, the business imprint of Penguin, bought it in September 2009.

I continued working in the store for another three months, taking many more notes than before, gathering as much detail, color, anecdote and dialogue as possible. No one at the company knew I was writing a book, and it felt strange to be writing things down while standing at the cash wrap.

I quit the job December 18, 2009 and began to write full-time. By June I was done, although revisions and some restructuring were necessary. Because retail is ever-changing, I read the business press every day, adding as necessary to keep the manuscript timely and up-to-date.

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published April 14, 2011 and received a terrific amount of national attention, with reviews and features in People, Marie-Claire, USA Today, The New York Times, Financial Times and Entertainment Weekly. I also appeared on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show (2 million listeners), Marketplace and The Brian Lehrer Show.

Emails soon started showing up from major entertainment companies expressing interest in it as a vehicle for film or television. I thought they were hoaxes! But by June 6, 2011, my birthday, we had an offer from CBS to option “Malled” as a possible sitcom. They have since commissioned a script. The next steps, I hope, are a pilot and a series; if so, I’m signed on as a story consultant for a few years.

This fairly quick journey from a Times essay to a book to a possible television show is a combination of factors: timing, luck, story, competition, voice and a tough agent. There have only been three other books I’m aware of now on the market that really describe in real time what it’s like to lose a good job, move down the economic ladder and tell the truth about how it feels. I was fortunate enough to find a good agent and an enthusiastic publisher. The book is written as a memoir, but it’s not just my story. I knew from the start that my story alone was insufficient, so it also includes dozens of original interviews with other sales associates nationwide, senior retail executives, Wall Street analysts and others.

One way I managed to get the book produced fairly quickly was – as I also did with my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” – by hiring researchers. They conducted some of my interviews and gathered statistics.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken as the closing keynote at a retail conference in Minneapolis, celebrated the sale of “Malled” to China, where it will be translated, and chatted with the veteran screenwriter who’s now creating his characters, one of them based on me.

It’s all a little surreal, kind of exciting and a lot more fun than folding T-shirts.


Entertainment Weekly calls [Malled] “an excellent memoir” and USA Today says “Malled is a bargain, even at full price. Kelly is a first-rate researcher and storyteller.” Original interviews include consultant Paco Underhill, retailer Jack Mitchell and Costco CFO Richard Galanti.

Read more on Caitlin Kelly by visiting her website and her blog, Also, check out another book by Kelly, Blown Away, on American women and guns. Don’t forget to leave a comment, as well, for a chance to win a copy of her memoir.

Do a little dance, and mark your calendars.

There’s been a slight, but critical correction to this post, an update on that Second place win. Read it here.

Sunset Party Dancing Girl Silhouette

The weather is hot (just how I like it), the sun is out full force (yay for freckles!), and yesterday I found out I placed Second in the Pen Parentis 2011 Writing Fellowship for New Parents.


When you’re fighting self-doubt with both fists lately, second place feels really great. I was alone, in a quiet house, when I read the announcement, but I didn’t stay quiet for long.

And, there’s more good news — for you. In the month of August, I’ll be hosting three authors here: two for interviews and one for a guest post. Plus, all three events include book giveaways.

Sean Keefer will talk to us about his award-winning novel,
The Trust, on August 10th.

The lovely Jenna Blum stops by on August 24th
to discuss her bestselling novel, The Stormchasers.

And, Caitlin Kelly will be guest posting on August 31st and giving away a copy of her memoir, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.

Watch for these posts and enter the giveaways. It’ll be easy: all you’ll have to do is leave your name in the comment section. Leave a pseudonym if you want, but don’t miss your chance to enter.

What good news do you have to share? I bet you’ve got something. Big or small, let’s celebrate together.

* photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr

Writing Yourself Home….A Guest Post by Lise Saffran

I’m thrilled to welcome Lise Saffran here today. In her beautiful guest post, Lise talks about writing, with your hands in one place and your heart in another.

Her essay brings to mind my favorite bookmark, a bumper sticker that describes me in two words: Misplaced Texan. At twenty-two years old, I fell in love, uprooted myself, and moved north. While I’ve lived in Wisconsin long enough to have earned my stripes (surviving frigid temperatures and eating cheese curds, a strange phenomenon), in my heart, I am still from Texas. That fact often shows up in my speech and occasionally in my stories, and it has made me the writer I am today.

Lise’s essay shows us how strong sense of place is integral in a story, as well as in a writer’s life.


Writing Yourself Home:
A Mid-Western Novelist Yearns for the West Coast

by Lise Saffran

The cicadas were everywhere in Mid-Missouri this summer.  Crawling up from the ground, rattling the branches of the trees, dive-bombing bicyclists and looking for love in all the wrong places (the office where I write, for one). Our local ice cream parlor whipped up a batch of nationally famous cicada ice-cream.

At one point I realized I had even begun to measure my life by cicada hatchings.  Thirteen years ago, when the parents of the current crop were abandoning their husks in several-inch deep piles under the trees, I had an infant of my own and a brand new MFA from a Mid-western university.  While the baby slept I wrote stories about a former drug addict living in a converted school bus in Humboldt county who manicured pot for a living, a San Francisco girl preparing to leave the Bay Area for Sri Lanka and a home for troubled and homeless youth in wealthy Marin County.  The first of those stories to be published, Men and Fish, was about a woman who wrote a fishing column for a local paper.  And by local, I mean the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year, Cicada Brood XIX emerged to find me with two children and a first novel, Juno’s Daughters, on the shelves.  The novel concerns a single mother and her teenage daughters who participate in a summer production of The Tempest and it is set on San Juan Island, off the coast of Seattle in the Puget Sound.  The cast of characters–both onstage and off—features a collection of potters, weavers and musicians that would be instantly recognizable to the individuals who roamed through my earlier stories or indeed to most people who had found themselves hiking over Mt. Tamalpais in California or soaking in Oregon’s Cougar Hot Springs.

Driving my elder son to camp this weekend on interstate 70 we passed endless flat fields, many filled with the gold lamé of tassled corn.  A barn sported a painted advertisement for Meramec Caverns and multiple billboards urged us to visit Lake of the Ozarks. My son was born in Missouri and this is his countryside but to me, even after all these years, it feels exotic.  No matter how long I have been away, when I step off the plane in San Francisco, Portland or Seattle I feel that I’m home.  The air smells different when it is laced with pine and salt.  Shadows cast by mountains are distinct from the shade of a broad tree on a wide field.  If writers are often accused—rightly so—of writing the same story over and over again, that story, for me, has unfolded primarily in a western landscape.

It is partly separation from the region in which I was raised that makes it such an attractive subject. Beginning writers often fail to include sensory details in their fiction because they figure that such shared experience is sure to be boring to their readers. Why describe an orange, they wonder, if everyone already knows what an orange is like?  Well, everyone knows what love is like and what loss is like and what it is like to want something desperately, too.  It is the writer’s job to make that longing—and when important to the story, the orange, too—present on the page.

Imagining yourself deeply into a story is an act of conjuring that relies on an unpredictable combination of memory and invention.  Longing can often work like a switch.  Describing the orange on your desk is one thing.  Describing the taste of an orange when you’re dying for one and haven’t had one in years is quite another.

Elements of landscape and the sensations they produce also work like trapdoors into wider memories that enrich my fiction.  The way that eucalyptus trees drop their pods like little missiles on the ground reminds me of camping out at Grateful Dead shows when I was a teenager reminds me of the feeling of freedom and possibility and danger of being a late adolescent. I have now lived most of my adult life away from eucalyptus trees (not to mention the Grateful Dead) and that, in itself, works to underscore the passage of time, another fertile topic for stories.

My current work-in-progress is a second novel set on the San Juan Islands, but lately I have begun taking some tentative steps to write about Missouri, as well. In a recent story, Water Witch, the body of water that figures prominently in the action is an Ozark stream rather than the Pacific Ocean.  I am eager to explore this new setting and there may even come a day when I will describe myself as a writer from the West Coast rather than of the West Coast.  However, I can no more picture a time when my fiction will be unbuckled from my geographic origins than imagine it free from lessons learned in childhood about family, betrayal, adventure and loss.

In thirteen years, when the sleeping children of Brood XIX emerge from the ground again and my own children are off living their lives, where will I be?  Chances are pretty good that I will still be in Columbia, MO where my husband is a philosophy professor and where we have dear friends and deep roots.  Chances are better than good that at least some of the time I will be sitting at my desk in Mid-Missouri surrounded by coastal fog and dry yellow hills, the sound of the waves crashing in my ears.


Lise Saffran is the author of the novel JUNO’S DAUGHTERS, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and Hedgebrook. Her work has appeared in literary journals, Poets and Writers and the Granta Anthology FAMILY WANTED.  Not only does she live full-time in Missouri, she is part-owner of 60 acres in an Ozark county where there are rumored to be more copperheads than people.

Read more about Lise and her novel on her website, follow Lise on Twitter, and friend her on Facebook.

Independence Day: Break Out the Coffee, We’ve Got Guests

Kiddo & Mama Victoria

Today, for your Fourth of July weekend pleasure, my friend and writer,
E. Victoria Flynn, stops by with a guest post on small town surprises.

Victoria blogs over at Penny Jars, and if you aren’t reading her stuff, you’re missing out. She whips up some amazing posts, especially on Thursdays. So, get your feet wet here, then click on over there.

The Small Time Philosopher’s Guide to House Listing

 They didn’t tell us about the parade route. Maybe they didn’t think it was important in the middle of January, a day after a snow storm, when the only parades anyone seemed concerned with was the morning traffic heading out of town. Maybe they thought it would scare us away.

We started the 4th of July weekend playing poker, Mike and I, thinking about taking a walk down to the park where we could hear the bands and the hooting, where the kick off fireworks shot from their canons, where I felt we should be becoming part of this tiny town, beer and all. We knew no one, but I loved the possibility.

These were the weekends before kids when we could sit around comfortably surrounded by dusted bookshelves and organized cupboards. Going to bed early meant before the sun came up, and sleeping in meant anything at all.

Until the siren blasted us out of bed.

Until the steady honking moved slowly, slowly, slowly past our heads.

“There are people all over our yard,” Mike said. “It looks like we’re having a parade.”

“For real? How come nobody told us?” Maybe we should have made more of an effort to introduce ourselves to the neighbors, but I had been waiting for the bunt cakes and brownies to arrive. How come nobody brought us brownies? We love brownies.

We did have coffee, and we made it strong.

We pulled out our fold-up beach chairs and set them on the porch. Mike got out the video camera heretofore used for shots of “This is the garage. Here’s the back yard. Look, the neighbors have a pile of wood. And this is…I don’t know what this is.”

It was a dark day, drizzled and damp and dimpled with small town promise. We watched green and yellow John Deere tractors, shined up red Farmalls, Dairy Queens riding the backs of convertibles, horses clomping at the road. There was candy strewn across our lawn.

It was terrific.

By the next year we had invited our family, and I was fat in the belly with our first little girl. After the parade we ate brunch—banana bread, mini quiche, lemonade, and bowls of fruit. A year later, it was a tradition.

I’m pretty sure the four days of the 4th of July is what keeps us rooted in this town. We talk about moving back to Madison, closer to my husband’s job, closer to our friends and so many places and events we enjoy. We talk about it, but we can never decide–if we were to sell our house, should we tell them it’s on the parade route, or should we just leave it as a surprise?


You can find Victoria elsewhere: on Twitter and on Facebook and sometimes at a small ice cream shop just west of here, when the stars align and calendars sync and writers unite.