Category Archives: Writing

New project: Jared Diamond for YA readers

I’m delighted to have been chosen to turn bestselling writer Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee into a book for young people.

In addition to writing my own books, I’ve had the opportunity to write YA adaptations of several important works by gifted scholars and writers, making these works available to children and young adults. I’ve adapted Howard Zinn’s seminal People’s History of the United States, Charles C. Mann’s groundbreaking 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and two works by Ron Takaki, a leading scholar of America’s ethnic history. Now I’m very happy to add Diamond and The Third Chimpanzee to that list.

Diamond may be best known for Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), but the big-picture subjects he treats in those books–the relationship of biogeography to history, the interaction of culture and environment, the place of humans in the animal kingdom–were first explored in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, published in 1992. The book is both an examination of the things that make humans unique and an introduction to the broad reach of Diamond’s thought and work. And like all of his books, it has anecdotes and reflections, many of them drawn from years of ornithological field work in New Guinea, that contribute to Diamond’s distinctive voice.

It’s a challenge and a responsibility to make such a complex, far-ranging book–one that deals with subjects as diverse as menopause, animal artists, and the spread of the Proto-Indo-European language root–accessible to kids. I’m enjoying it tremendously, and I look forward to the time when the book will be finished and ready for readers.

Launch party in New York

This weekend I’ll be traveling to New York–barring a hurricane-caused disruption–for the launch of Triangle Square Books, a new children’s and YA nonfiction imprint from Seven Stories Press.

Seven Stories is the publisher of my YA adaptation of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, as well as my new YA adaptation of Ronald Takaki’s history of multicultural America, A Different Mirror. Seven Stories has long been committed to publishing progressive books on politics, history, and social and environmental justice. I believe Triangle Square will fill an important need, and I can’t wait to see what books they will be offering to young readers.

My own writing camp

I wonder if any of my writer friends have done this, and how it turned out.

Next weekend Zachary leaves for a two-week trip with his Italian friend. Circumstances have arranged themselves such that I have no commitments during that time. No pressing work assignments, no tickets to plays or concerts, nada.

When Z is away I revel in having the house to myself. Not that I don’t love the guy, you understand, but even after 18 years together I’m not entirely used to cohabitation. It’s a vacation for me to be home alone when he travels. He feels the same when I travel, in case you were wondering.

My normal practice during these idylls is to sleep late, watch bad Syfy (is there any other kind?) and lots of slasher and horror and Korean revenge flicks (stuff Zachary doesn’t really like). And I go out to dinner a lot with friends, and maybe schedule time with girlfriends whom I haven’t seen one-on-one for a while. Usually I’m working on one or more deadlines, though, so it’s not exactly a free-for-all of leisure.

This time there’ll be no deadline. I am, however, about 30K words from finishing the first draft of the novel I’ve been noodling with for some time. So I’m thinking, “Full-immersion, one-person writing camp.” I’ll stock up with the groceries I need, and plenty of Mountain Dew, and I’ll keep my schedule empty, with the intention of writing every day, as much as I can and whenever I feel like it. Middle of the night? No problem. Want to play that Fever Ray album over and over again until my ears bleed? No problem. If I stick to the extreme version, I won’t leave the house except to go the the gym five mornings a week and take a walk the other two mornings.

The single-mindedness of the plan pleases me, but who knows whether I’ll maintain it.

Have any of you done something like this? If so, did you:

(a) accomplish a ton of writing and feel awesome,

(b) fall off the plan in the first day and spend the rest of the time watching the entire runs of Babylon 5 and Lexx on Netflix, or,

(c) start wearing a tinfoil hat to keep the government and/or aliens from hearing your thoughts?


Self-publishing data from Smashwords

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, talked “Money, Money, Money” at a Romantic Times event earlier this month. points apply to all genres.

Interesting stuff for those who are self-publishing, or thinking of doing so. One highlight: readers appear to favor longer over shorter books. Of course, as Coker is careful to point out, you have to write a good book in the first place.


Standing room mostly

I’ve transitioned to a standing desk.

I started thinking about it a year or so ago, after reading about the benefits of standing rather than sitting for desk work. Those benefits include (for a lot of people) increased energy, diminished back pain, weight loss, and–most interesting to me–improved focus and concentration.

I don’t have any back pain, but the other stuff sounded pretty good.

For a long time I pined for the GeekDesk, a hydaulic beauty that lets you raise and lower the work surface in seconds with the push of a button. (The ability to alternate easily between standing and sitting seems to help the transition to a standing desk, and even many long-time standers say it’s good to take a sitting break from time to time.)

But the GeekDesk is pricey, especially when you add the cost of shipping. I could never quite justify it, so I dithered and did nothing. Meanwhile, the awesome Cat Rambo did the opposite, i.e., something. She rigged up a standing desk and started using it. Her FB and G+ posts about the results inspired me, and when she posted that the IKEA Frederik desk can be used or modded as a standing desk, I went out and got one. At $149 it’s hella cheaper than the GeekDesk, although it can’t be raised and lowered, and I did the shipping myself.

I’ll pass lightly over the assembly process, except to say that: (1) this desk is the first IKEA product I’ve ever assembled that did not come with an Allen wrench, and (2) I put the desk together in our living room, while enduring the godawful Syfy movie “Swamp Volcano,” and getting it into my office eventually involved taking a door off its hinges and, when that proved inadequate, taking the damn desk partly apart and reassembling it in the office. So, um, put the thing together in the room where you plan to use it. Duh.

Anyway, I got it set up last night. My old sitting desk is on the left, the new standing one on the right:


My work habits are pretty jumpy; I usually take frequent bathroom, TV, walk, play-with-cat breaks, so it’s not like I’m going to be standing for hours on end in one place, like some literary-assembly-line worker. (Although my publisher might find that an  improvement.) But for sitting breaks at my desk, I got a $20 IKEA bar stool with a padded footrest. I’m also going to take Cat’s advice and get a gel floormat, like the ones chefs use.

I’ve only been at the desk for a couple of hours, but I like it. I’ve gotten some work done: revising an outline for my nonfic publisher, revising a short story, and writing this blog post. Time to down tools and see what that cat’s up to.