Madam Counselor's Corner

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Hulu Redux

This week I watched the season finale of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu, which is a surprisingly fresh take on the classic novel by Margaret Atwood. The first season—and I was pleased to read it has been renewed for a second season—begins and ends in sync with the events of the book, leaving its viewers at that same moment of uncertain outcome for Offred, the handmaid from whose perspective the story is told, but with the resonance of hope that change is afoot in the totalitarian regime of Gilead, which subjugates women under its own Western evangelical version of extremist sharia law.

Having loved the novel for its language as much as the story, I was unsure whether I’d be drawn in to the series when it first aired. Elizabeth Moss plays Offred in a manner that was different than I’d imagined her in my reading, so it took me a few episodes to adjust to that difference. What excites me is that Ms. Atwood is a consulting producer and was extensively involved in developing this project for television. The series storyline is true to the novel, but expands upon it and modernizes it in ways that feel natural and not at all like a departure from the book, but rather a deepening of it. I watched knowing that—as the plot revealed new information or background about the characters and events—it reflected an enlarged vision of this world endorsed its author, and as such was not just the committee-creation of a roundtable of writers (no offense meant to television writers, who produce a lot of amazing content for us to enjoy). Hulu’s remake of this classic story feels both familiar and true to the book, while at the same time refreshingly new and exciting.

And so I’m looking forward to season two like a fan girl who finally gets to read the sequel to a beloved book over 30 years after its original publication, except that this sequel is being formatted for television.

Thumbs up, Scrivener.

When I rebooted my second novel earlier this year, it seemed like the perfect time to try out Scrivener as I re-integrated myself into the world of Las Vegas in 2069. This meant transferring all the notes and outlining I’d done in Word into the binder structure within Scrivener. I’m happy to say that the investment of time in the material transfer and software learning curve paid off and I’m really liking the fluidity that Scrivener allows me when I’m in a creative mode. Moreover, I’ve utilized the iOS version of Scrivener from my iPhone (synced to Dropbox) and it’s worked perfectly, and provides me with a place to drop notes right into my manuscript when I’m not at my desk.

On a final note, I had my first experience with tech help recently, and Katherine at Literature and Latte, the company that makes Scrivener, emailed me back later that night with some troubleshooting solutions. Scrivener gets a thumbs up from me.


I just returned from a workshop in Key West led by Margaret Atwood, the focus of which was story openings. The intimate size (12 participants) combined with the setting (the back patio of Ms. Atwood’s vacation house) created a cozy atmosphere and helped ease our first-day jitters about being read and critiqued by a rock star of the literary world.

The workshop was part of the Key West Literary Society’s “In Other Worlds” 2012 seminar. The criteria for admission were two-fold:  1) our stories must set on Earth in the near future, and 2) Ms. Atwood must accept us based on a writing sample.

My novel-in-progress (“Underneath Us”) opens in the ruins of Las Vegas in 2069, so I was excited to learn of this opportunity, and—subsequently—of my acceptance into the workshop.

The first morning we gathered quietly around the poolside table, awaiting the start of the workshop and making chit-chat, unsure what to expect. When Ms. Atwood joined us, she offered a brief “good morning,” then laid five white cards on the table with “STOP TALKING” printed on them. These were for us to use, she explained, if we felt anyone was becoming long-winded. We chuckled and, after brief introductions, embarked on the business of workshopping.

As it turned out, we had a great group and no one tried to dominate the discussions, so the white cards disappeared after that first morning. The workshop was comprised of readings, group commentary, line-editing, and examining the internal consistency of our world-building. Ms. Atwood also recounted many summaries of books and movies that might be relevant to our stories (including “The Head That Wouldn’t Die” and “The Creeping Eye”).

My turn came on the last day, by which time we’d grown comfortable as a group—and I’d observed the grace and kindness with which Ms. Atwood offered her criticisms of our work—so I wasn’t feeling too nervous. I received useful feedback and line-edits, as well as a wonderful compliment when Ms. Atwood said, “You know how to open a story.”  [*Insert happy dance here.*]

As souvenirs of my experience, I returned home with an autographed copy of my marked-up manuscript, a “STOP TALKING” card, and—most importantly—new friendships with people who care about books and writing as much as I do.

Thank you, Ms. Atwood, for having us.

(Gratitude and credit for the fabulous photos to Cat Sparks. )




Forced Sterilization in the USA

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Did you know that thirty-one States carried out Eugenics sterilization programs on the poor, often without their knowledge or consent? The bill legalizing this practice in North Carolina wasn’t revoked until 2003.

MSNBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams produced a segment about this travesty:

State of Shame: N.C. sterilization survivors fight for justice

KINDLE LENDING LIBRARY: a good thing for authors?

Last week, introduced the Kindle Lending Library, a benefit for’s Prime members that allows Kindle-owners to borrow certain e-books for free. In most cases, the titles included in the lending library have been contributed by the publishers for a fixed fee. However, the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) quickly issued a statement in response to the discovery that some titles are being included in the lending library without the publisher’s consent that this “…new sort of use of authors’ copyrighted material…is not covered nor was anticipated in most contracts between authors and publishers….” Amazon’s press release states that it is acquiring such non-contributed books under their wholesale terms with the publisher on a per use basis.

Legally speaking, the AAR is probably correct that doesn’t have the contractual right to lend books without their permission, even if they are acquiring each lent copy under wholesale terms. It will be interesting to see how this power-play on’s part falls out as it receives push-back from publishers who perceive this move as further evidence of the mega-retailer’s lack of fair-dealing when it comes to intellectual property compensation. That said, I think it’s unlikely a lawsuit will come of this, so the situation will probably shake itself out according to the relative power of the parties in the marketplace.

I’ve been reading some pretty grumpy author posts about the lack of fairness in this situation, and I understand that sentiment. Legalities aside, though, I think there’s an upside for authors to the Kindle Lending Library that’s worth voicing too.

Most readers stick to writers they know when selecting new books, making it tough for new and mid-list authors to expand their audience. However, when buyers do discover new authors, it is often by borrowing a recommended book.

One of the things Amazon does much better than brick-and-mortar stores is enabling readers to find books based on specific preferences and key words, and providing customer reviews that point them toward the books they are likely to enjoy. In this sense, the Kindle Lending Library may be an opportunity for readers to find and sample books they were otherwise unlikely to buy.

We all know there’s no marketing campaign as powerful as positive word-of-mouth recommendations. Perhaps, as authors, we should consider that a Kindle-lent book may not represent a lost sale at all—but rather a found reader.

Neil Gaiman voiced similar thoughts relative to book piracy, and you can hear what he has to say about that topic here: Neil Gaiman on Copyright