Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Toast . . .

To a year filled with family and friends, adventures and surprises, health and strength, achievements and goals met . . . for all of us.

Oh, and book sales that blow the roof off!!!

Happy 2009!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday and New Year Musings

It's bitterly cold here in St. Louis today. My husband is at the mall (only 3 shopping days left!), one of my sons is at the Rams game with college buddies, and I'm about to go make another batch of cookies. The crockpot is filled with the makings for White Chicken Chili, and in a few hours friends are coming over to enjoy the chili and cookies and some holiday cheer.

I moved to this town and this house 18 years ago next month, and the two families coming over tonight are the first people I met. They are, literally, my next-door neighbor and back-fence neighbor. At the time, our kids were toddlers. The three youngest of those kids will be joining us tonight, all home from college. It'll be the first party where none of them will have to sneak a beer in the backyard.

Over the years we've worried about teachers and mean kids at school and college acceptances. We've driven carpools, and babysat. We've mourned the loss of parents and buried beloved pets. We've welcomed new puppies and one grandbaby. We all danced at my wedding 3 years ago. We've borrowed eggs and traded recipes and sat up way too late drinking wine. We've brought meals after surgery and driven each other home after medical procedures. We've had health scares and put out one driveway fire.

We try to get together more often, but life gets in the way and we find ourselves running into each other at the grocery store and saying things like "we've got to get together" and we wave from the driveway or holler over the back fence. So, it's a treat to actually have a date on the calendar when we can relax and laugh and reminisce.

And that's one of the wonderful things about this time of year. For one, my house is all decorated and cozy so I want to light the candles and have friends over. For another, it's a time to look back and look forward, and that naturally means thinking about good friends.

When I moved here, so much ahead of me was unknown. Divorce, remarriage. A first novel being published. Teaching full-time and then changing careers. In the past year, even, our three families have weathered sadnesses and celebrations like families all over the world. And I love looking back at the quilt of our lives, pieces here and there of all the things that have made us who we are, woven together in tears and laughter and love.

Who knows what we'll be celebrating at the end of 2009?

But to all of you, I wish you a holiday filled with warmth and laughter and family and good friends. And a 2009 full of joy and surprise and adventure.

See you next year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

In this hectic time, I'm here to help you out with yet another book suggestion, courtesy of the GCC: Melissa Clark's Swimming Upstream, Slowly.

Melissa is the creator and executive producer of the award-winning television series, 'Braceface', and has written for shows on the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Fox. She received a master's degree from the writing program at U.C. Davis, and currently lives in Los Angeles. This is her first novel. Let's hear from her in her own words . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Swimming Upstream, Slowly was born because I was having lunch with a friend and overate. I lifted my shirt to expose my bloated belly and the friend said, half joking, "Are you sure you're not pregnant?" and I said, "Yeah, right, from a lazy sperm." I went home that night and started outlining it for a movie. I decided, eventually, to write it as a novel instead. I am usually driven by character, but this book was very plot-y, so I was driven by both in this one.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

The Jordan character was initially just a throw-away character, but as I kept writing he became more integral to the plot. It was fun to write those scenes with Sasha and see where they headed.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

For Swimming... I quit my TV writing job to write the novel. I had the luxury of time and money to do so. I joined a workshop at UCLA and used it as a motivator. I finished the book in a year and three months.

I just finished a draft of a new novel and spent most of my writing time at the Santa Monica Public Library. I teach now, so my writing time is more precious.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

Coming up with ideas, finessing scenes, watching two characters meet.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

"The best part of being a writer is getting to spend time with other writers" --Myra Freid, writer.

I love, love, love That last quote. It's absolutely true!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Adventures in Wrapping

Today it was cold and icy outside. I chose to stay inside where it was toasty and cozy.

I baked cookies and made chili and wrapped presents which will soon be under the tree (as soon as we put it up).

I love this time of preparation and waiting.

I unpacked all the Christmas decorations yesterday. The day before I started (and came darn close to finishing) our Christmas shopping. Hence the need for gift-wrapping today.

I had a great time this afternoon. The aroma of freshly baked cookies hung in the air, I filled the CD player with Christmas carols (I just love this David Bowie/Bing Crosby rendition of "Little Drummer Boy"), and I sat at the dining room table and wrapped presents.

And you know what?


They are much easier to wrap than anything else. I mean, Macy's rocks, but their boxes are flimsy. And rarely does the item fit as neatly inside as I'd like it to. And then there are the items that don't fit neatly into boxes. So creative taping becomes important. But, books. Oh my. Even my dog could wrap books (and he doesn't have opposable thumbs). And, if you're like me and have to mail some gifts, well, can I just mention that they're a cinch to mail? Okay, I mentioned it.

I've got a slew of books on my wish list. And at least 5 of the folks on my list (and we're cutting way back this year) are going to be the lucky recipients of books.

So, if you're still looking for that perfect gift, wander into your local bookstore and buy bunches.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Think Fearlessly, Act Locally

So, I spent last week putting the final touches on my MS. Today I'll read it through one last time, tweak a few things here and there, rewrite the synopsis, and send it off to my agent. Yes, I'm well aware that all the news in publishing (and the auto industry and Wall Street, and . . . . ) is bleak. I believe a week ago we had "Black Wednesday." To some, I suppose, it would seem silly at best and utterly pointless/stupid/bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating to be sending off a MS in the hopes it'll be published. But, read this journal entry written by my dear, wise author friend Bev Marshall. She gets to the heart of why we write.

In working on this last revision/rewrite I discovered that I was writing fearlessly. Okay, the market might have cratered, but that didn't mean I should give up on my characters. I'm not writing for some vague "market" anyway. I'm writing to tell a story, an important story. I'm writing because it's who I am and what I do. And so my words soared out onto the computer screen. Nobody's buying? Okay, then, even more reason to write from the heart.

And as I went about the rest of my week, I thought how freeing it was to write without fear. And it extended beyond just writing. So, the economy is terrifying? That gave me the freedom to scale back on my holiday buying, but it also meant that I wanted to make what I give count all the more. Distill it down, so to speak. Rather than 6 or 7 wrapped presents under the tree, what are three things that will tell my son I really know him?

And what can I do for the booksellers who've helped me so much? I can get off my couch and go buy my books from them rather than adding to "my cart" with a click of the mouse. And lots of those great indies have web presences, too.

Here are two of my local stores who will get my business:

The fabulous Main Street Books in St. Charles, owned by the wonderful Vicki Erwin

And the classic Left Bank Books in the Central West End (and now also in downtown St. Louis. Yes, they just oepend a new store this fall. You gotta love that!)

Two other indie stores that have treated me (and gobs of other authors well!) are Schwartz's in Milwaukee and The Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.

Feel free to share your favorite indie store when you leave a comment. And this holiday season, don't let the bad news hold you back.

Fearless. That's my new motto.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Writers in their own words-A Double Dipper!

In keeping with Monday's post about books being the perfect holiday gift, I have a GCC two-fer to offer all of you: Malena Lott (far right)and Jessica Brody!

In Malena's novel, Dating Da Vinci Ramona Elise is in a rut—a 36-year-old widowed mother of two, she can’t seem to find what make her truly happy in life. Making sure her kids are happy isn’t the hard part; Ramona’s looking for the passion she lost two years ago when she lost her husband and her world turned upside down. When a handsome Italian immigrant walks into her English class, Ramona never expects to find la dolce vita (the sweet life) in a younger man—or in her self!

Jessica's novel, The Fidelity Files confronts the thorny issue of infidelity head-on with its controversial main character Jennifer Hunter. Operating under the code name “Ashlyn,” Jennifer leads a double life. Her friends and family all think she’s an investment banker who’s too busy to date. In reality, Jennifer is hired by suspicious wives and girlfriends to test the faithfulness of their partners. Her job has made her pretty cynical about her own love life. But just as she’s ready to swear off men for ever, Jennifer meets sexy, sophisticated Jamie Richards, a man who might just past her fidelity test. However, before she retires her secret agent self forever, she takes on one last assignment – a job which will permanently alter her perceptions of trust, honesty, and love.

Let's hear from each of them in their own words:

First Jessica Brody about Fidelity Files . . .

1) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in a very corporate environment. And like all corporate jobs, there were a certain number of “alcohol-related” events that I was expected to attend. I would often find myself at work happy hour functions in nearby bars, observing the interactions between single and non-single co-workers as their behaviors gradually declined from professional to something else entirely. Something hardly capable of being described as “appropriate.”

Witnessing these “indiscretions” upset me on a profound level. I secretly wished that someone would tell the “conveniently” absent significant others about what their husbands/wives/boyfriends/ girlfriends/fianc├ęs really did while attending these “obligatory” and supposedly “uneventful” work functions. But I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to do it. I was brave enough to think it…but not exactly brave enough to go knocking on people’s doors with bad news. You know what people tend to do to “the messenger.”

So instead I created a character whose job and purpose in life was to do just that. To reveal the truth to anyone who wanted to know. To knock on all the doors that I never had the courage to knock on. An invincible superhero-esque woman whose quest is to fight against the evils of infidelity. But of course, she soon finds out…she’s not as invincible as she once thought.
I’m definitely more driven by character. I like thinking up interesting characters with intriguing back stories and then forming a world around them. Like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a story about a woman who tests men’s fidelity for a living?” Then I go forward from there. “What would her life be like?” And “What kind of interesting things would happen to someone like that?”
2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

My favorite character is definitely Jen’s gay friend, John. Every scene he’s in was always the most fun to write. And the easiest. He’s definitely the comic relief of the book. I don’t know where some of his lines come from. They just kind of emerge as if I’m channeling a flamboyant and sometimes annoying gay man from another dimension. I would be writing a scene with him and he’d respond with a line that was so him and I would just stare back at it on the page, laugh and say, “Where did that come from?” Needless to say, he was one of my favorite characters to return to in the sequel.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

The writing process is very random for me. It all depends on the day. Because I tend to be equally right and left brained, sometimes I feel as though the writing process is just a constant struggle (or sometimes clash) between the two sides of my brain to come up with a consistent way to write a novel. I write outlines, because my analytical side tells me it’s the right thing to do, but then halfway through the story, I come to the conclusion that I only write outlines so that I’ll have something to deviate from. I create complicated spreadsheets (a nod back to my days as a strategic analyst) for my storylines and page counts and pacing only to abandon them halfway through. And yet, despite this seemingly random chaos, it all feels perfectly natural to me. As if it was designed specifically for a purpose. So I suppose, my lack of a defined process is a process in itself.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is definitely the beginning of the story. There’s nothing more exciting and inspiring than a fresh new idea and a blank piece of paper. The possibilities are endless, the promise is huge and the character is brand new. It’s like that first four-hour long conversation with a new guy. So much hope for where it could go!

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

“Finish it.” Okay, I realize some explanation is required here. But when I first started writing my very first book, I had no idea if it was any good or not. I was excited about it but I was so uncertain about my writing. So I showed it to a friend who used to be a literary agent and she said, “This is good. You should finish it.” So I did. Now, mind you, that book never got published. It’s still gathering dust on the proverbial shelf. But it did give me the push I needed to take my writing seriously and keep going. Two years after getting that piece of advice I started on a new book...the one that eventually became The Fidelity Files. And today, I’m a published author. All because of those two words. [Cue the dramatic inspirational music here.]

And now Malena Lott about Dating Da Vinci . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I don’t recall the exact a-ha moment when the book idea came to fruition, but I’d just moved into a new house in the ‘burbs, my whole department had just been laid off, and I was in a big transition period as a stay-at-home mom and starting my own consulting business. I was definitely in a place in my life where I was thinking: what’s next? And, what does it mean to truly be happy? So Ramona sprung to life, and since I’ve always been a huge da Vinci fan – there wasn’t anything that guy wasn’t gifted at – it all just came together. I’m driven by character as my journeys are within for my female protagonists.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

I change the answer given the day, because I really do think there are so many fun characters in the book. Today I’ll answer Leonardo da Vinci because he’s new to America and so full of life. He’s good at everything he tries, and he falls for Ramona, a woman who desperately needs to feel joy and passion again.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

I try to write every morning. If I’m not working on something new, then I’m revising or editing or marketing. I like to get that done in the morning while my kids are in school and my toddler is busy with his breakfast and educational videos. (The Simpson is educational, right?) Not really. My writing environment changes based on where my toddler is in the house and the weather outside. I have two patios so I love to take my laptop outside, and inside I either write in my library on a sleek black recliner or upstairs in the playroom on a mod pink 1950s chair.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

By far, ideas and dialogue, though I’m really not very heavy on dialogue. My favorite part is usually any part that I’ve gone back and read that I think passes the muster.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Learn the craft. I’ve written all my life, but you can always improve and with experience you can get better. So read a lot, write a lot works for me.

So, you heard it here first . . . great gift ideas!

Monday, December 1, 2008

As You Shop this Season . . .

Books, books, and more books. They are always at the top of my Christmas wish list. I love waking up on Dec. 26, knowing the fridge is full of leftovers, there's nowhere I have to be, and I have a stack of new books to dive into. If I want, I can spend the day in bed, cozy under my down comforter, and read the day away.

I also love to give books as gifts. They are easy to wrap (you never have to wait for some surly clerk to find a box for you) and they are always a perfect fit. They never go out of style.

Now, I know, that this year especially, people are throwing their hands in the air and acting as though the book business is dying if not already dead. Well, to paraphrase one of the gods of American Literature, I DECLINE TO ACCEPT THE END OF BOOKS.

Books allow us to visit worlds and lives that are far removed from our own. Books take us on journeys we could never plan or afford. Books introduce us to characters who become friends.

When I was teaching, I'd tell my students that they were to always write about books in the present tense because, as I'd explain, when you open the cover of a book and dive into it, the story is happening right then. Those characters are living their story right at that moment. They are always alive in those pages. Cool, huh? Every time I read it, Atticus is guiding Scout and defending Tom Robinson. And Boo Radley is watching and protecting.

So, you see, books will never die. Elizabeth Bennett is smitten with Darcy over and over again (even though she can't admit it!). Caddy Compson will keep trying to help Quentin even though she knows she'll never be successful. But her love is too strong to give up.

These characters live anew every time someone opens the covers of the book. That's what you give someone when you give a book as a gift.

If you're looking for suggestions, check out all my posts on this blog labeled Book Recommendations or Writers or GCC.

My author buddy Carleen Brice has a new blog full of book suggestions.

And every Monday I'll be posting suggestions, ideas, etc.

Today my plug is for memoirs. I know memoirs have gotten a bad rap because some folks wrote ones that weren't. But real memoirs, good memoirs, are wonderful. They read like novels with the added poignancy of knowing a real live person is behind the story. Here are three that I'm a fan of this season:

~Gail Konop-Baker's Cancer is a Bitch about how having cancer helped her reexamine her life and start living the life she wanted. It's funny and inspiring and not what you think of when you hear "cancer book". Just trust me and read it, okay?

~Kin Reid's No Place Safe, a riveting look at what it was like to be 13 and have her mom leading a serial killer investigation. It's a coming of age tale in every way.

~Kathleen Flinn's, The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry about her experiences at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Moment of Thanks" Reprise

I wrote this post last year, and ask your indulgence as I post it again. It still seems appropriate. . . .

"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Thirteen years ago, just before dinnertime on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, my seven-year old son was hit by a car. Now twenty, he'll be arriving home from college tomorrow; his twenty-one year old brother the next day. We have much for which to be thankful. But that night, for a few moments, I wasn't sure I'd ever breathe a thankful breath again. When the neighbor boy burst into my house, yelling, "Eric just got hit by a car!" my world froze. I wasn't sure I could face what awaited me just outside my front door. Somehow, I propelled myself outside, after tossing the phone to the neighbor and telling him to call 911. When I hit the porch steps I heard my son's cries and I thought, Okay, he's alive. When I knelt by his side, I saw his feet moving and told myself, Okay, he's not paralyzed. And I knew right then we were incredibly lucky. And I was thankful beyond measure.

Later, after the ambulance ride, after the X-rays, after the doctor shook his head and said, just before releasing him, "He's fine. He shouldn't be but he is," I remembered the above Stegner quote. The salt had been just ready to pour down on me, on us, on our life. And then it didn't. But I knew how easily it could have rained down over our world. A different driver. A bigger, faster car. A shift in the trajectory of my son's body as it flew through the air. But, even now, I have to turn my mind away from those awful possibilities.

Our lives are full of such moments, but many times we don't even know it. We don't know what we've narrowly escaped, what's just missed us. And so, for what we know and don't know, I am thankful. For the times the salt didn't pour down and for the strength to continue when it did, I give thanks.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, but even more, I wish you a spirit of thankfulness as you go about your lives everyday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love Your Neighbor/Writers in their own words

I've been lucky to have the best neighbors anyone could ask for. We've lived next door for going on 18 years. In that time we've graduated 4 kids from high school, two from college (the last two aren't far behind . . . at least that's what they tell us). They've driven my younger son and me to the ER more times than I can count. We've shared meals and tears and laughs and wine.

One day, when I was at work, they noticed a bird flying around inside my house. They knew that while I didn't have a pet bird, I did have a dog and cat who were likely wreaking havoc throughout the house. Fantastic neighbors that they are, they used the spare key they have (yeah, they're that kind of neighbor), came over, rescued the bird, set it free, calmed down the animals who were supposed to be in the house, and straightened up the lamps that had been knocked over. When I got home, all was well.

I know I'm lucky. But, if I ever forget, reading Saralee Rosenberg's new book, Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead will definitely remind me!

A “For Sale” sign on your lawn is fine, unless you’re not the one who put it there. In DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD, Saralee Rosenberg’s fourth hit-home novel on Long Island, Mindy Sherman and Beth Diamond are warring next door neighbors who have zero in common, but no place to hide. Housewives have never been this desperate, or this funny.

The story begins on move-in day when Mindy notices that her new neighbor’s shed is bigger than her mother’s condo, and the vanity plate on Beth’s Lexus reads FSHNCRZY. It hardly bodes well for meaningful friendship as the Shermans are broke and Mindy’s favorite designer makes Mets t-shirts. Still, her husband, Artie, predicts that Mindy and Beth will become the next Lucy and Ethel. “In real life they hated each other,” Mindy cried. “In real life they laughed all the way to the bank,” he pointed out. “Which bank?” she asks.

Now, eight miserable years later, Mindy is still trying to compete, squeezing into jaws-of-life jeans, for in her neighborhood, thirty is the new wife. Even Artie isn’t immune. “Someone called us Shrek and Fiona!”

That someone is Beth, the ivy-league blonde next door who as resident sancti-mommy, makes Ann Coulter seem civil. It’s another day, another dilemma until Beth’s marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly she needs to be “friended” and Mindy is the last mom standing.

For two women who have never shared a meal, it’s a hilarious balancing act as they join forces in order to keep their messy plates spinning thanks to overbearing in-laws, errant husbands, a troubled step-son, a failing business, an unplanned pregnancy and a possible relocation that would leave one of them very far from Bloomingdales.

Then, Mindy and Beth’s reality check nearly bounces on a harrowing flight when they discover a startling secret that they pray they are not too late to share.

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is a highly emotional, spot-on romp through bedrooms, boardrooms and backyards, making unlikely heroines out of two moms who never imagined themselves as survivors, let alone as best friends.

Here's Saralee in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! The story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.

2) Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I always tell readers who ask what my new book is about that the better question is who is the book about because if the characters don't resonate for them, they'll lose interest and possibly not finish. That's why I work so hard creating three-dimensional characters who sound, look and feel real and who have their good points and bad. If readers can relate to them as they do friends and family, and if they even worry about them when they put the book down, then I know I have done my job and the reader will take the whole ride with me.

3.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

I absolutely adored my protagonist Mindy because she was so honest and genuine and she never stopped trying to improve herself, improve her husband and her kids and improve her life. The fact that she rarely saw any signs of progress is what her made her so funny and vulnerable. But the one character that I grew to love and was challenged by was 17-year old Aaron, Artie's son from his first marriage. I drew from my experiences from when my son was that age and was one part sweet and three parts nasty. But in him I saw so much heart and intellect that needed discovering, I enjoyed peeling away the layers of the onion chapter by chapter so that readers would see his great potential too. The old adage about not judging a book by its cover is true for people as well.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

I’m a crack-of- dawn morning writer maybe because my muses are busy all night and can’t wait to have me pour out what they sunk in (at least they let me go to the bathroom first). That being said, when I’m in the zone, I write morning, noon and night. I know I’m done, however, when I look up at the computer screen and I see this, “She said, hjkljkl;uiop.” Then it’s time to shut the lights. As for where I write, the majority of my work is written while chained to my computer table which is situated right smack in the middle of my master bedroom... I never thought this would be my workspace. I always fantasized about having the kind of home office that “playwright” Diane Keaton got in “Something’s Gotta Give.” - this huge, white, ocean-facing office that was stocked with floral bouquets and a breathtaking view. Perhaps one day, but for now it’s fine. I look out at my beautiful backyard and at least my commute is a breeze. Not to mention I can make it to the fridge in under thirty seconds.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

I am crazy about writing dialogue and would spend days working on a scene between Mindy and Beth to make sure that I got the tone, the phrasing, the timing and the subtle nuances just right. There was so much that they wanted to say to each other after eight years of making each other crazy, I just had to let it out a little at a time, like air coming out of a balloon. But the scene I loved writing the most was the one where they are in a hotel room and Beth confronts the fact that she might be pregnant. It is a funny, poignant moment where both characters reveal their greatest joys and misgivings of motherhood and I remember when I sat at my computer, the words just poured out and I had to sit still to hear every last word coming through. I realized at the end that they had just broadcast my own conflicts and vulnerabilities about being a mom and it was whoa... where did that come from?

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Good question. When I first began writing fiction, I turned to many of the wonderful books that are out there to teach the craft. But the two books that became my bibles, the ones that I still refer to when I'm stuck are the stand bys for many writers, Bird By Bird by Anne LaMott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I found so much wisdom in their words, and they gave me the courage to listen to my inner voice and trust it. Now when I'm being pulled in different directions, I just close my eyes, listen to the conversations going on in my head and miraculously, I know what to do. I thank them for that.

Finally, here's praise from Booklist: "Through a winning blend of hip and humble humor, Rosenberg simultaneously skerwers and celebrates the institution of suburban sisterhood."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Novel 101--A Radical Revisionista

So, once again I'm revising. Revising the MS I thought was done a year ago. The MS I've since rewritten 3 (or was it 4?) times.

This has been the hardest book I've ever written. Okay, I know it's only the third (or fourth?) book I've even started. But I also know it's the most complex. I think it's better than All the Numbers. And the writing of it has been a completely different experience.

I remember when I was pregnant with my second child, thinking, well, I'm an experienced mom so I know what I'm doing. Uh huh. I knew the basics. Nursing. Diapering. But each baby taught me how to be his own mom. What worked with one son didn't always (or ever) work with the other one.

We talk about books being labors of love . . . like child rearing. We talk about the fear of sending them (kids and books) out into the world to get knocked around. And I'm discovering that each book gets written in its own way just like each child gets raised in his or her own way. And I have to give myself over to that.

My sons taught me how to be a mom. My sons taught me I could handle things I'd never imagined. They taught me I was stronger than I ever thought. They taught me I had to take risks and be fearless so that they could dare to take chances and chase dreams.

My characters teach me the very same things. My characters are teaching me how to be a writer.

And one of my dearest, most trusted reader-editors used the perfect phrase for all of this. She told me being cautious wouldn't strengthen my story. She told me that "a more radical approach to revision is the right one."

Which means that I'm reconsidering major plot points. I'm looking at scenes and thinking, what the hell, what if I connected these characters here? Or here. I'm fearlessly "killing my darlings"--deleting those scenes that might be beautifully/wittily/choose-your-adverb written but DON'T MOVE THE STORY FORWARD. Or worse, SLOW IT DOWN.

I'm moving things around, withholding information, rediscovering characters' motivations. It's exhilarating and terrifying (kind of like parenting toddlers or teens). I know it's working when I wake up thinking about my book, when in those not-quite-awake moments an idea or solution comes to me and I just know it's perfect. Which tells me that all night my subconscious has been working on my book.

I'm letting go of what I thought the book was supposed to be and grabbing on to what it's becoming, what it was destined to be.

Again, kind of like watching my sons become the adults that was in them from the start.

It's an amazing journey, both parenting and authoring. And much of the time I need to remind myself to enjoy the ride and stay out of the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Words Take Us All Over the World/GCC

I had an amazing experience this week . . . and it was proof, once again, that when we send our words out into the world, we have no idea where they'll land and who they'll touch. This week, I received a fan letter (via e-mail). While fan letters are ALWAYS cool, this one was even more so. Because it came from a reader half a world away, a young Taiwanese woman who loved my book (which has been translated into complex Chinese characters) and wrote to tell me so. I was incredulous and thrilled. When I first imagined being a published author, when I first dared dream the dream, I couldn't have foreseen the lovely people I'd meet because of a story set on a small Wisconsin lake. But that story has taken me around the world.

And now I get to introduce you to another writer whose words will also go places she could never imagine. Kelly Para's new novel, Invisible Touch, poses the question, Do You Believe in Fate?

Kara Martinez has been trying to be "normal" ever since the accident that took her father's life when she was eleven years old. She's buried the caliente side of her Mexican heritage with her father and tried to be the girl her rigid mother wants her to be -- compliant and dressed in pink, and certainly not acting out like her older brother Jason. Not even Danielle, her best friend at Valdez High, has seen the real Kara; only those who read her anonymous blog know the deepest secrets of the Sign Seer.

Because Kara has a gift -- one that often feels like a curse. She sees signs, visions that are clues to a person's fate, if she can put together the pieces of the puzzle in time. So far, she's been able to solve the clues and avert disaster for those she's been warned about -- until she sees the flash of a gun on a fellow classmate, and the stakes are raised higher than ever before. Kara does her best to follow the signs, but it's her heart that wanders into new territory when she falls for a mysterious guy from the wrong side of town, taking her closer to answers she may not be able to handle. Will her forbidden romance help her solve the deadly puzzle before it's too late...or lead her even further into danger?

Now, let's hear from Kelly in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I've always believed in intuitive vibes and repetitive signs and thought wouldn't it be cool to have a girl who really saw visions and have to piece the signs together to help others? But not only that, but this gift had to also be a curse and would a logical mother believe her? And from there Kara was born in my mind with secrets and pain and grief and romance. I am more character driven. I don't believe plot is my strength. I really love to push my characters to their limits.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

My favorite character in Invisible Touch is Kara. She's dealing with a strong psychic gift that is often at times a curse and tries to get a handle on it all by herself while the family deals with the grief of losing her father. She's got a strong heart and like a lot of teens with personal dilemmas trying to hold it together.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

Before I take any notes, or jot down ideas, I always start a book by writing a scene. Once I get that scene down then the brainstorming comes next. My writing environment is my laptop. :) I have a desk with a computer with access to the Internet, and at times I'll set my laptop there or take it to the recliner.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part is building characters from scratch, and then using my imagination to create their stories.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

So many, but I think the one that comes to mind often is that your writing skill is like a muscle. You have to work that muscle in order to build your strength as a writer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This and That

So, you can tell I'm following in the blog footsteps of Therese and those cool gals over at The Writers' Group by changing the look of my blog. Let me know what you think.

I know my posts have been sorta skimpy lately (sorry!), but I've got a new post up over at Erma all about seizing the day, I'll be touring for GCC tomorrow, and next week I'll have a new NOVEL 101 post.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Have You Ever?

Lisa over at Eudaemonia got this from Debra over at From Skilled Hands--
“Have you ever…?”

Bold the things you’ve done and will admit to.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the star
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run

32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted (sort of
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

How about you?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We did it. All of us. We voted and changed the world.

Now the work begins.

But we move forward with hope and wonder.

And we move forward behind a smart, brave, kind man.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Think. Vote. Please.

Earlier this summer, a picture on the front page of The New York Times stunned me. And it haunts me still. It was of a little boy, a toddler, with both of his ankles in casts. He was from one of the African nations struggling to have fair elections in the midst of war. Men had come in, and when his mother refused to say where his father was and how they had voted, they shattered the little boy's ankles.

Think about that for a minute if you can. Think of the terror and horror his mother endured. The pain of the little boy. These were people who faced brutality and possible death just for trying to vote.

We have an election on the horizon and while there has been lots and lots (and lots!) of words said and written about it, there are people who won't vote because they are too busy or they just plumb forget or they don't care. There are also people who will vote without being informed. They'll vote one way because of hair style or skin color or internet rumors that are e-mailed and forwarded by idiots (sorry, Dad.).

And I want those people to think of that little boy and his mother.

I'm voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. There, I said it. For all to see. And with no fear of harm coming to my family or me.

I believe that Obama is our best chance for change and hope and a positive direction for our country. I believe that Obama as president can help America regain her stature and good standing in the world. I like that he's smart. I want a president who's smarter than I am. I firmly believe that he wants the same things for his family and their future that I want for mine. I trust him with my economic future. I agree with him on most social issues. I wish he were more adamant about gun control, but I can't have everything. I support what he proposes for health care.

Do I know every last detail on all his positions? No. But I have listened and read enough to trust him and his vision for America.

For the past few weekends, I've walked through neighborhoods in my town, canvassing for Obama. I've chatted with neighbors who are undecided, who have decided for the other side, and who agree with me (and asked for yard signs). Everyone was friendly (okay, one woman was a bit crotchety) and what struck me was the thoughtfulness of those I talked to. One woman in particular said she was really struggling; she likes Obama, but she's pro-life. She couldn't decide what to do. And while I wished I could sway her, I know she has to decide. But she's thinking about it which is the most important.

I wish I could go door-to-door in more neighborhoods, more states. I wish we could talk to and with rather than at.

This election is too important to hand over to the talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC and CNN.

Think of that mother in Africa and her little boy.

And please vote.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quick Update!!

Allison's book (see below) just hit THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST!!! Whoo-Hoo. That's some rarified air.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

So, a week or so ago I'm sitting on my sofa, drinking coffee and watching The Today Show. When they started talking about "Fall Must Read Books" I set the paper down and took notice. But then, when they held up a book by one of my very own GCC buddies, I nearly spewed my coffee. (Not, may I add, that we don't all deserve it, but this is a little bit like Charlie getting the golden ticket.) So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Allison Winn Scotch, author of the acclaimed new novel Time of My Life.

The Tampa Tribune called it, “Funny and frank. A serious comedy that shines light into the darkness.” Now, I don't know about you, but I'd like a little light shining into the darkness. It explores those "what if" moments, that wondering we sometimes do about different paths and choices we could have taken. . . .

Jillian Westfield has the perfect husband, the perfect baby, and the perfect home in the suburbs, but sometimes she finds herself wondering about the life she left behind. A few short years earlier, she was living with her undeniably attractive but unreliable boyfriend Jackson, working a demanding job at an ad agency, partying too much, and living in a less than perfect New York apartment. But those days were full of possibility and free of diaper changes, trips to the grocery store, and endless days fulfilling only the needs of her daughter and husband. Now, discontented in her faltering marriage, Jillian can’t help but think about what her life would have been like if she hadn’t married Henry, quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom, or spurned her mother’s attempts to reconcile after two decades of silence. What if she’d stayed with Jackson in their run-down apartment and tried a little harder to make their relationship work? What if she’d answered her mother’s letter? What would her life be like now? One morning, Jillian gets a chance to find out. She wakes up in her old apartment, right in the middle of her life as it was seven years ago, before she’d left Jackson and her job, and ignored her mother’s letter. With 20/20 hindsight, Jillian has the chance to discover “what if” once and for all – and to decide which life she really wants.

Here's Allison in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?
I knew I wanted to write a book that dealt with time-travel in some way…the last episodes of Felicity were among my favorite hours of television EVER, and I was drawn to doing something like that. But I didn’t know how to sort it out in my mind. In fact, I mentioned something to my agent about “time-travel” for my next book, and I think she thought I was nuts! But then one afternoon while this was on my mind, my best friend called while she was on vacation in a city of her ex-boyfriend, and she said, “I’m so weirded out…I can’t stop thinking about what my life might have been like.” Then we had one of those intimate life conversations that you can only have with your closest friends about her what-ifs and my what-ifs, and how this was all very normal, even though people didn’t really talk about it. We hung up, and I headed out for a run, and bam, the idea, characters and plotlines just presented themselves very clearly. I came home, wrote what are now the first 14 pages, and sent them off to my agent, who flipped for them. I think, as so many of us get older and look back on our younger years with nostalgia, it’s very easy (and normal) to consider what the other possibilities could have been – and I wanted to explore that.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I don’t think I have a favorite character, but I did have favorite scenes. Well, I loved the scenes in the book in which Jillian, my protagonist, ran into her future husband, Henry, only she was now running into him in the past…and she was also now attached to someone else. They were great fun to write because, well, imagine what would be going through your head if you KNEW what was going to happen with this person but had to pretend that he was a stranger? Those scenes gave me the opportunity to have a little fun, infuse some humor, but also have Jillian reassess how she remembered her husband: she sees him through clear eyes before she got used to seeing his face wake up next to her every morning.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write very quickly – purging it all in about two hours a day. Most of the heavy mental lifting comes at hours when I’m NOT writing: when I’m walking my dog, working out, trying to sleep, and then, I sit down in the morning at about 10ish and force myself to get it all out on the page. But because I’ve worked through the scenes so much in my brain, the words and scenes usually come out of me pretty easily. When I’m stuck, I try to throw some conflict my characters’ way, and that usually gets me unstuck.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
Can I say finishing a book? Because, yum, yeah, that is! But I guess a more specific answer is when I craft what I just innately know in my bones is a wonderful sentence or scene: to a non-writer, this might sound really weird and arty (like an actor talking about his craft), but as a writer, every once in a while, you pull something out of you that you really can’t believe you wrote…and it’s a heavenly moment, that second when you’re better than you thought you could be. I have a favorite scene in Time of My Life that I occasionally reread and have no recollection of writing…but am pretty proud of myself for that specific scene.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Hmmm, good question. I guess it was to be patient. A lot of writers want recognition NOW – they want to sign with an agent NOW, the want to get a publishing deal NOW, they want a bigger advance NOW – but becoming a skilled and successful writer takes practice and time. Sort of like becoming a professional sports player: maybe you were born with some skill, but you have to hone them to be ready for the big leagues. Don’t send our your ms to agents unless you are 1000% sure that it’s ready, and then, be more sure that it’s ready. Be okay with not hitting the bestseller list (figuratively speaking) with your first book – that’s what second and third books are for. Etc. For me, at least, this is about having a CAREER, not instant gratification, and while sometimes that’s hard to remember, it’s a very critical part of succeeding in our industry.

Time of My Life is a perfect book as the days drift into November. And you don't have to just take my word for it--The Today Show agrees, too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Swinging in the Heartland

I've lived 35 of my 48 years (including the last 28) in the midwest--Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. Fly-over country to you on the coasts. The Heartland.

I love being a midwesterner . . . it's solid not flashy. Practical not trendy. (Although I do seem to remember that the Crocs craze started here. Sorta defines us, don't you think?).

By no one's definition would I be considered a swinger.

But, man, oh man, am I starting to understand all the excitement in being a swinger. And it's changed my life. My husband's, too. It's crazy. Hot. Exciting. Even, dare I say it, sexy.

For the first time ever I'm living in a swing state. Oh, yeah, baby. Missouri rocks!

For example, on Monday, John McCain, Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton were all within a stone's throw (or short drive) from my front yard. Hubba hubba.

This weekend, Obama drew 100,000 people to a rally in downtown St. Louis. That's 15 miles from my house. I mean, he was practically on my front porch. Plus, in the last week I received calls from Michelle Obama and a bunch of pollsters. After all these years of feeling like my vote didn't really matter and my opinions counted even less, everyone is vying for my vote and complete strangers want to know what I think. (Too bad my kids are less interested in my opinions.)

Seriously, it's pretty cool. Democracy in action. Neighbors--even ones with dueling yard signs--are out talking and walking and participating in this every four-year political experience. Never have I lived in a state getting this much interest during an election. Never has it mattered more.

And, oh baby, does it have me excited. Swing high, swing low, swing all over the place--Missouri is where it's at right now and I'm loving it.

(Also posted on my group blog.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

Okay, so I know I haven't been much of a poster lately. I wish I could say it's because I've been jet-setting to exotic places. Or writing up a storm.

But that wouldn't be quite accurate. I have been busy . . . and out of town a bit. But, mostly, my days have been filled with the mundane--grocery store trips, running to the gym, errands, appointments. You know, those everyday things that make up our lives.

I do have a new post up over on Erma where I pledge to slow down and enjoy the hot flashes. Good times.

I also have a bit of escape reading to share with you, courtesy of Nadine Dajani's Cutting Loose, where you'll meet three women who are as different as could be—at least that’s what they think—and the men who’ve turned their lives upside down as their paths collide in sizzling, sexy Miami. . . .Ranya, Zahra, and Rio . . . .In this city of fast cars, sleek clubs, and unapologetic superficiality, Ranya, Zahra, and Rio wrestle with the ties that bind them to their difficult pasts, each wondering if she will ever manage to cut loose . . . .

Let's hear from Nadine in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Definitely character. Cutting Loose is a very loosely-based spin-off of my first novel, Fashionably Late, in that Ranya, who was originally a very minor character does something totally wacky at the end of the novel. She runs off to London when she discovers her husband of one month is gay. Not a terribly original departure point, but it’s in how I tried putting together an original story around this character that I had the chance to exercise me creative muscles. Inspiration came from my obsession with Latina magazines and Ugly Betty at the time (Ranya gets her first job working at Sueltate magazine – I used the real life magazine Latina as inspiration for Sueltate) and from a desire to turn certain stereotypes on their heads. For example, I often think about how so many Arabs (Lebanese Arabs especially) living in the US are Christian, not Muslim, and so how do they feel when the “terrorist” label extends to them? I’m Muslim myself, but I would imagine I’d be even more ticked off than I usually am at the American media’s discrimination against Arabs if I were Christian. The Palestinian issue gets some air time in Cutting Loose as well but from an angle you don’t see too often in the States – Zahra’s home town is Bethlehem, as in Bethlehem, Palestinian Occupied Territories, which means she’s descended from some of the oldest Christian families in the world. But that’s not a nuance you’d get from watching cable news…

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

I adored writing the character of Rio. She’s tough as nails and the perfect foil for meek Ranya. I could really see Rio in the eye of my mind, and for some reason, her dialogue came very naturally to me: snarky, unapologetic, critical, and smart. Or smart-mouthed… not too sure on that one!

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

It’s an extremely erratic process – isn’t that terrible? For any writers starting out – please do not take this as license to be erratic… it is NOT the best way to work. Unfortunately, I find that if I don’t get in a ton of “thinking time” up front and don’t work out the characters’ issues from the get go, it’s difficult for me to start. But once I have a few “Ah Ha!” moments under my belt, I get started and zip through the first draft. If I start earlier than I feel comfortable starting, I end up throwing out most of what I’ve written at the beginning. So to answer your question – a whole lot of daydreaming for many months, then a few hours a night to get the broad strokes down, and then cramming as I would for an exam – getting 4 or 5 thousand words out in one sitting, wherever I can squeeze in the time, usually right after work and many hours in a row! It’s a harrowing schedule, but so far it’s worked for me.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?

I love stumbling on that “perfect” scene that just seems like it’s writing itself. I had a few moments like that with Cutting Loose, especially those scenes written in Rio’s POV. When I got to Rio’s turning point scene, I wrote it quickly, with erratic jabs at the keyboard, and when it was done, it was really hard not to smile to myself like a mad woman for the rest of the day. The scene worked on every level, and it’s moments like that that make all the other scenes you had to chain yourself to the desk to write seem worthwhile!

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Anything Anne Lamott has written in her fantastic Bird by Bird qualifies as the best writing advice out there – let yourself write shitty first drafts, be absolutely honest in what you put on paper (which is so much harder that it seems), and be true to your voice, not someone else’s.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

GCC--and An Opportunity

Here's a quick tour with the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit--just in time for Halloween.

Deborah Leblanc is a master story teller, and never better than in her latest, Water Witch.

Dunny knew from an early age what it meant to be an outsider. Her special abilities earned her many names, like freak and water witch. So she vowed to keep her powers a secret. But now her talents may be the only hope of two missing children. A young boy and girl have vanished, feared lost in the mysterious Louisiana bayous. But they didn’t just disappear, they were taken. And amid the ghosts and spirits of the swamp, there is a danger worse than any other, one with very special plans for the children—and for anyone who dares to interfere.

Check out the book trailer on Water Witch.

Also, a quick public service announcement . . .

The Girlfriend Cyber Circuit is looking for new members. If you're a published female author with an active blog you could be part of a great community of writers who promote each other through their blogs. For more info, please email Karin Gillespie at kgillespie AT knology DOT net

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Warning: Political Link Ahead

My fellow bloggers over at Channeling Erma have dedicated this week to posting about the upcoming election.

I'm up today.

Pop on over and join the conversation . . . .

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Last Night We Were All ONE Village

I love authors. I've said that for a long time. From the time I was a little girl, I loved the writers who filled my world. E.B. White. Judy Blume. Then Harper Lee. Later, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner. I thought they lived a level or two above the rest of us. Their words were magic.

And then, I became an author. (Quick disclaimer: I know I'm not, nor will I ever be, at their level.) And, I started meeting other authors. Each one of them reaffirmed my belief that authors are generous and kind and smart. Caring and supportive.

Late this past July, I e-mailed my author friends (some of whom I only know through the blogosphere), asking if they'd be willing to donate a signed book for a silent auction held as a community fundraiser for the victims of the Kirkwood City Hall shooting. (The fundraiser was last night and early reports suggest at least one-quarter of a million dollars raised. ALL money will be divided among the families of the 6 victims.)

And thanks to these generous writers, I was able to put together 8 huge baskets:

~Kristy Kiernan donated copies of Catching Genius for a bookclub; I added her wonderful new Matters of Faith and snacks for the club.

~Carleen Brice donated copies of Orange Mint and Honey (including the audio book!) for a bookclub. I added mints, honey sticks and orange tea.

~Laurie Viera Rigler sent copies of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict for a club, to which I tossed in a copy of Pride and Prejudice, English shortbread, and toffee.

~Bev Marshall sent signed copies of Walking Through Shadows, Right as Rain, and Hot Fudge Sundae Blues. I tossed in pralines, caramel fudge sauce, and godiva chocolates.

~Amy Wallen sent copies of Moon Pies and Movie Stars, including the audio version, for a bookclub. I added moon pies (of course) goobers and raisinets.

I also put together three mixed baskets, "Mystery and Memoirs", "When You Want to Get Away . . . Lighter Women's Fiction and Memoirs", and "Stories to Make You Cry and Smile . . . Serious Women's Fiction and Memoirs." I had at least one signed copy of each of the following books:

Murder Unleashed (A Dead-End Job Mystery) by Elaine Viets.

Isabella Moon by Laura Benedict.

Fairway to Heaven (A Golf Lover's Mystery) and Deadly Advice (An Advice Column Mystery) by Roberta Isleib.

No Place Safe (a memoir) by Kim Reid.

The Smart One by Ellen Meister.

Earthly Pleasures by Karen Neches.

Sleeping With Ward Cleaver by Jenny Gardiner.

Cancer is a Bitch (a memoir) by Gail Konop-Baker.

Souvenir by Therese Fowler.

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton.

Each of these women took the time to sign, package, and mail books to me to help people they will likely never meet. When I delivered my eight baskets to the auction organizers, they couldn't get over that writers from coast to coast would do that. "Authors are wonderful," one of them said.

Yes they are.

(And if you haven't already read these books, run out and buy a couple copies and start reading them.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Taking a Break from Baseball with Writers in Their Own Words

It's fall, the nights are crisp, the leaves are just beginning to turn; what better time to curl up with a mug of hot cider and lose yourself in a mystery with “Top-notch writing, meticulous plotting – and a heroine who is perfectly imperfect…” (Diana Vickery, the Cozy Library).

That's what you'll find as psychologist/advice columnist/sleuth Dr. Rebecca Butterman plunges into her third mystery in ASKING FOR MURDER by Dr. Roberta Isleib (Berkley Prime Crime, September 2008.)

When Rebecca’s close friend and fellow therapist Annabelle Hart is found beaten and left for dead, Rebecca is determined to help search for answers. But this time, no one wants her help. Not Detective Meigs, who thinks the crime was either a botched robbery or the result of a relationship gone sour. And not Annabelle’s sister, who makes it clear that Rebecca isn’t welcome in family affairs.

The only place where her opinion matters is the therapist’s couch. Rebecca's agreed to see Annabelle’s patients while her friend is hospitalized, but it won’t be easy. Annabelle’s area of expertise is sandplay therapy, which Rebecca knows little about. While she studies the images in the patients’ sand trays and puzzles through Annabelle’s family secrets, another victim is murdered. With a killer on the loose, she can only hope the clues in the sand are buried within easy reach.

Here's Roberta in her own words . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven
by plot or by character? Who's your favorite character in this book and why?

Definitely, I'm driven by character. I love my main character Dr.
Butterman--it's such fun to think about the kinds of cases she might be
treating and how her own history plays into the story. Because I was a
therapist for many years, I really understand her work and the way she
thinks about the people she tries to help. I stumbled into the sandplay part
of the story, but I found a wonderful therapist in New Hampshire who walked
me through the process of how clients use the sand trays and the figurines
and what it all means.

I've really enjoyed writing this series. I can highlight my background in
psychology and write about folks in that field who are competent and caring,
rather than the idiotic and downright hurtful professionals you often see in
movies and on TV. I’m very proud of the time I spent working as a clinical
psychologist, but happy to be writing now.

2.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?

As I begin a book, I look ahead to the due date and figure out how many
pages I will need to write each week in order to hand it in on time. I build
in time for trips and family and time for my writers group to read and
critique, and then time for me to rewrite. Then I have a page goal for each
week. I write until I’ve hit the goal, sometimes even getting a little
ahead. I'm getting better at outlining because I find it makes the story
much easier to write. Not so many black moments when I have no idea what's
going to happen next...

3.) What's your favorite part of writing?

I love looking at what I've written and feeling excited about it. I love
seeing the new book in all its stages. I love meeting fans and talking
books. And I simply adore the friends I've made along the way.

4.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?

Get it all down, even if it's awful. You can always go back and fix things

Roberta also blogs here and here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Go Cubs Go!!

Hey, Hey Holy Mackeral!!

Let's Play Two!!

Here We Come October!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Maybe I Should Leave Town More Often

Well, I'm back from Vegas. Where we had a great time--good food, good wine, fabulous people watching--and, while I was gone I had a couple neat things happen in my "author" life . . .

First, I received a call from the Chair of The Big Read here in St. Louis (and the co-owner of one of the best indie bookstores in the world, Left Bank Books) inviting me to be on the fiction panel Saturday, October 11. Yes! I was thrilled to be invited and I'll be reading and speaking with Margaret Cezair-Thompson, author of The Pirate's Daughter and Jennifer Chiavarini, author of The Quilter's Kitchen: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel.

Then, when I got home, I had an e-mail waiting for me from the middle school librarian asking if I'd be willing to participate in their Author Days this coming December. But of course! (And not just because this is the school most of our kids attended, or because the librarian was my step-daughter's science teacher or because, of the other two teachers organizing this event, one taught both my sons in 5th grade and the other taught my younger son in 8th grade. No, those aren't debts that can be repaid by simply appearing at an Author Day!). Again, I was honored to be asked and will happily participate.

Finally, also waiting in my inbox was a lovely e-mail from a fellow Library Thing member telling me she was loving All the Numbers and would I mind if she reviewed it on her blog. Well, um, no, I wouldn't mind--I'd love it! Check it out here.

Also, I have a phone in book club visit tonight (one of 6 book clubs I'll be chatting with this fall!) with another blogger, the lovely Kristy over on Book Island.

So, just when I worry that my book is simply gathering dust on bookstore shelves (or worse, in bookstore backrooms!), I get hit with a flurry of reminders that it's not. And I'm tickled beyond belief.

And I'm reminded that even though I might not have come home from Vegas with big winnings from the casino, I'm richer than I ever dreamed possible in all the ways that matter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Las Vegas, Redux

The first time I was ever in Las Vegas, February 2007, didn't go so well.

It began with me in tears, somewhere in The Venetian, dialing up my husband on his cell phone. He was there on business; I'd flown in to spend the weekend with him. I believe our conversation started off with me trying not to sniffle and whimper like a total girl, but failing miserably. I was completely lost, I'd been lugging my suitcase all over the fake Venice "marketplace" and I could no more figure out where the actual hotel started than explain the game of craps to you. My husband asked if I could tell him where I was. I looked around and then said, "Across from the Oxygen Bar." He told me to stay right there and he'd be there in a heartbeat.

Later, after a cocktail (Or, um three. Maybe four.), I apologized for my emotional meltdown. Then I made an appointment for a "raspberry sherbet pedicure." I felt better.

Then, the next evening we decided to walk down The Strip and soak in some of the ambiance. Ambiance that consisted of swarthy men handing my husband baseball cards which advertised "barely legal asian blondes." Hey, hello, I wanted to holler. Do you not see me? The blondish non-asian woman holding this man's hand? We're with each other. See, we have these rings which suggest marriage?

I decided a few more cocktails would help. They did.

By the time we left, I was referring to Vegas as "Disneyland on crack." And I'm not a big fan of Disneyland. Or crack.

So, why am I willingly hopping on a plane tomorrow to join my husband in Las Vegas? Well, um, it's practically free. There's that. And I believe in second chances. Plus, we'll be at The Bellagio, so maybe I won't get lost in plasticland.

But more than that, and more than two nights away with my husband (and no kids) in a fancy hotel with room service and beds I don't have to make and bathrooms with big plushy towels (and robes!! God, I love those hotel robes.), there's the fantasy aspect of it. (Stop. Wait. Get your heads out of the gutter.)

Specifically, Frank Sinatra.

Is there anyone cooler? (Maybe Springsteen. Or Dennis Quaid but they're not Vegas-y.) Now, I know that The Sands and The Stardust have both been razed. And I know Old Blue Eyes has been dead for a decade. But there's a coolness factor that he still knocks off the charts. (Or is that just me?) And I know that The Strip isn't the same as it was in the Rat Pack glory years. But I can pretend.

A cocktail will probably help.

p.s. Humor me this week, okay? Next week, I'll be back, nose to the grindstone, pen in hand, working on my next tome. But for now, I'm looking for Frank.

(cross-posted over at Channeling Erma)