Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Virtual Community Becomes Real

You know, this whole blog community is a great thing--I've written often about the friendships I've made through this virtual reality. We spread the word about our books, we develop off-line e-mail and phone friendships. We finally meet in person at conferences. It's been more wonderful than I'd ever dreamed, like just last month when hundreds of us helped spread the word about Patry Francis' paperback release. And a few weeks ago when so many of you sent me cyber hugs and support after the shooting tragedy in my town.

Well, here's another way for us to join in.

I first met Laura Bradford through her blog. Then, when we realized we both lived in the St. Louis area (and had each read about the other in the book pages of the paper!), we met for coffee. Then for lunch. And we keep meeting. And I feel so lucky that I've gotten to know this brave, beautiful, determined, funny friend. So, when she asked if I'd participate in an MS walk in April, I didn't even have to think about it. Of course. She's putting it together, gathering other writers to walk, raise money, and try to make a difference.

Please, check out her blog post to see how you can help--by walking with us (if you need a place to stay, I've got room!), by pledging money for our walk, by entering her contest to name our team, or just by spreading the word.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oh, Baby

I have two must-reads to recommend today. I know I'm a week late coming to this party, since these two gorgeous books were released last week (to much fanfare, I might add), but I want to make sure everyone knows about these babies:

Souvenir, by Therese Fowler and Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice.

Carleen, Therese and I have dubbed ourselves The Ballantine Babes (think Charlie's Angels without the guns and hotpants) since our debut novels have all been fortunate enough to find a home with Ballantine. And the BABES moniker fits quite well in some other ways--we were all very new at this and are learning together the lay of the land. And, sending out your manuscript to the world is somewhat like sending your baby off to preschool or kindergarten. It's terrifying and thrilling. I remember feeling like I needed to whisper, "Hey, I love this baby more than you can imagine and I know it's not perfect so be kind, okay?"

Carleen and Therese wrote books that are darn near perfect. They ring true, their writing is lyrical, and I was lucky enough to get to read advance copies and provide blurbs. It made me feel just a teensy bit like the big sister looking out for her younger siblings. Here, then, are the quotes I was flattered to be asked to make for their books:

"In Souvenir, Therese Fowler explores how our choices can both haunt us and heal us, and shows how love, complicated and imperfect though it may be, is the greatest power of all. Riveting, insightful, and written with stunning beauty and grace, this will be the book people talk about in 2008."

“Brice deftly shows the importance and joy of understanding our past and not only forgiving those who hurt us, but loving them in spite of that hurt. Readers of Terry McMillan and Bebe Moore Campbell will find a new writer to watch."

I meant every word of the above quotes. I'd love to shout from the rooftops for these beautiful debuts. So, if you haven't yet picked up your copy (or three!), rush out now. They're in Target, they're in all the bookstores. They're for sale on-line. Spread the love and the word for these babies!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

I've been buddies with the folks over at The Debutante Ball from the beginning. So, it's been fun to get to know this year's group of Debs. I met Gail last October at the Wisconsin Book Festival, and I'll be meeting Jenny in March when we're both presenting at the Virginia Festival of the Book (fellow Ballantine Babes Therese Fowler and Carleen Brice will be there too!). I also grew up with Leave it to Beaver (I much prefer the early years!). Can anything top when the Beav and Whitey get stuck in the tea cup? I think not. So, it's fun for me to introduce you to Jenny Gardiner, author of the "fun, cheeky, often candid and thoroughly engaging" Sleeping with Ward Cleaver.

Here's a quick intro: Claire Doolittle is not a happy camper. The married mother of five seems to have lost her way in life. Swept off her feet years earlier by Mr. Right, she’s dismayed that husband Jack has turned into Mr. Always Right, and the only sweeping happening in her life involves a broom and a dustpan. Jack’s officious, perfunctory way has left fun, spontaneity and laughter at the doorstep, and Claire is beginning to wonder if she’s actually married to a modern-day version of Ward Cleaver, the stuff-shirted father figure from Leave it to Beaver sitcom fame. . . . Jenny Gardiner’s novel, winner of Dorchester Publishing’s American Title III contest, is sure to lure you into the mundane yet compelling world of Claire Doolittle and will leave you cheering for her marriage.

Here's Jenny 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 always liked the idea of exploring a disintegrating marriage, ever since my parents marriage ended up in very bitter divorce after 25 years of marriage. The title came to me when we'd been talking about some guy we knew and I sort of laughed and said "Sheesh! He'd be like sleeping with Ward Cleaver!" And then I kept thinking how catchy that sounded. So I had to write a story to go with it, which is when I started compiling so much that had built up in my thoughts over the years...

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

I am partial to Claire. I loved that she was in a state of despair and decided to not let it rule her life, instead chose to fix what was wrong. I also liked that she did it with humor. And I have a little spot for Todd, because he was such a jerk and he redeemed himself and proved that he didn't have a heart of glass after all.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
Oh, my God. You should see! Grand Central Station. My desk is smack in the kitchen/living room/dining room in an open floor plan Three teens, two barking dogs, a loud and deliberately annoying parrot and a cat who walks across my key pads. Phones, television, husband who works at home. I have had to learn to focus, which is amazing for me as I'm not a really focused person! But it's great because I really can work anywhere. Sort of like a soldier in the desert learns to sleep everywhere, I can just plunk myself down wherever and write!

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

The creative process is so empowering and so much FUN. It's really a privilege and a thrill to be able to write. I always wished I could draw or play an instrument well, but it was not meant to be. So I really appreciate that I have that ability to write.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
believe in yourself. It is a brutal business fraught with rejection, and there might be a day in which people are slathering at your feet. But to get to that day, you'll be chewed up and spit out repeatedly, so you need to have the faith in your ability to get through the hardships.

So, I think, on this first post-Valentine's Day weekend, this is the perfect read.

Next week, I'll wax eloquently on two fantastic releases by some Ballantine Babes.

* * * * *

A heartfelt thanks to all of you who commented on my post last week and/or e-mailed me. Your concern, care and support meant more than you can imagine.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sometimes the Real World Intrudes

Less than 5 hours ago, sirens roared down my street. My husband and I were finishing dinner, my stepdaughters had already headed upstairs to do homework. We watched Ernie,our dog, leap up and run to the front door as he always does when he hears sirens. We didn't give it any more thought.

Then, my stepson called from work a few blocks away. "Somebody's running around with a gun!" My husband asked for clarification (he's a skeptic and my stepson has been known to exaggerate). "Well, that's what I heard," he said. My husband told him to be careful, hung up the phone and began to rinse the dishes. It was a normal night. Boring. We were almost to the end of what had seemed like a long week. It was about to get a hell of a lot longer.

We heard more sirens, so I checked on-line. The headlines were startling. "Shots Fired in Downtown Kirkwood." Uh oh. This is Mayberry. This is my home. We flipped on the TV. By now, you've probably heard the news. It's been on MSNBC, CNN, and all the other shows. It's the kind of story I used to hear about, shake my head, and think, when can we get rid of the guns. But, it always seemed so far away.

Not anymore.

This is my town. I know Mayor Swoboda (as I write this, he's in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.) He was at a 2000 election night party at my house, attending with a friend who is on the city council. I supported Connie Karr in her previous campaigns. I was going to vote for her for mayor in April. She died tonight. I had a yard sign for Mike Lynch when he first ran for city council a few years ago. He died too.

Two police officers died. I don't know their names yet, but I'm sure I've run into them, talked to them. Maybe when we had a fire in my driveway. Or at the farmer's market. Or maybe they stopped one of my sons for speeding. And gave a warning rather than a ticket. We're a town of friendly faces. Just last week, when we had 8 inches of snow, a stranger stopped and plowed out my driveway when he saw me outside with the snowshovel.

And a grenade just landed in the heart of my home.

I was at City Hall on Tuesday to vote in the primary. 5 people died there tonight from gunshot wounds.

I really don't know what to say. If you're a person who prays, I'd ask you to lift up my town.

Hug your families and friends. Look around and relish getting another day. Laugh. Breathe.

And maybe think of ways we can reduce violence. And ask yourself if we really need such easy access to guns.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sea Change

As some of you might recall, I've spoken often about revising. Well, much of the revising I've done before (and my nattering about it) was little more than a tune-up. Kicking the tires. Right now, I'm immersed in an engine overhaul. I might even have to trade in the car. It's invigorating, terrifying and thrilling. It's taking all of my concentration (just ask anyone in the house who's looking for clean laundry. Or dinner.). Here's the big paradigm shift I've come to understand: I am now fitting the old parts worth keeping into the new, rather than plopping the new sections into the old. Just understanding that has made a huge difference--and made it much easier for me to scrap whole chunks. Delete entire scenes. Toss away pages.

So, now I'm back to work--my posts might be a little scattered for a week or two, but I'm having a blast, drinking lots of coffee, and occasionally coming up for air. And, speaking of looking at things in a new way and feeling inspired about all possibilities, I'll leave you with this: