Thursday, August 28, 2008

Take Me Away--Books and Vacations

Last week I got to enjoy two of my favorite activities--travel and reading. The one thing that makes air travel bearable these days is knowing I'll have a few uninterrupted hours to crawl into whatever book I've stashed in my bag. Reading can even make the stale pretzels they give me seem tasty.

Now, I am always reading, always rearranging my TBR pile, choosing what to read next by whim or mood. So, selecting which book or books to take when I travel involves some planning, some guessing at what I'll have a taste for down the road. But one of the unintended results of reading while on the road is the synergy that can occur between book and place. When a book really transports me, thinking about it later or rereading it can take me back to where I was when the words first cast their power over me. And likewise, revisiting a particular place, in fact or in memory, can bring those pages alive again.

Rarely, has a book and trip ever meshed as perfectly as happened last week between my trip to Oregon and Amy MacKinnon's debut stunner Tethered.

I love mountains. And seacoast. Roads winding through pine forests. I love seeing a different geography than home. Travel introduces me to new worlds and so do books. This summer I've been lucky enough to visit parts of the US I'd never seen before. Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Washington and Oregon. And I also got to see a lonely undertaker and funeral home and cold, chilly town on the East Coast. And the views blended into something that still has a hold over me.

Here's what I wrote to Amy when I got back from my travels:

Yes, there were things that were hard to read but the writing is so powerful and lovely. It's beautiful and brutal--kind of like the Badlands. And the message--that brokenness can be healed, that in reaching out to others in pain our own pain can be helped--was so right. And the last line is now in my top 10 (or perhaps top 5) of perfect endings.

This is an amazing book--and while I got to read it while looking at Mt. Hood, I know Amy's words would have transported me no matter where I was.

And no cheating and reading the last line first. But, mark my words, it will blow you away.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

I'm pleased to be able to introduce all of you to one of my GCC buddies, Ellen Meister author of the just-released The Smart One.

Ellen has a knack for writing funny, smart novels that capture the suburban-mom life so many of us are living--okay, so maybe we don't all find dead bodies in yards next door--but you know what I mean.

Here's a brief description:

Beverly Bloomrosen has always been the smart one, the middle sister sandwiched between Clare, the beautiful and popular older one, and Joey, the rebellious rock-star younger one. But she’s hit a bit of a slump lately. Now 35, she’s embarking on a new career as an elementary school teacher and not exactly living up to her family’s expectations (“Maybe she can work her way up and eventually teach high school. That wouldn’t be so bad,” her mother helpfully comments). Bev has moved back into her parents' home on Long Island while waiting to see if a job opportunity in Las Vegas materializes, seeing it as her chance to start afresh…but before she knows it, life back at home starts to get very interesting.

So now, let's hear from Ellen 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?

It's about 50-50 for me. I usually have some idea I want to explore about a character or a relationship. But at the same time there are always a few plot ideas rattling around in my skull. The concept for a novel takes shape when a character idea and a plot idea meet and fall in love.

For THE SMART ONE, the inspiration hit me from several different directions. I always wanted to write a sister story because that relationship intrigues me. In particular, I wanted to explore the ways in which our childhood labels impact our adult lives.

The other big inspiration was a news story that happened right in my home town. A man moving out of his home opened a sealed 55-gallon industrial drum that had been in a crawl space since he moved in ... only to discover a mummified body inside. It was a young woman, nine months pregnant, who had been killed thirty years before. After she was identified as a factory employee of home's original owner, who had since retired, the detectives went to Florida to question him. They wanted to get a sample of his DNA to test against the fetus's, but before they could serve a warrant for it, the man shot and killed himself.

This happened so close to home that it captured my imagination and wouldn't let go. How could something like this happen in an ordinary suburban home in an ordinary suburban town? How did the killer keep his secret for so long? And how did it affect the people around him?

Of course, I had no intention of writing a true crime story, so I simply used this macabre event as the inspiration for a discovery made by my three adult sister characters ... and it became the catalyst that drives the arc of their relationship.

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

I know this sounds like a hedge, but I love all my characters. For me, an author's affection for his or her characters--and all their flaws--is what makes a book truly memorable. So I always aim for that.

3.) What's your writing process like?

People often ask me if I outline my novels or have a more organic approach, and it really tends to be a combination of the two. I start out by thinking about the idea for a long time, and then I make notes. In the beginning they're very stream-of-consciousness-just random thoughts about my characters and story. Then a plot begins to emerge, and I start a rough outline. Before too long, though, I have to try my hand at a couple of chapters to get an idea of the voice and pacing, so I can figure out just how much story I'll need to fill a book. After that I go back and finish the outline ... which winds up being a very fluid document that I change as I go along.

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

When I go out on a limb and take a risk and it pays off. What a rush!

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

Write the story you most want to read!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

And I'm Off . . .

Okay, so I know I've been a bit incommunicado this summer, and I'm sorry about that. But, I've been busy.

Here are the two big things I've accomplished (other than keeping all the kids and pets alive. Not as much luck with my tomato plants, however. But, in the whole scheme of things I think that's a pretty good trade-off):

~just finished (as of 3:08 p.m. today) another complete rewrite of my MS. Whoo-hoo.

~Successfully drove 2200+ miles helping my son move to Seattle. I wrote about it here.

I've also cheered for the Cubs (much to the chagrin of the rest of my family who are all St. Louis Cardinals fans), followed the Brett Favre saga much too closely, and offered not-always-sought-after advice to all 5 children.

I've tried to get back to walking, given up on a walk-run regimen (but garnered some writing wisdom in the process), and broken all previous records for grilling out.

I've spent as many evenings as I could sitting out on the porch with my husband, sipping wine, talking over the day, and trying to never forget how incredibly lucky we are.

The next few weeks are looking hectic--6 days in Oregon, a Springsteen concert in St. Louis (and maybe one in Kansas City), 3 days in Chicago with my husband's family (yes, a Cubs game!!), 2 days in Chicago (a separate trip) for a book club and play time with some writer friends, and 4 days in Vegas tagging along with my husband. I'll be posting and checking in.

I'll also be reading. Just today I picked up Tethered (Yay Amy!!!). Expect a full report when I get back into town next week.

So, happy last few weeks of summer to all of you . . .

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

I first introduced you to Jackie Kessler in a GCC post last fall and she's back with Hotter Than Hell, the third entry in her Hell on Earth series.

She's been called "the goddess of paranormal romance" (Dark Angel Reviews) and Publisher's Weekly refers to her book as "Sexy and bold."

Here's Jackie 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?
Ever since Jezebel mentioned her buddy, the sexy incubus who could make her sweet spot tingle without even touching her, Daunuan refused to be just a minor character. Originally, he was going to be the one who shot Jezebel in Hell’s Belles and then he was going to get killed by Paul. But the book took a completely different direction from what I’d imagined, and next thing I knew, Daun was (shudder) helping Jezebel instead of hunting her.

And then in The Road to Hell, his feelings for her became quite clear—to me, if not to him and Jesse. Demons don’t love, after all. So what he was feeling must have been nothing more than indigestion. (No one ever said demons were the smartest creatures out there.)

I knew that I wanted to write Daun’s story, but it took a while for me to figure out what sort of story it would be. Daun’s in Hell, and Jesse’s with Paul, which doesn’t do much for a happily ever after for him. Did Daun even deserve a happy ending? He’s a demon—an Evil creature who has sex on the brain pretty much all the time. What would he know of love? What if he had to find out the hard way? Poor Daun. He never knew what hit him. (Hee hee hee…) And so, HOTTER THAN HELL (August 5, 2008).

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
Daun, absolutely. He’s an evil bastard. In a cuddly sort of way.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
Usually, I write first thing in the morning, before my day job, and then at night, when my Precious Little Tax Deductions are sleeping. (Yeah, I get very little sleep.)

My home office is, simply put, utter chaos. But as long as I can see the monitor and I have a clear path to my keyboard, I’m golden.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
Man, there’s no rush like when you’re on a roll, and you know every single word you’re crafting is exactly right.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
To paraphrase author Cindy Procter-King (Head Over Heels), there are three things you need to get published: talent, persistence, and timing. While it’s difficult to write to the market, you absolutely can hone your craft and develop a thick skin. Write. No matter what, write. And never be daunted.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Buy this book. Now.

My dear friend, Kristy Kiernan, has just written her second novel which blew me away and since it's available in stores TODAY, you must go buy it.

Matters of Faith is riveting, gorgeous and amazing. I'd read an early partial draft so I was very excited when Kristy sent me an ARC. I settled in to read it and was stunned. Here's what I wrote her when I'd finished it (about one day later): "I thought, having read the first half of your draft last winter, I knew where you were going with the book. I really did. But, you took me somewhere else entirely and I'm so so so glad you did. You just amaze me with the honesty and truth and compassion you wring out of your characters. And you don't tie it up in neat little bows--it's still sort of jagged, but comfortable. And more important, it's right. And honest."

But, don't just take my word for it. Here's what others are saying:

"In this tense, well-paced novel about belief, Kiernan explores what happens when faith and love test the limits of family fealty....The thoughtful themes, interesting characters and page-turning drama of this novel will likely make it a book club favorite."

--Publishers Weekly

"Kiernan's stunning second novel explores how one family reacts to a devastating tragedy. .. Unforgettable and moving, Kiernan's novel is an achingly real portrait of a family in crisis, one readers will react to passionately."


So, order it online here and here. Or, run out to your favorite store and grab a few copies. You can thank me later!