Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

I don't know about you, but I've occasionally wondered about heaven. I had a few years when, thanks to the boffo movie Field of Dreams, I figured that if heaven was in Iowa, at least Kevin Costner would be there. But, then, at least in my opinion, he got a little weird, so I had to reconsider my options. Well, luckily for all of us, Karen Neches has her own ideas, which she's only to happy to share with us in her new novel, Earthly Pleasures which has been named a Booksense Notable title for February.

It's been described as, "...Appealingly unorthodox... a heaven where angels lust, drink and follow terrestrial celebrity gossip… A tangled story of cold ambition and true love unspools. Neches’s funny and sweet novel shows that to err is human and angelic as well."

Here's what others are saying:

"Karen Neches’s novel is an intriguing love story with a rare combination of both wit and depth. In her fresh voice Neches gives us an innovative version of heaven where the one true thing still remains: love that transcends both time and space."

--Patti Callahan Henry, National bestselling novelist of Between the Tides

“Earthly Pleasures is more than just a novel. It's a dream, a calling, a divine trip from which you won't want to come home. I loved it!—Valerie Frankel, author of I Take This Man and Hex and the Single Girl.

Now, let's hear from Karen 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 was intrigued by the idea of an impossible love story. EARTHLY PLEASURES is about a greeter in Heaven named Skye Sebring who falls in love with a mortal on Earth. She follows him back to Earth—a strange world she knows nothing about—until she learns that all life’s lessons can be learned from the lyrics of five Beatle songs.

I also love world building. My Heaven is this terribly kitschy place, a lot like Disney World or Gatlinburg TN.

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

God is my favorite. She’s bawdy, irreverent—a lot like Bette Midler.

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

Diet Coke in crushed ice, never cubed. EXTRA gum on hand, watermelon flavor only. I sit in a chair with my laptop (so there’s no internet to distract me.) I also like it quiet. I can’t even to instrumental music when I write. That said, if conditions weren’t ideal, I can still write I’ll just be bitter about it.
I try to get the book out in less than six months, writing 1,000 words a day and I don’t edit myself. The book is a horrible, unreadable mess which takes me at least another six months to sort out.

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

The polishing. I know I’m done when I can read through it without wincing once.

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

To write through any blocks, just keep going even if you’re writing one-hundred percent dreck. It can always be fixed.

I have to say a heaven that includes Beatles' songs and a god who can be compared to Bette Midler sounds like a pretty good read. Check it out!

Monday, January 28, 2008

For a Friend

I've written several times about the friendships I've forged through this blogosphere I entered almost a year ago. I've been fortunate to actually meet some of these folks in person, others I've chatted with on the phone, and still others I know only through our blogs and comments and perhaps an occasional e-mail. But we're a close group and we cheer each success and cheer each other up when needed.

Patry Francis
, one of my new blog buddies, has the paperback version of her debut novel, The Liar's Diary coming out in paperback TODAY.

Under normal circumstances, Patry would be embarking on a book tour and making the rounds meeting readers and selling her book (and, if I know Patry, suggesting the books of many of her writer friends at the same time!). Patry was hit with a serious medical diagnosis last month and has to focus her energies on recovering from surgery, figuring out the follow-up options and getting her strength and her health back. In light of this, over 300 (yup, three hundred, check 'em out here!) bloggers are promoting her book today.

Here's the scoop on the book: When new music teacher Ali Mather enters Jeanne Cross’s quiet suburban life, she brings a jolt of energy that Jeanne never expected. Ali has a magnetic personality and looks to match, drawing attention from all quarters. Nonetheless, Jeanne and Ali develop a friendship based on their mutual vulnerabilities THE LIAR’S DIARY is the story of Ali and Jeanne’s friendship, and the secrets they both keep.

Jeanne’s secrets are kept to herself; like her son’s poor report card and husband’s lack of interest in their marriage. Ali’s secrets are kept in her diary, which holds the key to something dark: her fear that someone has been entering her house when she is not at home. While their secrets bring Jeanne and Ali together, it is this secret that will drive them apart. Jeanne finds herself torn between her family and her dear friend in order to protect the people she loves.

A chilling tour of troubled minds, THE LIAR’S DIARY questions just how far you’ll go for your family and what dark truths you’d be willing to admit—even to yourself.

Patry Francis is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize whose work has appeared in the Tampa Review, Colorado Review, Ontario Review, and the American Poetry Review. You can get to know her better through her blog, Simply Wait.

Praise for THE LIAR’S DIARY:

“Twists and turns but never lets go.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard, bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean

“A quirky, well-written and well-constructed mystery with an edge.”—Publishers Weekly

“Outright chilling.”—New York Daily News

“Genuinely creepy…The unlikely friendship between a small-town school secretary and a flamboyant teacher proves deadly in this psychological murder mystery.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A twisting ride full of dangerous curves and jaw-dropping surprises. This is one of my favorite reads of the year!”—Tess Gerristen, bestselling author of The Mephisto Club

“Francis draws and tense and moody picture of the perfect home and family being peeled back secret by secret…Four Stars.”—Romantic Times

If you haven't been lucky enough to read this book, buy it now. Buy several. And, tell a friend. Pass the word.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Books, Books, and More Books (All that and Big Hair Too!)

Oh, my, where to begin? First, with the tireless Kathy Patrick, author and book festival organizer extraordinaire. She gets authors and book lovers to come to Jefferson, Texas the third weekend of January every year, and I for one am here to say I'll be back any time she invites me (and maybe even when she doesn't!). It's fun, it's illuminating, it's wacky (see photo).

But, what it's most about is BOOKS. Loving books, reading books, finding new authors, reconnecting with old favorites, and spreading the word about the power of BOOKS. So, here goes . . .

New writer friends include Virginia Boyd, author of One Fell Swoop, Janis Owens whose most recent book is The Schooling of Claybird Catts, Darnell Arnoult, and her book Sufficient Grace, Lynn York author of The Sweet Life, Debbie Rodriguez author of the memoir Kabul Beauty School, and Paulina Porizkova and her debut novel A Model Summer.

Each of these books is now competing to be read next and I promise to post my raves about all of them.

I lucked into reconnecting with Ellen Baker (whose book Keeping the House I blogged about last summer) and Cassandra King, bestselling author (most recently of Queen of Broken Hearts) who generously provided this newcomer with a fabulous cover blurb.

These are smart, funny, friendly women. Good writers, too (but that goes without saying). We ate pie (lots of pie. Pie is heavenly. You've got to love a town that has a restaurant called HOUSE OF PIE.), barbecue, and jambalaya. Oh, and I do believe that some wine was also consumed.

The book festival--which was attended en masse by book clubs from all over--included all sorts of author chats and panels. One of the best aspects of it all is how "down home" it is. Readers and writers mingle non-stop (over pie!)--which seems right since readers are also writers and writers are huge readers. The culminating event is the "Ball of Hair"--and I can't even begin to explain it other than to say it's an absolute hoot--that's where the pictures were taken.

Okay, I'm off to read (and probably run to the grocery store).

Monday, January 21, 2008


Um, okay, I've got tons to do and I figure my Pulpwood Queens' Girlfriends' Weekend Tales will need several posts, but here's a photo to tide you over.

And, Hallelujia, the luggage has been retrieved.

What once was lost . . .

Saturday morning my husband received a phone call from the Greyhound bus station in Grand Junction, Colorado. They claimed to have the lost luggage (see post below). How, a week after being in Denver it ended up in Grand Junction rather than St. Louis, no one knows, but they were going to ship it to St. Louis free of charge (yeah, what a deal, huh?). It was due to arrive the next morning. My husband went down to the bus station yesterday. Spent two hours waiting for the bus. No luggage but no buses either. He's headed down there again this morning. I'm optimistic. I'll keep you posted; keep your fingers crossed.

I'm recovering from an amazing weekend with the Pulpwood Queens (I'll be posting scoop and PICTURES!!!!) later today.

I'm also recovering from the Packers' loss last night--but, to keep things in perspective, what a fabulous season Brett and the boys had. If anyone had suggested they'd be playing deep into January for a trip to the Superbowl, no one would have believed it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Travel Woes or Learning Some Hard Lessons

Lost Luggage. There are few phrases more terrifying. (Yeah, okay, I know most medical phrases are worse. But work with me.)

Try adding lost luggage WITHOUT a baggage claim number.

That's been my past 48 hours.

No, not my own luggage. I learned long ago to double-check and then check again that the baggage claim number was in place and, more importantly, that the destination tag was firmly attached to the piece in question. (I also learned not to travel by Greyhound Bus, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

In a nutshell, here's what happened:

My 20 year-old son was heading to Breckenridge with two of his buddies for a non-refundable ski trip that included everything except getting there from St. Louis. The boys, as boys are wont to do, had assumed that one of them would be able to take a car. Yeah, right. So, two days before the trip, they realized they had no transportation. They got busy and figured out they could go by bus. When I delivered them to the bus depot (which, I hate to say, was grungier than even they'd expected), two of the boys had luggage exceeding the 50 pound weight limit, so we had to pay extra. They got on the bus. 24+ hours, one missed connection, one transfer that failed to materialize, one suitcase misdelivered to Vail, and one $150 taxi ride later they arrived for four days of skiing and hi-jinks (I'm assuming the hi-jinks considering they were with 10 other college friends). Now, it was time for the return trip. They got to the little station for the bus to Denver. It never showed. They waited 5 hours, knowing they'd already missed their original connection in Denver to St. Louis. Several phone calls later, they were in Denver. Waiting in line for the 10:30 p.m. bus. They had their luggage. The driver said he'd take it from there. On the bus they got. 20 hours later they arrived in St. Louis, tired, hungry, and with less than 12 hours before they had to head back to college (barely enough time for laundry and a home-cooked meal!).

But, here was a time-saver--since their luggage had disappeared somewhere between Denver and home, we had much less laundry to attend to! It turned out that in the rush to get on the bus in Denver, no one, not the boys, not the ticket agent, not the driver, had thought to retag the luggage for the return trip.

I still believe it will turn up someday, somewhere. Perhaps even in my lifetime.

And, I guarantee you that not one of these boys will ever again let his luggage go anywhere without being sure it has been properly tagged. I'm also thinking they won't be traveling by bus anytime soon.

And if any of you happen to see a brownish-green duffle bag, a small black suitcase, and a black duffle with blue stripes sitting in a lonely pile somewhere along Interstate 70, give me a holler, okay?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Big Hair, Big Dreams, Big Fun

Last night, I had the fun of meeting author/book club guru Kathy Patrick who was at Left Bank Books promoting her book The Pulpwood Queens Guide to Life. One of the things she does at each reading is choose one lucky attendee to get a "Big Hair Makeover" right then and there. The lucky winner was moi. Pictures can be accessed here.

(UPDATE: a few readers didn't understand the concept of big hair. Think teased and heavily hair sprayed, and usually involving wigs/hairpieces. This is a picture of Kathy Patrick and a reader at last year's fun. I still haven't been able to download/copy pictures from last night. For that you need to click on the above "here" link.)

Later, walking down the street to my car, I kept getting odd glances. I'd forget why (not alot of big hair in St. Louis!). Then I'd glimpse my reflection in a storefront window and do a double take. That wasn't me. But it was.

And then I thought about how easily I now see myself as an author. A novelist. But years ago, when I'd dream about it, I'd wonder how it would feel to try on that job, that label. It fits great now, but it didn't always. For a few minutes last night, I had that feeling again. I'm NOT a big hair girl. (In the '70s, I struggled to fit in a world of Farrah Fawcett wings with my long straight hair. In one of the biggest hair mistakes known to man (and yes, I do think it's a documented disaster right up there with New Coke) I got a Dorothy Hamill wedge cut. Adorable on her and great if you have the kind of hair that bounces. I didn't. Still don't. I have very stubbornly straight hair. But, I digress.)

As I said, I'm not a big hair girl, but it was fun to play as one for a little while last night. And as I think about starting a new novel in the next few weeks, I'm looking forward to the personas I'll get to walk around in for the next year or so as, through my characters, I inhabit new identities (with all sorts of hairstyles). And to get me even more in the spirit of things, on January 17 I'm headed to Kathy Patrick's Girlfriend Weekend, where I'll pal around with my author friends, meet Pulpwood Queens from all over the world, and don a hot pink and leopard print get-up (yes, I'll post pictures) for the Hairball Saturday night. All things I'd never dreamed of a few years ago.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year . . . and GCC

I was working on all sorts of goals for 2008. Get organized. Lose 15 pounds. Keep a log of books read.

Then, some buddies and I exchanged "happy new year" e-mails and the two things I listed, that seem worth mentioning again, are laugh more, stress less and enjoy what I have. One of my friends included this quote from Henry van Dyke in her response:

"Are you willing ... to own, that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life"

I let that roll around on my tongue and thought, yes, that's worth repeating several times. . . and then passing on through my blog.

Here's something else to pass on (and another good way to start the year). I'm happy to be "touring" Colleen Thompson whose novel The Salt Maiden was a Romantic Times BOOKreviews Top Pick. Here's Colleen 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?
Generally, I begin with a scenario, a pressing problem followed by the type of character who would be most challenged by it. In the case of THE SALT MAIDEN, however, I was inspired by a desolate stretch of West Texas desert, honeycombed with caverns and made barren by its high salt content. An image flashed into my mind of a woman's body, curled like a fetus and mummified by salt in one of those dry caves. I could see it in detail, and eventually, the rest of the story fell into place around that vision.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
Dana Vanover is a very relatable heroine to me. A Houston veteranarian who is recovering from both a hysterectomy (at age 31) and a messy breakup, she's struggling to deal with her own issues when pressed to find her missing, perpetual screw-up of an older sister, Angie. Dana's deeply conflicted about this, but she's too caring an individual (in spite of her best efforts) to turn her back.

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

I'm definitely the tortoise. I get up every morning and struggle through the day's pages. Occasionally, I'm really inspired and blaze away, but mostly it's hard work. I bought a laptop so I wouldn't feel so trapped in my perpetually-cluttered office, but I still do my best work at home.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
I love the brainstorming and proposal-writing stage, where everything is fresh and new and fluid. This part is most like play for me. The rest feels more like hard work.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
A writer friend named Christie Craig says her dad's a plumber and he never gets up in the morning and says, "Today I've got plumber's block." If you want the payday, to say nothing of the personal satisfaction and the happy readers, you have to put in the sweat equity to earn it.

Check out Colleen's blog, too.