Tuesday, April 29, 2008

C'mon Kids, Buck it Up and Play Along

John Scalzi issued a challenge that I think is great. He's asking authors to post their one-star amazon reviews and then move past them. That's right, he thinks we ought to be up front about it. Does everyone love my book? No. Am I okay with that? Of course. So, without further ado, here's my one-star Amazon review. And for the record, this particular reviewer has no other reviews on record (sorta makes me wonder of she thinks I stole her boyfriend somewhere along the line or something).

Poorly written, unrealistic soap opera, December 19, 2007
If I could give this book less than one star, I would. The characters in this book are poorly developed. Instead of spending some time delving into the main characters, the author adds unnecessary characters and story lines that have NOTHING to do with the topic of the book (i.e. a teenage student who is depressed because her mother is having another baby). This book includes more chance encounters than the worst soap opera on television. She happened to meet the mother of the boy who killed her son in public, changing her entire attitude, not once but twice. She was at a bar drunk and getting involved with a man and the guy she has a crush on happens to be there. It goes on and on. Of course, there is the poorly developed and cliche romantic relationship between the main character and her attorney. It was unneccessary fluff. This is a story that could have been told in a much more effective manner. Instead of having the enjoyable read I anticipated, I was left praying for the end which did not come soon enough

So, fellow writers, jump on in. Don't make me do this all by myself. Leave a link in the comments, both here and at John's blog if you want.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

I'm taking a short break from my latest craze of making risotto (it's amazingly good and easy to make at home. I'm immersing myself in all sorts of combinations and new recipes--which one of these days I'll write more about and share) to tour Sara Rosett and her newest book in the MOM ZONE series, Getting Away is Deadly.

Sara was born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, and has always loved to curl up with a good book. Her marriage to an Air Force pilot has taken her to central and southern California, Texas, Washington state, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Maryland. Sara has worked as a credit processor, a reporter for two Air Force base newspapers, and a researcher and writer for the Citizen Ambassador Program of People to People International. Currently, Sara and her family live in Maryland where she combines full-time parenting with writing.

With swollen feet, pregnant Ellie joins the nation’s tourists in seeing the sights in Washington D.C. But a fatal incident at the Metro station convinces Ellie that something is rotten in the capital city. Should she do the safe thing and pack her bags? Not likely when too many people are telling lies, hiding secrets, and acting suspiciously. Luckily, Ellie Avery is just the right woman to clean up the most mysterious cases of murder—even if she has to brave the most dangerous byways in the corridors of power . . .

Now let's hear from Sara 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?

A trip similar to Ellie’s inspired Getting Away is Deadly. I accompanied my military spouse husband when he went to a week-long training class in D.C. While he was in class, I went sight-seeing. I thought the capital was a perfect for one of the Mom Zone books since they focus on a military family. Since Getting Away is a mystery, I like to have a pretty firm idea where the story is going, so I usually start with a situation: what would happen if someone was pushed in front of one of the Metro trains? This idea came to me when I was waiting for a train and began to think about how dangerous the platform could be. There’s no guardrails. Nothing to prevent someone from going over the edge. In short, the perfect place for a murder. (Yes, my mind does work this way, scary as it is! Good thing I’m a mystery writer, right?) Anyway, I start with a situation and begin to think about what sort of people would be involved in that situation.

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

I loved writing Ellie’s cousin, Summer, who’s going to school in D.C. and working part-time for a high-powered lobbyist. Summer is young, flighty, and doesn’t take anything very seriously. Her total lack of restraint was fun to write. I also have a group of spouses who tour D.C. with Ellie and it was fun to write about their different personalities and how they conflicted, then came together.

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

I start with an idea and map it out on a large piece of butcher paper, making a graphic organizer with my ideas for the different plot lines. I’m not an outliner—I can’t put things down in a list, but I can scribble all over the paper and draw lines and arrows. I transfer the thoughts to index cards, with each card representing a scene. I usually have a pretty good idea where the first third of the book is going when I start to write. I have to get into the draft and as I write certain details for the middle and end of the book begin to come together. I write through to the end and then revise. My writing environment is a laptop in my house. I have a room, we call it the study—very Clue, you know—I closet myself in there a couple of hours a day when I’m doing the draft.

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

Revising. I *love* revising! The hard part is over. Starting a new book always scares me a little and it’s such a relief when I get something on paper. No matter what problems there are, I know I can go back and work on the draft and make it better. I’m also partial to research. I have to watch myself or I get lost in the details and forget to get back to writing, but I learn the most interesting things! Not all of them go in the book, but I have a great time reading up on diverse subjects from the history of the Capitol to the what type of trees grow in Georgia.

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

Get it all down on paper and then go back and revise later. When I read a quote from Maxwell Perkins with this advice to one of his authors, I felt freed. The first draft, the first chapter, the first line didn’t have to be perfect. I could get something down and then work on making it better.

You can get to know Sara better at her two blogs: Good Girls Kill for Money and Rosett Writes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Novel 101 or Each Book Writes Itself Differently

For those of you who've noticed the new word-counter thingie down in the lower left margin, you'll see that I have begun writing Spinning. 3000+ words in.

And it's going well.

And I've always said ("always" being a term loosely applied since this is only book #3, or #4 if we're counting "the book that will never see the light of day"), each novel is its own adventure. Each one writes itself a bit differently. I'm a different author for each book--my experiences (both as a person and as a writer) have changed. So I can't expect the writing or the writing process to be the same.

Here are a few of the starkest changes--and they're good changes as far as I can tell:

~The First Chapter First. In the past, my process has been to get a completed draft done. Without a draft I don't have anything to polish, revise, work with. So, my goal was to get the story arc written, start meeting the characters I'd develop more fully in later rewrites, and not worry too much about anything else. For me, if I could get my first draft to 60,000 words I was in good shape. (My books tend to be in the 75,000 word range when completed.) But, this time around, I took some advice from other writers who've mentioned how much effort they put into that first chapter. And Julie, my very best reader/editor, talked to me last summer about how the first chapter should hint, in some way, about all that's to come. So, with that in mind, I spent most of this month working on Chapter One (and a two page prologue). I polished, I considered, I rewrote, I took my dog for long walks and thought about Jim and Maggie. And, if I say so myself, I think I nailed it. I might just be 15 pages in, but I established a solid base from which to go forward.

~Work From the Inside Out. I did this with All the Numbers. I did it, finally, with Kate in Unexpected Grace, but not soon enough to avoid major rewrites. (Yes, plural rewrites.). I know now to start with the heart. Of the story, of the characters, of the conflict. If it's not from the heart--the emotion, the pain or glory or loss or fear or hopes of the character, then it's just going to be about what happens next. Or what just happened. And nobody will care. It'll be moving your characters from one event to the next. It'll be an agenda.

You'd think I'd have known that as many times as I taught this. (Go ahead and click over. Read the whole thing, or better yet, listen to it. I'll wait.) And every time I taught it, my throat would catch. It's all so quotable. And right. Faulkner says, much more eloquently than I ever could, what I've just tried to say: that we need to write of "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat." I'm remembering his words this time around.

I'm just at the beginning stages of chapter two. So far, according to my only listener (my husband), I've tapped into the right vein. (Which is a challenge because for the first time I'm writing part of the story from a man's POV.)

It's a journey just begun. And I'm loving every step along the way.

p.s. I got my new wheels yesterday (see previous post). Whoo hoo!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not Quite Malibu Barbie . . . but Darn Close

For the past twenty-one years, I've driven mom cars. You know the type--they can haul car seats, little league teams, coolers and ice for lacrosse practice, 7th grade social studies projects, and all sorts of car pool arrangements. Not to mention juice boxes, happy meals, and pizzas. Once the juice stains have faded (for the most part), you can load the car up for that first drive to the dorm. And then back home that summer. Then, load it up for that first apartment. Oh, and trips to the vet for the dogs so they can cover the windows that aren't open with nose prints and the ones that are open with drool. It's a car that screams MOM. MIDDLE-AGE. SUBURBS.

I went from a Taurus wagon for the first 7 years, to mini-vans (two!) for the next 6 years, to a Saturn wagon for the past 8 years. It's what my kids affectionately refer to as "The Silver Bullet." It's what my sons drove to learn to drive. They less affectionately asked if I paid extra for all the squeaks and pings it makes as I motor along. It shouts "practical" and "paid for."

What it doesn't shout (or even whisper or sing) is "fun" or "sexy" or "carefree."

But, this does.

And, in a week or two, I'll be behind the wheel of my first ever convertible. Now, I'm not a car person (exhibits A through C above!). But, there's something about a convertible that fills me with glee. It's impractical, I know. I'm 48 for cryin' out loud. Some of you might be wondering if maybe I'm having little mid-life-menopausal-type crisis. Nope. I'm just finally at a point in my life where what I drive doesn't have to take into consideration my kids. It can be, dare I say, for me. For fun. And when a friend mentioned last week after we'd had lunch that the lease on her 2005 convertible was up and it had fewer than 9000 miles on it (Yes. You read that correctly) and that she had a good deal to buy it but she wanted something else, I casually mentioned it to my husband that night at dinner (because, we'd been talking that perhaps it was time to hand down the Silver Bullet to one of our more-or-less deserving children) and the next day we took it for a test-drive on one of the first sunny, warm days we'd had since last October. And I felt like Malibu Barbie--only with brains and not in a bikini.

And no, the kids cannot borrow it. There's a perfectly good 2000 Saturn wagon they can use.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It Might be a Small World but I'm not Multi-Lingual

Remember guidance counselors back in high school? Remember being told there were certain skills we'd definitely want later and so we should take those classes now? Classes like typing and Spanish or French? Remember also thinking those same counselors were older than fossils and what did they know?

Or perhaps that was just me.

But here I sit, wishing I had learned to type. (Okay, yeah, so I do have my own system. Speedy, yes, but inaccurate as all get out. Not the most practical situation for someone who puts "Novelist" as her occupation on her tax forms.) Um, and perhaps also wishing I'd learned to speak (beyond asking, "Cerveza, por favor") and read a language other than English.

Because I now find myself in the interesting situation of being blogged about in other countries (Sweden, believe it or not!) and having no way of knowing what's being said. And of getting copies of my book in languages that weren't even offered in my high school (so, that gets me off the hook at least a little bit, right?).

And I'm tickled beyond reason with the idea that somewhere outside of Amsterdam, folks are kicking off their wooden shoes and curling up to read my words in Dutch. But I can't help but wonder how closely some of my carefully crafted prose has been translated. Do my alliterative phrases sound as lyrical in Finnish? And just what are the reviews extolling? Or lambasting?

So, if any of you are fluent in German, Swedish or Dutch, give me a holler and I'll send you one of my copies and you can report back. I'll make the same offer for Finnish and Complex Chinese characters (what does that mean?) when those versions arrive on my doorstep.

And finally, here's another neat picture:

a basket of books for a bookclub I donated for a silent auction at an author luncheon which was held to raise funds for Juvenile Arthritis my buddy Jen Vido in Maryland was helping organize.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Oh, the places these books will go!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Great Opportunity

The Girlfriend Cyber Circuit, a virtual tour for female authors, currently has openings. If you're a published author with a blog you might be eligible. Click here for more information.

Feel free to e-mail me with questions.

Contact Karin Gillespie at kgillespie@knology.net if interested.

Friday, April 11, 2008

An Evening With the Boss

Not often, but every once in a while, I want to feel 17 again. Not the angsty, high school, I-hate-my-hair, I'm-not-sure-what-to-wear girl I was so much of the time back then. No, I want to feel limitless possibility. Wonder. Freedom. Confidence (or was it stupidity?) that had my friends and me wearing t-shirts that said "Go to Hell World, I'm a Senior." I want to feel like I'm born to run.

Now, next week, those days will be 31 years, two kids, a few (ahem) pounds, and lots of bad haircuts in my past. But occasionally, every once upon a time, I get to grab that 17 year-old inside and let her out for a ride. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" always takes me there. I dare you to watch this and not bop around in your chair.

And Monday night, I got to feel 17 for three hours all thanks to The Boss (and my husband who bought me the tickets for Christmas). It was great (and I'm still recovering). I danced and sang and cheered and raised my fist high because tramps like us were just around the corner from the light of day and we were out on the streets (oh oh oh oh oh!) in the promised land.

And much later, when I was still singing along in my head and I couldn't get to sleep because I was still soaring, I thought how Bruce and I grew up together. And how we're both writers.

He gave me the anthems I needed when I was young and figuring out how to be an adult:

"Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night's busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere"

Thunder Road is just about the most perfect song ever written.

And then, when I was an adult and was finding it a bit harder to navigate than I'd thought, I knew he understood:

"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse?

"God have mercy on the man
Who doubts what he's sure of"

And then, we both gained a few more years, and some perspective (and found the keeper spouse the second time around):

"Tonight I'm drinkin' in the forgiveness
This life provides
The scars we carry remain but the pain slips away it seems
Oh won't you baby be in my book of dreams"

He was a voice of loss and sorrow after 9/11:

"Pictures on the nightstand, TV's on in the den
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
For you to walk in, for you to walk in
But you're missing, you're missing
You're missing when I shut out the lights
You're missing when I close my eyes
You're missing when I see the sun rise
You're missing"

And, in his title song, The Rising, he also gave us a sense of pride and hope.

And today? He's still writing the words that are on so many of our hearts:

"Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die, for a mistake"

He's been a fine companion all these years--and an even finer writer. I can only strive to make my words resonate as well.

Oh, and he still looks totally hot in jeans.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

If, like me, you're a bit too sick of winter and even early spring seems too long in coming, Midori by Moonlight by Wendy Tokunaga might be just the escape you're looking for . . .

"MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT is a comic, cross-cultural novel, out now, that has a mouth-watering pastry theme running through it that makes many a reader either head to the kitchen to start baking or just make a beeline to the nearest cake shop.

What happens when a young woman, fresh from Japan and too independent for Japanese society, finds herself suddenly lost in translation in San Francisco as she searches for her American Dream and the perfect dessert?

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga answers this question and more in her poignant comic novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, where we meet thirty-year-old Midori Saito, whose dream seems about to come true. A strong independent streak has always made her feel like a stranger in a strange land in her native Japan, but now she’s embarking on a new life in San Francisco. She’s about to marry Kevin, the perfect American man—six feet tall, with curly hair the color of marmalade. Unlike a Japanese guy who’d demand she be a housewife, Kevin doesn’t mind if Midori follows her dream of becoming a master pastry chef. Her life is turning out as exquisitely as a Caramelized Apple Tart with Crème Fraiche, until Kevin dumps her at their engagement party in favor of his blond, ex-fiancée, whom Midori never even knew existed.

Now Midori is not only on her own—with just a smattering of fractured English in her repertoire—she’s entered the U.S. on a fiancée visa that will expire in sixty days. Unable to face the humiliation of telling her parents she’s been dumped, and not wanting to give up on her American dream, Midori realizes she’s “up the creek without a saddle.” Her only hope is new acquaintance Shinji, 30, who long ago escaped Japan after a family tragedy, is a successful San Francisco graphic artist and amateur moon gazer, and who lets her share his apartment as a platonic roommate.

Soon Midori finds herself working at an under-the-table hostess job at an unsavory Japanese karaoke bar, making (and eating) way too many desserts, meeting a charming and handsome chef with his own restaurant who may be too good to be true, and trying to uncover the secret behind a mysterious bar hostess who looks strangely familiar. But Midori’s willing to endure almost anything to hang on to her American dream, and she just might find that the love she’s been searching for far and wide is a whole lot closer than she thinks."

Here's Wendy in her own words . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I wanted to explore the theme of what happens when someone trades their native culture for a new one, which is what my Japan-born husband did when he ended up settling in the United States.
Are you more driven by plot or by character?
I usually come up with the idea of a story by first starting with a character, but once I do I like to have a tight plot.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I have to say that I love my protagonist, Midori Saito. She has an inherent sweetness and naivete that I find charming.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write in a home office in between grocery shopping, doing homework, slavishly checking email, surfing the Web, cleaning out the litter box, and preparing dinner for my husband and me.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
Revising, rewriting, tweaking. I find it painful to write new material from scratch.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Borrow widely, steal wisely.

Check out her blog, too!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I Love Book Festivaling!

As promised, here's the scoop (with photos) from the fun I had in Charlottesville at The Virginia Festival of The Book last week. In the top picture, from left to right, is: Me, Carleen Brice, Therese Fowler, Jenny Gardiner, and Kim Reid. I'd like it noted that no adult beverages are present in any of the pictures.

The panel I was on--with Therese and Virginia Boyd, my buddy from the Pulpwood Queen weekend was really fun--and since it was the very first day I was able to relax the rest of the time I was there.

One of the coolest things about festivals is hanging out with the other writers. No matter what, it's like we've been buddies since elementary school (or at least junior high) and just talk and laugh and have a blast. And it's not just because of the martinis. We even spend some of our time talking about writing--the process, the business, the feeling of "oh my God could we be any luckier? we get to do this for a job!!"

My first toast, the first night, with Jenny, Therese and Virginia, where we enjoyed, um, martinis and amazingly great Asian tapas (so great Therese and I went back there two of the next three nights!) was this: To us, published authors all. No matter what happens, no one can ever take that away from us!

I'm off to the west coast for a few days with family--more next week.