Monday, June 30, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

Today, for your summer reading pleasure, I'm tickled to introduce you to Amy Wallen and her debut novel Moonpies and Movie Stars.

One reviewer wrote that the book is “A delightful and exhilarating journey, kind of like being on a tour bus guided by Eudora Welty on speed.” and Booklist said, “Wallen launches a funny, touching, and bittersweet ride in search of family, but what her characters find is bigger than Texas and better than MoonPies.”

This sounds to me like a perfect fit for lounging in the hammock or by the pool, a cool drink in one hand and this book in the other. Here's Amy in her own words:

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

I started with a monologue I wrote in which I was imitating my grandmother. She was a wild and crazy woman who owned a honky tonk (beer joint), hair salon, café, convenience store/gas station and various other businesses in a a small town in Texas.

Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Most definitely character is what gets me started. But plot is what gets me through to the end. Just like reading, I’m dying to know what happens to my characters and I don’t know until I write all the way to the end.

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

There will always be a special place in my heart for Ruby Kincaid, the main character, but really Loralva, her crazy rattlesnake rattler earring wearing sister was the most fun to write.

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

Me, two cats, a laptop, the windows open (I live in Southern CA so that’s all year), silence and a really good idea to get me started. But if I don’t have that idea, I go for a long walk or on a big hike and rifle through all the scenes in my head to see where I should go next.

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

When I’m creating new stuff I think that’s the best part. But when I’m rewriting, I think that’s the best part. I think I just love it. I hate it at times too, of course. But that just makes the good times that much richer.

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

Just write.

That's advice we should probably all heed!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

You Gotta See This . . .

Remember a week or so when I wrote about The Wednesday Sisters? Well, check out this book trailer. I LOVE IT!!!!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Odds and Ends

So it's late June and I'm fully immersed in summer. Sitting on the front porch reading, talking, watching the world go by. Taking my dog on long walks and letting him play in the creek. Grilling almost every night. Even though I'm no longer tied, at least professionally, to an academic schedule, summer is still more than just a season. It's a philosophy, a state of mind. The kids are home and the rhythms of the house change. (Over on my group blog, my post today is about my summer mom makeover. In a sense.)

I'm also blogging less often. But that has more to do (I think) with the writing work I'm doing than anything else. I've decided to take another run at my MS for Unexpected Grace (for regular readers, this is the novel I thought I'd completed in February). I'm excited about this. I know I'm just a few fine tunings away from what I want it to be. And I've figured out how to get there. Which strings to pull, which threads to loosen. And I owe my buddy Kristy Kiernan a huge thanks for pointing me in the right direction. We were chatting a week or so ago, talking about writing and ice cream and dogs and such, and she recommended the Donald Maass book Writing the Breakout Novel.

I admit, I was skeptical. I viewed it (and many writing books, I hate to say) as on the same level of those articles and headlines that promise you can "lose your belly fat and still eat everything you want!" But this book is the real deal. It is practical and smart and hands on. It's not suggesting a formulaic anybody-can-write-a-bestseller plan. It's designed to help writers take a draft to the next level. It has clarified things for me. Crystalized what I was aiming for. Helped me give my characters and plot some needed torque. I highly recommend it. And I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Finally, and most importantly, three years ago today I married my trophy husband, my keeper spouse. Happy anniversary, John.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bestseller Dreams

So, last week, I'm just going along my merry way, planning meals, working on laundry, trying to write. Just another day in the life of a writer. Which looks very similar to my former life as a teacher. Yes, I can still go shopping and out to eat without strangers flocking to me, holding out books they'd like me to sign. I'm not on Oprah's speed dial. Hollywood hasn't yet called.

And then I get an e-mail from my agent. All the Numbers was released in Taiwan on May 28. It debuted at #23. Yeah. #23. No extra zeroes left off. The following week, it had moved up to #12. You can see the June 8 bestseller list here.

In case you can't tell what some of the other titles are, here you go:

#4 THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson
#5 PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld
#12 ALL THE NUMBERS by Judy Merrill Larsen!!!
#13 MY SISTER'S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult
#14 DOUBLE CROSS by Patrick Woodrow
#17 A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hosseini
#22 THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini
#23 SIMPLE DEAD by Peter James

Pretty crazy, huh?

It's amazing to think that my story has so caught on in Taiwan. Thrilling. Humbling. From my google searches, I know the book is being blogged about. Recommended. Now, I can't really tell what all is being said about it (on-line translation leaves much to be desired), but this goes right to the top of my "You Never Know" file. Almost two years after it was released here, in the good ol' USA, I'm now an international bestselling author.

It's all beyond my wildest dreams.

* * * *

Okay, enough about me. Now to a book that will likely be a bestseller right here this summer. I devoured it. And I keep thinking about it. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton comes out tomorrow.

Here's what I wrote Meg after finishing the book: "Well, I just have to tell you how much I loved, devoured, fell under the spell of The Wednesday Sisters! I finished it this morning after starting it Sunday evening. You so captured that time of innocence and change. (And, as a Cubs fan from way back then, you captured them as well.) I felt like a 6th sister--it's just a fabulous story, Meg and I can't say enough good things about it. Kath and Ally and Linda and Brett and Frankie are so finely drawn I feel as though I'll run into them in the grocery store. Like old friends I'd know anywhere."

You will love this book--the women are strong and flawed and honest. They grow and wonder and become who they need to be but not necessarily who they thought they'd be. The world of that time (the late 60's and early 70s) shapes and shakes them, but they also discover strengths they never knew they had. Buy several copies--give them to your friends, your sisters, your moms. You'll see yourself in these pages and at the end you'll find all sorts of things to celebrate.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Graduation Follow-up and Writers in Their Own Words: GCC

First, many thanks to all of you who sent good tidings for my son's college graduation. It was a great weekend/celebration filled with hugs and laughter and tears. I wrote about it today on the new group blog, CHANNELING ERMA, I've put together with four other writers/moms/friends. Please pop on over; I'll be posting every Wednesday.

* * * * *

Now, to more pressing matters. Melissa Senate joins us today to chat about her new book, Questions to Ask Before Marrying. The title sure grabs you, doesn't it? Here's some more scoop that'll pull you all the way in:

A very popular New York Times article lists fifteen questions couples should ask (or wish they had) before marrying. Ruby Miller and her fiancé, Tom Truby, have questions 1 to 14 almost covered. It's question 15 that has the Maine schoolteacher stumped: Is their relationship strong enough to withstand challenges?

Challenges like…Ruby's twin sister, Stella. The professional muse, flirt and face reader thinks Ruby is playing it safe. And that the future Mrs. Ruby Truby will die of boredom before her first anniversary or her thirtieth birthday, whichever comes first.

Challenges like…sexy maverick teacher Nick McDermott, Ruby's secret longtime crush, who confesses his feelings for her at her own engagement party.

But before Ruby can plan the wedding that may never be, Stella announces she's pregnant by a one-night stand whose name might be Jake (or James? Maybe Jason?) and who lives somewhere under the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Ruby and Stella hit the road to find him—with a lot more than fifteen questions.

And after three thousand miles, a stowaway relative and hitchhiking teen lovebirds bound for an Elvis wedding chapel, the Miller sisters might get some answers

Now, let's hear from Melissa 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: I was inspired by three things: The first was my love of the movie Sideways. Oh, how I wanted to write a road trip book after seeing that wonderful film. The idea of two very different people trapped together in a car, being on the road, really gripped me. Enter my estranged twin sisters, one a conservative school teacher from Maine, newly engaged but with serious feelings for another man, and the other a professional muse and face reader from NYC who is searching for the father of her unborn baby (would help if she knew his first name). These two hit the road with many questions and get to know each other—and themselves—very well three-thousand miles later. The second backstory is my divorce, which I went through while writing this book. I wanted to go “back to the start” and explore what you know when he slips that ring on your finger. The third was a New York Times article, the most popular of 2006, a simple and practical list of questions couples should ask before marrying or (wish they had). The article gave me my title and honed the theme for me, which is that asking questions, even questions without answers or answers you don’t like, is the most important thing you can do.

As for the second part of your question, I tried to be more driven with plot when I turned in the proposal for this book, but my editor MADE ME be more driven by character! She basically took away what she called my “plot gimmicks,” situations that gave the characters reasons for what they were doing. She wanted me to pare down the book to the essentials: these twin sisters and their issues. Best advice I’ve ever gotten and it has definitely shaped how I approach my work.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
A: I love both sisters, but I must say that Stella stole the show for me. Even though she didn’t have her own point of view, she came so alive for me that I felt we did have her point of view. Her story, her past, was so emotional—the sudden death of her first love, her job as a “muse” to a married artist, her job as a face reader, her flitting from country to country, and her search now, for the father of her unborn baby, whose first name she isn’t so sure of. For the baby’s sake, Stella wants to get a grip, and her struggle to do so really captured me.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
A: I’m a single mom, and my son’s kindergarten is a half-day program, as were the previous two years of preschool. Three little hours! I didn’t even bother to write during his school hours because by the time I’d get the characters and storyline and threads in my heart, mind and soul enough to work, it would be time to pick him up. So I do my writing at night, with a lot of Coke Zero and on the weekends. First grade, coming in September, is SIX entire hours. SIX free hours. Child care and child care costs have been such a huge part of my life that I can’t believe this is really coming!

I like to write on my laptop, in my living room, on the Victorian-ish sofa, with my cat Blue curled at my feet (my other cat is not a feet curler), a tall glass of Coke Zero on the table next to me, and absolute silence. (One of the best things about living in Maine is the quiet.) I work from a detailed synopsis, which I then break into chapters and then scenes. I’ve never been able to “just write;” I need a road map. I always take detours, but I need to know the end destination and write to that. I always have my last line written in my head when I first start to write.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
I love being about 100 pages in, when I finally understand my characters, when I know them, have their voices inside me, heart, mind and soul. The beginning is such a struggle for me until I hit that point. Then the characters take over. Ruby, the conservative one, in Questions To Ask Before Marrying, really surprised me twice in this book.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Back to my editor’s suggestion for Questions To Ask Before Marrying: get rid of the gimmicks and focus on the characters, who they are, what they want, what they need, what they’re striving for. Raise the stakes emotionally, not plot-ally. (Yes, I know that is not a word!)

Thanks for stopping by, Melissa--and I for one am going love the non-word "plotally"!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Quick Post . . . and a favor

I keep thinking I shouldn't really be as busy as I am, but no one else seems to agree. We head to Columbus, OH this weekend for my older son's college graduation and can I say that time has flown so fast I'm surprised I don't have whiplash? How did all these kids get taller and savvier and, oh, so grown-up?

I've got some summer book picks I'll be writing about next week . . . so stay tuned!

And, if I didn't already hunt you down by e-mail and send you this link, here's my shameless plea to click and send me to San Francisco. Red Room is a new site where authors and readers can connect. They're fairly new and are trying to build traffic. Click here which will take you to my page and you can then tool around the whole site and find other authors. I'll get credit for each unique hit on each of my pages--the author with the most unique hits at the end of the month gets a trip to San Francisco for a dinner with other authors.

Happy June!