Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peace on Earth; Good Will toward Men

It feels so close, I can almost touch it.

By dinner time on Christmas Eve, my two sons will be home, and with the rest of the family we'll gather round the table and eat dinner as a family. I'll try to make a toast--to us, to life, to happiness--but I'm sure my voice will catch in my throat, my eyes will fill, my younger son will laugh, my older son will smile, and my husband will finish the toast for me.

We're incredibly lucky and I know it.

Not that it's been an easy year, but it's been another year in our lives and that counts the most.

I spent Monday baking cookies and chex mix, finalizing my grocery lists, wrapping the last few presents, and thinking back on Christmases past.

This afternoon, I'll bake several batches of Christmas cut-out cookies, wrap the stocking stuffers, and settle down by the fire and read for awhile. Tomorrow, I'll worry until one old jeep pulls into the driveway and one airplane arrives from Seattle.

Then, all I'll have to do is enjoy having all of us under the same roof for a few days.

And we'll make memories that will carry me through until the next time.

And that's what I wish for all of you--warmth, family, memories. Sweet times. Hold tight to all of them.

All the best for 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Food, Glorious Food!

I'm guest posting at (Never) Too Many Cooks today. Check out my musings (and recipe) on Risotto.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas and Writers in Their Own words

I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings filled with family and food and laughter. I don't know if you're like me, but I don't even really think about holiday shopping until, well, until the pumpkin pie is gone. So, like, now. And then I start realizing, whoops, I better get cracking. And then I worry about what to get and when to find the time to shop.

Well, worry not because BOOKS are always the perfect gift (and the perfect fit. Plus, they are so so so easy to wrap!). And I have two to recommend, via the GCC. Without further ado, let me introduce Wendy Tokunaga and Melissa Senate.

Wendy's new book, LOVE IN TRANSLATION is for anyone who’s ever dreamt of finding love and family in an unexpected place... Michelle Redmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog calls it “A delightful novel about love, identity, and what it means to be adrift in a strange land. This story of a search has an Alice in Wonderland vibe; when Celeste climbs down the rabbit hole, one can't help but follow along.”

And Melissa's book, THE SECRET OF JOY, starts with the question: What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed? "The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it's as inviting as the small-town life it depicts." –Claire LaZebnik says, "The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it's as inviting as the small-town life it depicts."

Let's hear from them in their own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Wendy: In this case I was driven by the character. I wanted to write about what it’s like to be a female gaijin (foreigner) in Japan, a place that despite its sophistication still can be construed as somewhat xenophobic, with many Japanese displaying a weird fascination mixed with disdain toward people who are different, especially Westerners. I also wanted to write about a cross-cultural relationship and how love can transcend culture, as well as the power of music. So with all this, I had to put a plot together, which came second. But this plot also spawned other themes: the meaning of family, identity, and what it means to discover your own voice.

Melissa: Several years ago, I received a startling email: I think you might be my half sister. Whoa. I was, indeed. I didn’t know how I felt about everything such an email had swirled up, so I ended up writing about a woman who discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed and set her off to find her. Only the very nugget of the idea is based on my own life; I flipped everything else on its head. But the emotional force driving the story is very real.

I often steal from my own life when I start to write a new book, so in that sense I’m driven by plot, but because I never base the characters on myself or anyone I know, the characters take over completely and drive the plot themselves.

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

Melissa: I love Joy Jayhawk, the main character’s half sister. I share some of her trials and tribulations, and I understood her reserve and emotional journey in a way that made me feel so close to her.

Wendy: I have a special fondness for Mariko. She’s a native-born Japanese who grew up frustrated with the social restrictions placed on her in Japan as a Japanese woman. She married an American and ended up living in the United States. But a family issue has brought her back to Japan and her American-influenced personality makes her stick out like a sore thumb. She’s much too direct, laughs too loud, and has a penchant for using every English swear word possible. But she also doesn’t give a damn what people think about her.

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

Wendy: I work in my own home office when I’m writing new material for a novel. Once I’ve written a significant amount of pages (or, more like when I just can’t come up with any more to write!) I print them out and go to a coffee house or somewhere, read the pages and make notes. Then I will go back to my office and input changes. Then hopefully I’ll write more new material, though that is what I find the most difficult.

Melissa: I fell madly in love with this beautiful mahogany secretary-desk that is completely useless for writing, so of course I bought it with a matching beautiful chair. The desk is tiny and barely holds my laptop and the glass of Coke Zero I can’t seem to write without. But the desk itself inspires me! My writing process hasn’t changed since my first book (and I’m now on my 10th, though I keep hoping it will): I write and revise as I go, so it takes me a verrrry long time to write a first draft. The good news is that when I’m done, I only have to do a second draft to edit, then a third to polish. I wish I could just write a draft all the way through, letting it be shitty, as my hero Anne Lamott advises, and just getting it all down. Maybe one day.

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

Melissa: When my characters truly begin telling the story for me, when the words come that easily.

Wendy: Definitely the revision process. I like kneading and massaging the rough prose I’ve already written.

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

Melissa: Trust your gut. It knows.

Wendy: In the words of Anne Lamott, you are allowed to have a shitty first draft. And it’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words-GCC

I'm thrilled to be "touring" my fellow GCC buddy, Jessica Brody whose newest novel, Love Under Cover, is in stores now! Booklist calls it an "an honest, witty portrayal of modern love."

In her job, she’s an expert on men…

In her own relationship, she doesn’t have a clue.

Boyfriend behaving badly? Suspect your husband of straying? Jennifer Hunter can supply the ultimate test. She runs a company which specializes in conducting fidelity inspections for those who suspect their loved ones are capable of infidelity.

An expert on men, Jennifer can usually tell if they're single, married or lying... Unfortunately, her new boyfriend, Jamie, is one of the few men that she's never been able to 'read.' Has she finally found the perfect man or is he too good to be true?

A captivating new novel from the bestselling author of The Fidelity Files.

Let's hear from Jessica 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?

As soon as I finished writing my first novel, The Fidelity Files¸ I knew that Jennifer’s journey wasn’t over yet. Although she had seemed to find her happy ending there was so much more fun stuff I had in mind for another book. Setting Jennifer up with an entire agency of fidelity inspectors was definitely the first and foremost on my mind for the next instalment.

Plus, I really wanted to explore what a fidelity inspector would be like in a committed relationship. After everything she’s seen—all the cheating, dishonesty, and betrayal—would she really be capable of settling down herself? So that’s what I set out to focus on in this book.

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

I love Jennifer’s three friends. They’re all fun to write in their own unique ways. Zoë has a terrible road rage problem and she has a habit of talking on the phone while driving so those conversations with Jen and Zoë on the phone are always really entertaining for me. I get to channel my inner turrets patient. Sophie is totally neurotic. I love going over the top with her.
And John is the flamboyant gay boy from West Hollywood who is always quick with his sarcasm and wit. Sometimes I don’t know where his remarks come from. I must be channelling my inner gay man because I’ll write something that he says and think, “That’s really funny. Where the hell did that come from?”

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

I have a desktop and a laptop but I prefer to write on my laptop. I do all my “busy work” like emails, interviews, website stuff, on my desktop and I found that switching computers helped me switch focus.
I used to not be able to write in a public place. But then I discovered “white noise” mp3s. They basically play nothing but…well, white noise. Now I go to my favorite coffee shop, pop in my ear phones, crank up the white noise and the world around me dissolves away. Plus… coffee helps.

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

My favorite part? Definitely the first 50 pages. They fly by. They’re brilliant and fresh and exciting and full of promise. I feel like I could do anything. I feel like I write an entire novel in two weeks.

My least favorite part? Everything that comes after that.

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

Jump and the net will appear. You can’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come along, you just have to go for it. When I decided I would be a published author, I made the decision and I leapt off the cliff…without a parachute. I quit my high-paying, corporate job at a move studio, started taking odd jobs off of Craigslist to make ends meet, downgraded my car, my apartment and my lifestyle to save money and just went for it. I never looked back. I turned down three job offers from other studios, all which paid even more than I was making when I left my previous one. I sold my first novel a year and a half after I quit. Now I write full time and this year, for the first time since I quit my corporate job in 2005, I’m making more as a writer than I was making as a “suit.” Do what you love and the money will eventually come. I’m a big believer in this. And I am living proof that it works!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

It's another "Tuesday's Child is Full of Grace" NICE HAPPENS Tuesday over on my JUST BE NICE blog. And it's also my younger son's birthday. (So please excuse the cross-post.)

It's fitting. He was born at 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday night 22 years ago today. I'd like to say he's been full of grace his whole life. I'm not sure that'd be totally accurate.

He's been full of boy. And trips to the emergency room. And sweetness.

He made us a family.

He makes me laugh and smile.

And here's one thing I've learned from him about niceness (among many other things. He really is a sweet kid.)--when you call someone, start with "First, I wanted to say 'hi.' And see how you are." That's the way to start the conversation, even if you're calling to complain or ask for money or explain you might not have done so great on that test you took last week.

Start with showing you care. Start with love. After that, everything else is easy.

Happy Birthday, Eric! Come home and visit soon. Your mom misses you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words-GCC

Today is the first real autumn-y feeling day we've had. I love it. There's Italian Beef in the crock pot, I'm wearing a light sweater, the jeans I haven't worn in 6 months still fit, and I'm ready to make a cup of tea and curl up with a good book. Lucky for me, Marilyn Brant has provided the perfect book: According to Jane.

Susan Wiggs, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, describes it a "A warm, witty and charmingly original story." And Cathy Lamb, author of Henry's Sisters, says it's "An engaging read for all who have been through the long, dark, dating wars, and still believe there's sunshine, and a Mr. Darcy, at the end of the tunnel."

It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet "tsk" of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go--sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.

Still, everyone has something to learn about love--perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. . .

Now, let's hear from Marilyn 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’m definitely more driven by character, but I think a good set of characters leads to situations that can be shaped into an interesting plot. For According to Jane, I started with a “What If?” premise: What if a young woman had Jane Austen’s ghost giving her dating advice? How would Jane instruct her? Would she listen? What might go awry? And what if Jane were wrong about someone? Would the young woman have the courage to follow her heart against the voice of wisdom?

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
Ellie, my heroine. She and I share a certain introspection and we each had a tendency toward perfectionism in school, plus, we were both children of ‘80s pop culture. I gave her those sides of me and love her like a favorite cousin. However, we’re not one and the same. Most of her painful relationship problems were (thankfully) extrapolated from things I observed or they were exaggerated from some real events and grafted to modernized versions of scenes I found fascinating in Austen’s novels. I like to think she handled those challenges fairly well, at least given how difficult it is to grow up. Certainly better than I would have.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write in my home office--a messy place, cluttered with stacks of paper and towers of books, but also a very nice window overlooking our backyard. Sometimes I’ll write at a local coffee shop (either with my laptop or, most often, just by hand on notebook paper), and that has the advantage of endless cups of coffee and occasional snacks. As for my process, I’m a very slow writer. It’s rare that I can draft more than a page or two in an hour. I obsessively reread and wordsmith before moving on to the next scene, which in no way means that I don’t also revise again (multiple times) at the end of a manuscript. It takes me about 9-10 months to completely write a women’s fiction book from start to finish.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
Getting to do something creative every single day. Truly, that’s been such a gift. Even when the plotting of a scene is giving me fits or the synopsis doesn’t seem to make sense at all…I love knowing that I have a place to play with these characters and storylines. My hope is that by writing about women’s dreams and experiences as honestly as possible, I might get closer to helping readers recognize truths about their own lives. It was this sense of “recognition” that my favorite novelists gave to me.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
I’ve gotten a few good ones, applicable to life as well as writing, I think:
“Begin as you intend to go on.”
“It’s better to be than to seem to be.”
“Always over-deliver and under-promise.”

Marilyn lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her family, but she also hangs out online at her blog "Brant Flakes." When she isn't rereading Jane's books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she's working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Novel 101: Begin Wherever You Start

A few weeks ago, I was a couple of days away from going back to a WIP I'd set aside last April. Back then (last spring) I was going back to the drawing board and completely rewriting/revising a novel I thought I'd finished several times. I finished that rewrite at the end of June, took some time away from all writing (except thinking about it), then did another read-through and tweaked things here or there and sent it off to my agent.

Then I skipped town for a week.

Then I was ready to go back to that WIP. I knew the characters, knew their voices, had the whole story arc in mind.

But, the week I was getting all ready to dive back into Full-Writing-Mode, something happened. Something I had very little power over. Absolutely no control.

A mother started telling me things. She wouldn't let me go. I couldn't ignore her no matter how hard I tried. And, damn, what she had to say was incredibly compelling. I even found myself dreaming about her. Seriously.

So, I started writing her story. And her daughter's. And then, the detective who's working with them started telling me about some of the struggles in her life.

And an image was in the background, an image that lends itself to a really lovely, haunting title.

So, I began writing. Not the story I thought I'd be writing, not even, necessarily where I thought it would start. But I began it. And I've pecked away at it nearly every day since then. It's starting to take shape. The characters are telling me more, letting me into their lives. And I can't stop thinking about them. It's kind of like falling in love.

Scary, thrilling, and never quite what you expect.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spreading the word . . .

The lovely Larramie, fairy godmother to writers and readers, wrote an incredibly nice post about my new blog . . . and I have a new post up over there as well. Please stop by . . .


Monday, September 14, 2009

My Mama Taught Me Better

What's going on in society these days? I mean really. Look at Kanye West and Joe Wilson (two names that have probably never been uttered in the same sentence before!).

When did rudeness become acceptable? Defensible? The status quo?

When did apologizing become a sign of weakness or backing down?

My mother taught me to be kind. Be responsible. And yes, to stand up for what I believe in but in a civilized manner. She taught me that the world doesn't revolve around me. I passed those lessons on to my sons. I said I was sorry . . . and I MEANT it when I said it . . . when I'd been unfair to them. Or even just short-tempered. I believe that being willing to apologize shows strength and compassion.

Rudeness is never acceptable. Even when I've been treated poorly, it's not okay. I don't want to stoop to the lowest common denominator. I want to rise above it.

Breaking rules is not okay. I learned this one many times, but the best reminder came when I was 16 and had gotten caught going off campus for lunch (something only seniors could do and I was a junior). Since I was the driver, I got three days detention. Since I wouldn't rat on who else was in the car with me they tacked on another two days (I felt sort of noble about that!). When I tried to defend myself to my mom (who wasn't buying any of my teenaged outrage, by the way) by exclaiming, loudly, that it was a stupid rule, she calmly replied that it might well be but I had two choices: obey it or work to change it. Breaking it was not okay. In honesty, I'd like to say I worked to change it, but no. I did get better at not getting caught (it was all in which parking lot I parked in, I discovered).

But, I digress.

Joe Wilson was out of line to yell "You lie!" during President Obama's speech. He could have groaned or booed. That's what the parties in opposition do. And now he's acting like not apologizing makes him more of a man. Uh, no. It makes him look weak and stubborn and ill-bred. His mama must be shaking her head.

And Kanye? Most of the folks nominated for any award DON'T win. That's the law of numbers. And just because you think the voters got it wrong, you don't get to hop up and announce your opinion to the world. You win some and you lose some. That's life. Deal with it without looking like a doofus. Or worse. What must your mama think?

What's happening? Do we need a MOM SQUAD or something to go from town to town and teach civility? Kindness? The Golden Rule?

Shouldn't it come naturally?

***UPDATE*** check out my NEW blog Just Be Nice . . .

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering . . .

It's a strange day this morning . . . crisp blue sky, just like 8 years ago. I was teaching that morning, and I still remember my students' faces as they watched the towers fall.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words--Take Two!

I have another fab recommendation for you . . . and another great writer to introduce you to (if you don't already know her). Hank Phillippi Ryan, an Emmy-winning Boston television reporter and award winning mystery writer has a funny, smart group blog and a series that you'll love! Air Time is the third installment.

Some would say, It's Prime Time for Air Time! Here's what else is being said:

“Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. First-class entertainment.” Sue Grafton

“I love this series!” Suzanne Brockmann

“AIR TIME is a fun, fast read with a heroine who's sexy, stylish, and smart. I loved it." Nancy Pickard

Smart and savvy Boston TV reporter Charlotte McNally is back. In AIR TIME she’s taking on the fashion industry, where she learns “When purses are fake – the danger is real.” AIR TIME is the third of the back-to-back-to back Charlie mysteries—the first PRIME TIME (also in bookstores now) won the Agatha Award for best first novel. FACE TIME (also in bookstores now) is a BookSense notable book.

Let's hear from Hank in her own words:

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

Imagine the research I had to do into the world of designer purses! It was tough, but someone had to dive in…

Actually, Charlie’s investigation into the world of counterfeit couture came s straight from been there-done that. In my day job as a TV reporter, my producer (not Franklin!) and I have done several in-depth investigations into the world of knock-offs—not only purses and scarves, but blue jeans and watches and DVDs and videos.

We went undercover and with a hidden camera—like Charlie does—into various back-alley stores where counterfeit merchandise was being sold, and also into some suburban purse parties where women—certainly knowing they were fake and thinking was fine—were scooping up piles of counterfeit Burberrys and Chanels.

You should know— law enforcement tells us, it’s not illegal to buy the purses—unless you’re buying large amounts that are obviously for resale. The illegality is in the copying and manufacture and sale of what’s clearly a trademarked and proprietary item. (As the elegant fashion exec Zuzu Mazny-Latos tells Charlie in AIR TIME—it’s like taking Gone with the Wind—and putting your name on the cover.)

Anyway—lots of AIR TIME is based on research and reality—besides the undercover work, and the research, I’ve done many interviews with the federal agencies in charge of battling counterfeiting, the attorneys who help big companies protest their products, and even the private investigators the designers hire to scout out counterfeits.

2.)Are you more driven by plot or by character?

Ah, it's both. I start with one little germ of a plot twist--and then figure out how Charlie is going to figure it out! So I know what I know--and she knows what she knows. And then she has to solve the mystery--based on what I let her know.

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

Oh, I can't possibly answer that. Charlie McNally is dear to my heart of course. When my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in: when “you” get chased by the bad guys, or when “you” get held at gunpoint. And I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction.” But Charlie can say things I can’t say about the reality of television, and because she’s fictional, she can go places I can’t go. And say things I can’t say!

And the very sweet 8-year-old Penny, I must say, touches me every time I write about her And I get so many letters from readers, concerned about her, and asking about her, and who I based her on. But really? She’s right out of my imagination. (She’s the character who sometimes makes readers cry...along with Charlie’s mother. I guess family relationships are sometimes—universal.)

And in AIR TIME there’s a new character . a gorgeous FBI agent named Keresey Stone. She’s amazing. And unpredictable. But I wonder what you’ll think about her?

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

I’ve been a television reporter since 19, um, 75. I’m still on the air at Boston’s NBC affiliate, and still at work as an investigative reporter. (And I’m always hoping my best story ever is just around the corner.) So I come to work at Channel 7 every morning—tracking down clues, doing research, hoping for justice and looking for a great story that will change people’s lives. (Hmm..sounds a lot like mystery writing!)

Then at night we go back home—and when I’m in writing mode, I write til about ten pm, in a wonderful study that’s lined with bookshelves. I admit—I have a cluttered desk, and no real filing system, except for “piles.” But I know where everything is. I like it to be quiet.. At the TV station, it’s chaotic and loud, with three TV’s blasting all the time—and I can work fine there! But at home, with the books—quiet.

Because my schedule is so tight, I keep track of my words. If I know I have to write 90,000 words by the deadline, I literally divide that number by the number of days I have—and then set that as a goal. I try to write maybe—to pages a day. And on weekends, more. If I can do that, I’m thrilled.

I push my way through a first draft. I say to myself—just get the story down. Just do it. And you can fix it later.

Then I cook dinner, and my husband and I have a very late dinner together! You can imagine how patient he is!

I used to be a pretty good cook, and diligent about exercise. My husband and I gave dinner parties and went to movies and went on vacation. Sigh. That’s all pretty much over. I have a full time job as reporter, a full time job as a mystery author, and a full time job as a wife (with two step-children and two step-grandchildren!) That doesn’t leave much time for much else.

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

Revision, no question. I love that. You have this whole first draft, and you get to go back and see what you really have. I often have wonderful revelations when I read over the first draft—there are themes and rhythms and even clues that I didn’t realize were there! It’s always so rewarding.

And after 30 years in TV, I know how valuable editing is—so I look at it as a real treat. To get to polish, and tweak, and rearrange, and make it all shine—oh, it’s great fun.

The other favorite part—when readers love the books. I can’t tell you how often I’m out on a story, for instance, and a stranger will come up to me , and pull the book out of a purse or briefcase, and ask me to sign it. I can barely resist bursting into tears. It somehow completes the writing, you know? when someone reads it.

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

There’s a plaque on my bulletin board with the question: “What would you attempt to do if you know you could not fail?” That gives me a lot of courage.

Hank’s giving away five ARC’s of PRIME TIME to readers…to enter the drawing contact her through her website and put ‘PRIME TIME ARC’ in the subject line!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words

With September now upon us, I'm excited to tell you about a new release by one of my Girlfriend Cyber Circuit buddies, Joanne Rendell.

Her new novel, Crossing Washington Square, is drawing rave reviews, and seems like the perfect book to curl up with as you watch the eaves begin to turn and the kids head back to school.

Across Washington Square live two very different women …with their very different love of books.

Some women follow their hearts; others follow their minds. In this “charming, witty, and cerebral” second novel from the acclaimed author of The Professors’ Wives’ Club, we return to Manhattan University, where two strong-willed women are compelled to unite their senses and sensibilities.

Professor Diana Monroe is a highly respected scholar of Sylvia Plath. Serious and aloof, she steadfastly keeps her mind on track. Professor Rachel Grey is young and impulsive, with a penchant for teaching popular women’s fiction like Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Devil Wears Prada, and for wearing her heart on her sleeve.

The two conflicting personalities meet head to heart when Carson McEvoy, a handsome and brilliant professor visiting from Harvard, sets his eyes on both women and creates even more tension between them. Now Diana and Rachel are slated to accompany an undergraduate trip to London, where an almost life-threatening experience with a student celebrity will force them to change their minds and heal their hearts…together.

Let's hear from Joanne in her own words:

How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

The idea for this book evolved over a few years. As someone who has lived the academic life (I have a PhD in literature and now I’m married to a professor at NYU), I’ve always loved books about the university – books like Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys or Richard Russo’s The Straight Man. But what I noticed about such campus fiction was the lack of female professors in leading roles. Even the female authors like Francine Prose and Zadie Smith, who’ve written campus novels, they too focus on male professors. Furthermore, most of these male professors are disillusioned drunks who quite often sleep with their students! I wanted to write a novel with women professors taking the lead and I wanted these women to be strong and smart and interesting – instead of drunk, despondent, and preoccupied with questionable sexual liaisons!

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

That’s a tough one! My knee jerk response is to say Professor Rachel Grey because, out of the two female leads, I identify most with her. Rachel teaches chick lit in her classes and has to defend her work and the genre to her stuffy colleagues who think only the classics and literary fiction should be studied. As a grad student, I would be reading classical literature and poetry by day, but then secretly read popular women’s fiction at night (Bridget Jones’ Diary, I have to say, is one of my all time favorite books!). Rachel is also flawed and emotional, yet good and honest and brave. I like that about her.

Every time I revisit the book, however, I like Professor Diana Monroe more too. She’s super smart and has great poise and grace as a teacher. She’s the kind of uber-professor that every academic secretly wants to be. She’s also pretty darn scary in her austerity and brilliance. But she has a vulnerability too and her life started out pretty tough and therefore, every time I revisit the book, I like her more.

What's your writing process/writing environment like?

I write early every morning while my six year old sleeps. I try and write a minimum of 500 words a day. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal. I write at my desk at the front of our apartment. We live on a very busy street in Manhattan so my writing is “lulled” by taxis honking, firetrucks hooting, and jackhammers pounding. With all this practice, I could probably keep writing through a meteorite shower!

What's your favorite part of writing?

Sharing book ideas with my husband. He’s my biggest fan and my inspiration.

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

Write 500 words a day. It doesn’t matter if they are complete rubbish, you can always edit them later, just try and get 500 words down.

Good advice, from a fabulous writer who's written a wonderful book!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vacation Preparations . . .

I'm in list-mode. You know the kind:

~arrange for house-sitter
~get pedicure and spray-on tan
~do laundry
~pick up cute new sandals (on sale)
~decide which books to take
~print out mapquest from airport to hotel
~print out boarding passes
~check the National Hurricane Center for 5-day (less reliable than 3-day) forecasts. Repeat as needed every few hours.

What? That last weather related item isn't on your get-ready-for-vacation list? Yeah, me neither. Until now. Until I happened to notice last week an item on my google homepage about "hurricane activity picking up in the Atlantic and heading to Florida."

Whoops. So, the first trip my husband and I have been able to take in two years, that doesn't involve work or family obligations, just the two of us, nothing but sun and sand and wine and good food. And, well perhaps a hurricane evacuation plan.

So, on the positive side, it would certainly be an adventure ("Something for the Christmas card" my husband commented), but I'm really not looking for a "roughing it" vacation. I never am. I'm not a camper. I like electricity. I also like not worrying about being swept out to sea. Although, should I survive such an ordeal I might finally have a topic for a memoir.

Yesterday afternoon, perhaps tiring from my frequent updates about Bill (and Ana which is no longer an issue and Claudette, which never was), my husband suggested that I call our hotel. I needed to make dinner reservations (and clarify if our room came with a fridge. It does.), so he said that I could ask them about the impending storm. Good idea, I thought, make sure they have an up-to-date evacuation plan. (Yeah, like they need me, a born and bred midwesterner, double-checking their hurricane preparedness.)

So, that's what I did. I called this morning. A delightful young man named Robert took my call. I started with the dinner reservation. "No problem, ma'am." Then asked about the fridge. "Yes, ma'am." Okay, I said, what about Hurricane Bill, I asked. "Bill? A hurricane? That hasn't even made the news here." Huh, I thought? How can that be? So, I said, I guess I don't need to be worrying about that. "No, ma'am."


I guess.

But I'm still checking. Every few hours.

I'll file a full report upon my return.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's Cooking?

As mentioned in my last post, I'm between writing projects. My manuscript is off in other people's hands right now and I'm not yet in full-panic mode. I'm making notes and brainstorming Book #3, but won't buckle down with it until September. So, one of the ways I fill my time is by cooking.

Last week the food editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called me to see if I I'd be interested in being featured in "What's Cooking" and if I had any good summer recipes. Fortunately, I was and do. Here's the link:

and, um, it might be good to not pay any attention to the calorie count.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back to the blogworld . . . and GCC!

Whew! I'm back. It's been a crazy summer, but I finally feel like I've got my head above water (and groceries bought and laundry done).

The completely new rewrite (and I mean NEW . . . different POV, new setting, lots of previous characters gone, others in much larger roles, etc.) was written in record time (for me, that is) and is now off to my agent. So that means I can now look around and take care of all the things I let slip. I'm reading and cooking and ignoring the weeds that have taken over my garden. And that also means I get to blog about my buddy Carleen Brice's newest release, CHILDREN OF THE WATERS, which Booklist hailed as "a compelling read; difficult to put down." It explores the connection between love and race, and what it really means to be family and poses the intriguing question: Can two strangers become sisters?

Let me first say I love Carleen. She's smart and fun and creative and wonderfully supportive of her fellow writers. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of her debut novel, ORANGE MINT AND HONEY, and I knew within the first few pages that she was a fabulous writer. And you don't have to take my word for it because it's being made into a Lifetime movie(!!) and also won her a slew of awards.

Let's hear from Carleen 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?

The idea came from a story my sister-in-law told me. She’s biracial and was given up for adoption and raised by a white family. Her birth sister, who’s also white, found her when they were adults. I wondered what would happen if she had been adopted and raised by a black family.

I can’t really separate character and plot—they go hand in hand for me. But I need a strong handle on the story or else I’ll just keep writing in circles.

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

A secondary character named Fletcher who is a senior citizen who sells marijuana to other seniors. The why is obvious, right?

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

Haphazard. My process is whatever it takes at the time—a walk, going to a coffee shop, getting up early or staying up late, working in the kitchen. And my office is always a mess.

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

When I find little clues in my story that I’ve left for myself that help me work out the problems. I like how the subconscious and the collective unconscious work or serendipity, whatever it is.

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

Do what works for you. I hate those “absolutes” people toss out. You must always or can’t ever. Phooey. Do what works for you and your story.

Carleen has written an amazing book--lyrical, moving, and one that will have you singing for joy. I promise.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Can I get an "Amen" on Overkill?

Is this just me? Or did anyone else scream at the sight of Matt Lauer on The Today Show this morning, standing in Michael Jackson's kitchen with his (Michael's) two dogs? I mean, yes, Michael's passing was sad, he lived a very tragic life (even in the classical, Greek sense of the word, not just the overused "News at Five!" sense in which everything is a tragedy). I was a big fan of The Jackson Five growing up, still break into song at times. He was adorable and grew into an incredibly talented solo artist.

Then he went nuts. With the plastic surgery and lifestyle and dancing on top of his lawyer's car last fall.

So, yes, his death at age 50 was sad. But a week's worth of mourning and retrospectives and headlines? Please. That was the entire Today show today. After the "dog scene" mentioned above, I flipped to Good Morning America only to be greeted with the breathless news that "Coming up, a look inside the King of Pop's Bathroom!"

No thank you very much. I don't really want to see inside anybody's bathroom.

Is it just me? Has my curmudgeonly nature completely taken over? Or can I get an "Amen" to letting people die in peace and giving them and their loved ones some privacy?

Me, I'm off to read the paper and drink coffee on my front porch.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words--GCC

I've got a fun new book to tout today by my buddy Sheila Curran.

Everyone She Loved is getting some boffo press like:

Penelope Cameron May's unusual last request sets off the action in this riveting novel of love and friendship, betrayal and lies. Sheila Curran draws the reader in and this inventive book won't let go. Prepare to be surprised and moved. I read it in one delicious gulp.
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile, The Distance Between Us

'Everyone She Loved' was the voice inside my head - at a time when I first contemplated my own mortality ... this could have been my husband, my girlfriends and my children ... it raises every emotion and suppressed fear within us all, with a clarity that is both deeply uncomfortable and yet stridently beautiful. Julz Graham, Dimensions

To whet your appetite even more, here's Sheila in her own words:

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

Books are born in strange places. This one was conceived in the front seat of a car.

No, not that kind of conception. My friend Julianna was driving. Our daughters were chatting in the back seat. I was talking about an article I’d written for McCall’s about two young girls in Arizona whose parents had died within months of each other. “Did you know that in some states, if there isn’t a will, the kids can be sent to foster care?”

The girls in my story weren’t so unfortunate. Their mother had named her best friends, another pair of sisters, as the children’s guardians. ”Just make sure you chose someone to take over if something happens to you.”

From there we talked about difficult it would be to chose which couple among one’s siblings and friends would best be suited for the job. Where did one couple’s permissiveness slide into overindulgence, another’s consistency into unbearable strictness? The idea of dying was hard enough, but figuring out which couple would most love your kids in your absence? Impossible.

We paused in our conversation just long enough for my brain to settle on yet another catastrophic possibility. “You know what would be worse?” I asked. “What if I died and John (my husband) married someone awful? I’d have no control at all!”

Another pause. “Unless,” I continued. “I could get him to agree that if he remarried, my sisters and friends would check out the bride. Make sure she wasn’t some kind of wicked stepmother.”

And thus was hatched the idea of EVERYONE SHE LOVED, a novel that explores the faith one woman placed in her dearest friends, the care she took to protect her family, and the many ways in which romantic entanglements will confound and confuse even the most determined of planners.

2.) Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I always start with a character who intrigues me.

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

I think because I come from a big family, it’s really hard to choose a favorite. I love all of them. There’s Penelope, who has died by the time the book begins but whose oversized personality permeates the novel. Her stepsister Clover, who seems like such a ditz at the beginning, is dear to my heart because she makes me laugh. Lucy, who is my main character, is, of course, my alter-ego, and so is Martha, who’s such a smart-a*&s.

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

I’m lucky enough to have an office in one of the upstairs bedrooms. I sit in a comfy armchair, feet on an ottoman and write on my laptop, coffee on a table to my right, dog lying to my left. I try to write from 9-3 but sometimes it’s just two hours a day. A few times a year I sit there and can’t even get a word written. Those aren’t fun. In the early phase, I write a lot of scenes I’ll later throw away. Some days I ‘go down the rabbit hole,’ which is what I call researching on the Internet.

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

Getting into the flow where I’m not even really aware that I’m writing.

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

Well, Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird has a chapter called Shitty First Drafts. I like that. I tell myself that if I can write even one bad page a day, it’s better than no pages.

This is a perfect summer read, so order yours today!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Always a New Adventure

I know that when I used to look at my parents (or pretty much everyone who was, say, over 40) I figured they were just a step or two from fossilizing.

Then, I became an adult--in both age and mindset, and I realized all sorts of adventures were still ahead of me. In the past 4 years I got married, had a book published, left a stable job (high school English teacher) and embraced another (less stable, but it rocks!).

And new adventures, large and small, continue.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to write an installment on a "round robin short story". A Romance-y, chick-lit-y story. Um, not me. But it's been a hoot and they asked me to write another entry. Which I did. You can enjoy the whole thing at Romance in the Backseat. (My second installment might not be up until tomorrow.)

At the end of this month, I'll be having a little, out-patient-y procedure to remove my gall bladder (which is full of multiple, mobile stones. I was pleased to know the stones are busy little guys and not lazy slugs. But then my doctor pointed out it's the mobile ones that are the trouble-makers.) This will be both an adventure and a reminder that I AM middle-aged, I suppose.

What new adventures do you have on tap?

(And, yes, I'm still writing Unexpected Grace. 2600+ words yesterday. I'm very excited about it.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words--GCC

I've been writing like a madwoman lately . . . and I'm loving every minute of it. This week, my goal is another 10,000 words. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I've got another Girlfriend Cyber Circuit buddy to introduce you to . . . Judi Fennell is fun and smart and has a perfect debut novel for your beachside reading, In Over Her Head.

When Erica Peck, one terrified-of-the-ocean marina owner, finds herself at the bottom of the sea conversing with a Mer man named Reel, she thinks she's died and gone to her own version of Hell. When the Oceanic Council demands she and Reel retrieve a lost cache of diamonds from the resident sea monster in return for their lives, she knows she's died and gone to Hell.

When they escape the monster and end up on a deserted island, she amends her opinion - she's died and gone to Heaven.

But when Reel sacrifices himself to allow her to return to her world, she realizes that, Heaven or Hell, with Reel, she's In Over Her Head.

Let's hear from Judi 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 working on a Fairy Tale series that are modern, paranormal twists to the old stories: Beauty and The Best (my American Title and original finalling story), Cinda Bella, and Fairest of Them All, so I wanted to twist The Little Mermaid. Plus I saw the movie Failure to Launch and Matthew McConaughey's character was perfect for Reel. It all came together as the easiest story I've ever written. It just... flowed.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
Honestly, I can't pick. I love all of them, even the sharks - and since I'm terrified of them in real life, that's saying something. We've got the hero, Reel, a devil-may-care, playboy type who really isn't; Erica, who has The Incident hanging over her head and making her question her self worth; Chum the chatty suckerless remora (due to an unfortunate boat propeller incident); Ceto the sea monster villainess--or is she?; Hammerhead Harry; Vincent the Great White with an agenda; Ernie and Amelia... I had a blast meeting all of these "folks."

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I do my best "splurge" writing locked in my office or at Borders. No internet, earphones in and I just let the story splurge onto the keyboard. I go to that place and immerse myself in it for hours. 6, 8, 10 at a time. It's draining but fulfilling. Editing is a little less intensive and for my final run-through I print the whole thing out in 2 column pages and block off several hours to go through it at one sitting.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
When the story flows out of my fingers as if I'm not even thinking of it. That usually happens when I'm immersed in it for about two hours.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Never, ever give up.

That's great advice, Judi . . . and I'm glad you took it to heart!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Promises, promises (or Novel 101)

Hello out there . . . anybody still reading this blog? Can't say that I'd blame you if you're not. I have all these good intentions . . . and I'm apparently busily paving a new road to hell with them.

Anyway, my apologies for so few posts this spring. As I might have mentioned a few times, I'm in the midst of writing a book. Note that I left off the prefix "re-". That was on purpose. I've rewritten/revised/re-imagined this particular MS several times over the past two years. And in April, after some soul-searching, and some "poor me/why me" complaining, and some wine, I decided to undertake it all over again. I blathered about that here.

And ever since, that's what I've been doing. Every morning I trundle up to my 3rd floor office, coffee cup in hand, open my laptop, put my scent-of-the-day candle on my candle-warmer thingie, and start writing. 1000+ words later (or more. Today was 2106!), I run spell-check, hit save, and jot down some notes about where I'm headed in the MS tomorrow. I've told my agent she'll have a finished draft by the middle of July. And now I've also told you the same thing. So I urge you to nag me about it. Seriously. I'm approaching this with more discipline and focus than ever before. Not that I ever thought writing a book was easy. (No, I've done it. I know how hard it is.) But, I'm learning it's not just the book or the writing or the ideas or any one thing. It's all of it and more. The timing has to be right, the story has to be true, and the writing has to have its own voice. Do I think I've hit that trifecta? Yes. Could I still be wrong? Of course. I certainly have been before. But this is what I do. I'm a writer, ergo I write.

Two of my writing pals have recently posted about their own writing processes (and hey, here's a shock, more eloquently then I have), so I urge you to check out Kristy's post and Patry's whole cool new blog.

Now, I ask for a bit more indulgence . . . I'm off to make myself some iced coffee so I can go sit on my porch and read what I wrote this morning. I'll be back to posting more regularly one of these days, too. But for now, my writing energy is focused elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Summer in a Bowl

Okay, this is completely off-topic (and I'll soon have a new Novel 101 post), but this is something I have to share. This is my new favorite, to-die-for recipe. One of those I-could-eat-this-everyday recipes. And, it's healthy, easy and versatile.

I found it by going to one of my favorite sites, The Food Network. And it's from one of my cooking idols, Ina Garten. Love, love, love her.

Here it is, PANZANELLA, with my changes in bold:


3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)--I used olive bread. Yum.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes--I used those little cherub cherry tomatoes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick--I didn't use a hothouse
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained--I left these guys out

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar--I used white wine vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

This rocks. It's even great the next day for lunch. I added diced pepperoni and salami one night to make it more of a meal all by itself. Another time I'll probably add some leftover grilled chicken.

Anyway, enjoy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Writers in Their Own Words--GCC

I'm not sure what it says about us, but my husband and I have become quite addicted to what we refer to as "Dead Wife Shows"--you know the kind of quasi-news show that's on at 9 p.m. (CST) on a Friday or Saturday night (when folks with real lives are out) that's billed as a TRUE-LIFE MYSTERY. It seems to usually center around some poor woman who ends up dead and then they try to solve the crime. It's fun, in a middle-aged couple sort of way, to sit on the sofa and follow the clues. Then we go to bed. We are Cuh-raz-ee!

So, you can imagien my excitement when I got to chat with April Henry co-author of Face of Betrayal. April knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. She had one detour on her path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children's author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children's magazine.

By the time she was in her 30s, April had come to terms with her childhood and started writing about hit men, drug dealers, and serial killers.

Publishers Weekly said Face of Betrayal is “A sizzling political thriller… The seamless plot offers a plethora of twists and turns.”

Tell me this doesn't sound great: When 17-year-old Senate page Katie Converse goes missing on her Christmas break near her parents' white Victorian home in Portland, Ore., law enforcement and the media go into overdrive in a search for clues. Three friends at the pinnacle of their respective careers--Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor; Cassidy Shaw, a crime reporter; and Nicole Hedges, an FBI special agent--soon discover that Katie wasn't the picture of innocence painted by her parents. Did Katie run away to escape their stifling demands? Was she having an affair with the senator who sponsored her as a page? Has she been kidnapped? Is she the victim of a serial killer?

Let's hear from April 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?
Lis Wiehl, my co-author and FOX-TV’s legal analyst, wanted to write a book with three main characters: a federal prosecutor (as she was), a TV reporter (as she is), and an FBI agent (as her dad was). When we decided to work together, we batted around a bunch of ideas that had their roots in true crimes. Face of Betrayal has echoes from a number of real-life cases, most notably Chandra Levy’s.

As a mystery and thriller writer, I’m all about plot

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I like Cassidy because she is kind of venial and vain, but honest.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write in my home office, on my couch, at the library, at my gym. At first I couldn’t write at home because I would find myself doing something else. Now I’m better at getting my butt in the chair and away from loading the dishes. Lis and I will email each other back and forth a half-dozen times a day. When we have the basic idea, I’ll start working on the first draft. Then together we fine tune it.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
When the characters and situations take on a life of their own and start going in directions that are perfect – and that I didn’t forsee!

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Let it sit. The longer you can stay away from a manuscript, the more easily you can see the flaws. Months are better. Weeks are okay. Even days, in a pinch. But hours? Hours doesn’t give you enough distance.

I love April's advice about letting your writing sit to give yourself some distance. And of course, one great way to get away from your own writing is to lose yourself in a fabulous thriller. So, go read, kids, and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fun for Spring . . .

Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, the smart women behind this website, are the co-authors of the new book seen here. And it's a fabulous, funny, SMART, guide for all of us when we're looking something fun (and maybe beach-y) to read. I asked Sarah my regular "In Their Own Words" questions and here are her answers . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

The idea was originally suggested to us by Rose Hilliard at St. Martin's, who asked, "Have you ever thought about writing a book on romance novels?" To which we said, "Hahahahha! What?"

As a reader - I love looking at questions like this. Am I driven by plot or character? Both equally, demanding whore that I am! I love characters who are nuanced, who aren't what I expect, who do or say things that I wasn't ready for but fully respect and want to follow onward from that page. And I love plots that carry those characters to places that neither they nor I are prepared for, that don't follow the expected progression through courtship and tribulation and resolution.

BUT - if I have to pick one, I'm a character reader. A very standard plot trope between two incredible characters will rock my world every time in the hands of a skilled writer. Characters, especially truly realistic ones, are definitely my preference.

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

Aside from me and Candy? Mavis! She's our stereotypical romance reader, as illustrated by Joanne Renaud, who looks like one might expect: fanny pack, slippers, baggy pants, kitten sweatshirt. But in the book, she has terribly insightful and clever things to say.

You can see her here.

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

It depends. Sometimes it's "Butt in chair, hands on keyboard." And sometimes I go into what I think of as "word labor," when something I've been ruminating on starts to percolate and the words are coming NOW GRAB A PEN AND START TAKING NOTES FOOL. That happens every now and again and I'm always blown away when it does, and thankful for wherever that shot of awesome came from.

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

You know that feeling when you write something that totally works for you, that ties everything together or makes you see another layer to what you're trying to say, and you're kinda blown away by the idea that came flying out of your own brain? That. Love that.

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

From Laron's collection at BICHOK. Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard. This shit ain't gonna write itself.

Happy Reading, everyone!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Novel 101 (Starting Over)

I know I've been incommunicado for a few weeks now.

But, like spring, I do believe I too am emerging from winter and hibernation, tossing off some covers and turning my face towards the sun.

I've been doing lots of reading, a little traveling, and am in the process of wrapping my head around a new way of looking at things, particularly my WIP.

I think one of my strengths as a writer is how I capture the quiet moments of my characters, their introspection, their "resting." And that's all well and good, but in and of itself it isn't enough. As one of my most trusted readers/editors put it, I need to "earn the resting" and I need to earn it through action.

I know this, I really do, but I don't always do it. I can fall in love with my own paragraphs, sometimes, to the detriment of the whole. Last week I was talking to high school writers (one of my favorite things to do) and I found myself saying, over and over, "No matter how beautifully written a scene is, if it doesn't move the plot forward it has to go." They'd nod at me and jot down my words (almost like they thought I knew what the heck I was talking about) and it made me feel all professional (which is nice) but when I was driving home and thinking about it I realized that I needed to hear that advice more than those kids did. I need to listen to my own pearls of wisdom. And put them into action.

Next week (or maybe sooner, depending on how the week plays out), I'll be opening up a brand new document. And I'm going to allow the "what if's" to fly across the page. I'm going to earn my resting. I'm going to be open to the possibilities of magic in the world of my characters. I'm going to be prodding myself to know that it's in the characters' doing that emotions are elicited and honest and true. I'm going to be relentless that every scene--action and quiet--has to move the plot forward.

Because while the resting is important, I need to remember that growth is an action.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Forgotten Books

Hey Kids, I'm over at Patti's Blog for her Friday's Forgotten Books post. Check it out. I'll be back next week (I promise) with a full-blown post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Writers in their own words--and Blog Touring!

I've never been a horror movie kind of girl. Not any of the Friday the 13th flicks, or the Elm Street ones or Freddy Krueger. I didn't like ghost stories when I was a kid (or even now). I don't like to be scared just to be scared. I can create enough nightmare scenarios with my own vivid imagination, thank you very much.

Unless they're smart. And funny. Maybe even sassy.

For instance I loved loved loved Fargo.

I appreciated Pulp Fiction.

And my buddy, Joe Konrath, writes a smart, compelling, funny series starring the detective Jaqueline (Jack) Daniels. And they're addictive.

And he's now branching out with his first horror novel, AFRAID writing under the name Jack Kilborn. And as much as I know I'll lose way too much sleep reading this, I also know I won't be able to put it down.

Along with scaring and amusing readers everywhere, Joe's one of the nicest guys in the business. I met him at my very first writing festival and he made me feel like part of "the club." His blog is without a doubt one of the best resources for writers anywhere--if it's not in your bookmarks, it will be as soon as you check it out, I'm sure.

Anyway, let's hear from Joe in his own words . . .

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?

I'm a firm believer that good writers are storytellers, not charactertellers. A story is about conflict, rising action, resolution. That's the essence of narrative structure.

For example, if you take the most compelling character you've ever read, and stick them in a Starbucks drinking coffee for 400 pages, the book will likely be boring.

That said, I think characterization is incredibly important. I write a series featuring a cop named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, and part of the reason readers keep coming back is they like the character, and the cast of supporting characters.

So I like to take interesting, flawed, dynamic characters, and stick them in page-turning plots.

As for AFRAID, the story is about a murderous evil that invades a small Midwestern town. It's a military unit, called The Red-Ops, made up of serial killers with commando training. That's the hook.

But it wouldn't be much fun unless that Red-Ops team went after characters that the reader cares about.

It's sort of a tightrope act, making sure there is plenty of action and scares, while also making the characters realistic, compelling, and likable.

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

There are five Red-Ops, each a different sort of psycho. Santiago is a former South American interrogator. Taylor is a Ted Bundy-like stalker. Ajax is an oversized butcher. Logan is the myterious, creepy type. But my favorite is Bernie, who, like his name, enjoyed burning things.

It's like a super hero team of psychopaths.

As for the good guys, I like Fran, a waitress, single mom, scared to death of the dark, and Ace, an elderly county Sheriff in waaaaaay over his head.

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

I sit my butt in the chair and write. My desk is usually littered with notes, and because I never learned to type, I spend long hours staring at my keyboard.

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

I love it all. Creating new worlds. Putting my heroes through hell. Writing dumb jokes. Especially writing dumb jokes.

My Jack Daniels series has a lot of humor in it. In fact, CHERRY BOMB (Jack #6, coming out in July) has the funniest scene I think I've ever written, featuring a new character named Slappy.

AFRAID has zero humor in it, and I had a hard time keeping the jokes at bay. With AFRAID I didn't want to give the reader any breaks--there aren't even chapters. No humor, no falling action, no mercy. That was a challenge, but I think it resulted in a damn scary book.

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

From my wife: You aren't allowed to give up.

I garnered more than 500 rejections before my first sale. That's why my motto is: There's a word for a writer who never gives up... published.

So, there you have it--buy this book. And leave the light on!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Finding the Right Words

As a writer, I spend my days with words . . . trying to find the right ones, the best combinations, the perfect order. Do I say it this way or that way? It can seem like a never-ending puzzle. It can make me crazy.

But when they all fall into place, when the words arrange themselves, magically it might seem, even lyrically, I remember why I love what I do.

I need to remember the words of wisdom from E. B. White, one of my writing idols, who was advised as a young newspaper reporter struggling to tell a story, to "Just say the words."

This has been on my mind lately for a few reasons. One, I'm in full-on "writing mode," completely rewriting a manuscript. New POV, one narrative voice taken out (but reappearing in a different form), major changes throughout. It's exhilarating and terrifying. And words matter. Every single one. But I'm trying not to overthink it. I'm reminding myself to Just Say the Words.

The second reason this has been on my mind is because, as part of my participation in a Writers Week Celebration at a nearby high school in April, I was asked, "What's the best line you ever wrote?" (This was for the author information page.) I flipped through my book. Even looked at various blog posts. There are lines I like, lines I think capture a moment or a feeling. But when I looked at them in isolation, I thought, hmm, not so much. I'm not sure this one line is the best. One line kept popping up in my thoughts, but I thought it was probably too simple. Or not professional enough. So, in my e-mail to the director of the program, I was very apologetic about it, sort of made a little joke, and promised him I was working hard to come up with a better line. I didn't want him to think it had been a mistake to invite me to participate. But you know what? He wrote me back and said he thought the line I'd given him was perfect. So, I told him thanks, and to go ahead with it.

I'd Just Said the Words and hadn't even realized it.

The best line I've ever written?

"Love, Mom."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Curled Up With a Good Book

It's cold and gray out most days and when it's like that all I feel like doing is making soup and crawling under a quilt with a cup of tea and a good book. And I've been lucky this winter--my husband gave me three books for Christmas. So, without further ado, here's what I've been enjoying in 2009 . . .

Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing. This takes a tough subject (an 18 year-old girl disappears on her way to work) but O'Nan handles it with grace--the narrators include her parents and younger sister as well as her friends. Each one has such a clear voice that they really allowed me to inhabit his fictional town. Beautifully done.

Kathleen Flinn's The Sharper the Knife, The Less You Cry. I loved this memoir of a year in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School. She writes with honesty and humor. She also removes the glamour of cooking schools!

Tasha Alexander's A Poisoned Season. I loved the first book in this "series" And Only to Deceive, and this one did not disappoint. The mystery is smart (almost as smart as the main character) and the details of the time are spot on. A thoroughly enjoyable trip to London.

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows', The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'd heard about this book, but had no idea what to expect. It's wonderful. Delightful. Poignant. Plus, you'll find out about some WWII history I'd never known. It's told in letters which are by turns funny, sweet and heartbreaking.

And just last night I started Wally Lamb's, The Hour I First Believed. Now, I'm only 20 or 30 pages in, but even as I was falling asleep I kept wanting to read one more page. And then another. And when I was at the gym this morning I'd catch myself thinking, ooh, when I get home I can read more of that book. As a writer, it's fascinating to see how he weaves in flashback and backstory without my even noticing. And as a reader, I just want to turn the page.

I can't say enough good things about all of these books--I highly, highly, highly recommend them.

So, what're you reading?