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!