Friday, October 29, 2010

13 Ways to Combat Writers Block

I keep lots of notebooks around (in my purse, next to my bed, on my desk) so I can jot down thoughts, ideas, dialogue, whatever, whenever something hits me. I find that if I ever need a jolt, I just go through my notebooks, something will jump out at me, and I'll realize, "That's it!"

Susan McBride

I go to yoga, take my dog for a walk, or...really...take a shower. :)

Alison Pace

If my muse is off visiting some other writer, I show him/her a thing or two. I keep my butt in the seat, fingers on the keyboard, and write, write, write... about anything--the color of the walls, the dust bunnies on the floor, how my muse is a two-timing hussy

Deborah LeBlanc

Sometimes I tell myself I can't stop until I have written a number of hours, a number of words, or a certain scene. And sometimes I treat myself by writing a scene that falls further ahead in the book and that I've really been looking forward to writing.

April Henry

I don't really believe in writer's block. I don't wait around for inspiration, I just keep writing daily, regardless, knowing that what I write may or may not end up in the final manuscript. If I'm truly having a hard time, I'm still writing - but it feels as if I'm writing my way into a maze that I can't see the end of. That's probably the closest I come to writer's block and when it happens, inevitably it's an indication that this particular idea isn't worth writing about. So I put it aside and start something new - but I'm always writing.

Melanie Benjamin

I view "writer's block" as an indulgence I'm not willing to grant myself. So when I don't know what to write next, I simply start typing notes and asking myself all sorts of questions about my story. Eventually, the answers emerge and I get to work.

Ellen Meister

I combat writer's block by thinking of the most outrageous thing that could happen next. That usually puts things into perspective when I realize that Giant Preying Mantis' are not really possible.

Leslie Langtry

I start writing dialogue. My characters can always talk me out of being stuck . . . and usually take me in a completely new direction.

Judy Merill Larson

I combat writers block by looking at my bank balance and then at my bills. It's amazing how quickly I feel inspired after that!

Megan Crane

I've learned not to fight it, actually. I try to take a look at whatever aspect of the story I seem to be resisting, and I back away from that. If I've been staring at the screen for a few hours and not managing more than a sentence or two, I turn off my computer and try to write a few notes by hand instead. Or I work on some other section of the book that doesn't seem so daunting. Or I take a nap. (Surprisingly effective.)

Marilyn Brant

Having established rituals can trick my brain into writing even if I'm feeling uninspired. Sitting down to write at the same time, place, and using my favorite mug helps, as does reminding myself that the first splat of words on the page doesn't have to be perfect - that's what re-writing is for!

Sarah Pekkanen

The ways I've found to combat writer's block are short, manageable
deadlines with little rewards built in, and social support! Nothing
like other writers producing pages to get me going...

Roberta Isleib

Easy. A walk around the block or I jump in the shower... the only two places where I ditch my cell. The only conversation I can have is with my higher self and there is never a busy signal.

Saralee Rosenberg

If I have writer’s block it almost always means I’m forcing my characters to do something they shouldn’t or I’ve taken a wrong turn in the story. To me it’s a symptom and I make a correction.

Karin Gillespie

If you're a writer how do you beat writers block? We'd love to hear.  

Girlfriend News

“Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” by Beth Hoffman is a Pennie pick at Costco. Woo hoo!  And on a similar note, here’s the Cinderella story on how Beth’s book launched an imprint.

Melanie Benjamin reminds book club members to be kind to

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Hollywood Trenches

by Maggie Marr

Hello Girlfriends!

I send you my greetings from LA LA Land. I am the author of Hollywood Girls Club and Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club. I live and breathe in sunshiny Los Angeles. I didn't start out in LA as an author. Ooooh no. After working as an attorney in Chicago and then in Denver my very first job in entertainment was....wait for it....pushing the mail cart. Yes. You may have heard of this book:

I got to live it. I was an agent trainee who got her start in the mailroom. After two years (6 months of required mailroom duty) of assisting other agents I became a Hollywood Motion Picture Literary Agent. I repped directors and writers and also some authors (turning their books into film). It was while I worked in H-wood as an agent that I sold my first book. So the stories in my books...true? A little bit. Since packing away my Ferragamos and becoming a full time writer I've also written screenplays and television pilots.

Secret? Being on the writing side is more fun. Don't get me wrong, I loved repping my clients and their work. What a thrill to actually see a script become a film, and also to see director clients have astronomical opening weekends. Plus the premieres, while business, are fun. Good stuff to be sure. And sometimes, sometimes, I toy with the idea of agenting again but I am, at least for now, content to be a creative and have agents and managers of my own.

So how does it work, this silly little town called Hollywood? In mystical ways. I can say that some of my most important contacts in the business came from my years at the agency. It is truly an addiction my fascination with this town and how ideas actually become films and tv shows. Right now, I am winding up a slate of meetings with tv producers who read my new pilot Hart & Stone. Will the pilot ever become a true-see-it-on-tv show? Who knows? But with each meeting I take I expand the possibility of that happening.

And really, in Hollywood, the possibility of making it happen is what we live for!

Margaret Marr is an attorney, a former agent, an author, a wife, and a mother. She is the author of Hollywood Girls Club and Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club. She is also the writer of the screenplay, The Apology Expert, currently under option at Dahooma Productions. Her tv pilots include; Mothers & Daughters, Sexology, My Mr. Universe, and Hart & Stone. You can follow her and her journey through tinsel town at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I Write...(and a literary contest to boot) by Leslie Langtry

Before I started really writing for publication, I heard other writers who were, um, more dramatic about the whole thing.  I am not kidding, I have actually been told the following:

"I don't write.  I sit at the typewriter and open a vein."

"I write because I have to...the need to write is like the need to eat or breathe."

"Words make me write them.  They torment me to do so."

"To forge in the smithy of my soul, the uncreated consciousness of my race."

Okay, so why does Leslie Langtry write?  (Perhaps the most important question here is why am I referring to myself in third person?)

I write...(insert drumroll)...because 1) I like to and 2) I get paid to.

Not very lyrical, is it?  These are the reasons I write.  I get comments on facebook, my website, etc. from those who want to be published, saying the above, poetic stuff.  But what does it really mean? And who exactly are they trying to impress?  Well, clearly they are meant to imply clinical insanity (I'd vote for schizophrenia), right?

Gone are the days when writers like Voltaire had "sponsors" who supported them so they could lie about in a French salon eating bonbons and drinking champagne.  Sigh.  But today, it's a business.

A lot of newbies are offended when I tell them, "I would write whatever my publisher wanted.  If my publisher wanted me to write in a storefront window downtown wearing a chicken suit - I would do it."  That may sound like selling out, but it isn't.  Writing is a business.  I love writing anything and getting paid for it is just as important.  You should see my grocery lists...

Is writing an art form?  Yes.  Is it a marketable skill?  Yes.  Would I really wear a chicken suit in a downtown storefront?  Yes.

Speaking of art forms - just for fun, one of the above quotes is from an actual, famous writer. If you can tell me which one and who said it, (don't look it up!) I'll put your name in for a drawing for my latest book - I SHOT YOU BABE and a special surprise.

Why do you write?


The Writing Life (or, "So you want to be a paperback writer?")

by Judy Merrill Larsen

A few weeks ago, Mary, one of my best friends called to ask if she could pass my name on to the college-aged daughter of a friend of hers. It seemed that this young woman was an English major, and one of her assignments required her to interview a writer. Of course I said yes. I too had once been an English major (how great was that--you read and write AND get credit!). So, we arranged for a phone interview and it was fun. She asked thoughtful questions, laughed at my stupid jokes (always a big plus in my book), and had genuine curiosity about what it was like to be a writer. The process, the product, and everything in between (and after).

The call was good for me, too, coming on one of those days when I felt nothing like a writer. I was far removed from any sense of the wonder and joy of writing. But, as I talked to her, I started remembering how much I do love being a writer. And not just the wear-your-jammies-to-work aspect of it. I mean, this has been my dream since I was a little girl and first realized that on the other side of the books I adored was a person who created worlds I could disappear into. My husband reminds me that lots of people have big dreams when they are 8 (his was to play first base for the Chicago Cubs), but only a lucky few get to see those dreams realized. I'm in that group. Amazing.

So when this young woman asked for advice, along with suggesting she line up a paying job (at least to start with), I also told her to never give up. And to read everything she could. And to write for the love of it no matter what. No matter how many rejections piled up or how many people doubted or how many times she started over. And as we chatted I was reminded of a quote I love, attributed to Doris Betts, a short story writer, who said "Writing is a hard way to make a living, but a good way to make a life.”

And that's it exactly, isn't it?

So I repeated this quote to my interviewer and I really hope that if she took anything from our phone call, it's that quote. And it won't mean much to her today or even perhaps in the next few years. But, if she sticks with it, I'd love it if someday she thinks of that quote and smiles in satisfaction and understanding.

And now, let me ask you--what's your best advice for writers? What's your suggestion for how to achieve a dream?

(This was taken the night of my launch party . . . a dream come true!)

I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, am the mom/stepmom to five kids (ages 17-25), and taught high school English for 15 years. I'm over on Facebook and am always eager to make new friends, too!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Covers (for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School) by Melissa Senate

You’re in a bookstore. You see these two novels side by side on the new fiction table. Which lures you? Which do you pick up first? Do you completely ignore one? Do you pick up both? Do you expect a different read with each cover?

You flip each over and they both say:

Camilla’s Cucinotta: Italian Cooking Classes

Fresh take-home pastas & sauces daily

Benvenuti! (Welcome!)

Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

Does the back cover copy fit both covers? Does the cover change how the back cover copy sounds to you? Do you have different expectations for each book based on the cover even though the cover copy is the same?

The blue spaghetti heart cover was the original cover for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School until just a couple months ago. The big chains didn’t think the cover would appeal to readers, and so Simon & Schuster went back to the drawing board to come up with a very different cover, more mainstream, more mature.

I did love that spaghetti heart and vivid Tuscan blue and white swirls of the original cover. But when I saw the new cover with its old world Italian kitchen feel, I sighed with a happy, relieved yes, this is the cover. This is what the cover is meant to be. This captures the lore of the original Love Goddess, the main character’s beloved Milanese fortune-teller/cook grandmother and that very kitchen today. It captures a sense of life in progress, work to be done. Cooking. A seriousness and a depth. And the dusky warmth of the yellow and brown speaks to a comforting read. The title itself captures the playfulness, the dash of magic, the romance, and of course the cooking aspect, so perhaps the old cover, that spaghetti heart, did too much double duty with the title. The new cover beautifully brings you inside the title, invites you into the Love Goddess’ Cooking School.

Today is publication day for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, and to celebrate, I’m giving away a signed copy to one commenter (randomly chosen here tomorrow morning, 10/27). I’d love to know your thoughts on the covers. P.S Anyone who buys the book this week will win my undying appreciation!

Mini bio: Melissa Senate is the author of 10 novels, starting with her debut, See Jane Date, which was made into a TV movie for ABC Family. She’s written two novels for teens and has contributed stories and essays to several anthologies. A freelance copywriter and editor, Melissa lives on the lovely coast of Maine with her son and their two black Halloween cats.

You can follow Melissa on Twitter:
Friend her on Facebook:
Visit her website:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Catch of a Lifetime - The Book and The Award!

I spent the weekend at the NJ Romance Writers' Put Your Heart in a Book Writers' Conference and, boy, what a great weekend!

Disclaimer: Two of my books were 2/3 of the finalists in the Best Paranormal category of the Golden Leaf contest, so I was already hyped when I got there. ;) And, yes, as you can see, one of them won. But more on that later.

The fun started in the lobby. It's so nice to walk into a hotel (even if you've been there before) and see people you know who hold open their arms for a big hug with a big smile on their face. Then come the "catch-up" stories because, even though we're all wired in and see each other posting on FB, blogs, loops, etc., nothing beats that one-on-one personal time to catch up on the day-to-day stuff, and, of course, the "oh my God, you won't believe" stuff. :)

Roommates arrive, room keys are gotten, suitcases unpacked, and the workshops begin. I gave one on contests. Unfortunately, I was up against the published author retreat so the turnout wasn't fabulous, but the people who attended said I gave them a lot of things to consider when entering contests. Since I was clueless when I began entering contests, without any thought other than winning (oh, how naive!), I spent my money willy-nilly. In the days of pre-electronic contests, postage was as expensive as the entry fee and let us not forget ink and paper.

Then came the reception for the awards. The ladies of NJ pulled together an AMAZING amount of giveaway baskets. It would have been nice if I'd remembered to bring my raffle ticket, because I'm fairly certain my number was called. Of course, if I'd thought to thoroughly check my name badge holder, I would have found out that I'd actually planned ahead and put the ticket in the badge holder, but silly me thought I'd left it in the room. sigh...

Then the highlight of the night - the awards. NJRW has the Put Your Heart In A Book Contest for unpublished authors and the Golden Leaf contest for published authors, complete with a great slide show like RWA does for the Golden Heart and Ritas. Even with a stage and podium. I love watching people win awards. We all work so hard at our writing that it's nice to celebrate with the winners.

For the Golden Leaf awards, they show the 3 finalists and then the wonderful Ann Walradt (who I think is a thespian, and if not, definitely could be) reads an excerpt from the winning book. My category was second to last to be announced and there were about 8 or 9 of my chaptermates in my row. When Ann read the first line of Catch of a Lifetime, they all turned my way. "You won!"

Yep. The award is beautiful and makes a really nice bookend with the Prism Wild Blue Under won at National. But I think the absolute best part of winning was hearing Ann read the beginning of the book to the audience and hearing their laughter.

Chapter 1

There was a naked woman on his boat.

Logan Hardington shook his head and rubbed his eyes, but the picture didn’t change. Lady Godiva was sprawled over a pillow on his deck, a navy blue blanket draped over the bottom half of the curviest ass he’d seen in a long while.

Long, blonde—almost yellow—loose curls tumbled over creamy shoulders all the way down to that blanket, the ends pooling in the dimples above her ass, some strands twirling along the visible portion of her cleft near the light blue markings of a faded bruise.

Shapely legs, one slightly bent, only a shade or two darker than the fiberglass boat deck, trailed from beneath the blanket, one small foot flexing in the soft morning breeze. A hint of upturned nose peeked from beneath the blonde jumble, pink lips pursed in sleep, slender fingers disappearing beneath her cheek. He wondered what color her eyes were.

And why she was naked.

On his boat.

Hungry gulls cawed overhead, but she didn’t stir. The wake from McKye’s charter jostled the Mir-a-Mar as the day’s fishing tour set out, but that didn’t rouse her either.

Oh hell. She was probably a drunk co-ed who’d followed some “sailor” home. He’d seen that walk of shame many mornings. Didn’t these people think of the repercussions?

Logan looked back down the pier where his son, Michael, chatted with Tony as the wizened old salt chopped chum, and Logan smiled. Ah, the things he would have loved to have seen as a boy. The things he should have been able to show Michael from day one—

And would have if his ex-girlfriend had only mentioned a little thing like a pregnancy…

Logan tamped down the anger at Christine—who, according to his son, now went by Rainbow for God-only-knew-what reasons—and focused instead on the next female to make him wonder what men ever saw in women.

Then Lady Godiva moved and the blanket slipped to the side and Logan knew exactly what men saw in women.

The fun continued on Saturday with great speakers, informative workshops, and having the chance to sit down, face-to-face with my agent and get some business done. I did some chapter business, issuing invitations to the editor/agent panel we have in March, and meeting new people.

And then came the karaoke party. No, I did not sing. I wanted to, but I am aware enough of my deficiency in that area to know better than to pick up a microphone. Others, hysterically, do not have that same realization and I thank they for a really fun evening!

It's so nice to get together with other writers and industry people. I envy those who can do this full time and make a living at it. I'm still in the day job which recently went full time, but one of the conditions was that I can take enough time off to do my writerly things. That would have been a deal-breaker for the job, and I'm so glad they came through.

Now, it's only about 3 months until the next conference... sigh.

What do you have coming up "writerly" wise?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Musings: Girlfriend News

No proper blog this weekend but wanted to fill you in on some girlfriend news. Melissa Senate’s novel “The Love Goddess’ Cooking School releases this week. It’s already available on Amazon.
Hank Philipi Ryan’s short story “On the House” wins the Anthony, Macavity and Agatha award for best story. Read it here.

Lauren Barat-Logsted has a great post on the various genres
on Biblio Buffet.

Jenny Gardiner’s novel Slim to None was just released in trade

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Big, Blank Page?

Tuesday night I met with my favorite aunt’s book club. I knew it would be a great group when one of the special guests (a member’s 84 year-old mother) arrived with a hip flask of bourbon in one cardigan pocket and a can of 7-Up in the other. During the discussion, one of the women told me she’d recently read Driftless, by fellow Wisconsin author David Rhodes. Driftless is Mr. Rhodes’ first novel in thirty years, after a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed. My aunt’s friend proceeded to ask me if I’d ever taken a leave of absence from writing, and if not, if I even felt such a thing would be possible. 

“Funny you should ask,” I replied. Because after my second novel crashed and burned, I did take a hiatus from writing. I had a crisis of confidence…it became nearly painful to write, and I even lost pleasure in reading fiction. I became terrified of the blank page. Several months passed, until a health scare shook me out of my paralysis. I didn’t feel ready to write fiction yet, but I could bake…I could garden…I could design the invitations to my sister’s wedding shower. Anything to reignite the creative spark I seemed to have lost. 

The conventional wisdom is that if you are a writer, you will feel a near-physical compulsion to write; and if you are a novelist, to tell stories. However, what of Harper Lee, who never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird? Ralph Ellison…J.D. Salinger, who stopped writing for the public after The Catcher in the Rye? Well, if I never published again, I’d be in good company.  But if I felt an actual aversion to writing, did that mean I was no longer a writer? Maybe I was just pouting.

I’d gone through this before, when self-doubt hamstrung me.  But after some time hiding out and avoiding the blank page, I always came back to it. Because in the end, writing makes me happy—fleshing out characters, playing with language, structuring a scene. It's in my blood, and I'll probably keep writing even if I'm my only audience. The lovely thing I discovered along the way is that sometimes a break isn’t a bad thing, because it can inspire just the breakthrough you need.

What about you? Have you ever stopped writing for awhile? If so, how did you come back to it? 

Jess Riley is the author of Driving Sideways (Ballantine Books, 2008). She's currently working on two novels and is no longer afraid of the blank page, rejection, or crummy reviews. She is, however, still afraid of heights.

Inspiration Vs. Perspiration: What Does it Take to Write A Novel?

Novelists Saralee Rosenberg and Ellen Meister

Saralee and Ellen IM each other all the time, mostly to catch up on family news and to give each other a good push when the writing road gets rocky. So when asked them to do an IM interview on the creative process, they were off and running.

Thomas Edison once said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Can the same be said about writing a novel? Saralee Rosenberg, author of DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD and Ellen Meister, author of the forthcoming THE OTHER LIFE talk shop.

Ellen Meister: A friend on Facebook recently paraphrased a quote from the artist Chuck Close, saying, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us put our ass in the seat every morning and get to work." Do you agree or disagree with that?

Saralee Rosenberg: Agree! People think that inspiration is synonymous with a lightning bolt. Writers get struck in the middle of a field with a brainstorm and run back to their computers. For me, that's not how it happens. I get my best ideas while food shopping or bending over a dishwasher. That’s because the pressure is off to be brilliant. In fact, I do my best work when there are zero expectations – like people who sing in the shower and swear they’re Celine Dion. How does it work for you?

EM: For me it's all about hard work. I don't wake up in the morning with a dream and then rush to my computer to type it all into a novel. Rather, I collect small pieces of ideas. Sometimes I write them down, but most of the time they're just floating around in my head. Like a crazy collection. But after a time it becomes obvious that one particular idea won't let go. I keep thinking about thinking about it. And, I have to say, it's not usually a plot idea that grabs me at first, but something about a character or a relationship between two people. Then I have to find a story that can bring it to life.

SR: That's how it is for me as well. An idea comes to me, either by the power of observation, or by hearing a news story, and then I'll begin the game of hundred-and-one “what if” questions. I'm actually in that phase now. I have been working on six different ideas for a next novel, and like the song says, I love the one I'm with. Then I'll get a totally different idea and the first one is history. The idea I'm working on this week is really grabbing me by the throat and I think I’m in love.

EM: You're such a great idea person! When you think of these things, is it "That concept would really appeal to readers," or "That idea really appeals to me"? A combination of the two?

SR: Great question and it can go either way. I was working on an idea about Facebook and my first thought was, readers would love that! Everyone is on Facebook now... but in trying to work out the plot, the story got too convoluted and lost its edge . BTW, you're a great idea person too! Your plots are so clever, but I don't know how you can just sit there and think. That's amazing to me how you corral your concentration powers. What’s your secret?

EM: I have to force myself to focus, or my mind wanders. I don't work on ideas by staring into space, but by making notes. (I'm a firm believer that we use a different part of our brains when we write than when we just sit and think .) My notes might look a little schizophrenic to anyone but me, but because they're all over the place ... a kind of stream of consciousness where I ask myself questions and provide answers. Sometimes I make 25 pages of notes before a true idea even starts to emerge.

SR: Yes, I do the Q&A with myself when I'm brainstorming. I call it my inner Katie Couric. Actually, I interview my characters to see if I can find out what they're hiding, because they're always hiding something.

EM: I LOVE that! I never thought of interviewing my characters, but I think it's an excellent technique. I might try it on the book I'm working on now ... I'm really in the early stages of figuring out what it's all about.

SR: What I love about the process is that I can't judge the writing and get frustrated. At this stage, it's not about the quality of the writing, it's about allowing yourself enough creative space for nuggets to drop. If the character is properly developed, you’ll discover their dreams, fears, personality traits, ambitions- the stuff just pores out. Back story is critical for a solid novel. No history, no future.

EM: Do you continue this technique even after you have some chapters written?

SR: Hopefully by then I don't have to because I've written volumes about each main character. The chapters are where I take off the leash and let them go- see where the story heads. That's why I don't create outlines. Waste of time for me. I'm never going there. What about you? Do you outline?

EM: I make rough outlines, in an effort to get me from the beginning of the book to the end. (I usually do know the ending when I start--or at least the arc I want my main character to have.) But the process is equally organic. I stray from the outline all the time. And besides, it's always in broad strokes, and doesn't help me on a scene by scene basis. For that, I make more notes. The same kind of stream-of-consciousness I mentioned before, where I ask myself questions and explore every option.

SR: I start out with a full synopses (5-10 pages) so I also know how I want the story to start and end. But how I get there is a mystery, which is why I always liken it to driving with a man. You know you're going to get lost, you know stopping for directions is out of the question, you know by the time you get there you're going to be in a pissy mood, but by God, you will get there!

EM: Ha!

SR: And it works, at least for me. I wrote all four novels this way and am proud that I followed my instincts and didn't feel the need to stick to the script. I always say, no surprise for the writer, none for the reader either.

EM: I'm on board with that. If you're rigid about following an outline you're going to get in trouble.

SR: You'll be bored and so will the reader. The truth is, I know I'm on to something when the characters do take over, thinking and speaking for themselves. I used to joke that there are points where I'm not the writer as much as the designated typist. For example, when I was working on Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead, the dialogue that would rush out of my head between Mindy and her husband, Artie, was priceless. It would make me laugh and I’d want to hear more. I literally had to have silence in the room so I didn't miss a word, and I swear my fingers were flying off the keyboard. They would fight and laugh and talk and ask each other annoying questions, like real married people who were great friends, and I said to myself, I am home!!!!

EM: Love it! And that brings me back to something you said before. You get all these ideas, and then it becomes clear that ONE is the winner. How do you know that? How do you know that one particular idea is THE one that will make a great novel for you?

SR: It's like being engaged. You're so sure you're in love and this is the one and then something happens to upset you and you lose your confidence and before you know it, you're looking around to see who else is available. I know that it's the ONE when the characters start talking not to me, but to each other. What about for you? How do you know when you're ready to walk down the aisle and spend the next few years with these folks?

EM: I think it's when the idea just won't go away. If I find myself coming back to it again and again and again ... if it visits me while I'm driving, eating, showering, strolling the aisles of Waldbaums ... then I know there's something there. I don't necessarily think about the readers, but I have confidence that if something interests me that much it will interest others, too.

SR: Good point. You can't write to the market, you have to write what resonates with you or there won't be enough passion to stick with it.

EM: Saralee, I'd also love to talk about the subconscious mind's gift to the process ... what Stephen King calls "the boys in the basement." For me, I like to think of it as the girls in the attic, but it's the same idea. Sometimes when I walk away and stop thinking about what I'm writing, my subconscious gets to work and solves my creative dilemmas. What about you?

For me it can be a mixed bag. Sometimes inspiration and ideas come from reading an article in the paper, or by standing behind a crazy lady at the dry cleaners, or overhearing a conversation at a restaurant. Then it's voila, I know how I can use that. I guess I’m a reporter at heart. But the subconscious mind is at work too—I often wake up with ideas and if I don't run to the computer before the bathroom- forget it. They’re gone.

The terrible thing about the power of the subconscious is that you can't ever count on it. But the wonderful thing is that when it kicks in, it feels like a special gift. It works for me is this: I'm in the middle of writing on a scene or struggling with that happens next. I simply CANNOT figure out how to move forward. In frustration, I walk away and get on with my life. But the next morning when I sit down at the computer, the answer is crystal clear. My subconscious had been doing the work for me when I wasn't thinking about it. Has that ever happened to you?

Yes, that’s when my muse returns. I'm so grateful he/she/it doesn't ask for time off and doesn’t mind being overworked and underpaid—like an intern! But I am like you. I have to walk away and do something in order to clear the negative, I'll-never-come-up-with-another-good-idea thinking. Then when you least expect it, there it is. The BIG idea.

I think that's a great place to finish. Thanks, Saralee!

Thank you ... and I can't wait until THE OTHER LIFE comes out (Putnam). January 20, 2011, right?

: That's the big day.

Hint: it's fabulous! You won't be able to put it down.

: Appreciate that... fingers crossed!

Just asking. Where do your"novel" ideas come from? Inspiration or perspiration? Do tell!

Here is the link to read the interview in its entirety. http://http//

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The story of a book and its cover

When I saw the cover for Girl, Stolen, I fell in love.  The designer, Rich Deas, told me he made more than 30 comps before the final cover was chosen.  
Rich told me that, while he is often provided with a synopsis and notes, he prefers to read the material.  He said, “I don’t really feel comfortable designing any cover without reading the text. As an art director, it’s especially difficult to direct another designer’s work without fully knowing the material. So I try my best to read as many manuscripts as possible.”
As he is reading the manuscripts, he scribbles notes, flags pages, and draws sketches.  He said, “ It’s more a free stream of thought which I come back to later and edit down.”

Some of the other covers he came up with:  

I like this one a lot.
No fingerprints - but more drama?

Feels too much like Saw
Nice mix of blindness/crime

An all black over is eye-catching, but hard for Marketing to love

Another from Rich's photo shoot

What about stock photography?
As a reader and author who also loves book covers, I’ve noticed that stock photography is more and more common.  Rich told me that approach has its own pros and cons.  “It can be a great resource, giving designers access to millions of great images that we would not be able to obtain from an affordable photoshoot or illustration. But creatively, it can be limiting when a designer depends too much on stock photography for a “quick fix” or presentable option. The best covers are usually based on strong concepts and original ideas, not just a pretty picture.”
Rather than relying on a single stock photo, Rich says designers are now using and manipulating a combination of photos to create a unique image that is a good fit for the book.  
The real girl behind the scenes
So where did the image for Girl, Stolen come from?  It’s actually of Rich’s neighbor, a teenage girl.  He says, “When possible, I like to create images with my own photos and illustrations. It feels more natural than looking through a million images trying to find something that almost suits what I am looking for.”
“I took probably a couple hundred photos before we decided on this version. In Photoshop, I added the distressed texture and title lettering, and tweaked the color. The fingernail polish was a last minute addition - and then it was later scuffed up.”

As for my cover, he told me, “The cover image for Girl Stolen is a direct response to reading the manuscript. The book is incredibly intense!

The perspective of a blind girl caught in a desperate situation is a brilliant way to pull the reader in. I wanted the cover to be a bit unnerving. I would not have come up with this image or concept without reading the story first.”
The next step for Rich is to comp up at least three different concepts.  These are shown to the publisher and editor.  If everyone agrees on one or two, these designs are then shown to the head of sales and marketing and the president of the division.  

The Screenwriter Turned Novelist

by Ernessa T. Carter

I find it particularly funny that we're talking about Hollywood this cycle, because I live in Los Angeles. A little over seven years ago, I came out here with plans to become a screenwriter. I had even spent two years getting a hard won MFA in Dramatic Writing with the intention of eventually becoming a screenwriter.

"So what happened?" you ask. Good question. Well,  have you ever really, really thought that you wanted a particular job, only to find out that your personality and work ethic isn't particularly well-suited to that job?

I don't like to network. I don't like to talk about my writing with someone who hasn't actually read my writing. I don't like to work hard on things that might never be seen by other people. I love receiving feedback -- from a few people. Feedback from a ton of people gets on my nerves. Being told what to do by the talent makes my head explode. I have a good personality, but I don't want to depend on it to get a job.

Warning flags should have gone up in my head the summer before my second year of grad school when I read two stories fairly close together in which my two favorite head writers at the time, Alan Ball and Joss Whedon told horror stories about being staffed on shows where the talent was in charge (Grace Under Fire and Roseanne respectively). I remember thinking  that I could never deal with being mistreated by "a star."

I found out later that I was right. Hollywood has a reputation for being ego driven, but I've never in my life met so many people who are okay with being tyrannized by stars, producers, directors, and other big personalities. If you are really talented, have a small ego, and are okay with being told what to do, then you should come out to Hollywood. You could make a lot of money out here.

If you are like me, someone who likes people well enough, but prefers to work alone, and really, really doesn't like to be bossed around, then maybe you should be a novel writer. So I made the switch, which wasn't particularly difficult, because before I started writing my first novel, my attempts at a screenwriting career had tapered off to entering one or two prestigious screenwriting contests every year.

I love being a novelist. I like working with a small team. And I really love not having to depend on my personality to sell my writing -- to sell books yes -- but to sell my writing itself, no. And I love, love, love being my own damn boss.

But strangely enough, working in Hollywood first made it way easier to navigate the literary world. Some writers complain about editor and agent notes. I'm just ecstatic that I'm only getting notes from two really well-qualified people. No one yells at me in the literary world. I never get in trouble with the boss. I don't have to deal with the talent if I don't want to. In many ways I am the talent, except I don't have to wear makeup, be on 24/7 or stay on a diet to keep my job. My editor will never make me take a note or ask me to go on a coffee run. My publisher can refuse to buy my next book, but they can never ever fire me. Living without the fear of getting fired is just the best. I really don't think writers appreciate that enough.

So yes, I'm am Team Novelist all day. But I'll admit that every so once in a while, I read a great book, and I can't help myself: I start turning it into a screenplay in my head. I think about how to make the novel's interior passages visual, what plot points to cut out, and who would play who. Then I remember, "Wait, Ernessa, you're not a wannabe screenwriter anymore. Stop that." I get the feeling that though I've quit screenwriting, screenwriting hasn't necessarily quit me. But we'll see.

How about you guys? Have you ever had a dream job that you really thought you wanted, but then it turned out that you weren't a good match? Sound off in the comments!

In addition to running, Ernessa T. Carter is the author of 32 CANDLES, which is totally worth picking up at your local bookstore or at

Flickr image credit: Profound Whatever