Monday, May 30, 2011

My Tales of Cake Woe, A Recipe, Pimping a Book and Contests

My Sad Story involving Cake

I've never had allergies. I grew up and live in Sonoma County California, one of THE worst places in the US of A for pollen counts and I have never had the slightest pollen-related sniffles. No allergies of any kind. Until about 14 years ago.

Not long after my son was born, I developed an allergy to red dye. I woke up one day covered head to toe in an itchy, blotchy rash. The doctor's eyes got big when she saw me and told me I needed to find out pronto what I'd come in contact with that caused such a severe reaction. It took about two weeks to figure it out and, long story short, it was red food dye. My daily vitamin was red, you see . . .

I'm not sure if it's Red #3 or Red #40 because they so often are used together and I've never felt curious enough to find out if it's one or both. Whenever I eat out, I have to ask why food red food is red or simply not eat it.

On my birthday shortly after I discovered the cause of my allergy, my father bought a beautiful birthday cake for me when I was visiting. It was covered in red frosting. He felt just terrible because, of course, I could not eat my birthday cake.

Over the years, I've been careful but I cheat and sometimes eat food I know has red dye. M&M's are good food and the peanut kind have protein! It's practically health food. And I've never had that awful rash, just a rare prickly sensation. I'd even started to wonder if maybe I wasn't still allergic . . .

My son, who will be sixteen in June, has taken to baking cakes. (The kid is 6'3 and skinny. He can eat all the cake he wants with no discernible effect on his weight.) Red Velvet Cake in particular. By all accounts he makes a mean Red Velvet Cake. Red Velvet Cake is pretty much a cocoa-based chocolate cake with 2 tablespoons of red dye. It's made with butttermilk and a bit of vinegar and baking soda. The frosting is butter, cream cheese, and sugar.

Another long story short which I am sure you all saw coming from about a mile away. Yes, I am still allergic to red dye.


Red Velvet Cake

Here's my son's recipe, adapted to the Rose Levy Berenbaum method of cake making and to some of my preferred methods and ingredients:

1/2 cup UNSALTED butter (use a high quality butter)
1 1/2 cups sugar (baker's sugar preferred)
2 1/2 cups cake flour (sift then measure, then sift again)
1 cup of buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt (kosher salt preferred)
2 tbs Red dye
2 tbs Dutch process cocoa

16 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
2-4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar

To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add 1 tsp vanilla. Add confectioner's sugar until the frosting is the desired consistency.

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Grease two 8" cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper, grease again. Flour the pans.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and salt. Whisk for about two minutes so that the ingredients are fully mixed and aerated.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla.
Scrape down as necessary for the following steps:

Add the eggs one at a time, beat to combine.

Add the red dye and beat to combine

Add 1/3 of the flour to the butter mixture and beat at medium speed until combined.
Add 1/2 the buttermilk. Beat about 90 seconds at medium
Add 1/3 of the flour, beat about 90 seconds at medium
Add the rest of the buttermilk, beat 90 seconds
Add the rest of the flour, beat 90 seconds.

In a small cup or bowl, mix the vinegar and baking soda. Add to batter and combine.

Pour the batter into the pans. Make a "ledge" of batter at the edge of the pan. Essentially, you are pushing the batter to the edge of the pans to a height of roughly 1/2 an inch and a width of about that. Try to keep the ledge relatively even in height and thickness. Smooth out the middle too. This ledge will give you a flat cake top instead of a domed one since the middle (being lower) will rise to meet the ledge instead of the middle rising above the edges.

Use cake strips if you have them. This will also help keep the top of the cake flat.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto wire rack. Let cool completely, then put the cake into the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from freezer and slice each layer in half horizontally so you have 4 layers.


Book Pimpage - My Dangerous Pleasure Plus Chances to Win Cool Stuff

TEMPT THE DARKNESS Strong-willed and independent, Paisley Nichols is used to taking care of herself. But when an insane mage begins tracking her every move and threatening her at every turn, she has no choice but to put her life in the hands of a demon.

RISK THE PASSION Burned by betrayal, demon assassin Iskander won't get too close to anyone. He spends his days serving his warlord and his nights indulging in carnal pleasures . . . and that's exactly how he likes it. But when a mage wages a wrenching psychic assault on his beautiful tenant Paisley, Iskander must defend her. Under his protection, she will be drawn irresistibly into his life and learn about her own mysterious powers. And not a moment too soon. The mage haunting her isn't acting alone-and he won't rest until he destroys both Paisley and Iskander.

An unlucky human female becomes the focus of the next battle in the ongoing war between the Magekind and Fiends. Expert storyteller Jewel excels at developing rich and intriguing characters who face challenges of the most dangerous kind. Packed with the right dose of danger and treachery, this love story is the perfect escape from reality.
Reviewed By: Jill M. Smith

What stands out most after reading My Dangerous Pleasure, fourth in Carolyn Jewel's Immortal series, is this: The hero, while totally the alpha male you'd expect a demon to be, is also incredibly sweet to the heroine, a human with latent magic being threatened by a mage.

The typical urban fantasy/urban fantasy romance hero is usually pretty slutty, with a bad-ass attitude to match. He's generally pulled into helping/saving/working with the heroine, often begrudgingly, and...yada, yada, you know the drill. Iskander, Jewel's hero, fulfills the slutty part of the equation, but even though he never planned any sort of involvement with Paisley Nichols, he brings no pissed off, sullen, or I'm-the-boss-of-you attitude into their relationship.
Laurie Gold, Heroes and Heartbreakers

Buy My Dangerous Pleasure


There are two contests you can enter (no purchase necessary for either):

If you're reading this before Midnight Pacific on June 4, 20011, I'm giving away some high quality baking supplies at my blog. You can also read chapters 1-3 of the book, too. Enter here. The stories people are sharing about their baking experiences are really fun, so check it out!

The other contest is over at the Risky Regencies. I'll be giving away an Amazon gift certificate, so Head on over.

Questions for you

Are you allergic to anything? Do you have any tales of cake woe? Share in the comments.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How I Construct A Scene by April Henry

Every time I sit down to write a new scene, I have a series of questions I ask myself:

What is the worst outside thing that could happen? Could physical harm befall the character? Could there a a confrontation with another character?

What's the worst inside thing that could happen?  What could make it more emotionally wrenching? What fears does the character have? Could the character's career be at risk?  Could someone the character cares about be in trouble?

What's the coolest thing that could happen?  What's the coolest/most interesting setting where this scene could take place?

What new - and awful - information can be revealed?

How can I make what's happening bigger and more important?  How can I raise the stakes?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Comes First? Story or Character?

When last we spoke, I was suffering through the beginning of my third novel. Well, thank the Lord, the beginning is over and done with and now I'm just chugging along on my story as outlined. There are only a few things getting in the way of my pure storytelling enjoyment and that would be my characters.

A lot of writers just love their characters, love them to death, love them so much that they invent whole stories for them. For example, mystery writers who stay with the same character for book after book or great literary novelists like Jennifer Egan (A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD), who treats every one of her characters like an infinitely interesting Faberge egg with back story.

I am not one of those writers.

I'm what you might call story-driven. And by that I mean, I'm way more interested in the story than I am in its characters. In fact, in my writing world, the characters' only purpose in fictional life is to help me tell whatever story I've come up with -- this is why 90% of any given rewrite usually has to do with developing character, while the story itself pretty much stays the same through my five-draft rewriting process.

However, being story-driven also makes the rough draft process, how can I say this ... really effin awkward. It's basically like deciding to have great sex with someone you've never met before. It's a lot of fights and negotiations and trying to get a character's mouth toward your plot point when he or she really doesn't want to go there because she or he thinks it's boring and it's way more interested in kinkier stuff that you've never even considered before. But somehow you get through it. Still, that rough draft is just exhausting for all parties.

The first big rewrite feels like couples' counseling with you the writer, having to put in considerable effort into actually getting to know your character(s), who you had originally planned to just have hot sex with, but that was before they started demanding something more from you. The second big rewrite feels way better, though. It's like you and your character(s) are in a relationship now, really vibing and communicating. The novel takes on a different, more three-dimensional dynamic, and by the time you've tackled your copyedits, you realize that though you had only been in it for the sex, that you really love these characters, who have somehow become their own people while you were just trying to use them to tell your story.

What's funny is that I'm never sad to finish telling the story, but I'm always sad to let the characters go.

But that's my process. How about you guys? What comes first when you're writing? Story or Character? Does story come out of character for you? Or like me do you start off with the story and worry about the characters later? Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and I'm also posting the new cover for the 32 CANDLES paperback, which hits stores on June 28th. Talk about character, right! Get all the deets at

Ashes to Ashes- Funky Facts About Cremation

Fifteen years of my life was spent working with funeral homes around the country. Although a morbid environment—to say the least—I have to admit the experience fif provide great fodder for new stories. I often sort through the vast memories I collected over those years to come up with new story lines, and I often find my characters and settings are the better for it. That said, and since most folks never get a chance to go beyond a funeral home’s viewing room doors, I thought I’d share a little info you might find interesting….

Any body can be cremated, but many items in our bodies don’t burn, like dental gold, prostheses, metal plates, and metal sutures or screws. Although pacemakers don’t burn, those with lithium batteries explode when cremated. Most funeral directors remove pacemakers before cremation to eliminate that hazard.

Another medical device that causes crematoria problems are silicone breast implants. The cremains stick to the residual silicone, which means you’ll wind up with clumps of Aunt Erma instead of gritty ash.

All small pieces of metal from the body or container are normally retrieved with an electromagnet before the ashes are even removed from the oven. The amount of metal residue found in cremated bodies has increased significantly over the years. Items include not only the more common joint replacements and other bone-repair items, but also a variety of surgical devices, like forceps and scissors.

In rare cases, such as the now-closed Pasadena Crematorium, unscrupulous personnel made hundreds of thousands of dollars from ripping off gold crowns from the massive number of cadavers they received for cremation.

Most funeral homes and crematoria follow a protocol that enables them to correctly and continuously identify a body from the time they receive it until the remains are released to the family. Crematoria use either a stainless steel tag on the body or a plastic tag on the cremation chamber that stays with the cremains.

Now, usually, one body at a time is placed in each crematoria retort (oven)…usually. One southern California firm routinely packed nine to fifteen bodies into an oven about the size of a sedan. After pulverizing bone fragments with two shot-puts and a small cement mixer, they dumped the ashes into large containers. Operators often added a white powder to make the mixture more attractive to relatives before they doled out the ashes by weight: 3 1/2 pounds for a woman and 5 to 7 pounds for a man.

A mortuary in Phoenix was accused of mixing cremated human and animal remains. In some cases where families wanted rapid cremation services, the owner gave them animal ashes rather than those of their loved ones. He was also said to have dumped ashes in vacant lots or irrigation canals rather than scattering them in the desert as promised.

And this last fact has to be one of the saddest when it comes to cremation . . .

About 2% of individuals who are cremated never get their ashes collected by family members. Often times, they’re left to sit in paper bags or used shoe boxes in a designated closet in a funeral home, their names and date of death scribbled with a black Magic Marker on the container.

Just imagine the wild stories this small amount of behind-the-scenes knowledge can breed in an overactive imagination! Morbid? Yes. But the ‘what if…” possibilities are endless, and it’s small treasures like this, my friends, that make the writing experience well worth it!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tales of a Reluctant Mover by Sara Rosett

I’ve moved a lot. I’ve moved so many times that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve moved. I know it’s over fifteen times, which is rather ironic because I spent most of the first twenty years of my life in the same city. Then I married a man in the Air Force and life hasn’t been quite so settled. Ironically, I’m not a person who craves change and new things. I prefer to be in familiar surroundings. With each military move, I went reluctantly, but once the boxes were unpacked and we settled into our new life, I grew to like the new place—well, that’s a true statement for most of the places we’ve lived. There were a few locales I couldn’t wait to leave—and that’s the good thing about being a military spouse, if you don’t like the assignment, you know you’ll be moving on soon.

As painful as the frequent relocations were for me, they also provided a rich background for my mystery series. I grew up in Texas and, despite what you might think, I did see snow. Great wind-blown drifts of it would pile up next to our garage when huge snowstorms swept down from the plains, but I’d never seen snow like they had in Washington state. We lived in Spokane in the inland Pacific Northwest for several years and one winter we had endless rain. The next year we had endless snow. I’d never seen snow plows push the unmelting snow higher and higher along our street, until it rose above my car window and there was only a narrow corridor wide enough for one car. I’d never had snow tires or seen wires zigzagging along roof edges to melt ice. I loved writing about this very different world in the first two books in the series, Moving is Murder and Staying Home is a Killer.

For the third book, I sent Ellie on vacation to Washington D.C., where—surprise, surprise—I’d also recently vacationed. After touring the Smithsonian museums and walking the National Mall, I thought it would be a perfect setting for a mystery about a military spouse. Little did I know, in a few years we’d be stationed in both Maryland and Virginia. We lived in a rural area in Maryland where red barns dotted the landscape of corn and tobacco fields. That’s where I discovered that I’m a suburban girl. I like the grocery store to be ten minutes away and I really need a bookstore within half an hour! I loved the hustle and bustle of Virginia. We lived outside the Beltway, but we could hop on the Metro and revisit the monuments and museums pretty much whenever we wanted.

Since I’d already written about the D.C. area, for the fourth and fifth books, Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder, and Mint Juleps, Mayhem, and Murder, I moved Ellie to the south to a fictionalized version of Warner Robins, Georgia. I wasn’t too enamored of the humid summers, but I did enjoy the fall and winter in middle Georgia. I put all those quirky and interesting things about Georgia into the books—the roadside boiled peanut stands, the kudzu-draped power lines, the abandoned family plot graveyards scattered around the countryside, and the old-fashioned hardware store down the road with trophy heads mounted on the walls, rocking chairs by the stove, and a bucket of bubble gum under the counter for the kids.

When it came time to write the sixth in the series, Mimosas, Mischief, and Murder, I decided to send Ellie to visit her in-laws in Alabama. I spent a very happy three months at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, avoiding snow and enjoying a balmy southern winter while my husband attended a military training course called Squadron Officer School, or SOS, for short. It wasn’t an SOS situation for me. I met the nicest people and would have stayed longer if I could. Alabama wasn’t the only short trip we’ve taken that I’ve wanted to write about. Being in a military family means we’ve been able to combine work and travel to Hawaii, England, Germany and even work in a weekend trip to Paris, which wasn’t nearly long enough!

Sometimes people ask me if I’m afraid I’ll run out of things to write about. I don’t think I will. For me, many of the stories grow out of the setting and I still haven’t written about Oklahoma, southern California, Texas, and Florida.

And, there’s all those international destinations, too. The Eiffel Tower might be an ideal place for a murder…


This post originally appeared at, but it seemed a perfect fit for our topic of where ideas come from. Sara Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mysteries. MIMOSAS, MISCHIEF, AND MURDER is the latest title in the series. You can learn more about Sara and her books at

P.S. For any aspiring writers out there, I’ve just released THE NITTY GRITTY GUIDE TO FINDING A LITERARY AGENT. The ninety-nine cent e-book is available on Amazon and and is filled with advice, tips, and strategies for targeting your agent search. (If you don’t have an e-reader, you can download free software and read e-books on your computer.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Story Ideas Travel Well

by Cindy Jones

Sometimes it feels like Grand Central Station in my head. Ideas for novels originate from completely different directions, connect at a certain point like boarding a train, and travel to their destination together. Some ideas have been on the road for a long time, coming from the deep past, traveling over decades to make their connection. And since novels operate on more than one level, the more big ideas crammed onto the train, the more interesting the journey. Since every idea introduced in a novel, every decision, came from somewhere, how many thousands of ideas, big and little, does it take to create a novel and where do they all come from?

Allow me to present a few of the idea passengers on the trip to My Jane Austen Summer and tell you where they came from:

For me, the idea of writing about Jane Austen originated with an episode of Gilligan’s Island. (I'm not kidding) As a young child I was imprinted by the idea that classic works could be given a context in a contemporary production and provoke curiosity about the original. Beginning with the episode of Gilligan’s Island when The Skipper and Gilligan performed Hamlet to the music of Bizet’s Carmen, I became fascinated with any production that provided a glimpse of greatness from the past. What Gilligan did for Shakespeare, what Amadeus did for Mozart, what Loving Frank did for Frank Lloyd Wright, I wanted to do for Jane Austen.

The idea of being guided by a dead author came from a casual remark at the office. A woman said her life was like a country song. I imagined her life constrained by the heartbreak lyrics of Tammy Wynette. As if Tammy Wynette raised her. If Tammy Wynette, why not Madonna? YIKES! What if you were raised by Lady Gaga? So I thought to myself, if you could be guided by music, why not a book? I considered the possibilities and rejected Edith Wharton, all of the Brontes, as well as Daphne DuMaurier. But while reading Jane Austen novels, I began to feel that she was speaking to me from between the lines, agreeing with my thoughts, and it was a short walk from there to the imaginary Jane Austen that guides my protagonist through an adventurous summer.

The idea of inventing a literary festival within my novel came from the book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book that discusses great literature within a larger narrative about a secret book club for girls in Tehran. The girls' stories unfold in the midst of the discussion of a different great book in each chapter. Interesting to see how the literary discussion works as a subtext to inform the main action. In My Jane Austen Summer, I found that characters with opinions plucked from current academic discussions of Mansfield Park could make their points while also illuminating the plot, via a literary festival.

The idea of writing about a woman who wishes to live in a novel came from reading The Secret Garden in fourth grade. Or maybe it went back further, to reading Nancy Drew mysteries in second grade. As a child, reading was a rich experience full of excitement and adventure. Through my adolescence, I imagined taking the vicarious experience one step further and stepping into the pages to become Countess Olenska, or Catherine in Wuthering Heights, or Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca. The urge faded with maturity, but as a writer, the question still stimulates my imagination. Now that I get to spend entire days creating fictional worlds, I think I have come as close as possible to realizing that old dream of living in a novel.

I'm getting started on a new novel about a completely different subject and bracing myself for the chaos and confusion as passengers from far and wide make their connection at the train station in my head.

Have you ever retraced your ideas and been surprised at their origin?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Write What You Know, But Don't Stop There!

Writers and wanna-be writers are always told 'write what you know' and that old adage has always worked for me. I’ve written three books – two non-fiction and one novel – and all three have been inspired by my own life experiences. Heck, the second book, Kinky Gazpacho, is all about my life experiences, it’s a freakin’ memoir. It’s not that I think my little world is so completely fascinating, but the things that happen to me are the things that obviously consume most of my time and attention, so obviously it’s as good a place as any to come up with story ideas.

That being said, there’s a big difference between, 'the book was inspired by my own life and the book is about my life,'especially when it comes to fiction. Readers often get the two confused. And I admit, I’m as guilty as the next person in reading into a novelist’s work, trying to figure out what part of the main character is really the author working through her own issues. A lot of readers ask me which of the main characters in my novel, Substitute Me, do I most relate to. Clearly, they really want to know if the African-American nanny is actually me. She’s not. Not by a long shot. In fact, of the two main characters in the book, I identify a lot more with the White woman who employs the nanny. See readers, I threw you off with the race swap thing. Ha!!

But seriously, my agent gave me the greatest compliment when she read the first draft of Substitute Me and said, “I’m so proud of you. This book is so not about you.” I was thrilled that I was able to create two unique characters that really were creations of my own imagination. And that’s where we get back to the difference between inspired by and about. I can freely admit that the germ of the story in Substitute Me – exploring the relationship between a working woman and the woman she hires to be her domestic replacement – came from my own experience trying to find the perfect nanny to care for my newborn son. (True confession, I gave up the hunt, quit my job and worked from home for many years.) I often wondered how other women managed to make that relationship work, how they juggled the guilt and freedom having a nanny provided. And soon enough, a story began to take shape in my mind that answered those questions for me. Ten years later, Substitute Me hit store shelves.

As a magazine writer, my own hectic life is always where I begin to cull my story ideas from. And I’m not writing personal essays. But looking over my clips from the last ten years, it’s pretty clear what’s been going on in my life. I wrote about pregnancy, spring cleaning, raising kids with a positive body image, the effects of spanking, and getting along with your in-laws during the holidays. Trust me, I never showed up as a source in any of those stories, but the ideas were “ripped from the headlines” of my home. The thing is, I figure if this stuff is important to me, it’s probably important to somebody else. And when you take that same approach with fiction, if something happens in your life and you can’t stop thinking about it or wondering how other people deal with such things, you’ve probably got the makings of a great novel or short story.

Wanna know what I’m thinking about now? Adoption. We did a lot of work and started the adoption process. As it turns out, I slipped and got pregnant. So the adoption is off, but I’m still thinking about it. Wondering what if? What if we adopted and had a new baby at the same time? And so a new story begins. Stay tuned.

Lori L. Tharps is the author of Substitute Me. Feel free to visit her at

Girlfriends Recommend Great Books

I've been having fantastic reading luck lately. I just loved, GOOD EGGS by Phoebe Potts, a graphic memoir about infertility, Judaism, and art. I can not rave enough about A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan, which is just fantastically written. And I'm also enjoying THE FRUGALISTA FILES by Natalie McNeal, which is a sort of memoir, financial self-improvement mash-up.

Ernessa T. Carter

I'm reading an ARC of Chevy Steven's second novel, NEVER KNOWING, about a woman who sets out to find her birth parents, to shocking results. A psychological thriller. I admire everything about her writing - characterization, theme, style and of course, a unique plot. Her debut, STILL MISSING, was probably the creepiest literary thrill ride I've ever been on.
-Malena Lott

I'm reading CJ Box's COLD WIND. This is a mystery
series featuring a game warden in Wyoming. He's brilliant with
character, plot and setting--one of my favorites!
Lucy Burdette

Bellfield Hall and A Gentlemen of Fortune by Anna Dean --Agatha Christie meets Jane Austen

The Drowning River by Christobel Kent--contemporary mystery set in Florence

The Lost Temple by Tom Harper--action-packed thriller set in post WWII Greece

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton--mystery/gothic-inspired story of a woman who is intrigued when she learns that her mother was evacuated from London during the Blitz and lived in a castle, but never spoke of it

~Sara Rosett

I've been reading a lot of young adult lately, since it's something I'm really interested in writing. I absolutely loved Meg Cabot's THE PRINCESS DIARIES, which is every bit as adorable and charming as the movie (how much do I love Meg Cabot?!), as well as Sarah Mlynowski's BRAS AND BROOMSTICKS, which was really funny and just cute, cute, cute. I then picked up Sarah's GIMME A CALL, which is also really funny and is loaded with charm. It's very high concept: the book is about a girl who can use her broken cell phone to call herself... three years earlier! So, she gets to make up for a lot of mistakes that she made in her past and create a whole lot of new ones.

Amazon just delivered Laura Dave's latest, THE FIRST HUSBAND, so I can't wait to dig my teeth into it. I absolutely loved Laura's first two books, so I know that I am in for a real treat with this one.

Brenda Janowitz

A Visit from the Goon Squad was fantastic. Some books I know I could write; others are far beyond my abilities. The book dances back and forth in time and across a key cast of characters. One of the reasons I enjoyed it was because it wasn't chronological. Whenever I picked it up, I would try to orient myself by asking "Which now is it?" All of the "nows" were equally valid, whether it was 1984 or now or the future. Most books build from past to now, and the implication is that the present is all that matters. I read it while a friend was dying, and the thought that her past "nows" were as true as her current horrible (at the time - she has since died) "now" really appealed to me.

April Henry

My recommendation is a book I just reviewed called THE NINTH WIFE by Amy Stolls - very witty and smart!

Sarah Pekkanen

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford. Loved this book, which is perfect for readers of any age. Henry Lee is a wonderful protagonist, and it was just a very sweet and touching story.

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER by Laura Spinella. Our own Girlfriend does a great job spinning a modern-day Romeo and Juliet type romance between college girl, Mia, and Harley-riding rogue, Flynn. Will they end up together when Mia's best friend is convinced Flynn is a serial-killing vagrant? You'll have to read and see if love conquers all!

COMPACT WITH THE DEVIL by Bethany Maines. If you like "Covert Affairs" on the USA Network, you'll enjoy Maines' two spy spoof novels featuring undercover Carrie Mae cosmetics sales rep, Nikki Lanier (the first was BULLETPROOF MASCARA).

Now reading Charlaine Harris' DEAD RECKONING. Can't wait to get deeper into it (I'm just about on page 30).

Susan McBride

I have to say that Tina Fey's Bossypants kept me up all night laughing. If you were a child in the '70's especially, you'll love it!
Leslie Langtry

Daniel Judson's noir crime novel Voyeur, about a former P.I., forced into early retirement, on the womanhunt for a former flame whose own mother may or may not be out to kill her.

Lauren Baraz-Logsted

Iam reading/listening to Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. It is so funny and spot-on about relationships. Also read Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, who I love. Very eager to read The Bone Yard, Jefferson Bass's latest. Oh, and if you can get your hands on Janis Owen's My Brother Michael, it's brilliant!

Sheila Curran

Do you have any reading recs? Love to hear them

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's your story? (And a free book giveaway!) By Brenda Janowitz


One of the most common things that published authors get asked about is how we come up with ideas for our stories.  The other is how they can get free copies of our books.  Generally, I'm pretty open with the advice about writing, less so with free copies of my books, but today I'm doing a book giveaway!  Yippee!!  Deets are at the bottom of this blog post.

But back to the book ideas.  For me, it always starts with a tiny germ of the truth, and then I let my imagination run wild from there.

When I was invited to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding, my life slowly but surely began to resemble some of my favorite chick lit novels, and I said to myself, ‘I’ve just gotta start writing this stuff down…'

So, I did!  And it became my first novel, SCOT ON THE ROCKS, which is subtitled: How I survived my ex-boyfriend's wedding with my dignity ever-so-slightly intact.

When I finished SCOT ON THE ROCKS, I knew that Brooke’s story had to continue.  Since both she and her love interest Jack are lawyers, I thought it would be so much fun to pit them against each other in the courtroom… all while planning their fairy-tale wedding.  Thus, the idea for JACK WITH A TWIST was born!

But writing a book is more than just coming up with your idea.  You then have to write 300 pages, and for most writers, that's the rub.  I always say that everyone has at least one book in them, but most people will never sit down to actually write a full manuscript.

To get myself started, I took a writing class, which really armed me with the tools that I'd need to write a full length novel.  Lots of people can write, but you need to learn the rules if you want to actually write a book.  Most recently, I discovered Alex Sokoloff's Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, which has become my Bible, along with her blog, The Dark Salon.  I used to think I knew a lot about three act structure and how to structure a novel, but Alex breaks down three act structure even further-- into eight distinct sequences-- and just by reading her story breakdowns, I've learned more about story structure then I did in any of the classes I've ever taken before or any of the books I've read combined.

Are you one of those people who's got a book idea in you but just hasn't sat down to write it yet?  Post your book idea in the comments below and be entered to win a copy of my novel, JACK WITH A TWIST!  I'll select the winner on June 1st, so check back on this blog entry and I'll announce the winner here.  (Don't forget to leave me your email address or some way to contact you in case you are the lucky winner!)

I’m the author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist.  My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly.  You can find me at

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting There From Here by Sheila Curran

I’ve heard authors complain about the so-called ‘dumb’ question of where they got their ideas for their novels. I don’t get it! I love talking about what inspired the books because for me, the inspiration and the end product are inseparable.
My first novel, Diana Lively is Falling Down, was born from an evening at an elaborate British dinner. I was with my husband, feeling a bit too American but the point of real discomfort came when I mentioned I was a stay-at-home mom. The full story can be found on my website. (link: )

Everyone She Loved, (link: my second, came out of the blue, in the midst of a conversation with a dear friend. We were driving with our two daughters in the car. I mentioned an article I’d written about two little girls whose parents had died within six months of one another. Luckily this mom had asked some adult friends if they’d take over in the event of tragedy, and these two friends were a lawyer and accountant. Their warning to me during our interviews: choose your replacement parents, or in many states, your kids could be sent into foster care.

As I told Julianna (link: ) this, we mulled over the difficulty of choosing exactly which couple among our family and friends would be best suited to replace us. Then, out of nowhere, I had a much more horrific vision than my children orphaned. “Oh my God. You know what would be WAY worse?”

Short of breath, I paused. “What if it was just me who died, and John (my husband) married someone awful?”
My inner control freak went into overdrive and within seconds I’d recovered my abilty to speak. “I know!” I said, as if I’d just cured cancer. “I’d make him run the second wife past a committee of my sisters and friends.”

From there, came the premise of my second novel.
Here’s the funny part. Neither book ended up being at all what I expected . I blithely plotted both novels, thinking I knew exactly what they were about, only to find my characters had vastly different expectations.
Which brings me to my favorite (and most dreaded) part of the process. I may have strong feelings about where things are going, but once I find a character, s/he seems bound to destroy my simplistic reductions to…just that.
The complexity and unpredictability that stem from a simple premise are part and parcel of what makes a novel entertaining, not just for the reader, but for its so-called creator as well. Walker Percy once said that the process of writing was like driving in the dark: you could only see two feet in front the car. For me, it’s more like getting behind the wheel and having the passengers wrestle me into the back, where all I can do is strap myself in and hold onto my hat, marveling that I had never known about this more scenic route, no matter how well I thought I knew the territory.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Critical Finish by Lucy Burdette

A Critical Finish--that's the working title for my new book. (Of course, based on what's happening to the title for the first, it will never make it onto the finished cover--but that's another blog.) Naturally, every finish is critical. And beginnings, even more so. We never want readers to set the book aside.

So, feeling my usual pre-book jitters, I decided to try something new this time around. Blake Snyder's wonderful book on screenwriting (SAVE THE CAT) recommends writing a sentence or two describing forty scenes and then laying them out on your nice new bulletin board in four rows. (These rows represent the acts of the book or screenplay.) What a great system, thought I. So I made up 40 blank cards and retired into my stepdaughter's recently-abandoned room and took all the ten-year-old photos down off her bulletin board. After a couple of hours, it looked like this:

Hayley finds J floating face-down in the dipping pool...

Eric is arrested for murder!

Dinner at Louie's Backyard where something is disclosed...

Three scenes, that's all I could come up with. Nine books under my belt and I still feel like someone who's been thrown in the pond with no clue how to swim.

So I'm going back to basics for a while and then maybe I'll try the board again. Who dunnit and why? Who else could have dunnit and what secrets are they trying to protect? Why is my heroine involved? And how will she grow and change?

I'll let you know how it goes. How about you, girlfriends? Any sure fire tips for getting started?

Lucy Burdette is the author of the Key West food critic mystery series debuting in January 2012 from NAL. As Roberta Isleib, she's written 8 mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her at her website or on Twitter @LucyBurdette, or on Facebook, Lucy Burdette author.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marriage in Translation: What if Your Martian is From Japan?

I think we can all agree that it’s pretty much an established fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. It can be a big challenge for a couple made up from these two disparate outer-space cultures to get along, find common ground and make a go of a successful marriage. But what if your Martian is from Japan and you’re from North America or Europe or Australia? How the heck do you deal with that?

This is a topic I tackle in my new e-book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband where I interview fourteen Western women (including myself!) married (and one divorced) to Japanese men born and raised in Japan. While you’ll find lots of pairings of Western men with Japanese women, the opposite is still rare today despite world shrinkage, globalization and the proliferation of the Internet and social media.

Western women’s values, their gender roles and their desire for individuality can clash with what’s expected from them in an island nation that on the surface seems the ultimate in modernity yet is steeped in thousands of years of ancient traditions, and offers a language with sentence structure and hidden nuances that seem the polar opposite of straightforward, in-your-face American English.

And when you’re trying to adapt to a foreign culture it often feels that nothing quite fits and everything you know is wrong. And then there’s the case of women who met their Japanese husband on their own home turf who end up seeing their fun-loving man “turn Japanese” on them when they go to live in Japan. As one woman puts it, “When we were in Australia my husband was carefree, crazy and spontaneous. But after we’d been living in Japan for a couple of months he turned into this grumpy conformist.”

Yet what comes out over and over in these very poignant, candid and sometimes quite funny interviews is that the key to a successful cross-cultural marriage is often made up of the same attributes that will pave the way for success in any marriage: patience, flexibility, acceptance, compromise and a sense of humor.

And, of course, the importance of love and mutual affection, which can transcend any clash of cultures, intergalactic or not.

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, Midori by Moonlight and Love in Translation, both published by St. Martin’s Press. Her latest book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband is available as a Kindle e-book for $2.99. Don’t have a Kindle? No problem! Just download a free Kindle app for your smart phone, iPad, PC or Mac. Fifty-percent of the proceeds of this book go to Red Cross Japan Relief!

Follow Wendy on Twitter: @Wendy_Tokunaga and check out her summer online writing class for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio - Just Like a Movie: What Novelists Can Learn from the Silver Screen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Promotion & Me - the Awkwardness by Leslie Langtry

Why promotion is scary...

First, let me say that for this week, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY is available for 99 cents on Kindle! Check it out at

That's it. That's all I've got. I'm not a whiz at promotion. And my day job is Public Relations and Marketing for a nonprofit. That may sound bad. I'm not really clueless. At least, I hope I'm not.

I can promote events and services like a pro. I've had sell-out crowds at events for work and one of them was voted "Event of the Year" by the community. I can make you laugh and I can make you cry. But I don't know the secret to schilling my books.

Apparently, my books are good. Everyone from the Chicago Tribune to Publisher's Weekly says they are. But I still find it weird to toot my own horn.

I've heard that this is a woman thing - that men have no trouble throwing their egos (among other things) out there for all to see. Maybe that's true. But it doesn't make sense. I'm an OMG-off-the-charts Extrovert. I love public speaking. I performed in an improvisational comedy troupe in college. I love talking to folks at my book signings. So why can't I do this?

Part of it is that with all this technology - social networks, websites and blogs, I'm a bit overwhelmed. I know that online promotion can be a full-time job for authors when they KNOW where to start and what to do.

And if you are one of those authors, I am in awe of you. So I have this suggestion - you should write an ebook on how you do it and sell it online. I'd be the first in line to buy it. And then I might get this figured out.

Gettting High On Great Stories by Karin Gillespie

Novels are my drugs. I slink into the book store (my dealer) and survey the wares. Glossy covers beckon, beguile. With sweaty palms I consider my selection. I go for hard stuff: a brand-new hardcover, damn the cost. My hands quiver as I slide the credit card to pay; it’s been too long since my last fix.

The drive home seems endless; the book seems to pulsate in its plain brown wrapper. I’m tempted to steal a sample at a red light or in heavy traffic.
Home, finally. I disconnect the phone, draw the drapes, slip the dog a hambone. I hold the book, my fingers caressing the slick cover, until I can take it no more and crack it open. I begin to read, waiting for that moment when I become slack-jawed and stoned by the storytelling.

Sometimes it’s page one, other times it’s page fifteen, if it doesn’t happen by page twenty-five, I start to get jittery. Did I get some bad stuff? Should I check Amazon? See what other people think? If I’m still sober by page fifty, I know I’ve been ripped off. The plot’s been cut with crap like backstory, extraneous scenes, navel gazing, or nature descriptions. No matter what I do I can’t get high.

But other times, I’m floating away on pure, high-quality dope. The world crumbles and characters and their troubles work their way deep into my cranium and nothing short of a nuclear cataclysm can kill my buzz. Best of all, the stuff’s so clean there’s no hangover; hard to believe it’s completely legal.

Lately, I found myself in reading rut, buying a lot of goods that don’t deliver. Sure. Sometimes I’d get a little mellow but nothing that made me bombed, swacked, blotto, whacked, pissed or pickled.

When that happens, I usually go for the tried-and-true, and re-read something. This time it was Rachel’s Holiday by Marianne Keyes. It’s been years since I’ve read it so it almost feels brand-new to me.

Here are some other novels that will get you high on the storytelling. (These are so good, I can’t even figure out how they work because they always suck me in.)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin (The movie is out! I can’t wait to see it.)

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

There are definitely others but I can’t think of them off hand. So what books do it for you? Comment and you’ll have a chance to win “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McKnees. Winner will be announced right here by 9 a.m Wednesday. WINNER! Mary. Email me at kgillespie (at) and I'll send the book. Thanks for the all the great book suggestions. Here's some info on the book:

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees returns to the summer of 1855, when vivacious Louisa May Alcott is twenty-two and bursting to free herself from family and societal constraints and do what she loves most. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire, she meets Joseph Singer, and as she opens her heart, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Story Creation: The Sisters 8

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I wish I could say how I create a story, that it's the same pattern each time, but it's not. With each book, it's like I'm inventing my own wheel all over again. The one exception to this is The Sisters 8, the series for readers ages six to ten that I created with my husband and daughter.

The Sisters 8 is a nine-book series about octuplets whose parents disappear one New Year's Eve leaving the girls to solve the mystery of that disappearance while keeping the household running without adult supervision. In Book 1 Annie's Adventures, a note informs them that before discovering what happened to their parents, each girl must find her power and gift. There are nine books in the series because there needs to be one for each sister and a ninth book to explain all the mysteries that develop along the way.

We write each book in pretty much the same fashion. We brainstorm the general concept for the book and then I sit down to write. After I finish a chapter, I read it to Greg and Jackie, and then we discuss what works, what doesn't work and what needs to happen next.

The Sisters 8 can be tricky. I know from experience reading to Jackie when she was younger, that most series for that age group are the same formula repeated from book to book. But The Sisters 8 is different. It's one long cycle of stories, over 1000 pages of continuing story. Yes, there are elements that are constants - in each book, the sister who is the star at the moment, has to find her power and her gift - but we like to change things up to avoid predictability. For example, in the first two books, Annie and Durinda find their powers somewhere around the middle of the story and their gifts at the very end. So what did we do with Georgia in the third book? Now that readers thought they knew what to expect, we had Georgia receive her gift in the very first chapter; of course, Georgia, being the difficult girl that she is, tells the carrier pigeon that brought her gift that it's the wrong time to be receiving it and to take it away - an impulse she later regrets.

Young readers love things like that: reversal of expectations that are still wholly fitting to the character who's doing the surprising thing.

Even though before I start writing a book in the series there's already a sheet giving me a loose idea of what will happen in each chapter, there's always room for inspiration, room to come up with things that surprise myself and the reader. Book 7 Rebecca's Rashness was published just last week. Rebecca, if you don't know, can be the most unpleasant of the Huit octuplets. Curiously, when readers take the "Which Eight Are You?" quiz at the official website, they seem to rig things so it'll turn out that they're Rebecca! If there's one thing readers can be sure of it's that when Rebecca gets her power, it will corrupt her and that it will corrupt her absolutely. So there I was, writing Book 7, trying to think of something impossibly nutty for Rebecca to do that would delight readers, and then I remembered...

Finnish Wife-Carrying!

Years ago, I was fascinated to learn from one of the morning shows about a Scandinavian sport that had previously been unknown to me: Finnish Wife-Carrying. It's basically exactly what it sounds like. Finns have these competitions where the men race through obstacle courses while carrying their wives. A fun detail: If your wife is on the heavy side or if you don't have a wife, you can borrow a neighbor's wife and carry her so long as her husband is agreeable.

Anyway, Finnish Wife-Carrying seemed to me to be exactly the kind of thing that if Rebecca had somehow learned about, she would want to try, and of course the "wife" she would choose to carry would be her sister Petal, the most fearful of the Huits. So I wrote a chapter into the story in which Rebecca sets up an obstacle course in their yard and...well, let's just say it really is nutty.

Rebecca's Rashness came out on May 2. Three days later we received our first letter about it from a fan who wrote in part: "I totally love The Sisters 8 books. My favorite one is Rebecca’s Rashness with her plans to take over the world and the Finnish Wife-Carrying races with Petal."

It's immensely gratifying to think that something that was never part of the original plan, something that just occurred to me on a whim should bring delight to readers in exactly the way I hoped it would.

Because that's the other thing about The Sisters 8. Unlike most series for young readers, which can best be described as providing an experience over and over again that is the same but different - not that there's anything wrong with that! - with The Sisters 8 we seek to constantly build on the series, build on the excitement, with each book being even *more* in some way than the books that have gone before. I hope readers will always find that to be the case.

So how about you: Do you find that when you write, even if you start with a detailed plan, some of the best ideas are those that occur to you organically?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Girlfriends Reveal Why We Write

Love of Reading

I write because I love to read. I have always loved to read. One of my very first memories is of some white alphabet flashcards - they were magical. There is nothing better than making magic.
I also write because no one will pay me to sit around and read. Sadly.

April Henry

Inspiration From Others

I'd always had a creative outlet and I'd dabbled in writing as a kid -- putting on my own plays in the backyard and publishing a homemade magazine for a total of four subscribers. As an adult I switched gears and put most of my energies into songwriting and being a musician. But when I started a job as a technical writer in the 1990s I found myself surrounded by a bunch of frustrated fiction writers who paid the bills by writing summaries of articles from computer magazines for a database company. These writers inspired me to start writing fiction, and I decided to take a creative writing course at a community college. We had to write three short stories in a semester. Having that deadline and the inspiration from my co-workers set me on my path to becoming a novelist.


Book Love

I'd have to say what prompted me to write was my unabashed love of books. I read like a maniac as a child, devouring whatever my mother put in front of me, ordering incessantly from the Scholastic Book Club, and using my library card like an addict. I simply loved words. When I first put my fat pencil to page on a Big Chief tablet, I realized how magical it was to create my own stories. Apparently, I did that a lot (as the amount of stories my mom keeps digging out of boxes in her basement will attest). I wrote three books in fifth grade, one a Nancy Drew wannabe called THE SECRET OF THE FORBIDDEN TEMPLE, another about crime-solving kids titled THE ADVENTURE SEEKERS, and a third about two monster friends in Monsterville called HARRY AND IMPY. I scribbled in diaries, thrived on essay tests in school, and ultimately realized while transferring from UT-Austin to the University of Kansas that I wanted to write a book. A real, grown-up book. I took off a year, researched the Civil War era (one of my faves) and came up with a 600+ page historical romance, THE THORN OF THE ROSE, which I submitted to agents and editors enthusiastically. My rejection letters were so encouraging (some even asking to see a revision) that, at 19, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Post college, I wrote 10 manuscripts in various genres before I was published. Now I've penned 12 novels under contract (with two more due this year!), and I can't imagine doing anything else. Heck, I can't imagine thinking of myself as anything else but a writer.

--Susan McBride

On a Dare

This is a hard question to answer because on the one hand, I always knew I was going to be a writer. From the time I was a little girl and realized that on the other side of the books I loved and lost myself in there was a person who got to write them. A person who got to create worlds that I could embrace and inhabit and return to anytime I wanted just by turning a page. I decided right then I was going to write. I filled notebooks and journals. I worked out stories in my head. The only thing lacking to becoming a writer was the discipline and time. But, planning to be a writer is different than writing. For that, I have to thank a dear friend for one specific comment made while we sat on my front porch, drinking wine and talking late into the night. Once again I was saying that I always wanted to write a novel. She got very quiet and then said, "So do it." 8 weeks later I had the first draft of what would eventually become ALL THE NUMBERS.

So it was forty years of dreaming and one very specific moment.

Judy Larsen

Taking the Leap

I decided to write when I had my second child. I realized my life was only going to get busier! Naptime became my writing time. It took a looong time to write that first book. Writing was a life-long dream for me that I kept putting off. When I actually started writing it was a huge relief. I was finally able to get all those ideas down on paper. Those ideas keep coming and I keep writing them down. So glad I made the leap from dreaming to actually writing!

Sara Rosett

Writing is Everything

I eat, drink and sleep words. If I could see my soul, I'm certain it has the word "writer" engraved upon it. I can barely recall a time I haven't written. I began writing stories in elementary school and I've rarely gone a day without writing something. In high school, I was the editor of the school paper, then worked in broadcast (and wrote and produced a high school talk show), and was a journalism "McMahon scholar" in college and then wrote for TV. It was a novel writing class in college that hooked me back into my first love - fiction writing. After years of trying to finish a novel in my twenties, I succeeded before I hit thirty and had my first novel published when I was thirty-two. Writing is my therapy, my soul song, my friend. It helps me understand the world and appreciate my life. What could be better?

Malena Lott

Writing Comes Naturally

Aside from the fact I suck at math, what made me write? Well, it's always been what came naturally to me. But my writing got tucked away for a long time when I had children. And then several years ago, during yet another economic downturn, I needed to start earning some money. And I crazily thought writing would do it! ha! But seriously...Our state was suffering from a terrible drought several years ago. It had gotten bad enough that our water allotments were cut in half. I was in the shower about six weeks before Christmas, collecting spare water in buckets beneath me, turning the water on and off each time I needed to rinse, saving the water from buckets to help flush toilets. And then it dawned on me: the holidays were coming up, and no one would host Christmas parties because you couldn't invite a slew of people to your house, ply them with drinks all night, then not let them use the bathroom! And you couldn't afford to waste your water allotment on hundreds of flushes! So I got out of the shower and sat down and wrote a funny commentary about it that I sold to a local paper and voila, in about 40 minutes time I had gotten the bug again. I've been doing lots of commentaries and essays over the years for newspapers and radio, have had them on NPR and NPR affiliates, and I have an opinion column in our local paper. And of course I write books. So it was a great way to get me back into writing again.

Jenny Gardiner

On the Back Burner

It was something I'd been wanting to do for 20 years, so it was time.

Lauren Baraz-Logsted

Girlfriend News The Sisters 8 Book 7 Rebecca's Rashness by Lauren Baraz-Logsted released this week.

Theresa Fowler’s Exposure is also out this week.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

If I’d had a choice... by Judith Arnold

...I’m not sure I would have become a writer. Who would choose to live with such uncertainty, such chronic insecurity? No steady paycheck, no health insurance. No guarantee that three or six or twelve months worth of painstaking, ego-bruising work will produce anything publishable. I have writer friends who fantasize about practicing law or medicine, running a gift shop or a country inn. I have writer friends who fantasize about flipping burgers.

But fantasies notwithstanding, my friends and I just keep writing. I don’t think writing is something we choose. Writing chooses us. It’s organic, genetic, hard-wired.

As a child, I dreamed of becoming, in no particular order, an actress, a teacher, a Supreme Court Justice, an astronaut, a rock star, a chef, a ballerina and a veterinarian. While I indulged in those dreams, I wrote. I never thought of writing as something I could do. It was something I did, a routine part of my life, like eating and sleeping.

If I faced a challenge, I worked it out in words. If I didn’t understand something, I puzzled over it in sentences. Writing was the way I processed the world around me.

I always assumed that when I grew up I’d have a “real” job. Of course I would write—it was what I did—but I didn’t think of writing as a career until, in college, I won a writing contest that came with a money prize. Wow! I had gotten paid for my writing. To me, this was like being paid to breathe. That the world would toss money at me for doing what I would be doing anyway struck me as a pretty sweet deal.

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I moved to a commune on Cape Breton Island. I lived in a tent, cooked over an open fire, bathed in a stream (daily—and the water was freaking cold!) and wrote my first novel, a fiery political parable strongly influenced by Thomas Pynchon and Lewis Carroll and all in all quite ghastly. The other people living on the commune were a mixed bunch—a painter, a poet, some organic farmers, a teenage nomad, assorted liberal arts majors, and folks passing through.

One of my fellow commune-dwellers had undergone a great deal of psychotherapy which, I assumed, made him extremely wise in the ways of the human mind. I recall a sunny afternoon when he and I were sitting on a grassy, flower-strewn bluff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Abruptly, he turned to me and said, “You know what your problem is?”

I hadn’t been aware that I had a problem. But since he’d been through therapy multiple times, I figured he knew better than I did. “What is my problem?” I asked.

“Your problem is, you think in words. You can’t just become one with the world around you. You translate everything into words first. You can’t look at that flower—” he pointed to a wild rose blooming near me “—and become one with it. You look at it and think, ‘flower.’”

He was right. And for a while after this conversation, I was troubled, believing that something was seriously wrong with me.

But eventually I realized that this was simply the way my mind worked. I didn’t choose it, any more than I chose to have brown hair or an alto singing voice. I have always thought in words and meditated in paragraphs. I have always discovered stories around every corner, under every stone, in all those flowers I can’t become one with because words stand between me and their delicate petals.

I didn’t choose to be a writer. It is simply who I am.
A bargain for those of you with e-readers: three of my backlist titles available in ebook format are priced at just 99¢ for a limited time only:
Safe Harbor (Kindle Store: (Nook Store:
A> Loverboy (Kindle Store: (Nook Store:
Found: One Son (Kindle Store: (Nook Store:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book and Baby Making

It's almost Mother's Day and I am most looking forward to sleeping in. In being close to 9- a true luxury for most moms I know. Like many parents my internal clock has been set way early and my body no longer goes past 9. 10 years ago I would not have gotten out of bed until 11 and then only to get the paper and bring it back under the covers. Around 10 years ago I was surprised to find out that my first book was going to be published. It was a moment I dreamed of for as long as I can remember. Just over 5 years ago I found out that I was expecting. That was not a surprise, but something that until only recently I hadn't ever imagined.

I knew no one else who had published a book when mine came out, so I had no idea what to expect. I was lucky that when I had my first child I had a a supportive group of women friends who cooked me meals, reassured me whenever I had a question and had no problem grabbing my breasts when I needed help with the latch.

Now, I try to juggle being a writer and being a mom. I've found a lot of support from this very blog. An offhand comment about taking a break during a writer's children's younger years gives me the okay to put less pressure on myself to get everything done while being the glorified servant to a 4 and 3 year old.

Another post about working during naps leads to a mention of writing during breastfeeding that reassures me I can conquer the social networking during the (not so) Quiet Time at our house.

In reality being a writer and being a mother use the same skill set. So here are 10 reasons why publishing a book is just like having a baby1.

1.Conception: Sometimes there is a lot of planning and thought behind it and sometimes someone just shows up and BAM!

2.Gestation: There are days when you feel your brain is clear and you are full of promise. Other times you are so frustrated by what's inside you that you find yourself about to cry on the subway.

3. The Home Stretch: Okay maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I am going to keep my husband up all night to obsess about a specific worry I have. That is a good idea.

4. Delivery Date: It's getting pushed.

5. Birth: No matter how many times I do this, I still don't know what to expect.

6.The Early Days: I'm exhausted but did you see? Did you see what I made?

7. The first couple of weeks: Shouldn't I be getting more attention?

8. The first couple of months: This is a surprise. This is not what I anticipated, but I can handle it.

9. Sometime after delivery: My memory of the whole thing is hazy. It really wasn't so bad, was it? It was actually kind of wonderful. Maybe it's time to try again. (Am I crazy?)

10. I leave this one to my girlfriends. I'm sure you have some good ideas and I unfortunately was having mommy brain when I thought I came up with

Happy Mother's Day and Happy Writing.

You can visit Ariella Papa at her website or her facebook page Her latest novel Momfriends is the perfect gift for the mom (or writer) you love or want to befriend.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why I Began to Write

My father is a writer, and his job always looked pretty cushy to me: He’d lay on the couch for a while, muttering, then maybe take a walk, or retreat to his study to bang on the typewriter. He got to wear ratty clothes, and snack whenever he wanted. Sure, there were lean times when we waited for one of his checks to materialize in the mailbox – and there were tense times when my father’s single copy of his manuscript was in the U.S. mail system, en route to his publisher’s office in New York - but all in all, it seemed like a sweet gig.

When I was a kid, I decided to give it a whirl. I loved to read – I still have the complete set of Nancy Drew books from my childhood – so I wrote a mystery called “The Lost Gold” that just happened to feature confident teenage girl heroines (though, sadly, none with titan hair or a zippy red roadster). But I discovered something: I wasn’t just imitating my Dad. I really liked writing. There was something so satisfying about putting together a piece of work, in creating a story with a beginning, middle and end. In some ways, merging all of the elements of fiction is like figuring out a jigsaw puzzle – something I’ve always enjoyed.

I know a lot of authors who came to fiction-writing via a meandering path: They started out in another occupation altogether, until they could no longer ignore the call of the keyboard. A lot of them were dissuaded from trying to create books– told it was too difficult of a career in which to achieve stability or success. I’m incredibly lucky to have been born to a man who adores writing, who stuck with it even when the checks were slow to arrive in our mailbox or the right words refused to shake loose from his brain (hence the muttering and pacing). Because by following his example, I’ve found the career of my dreams.

I don’t think, at this point, that I could stop writing. I just finished my third book and turned it into my editor last week. And even though I’m overloaded with other projects, ideas for my next book are seeping through my mind, like wisps of fog through a tree’s branches. I’m filled with excitement at the thought of breaking down a book into scenes, of creating characters, of getting those characters into big unholy messes, and helping them find their way out again. I know there will be times when I’ll hate my work in progress – rail against it, resent it – and times when the words will flow easily and I’ll sit back in my chair, wondering where the hours have gone while I’ve been immersed in my fictional world.

I’d love to hear about your path to writing, too. Are you a published author – or is crafting a book something you’re still dreaming about doing?

Sarah Pekkanen

Rave Rejections by Deborah Blumenthal

Rejection letters.

Passes, as some agents gingerly refer to them.


Whatever the terminology - they sting. An editor is turning you down. You haven’t made the grade. It’s as in your face as a two-year-old yelling, “NO.”

Only not all passes are alike.

In fact, there are a category of “passes” that at first blush almost read like acceptance letters. These fall in a gilded group of their own:

The rave rejections.

Yes, the editor obviously did read your crowning achievement. She loved your book. Your characters came alive, infused with humor, pathos, vulnerability. She was gripped from the very first paragraph, even moved to tears!

But alas, she couldn’t commit to publish.

She loved it, but not that much. Not enough to feel the level of passion she would need to take it to acquisitions. Or she did truly love it, but her colleagues were less enthusiastic. Or it resembles something else on their list (probably better than yours), or their list is smaller now, more select than before. Or, or, or, or, or.


So you read the letters again and again and take heart. You could literally use some of the sentences as blurbs, they’re that good. Yes, you’ve been turned down, but an editor of high regard has recognized your talent and given you validity.

So to put a smile on your face, I’ve collected some of these gilded turn-downs.

Here goes.

Author Hank Phillippi Ryan, fellow Girlfriends Book Club blogger, offered this one.

Thanks so much for sending me Hank's PRIME TIME. This is so well
written. I was pulled in instantly, and Hank really nails the newsroom setting. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. But sadly I can't make
an offer. We just have too many female reporter protagonists on our list
at this point, and we also recently had to let go an author who writes a
very similar series ­ we have such a small list and I just can't justify
offering on something so close at this time.

I'm so sorry not to have better news, especially because this is so
wonderful. I can't wait to hear where it ends up. Please keep me posted!

Hank reports: “PRIME TIME went on to win the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery, got two RITA nominations, an RT Reviewers Choice Award, and a TOP PICK from RTBR! (I’m now on book 4 of the series, DRIVE TIME, which was just nominated for the AGATHA for best mystery of 2010.)”

And another:

Thanks again for sending this my way. As I said, XXXX is indeed an engaging writer, and Betsy is completely compelling as a protagonist. There’s a great momentum to the book, and it was a lot of fun to read. But alas, something kept me from responding in the way I’d hoped, and in the end, I just didn’t fall in love with it completely, and others here felt the same way. But I’m really glad you sent it my way, and I do hope you’ll try me again soon. I’d so love to have a book with you! And in the meantime, best of luck to you and XXX with this one…

This one’s a beaut:

Thanks so much for sending XXXXX. XXXXXX is a terrific writer, whose characterizations of both Betsy and Ruth ring resoundingly true--watching Ruth's panic set in as she is nabbed by the neighbor on what seemed like a foolproof getaway plan to the cabin sent me into palpitations, and I loved watching Betsy discover her grandmother's pride in her "purr".

Despite my admiration for XXXX's storytelling, I felt there was something that was holding me back; I just couldn't put my finger on it. After getting other reads, I fear that the "purr" itself is problematic. It is completely psychologically plausible that discovering this unusual sound one's own body makes while being molested would cause negative associations, but others never quite bought that this sound could be so devastating, which in turn made parts of the book just not resonate for them.

I'm sorry, because I so loved it, but in the end, don't have the support needed to truly champion a successful publication, so I'm compelled to pass.

Thanks so much for sending XXXXX my way--I genuinely wish you and XXXXXX much luck in finding a great home for this novel, but if you don't get what you are looking for here and she chooses to write anything else, I'd really love to see it.

And another:

"You have the wit and talent to become the next Erma [Bombeck] or Molly [Ivins] but I'm going to have to pass."

And this:

We found XXXXXX intriguing and very readable; one reader thought that “Sirena’s utter fascination and obsession with Pilot mirrors the hypnotic quality of Kathyrn Harrison’s THE KISS and Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVER.” Good company! But this comment points to the reason I don’t think I can make an offer for it: it’s an uneasy mix of adult and YA.

And this for a picture book submission:

Thank you so much for thinking of me for XXXXXXX.. I really enjoyed the manuscript. The doggie perspective is hilarious, and the mayhem has a lot of genuine kid appeal. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that overall, the story skews too similar to our XXX books and I couldn’t envision a way to make it stand out on our list. I’m sorry for the disappointing news. I do appreciate your giving me the chance to consider this project, however, and I wish you the best of luck in finding the right home for it.


Deborah Blumenthal is the author of thirteen books for adults and children. Her latest picture book is THE BLUE HOUSE DOG, published by Peachtree Publishers.