Sunday, October 30, 2011

All Hallows Eve

by Maggie Marr

I scare easily.

I've never seen the movie Halloween. I don't watch The Walking Dead. Salem's Lot by Stephen King was required reading in a high school literature class and after I read it (okay during too) I slept with the lights on for over a month. I don't enjoy a 'good scare' and seriously think anyone that does is more than a bit half cracked.

I don't want to know how to survive a Zombie attack.

Nor can I even begin to imagine why anyone would want to date one.

is absolutely NOT cute.

And vampires? Come on--what is sexy about a boyfriend who wants to kill you or at the very least suck out all your blood until your nearly dead--but not quite--so you--the living girlfriend can produce more blood to feed his insatiable habit. This isn't a love story--it's domestic violence.

There are creatures that do this--they are leaches and ticks and they aren't cute or sexy or loving. They are parasites. Much like your vampire boyfriend--get over him. Find some love with the living.

Me and my lovers rolling around in my blood--doesn't seem sexy--more like sociopathic.

I will admit to a life-long love of Anne Rice--and some sleepless nights because of her and Lasher and the Vampire Lestat.

I was scared watching Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and even my five year old loved that film.

Give me a romantic comedy. A drama. Maybe even a light thriller. But anything--anything that is gonna' make me jump, sream, shriek, pee my pants (and not because I am laughing really hard) forget about it.

Which is why that it is pretty remarkable that I am still in this writing thing after 15 years. The stories I could tell you--OH MY GOODNESS--the stories I could tell you--(but can't due to the confidentiality agreements in place)--would raise the hair on the back of your neck, send chills shivering down your spine--might even cause you to run-run-RUN fast and far from this crazy thing called publishing.

I leave you with one final thing that freaked me out this week.


Maggie Marr is a scaredy-cat and mother of two who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest book a contemporary romantic COMEDY will publish March 2012. Her short story 'Dashing Through The Snow' will appear in the anthology Sleigh Ride 11/11/11/. You can find her biting her fingernails and hoping nobody jumps from the bushes to get her. On Halloween she will be safely in the house by 9 pm with the doors locked and all the lights on.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Winners!

We had so many great comments at the Girlfriends Book Club, I decided to award two copies of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER! The winners were Laura Kay & Melissa A.  Thank you to everyone who stopped by!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The World of Magic

by Sandra Novack

 I love Halloween.  It’s one of the few nights a year when the veil lifts and when, supposedly, the dead can walk freely among us mortals.  Can you feel it, how the air becomes electrified with possibilities and magic?  Usually on Halloween I’m an unabashed witch.  See that photo?  That’s me there.  It’s a no-brainer, given that I am actually something of a witch. Sometimes I use the more innocuous word gypsy instead, but let’s not split hairs. I’ve read tarot since I was fourteen and even recently did a blog post on reading tarot, which, as a Halloween treat, you might enjoy reading.  I might be one of your few friends who will call you to say a loved one showed up in dreams, with a message about wedding rings.  I can tell you that basil, blessed thistle, chamomile, or rosemary can bring you luck and success, that lavender helps with sleep, that Thursday is ruled by Jupiter and good for career-related things, and that red candles are used for love, sex, or vigor, yellow to attract and persuade, and light blue to promote understanding.  I am careful during the time the moon is waning.  And I try to send out my thoughts like prayers—only good—because I believe in the laws of karma, and I believe that energy travels.

Given my love of magic, I decided to write a post about magical realism.  In a way this post represents a blend of recent topics, as it hits on one of my favorite genres, pointers, and risks that paid or didn’t pay off.  For starters, even making the above statements is a risk. In the olden days, I might have been burned for such statements!  But, too, I’ve tried my hand at magical realism once, and couldn’t quite get it to fly.  (Ha, lame pun.) When I wrote my debut novel, PRECIOUS, I actually had an element of magical realism in it.  In the original draft, Eva looks out her window at the end of Part I and flowers are falling from the sky, not rain.  The ‘flower thread,’ as I called it, was then developed as the book progressed.  It was important to me for reasons that were beyond my logical mind.  It was so important, in fact, that I was scared to trust it.  I trusted my rational mind to shape a plot, to write the story well, to have characters come to life, but I didn’t trust the magic I wanted—the element of the extraordinary—would spring to life.  It felt ‘way out there’ to me.  It required a leap of faith.  In the end my wise editor looked at it and decided that the harsh reality of my novel was too much for the more delicate magical-realism thread.  She was right, a point even more obvious to me when I could cut the thread without hardly any reworking/revision.  I hadn’t developed it enough.  I didn’t let it infuse itself, didn’t let it take over the world, the way I truly believe magic can enter into our lives, and shape us, all for the better. 

I’m not unhappy that I cut the thread. Part of being a writer requires coming more and more into yourself.   But you know I am very OCD about certain ideas and images and themes.  So of course I have a project I’m working on that has some magical realism elements, yet again.  With that in mind, a few pointers I want to hang on my own computer as I work:

1)   Magic, little witch, is not for the timid!  Be strong with your intentions and have them permeate the page. If you don’t believe it, no one else will.  If you’re going to go for it, then dang it, GO FOR IT!  

2)   Never be afraid to bring out what is naturally in you.  The world at large may deem you nuts, but like energy finds like energy.  You will always find a home, and readers, if you write from your heart.

3)   Take a lesson from John Updike, who doesn’t make his magic seem anything other than mundane.  Because, in a very real way, magic IS mundane—it’s all around us, all the time.  Read The Witches of Eastwick, for example.  Things just happen, and the author doesn’t get mired down in justifying why that is.  It just is.

4)   Magic has to operate within the reality of a narrative framework and within the reality of the plot, characters, and setting.   This is a truism that cannot be hampered with, as far as I can tell.  It’s like a law of the (fictional) universe!

5)   Magic can also be ‘other-worldly’—another door, another place.  In other words, a world co-existing with this one—tangible, yet still slightly apart from the everyday world, a veil to be lifted. But it can just as easily be worldly.  Practical Magic comes to mind.

6)   Details build credence.   Gabriel Garcia Marquez knew this.  Take his gritty angel, as an example.

7)   Magic can also be justified by science.  Quantum physics, anyone?  (See, that’s the rational part of me, again.)

8)   Often magic is introduced gradually and then ratcheted up and up, as the narrative progresses, but just as easily some readers are simply put into a fully-blown, ‘not-quite-ordinary’ world.

I’m sure there’s more than this, but that’s off the top of my head.  So:  What do you most wish for, what magic in your life?  Write it down, send it out in the world.  I wish you all every success (and all a gypsy’s blessings), that what you put out there is given to you.


Sandra Novack is the author of PRECIOUS and the short story collection EVERYONE BUT YOU, both available from Random House.  Visit her at, or on-line at Facebook.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There’s No Crying in Baseball, But There Is Good Story Structure

by Sara Rosett 

I suppose I should preface this post with the comment that I’m not a rabid baseball or Rays fan, but I do keep up with local sports teams. I was aware of the Rays standings in baseball the way I was aware of the bridge closure downtown—it was there in the background, but not front and center on my radar. 
I paid more attention as the season wound down. When I saw Evan Longoria’s homerun at the bottom of the twelfth inning on the last day of the season send the Rays to the post season, I thought, it’s like a book or movie.
Of course, since I’m a writer and a big fan of process, I began to break it down and discovered the Rays' journey to the post season provided some excellent tips for creating good story structure:
Your characters need problems and obstacles
During the summer of 2010, there had been a steady bleed of talent as Rays players were traded or departed as free agents to teams that could pay higher salaries. Expectations were low. 2011 was labeled as a “rebuilding year” for the Rays. By September, they were almost nine games behind the Boston Red Sox, a gap that had never been overcome. Their odds of going to the post season were miniscule. 
Why this is important for good storytelling:  Our characters need problems and issues to overcome. There must be a struggle. If there’s nothing wrong in our characters’ lives, no challenges, then there is no story. The Rays’ situation was extreme, but it’s more thrilling to watch the underdog win than to watch the leader steadily progress to victory with no serious challenges.
Your characters need some redeeming qualities
While the Rays had lost some of their stars (Crawford, Garza, Pena, etc), they still had talented baseball players and brought out the best in their new players. Their manager, Joe Maddon, emphasized good mechanics and was the winner of Sports Illustrated’s poll that asked MLB players who they would most like to play for. The Rays might not have the biggest names in their division, but they were persistent. They didn’t steadily climb up the standing though sheer luck. Their own hard work helped them get there.
Why this matters in good storytelling: Readers want to like your characters and root for them. You don’t have to make your character a Pollyanna, but if you have a complaining, rather grouchy cop who is depressed over the death of his partner, readers will be more likely to root for him if he’s got a redeeming quality or two. Maybe he’s a volunteer Little League umpire (fitting for this post, eh?) or keeps an eye on the rookie at work. Don’t let your character succeed through dumb luck or coincidence. Of course, your character will have flaws, but be sure he/she has admirable qualities, too.
Your characters need a good rival
This won’t take much time to explain:  the Rays are in a division with the seemingly invincible and deep-pocketed Yankees as well as the Red Sox, two tough teams. The Red Sox steadily declined throughout September, which opened the door to the Rays, but both the Yankees and the Red Sox were quality opponents. With the Red Sox sliding, the Rays last games weren’t with a last place team, they were with the division leader, the Yankees. To go to the post season, they’d have to beat the best.
Why this matters in good storytelling: Your characters need a worthy rival. A victory over a worthy opponent is sweeter than a victory over a weaker rival. If you do well on an easy test that everyone aces, there’s not much pride there, but if you’re the only student to make an “A” in the class with the professor known to be difficult, you have a reason to feel good. Think of the feedback on reality shows. Praise from Simon on The “X” Factor or from Len on “Dancing With The Stars” means more to contestants because these “tough grader” judges have such high standards. A worthy rival tests your character and pushes him/her to the limit, revealing your character’s best and worst qualities. Seeing a character face down a worthy opponent and succeed through their own intrinsic qualities gives the reader immense satisfaction and that’s what we want to do as writers—give the reader a good ride.
Your character must always be in jeopardy
Even with the Red Sox fading, they were still tied with the Rays on the last day of the regular season and there was always the possibility that the Red Sox could pull it out, down to the last moments of the last game.
Why this matters in good storytelling:  This is what’s known as “stake.” What is at stake for your characters is what motivates them, keeps them struggling against those hefty odds. If the stake goes away, the tension goes away. If the Rays had pulled ahead of the Red Sox and the Red Sox had no chance of winning the Wild Card slot, those last few games wouldn’t have been filled with tension and pressure. Keep the stakes high. Keep your characters in jeopardy until the last possible moment.  Howard Bryant summed it up on, “In the span of three minutes, what couldn’t be settled for 161 games was settled. The Red Sox were one strike away from the playoffs; the Rays one from extinction. All was reversed. Even in the clubhouse, professionals who have seen it all, stood and stared at each other because they had never seen this, a virtual split-screen pennant race.”
So there you go…a couple of great story elements courtesy of Major League Baseball. (That’s I post I never thought I’d write!) but I bet someday there is a book or screenplay, maybe even a movie, based on the Rays’ 2011 season. In fact, it sounds a lot like the plot of Moneyball.

What about you? Anyone else have inspiration for story elements or structure from some place unusual? 

Sara Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mystery series, an adult “whodunit” mystery series in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Publishers Weekly has called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Library Journal says, “...Rosett’s Ellie Avery titles are among the best, using timely topics to move her plots and good old-fashioned motives to make everything believable.”

Visit for more information or connect with Sara on FacebookTwitter, or Goodreads.

365 Snapshot & BOOK GIVEAWAY!!!

By Laura Spinella

This seems like a good juncture for a reflective blog. I was going to go with the publishing mistakes theme, but realized how low we are on liquor. So, instead, I’ll drink what’s left, aptly setting the mood for reflection. Nudge me if I start to slur. It’s an appropriate pause point for a number of reasons, including the birthday I celebrated yesterday. I still get to hang with the forty-something crowd, but not for too much longer. On the upside, this time next year I’ll gape at people in their late fifties, saying, “Holy crap, I’m glad that’s light years away!”

The Ladies of Taunton's Booktini

I actually spent last year’s birthday wondering what this one would bring. The drum roll would have long since passed, and my much anticipated book on the shelf would, with any luck, be… restocked?? If it was a baby, by now it would have teeth and babble a coherent, “Mama.” Truthfully, I’d have it on three or four preschool waiting lists. I never was particularly adept at entertaining small children. Here’s what I didn’t envision a year ago, spending yesterday’s birthday at a book club. When the woman contacted me months ago, I casually mentioned that while I’d love to attend their BEAUTIFUL DISASTER get together, it was my birthday. Maybe another day that week would work? Nope, last Tuesday of the month, that’s their book club date. Fine with me. I was fairly certain I could drink their wine to celebrate, just as well as my own. Honestly, book clubs, by far, have been the unforeseen perk in all this. I thought the signings would be the icing on the cake. Some had their moments, and some were a total bust, but they all came with a level of tension that I could never dial down. Book clubs, on the other hand, were a more natural fit. You get to do a lot of listening, which takes the pressure off. And depending on the group, I often found myself feeling like a lifelong member. Booktini (which has to be the coolest name ever for a book club) in Taunton, MA was one of the best—hand monogrammed wine glasses, door prizes, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER refrigerator magnets, and some of the nicest women I’ve ever met. They made me glad I didn’t listen to people, close kin in some cases, who suggested I bag the book idea and pursue something less fanciful—like, maybe, an application at Home Depot.

In addition to that lengthy list of publishing firsts and author naïveté, which is still bumbling, though not quite as pathetic as it used to be, were contests. I never gave them much thought. There are only so many hours in a day. Subtract out every facet of life that has nothing to do with book writing and factor back in the 24/7 dedication required to write a book. I’m no math whiz, but I’m fairly certain this results in a negative number. So, whatever my reasoning, it just wasn’t something I paid much attention to before BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. A few months ago, I entered one. An invite came in the mail from NJRWA’s Golden Leaf contest. What did I have to lose besides four books? The only real problem was the competitive nature of such an event. Remember, I’m the author who has never visited her Amazon page. It’s not that I have an aversion to competition—I’m just more comfortable with armchair rivalry, preferably the kind where Vanna controls your fate. Yet, by summer’s end, there I was, a finalist in the contest. Go figure. Courtesy of complex circumstances, I didn’t make it to their Put Your Heart in a Book Conference where the awards are bestowed. But I did check my email late last Friday. Holy Moly, I won. BEAUTIUFL DISASTER was awarded NJRWA’s Best First Book in their Golden Leaf contest. Now there’s something I definitely didn’t envision a year ago.

Next week, I head back to the book’s roots, Athens, Georgia. The University of Georgia Alumni Association has been supportive of my literary efforts, and has invited me to participate in their annual Alumni Authors Showcase. I was quick to accept. Aside from the showcase, I haven’t seen that middle child since August, and I’m curious to see if she still knows how to say, “Mama!” I did a signing at UGA last January. At the time, I thought that was the full circle to my big book event. I really did. I’d revel in the moment, sign copies on the campus that inspired the setting, and look around longingly for characters who don’t exist. I’d go home, and that would be it. Well, as I said, bumbling naiveté. So when I take this pause, I see a lot of things I never imagined—at least when it comes to this curious thing we call publishing.

In celebration of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER’S win, and heeding good Girlfriend advice to put the book in readers’ hands, I thought I’d give away a signed copy! Just leave a comment and I’ll pick a winner by Friday.

You can always find me at or on Facebook:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Are You Scared to Write?

by Ernessa T. Carter

Writers being writers (read really frickin' neurotic), there's a huge list of things that scare us. For my part, I've had both waking and sleeping nightmares about missing deadlines, getting career-ending reviews, current fans pitchforking my future works, apocalyptic sales, losing the ability to write because of a brain or severe physical injury, having an editor inform me that I'll "never write in this town again" -- really, I could go on and on.

[UPDATE: Last night after writing this post, I dreamed that a long ago enemy invited me to dinner with her friends and exceedingly handsome fiance to tell me about the huge non-fiction three-book deal she'd just garnered. Then she asked me what I was working on. #truenightmares]

But I won't, because today's blog isn't about what scares me as a writer. No, it's about what I'm scared to write.

I write women's fiction (let's not even get into how it should be called plain ol' fiction-fiction, since women are over 50% of the market -- that's a whole 'nother blog). But like many writers, I'm pretty comfortable reading several genres outside of my own. I love sci-fi, literary, YA and trust if you give me the right set of circumstances (long day, sick toddler, fuzzy brain), I'll swallow a romance novel whole. All of these other genres tend to bleed into my women's fiction writing, and if one of my above non-injury-related nightmares came true, forcing me to switch from my preferred category in order to stay viable, I'd like to believe that I'd be able to take on any of the other genres I love to read.

However, if someone asked me to write a mystery, I'd have no idea how to go about it. I'm still not quite clear on what a cozy mystery even is, and in any case I can't imagine having enough internal motivation to write one. Same goes for horror novels -- I don't think I could even pen a horror short. I'm aware that it's a popular genre, but the thought of writing within it makes me want to start applying for cubicle jobs in marketing. Basically, if I don't generally read a genre, I'm just way too scared to attempt writing it.

But how about you? What genres are you afraid to write? Let me know in the comments, and Happy Halloween!

In addition to running the online magazine, Fierce and Nerdy, Ernessa T. Carter is the author of 32 CANDLES, a romantic comedy that is totally worth buying.

Photo credit: Smudgie's Ghost

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Scary World of Publishing

by Samantha Wilde

I actually like Halloween. And not for the usual reasons. I like the holiday it used to be and still is in some cultures--basically, a time to remember the dead, those who have gone before, ancestors. But I'm willing to go in for the whole scary Halloween theme because it's fun to be scared. By small ghosts holding plastic pumpkins. In real life, scary is rarely a good time.

And in publishing, would anyone ever choose a trick over a treat?

I haven't been in the industry long enough to have many scary tales, but there is one I will share.
It goes like this. When my first novel was heading out for praise, I had a few writers I hoped would be willing to give it a quote. One of those writers I particularly admired--and felt a kinship with through her work. Her work was also carried by the same publisher.

So I wrote her a letter. Sent it along to my editor's assistant so that it could accompany my book, and she would receive both at the same time. I don't remember exactly what I wrote in the short note.

I know it included a few lines of praise for the writer's work. I told her how much I enjoyed it. I said a few things about my novel, and I thanked her for giving it a read.

A few weeks later I received a concerned phone call from my agent. My editor was upset. Apparently, someone in the publishing house had opened this letter before it got to the author and returned it to my editor. It never did make it to this much admired writer. It didn't get there and I had a lot of apologizing to do. I had written a few words in the note about the title of my novel and how I didn't love it, and this was seen as reflecting poorly on my editor.

Now I loved my editor. It had never occurred to me that these few, brief, and not extremely emphatic words would have any effect--on anyone. It was mortifying. It reminded me of being a chastened child. I had many apologies to make. Of course I called my editor directly and explained that my complete ignorance of publishing standards was no reflection on her many gifts. Truthfully, I do self-deprecating humor all the time and considered this more of the same.

But the thought of someone reading that note?! That surprised and scared me. That's as spooky Halloween as I want anything to be. So is the chance of runing a professional relationship--or a career--because of a small, seemingly insignificant mistake.

It kind of made me want to retreat back into the touchy-feely-we're-all-good-people-doing-the-best-we-can yoga world. Things are a lot less scary there.

I've recovered now, of course! And learned something along the way. For example, that this reading of notes to writers is standard. Anything like this happen to any of you?

Sam is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME. A graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School, she is the full-time mother of three young children, an ordained minister, and a yoga teacher. Her next novel will be out next winter. You can visit her at

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Am a Cheater

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Intrigued by my topic heading, no? Let me explain how I'm cheating on you this very minute. I'll even tell you why.

Today I'm supposed to blog here at GBC about genre. There's just one problem. Monday, my husband woke to problems on his computer. So we called an expert in. As of this writing, Thursday evening, the computer expert is still working on the problem - making this the computer-problem equivalent of the "Gilligan's Island" three-hour tour - only now it's become my problem. Two nights ago, a minor tweak was made to my computer that was supposed to make things run smoother...and now I have no computer at all - or at least not the one I'm used to, the one that has 17 years of books and stories and essays stored on it. (I'm typing on someone else's computer right now.) So since I still don't know if that will all be recovered, and I'm badly in need of a glass of wine, I'm going to cheat on you, and here's how.

Rather than write a fresh piece on genre, I'm going to direct you to something I wrote on the subject about a year ago for the wonderful online literary magazine Bibliobuffet. It got a lot of online buzz when it originally ran and I hope you'll take the time to go read it and then come back here with your comments so I won't feel like you hate me for being the slacker that I am. It's called The Book Pyramid.

I hope you enjoy it, I hope you never go through the computer agita I've been experiencing this week, and now for that wine.

Be well. Don't forget to write.


by Judith Arnold

The season of ghosts, goblins and fun-size candy bars is upon us, and comparisons between Halloween and fiction writing are unavoidable. On Halloween, some children like to dress as witches; when I’m facing a tight deadline and the words aren’t flowing, I’ve been known to act like a witch. On Halloween, people adorn their houses with gauzy fake cobwebs; when I’m deep into a writing project, I forget to vacuum. Haunted houses are a Halloween staple; most novelists I know are haunted by their characters.

However, what truly links writing and Halloween is that they’re both about fear and chocolate. Writing is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. But the promise of chocolate keeps me going.

Journalist Red Smith was famous for saying, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Gushing blood is a gross and gory image, but also an apt one. For most novelists, writing means exposing our innards to the world. We cut deep into our souls to examine our experiences and our emotions, our dreams and our dreads. Then we yank out whatever we find in our guts and display it before the world in the pages of our books.

But sharing our thoughts and feelings with the universe, while hair-raising, is just the beginning of writer fright. We fear that what we’re writing will suck. We fear that editors will hate it. We fear that readers will hate it. We fear rejection. We fear that our labor will earn us no money and we won’t be able to pay the electric bill. We fear that our computer will be invaded by a virus which will devour the manuscript we’ve been sweating over for the past six months. We fear that the cover art for our books will be butt-ugly. (Trust me: some of my books have had covers that can send a person shrieking into the night.)

In my writing, I’ve often stepped outside my comfort zone, and that can be terrifying. As a novelist known for women’s fiction and romances, do I dare to write a mystery? As a writer of comedies, should I risk writing a dark, heavy drama? As an author known for decent, kind-hearted characters, should I create characters who are brutish and bitter? What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t pull it off?

I once pitched a story to an editor. I warned her it was going to be controversial and a bit violent. She told me to go ahead and write the book and added, “I will give you only one bit of guidance: don’t hold back.” Excellent advice, perhaps the best I’ve ever received from an editor—but not holding back when I’m pouring my heart and soul into a story is the most frightening thing I can think of. Yet that’s what I do. Every day. Not just on Halloween.

Writing novels can be downright terrifying. But the treats—the thrill of creating, the joy of sharing my passions and my artistry with others, the power of controlling things in my stories in a way I can’t control them in real life—make the tricks bearable.

And yes, there’s chocolate. M&M’s and Snickers for the kids dressed up in costumes; a Godiva dark-chocolate truffle for me as a reward for completing a manuscript—or sometimes just completing a beautifully crafted paragraph. The kids hike up and down the street, ringing doorbells and pleading for goodies, while I hike up and down my imagination, banging on doors and pleading for ideas. Knowing that there’s a delicious piece of chocolate waiting for me at the end of a long day spent opening veins and bleeding is often all the inspiration I need. 

Fear and chocolate: the life of the writer. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Judith Arnold has published more than 85 novels. Her new novel, Good-Bye To All That, is scheduled for March 2012 release. In the meantime, she’s busy learning how to be a publisher by reissuing some of her out-of-print books as e-books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What I Wish My Crystal Ball Had Shown Me

I do some of my best thinking when I’m walking (or in the shower or just waking up in the morning).  This past Sunday—my birthday—was no different.  As I chugged around the paths without my iPod to entertain me, I started pondering all the things I wish I would have known before they’d happened.  Not that I’d want a magical black dress like the one in Little Black Dress that gives its wearers glimpses of the future—both good and bad—but it would’ve made for a lot less worrying if I’d been able to foresee just a few bits and pieces.  Perhaps I could have handled myself better in uncomfortable situations and faced uncertainty with more confidence.

So without further ado, some of the things I wish I'd known back when:

1.  I would have appreciated hearing that, after I got out of college and wrote a book a year for ten years (all of them now stored in my linen closet!), someday I would indeed be writing full-time and have my fair share of deadlines.  It would’ve saved me the trouble of dealing with naysayers who, at the oddest times—like at my grandmother’s funeral—would approach and ask, “You’re not still writing, are you?  When are you going to hang it up?”  I could have just given them the finger and walked away.  Instead, I only gave them the finger in my head, which is not quite as satisfying.

2.  It would have been rather comforting to know that it never gets easier.  Writing novels, I mean.  Every one takes something out of me, and every one begs to be written a bit differently.  So as much as I learn from finishing (and revising) each manuscript, I always feel like a rookie, starting from scratch with each subsequent book.  

3.  Right out of college, when I thought going blond was a great idea, I would have appreciated a heads-up that no, it doesn’t look good on everyone, especially when your eyebrows are a really dark brown and your also dark-brown roots grow in really fast.  I could have saved a lot of money and time on hair appointments. Although that dark roots/light hair look is pretty popular these days. I should have hung in there for a few more decades!  (Not.)

4.  When I was in my 30s and still single, I would’ve loved to see a glimpse of my future and know that I would be 41-years-old before I met Ed, my husband. Then I would have been even more amused by the whispers and speculation of nosy family members, one of whom dared to inquire, “Are you a lesbian?  ‘Cause if you are, that’s okay.” I told him thank you for that vote of support, but I wasn’t a lesbian, just a happily single woman who hadn’t met a man worth my undying commitment.

5.  While it would not have made my life easier to be forewarned that I was going to have breast cancer at 42, I sure would’ve loved to have my crystal ball show me that, nearly five years after my diagnosis, I would be happy, healthy (knock on wood!), and still complaining about deadlines ad nauseum.

6.  For most of my life, I avoided veggies. To me, Snickers was a vegetable.  I was convinced that anything green was awful-tasting, akin to eating grass.  When I was 40, I went on a get-healthy kick, and I realized vegetables are AWESOME.  I am, in fact, a broccoli addict.  So if I’d put on that magical black dress at, say, twenty-five and had a vision of myself eating mostly vegetarian in another 15 years, I don’t figure I would have believed it.

Well, since I didn’t know any of this ahead of time, I had to bumble along and figure it out for myself.  Though I guess part of what makes life so interesting is muddling through and being able to look back with perfect hindsight! 

What things in your writing life or real life do you wish a crystal ball could have shown you?  Would it have changed anything?

Susan McBride is the author of Little Black Dress, a "Recommended Read" at Target Stores.  She has also written The Cougar Club, a Target "Bookmarked Breakout" title and one of MORE Magazine's "Books We're Buzzing About."  For more scoop, visit or find her on Facebook.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way to Becoming A Writer

By Karin Gillespie

When I was in third grade, Linda Hammer, the most popular girl in school, unexpectedly anointed me as her best friend. Emboldened by a Nestle’s Quik buzz, I finally go the nerve to ask her, “Why me?’
I expected her to say something about my cool wardrobe (I was the first in my class to embrace gauchos) or my record collection. (I had all the Partridge family albums.) But instead she said, “You’re funny. Not funny weird, but funny ha-ha.”
Linda Hammer’s endorsement of me was powerful mojo. Later, when I decided to be a writer, my main goal was to make people laugh. My first three novels were funny (or at least that was my intention) and I was even asked to co-write a novel with the notoriously funny Sweet Potato Queen (called, appropriately enough, The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big Ass Novel).
Over the years I’ve experienced a love-hate relationship with my funny bone and occasionally I’d become too reliant on humor. I was like Kim Kardashian and her butt, flaunting my God-given assets at the expense of everything else. (Get it? Assets.)
Sorry. I can’t always help myself. 
 Sometimes, instead of writing hit-or miss ass jokes, I longed to be a writer who crafted swoon-worthy sentences about sunrises and old women’s weathered hands. The way I figured it, writing funny novels was a lesser art--a whoopee cushion pursuit in the rarefied world of serious prose. After all, when was the last time you read a review of a Pulitzer Prize- winning novel that said: “It was so funny it made Coke spew out of my nose?”
For a time I was so seduced by the literary siren call, I changed directions and tried to write important fiction.  How did I fare? Well…. let’s just say my work was still laughable, but not necessarily in a good way.
That experience taught me something valuable. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “No one comes to Earth unarmed.” It’s the same with writing. All writers bring specific strengths to the craft, and sometimes people (like me) lose sight of the qualities that make their work unique. Eventually I came to my senses and gave up on being the next Zadie Smith. Now I’ve decided to be Karin Gillespie, the writer who has won the hearts of several—perhaps dozens of readers-- just for being her natural funny self.                    
   And yes, there are rare days when I don’t feel funny (like today). But that’s when I page through my shelf of humorous books to remind me of the power of comic writing.
My favorite book is Bridget Jones’s Diary, a veritable textbook on how to be hysterical. But there are also scores of other books that make me laugh out loud. Here are a few:

Shelia Levine is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent -This was first published way back in 1972. (I read it when I was a gleam in my mother’s eye.) It was Chick Lit before anyone coined the term.

The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird—Hilarious send-up of romance writers. Made into a not-so-great movie. Steven Guttenberg starred if that gives you a clue, but the book’s amazing.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott—Irreverent look at her son’s first year. When Lamott’s son cried too much, she had visions of “holding him by the ankles and whacking him against the wall, the way you cure an octopus on a dock.”
She was kidding, of course. The boy’s now twenty-two and has no discernable brain damage.

Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore-Darkly funny novel about a thirty-something woman, who, after years of dating, finally gets engaged. Remember those Harvard professors who once said women over 35 had a better chance of being abducted by terrorists than getting married? Here’s what Finnamore said about them:  “May they fall into open manholes, where hard-body lesbians with blowtorches await them.” 
How about you? Do you like funny books? What are some of your favorites? Please tell me. I need more material to steal from.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finding Your Voice by Megan Crane

You can write anything, conventional wisdom tells us, even stories that have been done a million times before, if you tell it your way.  If you have a fresh, exciting voice.  But what exactly is voice?  The bad news is that voice can’t really be taught.  The good news is that you already have your own voice, and therefore don’t need to be taught it.  You just need to trust it, listen to it, and use it.

Here’s how I found mine.  Twice.

1.    I was a graduate student living in almost total isolation in the north of England, in cold and bleak Yorkshire.  Have you seen the new Jane Eyre movie?  It was like that, except without that smoking hot Mr. Rochester looming about to liven things up.  

So… only the cold, damp, grey nothingness.  I was writing a doctoral dissertation on AIDS literature, which meant that I spent my working hours reading and writing and thinking about profoundly upsetting things.  When I wasn’t working I lay on my couch, wondered if I would ever see the sun again (the answer was no, not until I moved to Los Anegles), and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Doesn’t this sound romantic?  I was, of course, deeply depressed.

At that point I’d been in England for several years.  While still a Masters student, I’d had a complicated social life that I’d spent a lot of time chronicling for my various friends back home in the States.  I sent out big, chatty emails filled with my adventures—or lack thereof—a practice that had died out somewhat when my world shrunk down to my sofa, my Buffy tapes (yes, tapes—this was a long time ago), and piles of David Wojnarowicz and Tony Kushner books that made me sob every time I read them.

In those happier emails, I’d managed to make experiences I didn’t necessarily enjoy come across funny.  Interesting.  And I thought about how different they were from the way I’d always written things before.  I’d been a very histrionic adolescent, and had chosen to attend a small liberal arts college where my tendency toward melodrama would be greatly indulged and exacerbated, and all of this was very apparent in my fiction.  I liked to write very overdramatic short stories that were all about cigarette smoke and ennui, loss and regret.  Somehow, throughout this period, my creative genius remained undiscovered. 

So, back to the couch.  While lying in my usual crucifixion position, staring out the small gap in my drapes at the depressing sky—it was dark at 2pm, assuming it wasn't raining all day, which it always was—and shoving chocolate biscuits in my face, I wondered why it had never occurred to me to try to write a story the way I wrote those emails.  Funny.  Chatty.  First person.  Irreverent.  Still some cigarette smoke and regret, perhaps, but a whole different feel.  Why not write like me, in other words?

And so I got up from the couch (okay, maybe not that very second) and wrote what eventually become English as a Second Language, my first published book.

2.  This story is in two parts.  The first part starts when I was in the 7th grade.  I was loitering around in the local five and dime one day and I found this huge barrel of bargain books.  They were all fascinating.  Bare chested men with flowing locks of hair clutching gorgeous women in luxurious gowns to them, clearly about to kiss.  Or have sex.  

In 7th grade, I was kind of unclear on the differences between those two things. 

But I bought one of those magical books, and discovered a whole new world.  My first romance novel was about a dastardly pirate captain and a feisty English miss.  It featured kidnapping, sparring (both verbally and with swords), and, of course, tempestuous lovemaking, using metaphors that went right over my 7th grade head.  Flowers.  Petals.  Blossoming.  Thanks to this book, I, ever the know it all, informed my 7th grade friends that sex would be a lot like gardening.  

Gardening or no, I was hooked on romance novels from that day forward.  I spent most of my free time crawling around on the floors of used book stores looking for new authors, reading stacks upon stacks of category romances, buying armloads of historical romances in all the stores I found them (which were a lot more stores than these days, but let’s not get into that), getting on the Reader Service for my favorite lines, buying hardcovers of the authors I came to love, and in all other ways, becoming a rabid romance fan.  I did not conceal the covers of my beloved books from judging eyes.  I had no shame about my so-called “guilty pleasure.”  I did not hide my books away for fear of censorious commentary.  I was, a roommate once told me, meaning to compliment my apparent quirkiness, the only person she knew who was interesting and liked romance novels.  Imagine!

But despite the fact that romance novels had long been the great love of my reader’s heart, when I got published, it never occurred to me to write one myself.  And here’s the second part of this story.  My second book was just about to come out when I met Jane Porter at a dinner with our shared Grand Central editor.  And we became friends, and I decided to read every single one of her Presents.  That was quite a few books.  And back in those days I was much better about updating my blog with all the books I was reading at the time.  So I posted a lot about Jane’s Presents. 

Which I loved.  More than loved.  These books were like the high-octane, crack version of romance novels.  Some of Jane’s books I swear I read without breathing, unable to put them down.  (I love them all, but I always think about two in particular-- The Sicilian’s Defiant Mistress, which made me blush and fan myself, and The Sheikh’s Disobedient Bride, which changed the way I thought about what you could do with a romantic relationship in a short book.) When I commented on this on my blog, and a reader asked me what a Presents was, as she’d never heard of them.  

So I said that basically, a Presents was what happened if King Leonidas from the movie 300 dated a regular girl from the secretarial pool, except with much better clothes all around.  

And my good friend Michelle Rowen, also a fabulous author, commented and said that I had to write that book.

And so I did, except I decided it was more fun to make the heroine a princess rather than a secretary, and that book became Pure Princess, Bartered Bride, my first Presents.

Those are my two stories about voice.

And let's be clear, those are my two success stories.  I’m not telling you about all the half-finished manuscripts, the years and years and years of writing writing writing with no reason to go on and no idea why I felt so compelled to keep doing it.  All the endless reading I did, all the new ideas that seemed to fizzle, all the thousands of hours I spent writing instead of living, loving, interacting, even showering.  So what made those two books different?

It was the voice.

Until I figured out that I could break the mold I was in, whatever mold that was, my voice was unable to come out and onto the page.  And once I broke free of the limitations I'd placed on myself, I wrote books unlike anything I’d ever written before.  And what made the books stand out from all the many chick lit novels in the slush piles of the early 2000s and all the many category romance novels in the Harlequin queue was not my superior storytelling and obvious genius (though I like to pretend that has something to do with it): it was my voice. 

I didn’t ask myself how I was going to “harness my voice,” mind you.  I didn't think about voice at all.  In the first case, I thought: It would be really fun to write a book the way I wrote all those emails.  And in the second, I thought:  It would be really funand really hotto write a romance novel about King Leonidas that packs an emotional whallop like one of jane's books.

I never could have stumbled upon either iteration of my voice if I hadn’t let go of all the ways I thought I was supposed to be writing.

None of us are likely to tell a brand new, original story.  What we can do is tell our version of the story that speaks to us, in our voice.  And that’s what makes what we do fresh, new, original.

So, what do you want to write?  What story do you think sounds like fun?  Why haven't you written it yet?

Megan Crane is the author of more than twenty novels, most of which rely on voice over plot. We all have our strengths. She also teaches writing and has given a few workshops, so you may have heard her talk about gardening and King Leonidas before. Luckily, if it involves Gerard Butler, she's happy to repeat herself. You can find out more about her at