Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Bad Agent is Like A Bad Boyfriend: How to avoid wasting time with both

Don’t be fooled by flowers or dinners or even, yes even, cheese. Flowers can make even the dirtiest bathroom seem festive. And I’m a sucker for a calla lily. The beginning of a relationship is all about impressing, but is there substance beneath? Whether it’s a dude who gets you immediate reservations at the place that’s usually booked six weeks out or the agent who sends you flowers the moment after you agree to let her represent you, be wary. It’s wonderful to be courted, but when either discuss your future (or all the money or children you will make together) after knowing you for less than 48 hours, you should probably get out of there. If they encourage you to order the cheese plate for dessert, it will be harder. Stay strong.
Stay away from the Lotharios. Numerous bestselling clients who don’t exactly write the kind of books you do? A few too many notches on the bedpost? Maybe it’s time to find the less popular kid at the party.
Is anybody vouching? Do other writers and editors say your agent scares them? Does a google of your new man turn up a secret identity?  You need to ask a friend or fellow writer if they know anyone to set you up with.
Trust Your Gut. You know, I mean c’mon! You KNOW. Listen to yourself.
Don’t kid yourself about who you’re with. Many people are waiting for the one. When they find someone who so clearly isn’t, they try to force it. Do you think you’ve got George Clooney just because he told you he once considered becoming a doctor? When I signed with an agent I was reading the memoir of Mary Wells Lawrence a brilliant no-nonsense advertising guru from the 60s. This agent was also no-nonsense. I think I tricked myself into believing I was going to be represented by Mary Wells Lawrence and my books were going to be as big as the “I love New York” campaign. It turns out sometimes no-nonsense is just a nice way of saying mean.
When they don’t call back, they don’t care. I think this is pretty straightforward.
Don’t go changing. Does he insist that you wear six-inch heels when you are prone to blisters? Does she refuse to read your book about friendship between Brooklyn moms and suggest you write a book about the cut-throat world of Upper East Side preschools instead? Would you even recognize yourself in the mirror if you did these things?
Listen to your friends. When you are tearfully calling your pals and they have to remind you that the definition of a boyfriend/agent is someone who simply cares about you, there is a problem. They will then tell you about the way their agent/boyfriend treats them. Their boyfriend makes them laugh ALL the time. Their agent wants to read ANYTHING and EVERYTHING they write. This is normal. It’s nothing like the way you are being treated. They have been trying to tell you this for quite some time. You just didn’t want to hear it. Now you should. You deserve better. Listen and let go.
Don’t ever go back. The guy may call to tell you he was thinking about you and wants to get together. Is he calling in the wee hours of the morning? Nothing good can come of this. The agent may email you two years after you last heard from her wondering if you still consider yourself a client (you don’t) and would you like the “added value service” of having her epublish the novel she never could sell for you? A simple check of your website would have told her you had already hopped on the ebook train, but she was always too busy care about you. Now is the time to tell her that you need her help like a fish needs an agent. Make sure you do it in a no-nonsense way. It will help turn the bitterness into a feeling of closure.
A mop for every rag.  Eventually that guy who you know is an a-hole will sweep someone off her feet. The agent who treated you like trash will have books on The New York Times bestseller list. That’s okay. It just never would have worked for the two of you. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. Way it goes. Accept and move on. 

What do you think? What are your good and bad experiences with agents? With boyfriends? We’ve all got stories.

Ariella Papa is the agentless author of several novels, most recently Momfriends. You can visit her at and like her on facebook at She also tweets @ariellapapa

A Summer in Europe: Falling in Love with Venice

by Marilyn Brant

I don't remember now what I'd read or heard, exactly, that first convinced me I hadn't fully lived until I'd seen Venice, but it became a persistent, almost tangible desire. I strongly recall a physical, pit-of-my-stomach ache in junior high because I'd wanted to look at it with my own eyes so much, and I was just too young (and too well supervised by my parents and teachers) to escape and fly there on my own.

But the desire haunted me until, at last, I finally saved up enough to go there in the summer of 1992. My husband-to-be and I were taking our first "Grand European Tour" together, a mostly Eurail/backpacking/cheap-food-and-hotel kind of vacation that my twenty-something wanderlusting self couldn't wait to experience. That summer, I visited many of the major cities of Europe, but the one I was most anticipating was, of course, The Venice of My Imagination.

There are times -- particularly for creative types, I think -- that the reality of something fails to live up to the brilliance of the vision. As our waterbus/vaporetto cut through the Grand Canal and curved toward St. Marco's Square, I feared that would be the case for me. I'd daydreamed about my first real glimpse of Venice for so long... How could an actual city -- even one built on water with those cute red and white poles sticking up and gondolas everywhere -- possibly exceed the high expectations of a fantasy?

But it did.

It did in all the same ways that love eclipses infatuation. Venice is not a city without faults. Sometimes it floods. Sometimes there are unpleasant odors. Sometimes the buildings aren't well kept up. Sometimes the signs are so confusing that there's no way to follow them. Sometimes vendors will try to raise their prices on tourists that they think can't read Italian...or do basic math. But, hey, sometimes my husband forgets to rinse his dish in the sink. Sometimes he screws the lid on the soda bottle so tightly it's impossible for me to open. Doesn't stop me from being glad I married him almost two decades ago.

I wasn't deaf to what people who didn't like Venice said about it behind its back. I listened. I looked. I saw it all and simply didn't care that it was imperfect. It was, and still is, perfect for me. Magical in a way that's nearly impossible to explain. I found myself blinking more than usual while I was there because I couldn't believe I was really seeing it. That it looked so elegantly timeless -- and just like all the photos and the film footage I'd pored over through the years. That, above all, it really, truly existed. Do you know what I mean? It's like that feeling of incredulousness when you realize that, after all those years of searching, you've finally found "The One."

Some may have left their hearts in San Francisco, but mine? It's wandering across the Rialto Bridge, loitering alongside the pigeons in the middle of St. Marco's Square, persuing masks in artsy shops on those twisty sidestreets, riding on a gondola at twilight with the man I love.

December 1st is the official release day for my new women's fiction book from Kensington, A Summer in Europe (although it's now available at bookstores or for download). It's the story of a junior-high math teacher named Gwendolyn Reese, who gets a month-long tour through Europe as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric Aunt Bea and her aunt’s Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. She’s hesitant to leave Iowa and her insurance-agent boyfriend behind for the summer at first, but she’s never had an adventure overseas before and is soon convinced to go. What she experiences there changes all she thought she knew about love and life...

In honor of the release of this novel, I'm “traveling” to different cities, via blogs around the web, on a book tour for travel lovers. I'm talking about many of the places Gwen visited in the novel, all of which are places I personally loved, places from which I brought back cherished memories. Some of my stops will include:
Friday 11/25: Rome at Magical Musings
Monday 11/28: Pompeii at SOS Aloha
Tuesday 11/29: Isle of Capri at The Stiletto Gang
Wednesday 11/30: Venice at Girlfriends Book Club (Here!)
Thursday 12/1: Budapest at Women’s Fiction Writers
Friday 12/2: Florence at Writer Unboxed
Monday 12/5: London at Austen Authors
Tuesday 12/6: Salzburg at Robin Bielman’s blog
Wednesday 12/7: Lake Como at Brant Flakes
Monday 12/12: French Riviera at Get Lost in a Story

And other cities will be added for later in December -- including Pisa, Vienna, Brussles and Paris (I'll update the itinerary on my website as plans are finalized). I hope you'll join me for a few stops on the tour and celebrate the release of A Summer in Europe with me! It's a Literary Guild and Rhapsody Book Club featured alternate selection for December, and if you'd like to read an excerpt, it was recently a "Red Hot Read" on Single Minded Women.

These are some Venetian carnival masks, which I use in the novel, but I also collect them in real life. Do any of you have any masks -- from Italy or from any country? Is there something you like to collect when you travel? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Novel-in-Regress by Melissa Clark

Everyone writes about their novels in progress, but unfortunately mine is in regress. Novels #2, #3 are still out in the world looking desperately and humbly for homes while novel #4 is tucked away in my computer, untouched since August. I was so excited when I started it last year - a high concept idea with characters that were leaping off the page but then... but then what? Summer, a college reunion, the beginning of the semester, a trip to New York, a minor crisis in my personal life, my second teaching gig, movies, dinners, friends, parties...that's what.

I'n quite optimistic, though. Winter break is fast approaching, which means a month of uninterrupted time stretched out before me (that is if I don't fill it with movies, dinners, friends, parties, etc.). If nothing else, I'm sure I'll have time to read, Joan Didion and Steve Jobs are already on my nightstand just waiting to be cracked open.

That novel-in-regress - it taunts me every time I start my computer - it calls out, "Melissa! Hey! Over here! You were just getting to the good part!" I steal glances out of the corner of my eye - the folder wedged between "PIX OF MONTREAL" and "TAXES '11" I will double-click that blue folder one day soon. It will blink to life, the pages will open, and I will pick up where I left off, restoring it back to a novel-in-progress.

Melissa Clark is the author of "Swimming Upstream, Slowly" and teaches writing at Otis College of Art and Design and The Writing Pad in Los Angeles. Her non-fiction piece, "Rachael Ray Saved My Life" is forthcoming in a food anthology to be published by Shambhala Publications. You can follow her on her blog, Connections Clark.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Question

It happens almost every time. At book signings and book clubs, even at gatherings that have absolutely nothing to do with books, someone (and many times, someone I would not expect to have the audacity) asks how many books I’ve sold. In a pregnant pause that seems w-a-a-a-y longer than Rick Perry’s “oops” moment, potential answers crawl across my brain. Should I be snarky and ask her how much she weighs? Should I give a flippant “who cares about numbers” and move on? Should I politely tell her I’m not comfortable talking about that?

Snarky is probably my most readily accessible mode and would certainly be the most fun. “Darling, who is your plastic surgeon? One can hardly tell you’ve had so much work done.” Alas, I usually just end up stammering something about not having received current numbers from my publisher but am told that they are pleased.

The asker is usually just curious. She’s used to seeing “Over One Million Copies Sold” on book covers (don’t I wish!) and doesn’t really equate asking how many I have sold to, say, asking her the amount of her annual salary. The question is benign, even benevolent. And sometimes I know the bee – I mean asker– and she’s just flat-out nosy.

I’m still a fairly new resident of Book World, but I pick up a definite vibe that my fellow denizens are prickly about their numbers, even to other authors. We live in an age where the value of a home, salary, and yes age-age are just a few clicks away. Our Amazon ranking (# 657,420 – woo-hoo!!) is posted for all the world to see, yet still we guard our sales figures as if they were handcuffed to our wrist inside a bullet-proof brief case.  I have never asked even close writer friends. A few – well, two anyway – have shared, and I have reciprocated.  It’s not a matter of the money (what money, you say?). Is it that we don’t want our success to be measured by numbers when the meaning of those numbers varies widely among genres? In Lawyer Land, I never knew anyone who was bashful to announce making partner or raking in one-third of a multimillion dollar contingency case. Yet in Book World, even within Book World, it seems crass to divulge anything other than winning awards or making best-seller lists.

Is it just me? Have I not been properly indoctrinated and the rest of you are spewing your numbers hither and yon?
How do you handle The Question? 
Amy Bourret is the author of MOTHERS AND OTHER LIARS, a Target Breakout Book. Her publisher is very pleased with the sales.   

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thank you, Writing Gods

by Maria Geraci

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and as a writer, I have a LOT to be grateful for.

This is how my typical day goes:

1. I crank up my ultra fast coffee maker
2. sit down to my computer (where I catch up on emails, social networking and news of the day)
3. write till I get hungry,
4. nuke something for lunch.

But if I had been writing twenty-five years ago I would have:

1. made coffee in my Mr. Coffee Coffee Pot
2. gone to my desk and sat in front of my electric typewriter (making sure to copy everything later in case I lose my papers), keeping both my dictionary and my thesaurus at finger's length

3. checked my phone's answering machine every couple of hours (in case my editor or agent called)
4. written till I got hungry,
5. nuked something for lunch.

If I had been writing fifty years ago, I would have:

1. made coffee in my nifty percolator
2. gone to my desk and sat in front of my typewriter (making sure to make a carbon copy of all my pages), keeping my dictionary and thesaurus at fingers length
3. written till I got hungry,
4. made myself a sandwich, because heating something up would require too much time (unless it's a can of soup, and who wants that everyday?)

If I had been writing two hundred years ago today, I would have:

1. made myself a cup of tea
2. gone to my desk, hoping that it's situated next to a window so I can get some light, or lit my candle, sharpened my quill, refilled my ink well
3. written till I got hungry (or ran out of paper, or my hand got tired)
4. gone into the kitchen and prayed some food would miraculously appear from somewhere...

How did Jane Austen do it??

So on on this Thanksgiving Eve I'd like to give a big shout out to the Writing Gods for all our wonderful 21st century writing necessities:
lap top computers, track changes, spell check, email, Facebook, Twitter, microwave ovens, take out food, smart phones with unlimited texting and long distance call plans, e-publishing,, Skype, and I could go on.

What writing conveniences are you most grateful for? Anything you could absolutely not live without?

Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. Portland Book Reviews calls her latest release, The Boyfriend of the Month Club, "immensely sexy, immensely satisfying and humorous. " Her next novel, A Girl Like You, will be released August, 2012, by Berkley, Penguin USA. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook or Twitter.

Scary stuff
by Brenda Janowitz

This cycle, we're talking about what scares us as writers.  I think it's a funny thing to be talking about, since SO MUCH about being a writer scares me.

Right now, I'm waiting to get edits on my third novel.  I know that my new editor is really excited about the book, but I can't help being worried about what she'll say about it.  Sure, she read the book before acquiring it, so (presumably) she really likes it, but there's that tiny piece of me that's concerned.  Maybe, after reading it again, she'll discover that she doesn't actually like my book, but really hates it.  That she's made a huge mistake in offering me a two book deal, so she's taking it all back and my third (and fourth!) novels won't be published, after all.  Oh, and by the way, could you please send back your advance check?

Yes, I know that sounds melodramatic and silly, but as a writer, what we do best is let our minds wander.  And the darker and deeper they go, the better, it seems.  After all, who wants to read a book that's devoid of conflict where everything is just happy happy happy and works out from the get go?

I don't.

So, we spend most of our free time thinking about the what-ifs, wondering about worst-possible-case scenarios.  Which then, of course, makes us worry even more: is this too dark?  Is it not dark enough?  Is this realistic?  If I write this will anyone want to publish it?  If I do get it published, will my best friend/ mother/ husband/ sister/ daughter hate me for what I've written?

But that's okay.  Because I think that embracing what scares us most is what actually makes us writers.

So, what scares you most?

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Genre-ally Speaking. Or not.

I should have started my list of “Things I Never Thought I’d Hear Myself Say” over twenty years ago when I told my youngest child not to bite the family dog on its leg.
Since then, I’ve accumulated a number of noteworthies ranging from, “I know a Category 5 hurricane is about to slam New Orleans, but I don’t really need to evacuate,” to “Someone who tweeted me just added me to her Google + circle, and I can’t find her on Facebook.”
My latest? “I’m leaving my new-ish house in the suburbs to move into one 150+ years old in New Orleans.”  I’d like to add to that one something along the lines of, “I’m exhilarated unpacking all these boxes of clutter from hell,” but it’s not happening.
If I hadn’t just finished a six-hour drive and then arrived home to be informed  the grandfather clock needed relocating, which required moving the clock’s internal organs, the dining room table, six boxes, and, “Oh, by the way, could you put two ice chests in the car and pick up the food we left in the refrigerator and freezer after your one hour drive to your doctor appointment followed by your turkey day grocery shopping?” …I might have composed a sexy segue way to tying all this to genre. 
But, I didn’t. So, here’s the thing:
I’ve experienced similar moments of thinking I had defined my universe, my genre palate  as a reader, only to discover I could easily acquire a taste for the unfamiliar if the presentation was irresistible.  
I never thought I’d hear myself say I enjoyed nonfiction until I read Bill Bryson, Anne Lamott, Francine Prose, and Sarah Vowel.
I never thought I’d hear myself say I enjoyed dystopian novels until Margaret Atwood and, recently, Suzanne Collins,
 I never thought I’d hear myself say I enjoyed historical fiction until Philippa Gregory, and Havah by Tosca Lee.
And, of course, I’m naming just a few authors, but you’re savvy women, you get it…

But as a writer, I’m finding that, instead of developing a genre-palate, I’m being tube-fed.  In some cases. force-fed.
If men read my novels that are categorized as women’s fiction, can I start calling them cross-gender fiction? If a contemporary fiction features a married couple, it isn’t a contemporary romance.  What’s the message there?
I recently pitched a novel as being contemporary fiction with romance elements. Seriously.
What about dystopian romance? Historical paranormals? (erotic inspirationals are entirely off the shelf.)
And can we wave the white bonnet of surrender and recognize that Amish fiction is a category unto itself? Actually, at the speed of which those novels disappear from shelves, I wouldn’t mind sprinkling a few bonnet-covered characters on my covers.
Genre provides order, definition, and perhaps, for some, a firewall of protection.  But it also confines us to certain literary “neighborhoods.”   Even though they feature atypical Christian protagonists and subject matter, my novels are shelved in the Christian Fiction section. Not a great deal of non-denominational traffic in that aisle.
Perhaps it’s time to have a genre neighborhood block party, meet a new family. Or two. We don’t have to move in with them.  Just open our doors.

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken Glass, The Edge of Grace, and Love Finds You in New Orleans (2012). You can find her at, Facebook, and Twitter. When she's not frantically meeting deadlines and emptying boxes, she teaches high school English. Christa and her husband recently moved to New Orleans to live in a home older than their combined ages. Their three neurotic cats are adjusting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Guest Post: Deborah Coonts

Tips for Writers, Sort Of

By Deborah Coonts,
Author of Lucky Stiff
I don't do rules.
Which is probably not a bad thing when it comes to writing. Writing is art -- a word-picture born in self-expression. And, as a creative endeavor, there is a bit of coloring outside the lines necessary to distinguish your story, to capture attention.
This sounded so perfect for a story-lover with an authority issue . . . namely me.
With the misplaced confidence of someone ignorant of the concept to terminal velocity, I stepped out on the fiction tightrope with no instruction, no one to grab me if I put a foot wrong, no net to save a bruised ego if I plunged headlong into the chasm.
And I was doing so well, at first. Then I ran into a blank white page with the two most feared words in the writing world: Chapter One. Two words into my masterpiece and I'd crashed to the ground, bloodied and broken. The one thing that was abundantly clear was that I hadn't clue as to how to tackle a project a large as a novel. Where to begin?
So I turned to the world's ringmaster -- Google. They they choreograph the information of our lives like a dance of Elephants, so they surely they could focus a spotlight on my little ring in the circus?
And shine a light they did. I had no idea the wealth of "dos and don'ts" (I refuse to call them rules), tips, guidelines, ways, points, dangers, signs, and fundamentals. While I clung firmly to the trapeze of "writing is art," I quickly realized that if you swing to far on that trapeze, you're going to miss the hand-off guy . . . namely, readers. They have expectations that we as writers must acknowledge. Stories must be accessible, engrossing, entertaining, and readable. That's all well-and-good, but I needed specifics. I didn't even know what to write, much less how.
Best place to start seemed to be with the what. Back to Google.
The first suggestion was: "write what you know." At the time, the sum total of my knowledge came from being a harried single mom and depreciated tax lawyer. My life didn't even entertain me.
The next suggestion, "write what you read." Okay, I could get my head around that. Romantic suspense was my drug of choice. Watch out Sandra Brown. Fingers flying, I burned up the computer, along with the midnight oil. When the light dawned, and I came out of my writing-induced coma, I had learned one thing: I was definitely not Sandra Brown.
With two strikes against me, I braced for the next pitch. "Write what you can imagine." I was in business. I'd spent my life wandering with my head in the clouds -- I could imagine almost anything. Synapses fired and I imagined an overworked young woman who was Head of Customer Relations at a large Vegas Strip hotel with a former hooker as a mother, an absent father, and Vegas's foremost Female Impersonator as a best friend who wanted to be more. It became Wanna Get Lucky?, my first published novel.
I picked up my own "rules" for writing a novel along the way. Some of them might be of interest even if you don't do rules.
Stuff all your meetings, to-do lists, commitments, and hobnobbing in a trunk and send it packing. Writing is a turbulent journey taken solo with only a small carry-on allowed. You can put the "have-tos" in that carry-on -- like checking in on the kids every week or so, spending enough time with your spouse/significant other that he/she still remembers your name, and talking to friends often enough they don't call Missing Persons. Make time to play with words and zealously guard that time. Your dreams are worth it.
Since language is the skeleton of storytelling, learn the basics -- sentence structure, active versus passive voice, showing not telling, etc. Find a teacher, class, or workshop to learn how to communicate. Then when you're able to make those first steps, don't ask anyone where to go. Imagine.
What happens in every thriller flick when the driver gets in and looks in the rearview mirror? Struggle, choke, death. Your internal editor is that bad-guy lurking in the backseat ready to slit your throat. Do let him get in the car. Instead, put the pedal to the metal and leave that self-edit strangler with a mouthful of dust.
And those lingering doubts about your ability? They are sketchy hitchhikers jonesing to break your stride. Shift, pass, and don't look back.
Surround yourself with other writers (NOT family -- they can't be trusted). Take energy from the camaraderie. Get input -- but use only what you consider valid. Trust your gut. It's your story. Remember, opinions may not be offered with the best of intentions.
Get words on paper. Lots of them. I don't care if it's from a plane, train, hotel, locker room, unemployment line, breakdown lane, edge of a cliff; just write.
Remember, quit is a four-letter word.
© 2011 Deborah Coonts, author of Lucky Stiff
Author Bio
Deborah Coonts, 
author of Lucky Stiff, says her mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though she's not totally sure -- her mother can't be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can't get into too much trouble. Silly people. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager. She is the author of the Lucky O'Toole Las Vegas adventure series.
Her first book, Wanna Get Lucky?, was released in 2010.
For more information please visit, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter


Our quasi-theme this month has to do with book-related things gone awry, for instance, weird book-signing events. So I thought I'd share my first-ever book signing, as it definitely had it's odd moments...

Pity the man who looks like Charles Manson. Because no matter if he’s a perfectly sane accountant from Dubuque with 2.5 children, a wife and a home in the suburbs, most everyone will snap to judgment that he’s a crazed maniac with murder on his mind.

Perhaps the thing about Manson that set him apart was that maniacal glint in his eye, the very anti-twinkle that translated into the suggestion of the evil of which he was capable.

Thus was my thinking at my very first book signing. I was already apprehensive about the event, feeling an enormous sense of pressure to perform well, to sell enough books to justify the efforts the booksellers had gone to on my behalf. To not be a complete loser.

So when I ended up at a bookstore that was located in the sketchier part of the unfamiliar city in which I was signing, I was a little dismayed. Most of those entering the doors of this bookstore had more piercings on their faces than the sum total of pierced anythings on my entire street back home. These customers didn’t strike me as the type willing to pony up a moment of attention (let alone seven bucks) to learn about a book titled Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Nary a happy (or unhappy, for that matter) housewife meandered into the store for the first 15 minutes of my signing. That’s who I was on the lookout for: a wife, a mom, the type of person who would most definitely get the humor behind Sleeping with Ward Cleaver because let’s face it, there’s an experiential element to the novel. If you’ve been there, done that, with my protagonist Claire, you’re going to be far more receptive to randomly picking up a book you’ve never heard of and spending money on it at the behest of a newbie author, especially when you only went into the store to purchase a book for someone else in the first place.

Now, I’d heard warnings from authors about book signings:

Prepare yourself for everyone coming up to you, looking enthusiastic and ready purchase your book at first sight, only to instead ask you directions to the nearest bathroom.

Expect people to come up to your table just to grab a handful of the free candy you’ve got on display.

And expect the nut jobs, the ones who show up at your table with no intention of leaving, prepared to regale you with endless tales of their public transportation experiences and parents who don't love them, all the while helping themselves to half your candy stash.

So when the Charles Manson look-alike ventured into the store about 30 seconds after I’d sat down at the signing table, I wasn’t surprised. It was fate, I knew it. As soon as our eyes met, I immediately averted my gaze—I couldn’t not. I mean come on. Who wants to encourage a mass murderer over your way? But the eye contact had been made, and I knew, I just knew, sooner or later Charlie boy would wend his way over to my table.

Now I should mention that yes, this guy had the grizzled, unwashed look of Charles Manson. He had the creepy glint of madness in his eyes. He also was lugging a small watermelon beneath his armpit. Don’t ask me why.

Charlie didn’t come immediately to my table. Perhaps because the bookstore employee was nearby, who knows? But within ten minutes he’d made his way back to my lone desk. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He then proceeded to pick up a copy of my novel from the pyramid of them stacked in front of me, and feigned interest. In case you haven’t seen my cover, I’ll describe it. It’s a campy 1960’s-style green, pink and aqua cover that triggers the tune of “I Dream of Jeannie” whenever I look at it, what with the Judy Jetson-lookalike woman perched atop the bed, her striped pink hair pulled back in a headband a la Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.”

Trust me, this is not the cover that normally lures 40-something men (and certainly not those who look like they’ve just been sprung from court-mandated rehab. Again.). I have yet to have a man pick it up and leaf through it out of interest, unless their wife is along or unless it’s someone I know.

So I was onto Charlie. I knew he wanted something from me, and it wasn’t a humorous 300-page novel about a housewife in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

I tried to make small-talk. But Charlie didn’t talk beyond a few indecipherable mutterings. It was like being in the presence of Sherry and Lambchop, or a ventriloquist from the Ed Sullivan show. Or Charles Manson.

Instead, Charlie plunked his watermelon onto my miniscule tabletop, knocking over books in the process, picked up my signing pen (and his dirt-encrusted fingers did sort of bum me out, since I knew I’d soon have to touch that very pen myself), took one of my business cards, flipped it over, and started to draw.

Now the first thing Charlie inked for me looked suspiciously like a puerile attempt at a set of naked breasts. I forced a weak smile, unwilling to ask exactly what he was illustrating. But he finished it off with what I soon realized was a mouth and eyebrows, and it dawned on me that he’d drawn a rudimentary smiley face. Okay, I was hoping Charlie was done at this point. I thanked him for his lovely illustration. But he continued. His palsied hand trembling in classic heroin-withdrawal fashion, he then sketched out a Keith Haring-like stick figure that had a hint of Mr. Bill to it. And topped off his masterpiece with his illegible signature. What do you think of it?

For all I know I am in possession of a work of art by a famed contemporary pen-and-ink master who took a wrong turn in life. Who once knew of fame and fortune and now wanders aimlessly, unwashed and odoriferous, with a watermelon tucked in his arm like a pigskin cradled by a running back. As much as I was oddly charmed by my newfound artwork, I wasn’t particularly interested in having Charlie block my signing perch from the few mom-like individuals who ventured into the store that night. So I immediately offered him some kisses (the kind from Hershey’s, not my lips), which mercifully satisfied his need. Grateful, he wandered off, peeling the silver wrapping and discarding it in his wake.

And leaving me well aware that I’d experienced one of my first rites of passage as a published author. Armed and ready for the next one to come along.

Excuse me, can you tell me where the bathroom is?


..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨)).· ´¨¨)) -:¦:- ·´
((¸¸. ·´ .. ·Jenny-:¦:-
:¦:- ((¸¸.·´* -:¦:- ´* -:¦:- ´*


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rudy-ard Kipling and Other Strange Childhood Memories

by Jess Riley

Yesterday, on my commute home from work, I ended up behind a school bus full of rowdy kids. They were standing in the aisles, laughing and yelling and bouncing around and wow did it take me back to my own childhood, when I rode the bus two hours a day to and from school. Two hours a day on a smelly yellow school bus filled with flying spitballs and shouting and the occasional puker. For awhile, we had ‘fun’ drivers, who would let us do flips in the aisle, laughing at us in the mirror and tapping the brakes to make us fall. (Can you imagine a bus driver doing this today?)  Sometimes we’d sleep, sometimes we’d do homework, but mostly we talked and threw things and played with Rubik’s cubes and stuck chewed gum under the seats.

One of the ‘fun’ drivers, Rudy, I remember vividly. A kind, cheerful man in his late fifties, Rudy handed out candy to every one of his passengers on the last day of school before Christmas break, and seemed to genuinely care about us. It was Rudy who asked me why I was so sad the morning I boarded the bus just minutes after discovering my pet rabbits killed on the front lawn by the neighbor’s dog. It was Rudy whose beloved wife was diagnosed with aggressive, terminal cancer, and it was Rudy who shot that beloved, dying wife before turning the gun on himself.

I can’t remember algebraic equations, the names of certain relatives, or even what I had for lunch yesterday, yet I remember a horrible murder-suicide involving a bus driver from my youth like it happened yesterday.  

Okay, so what do all of my weirdo school-bus memories have to do with writing or reading? Well, I spent two hours a day on the bus.  Two stinkin’ hours! To pass the time, I read. A lot. I have very fond memories of certain books from my childhood: books mailed to me from beloved grandparents (a collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, Misty of Chincoteague Island), books inherited from my mother (leather-bound copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Hobbit), books picked up at yard sales (a complete box-set of Judy Blume novels), books purchased through the Weekly Reader book sale (Sweet Valley High, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, The Babysitters’ Club, Little House in the Big Woods), books I’d check out again and again from the Bookmobile (Wild Violets, Where the Red Fern Grows) and books of unknown origin that are still nestled on bookshelves at my parents’ house so I can read them to my nephew today: Miss Twiggley’s Tree, Corduroy,  Bunnicula, The Berenstain Bears … 

Though I hated it at the time, I’m glad I had those two hours on the bus every day for years and years—without that dedicated daily reading time, I wonder if I’d have the love of books I have today.

What childhood books still hold a treasured place on your shelf? What books from your youth made you a reader or writer?

When she's not waxing nostalgic here, Jess Riley may be procrastinating on Facebook, feeling guilty about neglecting her own blog, or actually working on a novel.

Know When to Hold and When to Fold

by Saralee Rosenberg

What is the most FAQ I am asked as a novelist?

“Do you know Danielle Steele?” Yes, of course. I'm a frequent guest at her chateau in Paris...

No, the question everyone asks is where my ideas come from.

My standard spiel is that my inspiration comes from personal experience, news stories, obituaries, natal charts, character bios, long showers and laughing gas (no joke).

But the better question, the more insightful question, the question I don’t hear often enough is how do I know which ideas are worth pursuing and which ones are not?

Like every thoroughbred writer, I have drawers full of possibilities- seeds of ideas, pages of notes, scribbled outlines, hopeful chapters, and half-finished manuscripts. But which ideas get born? Ultimately I gravitate towards the stories that scare the hell out of me because that's where all the emotional truth is hiding.

No point following the yellow brick road if I can’t pull back the curtain on the wizard.

But how do I move from proposal to marriage? All too often the market dictates direction. If enough agents and/or editors take a pass, that can be a daunting obstacle. But for me, the more likely reason to break the engagement is because I have fallen out of love with my protagonist.

Either she bores me, annoys me or fails to keep me up nights. In other words, her dire circumstances have to be so compelling that I must find out know how her story ends.

And therein lays the second factor in deciding whether to hold or fold. I must also fall in love with the inciting incident. I need to know that I’ve poured the fuel that propels the story into a stratosphere my poor protagonist never saw coming. This incident has to be so life changing, so knee deep in conflicts and so wildly entertaining that I can take off in numerous directions.

But which direction? It has to be a mystery for me or it won't be to my reader!

So where do those great turning point ideas come from? Two words-- what if?

Of my four published novels, my favorite inciting incident emerged in CLAIRE VOYANT. What if an elderly stranger collapsed and died on the tray table of a beleaguered actress, only to discover that he may not have been a stranger after all?

I had the best time building a novel around this simple premise and looking back I can see the divine inspiration. I was less the writer than the designated typist.

And now I am enjoying a similar lightening strike with my work-in-progress, a middle grade novel called HOTLINE TO HEAVEN. I am riveted by my young heroine’s pursuit to find her voice and learn to trust her instincts when her life encounters more corkscrews than a ride on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. “Walk This Way” indeed.

But inspiration alone doesn’t guarantee anything if the writing isn’t solid. So I toil every day hoping that my brainstorms find happiness with the plucky protagonist and that her story keeps me entertained and enlightened. After all, how can I expect to engage readers if I don’t even have an audience of one?

I’ve been meaning to talk to my good friend Danielle about this. I’m sure she would agree.

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (All from Avon/HarperCollins). Visit her website

Monday, November 14, 2011

Let's go for a Sleigh Ride!

by Malena Lott
I'll confess: I'm a holiday junkie. I love so many things about October through January 2nd that I couldn't even list them all here, but what they have in common is tradition and that magical romantic quality about the season as a whole. It gets cold. We get closer. Don't we call more, hug more, make more of an effort to connect? The world doesn't slow down, but it does feel more in focus.

Sleigh Ride: A Winter Anthology is definitely my homage to the season and how something as simple as a sleigh ride can have such meaning in our lives. I invited fellow Girlfriend Authors Maggie Marr, Maria Geraci and Samantha Wilde to be a part of it and they graciously accepted. You'll also be introduced to debut authors Dani Stone, Jenny Peterson and Megan Barlog, who are great writers you're going to be seeing a lot more from.

To celebrate our launch, we're doing several great contests including the 7 Sleighs/7 Days of Giveaways contest (now on day 4) as well as the Big Stuffed Sleigh Contest that ends Nov. 30th ($150 value.)

The book is available in trade paperback and ebook. For a chance to win a print galley of Sleigh Ride, leave a comment on WHO YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE A SLEIGH RIDE WITH IF YOU COULD INVITE ANYONE IN THE WORLD. What would you talk about? Or would you not be talking? :) Thanks for reading, and happy holidays! 

In order of appearance:

In Samantha Wilde's "Monks and Musicians," a family sleigh ride turns a mother's life upside down, leaving her to decide the fate of her future and family.

In the romantic comedy "Noche Beuna," Maria Geraci shares what happens when a woman breaks tradition and takes the holidays into her own hands.

Jenny Peterson explores the powerful bond of sisters with a painful past in "Fairy Lights."

A phone call out of the blue from the former great love of her life causes a pharmacist to question her past and whether or not a second chance is worth the risk in Dani Stone's humorous, "No Place Like Home."

In Megan Barlog's story, "The Escape," a stable owner with a hover sleigh is drawn to a troubled young woman who needs his help to avoid the bleak future planned out for her.

When her dog jumps out of the car in a snowstorm in Vermont, the California girl has the wildest night of her life on her journey to find her dog and heal her heart in Maggie Marr's, "Dashing Through the Snow."

A grieving mother returns home at the holidays to face the family she walked away from after tragedy in Malena Lott's, "Snowflakes and Stones." 

Called "beautiful" and "touching," this collection is a Good Read/Good Deed project with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the domestic violence prevention cause through the Alpha Chi Omega foundation.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

 Weekend Book Giveaway
Erin Brokovich is famous for winning a huge environmental lawsuit but now she’s also writing novels. Hot Water is her second novel and she gets a hand from seasoned novelist C.J. Lyons. If you like fast-paced thrillers, leave a comment with your email address for the chance to win. Winner will be announced after 5 on Sunday.

Here’s more about Hot Water.   

No stranger to balancing an intensely demanding work schedule with the stresses of keeping her family together, AJ Palladino now faces another challenge: she is leaving her young son home with her ailing parents so that she can travel to the site of a new case involving a nuclear power plant in peril. And it will take all her skills to keep her cool while the action and tension build to a fever pitch.
Colleton River, a new, one-of-a-kind nuclear facility designed to create medical isotopes with the potential to save millions of lives, has recently been plagued by a series of unexplained mishaps. The accidents have caused the locals to protest the plant, drawing the attention of an anti-nuclear protest group as well as several home-grown terrorists who sense an opportunity to sow fear and chaos. The plant’s owner, Owen Grandel, has traveled from South Carolina to West Virginia to personally ask AJ for help. AJ knows she’s going to have her hands full investigating the accidents and calming the situation at the plant. What she doesn’t foresee is her simple business trip turning into disaster, with her family coming apart at the seams in her absence—and her young son disappearing. While AJ tries to find her missing child, she also discovers what caused the “accidents.” Soon the plant begins hurtling towards nuclear catastrophe, with AJ stranded at ground zero. But can she save her son, herself, and the community—and prevent a nuclear meltdown before it’s too late?
“This environmental thriller will keep readers hooked.”
Publishers Weekly

“Brockovich and Lyons have written another action-packed suspense novel.”
Library Journal

“With the recent nuclear mess in Japan, Hot Water is a relevant environmental thriller that grips the audience.”
The Mystery Gazette

Hot Water is thrilling, amusing, and sometimes scary—in short, eminently readable. It is so good, it will have the uninitiated reader scrambling for Rock Bottom once out of Hot Water.”
About the Author
Erin Brockovich is the real-life inspiration behind the Oscar-winning movie that bears her name. Today she continues to perform legal work as a director of environmental research and is involved in consulting on numerous toxic waste investigations. She is active on the motivational speaking circuit, with a thriving lecture series and a television talk show in development. She lives in Los Angeles.

Why I write mysteries and thrillers

By April Henry

I may lose all my street cred when I tell you this, but I started writing mysteries and thrillers purely by accident.  

My initial goal was to write the great American novel. Or at least literary fiction.

So I wrote a book called Empty Spaces about a woman who works in the admitting department of a hospital and who falls in love with a long-term rehab patient, despite the fact that she's married and he's in a wheelchair.  

I couldn't get even an agent interested in that book, although, years later, I still have a depressing file of rejections.

Then I wrote a book about a woman who comes home because her mother is dying and ends up dealing with how she was raised in a religious cult.  The Laying on of Hands is told in four first-person points of view, which is not exactly what editors are dying to read.  But I did get really lucky and got an agent who believed in the book and shopped the hell out of it. It actually got a lot of nice rejection letters from editors.

And then I wrote Keeping Track, about four kids from one family who are put on an Orphan Train and end up in different states. That one didn't even get good rejection letters.  

And then I wrote Circles of Confusion, which my agent said she thought would sell well as a mystery. 

A mystery? But it didn't even try to solve a murder! The only person who dies falls out a window. But by that point, I would have been excited if she had told me it would sell well as a cookbook.  And it did start me thinking about my book in a different way.

Three days after my agent submitted it, we had a two-book deal. A two-book deal for a mystery series.  I remember going to the library and getting every book about how to write a mystery I could find. I mean, sure, I had read some mysteries - who hadn't - but what did I really know about writing them?

But since I've published 11 mysteries and thrillers, with six more under contract.

And you know what?  It turns out I love them!

Betrayals, scary noises at night, doors that are ajar, guns, car trunks, shallow graves, dark alleyways, double crosses, desperation, blackmail. I've attended the FBI Citizen's Academy and the Writers Police Academy. I'm close to getting my purple belt in kajukenbo and have a pretty good reverse punch.  

Sometimes things work out just exactly like they should.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pearl Cleage on Writing

 by Carleen Brice

This conversation with novelist, playwright and Oprah-fave Pearl Cleage originally ran on my blog The Pajama Gardener, where I post about writing and gardening.

Pearl's latest book is  Just Wanna Testify.

Carleen Brice: You started out writing plays, correct? What led you to the theater?

Pearl Cleage: i have always loved the theatre. my mother and my father used to take us when i was growing up in detroit. we saw everything, from ossie davis and ruby dee in "purlie victorious" to dame judith anderson in "agamemnon" to rudolph nureyev with the royal ballet to jose greco and his passionate flamenco dancers to an updated version of shakespeare's "taming of the shrew" where they drove real motorcycles on the stage to alvin ailey's "revelations." i loved it all! i loved the movies, too, but the immediacy of live theatre was always so exciting. anything could happen! so i started writing short plays when i was really little.

i was one of those kids who always put together a chrsitmas play or a thanksgiving play that everybody had to watch after they've eaten that huge holiday meal and they are powerless to move. i'd recruit my cousins and my big sister and we'd do the christmas story or the pilgrims landing at plymouth rock. i doubt that we were very good, but we always got an enthusiastic response from our captive audience, and i was hooked! i acted and wrote plays all through school, but when i got to college, i stopped acting and concentrated on writing. i have written thirteen plays and i'm really happy to say they have all been professionally produced.

"since i had never written a novel, i was intimidated by the form. i didn't know where to start, how to proceed, how to wrap things up. as a playwright, i had been working to develop my craft for years. now here i was, facing something totally new. i took a deep breath, and calling on the spirits of alice walker and toni morrison to help me, i plunged in. this, of course, was a mistake."

CB: How is writing a novel different than writing a play? Do you have a different process?

PC: i never intended to write novels! i had been happily writing my plays and then i had an idea for a story that would not fit on the stage. it was too long, there were too many characters, too many settings, too much internal dialogue. so after weeks of trying to change it enough to make it fit the stage, i gave up and decided i'd try to write it as a novel instead. since i had never written a novel, i was intimidated by the form. i didn't know where to start, how to proceed, how to wrap things up. as a playwright, i had been working to develop my craft for years. now here i was, facing something totally new. i took a deep breath, and calling on the spirits of alice walker and toni morrison to help me, i plunged in.

this, of course, was a mistake. anytime you try to conjure up great writers to work on your book with you, there is bound to be some confusion. for me, it was trying to write third person like they do. i was used to writing dialogue, not description. when you write a play, you say: "it is a sunday afternoon on the sidewalk outside of a harlem brownstone. the year is 1930." then the set designer does the research and creates a set that looks like that harlem sidewalk. the costumer designer creates authentic period costumes, the lighting designer makes it look like a sunny city afternoon, and the actors bring their charisma and skill to making the characters come alive. now, as a novelist, i had to do all that myself, in addition to creating characters and making them walk, talk and move through their story.

i was overwhelmed and after a few months, i was floundering around with two hundred pages that i hated. i was trying so hard to be a serious novelist that i wasn't having any fun and reading my pages, i knew the reader wouldn't have any fun either. so i took a bold step. i said a mental apology to alice and toni, threw away all those pages and started again, but this time i was writing first person. it worked like a charm. as a playwright, i'm used to letting the characters speak. once i started writing in the main character's voice, the book came alive. ava johnson had a story to tell and all i had to do was get out of the way and let her tell it. i had a ball. the book turned out to be what looks like crazy on an ordinary day, and i've been writing novels ever since.

"the women in my books work with young people, support refugees, help new mothers, employ the homeless, grow peace gardens and participate in anti-war demonstrations. they also find time to fall in love, have babies, raise families, go to the beach, fly kites and laugh with their friends. i never thought you had to give up romance to be a revolutionary!"

CB: Are you still writing plays? What about screenplays for any of your books?

PC: i still write plays. i just wrote one last year called "a song for coretta." it takes place in atlanta as five women wait in line to go and pay their respects to mrs. coretta king who lay in state at ebeneezer baptist church. when i saw the television coverage, i was very moved by the picture of all those folks, standing in the rain at midnight, waiting to say good by to someone they admired and respected so much. the play was done at spelman college, where i was teaching at the time, and then at seven stages theatre. we had a great cast and a wonderful director in crystal dickinson. we sold out every show! the play is currently going into production in several other cities. "a song for coretta" was the first play i had written in ten years and it felt good to be working in theatre again. i am thinking about another play already!

as far as screenplays are concerned, my husband, zaron burnett, who is also a writer, is working with me on screenplays of several of my books. i am curious to see how they will translate. people are always casting the movies for me, especially blue hamilton! of course, denzel washington in blue contacts is always the first one they mention!

CB: Your books always include messages about social justice and just being good to one another. Is that a conscious plan on your part when you start writing?

PC: i am a true child of the sixties so i'm always trying to make the world a better place! i am convinced that if every person would just do their part, we could solve any problems we have, worldwide! i grew up in a very politically conscious and politically active family and i'm sure that's part of why the people in my books are always so deeply rooted in their community. the southwest atlanta neighborhood i'm writing about has been my home for thirty years so i am acutely aware of our problems, but i am also aware of what a vibrant place it is. i hope the books encourage people to look around at their own communities and get involved in something to make it better. the women in my books work with young people, support refugees, help new mothers, employ the homeless, grow peace gardens and participate in anti-war demonstrations. they also find time to fall in love, have babies, raise families, go to the beach, fly kites and laugh with their friends. i never thought you had to give up romance to be a revolutionary!

CB: It’s been a while since I’ve been to Atlanta. Is the West End you describe in your latest books really the way you describe it: well-kept with all-night businesses and men who tips their hats to ladies and women who feel safe walking at night? Or is this an urban African American neighborhood as you’d like to see it?

PC: i wish i could say that west end is exactly as i describe it, but we're not there yet. one of the things i'm always trying to do in my books is to create the kind of neighborhood i want to live in. i want to be able to walk at midnight, fearlessly. i want to be able to sit on my front porch and not hear gun fire and i sure want to have some men around who tip their hats and know how to say "good morning!" i want to eat fresh vegetables from the bounty of community gardens, so, i try to paint those pictures. i try to make readers remember how it feels to be safe and happy and loved and free. if we can see it, we can be it! (i told you i was a sixties child!)

 "nobody's going to give you permission to write. they're always going to have other things for you to do. if you want to write, you better start writing."

CB: A lot of writers (published and not-yet-published) read the blog. What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?

PC: my father gave me some wonderful advice when i was working full time and raising my daughter and keeping up an active social life. i was spending my time doing everything but writing and, of course, i was whining about it. my father listened to me for about fifteen minutes and then he said, "nobody's going to give you permission to write. they're always going to have other things for you to do. if you want to write, you better start writing." my feelings were hurt because i was looking for some sympathy, but he was right. nobody is going to give anybody permission to write. if you want to do it, it is up to you to make a way to do it. the best book about the writing process that i've come across is anne lamott's bird by bird. it's widely available in paperback and it's got lots of good advice and laugh out loud stories about the craziness that all writers think is theirs alone, but which is really just part of the process.

CB: What changes have you noticed in publishing since your first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, which was an Oprah Book Club pick?

PC: i think the biggest difference i've noticed in publishing is that there is a lot more emphasis on business and a lot less emphasis on the artistic development of the authors. publishers are struggling to find a way to make books commercially viable in an age when people are getting so much of their information from electronic sources. i think writers feel this pressure, too, and sometimes it gets in the way. the craft of writing doesn't have anything to do with the business of best sellers. when the two get confused, nothing good can come of it.

Thanks Pearl for your time!