Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Say Goodbye

Say, "See you later."

So, we've just left our hometown, Richmond, VA (RVA) for Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (OBX).  Here's my thinking:  Change is hard.  Anything worth doing is hard.  Like the characters in my novels, if I don't keep changing and moving forward, life will happen to me.  I won't be the author of my own story; I won't be the instigator, and I'm too much of a control freak for that to happen.

Live large.  Love the same way.  Moving is hard; logistically and emotionally, but we're here now.

So, some summertime advice:  1.  Sit in the big chair.  2.  Eat the cupcake.  3.  Drink the wine.  4.  Spoil the kid and the dog and the cat and the chicken, if applicable.  5.  Talk to the plants.  6.  Have sex.  7.  Share.  8.  Dance.  9.  Laugh.  10.  Let the little things go.  11.  Resolve the big things.  12.  Remember that clean underwear is always important.

*I went to Simon and Schuster two weeks ago.  My next novel is coming out August, 2013.  (Thanks to those of you who shared title suggestions.)   Thanks for the love and support of all my girlfriends!

Also, let me know if you have a title suggestion:  post below.  The novel is about two girls born with wings: one in 1973, USA and one in 1925, Lithuania.  The Lithuanian girl is the great aunt to the American girl.  Eventually, they meet.

Thanks for your help!

Michele Young-Stone is the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.  She just today moved to the beach.  Her next two novels are under contract with Simon & Schuster.

How to Write Southern Fiction When Weren't Born in the South.(Very Carefully)

By Karin Gillespie
(This post originally appeared on the blog "A Good Blog is Hard to Find."

Several years ago, I was a baby writer attending my very first conference. I ducked into a session called “What’s Hot; What’s Not” In the session, I learned that Southern lit was so hot New York editors were out on the streets, rattling their tin cups, begging for it. All you had to do was toss a few sweet iced tea and kudzu references into your novel, and you were practically guaranteed a six-figure deal. After that session I believe everybody and his mama went home to dash off a Southern novel, me included.

I had a couple of things working against me. First, I wasn’t born and raised in the South therefore lacked a rich vein of authentic Southern experiences to draw from. No memories of Aunt Catfish getting tipsy on scuppernong wine and substituting salt for sugar in her chess pie. No fond childhood recollections of slapping no-see-ums as I pulled on a green glass bottle of Co-Cola. Until recently, I didn’t know a no-see-um from a mosquito and I’d never tasted chess pie. Being from Minnesota, most of my memories include snow drifts, Viking games and tater-tot hot dishes.
But my Yankee background was not my greatest disadvantage. My greatest disadvantage was I’d read very little classic Southern Lit. For instance, I didn’t know that all of Flannery O’Conner’s stories are about finding grace, or that Carson McCullers writes novels about loneliness and isolation, and I’d never even heard of Eudora Welty. (Bless my poor, frostbitten Midwestern heart).

With two grievous strikes against me, you’d think my Southern novel would end up moldering away in a streamer trunk, ink fading, pages yellowing and decaying to dust, a sham and an affront to Southern novelists everywhere.

You’d think that… but you’d be wrong.

Call it beginner’s luck or some freakish twist of fate, but my little Southern novel didn’t desiccate like a dead beetle in an anonymous trunk. Instead it was bought by Simon and Schuster in a three-book deal and ended up on the shelves of every bookstore in America. During my book tours throughout the Southeast, I’d typically be asked, “Who are your literary influences?”

Stephen King was not the answer they were waiting to hear.

Looking back, I realize it took a lot of nerve to think I could write a Southern novel without ever having read the Southern authors who came before me. One reviewer remarked of my books, “Karin Gillespie is no Katherine Anne Porter.” I may have been more insulted if I’d known who she was.

When I went back to school for my MFA and was asked to read several Flannery O’Connor stories, I wasn’t looking forward to the assignment. All I knew about her was that she wrote a depressing story about a serial-killer.

You can guess what happened. Once I got a nibble of O’Connor, I wanted to gobble up her whole luscious literary pie. Who couldn’t blame me with prose this?

“The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.”

After I’d exhausted her work, I slaked my thirst on McCullers. How could I stop myself when confronted with passages like this?

“Her head was big and loose. The beer made her legs feel peculiar too, almost as if she had four legs to manage instead of two.”

Next I gorged on Kaye Gibbons, lapped up Lee Smith and feasted on Faulker (I ended up spitting some of Faulkner out).

Now I can’t imagine what my life would be like without Flannery, Carson and the rest. I’d love to sleep every night with “A Member of the Wedding” or “Bastard Our of Carolina” under my pillow and dream that I could write prose half as transformative. Classic Southern Lit may not have informed my previous work but it will definitely influence my future novels. As for me not being a true Southerner, you know what we non-natives say, “I wasn’t born in the South but I got here as fast as I could.”

That oughta count for something.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Writer's Special Skin

by Marilyn Brant
I almost titled this post "Writers: It's Like We're Amphibians, Only Not." But, you know, I didn't want to freak anybody out. *g*

My brother had a fire-bellied newt that lived for over 20 years, so I had a lot of opportunities to admire the little creatures. Thing is, amphibians have a number of very interesting qualities that have grown more intriguing to me as I've aged. They're small, relatively helpless beings who've developed certain survival mechanisms: some have the ability to camouflage themselves, others to puff themselves up to look fiercer than they are, and most can move freely from land to sea (or vice versa) as needed. Many go through an involved process of metamorphosis, which never ceases to fascinate me. And their sensitivity to their environment typically makes them good indicators of the health of their habitat. If the amphibians aren't doing well, there may be big problems afoot in the ecosystem.

But of all the parallels I could draw between these small, soft-bodied creatures and all of us writers, it's an amphibian's skin, which is permeable to water, that compels me the most. This odd similarity has haunted me for years because, of course, we humans do not really have that kind of skin but, metaphorically, the humans who choose to become artists of some kind do need to have something like it.

You know how novelists, poets, musicians, painters and actors are always told that we need to have a "thick skin"? Your work is going to get criticized -- hell, you are going to get criticized -- so you'd better learn to deal with it and get over it, right?

Well, that true, but it's not the whole truth. The rest of it is that, as writers, we also need to be exceptionally receptive to emotion, highly sensitive to our environment and, to some extent, knowingly vulnerable to the people we encounter. In other words, we need to develop a very special skin -- one that is thick enough to handle all of the inevitable rejection and keep out as much unnecessary toxicity as possible, but one that's still thin enough to let in the experiences we need in order to genuinely live and see and feel allow the range of thoughts and sensations that come with this awareness to fully permeate so we can write with honesty.

The longer I'm involved in this amazing, frustrating, incredible and ever-changing profession, the more I'm convinced that any sense of satisfaction we have from doing it at all comes down to our willingness to be more vulnerable, more permeable somehow than the rest of the population needs to be. To everyone else, writers may look like we're fully human, but I'm fairly certain that our skin belongs to another phylum, and I don't think we should be so quick to forget this about ourselves...

On this subject, I have a video clip that a good friend shared with me last week: Brené Brown, Ph.D., a researcher who studies vulnerability, courage, shame, worthiness and authenticity, did a TED talk on "The Power of Vulnerability" that has now been seen by almost 5 million people. Maybe you were one of them. If so, you know how good it is! If not, please check it out:

Did you like it? And do you think writers/musicians/artists need to have any particular adaptive traits to both survive in this world and, also, create? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Marilyn's latest novel, A Summer in Europe, was the B&N General Fiction Book Club read for May (check out week one!) and much virtual gelato was consumed during the month-long discussion. There were also many mentions of fabulous travel locations, weird family dynamics, hot foreign men and an S&M Club. (That would be "Sudoku & Mah-jongg" -- what did you think I was talking about?!) Not surprisingly, the subject of amphibians never came up...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Writers (and sun) Block

Confession: I have not put pen to paper, finger to computer key for a good three months. I'm not blocked, per se, just busy. My career is a cobbled-together pastiche of teaching gigs, ghostwriting jobs, freelance assignments and...oh yeah...novel writing, and sometimes, no, often, it gets prioritized in that order. I never worry too much about that, I don't feel panic. I know things will emerge in due time. In fact, knowing that I'd need a little 'alone time' this summer to complete a novel, I applied to 5 artists colonies in Europe, a task as complicated as applying to graduate school. Sadly, I didn't get into the one on the Tuscany coast that flew you out, paid for everything while you basked in the glory of the creative muse. Nor did I get into the one in France, the one built by Picasso for his lover Dora Maar. I did, however, receive a partial fellowship to this one just north of Barcelona, Spain. So come July, I will have no excuse not to put pen to paper, finger to computer key for a whole month. The teaching gigs, the freelance stuff - they'll all be on hold as I regain the muscle memory of writing a word, a sentence, a scene, some pages. Perhaps I will emerge with a final draft? Or perhaps I will emerge with a really great tan.

Melissa Clark is the author of IMPERFECT and SWIMMING UPSTREAM, SLOWLY. On June 7th she will be reading with fellow girlfriend Ariella Papa at the Wix Lounge in NYC.

Guest Post: Laura Dave

Seven Days To A Highly Effective Break Up
By Laura Dave,
Author of The First Husband
The other night I was having dinner with some girlfriends, one of whom just went through a fairly miserable break up. (Is there really another kind?)
Nothing is worse than the first week back on your own, she said.
Annie Adams, the protagonist in my novel The First Husband, would definitely agree. She has such a bad first week after her longtime boyfriend leaves her that she goes to her local bar, has a bit to drink, and marries the first guy she sees. Probably not the wisest idea.
But how to get through that first week in one, graceful piece?
Here is a seven day plan to help make a break up not only less tricky, but also inspired.
A Terrible Tuesday
Studies show that more break ups happen on Monday than any other day of the week. So let's assume you're waking up on Tuesday morning, feeling that pit in your stomach as you recall the awkward conversation from the night before.
Maybe it's officially over. Maybe he offered up some non-committal let's take a break speech. Either way, for all intents and purposes, he's gone. At least for now. And the first thing you undoubtedly want to do is replay the evening in your head.
Go for it. This is your day to obsess and mope. Call your best friend and have her come over to help. Go through the story with her in exhaustive detail and let her tell you that he's a jerk. Or, if it makes you feel better, let her tell you that he'll come running back. Either way, it's fine to stay up until 2 AM watching your favorite movies and thinking about how you and your Ex are way cuter than even Harry and Sally. (They broke up too for a while, right?)
If your best friend is doing her job, she'll remind you that they did. Then she'll pour you some more wine.
No Woe-Is-Me Wednesday
You may wish you hadn't had so much wine the night before, but you're getting out of bed anyway. First stop: the shower. (Easy enough.) Baths often get a spotlight for making troubles melt away, but most of the time they just make you cold.
A warm shower will leave you feeling ready to face the day -- and also will get you into the bathroom where you need to spend some time trying to look your best. Fix your hair, apply your favorite lip gloss. Whatever leaves you feeling pretty. Not because you're going to run into your Ex, but because you're probably not. And it's a good lesson to teach yourself that the most important person to look beautiful for is you.
Now, step two: go into the kitchen and grab your biggest garbage bag. Fill it with all things that remind you of your Ex. And quickly. (This is not time to linger.) Just grab old photographs, anniversary letters, the gorgeous scarf he gave you for Valentines Day.
Don't worry, you're not throwing anything away permanently, you're just putting the bag somewhere you won't have to see it until you are out of the muck. And, if you find yourself, thinking too much, just remember: This doesn't mean you can't ever wear the scarf ever again. It just means you aren't going to wear it while you are getting over him. . . Even if you think it's making you feel better, what will really make you feel better is a new scarf.
Go and get one.
Skip The Ice Cream Thursday
If I promised you there was something you could do that would make you feel more in control and at least 75% better, wouldn't you want to do it?
Here's the thing: exercise will do just that. You know this, secretly. Every time you move, endorphins jump right to the front of your brain. And you deserve some of those guys jumping around there about now.
You don't have to go to the gym, but you have to do something active. Take a yoga class, go for a bike ride. Try rock climbing. Maybe that is a little ambitious, but ambitious is good right now.
Music is also good right now. Turn it up high while you exercise. The world is a whole lot less scary and isolating when you are running like a fool, as Robyn sings Hang With Me.
(She's talking to you, you know.)
Freedom Friday
Here's an incontrovertible truth: Freedom, when you're in the middle of a break up, means freedom from Facebook. And that's exactly what the (aptly named) Freedom application delivers.
Freedom is a type of software that makes it possible to temporarily disable the Internet on your computer.
Before you go out on Friday night, turn it on -- and set the timer to last for the entirety of the weekend. You will not send late-night emails. You will not cyber-stalk. You will not angry-tweet. You will not get caught up in who he may or may not be seeing. Freedom means you're above it.
And you have to be. There is no way to turn that program off.
And don't worry, if you need your computer for work, Freedom has a sister application called Anti-Social, which keeps you off all social networking sites.
So your work won't be figuring out what his status update -- Feeling like a sandwich and a night in -- means. (Does he mean with you? Does he want you to make that buttery grilled cheese? Should you bring it over right away?)
No, no and no. Make the sandwich for yourself. The only status updates you should pay attention to are the ones he gives you directly.
Super Saturday (And Sunday) 
As much as we all wish this weren't true, the first weekend after a break up can be a bit of a bummer. There's no way around it. There's only getting through it and knowing that once you do, it won't all feel so unmanageable.
To make it easier, you're going out. But not out to a club that will make it seem like your Ex is the only good one left in the world. He isn't.
Instead, go to your favorite restaurant. Or your favorite bar. You know, the one your Ex never wanted to go to because it was too far from his work. Or because it was too far from his pals. Or because it just didn't matter to him that you loved it. That should have been enough reason to take you there, so tonight, spend time with real friends, people who are willing to follow you off the beaten path. Enjoy yourself.
On Sunday, do it again. Not the same restaurant, necessarily. But the same type of day in which you remind yourself of something you enjoy. And spend time with the friends who are going to make you enjoy it more. And to celebrate getting through the first weekend, order your favorite desert. You had No Ice Cream Thursday. You've earned it.
A Less Manic Monday
You are starting a new week. Your first week without him. You may still be thinking of him a lot, but you're not thinking of him all day long. This is something to be proud of.
So now for forward motion. Make a plan today to do something fun. It can be simple, like buying tickets for an Avett Brothers concert next month. Or it can be something bigger, like planning a trip.
You've been talking about going to Mexico or Paris. Or Wyoming. You've wanted to get lost in the beautiful mountains and experience something entirely new. New is good. It is significant.
And, look . . . you can see a glimmer of it already: that thing you have been wanting, something significant, something beyond a relationship where you weren't appreciated the way you deserve to be.
So put that plane ticket on hold. And get ready. This is what is to come. You're taking off.
*Much like a diet, the break up plan can be revisited at regular intervals as needed.*
© 2012 Laura Dave, author of The First Husband
Author Bio
Laura Dave, 
is the author of several acclaimed novels, including "The First Husband," which was recently released in paperback.  A New York Native, she now lives with her husband in Los Angeles. Visit her online at and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What's the Hardest Part of Writing?

By Ellen Meister

Every writer has his or her struggles. Some find dialogue almost impossible to nail. Others wrestle with point-of-view. Many approach the revision process like they’re having fingernails removed.

For me, it’s story—shaping the concept of the book into a coherent narrative thread with a beginning, middle and end.

So it shocked me when my agent, rather offhandedly, said, “You’re so strong at story.” I swear, I looked over my shoulder to see if Michael Palmer or Tess Gerritsen was standing behind me. But no, she was actually talking to me.

I felt like I had tricked her. How could she possibly think I was strong at story?

But I now realize what she meant. There's something filmic about my stories and the way I construct them, which is why my books, including THE OTHER LIFE and FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER (Putnam, 2/2013), are getting a fair amount of attention in Hollywood.

The truth is, I work like that devil at it, because it is so damned hard. That's why I  hesitated for only a moment when Debbi Honorof from Hofstra University asked me if I would like to teach a high intensity writers’ webinar for her continuing ed program.

"Only if I can teach about story structure," I said.

Why do I want to teach something I find so difficult? Because it doesn't come naturally. Because I've read books and articles about it. Because I've deconstructed stories to see where the girders are. Because I've gone down the wrong roads so many times that I believe I know where most of the pot holes and dead ends are. The result is that I've come up with my own map, as well as a complete set of steps for demystifying the process of creating the kind of suspenseful 3-act plot that appeals to readers, editors, agents and even Hollywood.

The live webinar from Hofstra is on Tuesday, June 5 at 7 pm Eastern Time, and is available to anyone online. (Here's a handy clock converter that lets you see what time that is in your area.) At my request, Hofstra has kept the price very reasonable and even extended the pre-registration discount. Plus, they are recording the event and sending every registrant a link for future viewings. So if you're interested, I hope you'll sign up. Click here for more info.

In any case, I understand that every writer is different, and I'd love to know about your struggles. What do you consider the hardest part of the process? And if you have any tips on how you make it easier, I'm sure we'd all love to know!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Upcoming Summer Reads in Women’s Fiction and Book Giveaway

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker Release date June 26

What’s It About?
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions.

In short: Doomsday is near as the Earth’s rotation slows but young girl still has to deal with her parents’ divorce, first love, the loss of old friends and a crazy grandpa.

Why you should read it:  Touted as the new Lovely Bones, the novel got a starred Kirkus and PW as well as praise from Curtis Sittenfeld and Amy Bloom.
Link to excerpt

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon Release date May 29

What’s it About?
“Alice Buckle, a 44-year-old from Massachusetts, has been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for years when she realizes she and her husband have drifted apart while advancing their careers (mostly him) and raising their children (mostly her). Dissatisfied, Alice agrees to participate in a marriage study and, as “Wife 22,” is paired with “Researcher 101.” After weeks of anonymously sharing increasingly intimate details about her marriage, Alice begins to feel that Researcher 101 understands her better than her own husband does.”  (From Library Journal)
In short: Bored wife falls for a researcher in a marriage study.
Why you should read it. The voice is so distinct and funny it’s being compared to Alison Pearson’s  I Don’t Know How She Does It and Bridget Jones’ Diary. Also has starred PW and Library Journal review and blurbs from heavy hitters like Elizabeth Berg and Mary Kay Andrews.

 Link to excerpt

Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March, Release date June 19

What’s It About: Two sisters and the cousin they grew up with after a tragedy are summoned home to their family matriarch's inn on the coast of Maine for a shocking announcement. Suddenly, Isabel, June, and Kat are sharing the attic bedroom--and barely speaking. But when innkeeper Lolly asks them to join her and the guests in the parlor for weekly Movie Night--it's Meryl Streep month--they find themselves sharing secrets, talking long into the night--and questioning everything they thought they knew about life, love, and one another.
In short: Women learn life lessons while watching Meryl Streep movies.

Why You Should Read It:  In the tradition of Friday Night Knitting Club and Jane Austen Book Club.  Not to mention a very cute and relatable concept.
Link to excerpt

More Summer Reads

Great-Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells by Lisa Cash—Fiesty 85-year-old transforms dumpy feminist niece into femme fatale. June 19.

Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriaty— Female hypnotherapist falls in love with a client who’s being stalked and discovers the stalker is also a client.  June 14.

Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook—Introverted sister tries to find her identity after being overshadowed by her famous rock star brother.  June 5.

Book Giveaway

Speaking of great summer reads, leave an email address in the comments for a chance to win SPIN by Catherine McKenzie.  It's about a girl who is offered a job at a Rolling Stones-type mag with one caveat: She has to check into rehab and get the skinny on the latest celebrity It Girl.

Winner will be announced after nine on Thursday.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some Books Are Worth Repeating and Other Summer Guilty Pleasures by Lori L. Tharps

Hello Girlfriends,

I don't know about you, but I've been living on the academic calendar, well, since I started kindergarten  many, many moons ago. Even when I briefly worked in corporate America, my internal body clock knew there was something amiss about getting up and going into the office between June 15 and September 1st. Now that I work in the hallowed halls of academia, summer really means a break from the routine. And for me, part of that break means catching up on all of the delicious paperbacks, 'women's fiction' and guilty pleasure reading I don't have time for during the academic year. Case in point, I'm just about half way through Rebecca Skloot's, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I needed to read it for a class I'm teaching and because I thought I should. (It is a fascinating story.) But come June 1 or if I finish HeLa before then, here's what's on my TBR list for the summer of 2012.

32 Candles by our own Ernessa Carter. Yes, I read this fantastic, snarky, romance-with-a-twist when it first came out in 2010, but I'm ready to read it again. Of course, I'd like it if Ms. Carter would just pen another smart, romantic tale, but I'm happy to re-read 32 Candles while I wait.

Minding Ben  by Victoria Brown. Here's a book I'd never heard of until I met the author this spring at a conference. She approached me because she'd heard about my book, Substitute Me and as her book is also about a nanny in New York, she thought we might be kindred spirits. Minding Ben is about a nanny recently arrived in New York from her native Trinidad. The book deals with issues of race and privilege, culture wars and immigration and that oh so unique nanny culture in New York City.

Anna In Between by Elizabeth Nuñez. Quite frankly, I'd read a cocktail napkin if Elizabeth Nuñez wrote something on it. I love her writing and the stories she tells always seem to resonate with my life circumstances. This book is about a woman, Anna, who works in the publishing industry who has to deal with her aging parents, as her mother deals with a diagnosis of breast cancer.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I got into a circus phase earlier this year when I wrote a newspaper article on a local circus. Then it was like, faster than you can say Cirque du Soleil, I was obsessed with all-things circus. I read Water for Elephants, considered signing up for trapeze classes and contemplated running away from home to attend clown college. So, of course I have to read this book about magical lovers under the big top. I'd probably read it anyway though because like Ernessa Carter, Morgenstern is another Smith College alum and I must support my fellow Smithies!

That's a good list. I'm sure I'll read all four of those books and still have time for one or two more before fall. I'll be checking everybody else's lists for suggestions. And just out of curiosity, does anybody else out there read their favorite books over again? Or am I the only one? Which ones are worth repeating?

Lori L. Tharps is the author of the novel, Substitute Me. She blogs regularly at My American

Monday, May 21, 2012

How I Might Spend My Summer Vacation

There was a time when I was excited to have summer finally arrive. The air smelled differently, the clock ticked louder as it inched toward 3PM and every kid in my class rushed toward the door and 90-days of freedom.

Back then, I spent many a day on the library floor figuring out which books were coming home with me. I still feel the thrill of choosing what books to take on vacation or to curl up with on a sunny day at the beach, the lake, or even our own backyard. 

Here are a few books I might try to read before September.

Those Across the River, Christopher Buehlman  I confess that I’ve already read this book. The author is a poet, the story is scary (no knives or chopping) and I loved it.
32 Candles, Ernessa Carter
Perfect Peace, Daniel Black
Home, Toni Morrison, only 145 pages
Zorro, or The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, or maybe anything I haven't read, by Walter Mosley
Whatever is at the airport bookstore (if I've forgotten to bring a book) that I haven't read, by Patricia Cromwell
Best American Short Stories 2011 Good for waiting in line
Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte   I’ve been working on this one for months; the type is so small.
Lush Life, Richard Price   I tried to read last year, and couldn’t get into it; I really like his TV show, so I'll give it another try.
Take One Candle, Light a Room, Susan Straight   Recommended by a friend; she’s supposed to be a great storyteller.

And, of course, Searching for Tina Turner or that wonderful armchair trip to Paris, Passing Love 

Yes, I love the idea of that hefty stack by the side of my bed. But please don’t hold me to reading them all, distractions and new releases are everywhere.

Jacqueline Luckett is the author of Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner. Read an excerpt or listen to the trailers:

Are you ready for summer?
by Brenda Janowitz

Summer reading. Is there anything better than summer reading? It conjures up images of sitting poolside in some exotic locale with a pina colada in one hand, steamy page turner in another. Or maybe that's just me?!

With two small children at my side, my summer will be devoid of pina coladas, but full of reading. (Hey, they've gotta nap at *some*point, don't they?!) 

I can't wait for Emily Giffin's latest, WHERE WE BELONG. I don't even know what it's about-- just knowing that Emily wrote it is enough for me! I never met an Emily Giffin novel that I didn't read in 24 hours, and I know that this one will be no exception.

Jennifer Weiner also has a new book coming out: THE NEXT BEST THING. Jen recently had a stint as a television writer out in Hollywood, and this new novel is based in that same crazy world. Need I say more?  I'm currently reading (and loving) her book, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, and it reminds me how she just proves over and over again why she's a New York Times bestseller. And one of the most talked about women's fiction writers out there.

I also can't wait for JANE AUSTEN MARRIAGE MANUAL by Kim Izzo to come out. Okay, I'm cheating a bit, since I was asked to blurb this one. But here's what I said about it: 

"You don't have to love Jane Austen to fall in love with The Jane Austen Marriage Manual! A modern take on the age old question: should we marry for love or money?"  

And finally, don't forget about GOSSIP by Beth Gutcheon. I totally devoured THE NEW GIRLS, so I'm excited for her latest.

What are YOU looking forward to reading this summer? And more importantly, will there be pina coladas involved?

I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKS and JACK WITH A TWIST. My third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin's in 2013. My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me at or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The worst bad writing habit by Christa Allan

I'd started writing this blog post today about my bad writing habits. While I wasn't (unfortunately) at a loss for examples, I was at a loss for substance. And there it was. My baddest of the bad habits. Hiding behind my words. I'm  sharing what I wrote when I first wrestled with this truth. In its original form, it not only better conveys the experience, it reminds me to be me.

If I’m going to be honest about my dishonesty, then I must be honest that the idea for this post did not originate with me.
I started working with the savvy Beth Jusino, a freelance publishing consultant. She sent me an extensive questionnaire to answer prior to  creating my (astounding!)Book Marketing Plan. One of the challenges I shared with her was that I couldn’t get a handle on my website/blog, not the design of it, but the direction of it.
The resulting telephone conversation (loosely paraphrased) after I read the plan, went something like this:
Beth: How is it that you write novels where you’re not afraid to tackle tough issues, the emotions no one wants to own, but you sound like Pollyanna on your blog?
Me: I didn’t want to upset or offend anyone.
Beth:  I think that’s a blog post.
Am I intentionally hiding behind my fiction?
I don’t believe my blog should be a confessional for all my sins, a sales pitch for my books, or a dumping ground for minutiae. I doubt readers care to know my grocery list or the details of my dentist appointment.
But I did choose to be safe. To not discuss controversial topics or, if I did, leave my stance ambiguous. To not share much of what I wrestle with morally, both inside and outside of my writing. To not write more about places where my life intersects with my books.
Why? Because I feared being judged, being outcasted, being ridiculed. Because I wanted people to think, “That Christa writes about some real issues, but she’s such a nice person.”
In writing this, I remembered a widget, years earlier, that kept a real time count of abortions in the United States. After copying the code into my blog, I deleted it.  I rationalized that the blog was too new for me to “rock the boat” and engage in pro-life vs. pro-choice controversy.
What makes all of this wretchedly ironic is I’m the once divorced, twice married, recovering alcoholic Christian wife of a Jewish husband, mother of twins (one of the two has Down’s Syndrome) plus three other children, a daughter whose husband is black (and she’s not), and sister of a gay brother.
It would be stupid for anyone to go to a dry well. Why would I want my readers to go to a blog that offers them nothing beyond the sanitized?
Many of them face ugly, painful truths. Am I telling them it’s acceptable for fictional people to play in the mud of that, but we real ones need to avoid the muck?
If I want readers to know who I am beyond the pithy bio on the back of my novels, being honest about my dishonesty is an honest beginning.

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken GlassThe Edge of Grace, and Love Finds You in New Orleans. You can find her at www.christaallan.comFacebook, and Twitter. When she's not frantically meeting deadlines, 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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Refilling the Creative Stores by Jenny Gardiner

I come to writing as a reader. It was as a reader that I first knew I wanted to be a writer. And it is to reading that I return when I need to recharge my creative battery, to challenge myself (or better yet, be challenged by other talented writers) to become a better writer myself. And as a reader I go through very distinct phases of what I'm interested in reading. Sometimes it is purely mindless drivel. Not poorly-written drivel, mind you, but nothing particularly artful over which future civilizations might marvel.

When I'm in this "fast food" phase of reading, my standards are certainly in low mode, to say the least. It's often in search of such books that I dip into the books I've downloaded for free on Amazon, and sometimes I'm quite pleasantly surprised! It was a few months ago in which I discovered a little gem of a novel in this way. I think I'd done a free download and then Amazon suggested I'd like something else if I liked that, and the novel it told me I would enjoy I did indeed enjoy very much. Tracie Banister's BLAME IT ON THE FAME was a bargain and a half at $1.99 -- I've since told her she's nuts to not charge more for it. It's the type of novel that for some bizarre reason could not find a home with a New York publishing house, and it's certainly their sad loss. It's a lovely novel that follows five diverse actresses who are nominated for an Academy Award in the month leading up to the big night. While it's a fast, delicious read, it really wasn't at all the junk food as I'd expected. Banister is a talented writer, and she's great at getting her character's voices down well. The book is entertaining, fast-paced, well-written and funny. I'd highly recommend it for a great summertime read.

 Shortly before reading Blame it on the Fame I happened upon Joshilyn Jackson's GODS IN ALABAMA. I know, it's been out for a while. And I'd heard her name repeatedly but just never got around to checking out her books. It wasn't until I stumbled upon a story written by her in an anthology I was blurbing, WEDDING CAKE FOR BREAKFAST: Essays on the Unforgettable First Year of Marriage, that I fell for her writing. Agent Wendy Sherman and Kim Perel assembled a top-notch collection of women authors to write about their experiences in that first year of marriage, and it's a lovely book to sit down and nibble on like a wonderful appetizer. It's how I discovered I adore Joshilyn Jackson's voice. So there are two more fun reads for you to check out if you've not so far.

I wasn't going to read Charlotte Rogan's THE LIFEBOAT. Saw the review in People Magazine, but it didn't appeal to me. But then I heard the author on NPR and she just sounded so unlike what I expected, so I decided to download the sample chapters out of curiosity, and I was hooked. Now I will warn you my husband didn't become so engrossed in it. And it has a lot of lazy problems later in the book -- things I would have expected an editor to do something about (poorly tied-up loose ends, some things rushed to conclusion, the goal of the story, the rescue, was sort of an afterthought dealt with in a paragraph or two). But overall I loved how she got the voices down well, sort of wrote it in that Edwardian Era voice, and took us into those dark hours one must experience while trapped on the seas.

 On vacation I downloaded Jenny Lawson's memoir LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED. I haven't finished it yet, it's sort of one of those books you pick up and put down. So far it's been enjoyable, albeit a bit bizarre. She's pretty funny. Albeit bizarre.

 I started to read BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton. Again, I haven't finished it, but it's enjoyable. It didn't keep me glued to the page, however, so I'll return to it eventually.

 I LOVED Suzanne Finnamore's SPLIT: A Memoir of Divorce. Terrific writer, very poignant and gut-splaying.

 Have picked up Nathan Englander's WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANN FRANK, and i find him to be a compelling writer, but it gets a bit tiresome. Another pick up and put down book.

 Probably my favorite novel in the past six months has been Amor Towles's RULES OF CIVILITY, one of those books you are so sad to have to finish reading. One of those books that challenges a writer to step up her game. This was like a 10-course gourmet meal, paired with top-notch wines, it was that memorable.

 I loved Erin Morgenstern's THE NIGHT CIRCUS, and Sarah Bird's THE GAP YEAR.

And for fun mindless reading, anything by Victoria Dahl, Shannon Stacy, Jane Graves, Erin McCarthy and Jill Shalvis work. Sure they might be snack food, but hey, snack food can be downright perfect at times.

 And lastly I simply could not put down Katherine Boo's incredible debut, BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS:Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. It's not type of book I tend to gravitate toward, but damn, is it ever something that has seared itself into my psyche. It reads like a well-told story but it's all true. I highly recommend it.

 Of course if you're still looking for some good reads, don't forget to check out these great books by yours truly:

  Slim to None (Diversion Books) #1 Kindle Bestseller!

Where the Heart Is

Anywhere but Here (Diversion Books)

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

 I'm Not the Biggest BItch in this Relationship (Penguin)

Accidentally on Purpose

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me (Gallery Books)

Compromising Positions

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hope Chest Stories

I came to my writing life as a ten year old through my mother and the struggles that held her in an impossible life. We’d spent a tumultuous six years in Germany on an isolated air force base. Finally we--Mother, Dad, and Me--were back in Georgia. Thanksgiving 1967 to be exact. The last time I’d been in my home state I was four and recovering from my tonsils being taken out, so there wasn’t much I recalled of the place my mother and father called home. 

Dad drove through the suburbs intent to reach our destination before dark. It was late evening and we sat at a traffic light on Clay Street. In one of the small houses, I saw a thin woman standing at an ironing board. Her hair was twisted into two braids, and she wore a faded apron. Her living room was lit by one lamp and the black and white TV. She picked up her iron and applied it to a white shirt as she watched the Nightly News. She was completely unaware I was peeping into her life. And thus began my unobserved spying.

 “Mother did you like living here?” I asked.

Mother took a deep breath. “It was home.”

That homecoming day, sitting in the back of Daddy’s pea green Valiant, I was missing my parents, only I didn’t have the maturity to understand the emotions. A few days earlier Dad had suggested Mother go to the state hospital when we returned to Georgia. She had pointed out to him in no uncertain terms she would not.

On the car trip, I had the backseat of the Valiant to myself, and I scooted from side to side. Neither parent cared. They only sat in the front seat looking out the window. Waiting to arrive.

When we reached Granny’s house, a long deep sigh released from my chest as if I had held it for months, as if she could protect me from things to come. The house was little, a cottage in the dark woods, a sanctuary. It was clean, solid, and green with white lattice around the front porch. Not a bad place. Not a shoddy house. My father stayed long enough to unload our suitcases. When he drove off for good, I don’t know where I was. I can’t say I watched him as he went down the road. But in my childhood fantasies--the stories I told myself to get through the night or day--I chased the car but he never stopped. The missing memory is still like a bad tooth; I keep going back to test the sensitivity.

Mother tried to stop him. She begged him, pulled at the car keys. Her arm began to bleed, where he worked free. 

The small house, my new home, was connected. We didn’t have any halls. The rooms were joined by doors. To get to the bathroom from the kitchen, I had to walk through the living room and then into Granny’s bedroom and finally the bathroom that was large enough for a toilet, a small sink, and an old fashion claw foot tub. This was my saving grace. I would fill it with water and soak in privacy, telling stories to myself.

Mother and I shared a small bedroom at the back of the house that we could only access through the bathroom. There was a double bed, my twin bed, a nine inch TV, and two dressers. The first thing Mother did after crying for over two weeks was to paint the room stomach medicine pink. Maybe it was her attempt to brighten her life that seemed lost. Maybe it was just bad taste, or an early sign of her slipping reality. Granny allowed her to use the color. I think it was her gracious attempt to save her only child from a mental disease that was stealing her mind.

My twin bed was underneath a window, and at night I would look into the limbs of a giant oak tree. In the summer the leaves felt like a protective blanket. Stars would wink at me in the winter. This view was my hope, my one and only hope as my world became smaller and smaller. 

At the foot of Mother’s bed was a cedar hope chest, resembling a casket in my young mind. On the bottom was a hidden drawer that I found by accidentally kicking it one morning. Inside were over thirty silver dollars dated in the twenties. A treasure. The chest held monogrammed towels, hand sewn linen napkins with a matching table cloth, and sheets with embroider pillow cases. Cards, ribbons, and little pins a girl might place on her blouse collar were stuffed in the satin side pockets. And in the bottom was a shiny wooden box of sterling silver flatware. The box was lined with red velvet. Folded in the corner of the chest was a handmade bedspread and a tarnished letter opener. Letters tied with a yellow ribbon, paper soft like cloth, were tucked beneath. Correspondence between Mother and Dad during the Korean War. Love letters. A newly married couple waiting to begin their future, a future already tarnished with trying circumstances and mood swings. 

My Mother’s girlish hopes for life, a love, her most treasured things were packed away, saved. This chest had been intended to go with Mother when Dad came home from the war but never left her childhood home. Her precious belongings and dreams were too cumbersome to be included in their travels. Mother’s hopes were wrapped in moth balls. The vacant desires were buried away. I closed the lid to the chest and never told Mother I looked inside. Maybe she would have told me stories of her wedding and honeymoon, but I didn’t want to know. It scared me that something so loved could fall apart. Instead, I began to tell my own stories about the items inside. And so my writing routine began. Each evening as Mother sat at the kitchen table staring outside, I wrote stories. These feeble attempts at a literary life gave me belief that one day I would step outside of the walls of the home forced upon me.

I survived those years and went on to forge my own writing life. Mother slowly lost her battle with the voices that battered her reality. In one of my wedding photos, Mother stands beside me, gripping my hand. I’m smiling. She looks stunned, as if she might evaporate into the emotions of the day.

But if I look really hard, I can see her young face, the woman who put her love on her sleeve. The woman who stitched the delicate flowers on pillowcases. And if I concentrate, I can see my father’s smile when she said something funny. I can remember some of the good times. Expectations entwined in these memories lace together my stories into choices, hopes that I sometimes take out and embrace. Stories that gave me an identity hope in my own creative life. 

Ann Hite has written short stories, personal essays, and book reviews for numerous publications and anthologies. Ghost On Black Mountain, published by Gallery Books, is inspired by generations of stories handed down through her family. She lives just north of Atlanta.

Rehab Addict 2.0 with Jess Riley

I think my husband and I have lost our minds. Hot on the heels of the total re-do of the second story of our house, we are embarking on three NEW remodeling projects: a gut and overhaul of our living room and office, installation of central air conditioning, and installation of a brick patio in the backyard. 

I think I’ve mentioned that our house was built in 1885, so really, these things happen. Carpet gets funky. Trim gets beat to shit. Floors buckle. Ceilings start to cave in.

Oh, those last two never happened to you?

So the month of May just got a lot crazier. On top of this, I am gutting and overhauling a novel I originally wrote in 1998. YEAH! I know! 

Original title? The Cool Side of the Pillow. Now it’s Mandatory Release. It has always been a love story, but it’s undergone several massive edits over the last decade and a half … mostly because the first draft was a giant, steaming turd. Anyway, first it took place in Ireland. Later the setting moved to a prison. Because when I think romance, I think PENAL SYSTEM! I originally killed the main love interest, then I brought him back to life. Later I changed main characters entirely, writing from a male point of view for the first time.  Then I made it a love triangle. Then I added some twisted subplots and truly warped humor. I also wrote my first sex scene. *blushing* 

It was fun.

Most recently, I applied for a Creative Capital grant to help me make this novel the best damn thing it can be. I want to interview correctional officers to see how the recent elimination of collective bargaining has affected workplace safety and morale. I want to add a riot. I want to tighten up the writing, trim the fat, shade the characters, change one character’s point of view and tense entirely. (First person present? Nah—second person past, is more like it!)

When I’m done, hopefully later this summer, this damn novel will have gone through more incarnations than Shirley MacLaine or the recipe for Coke. 

My point it this: like an old house, any novel you write is destined for some remodeling…even if you think you’re done with it. Live in it long enough, and you stop seeing the imperfections. So take a brief vacation. When you come home, you will wonder how long that funky odor has been around, and whether anyone else has noticed it. (The answer is: 2 years or more, and yes.) You’ll decide the linoleum / secondary character with the club foot has got to go.

And remodeling a book or house is never as easy as you think it will be. Sure, you could just slap a coat of paint on it to hide the problems, but if there are major structural issues, it’ll collapse eventually.  Don’t be afraid of a major tear-down. Do it right and avoid the leaking roof / hack reputation. You’ll thank me later.

Jess Riley is currently over-thinking something, somewhere. Probably here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Times of Our Lives

by Malena Lott

Is there a more wistful month than May? As a women's fiction author, I write about relationships and love and change. As a new young adult author writing as Lena Brown, I get to go back in time to experience coming of age and hopes and dreams, and, okay, possessed prom dresses.

Here are a few things happening in my life right now that I'm sticking in my pocket to savor and will likely pull out at some time to use in my writing.

  • My 8th grader is graduating middle school. My first born. God, last week at the sports physical, it was confirmed he's taller than me. Why do they grow up so fast?
  • My 12 year-old daughter's dance recital. Is there anything more special than watching your child perform - and, even better, be more talented than you are? I can't help but cry when I watch her.
  • My 7-year-old's crossover ceremony in Cub Scouts this Friday, including an all-night camp out. In a tent. When I asked him which camp outs he wanted to attend, he said, "all of them." That's my nature-lovin' little dude. 
In writing, "Every Breath You Take," my short story in the paranormal prom anthology, Prom Dates to Die For, it was hard not to feel wishful about prom. I loved seeing all the prom photos from friends on Facebook and thinking that soon enough - too soon - my kids would be going to prom themselves.

What about you? What are you feeling wistful about this time of year? And what are your summer plans for making cool memories to look back on fondly some day?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a trade paperback or ebook of Prom Dates to Die For. The collection features five paranormal stories by five authors. “Prom Dates to Die For is a deliciously dark collection of prom-gone-wrong stories guaranteed to keep you curled up on the couch until you reach the end.” Amanda Ashby ~ author of Zombie Queen of Newbury High and Fairy Bad Day

Malena Lott is the author of three women's fiction novels and the e-novella, Life's a Beach. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, three children and shih-tzu.