Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Binge

by Maggie Marr


I do this thing--which compared to other types of behaviors I guess isn't really too destructive. I binge read. For hours. Days. I have a super-human ability to forego all but the most necessary of human and familial needs. I can plop my tush down in the midst of the messiest of houses (mine--my house) and read.

Recently I've read the following:

The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais

Stalking The Angel by Robert Crais

The First Rule by Robert Crais

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

also throw into the mix four screenplays.

All within 7 days.

This is the thing, I have discovered that I often binge read to avoid something--usually a transition from one thing to another. Because, for me, reading has always been a good thing. My ability to read for hours was praised in my childhood and was of great benefit to me as an attorney, an agent, and also as an author. Therefore this binge, as are all my book binges, is cloaked in propriety.

However there is a deeper darker side.

I am nearly finished with a manuscript. A manuscript that I have fundamentally changed countless times. A manuscript that I have edited longer and in more depth than anything I've ever written before. A manuscript in which my writer-creative self is fundamentally invested.

And I am scared as hell.

I don't want to let go. I don't want to send these pages to my editor. I don't want to fail because failure is f**king painful--especially after you've invested so much time, tears, and (hopefully) talent into a project.

I have 30 pages left and one final read. That's about 7 days of work--and how long have I been binge reading--about 7 days. So, yes, I know what I'm doing and I know why I'm doing it. Now I need to stop reading and get back to work.

I have three more chapters left to read in the book I am currently using as my roadblock on the transition from unfinished manuscript to finished manuscript--I will finish this book tonight. I am hopeful that Monday morning I will begin to write again.

Maggie Marr is an attorney and author. She wrote Hollywood Girls Club, Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club, and Can't Buy Me Love. Her latest book Courting Trouble will (fingers crossed) release October 2012. She also writes for tv. Maggie lives in Los Angeles.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Girlfriends Sunday Book Review

Life After Wuthering Heights
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Reviewed by Cindy Jones

She had me on page one:

"The book was thick and black and covered with dust.  It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow...The librarian handed it to Roland Michell, who was sitting waiting for it in the Reading Room of the London Library.  It had been exhumed from Locked Safe no. 5."    

I am virtually sitting on Roland Michell's lap on page one, urging him to untie the neat bow, savoring my Pavlovian response to the appearance of a dusty hardcover.  Because the very mention of a black book covered with dust sends me back to my professor-grandfather's book shelves where I spent summers pulling old hardcovers off shelves, searching for fiction.  My grandfather had wide-ranging interests, so I had to sort through philosophy, politics, and social history before finding a novel.  But his bookshelves introduced me to, among others: The French Lieutenant's Woman, stories by Maupassant, and novels by Iris Murdoch.  A story that opens with a dusty old book placed in the hands of the protagonist has my attention.        

Possession is the story of two young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets based on Robert Browning and Emily Dickenson.  The gripping novel is part love story, part intellectual mystery, with a dash of academic satire.  As the scholars search letters, journals, and poems for clues to the poets' secret affair, each revelation begs an urgent new question.  Tension is sustained to the last page where the reader is privy to knowledge that none of the characters share.  Possession called me like a siren during the day while I was trying to do other things, and eclipsed reality while I read it.

Bonus points:  excerpts of the poets' work: letters, journals, stories and poems seem so authentic I researched to see if I had missed something.  Were the characters Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte actual Victorian poets?  The answer is no.  A.S. Byatt created every word written by their fictional pens, producing a complete body of work for her characters.  And since my current work-in-progress includes a composer of classical music, I paid close attention, picking up ideas for writing fictional symphonies.

A.S. Byatt hails from the same British literary tradition that created such satisfying novels as Jane EyreHoward's End, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  Possession has so much in common with my all-time favorite novels that I suspect Byatt, sister of Margaret Drabble, must share literary DNA with all the great British writers.  Surely they can trace their writing genes back to Austen and Dickens, all related by print, with variations of the same ink flowing through their writing veins.

Although this book was published over twenty years ago (the decade I spent buried in diapers and strained carrots) I just read it this summer.  I pulled it off a shelf in a used book store, an act reminiscent of reaching into my grandfather's bookshelves, and, like finding wonderful new books in the expansive summer days of my adolescence, this dusty hardcover happened to be a Booker prize-winning, NYTimes bestselling novel, the kind of story that could carry me to a world far away.  Dusty old hardcovers are very hard to resist.

My TBR pile: dangerously tall
Possession was my last book of summer.  Check out the complete round-up of my 2012 Summer Reading Binge here.

What other great books have I missed?  What was the best book you read last summer?  Please share in the comments section.


Cindy Jones is the author of My Jane Austen Summer.  Follow:
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Friday, September 28, 2012

Looking for Nora Ephron

 by Maria Geraci

Whenever I think of transitions, I immediately think of Fall, that most wonderful of all seasons,--the time when the weather starts to cool off, pumpkins start popping up on the lawns of local churches, everyone gets caught up in college football and the stores deck out in Halloween gear (which we know will immediately come down November 1 to make way for Christmas).

But transitions also make me think of something else. Or rather, someone else. I think of Nora Ephron and how her films were such a visual tribute to the whole concept of transition, that flow from one state to another.

We all know that every good story is about change. You take a protagonist, give him/her a goal, toss a lot of conflict his/her way, and watch them struggle to overcome the conflict, which leads to the character's growth and an ultimate payoff. I can't think of anyone who did this better in the realm of women's films than Ms. Ephron.

Visually stunning and full of spot-on dialogue, I have to say I think the 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail is my favorite of her films. I could mute my tv and without hearing a word, I'd still get it. Not only do her characters transition, you see the city of New York transition through the seasons. Everything in the film is there to serve a purpose--to layer theme throughout.

Who can forget this Tom Hanks line from You've Got Mail?

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

Would I sound ridiculous if I told you that one line inspired me to be a writer? That one line, so perfect in it's simplicity has stayed with me for years. I want to write lines that stay with people for years. Don't you?

When I heard Nora Ephron had passed away, my first thought was a selfish one. Who's going to make the films I love so much now? Who's going to step up to the plate and deliver? I don't know about you, but I'm still waiting.

What are your favorite Nora films? Any great quotes you love? Here a few more of mine:

" I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  When Harry Met Sally

" Tell me what was so special about your wife?"
"Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together... and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home... only to no home I'd ever known... I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like... magic."
Sleepless in Seattle

And probably my most favorite line of all: (and yes, it's from You've Got Mail)

"It wasn't... personal." 
"What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's *personal* to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?"




Maria Geraci writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction with a happy ending. Her fourth novel, A Girl Like You, was released August, 2012 by Berkley, Penguin USA. For more information, please visit her website at www.mariageraci.com

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Learning to Float

While transitions are a part of life, I like to fight them. I'm that swimmer in the ocean - the one swept out to sea and struggling with the waves instead of letting them carry me back to shore. Because ultimately, isn't that what transitions do? Carry us to our next phase of life? To our next chapter, so to speak?


My transition back from Spain this summer was a bumpy one. I was getting used to soulful conversations around gourmet food at the magical artist residency in El Bruc. While I didn't necessarily come home kicking and screaming, I came home looking backwards instead of forward. Once I got my bearings, I was thrust into another transition: five hours before teaching my first class of the semester, I got a call that enrollment was down at the college and my class was canceled. Ouch. Really? Five hours notice? I freaked out appropriately and then set to work finishing my third novel, the one I was too busy to tend to in Spain. I finished it. With all this new spare time I also decided to publish my ebook Imperfect as a traditional book. It is now available for purchase. 

Another birthday, the loss of a friendship, the birth of twelve new ones, applying for wonderful and adventurous teaching opportunities, finishing a novel, starting a new one... all transitions. 

With our without our consent, change is coming. I suppose it's time to stop fighting it and to start trusting the ride, the chapters, the story. 


Melissa Clark is the author of Swimming Upstream, Slowly, Imperfect, and the recently completed Bear Witness. In the above photo she is learning how to float in the ocean.





Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Scumtrilescent: The Art of Blurbing

By Ellen Meister


There is no word to describe its perfection, so I am forced to make one up. And I'm going to do so right now. Scrumtrilescent.”
The ultimate blurbgasm, from Will Ferrell parodying James Lipton on SNL





If you’ve seen this SNL skit, you know that’s there a tipping point where praise goes so far over the top it gets ridiculous (and hilarious). That’s why blurbing is such an art. When one writer endorses another’s book, he or she has to walk that fine line of exuberant praise. Too much and it sounds phony, or even borderline psychotic. (It is like looking into the face of God and seeing Him smiling back and saying, ‘You are my most wondrous creation.’) Too little, and it comes off as a grudging endorsement.

But there's more to the messy, emotional, complicated, high-stakes blurbing game than writing the quote itself. There’s also an art to requesting a blurb.

When a writer approaches one of his or her literary heroes for a blurb, it's a good idea to let the admiration shine through. Yet there’s a fine line here, too. If you don't hit that sweet spot between flattery and fawning, you might just come across as smarmy ... even if you mean every word of it.

And let's not forget about the pitch. You have to actually convince the writer that your book is something they might like. Most writers I know would rather run headfirst into a brick wall than try to encapsulate 400 pages into one snappy paragraph, but it's critical.

Still, I think most authors would agree that the hardest part of the blurbing game is rejecting a request. And of course, it's something every published writer has to do. (Bestselling authors in particular get dozens of these requests every week, and by necessity have to the reject the vast majority.)

As someone who's been on  the receiving end of many of these rejections, I can tell you there are good ones and bad ones. My best advice? Don't try to convince the requester they don't really want your endorsement.("My blurbs don't help anyone sell books.") It's unconvincing. Trust that the individual writing to you knows it's a long shot, and will be gracious if you say you're simply too busy. They understand. And if they don't? Well, they'll pretend they do.

And that's acting at its finest ... acting that will make you re-examine your life ... acting that will make you see the world for the first time.

What's your blurb story? Have you received any sublime ones lately? Any terrible rejections? 
________________________________________________________
Ellen Meister is the author of four novels and is grateful to have received blurbs from many of her favorite authors. Her new book, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER, will be published by Putnam in February. For more information, visit her website at ellenmeister.com. For daily fun, follow her Dorothy Parker Facebook page.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Change is Gonna Come

By Marilyn Brant

My son started 8th grade a few weeks ago and, as always, the end of summer/beginning of a new school year is a time of transition. There are new classes and new teachers but, because it's the same building with many of the same students in it, there's not as much change for him (or for us) as there had been last year when he began junior high. And certainly it doesn't approach what we expect for next year when he'll be entering high school. (OMG... :-)

So, it's transition of the average variety -- like a jar of Medium salsa at the grocery store. More noticable in spice than the Mild. Not nearly as tongue-burning as the Hot. But change can be cumulative. And, as with salsa, even medium levels can get to you after a while.

For me, I'm in a similar kind of transitory state with my writing. I'm aware that the changes are not so obvious to others but, yet, I can feel them. Sense them starting to heat everything up.

With this writing game, I've already gone through some years of massive change. Getting that first traditional NY contract and all of the crazy hours of work that went into preparing for a debut release...that was a year of greater stress than I ever would have imagined. Notable, too, in that I had no idea until then that I could be so scared about something that didn't involve the health of a loved one. I spent most of 2009 in an emotional state somewhere between frenzied and panicked. I'll admit, I'm not anxious to repeat a year packed with as much change as that!

And last year, I took my first dip into the digital/self-publishing waters and was, again, floored by a whole new set of skills that needed to be developed and topics that inspired a new realm of personal fears. (If I've learned nothing else about the publishing journey, it's that I have an apparently unlimited capacity to find new things to worry about...) 2011 was a big, exciting leap, nonetheless.

Over the next few months, there will be some additions to my author bookshelf. I'm excited about these stories and delighted to share them with my readers, but their genres and their publishing formats traipse over territory I've covered before. It's like being an 8th grader. There'll be some surprises and a few challenges, I have no doubt, but I've walked down those hallways already. I can recognize my peers and wave to them. And I'm as comfortable as I can be with my circumstances, given that adolescence (whether in writing or in life) is never actually easy for anyone.

But I'm aware that much larger changes are on the horizon for me and, with them, a transition that I'll have to seriously prepare for emotionally as well as professionally. That this year is a bit of a reprieve from the intensity to come, but I know better than to think the relative calm will last.

Here's why: Because what I'm writing about, as evident by my last completed manuscript and my current work-in-progress, is changing. And it's changing because I -- the writer -- am also changing.

I've been noticing that the stories that now compel me enough to be worth fighting for (you know the kind I mean -- the ideas that keep us awake at night, make us battle our darkest demons, inspire us to edit the same words over and over again until they're blurry before our eyes but, hopefully, clearer to our audience) don't entirely resemble the stories I was driven to write twelve years ago when I began my first manuscript. They're even different in some significant aspects from the novels I was writing just three or four years ago.

And I hadn't expected that. I hadn't anticipated -- in a very real and persistent way -- to need to change. Getting to a level of comfort with any part of the publishing process takes so damn long... So, I thought, once I'd mastered a certain set of skills, once I'd understood a particular market, once I'd found a collection of topics fascinating to write about, etc., that I could just be happy staying in that niche and carrying on indefinitely, going along my merry little way without stopping cold at any time or needing a whole new set of directions.

Turns out, no.

Not every single thing is different now, of course, but there's enough that I need to rethink most of what I've been doing, and I'll have to decide which writing habits and story elements to keep and which to let go. And, while I'll confess to being envious of writers who can remain committed to one genre, a handful of themes and certain sets of characters for decades, I've discovered I'm not one of them. As novelists, we're drawn to fiction for different personal reasons, and I can't pretend to be content with someone else's method of facing the writing life when it's not my own.

So, I guess, for me -- or for anyone else who may be experiencing something similar -- the first step toward handling such a transition is recognizing that we can't wish it away, even if it would be easier or less frightening to ignore it. The second step is to figure out what, exactly, must change...and why. And the third would be to get ready as best as we can, knowing that the only certainty is that this won't be the last change in our writing lives, just the next one.

What about you? Have you ever switched genres or narrative styles? Do you write in two or more totally different genres at once? I'd love to know ;).

---
Marilyn's latest novel, A Summer in Europe (Kensington, Dec. 2011) was chosen as a Literary Guild, BOMC2 and Rhapsody Book Club pick, and it deals with life change and learning to open oneself up to experience. About the novel, Publishers Weekly wrote that it "distinguishes itself with a charismatic leading man and very funny supporting cast, especially the wonderful elderly characters with their resonant message about living life to the fullest."

Girlfriends Sunday Book Review



by Judy Merrill Larsen




I fell in love with Marisa de los Santos when I read her first novel, LOVE WALKED IN.  It’s pretty darn near perfect.  Then I read BELONG TO ME which had me swooning.  Her characters are flawed, funny, smart and I’m dying to run into them in my own real life.  So, you can imagine how tickled I was to grab onto FALLING TOGETHER (which will be out in paperback next month, but you probably don’t want to wait!).  Once again, de los Santos captures the little moments that make up our lives, and shows how they shape and define the bigger moments in ways we never expect and can't predict.
“It’s been six years since Pen Calloway watched Cat and Will, her best friends from college, walk out of her life. Through the birth of her daughter, the death of her father, and the vicissitudes of single motherhood, she has never stopped missing them. When, after years of silence, Cat—the bewitching, charismatic center of their group—urgently requests that the three meet at their college reunion, Pen can’t refuse. But instead of a happy reconciliation, what awaits is a collision of past and present that sends Pen and Will on a journey around the world, with Pen’s five-year-old daughter and Cat’s hostile husband in tow. And as Pen and Will struggle to uncover the truth about Cat, they find more than they bargained for: startling truths about who they were before and who they are now.”
These are people you’ll think about when you’re going about your day–wondering what they’re going to say and do next all the while you’re trying to figure out what you’d do in their shoes.  As I watched them reconnect (or try to) with each other and deal with the hurts and slights of the past, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey from college and into adulthood and the words I wished I might have said or left unsaid.  Pen and Will and Cat feel so real and the ending is so true to them (which of course doesn’t mean everything is all hunky-dory peachy-keen) that it was incredibly satisfying and I even felt the urge to start all over from the beginning and savor their journey one more time.

Is there someone you’d like to reconnect with?  What would you tell him or her?

(Previously published at BookEnd Babes)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's a life!

by Samantha Wilde

My older son is transitioning from a kindergartner to a first grader, from "free-choice" every day, to rules, math, and no talking in the hallway. He comes home in the evening and needs to scream at me. Well, he needs to scream.


My baby is transitioning into a toddler. In the period of a month he busted out six teeth, learned how to climb out of his crib--and his high chair--and, for the most part, weaned from nursing. Putting him to bed, an activity that was once as easy as popping him off the breast and rolling him onto the sheets, now takes upwards of an hour and requires earplugs.
These peaceful days are over!

As for me, I am simply transitioning from being a person dreaming of her future to being a person living that future. And I have to say, along with my children, that it calls for a good cry--if not a good scream. It's not so much that it's harder than I thought, but that it's different.

I have had five editors for my latest novel. That's all the fingers on one hand! It took three years longer than anticipated to get that book published! It reads nothing like the original draft (and thank goodness), and I feel like it was more a collaboration with a whole board room of people than a genuine, whole-cloth personal creation.

I can remember wanting to be a published writer. Just like I can remember wanting--longing--to be a mother. And to be married. And to have a house of my own. All these are transitions. It makes me think of the time between labor and delivery called transition. For most women this is generally the most gruesome part of the birthing--that time when you aren't yet pushing and you feel like your head will explode. Get a few good birthing books and you can read incredible and terrifying tales of transition. A midwife will tell you this is the most exciting part--what you have been waiting for is almost here: your baby!

Of course this is and is not true. We wait for a baby. We wait for a book. We wait to get married or we wait to get divorced or we wait to get wealthy or thinner or smarter or more successful. When the baby arrives, though, it all just keeps on transitioning, from one stage to a next with such speed and outside of our control that I don't know a single person who cannot say--"it goes so fast!"

My mother, novelist Nancy Thayer, who has published 22 novels, has told me more than once, do not write for something. Write for its own sake. Not for money or fame or love or the desire to prove something to another person or to yourself. And the same, of course, we all know, can be said of life.

Many years ago, I went with my mother to Wales and saw some of the most incredible waterfalls I've ever seen. I still remember looking at one and thinking--in that awed, unbelieving way--that these falls drove on continuously, whether I observed them or not, flowing and rushing and moving constantly, with or without an admirer or a witness with a photograph or a word of praise.

It is more complicated than, if you don't love it, why do it? It is more like: you are doing it, find a way to love it. Because the whole thing is a transition, when you look back, of us, becoming ourselves. I see it so clearly with my children. And when I inhabit the little still places in my day--I see it also for myself.

Has your life matched up with your expectations? Your books with your hopes for them? And what do you do when you find it's different than you thought?

Samantha Wilde is the full-time, stay-at-home mother of three small children ages 6, 4.5 and 2. During naps and night times, she writes, ministers, teaches yoga, and reads. She is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME and the forthcoming I'LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS (both Bantam Books). You can visit her at samanthawilde.com, follow her off-beat blog, Wilde Mama or listen to her progressive radio ministry program You Are Loved.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Artists in Transition by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

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We’ve been talking transitions on the Girlfriends Book Club and when I think of that word one thing that comes to my mind is the concept of “career transitions.” It’s always fascinated me to hear about people’s lives and those who have traveled the more unexpected road—starting out with one identity and then changing course. Some famous examples include Martha Stewart (a former stock broker), Ronald Reagan (movie actor), Dr. Suess (ad agency exec), Bob Newhart (accountant), Dan Brown (singer-songwriter), Jerry Springer (mayor of Cincinnati) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (body-builder, actor).

One type of transition that sometimes rankles writers is when an unlikely someone (usually an actor) becomes a novelist. I’m not talking about celebrities who use ghostwriters or “co-writers" (e.g. Hilary Duff, Nicole Richie, Lauren Conrad, Pamela Anderson, etc.). I’m referring to people like Ethan Hawke, James Franco, Steve Martin, Meg Tilly and Chris Colfer.

The latest in this group is 1980s film sweetheart Molly Ringwald, who has just come out with a novel of linked stories called When it Happens to You. Of course there’s always the question of whether Molly or James or Ethan or whomever would have gotten published if they had been Mr. or Ms. Nobody and whether their writing is actually “worthwhile.” But I don’t subscribe to this notion. If we spent all our time nit-picking the inherent unfairness of the writing life and getting published, there’d be no time to write our books.

Funnily enough, I just read that Molly’s big “Pretty in Pink” crush, Andrew McCarthy, who still acts but is also an editor-at-large for "National Geographic Traveler," has just had a travel memoir published, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. And he has also finished a novel about “the secrecy and corrosiveness of a 30-year marriage.” He says, “It's actually something I'd been working on for years. But I thought it'd be smarter to establish myself as a nonfiction writer first. I didn't want people saying, "Oh great, look, it's a novel by the guy from ‘Pretty in Pink.’”    

Another example of an interesting career transition is YA author Stephen Chbosky, writer of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He’s the adaptive screenwriter and director for the film of the book, having directed and written a film in 1995 that showed at the Sundance Film Festival.

I say celebrate those that transition from one art to another. I’ve been an off-and-on again musician and I wouldn’t want someone to tell me that because I sing that I shouldn’t be able to write books.

So what “hidden” or additional talents do you have? Would you like to transition from being a writer to something else? What did you do before you became a writer? How did that transition come about?


Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, “Midori by Moonlight” and “Love in Translation” (both published by St. Martin’s Press), the original e-book novels “Falling Uphill” and “His Wife and Daughters” and the short story, “The Girl in the Tapestry.” She’s also written a nonfiction e-book, “Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband." Her short story “Love Right on the Yesterday” is featured in “Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction: An Anthology of Teen Stories” published by Stone Bridge Press, and her essay, “Burning Up” appears in “Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop” published by Soft Skull Press. Wendy holds an MFA in Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches novel writing for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and has taught for USF’s MFA program. She also does private manuscript consulting for novels and memoirs. Visit her at www.WendyTokunaga.com and follow her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga

Thinking: transitions, change, whatever . . .


Like them or not, when the wonderful Sam Cooke used to sing, “a change is gonna come,” he was so right.

As I write, nature is on the verge of its quarterly transition of seasons. Fall is on its way. The days are quickly getting shorter; morning skies are dark at six. The huge tree outside my front window is shedding and the ground is crunchy with its fallen leaves. There’s a chill in the air around five o’clock, and I need a jacket for my evening walk.

My lovely mother turns 90 in October. She’s mentally strong, alert and still drives. A bit weakened by arthritis, she’s frustrated with doctors and the rising cost of medication. I’m blessed to have her in my life, yet I feel the topsy-turvy change in our roles coming on.

I’ve got two novels “under my belt.” Two books completed, published, on the street, in the stores, online, in readers’ hands. I’m revving up for the next one. Number three. Wow. Eight years ago, I knew there would be more. It’s like, no it is, starting from scratch. The change is that I have a better idea of how to get to where I’m going. 

At the risk of sounding clich├ęd, life is a series of transitions. Change. In writing, transition can be a bridge that gently allows a reader to cross from one thought to the next. In the real world, transitions are the big and little shifts that make life what it is. It’s hard to write about transitions in such a public place. It’s not really the space to bear one’s soul or use as a replacement for therapy. But maybe, that’s a transition in and of itself—finally coming to understanding and learning to move on.



Jacqueline Luckett is the author of Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Secret agent man
by Brenda Janowitz


We've been talking about transitions here, and there's no greater transition for a writer than to find and sign with an agent.  As a published author, I'm asked so frequently how to get an agent, so, I decided to blog about it!

The first thing you need to know—the thing that most people don't want to hear—is that for a novel, you have to have your whole book written before you can even begin to query agents.

So, get your manuscript in great shape—go to writing classes, attend workshops, and get yourself into a writing group in order to get your book in as polished as it can possibly be. But, really, if you think about it, that's the fun part. Then the real work begins:
You'll need to start with a reputable guidebook—I suggest Writer's Market, but I’ve also heard that Jeff Herman’s guide is quite good, too. Read the section in the beginning about how to write a query letter and the etiquette of querying agents. All of that stuff is key—it’s just like applying for a job. Just because they are agents doesn’t mean you can be any less professional in your communications.

I'd also suggest using mediabistro.com to back up your book research. You need to be an Avant Guild member of mediabistro to access their content on "How To Pitch An Agent" content but in my experience, it was worth it. 

Last but not least, you should also do internet research on each and every agent you plan to query.  (Specific agent, that is, not merely the agency, although you should research the agency, too!)

Remember that you should never pay an agent to read or review your work. Agents get paid by selling your work and then taking 15% of the sale and royalties.  

Allison Winn Scotch’s blog, Ask Allison, has *amazing* info on finding agents. Read the links starting from the oldest. Her advice is really spot on.

  She also does a q and a, so you can email her if you have specific questions.

Allison also has a bunch of incredibly informative blog posts where she talks about her own personal experience, so check them out.

If you prefer your advice with a bit of attitude, check out Miss Snark. She no longer updates the blog, but the archives are invaluable.

This website breaks down how to write a query letter.

And this blog post offers great insight on advances and how an author earns royalties.



I wish you the best of luck. Now, get back to writing!





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 brendajanowitz.com or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ch-ch-ch-changes by Jenny Gardiner


I guess our theme is "transitions" which is fitting for my life right now because it's riddled with transitions, the biggest being my recently becoming an empty-nester. Now, I long dreaded this particular transition; I had no idea how I could morph from living a life that has been all about my kids to releasing control for the most part and letting them take over the reins and having no one for whom to be accountable on a daily basis. But it's a part of life and we all have to go through it, like it or not. I've tried to tell myself this will result in plenty of freedom in my life, though I guess with that comes the potential to simply become unmoored, adrift while you try to figure out how to redefine your life.

Perhaps it was a little more dramatic how this unfolded, because not only did we send our youngest off to college a few weeks ago, but a week before that we sent our middle one off to study abroad in Europe, and then just last week bade farewell to my oldest (who graduated from college in May), who left for a year-long adventure in which he'll be off-the-grid, incommunicado, in remote stretches of the world. So not only are my kids gone, but two of them are essentially unreachable, and sadly I can't just pick up the phone and call, or text or email just to touch base with them. I've sort of gone from immersion in my kids' lives to extrication, in one fell swoop.

As an avowed extrovert, I have been wholly unprepared for this screeching halt to my world of a perpetual buzz of activity. As a mom first, writer second, I learned long ago to pick up and go with my laptop and write when I could, be it soccer practice or pick-up line at school or roadtrips to soccer matches in different cities. At home I worked at my desk in the middle of all the activity, with homework and friends of the kids dropping by and the television blaring. I became used to operating in "putting out fires" mode, jumping from one urgent, pressing situation with the kids to another, squeezing my writing in when I could. On top of that, I never quite realized how much of my social life centered around being at school-related functions, where you're around parents of kids your kids' ages. When all of a sudden you don't have that outlet, you realize you have no one with whom to hang. My close friends either have school-aged kids so are still very involved with their kids at home, or have already departed for the post-empty nest world and aren't even around. Or else they're now stuck in jobs and are completely unavailable. I'm thinking I might soon have to chat up the mailman just to have companionship by day. I was thrilled to have had all the kids (and their respective girlfriends/boyfriends) around much of the summer, so this meant we had much going on, with little free time for writing. Truth be told my life hasn't allowed for much writing at all since last winter, what with my youngest child's travel sports schedule and trekking all over the east coast while deciding colleges for her, and in between that road-tripping to my other kids' schools for various awards and events.

So all of a sudden this week I was faced with the deafening silence of being virtually alone. Now, I'm not completely alone because I have this menagerie of demanding pets (two dogs, a parrot, a bunny and a cat). So it's not silent like a normal person's house, but rather silent with a lot of barking, squawking, and still a huge mess even though no one is leaving a trail of dirty dishes and laundry about the place. Instead it's mounds of feather, fur and animal poo, thanks. To top it off my husband went out of town. And I was left to be alone with myself. And I hated it. It's sad because I vividly recall times when my children were young when I probably would have paid to be alone at a Greyhound bus station for a few hours, I craved solitude so much. But now that I've found solitude, I don't particularly like it, and I am anxious to be around people. Which doesn't happen as easily when your office is the desk in your kitchen and the only ones around with whom to converse have fur or feathers. I fear I'll turn into a cat lady.The unfortunate hallmark of my weekend alone were bouts with unbidden eruptions of tears and a half-hearted pity party thrown in for good measure. I guess it's a good thing I didn't resort to watching home videos of my children as babies. I blubbered enough without that, thanks.
As if this week during which loneliness seemed to be defining my life wasn't bad enough, with my husband away I decided to have the dogs sleep with me in the bedroom. Nothing worse than being home alone with a dog barking in the middle of the night downstairs to unnerve you. So I figured I'd keep them nearby to avoid that. So instead, at 3 a.m. Saturday night, I was awoken abruptly by the unmistakable sound of a dog throwing up. I hastened the dog into the bathroom to keep the mess at bay, but she followed me back to the room only for me to realize she was about to have a seizure. Knowing what that would entail, I scooped up my nearly 80-pound dog and lugged her, completely deadweight but for the onset of her seizure starting to overtake her, and laid her on the bathroom floor, trying to settle her in as best I could. Carrying her resulted in my being accidentally scraped up by her claws, and yeah, covered in dog wee wee, which I'd been trying to avoid by sticking her in the bathroom in the first place. Just as her seizure finally ended, I heard my other dog start to throw up. Seriously. So while I have tried to tell myself "Hey, the upside of the empty nest is no kids to wake me in the middle of the night!", the reality is I have animals who somehow can't help but do so. I was up cleaning the dogs and their mess till after 5 a.m. and couldn't fall asleep till 7 a.m. Yep, my first week as an empty-nester left me too tired to even do the one thing I now have all sorts of time to do: write.

I'm hoping week two of my transition will result in a much more productive week. The stress of the past month of preparing my kids for their various departures left me in a state of inertia, just sort of treading water as I clear my head and try to get a grip on my new life.

I know at some point I will relish this newfound "freedom" (bound though I am with these crazy pets, one of whom is a talking parrot who has repeated "Goodnight, I love you" ten times in the past fifteen minutes). I'll be happy to be able to settle down and focus on my writing again, once I actually learn how to focus with no distractions (wish me luck). In the meantime, I guess I just have to ride this wave, see where it takes me, expect to feel sad and at odds with myself and allow myself to be unmoored, adrift in a new world I don't quite know how to navigate. This happens when life is in transition.



  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver










Slim to None













Anywhere But Here














Where the Heart Is


















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










Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)


















Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)



















I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)



















And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions


















The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck


















Naked Man On Main Street
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 find me on my website

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Southern Novelist Makes Her Most Shameful Confession



I’ve been buried in revisions all summer for my new novel with a deadline of today. I’m happy to report that the deadline was met and my new novel—still not firm on a title yet—will be released in September 2013 by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. So, I had to dig around in my old essays. I found this one written in the summer of 2009. I hope the readers enjoy.

 *****

"To Kill A Mockingbird" is the kind of novel that all good southern writers read before they take on their own long efforts. It’s one of the books in the southern writers’ bible. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.  So, a writer born as about as deep in the south as one can get, Macon Georgia, should have read this book, right? After all she has invented a world of characters using folklore, emotion, and downright southern history that inhabited her childhood. Of course she’s read the book. Wrong. I’m ashamed to say I never read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird until the summer of 2009. I thought I had. I bragged I had read it, but the truth is I would have gone along in my lie, living a life of bliss, if not for leading a book club in the reading of this novel.

When several of the members asked what my feelings were on the book, I racked my brain for one original thought on the content, a thought not connected to the movie. After all I made an A on the paper I wrote in high school. My only answer could be that I was so young when I read it. How in the world was I expected to remember such a thing? I mean how many books do you think I’ve read since high school?

Of course I would read the book again. I needed to refresh my memory. I had a copy on my shelves gathering dust. I decided to lead the group in sections. We would discuss several chapters at a time. Our first assignment was chapters 1-7. Being the professional writer—with only a tiny affliction of OCD—I did my background research on the author, Harper Lee.

Up until that point, I had believed Harper Lee was dead. I'm not sure why I thought this other than she didn't get mentioned much at the time. That's what I got for thinking. My first hit in my internet search took me to an Oprah magazine, where I found an article Harper Lee had written about reading and writing real letters. She was alive and well. That should have been a sign that something in my memory stunk to the high heavens. If I didn’t know Harper Lee was still alive and I live right next door here in Georgia, how could I have read the book? How indeed?

I read the first seven chapters expecting to jog a memory. Instead I was taken into another world, a world much older than the south I remembered, but similar in so many ways. The voice was familiar like listening to my great aunt telling a story in her big living room, sipping ice tea from a jelly jar or lazy evenings, when I was kid, sitting in the front yard of my grandmother’s house, watching the sky come alive with orange, red, and yellow. It was so hot—most houses didn’t have air conditioning back then—the cooler evening air was welcomed, even to a young girl with tons of energy.

When I read about Maudie, the lady who lived across the street from Scout in Maycomb, Alabama, I knew I’d never read this book. How could I forget such dialogue?

“Miss Maudie stopped rocking, and her voice hardened. ‘You are too young to understand it,’ she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of—oh, of your father.’”

For some reason I pictured a cliff note book thrown on the bed I slept in as a teenager.  I didn’t read cliff notes! Not me, a writer to the bottom of my soul. Did I?

I drowned myself in the rhythm of Harper Lee’s language as if I might die that night and never know the end to such a beautifully written book. Maybe somehow things would change and Tom Robinson wouldn’t die before he had a chance to find justice. Movies never go along with the books anyway, right? 

When I finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I was fifty years old, the same age as Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem’s famously old father. What I gained from reading this book as a mature adult—without some English teacher forcing me—is history and a reminder of a setting nearly extinct now. Ms. Lee tamed my beloved south with all its beauty and flaws if only for two-hundred and eight-one pages.

What did the women in the book club think of a leader who claimed to know a book she never read? Well, I never told them. When they read this, my guilty conscious will be cleared. And like one of my dear friends always says, “I love my friends deeply, warts and all,”

The lessons in Harper Lee’s writing are timeless, and I am reminded she was a one book author, but my gosh, people, look at the book! What did I learn from my experience? I learned that with older characters like Atticus and me we have to be given some allowance on our memories, and we're never too old to fall in love with a book.

 *****

Since I wrote this essay, I have read To Kill A Mockingbird once a year. When I’m asked what book most influenced me, I say To Kill A Mockingbird. I do leave off the part about not reading this book until I was fifty. 


Ann Hite’s debut novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, not only became a Townsend Prize Finalist in 2012 but won Georgia Author of the Year 2012. Her second Black Mountain novel will be released by Gallery Books September 2013. Ann lives in Smyrna Georgia just a little north of Atlanta. www.annhite.com