Monday, August 30, 2010

Adults vs. teens: What it’s like to write for two audiences

Hi, my name’s April Henry, and I have a split personality.  On the one hand, I have written seven books for adults, with five more under contract. (My latest, co-written with Lis Wiehl, is Hand of Fate.)  On the other hand, I have written three books for teens (also known as young adults, or YAs), with two more coming down the pike. (My latest, Girl, Stolen, comes out September 28).  

So what’s it like to write for two completely different audiences?  And are they really so different?  

  • POV (point of view) characters must almost always be kids.
  • There usually can only be one POV character, and it must be clear who it is. 
  • Parents cannot save the day – teens must. Which is why you will so often find kids who are orphans or who have non-functioning or generally absent parents. 
  • YAs are usually more focused on character and voice than plot. YA literature deals with developmental and emotional issues that are unique to the experience of being a teen.
  • YA lit has great built-in obstacles: falling in love for the first time, coming of age, prom, homecoming, cliques, finding out who you are, peer pressure, family dynamics, dealing with parents’ divorce, etc.
  • If a YA book isn’t in first person, there had better be a really good reason.  
  • Books usually cover a shorter time frame – no longer than a year. 
  • Books are typically much shorter- 50,000 words is common, vs. say, 80,000 to 90,000 for adults
  • It’s okay to have sex, but it may limit how much schools support you or the age group you can appeal to in hardcover (when kids don’t usually buy their own books).
  • Graphic violence may even be a harder sell. 
  • Usually, for a YA book to be successful the author can't get carried away with poetic writing, lengthy descriptions, etc. that adults might actually enjoy.
  • An “issue-oriented” book, like a book about being a teen-aged father or having leukemia, may garner a lot of librarian support. And librarian support is key to success in the YA world.

  • Pretty much anything goes.

  • Your readership changes every few years as the readers grow up. They often read your books only for a brief time period, say middle school, then move on to adult books.  That makes it harder to develop a following.  (Of course, some authors, like JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins, have attracted both adult and teen fans).  
  • At the same time, if you have a lot of books out there, kids will devour them and not care if they were published this year or five years ago.  
  • Teens have big emotions about everything, and writers are no exception.  They will pour out their stories to you, friend you on Facebook (and think you are really friends), ask you to sign their hands, and nervously hand you poems they wrote and ask what you think.
  • Kids will ask what adults secretly want to know “How much do you make?”

  • When you write for adults, each book can increase your readership.  If readers like your work, they will buy all future your books and it builds on itself. A fan may stick with you for thirty years. 
  • When adults show up at a signing, a certain percentage only want your signature, because they see your book as collectible.  
  • Adults are often cool and dispassionate.

Measuring success

  • There are many more professional review publications, like VOYA and Hornbook (and many fewer consumer outlets).
  • Reviews trickle in for up to six months after the book is published.
  • There are so many more opportunities for promotion in kidlit/YA - libraries, schools, conferences, etc - opportunities that aren't necessarily available to writers of adult books.
  • You may be given a much longer timer time to make an impact on the market.  
  • It’s not unheard of for a picture book to be in print for 15 or more years.
  • Your book might get bought for a bookclub or bookfair.
  • Your book might be named to one of the important library lists a year after publication (such as any YALSA list like Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, or New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age).
  • And it might be named to a state list even years later (resulting in sales to most of the state's school libraries).  
  • Adults might still ask you, "So when are you going to write a real [ie, for adults] book?"
  • Reviews usually come in right away for adult books.
  • You have 6-8 weeks to show success in hardcover.
  • Then your books are often returned by bookstores for credit and the new hard covers take their place.  
I love writing for both audiences.  And in truth, my writing style does not vary much, whether I am writing for adults or teens.  

Black Woman Thighs by Ernessa T. Carter

Hulloo Everyone!

Greetings from Oahu, where I'm currently on vacation. Or at least I'm supposed to be on vacation. As I've explained to my agent, publicist, and the many other people who have received business-related email from me while I've supposedly been taking it easy in Hawaii, I don't really vacation, so much as go some place else to write. Like a lot of writers, I find it hard to relax unless I've put in my pages for the day, and answered all my business email, and responded to my email from readers and--

Wait, that's not what this post is about. The point of this post is that while relaxing on the beach and at poolside, watching all the skinny Japanese mothers rocking bikinis while their spookily well-behaved children play quietly, a bit of a body issue has come up. Or I should say, come up again. You see I have big thighs. Well, relatively big thighs. Many refer to my kind of thighs as black woman thighs. Basically when you have black woman thighs, this means that your thighs are thick. No matter what. When I was three my thighs were thick. At my skinniest my thighs were thick. I could go on a full-on hunger strike and when I was driven to the hospital to have a feeding tube forced down my throat, I would be a bag of bones ... with thick thighs. That's the way black woman thighs work.

And sometimes I see skinny Japanese women on Hawaiian beaches and I think, "Man, I'll never look like that," and that makes me feel kind of sorry for myself. Because I live in America and they tell us certain things, like that any decent woman should feel bad about herself if the words "stick" can't be applied in a description of her physique. No one would ever describe me as a stick, though. At my fittest, I got "Serena Williams."

But then the jealousy cloud kind of rolled away, not just because I'm in Hawaii (I mean c'mon, son, how can you feel bad about yourself for too long in Hawaii?), but also because there are a lot of skinny chycks in tennis, but the only person who's had thousands upon thousands of editorial words dedicated to her shape is Serena Williams. In fact, one might argue that much of Serena Williams popularity stems from the fact that she has black woman thighs and doesn't look like everyone else in a tennis skirt.

What does this have to do with literature? Well, I have a number of black woman thigh issues when it comes to writing. Sometimes I wish I wasn't a romantic. Certain critics would have adored my book if my main character had remained a down trodden sad sack. Sometimes I wish that I didn't find humor in just about everything. Most prize-winning books aren't funny. But then again, most romantic characters aren't as damaged as mine. I doubt there's a RITA in my future.

This was a bit of a pre-sales hiccup for my debut novel, 32 CANDLES. My editor couldn't think of any comparables, that is books that mine could be compared to in order to make it more desirable to booksellers and readers alike. I couldn't think of any comparables either. Apparently, this issue was brought up during several sales meetings, but was never quite solved. "It's like Sixteen Candles meets E. Lynn Harris," said one exec. "It's like John Hughes wrote PRECIOUS," said another. "It's sort of like Bridget Jones but not really," said my editor. No one could settle on one description.

So basically 32 CANDLES has been thrown at the public with fingers crossed and assurances that it's different but you know, worth reading. During this process, I've sometimes found myself looking at other books, and thinking, "Why can't I write more like that? Why do I have black woman thighs?"

But then I look at my favorite writers and realize that they all have black woman thighs. Marian Keyes somehow manages to be wildly romantic and wildly depressing at the same time. In a country that is obsessed with the popular kids, John Hughes could not stay away from triumphant nerds. Tananarive Due cannot call her living dead vampires. They're Immortal, and they're uncomfortably both religious and sacrilegious.

The truth is, that if some affordable plastic surgery came out, that allowed me to replace my black woman thighs with a long set of flesh-covered sticks, I wouldn't get it. Most days I love my thighs. I realize my thighs are part of me and part of what made me attractive to my husband and the men I dated before him.

And it also occurs to me that we all have black woman thighs. Writing quirks that we sometimes imagine not having, but wouldn't give up even if we could. So now I'm wondering what are your physical and literary black woman thighs? Let me know in the comments.

Ernessa T. Carter is the author of 32 CANDLES. Her next novel is like Terry McMillan's WAITING TO EXHALE meets Salman Rushdie's THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET. No, not really ... but yeah, kind of. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

SPARE (Random Thoughts on Risotto and Dogs)

by Judy Merrill Larsen

~I love making risotto. This is a new obsession of mine, but one that my family readily embraces. I used to think it was hard or complicated or just something I'd only order in restaurants. But, a few weeks ago we were having dinner at a friend's house and she made shrimp and scallop risotto. I watched as she cooked. It involves lots of stirring (which I can do) and patience (which I'm working on). That night driving home I asked my husband for a risotto cookbook for my upcoming birthday. He delivered. And I've made risotto once a week ever since. I improvise the recipes, but follow the basic procedure. You'll find it in this cookbook. I know there are several methods, but this one is a snap and delivers. And, yes, I spend 30 minutes making it right before dinner. But I can sip wine and talk to my husband while I do so. And the results are spectacular if I say so myself.

~We'd all be happier if we could figure out what we're best at and embrace that part of ourselves. I got this idea from my dog. He's a Golden Retriever. And he takes the "retriever" part very seriously. He also pretty much has his "best day ever" every single day. Whenever he comes in from outside, he immediately grabs/retrieves one of his toys and brings it to me. He does the same thing when someone walks in the door. He grabs his rawhide or circus monkey (don't ask) or stuffed lamb and brings it to them with his tail wagging to beat the band. "Hey," he seems to say, "look, I retrieved." Then he lies down, licks his feet and takes a nap from the utter exhaustion of retrieving and being happy. When we went for a walk the other day, I stopped at the creek to let him drink some water (I didn't have much choice to be honest). He loves drinking from the creek. He lies right down in it and laps it up. This time, there were two ducks swimming about 4 feet from him. He didn't bug them, they weren't fazed. When I mentioned it to him (yes, I talk to him in sentences), he was completely unapologetic. But, if he could talk I think he'd say, "Look, woman-who-feeds-me, I'm a retriever. You shoot the duck, I'll go get it for you. You pick it up and throw it across the yard? I'm your fetcher. But otherwise, I'm leaving them alone."

And it occurs to me that both my risotto making and my dog musings can help me as a writer.

With the risotto, I get to be creative and free and toss things in and veer away from the stated recipe (delete the mushrooms, add more garlic and peppers). I can make it my own story. But, there are certain things that must be not be changed. The basic framework. The arborio rice. The right amount of broth (1 1/2 cups rice to 5 or 5 1/2 cups broth). And in my writing, I get to toss in details that ring true for me. Create characters out of thin air. But, there's got to be conflict. And tension. There must be good dialogue and sharp verbs. I have to work within a structure.

And as far as my dog? Well, I can only be the kind of writer I'm uniquely meant to be. I can't copy anyone else. I can't make myself into a different kind of writer. Not that this means I can't hone my skills and that I won't challenge myself to try new approaches. But it does mean accepting and appreciating the writer I am. I'll be happier. And a better writer for it in the long run.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Round Characters? Good. Round Authors? Not So Good.

Writers are supposed to create round characters but sometimes, in the process, other things get round too. (Butts, thighs… etc.)

What to do?

Back in 2002, I quit teaching to become a full-time writer and the pounds packed on. I’ve upped my running from two miles a day to four, and I’m counting every calorie. Recently I’ve been standing up at the kitchen counter writing because I’ve heard standing burns 33 more calories an hour than sitting. Also sitting is supposed to be terrible for your health, even if you exercise, and especially if you’re female.

Supposedly Ayelet Waldman uses a tread desk, but its pricey and since I can’t chew gum and walk at the same time, I'm not sure if could pull this off. What about you? Does writing make you gain weight? What did you do? How do you keep bloat at bay?

Click-Worthy Link

I’m loving the new blog I found Tribal Writer written Justine Lee Musk. Especially liked her post on the importance of being interesting.

Book Giveaway

Jane Porter. What can I say about this author? She’s cute and talented. She’s had one of her books made into a Lifetime movie (Flirting at Forty with Heather Locklear) And she’s also a sweetheart. Her latest novel is “She’s Gone Country” about a former Vogue model who trades Times Square for Texas.

According to the book there are five ways to go country:

Swap designer jeans for Wranglers

High heels for cowboy boots

A four-door for a pick-up
Dine on ribs and brisket

Spend the night two-stepping at a honky-tonk bar.

I’ll add my own: Shoot and cook possum. Soak in buttermilk. Kills the gamey taste.

(I’m from Georgia. When we go country, we really go country.)

I have an advanced reader copy of “She’s Gone Country: to give away. Here’s what you have to do to win. Tell me your favorite country song in the comments and I’ll pick one at random.  I'll let you know the winner Sunday nite at six p.m eastern time. Mine is “Small Town Southern Man” by Alan Jackson.



Thursday, August 26, 2010

My great escape ... and yours

It's been a rough couple of years at my house. My husband lost his job. One of my kids got terribly sick. And our finances bottomed out so badly it'll be a miracle if we ever fully recover.

When people ask how I manage to cope with it all, I usually reply that I don't. But the truth is that I keep my sanity by taking little vacations from reality. Indeed, I have the greatest escape of all.

I write fiction.

Ironically, the novel I was working on through most of this crisis is about that very topic—escape. I say "ironically," because the idea for this book came to me before my world collapsed. And no, I wasn't being prophetic. Escape has always been my friend.

Back then, my life was still chugging cheerfully along. We were paying our bills every month, the children were healthy and happy, and I had the luxury of focusing on my writing without worrying about the mortgage .

Still, escape was on my mind, since it seemed to be the theme of my life when the husband was at work and the kids were at school. And it got me wondering what the ultimate housewife escape would be. Then all at once I had a vision of a portal smack in the middle of the most domestic setting. I saw a woman ironing her family's laundry. But right behind her on the basement wall there was a fissure—a crack, if you will, in the very foundation of her existence. Beyond it was the life she could have lived if she had made an entirely different choice.

This concept of this escape gave me such a thrill I knew I had to mold it into a book. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became.

Ultimately, it took shape as a novel called THE OTHER LIFE, which sold at auction to Putnam, and is coming out this January. It's about a woman expecting her second child who knows that another life exists in which she never married her kind and stable husband, but stayed with her neurotic yet exciting ex-boyfriend. When a sonogram reveals a terrifying problem with the pregnancy, the grief lures her to cross over to the other life, where she discovers that her mother, who committed suicide several years ago, is very much alive.

And so begins a journey of crossing back and forth between her two lives—the one with a frightening pregnancy but a devoted husband and beloved son ... and the other, with a dynamic boyfriend and the mother whose death tore a hole in her heart.

Each life has so much to offer that she doesn't want to choose, but she must. No spoilers here, but I hope that when the book comes out you'll read it to find out what happens. (If you want to stay abreast of news on this title, feel free to click here to sign up for my mailing list.)

Now that the book is complete and it looks as if my family is emerging from its darkest days, I still indulge my passion for escape. It takes the form of reading wonderful books, such as Susan Henderson's brilliant debut, UP FROM THE BLUE (a great book club pick if ever there was one!), working on a new novel about a woman visited by the ghost of Dorothy Parker, and simply daydreaming about the possibilityof THE OTHER LIFE rocketing to stardom and solving all our financial woes. Of course, that would mean my escape into fantasy will have created a real world happy ending. Now that's my kind of irony.

What about you? Do you use escape as a coping mechanism? If so, what's your poison? Writing? Reading? Daydreaming? A stiff drink? A joint on the back porch after dark? Would love to hear from you in the comments section ...

Jonathan Franzen and Other Darlings in the Hot Seat

One of our bloggers couldn't make it this morning so I'm pinch hitting. I wrote the essay below a few months ago but it relates to what's been going on in the Internet lately. First Jodi Picoult chides the NYT for heaping praise on male literary darlings. (Like Jonathan Franzen, for instance) Then Jennifer Weiner joins the cause. Love to hear what you think about all this.

Wake Up and Smell the Evanovich

By Karin Gillespie

Every year Publishers Weekly puts out a list of the years’ bestselling adult novels. The list is interesting for several reasons. First off, it actually lists the number of copies sold. Unlike film studios, publishers are often coy about numbers of copies sold. (even to their authors). So it’s fascinating to see the actual numbers in black and white.

Another interesting point: Bestselling authors, who regularly make the Times list, have wide differences in their sales records. Janet Evanovich’s Fearless Fourteen sold 1,058, 427 copies in 2008, making her the sixth bestselling author on the list (John Grisham is number one.) In contrast, John Updike sold 101,000 copies of Widows of Eastwick.

Genre fiction dominates the list. Americans love their thrillers, mysteries and love stories. But, and no surprise here, they don’t buy a whole lot literary fiction. Salman Rushdie, Andres Dubus, Gerald Brooks and Jhumpa Lahiri made appearances (all sold less than 300,000 copies) but that was about it.

Which brings me to the point of this essay: Publishers Marketplace keeps an archive of book reviews from newspapers across the country. Guess how many reviews there were of Fearless Fourteen, a novel that sold over a million copies?


In contrast, Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie sold 105,512. It garnered a whopping 21 reviews.

I can already hear the outrage. Janet Evanovich is no Salman Rushdie. Maybe she isn’t. But over a million people in this country laid down money for her book. Not so much for Salman.

People have been lamenting the loss of book review sections in newspaper recently. Is it possible that these sections have dug their own graves by being too pretentious, and consistently ignoring the tastes of the average reader?

Imagine if entertainment editors ran their sections the way book editors do:

Yes, dear readers, we refuse to review the latest blockbuster action flick or romantic comedy because we’ve decided they’re too trite and commercial. Instead we’ll be devoting all of our space to a few obscure yet important indie films.

Way to kill that section.
Book reviewers might defend their choice of books, by saying, “Our readers are sophisticated. They don’t care about the latest Janet Evanovich.”

Good point. I’m not saying book review sections should ignore literary books in favor of popular books. I’m saying the reviewers are shooting themselves in the foot by refusing to give any ink to novels that people actually read.

If they reviewed popular novels, maybe, instead of turning off their core readership, they’d actually gain more readers. And isn’t that what every editor is looking for? More readers?

I’m not trying to make an argument about the merits of literary fiction versus popular fiction. I like them both. But I don’t enjoy reading most book review sections because they’re too heavily weighted towards obscure literary novels. If I, a voracious reader of both literary and mainstream fictions, don’t relate to most book review sections, I’m wondering how many people do.

And while I’m on the soapbox, studies show more women than men read novels. (Big shocker, right?) Yet, women’s novels get short shrift in review sections. In 2008, major book reviewers deigned to review John Grisham’s The Appeal five times. Nicholas Spark’s The Lucky One also got a few mentions. Most heavy hitter women novelists did not.

So who are book reviewers trying to please exactly? THEMSELVES, of course. When it comes down to it, they did not become reviewers to critique the antics of Stephanie Plum. (Janet Evanovich’s popular protag, if you’re not in the know.) And that’s why these sections are disappearing.

If book review sections want to survive, the editors need to take into consideration what the American is actually reading, and not what they’d like them to read.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

What Summer Vacation?

Others have already had some lovely posts about their summer reading. It makes me want to cry because this summer I read very little. I had a book due August 15 and there were so many interruptions for other projects and life and what have you that there was a lengthy period when I was waking up at night to find that in my dreams I was stressing about finishing the book.

My family thinks I'm joking when I put the Do Not Disturb sign on my door or that I cannot possibly mean them when it goes up. ACK!!!  Yes (Name of Family Member), I love you, but I DO mean You. Now go away.

I get a lot of work done sitting in the back seat of my car at lunchtime. No internet. No beloved family members.

You may think this story has a bad ending involving tearful phone calls to agents or editors, but actually, I finished the book and turned it in four days early. W00t!

No Stress Here, Baby!

During the first few days after turning in the book, I would sit in front of my computer, filled with stress before my hands were on the keyboard. Someone would come to my door to talk to me and I'd be, all, hey, I'm busy, can't you see that, and . . .  Wait a minute! No. I'm not busy at all. But I couldn't tear myself away from the computer because . . . I'm sick, I think. Manuscript Separation Anxiety Disorder.

Reading. There was some of that.

But I did do some reading and I can list some of the highlights in no particular order.

I read Meljean Brook's steampunk novella (In Burning Up) Here There Be Monsters and that story was so good I didn't want it to end. If you're wondering about steampunk, this story would be a great start.

Recently, I finished Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy which I enjoyed, but not as much as I thought I would and not nearly at much as Venetia. The former had a distasteful scene with a Jewish money lender -- full of every stereotype you can imagine. Even as I told myself that Heyer wrote during a time when such bigotry was rarely questioned, I found myself feeling a bit sad. Since I am no longer a Heyer virgin, I recognized both the hero and heroine archetypes from other books by her so this one did not seem quite as fresh to me.

And yet, Heyer is a magnificent writer of character and her strong women are strong indeed. Subversively so. It was a lovely read that lasted only two days because I had to know what happened next.

I discovered, much to my (ironic) delight, that I had somehow skipped Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow. Lucky Me! I read that in a couple of days. I love Jack Reacher. I do so adore thrillers and Lee Child is one of the finest thriller writers out there.

Um. That's all I can remember right now. I read a few books I was unable to finish as they annoyed me to the point where I felt I had better things to do with my time. There was a time when I used to finish a book no matter what, but over the years, I've decided that if a book is disappointing me enough, there is, in fact, a point at which I wish to spend my time doing something that would be not reading that book. Do any of you do that? Do you slog through No Matter What? Or do you reach some line in the reading sand beyond which you will not turn another page?

In which Carolyn Goes Afield

Like many women readers, there aren't many genres I don't read. I harbor a deep and abiding love for Thrillers. Barry Eisler and Lee Child are two favorites of mine.

Not long ago I started reading Fantasy again after a years and years long hiatus caused by a lack of female characters that were anything like real women. I was mightily pleased to learn the character landscape of Fantasy has changed considerably. Joy!  Jim Butcher and Brian Sanderson are two male authors I encountered who write wonderful female characters. I have also read Books 1-2 of Bujold's Sharing Knife series and will be tracking down more.

Stuff about Carolyn

I write historical romance for Berkley Books. Scandal was a 2010 RITA finalist in the Regency historical category. Indiscreet won the 2010 Bookseller's Best award for Best Short Historical. This was my first time ever winning a writing award and it was both unexpected and thrilling. I got awesome bling. In 2011 I will be writing two more historicals for Berkley; they'll be out in 2012. I am trying not to stress about getting started on the first of those books while I take a brief break . . . I'm hoping to last two weeks before I crack, but I'm starting to have dreams about not starting the first book until like 3 days before it's due, and I can't write 33,333 words per day.

My short story Moonlight appears in the Mammoth Book of Regency Romance, which just came out this July 2010. ETA: Since I retained the digital rights to this story, I've posted it at my website along with some gorgeous artwork I commissioned just for that story. You can read Moonlight at my website or download a pdf from that link. It's licensed under a Creative Commons license so you're free to download the story, post to your own website (with credit and link back to me) or upload to any device you like.  The artist for this story is the amazingly talented Seamas Gallagher.

I also write paranormal romance for Grand Central Publishing. Demons and witches and the like, only maybe the bad guys aren't what you'd expect. My Forbidden Desire was a 2010 RITA finalist in the paranormal category. In January 2011, the 3rd book in my paranormal series will be out; My Immortal Assassin. That will be followed by My Dangerous Pleasure (the book I just turned in) in June 2011. Hopefully Grand Central will want more paranormals from me. In the next few days, I'll have another free short story, this time a paranormal, also with artwork from Seamas.

The RITA, for those who don't follow romance, is the Romance equivalent of the Hugo for Sci/Fi/Fantasy and the Edgar for mystery writers. 

I have a chihuahua named Fudge and a cat named Jake. The vet believes Jake is a Maine Coon cat, but he happened to be born under the barn at the bottom of our driveway so I know he's not purebred. I picked Jake from the litter (we found homes for them all, and were able to trap the mother and get her spayed. She then lived under my sister's bed for a year before she decided it was OK to come out) because he was the smallest. He grew into large fluffy cat. 15 pounds of lap cat. He loves to sleep on my printer and help me write. The dog sleeps behind me on my chair as I write.

My son is a teenager and I am a terrible embarrassment to him.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Women's Fiction is Good Enough For Me!

Hi Girlfriends,

My name is Lori L. Tharps and as of today, August 24, 2010, I can officially call myself a novelist. If you'd asked me yesterday, I would have said I'm an author because I have written two non-fiction books -- Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain. And please note, I love both of these books and I enjoyed writing them immensely, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my dream has always been to write fiction. And today, my dream has come true. Today, my first novel, Substitute Me hits store shelves.

Substitute Me is truly women's fiction (except for the cover which looks like a Forensic Thriller). The question I wanted to answer in writing this book was, "Can a woman really have it all if she has the right help?"Or, another way of looking at it might be, "What does a woman have to sacrifice in order to have a successful career, a thriving family and a comfortable home?"In Substitute Me, Kate Carter is a modern career woman on her way back to work after an extended maternity leave. Zora Anderson, a 30-year-old college drop-out from a good family,  is the woman Kate hires to be her son's nanny. In alternating chapters we hear from Kate and Zora how the lives of both women and the people they love, are irrevocably altered over the course of one year. One reviewer called the book "a modern-day horror story," while another called it "warm and engaging." I guess it's all in the eye of the reader, but I would definitely place the book in the category of a 'domestic drama.'

Today I had a conversation with a male colleague who heard about my book and he immediately asked, "Is this a book for men?" And I said without hesitation, "no." I wrote it thinking about women, the main characters are women and the issues are ones most women will be able to relate to. Of course I have no problem if men want to read (and/or buy) the book, but I'm not going to boo-hoo if the male species isn't immediately drawn to the material in Substitute Me. That being said, I'm keeping close watch on the recent debates about "women's fiction"being overlooked by reviewers, literary tastemakers and just regular dudes.

Maybe my next novel will feature a male main character that every man in America will relate to, but I seriously doubt it. I'm sure my next novel will feature a female protagonist with an unquenchable sense of wanderlust, a taboo romance and maybe a smidgen of social commentary. Or maybe I might craft a romance as quirky and delicious as Ernessa T. Carter's recent hit, 32 Candles, which I happen to know quite a few guys have admitted to reading and loving as much as their wives. And they didn't even mind being seen with a book with a pretty pink cover.

So, just out of curiosity, what books that could fall into the category of women's fiction, do you think men would enjoy and why?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Read this: Playing the Hand You're Dealt (psst, I'm giving away a copy!)

Hello new blog readers! My name is Carleen Brice. Like everyone else blogging here, I'm a woman novelist looking to hook up with women readers. My first novel Orange Mint and Honey is a mother-daughter story (and premiered on LMN as "Sins of the Mother," which airs again on September 11). My second novel Children of the Waters is a story about two women, one white and one black, who discover they are sisters. I hope you'll check them both out if you haven't already.
I also can be found blogging at White Readers Meet Black Authors where I try to introduce authors to a wider readership (On Tuesday, I'm running a Q&A with Lori Tharps, author of the new "nanny novel" Substitute Me). In that vein, I thought I'd kick off my first blog post here by telling you all about a book I recently finished that comes out on August 24th. It's called Playing the Hand You're Dealt by Trice Hickman. I have to confess it's not a book I would have picked up on my own (I don't typically lean toward romance), but the publisher sent it to me and I read it. And I really liked it. The characters were fresh, interesting and believable and the story was just an enjoyable, easy read.

It's about two women (see perfect for the Girlfriends Book Club!) who meet in college and have been best friends ever since. The only hitch is that one of the women is in love with the other's father. Here's a snippet:

"Emily's my very best friend in the world. She was right there in the deliver room when CJ was born, holding my hand, reminding me to breathe. But even before he took his first breath, we both knew that motherhood wasn't my thing. I remember thinking that she should've had him, not me. She cradled him with love while I looked on, too scared to hold my own child because I thought I'd do something worng. When CJ was six months old my job transferred me to New York, and that's when we decided that CJ would be better left in her care. So Emily raised my son for the first four years of his life. See, I told you she was a selfless person.

I knew I'd never find anyone who accepted me the way she did. And it was funny because we were as different as caviar and catfish, with one exception--we were born on the exact same day. But here's the rub, she was born in the wee hours of the morning and I was born in the late hours of the night...."

The book opens on the cusp of the women's 30th birthdays and all kind of juicy stuff happens. Kind of romance-y, kind of women's fiction-y, Playing the Hand You're Dealt makes a great end-of-summer escape. As I said, it pubs Tuesday and I hope you'll pick up a copy.

To promote our new blog and to promote books by women, I'm giving away my advance copy of Playing the Hand You're Dealt. Post about Girlfriends Book Club or tweet or Facebook about it and leave me a note here in the comments on this post and I'll enter you to win. I'll randomly pick from the comments on August 31 at 5 pm MST and will announce the winner in the comments thread on this post. Good luck!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weekend Musings

Our first week has breezed by and what a kick-butt launch. The facebooking and tweets have been screaming through the internet. Thanks to all my girlfriends. I’m honored and humbled to be among you. Here’s to the Girlfriends Book Club. Long may we read, write, and kvetch.

In my welcome message, I mentioned we’d have weekend content. You can expect to read interviews and guest blogs soon.

Until then, I’ll share some relevant links and other musings with you so you can get in the habit of checking in with us on the weekends.

Critique Groups: Is Brutal Better?

What’s on my mind this week? Critique groups. I’ve belonged to one for over six years and I love it. Occasionally, though, everybody gets too cozy and the criticism becomes too tame, i.e. “I love this and it would be just perfect if you fixed the comma spice on page 12… but maybe I’m wrong.”

I’m human. When I hand over a manuscript for a critique, I secretly want people to gush. But when the compliments fly like confetti, I’m suspicious… Love fests (unless they come from the Pulitzer committee or Kirkus) aren’t going to help me.

I once had the perfect critiquer, and I HATED her.

She questioned every damn thing I wrote, and not in a nice way. In red ink, she’d scrawl a rash of cutting words like “TRITE” or CLICHÉ or SILLY all over my prose. Sometimes it felt like she was criticizing me instead of my words and every now and then (I’m embarrassed to admit this) I’d even cry.

In the end though, her feedback made me a much better writer. Now I love her and I wish she were still critiquing me. She didn’t let me get away with anything.

Do you have a critique group? Beta readers? How is that working for you? Tips on how to run one?


I learned about two click-worthy sites this week: Book Trib (   ) which collects some of the best book content from the web and also seems to have a pretty inexpensive and effective advertising program for authors and She Writes (  ) an online community for writers.
New Release

What new book is on your radar? I loved Kristina Riggles first novel “Real Life and Liars” so I’m looking forward to reading “The Life You’ve Imagined.” It’s not an easy book to describe but it’s about the difficult choices made by four women friends when it comes to love and family. Riggles is master at characterization and reminds me of Anne Tyler but with more plot. What new release are you looking forward to?

Thanks for stopping by,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Well read

First, let me say that it’s so wonderful to be here! It’s been amazing to be a part of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, and I’m so thrilled that we’ve now grown into the Girlfriends Book Club!

By way of introduction, I'm Brenda Janowitz, a former lawyer-turned-writer. I'm the author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist. My work has also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher's Weekly.

Nice to meet you! And thank you for coming to read me here. Double thanks if you're coming here from my personal blog (the oh-so-cleverly titled 'Brenda's Blog.' My creativity had clearly run out that day....).

So, I suppose since we’ve renamed ourselves, there’s only one thing to do here: discuss books! This summer, I’ve read some wonderful ones so far.

I started the summer with Emily Giffin’s Heart of the Matter. It’s about two women: single mother Valerie, whose son gets injured in an accident at a sleepover party (thus ensuring that my son will never ever ever be allowed out of the house—ever), and married stay-at-home mom Tessa, whose husband is the doctor called in to help Valerie’s son. Fair warning: there is quite a lot of detail about Valerie’s son’s injury, much of which I found hard to read, but Emily does relationships so well that by the time you get into this novel, you’ll be glad you pushed through all of that.

As is the usual in an Emily Giffin novel, complications ensue and relationships begin to change, challenging what the characters think about their current lots in life; what’s wrong and what’s right.

What I love about Emily’s novels is how they always make you think. After I finished the novel, my cousin and I had a long discussion about Tessa and Valerie’s choices, about what we would have done if we’d been in their shoes, and about the nature of marriage and forgiveness.

Allison Winn Scotch’s latest, The One That I Want, will make you think, but for altogether different reasons.

As with Allison’s last novel, Time of My Life, this novel has a time-travel element to it, which I adore. But you needn’t be a sci-fi lover to pick up this book—it’s women’s fiction at its best. When protagonist Tilly Farmer bumps into an old friend-turned-psychic, she is given the power to see the future. The only problem is that Tilly thought she had the perfect life, and these glimpses into the future are not at all what she expects.

Allison’s books are always total page-turners for me. I can never put them down—I’m always completely absorbed by her characters and the situations they find themselves in. The stories are great, but as with Emily Giffin’s novels, they always leave me thinking. Would I want to see the future? What if I saw something I didn’t like? Does anyone truly have the perfect life?

But it wasn’t all brand new hardcover books on my nightstand this summer. I also picked up Katie Crouch’s Girls in Trucks, which had been on my bookshelf for months.

I loved it. Pure and simple, I thought it was great. I didn’t think it was a novel; it felt more like a collection of short stories that were tied together, a la Melissa Bank’s The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, but that was part of its charm.

In Girls in Trucks, we follow Southern debutante Sarah Walters from her childhood cotillion classes straight through to her life as a thirty-something single woman living in New York City. It was equal parts sad and funny, but always compelling and beautifully written. In fact, if you are a writer yourself, I’d say that this book is a must read.

And as for the books that will be closing out the summer for me? Ayelet Waldman’s Red Hook Road (she’s made us wait for a new book for so long—I can hardly wait to crack this one open!) and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I heard Egan read from this book on Wednesday night, and she was fabulous.

What are you all reading this summer?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ideas by Melissa Senate

Several people who know me well, including my dear ex-husband, said: “You wrote a book about cooking?” There was one “Really?” A few raised eyebrows. And the ex-husband cackled.

I’m not a cook. I come from a long line of not-cooks.

But when food--Italian food with its inherent romance and mystery--and hand-scrawled recipes with essential ingredients of fervent wishes and bittersweet memories began forming in my mind last year, I didn’t say, Forget all this--you can’t write a book about food and cooking and hand-scrawled recipes! Instead, I did what I always do when an idea has gripped me, heart, mind and soul: I waited for the “What’s this really about?” to present itself, to explain to me where all this was coming from. A novel about cooking? About a heartbroken woman who inherits her mysterious grandmother’s home-based business and must teach an Italian cooking class when she can barely make a decent marinara sauce? About her four students, seeking much more than just how to cook chicken alla Milanese and risotto?

In those months before I started writing a word of my upcoming novel THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, I realized I was thinking a lot about my childhood-- particularly about a long, narrow kitchen in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Flushing, Queens, four flights up on a busy street. I could not stop thinking about that kitchen--how, despite its dirty beige walls and short window with the fire escape and burglar bars, it was my favorite place to be.

The summer I turned eight, my mother very permanently split from my father and moved us from our apartment building in the Bronx, New York to that apartment in Flushing, Queens (another borough of New York City). She worked full-time as a clerk in Korvettes department store (anyone remember Korvettes?), and by the time she picked up her three close-in-age children from daycare at the Y at 6:00pm, she was exhausted. So she smartly taught us how to help her cook. My older sister was on stove duty. I was an assembler. And my younger brother was a masher. And in that narrow kitchen, we’d spend a magnificent hour or two together, sharing funny, serious, mundane, interesting, scary, happy, not-happy tidbits about our day, about ourselves--sharing, period--as we cooked together.

My mother, one of the people I admire most, was no gourmet. Her rotation consisted of five meals: tuna fish in the shape of a smiley face with lettuce eyebrows, raw carrot nose, and onion-slice mouth; lightly fried flounder (the smell of which still fills me with joy); plain meat balls the size of baseballs (sans spaghetti or sauce, for some reason); fried liver and onions, and cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. On liver and onions night (her favorite), she’d heat up Swanson’s turkey TV diners for the kids, which of course we loved (you would too, given the alternative).

To this day, tuna fish sandwiches with wilted lettuce, the kind that comes from four hours in a lunchbox, lightly fried flounder, and those giant meatballs, are my favorites, my comfort food. I shared my worries as I lay egg-coated flounder in the plate of breadcrumbs, listened to my sister’s hopes and fears as she placed meatballs in the big pot of water-ketchup broth, assured my brother, whether about long-division or bullies or the curious lack of relatives in our lives except for our maternal grandparents, as he mashed tuna and splattered mayonnaise. We talked in that kitchen. And a few subway stops away, in my grandmother’s similar kitchen in a similar apartment building, there was much of the same talking, the same food, the same comfort. My grandmother didn’t like to talk about herself or her past unless she was busy doing something--like scrubbing baking potatoes. And so I got a precious earful at the sink. She did too.

Now, four hundred miles away from both kitchens, I try my best at cooking, but I am my mother’s daughter and my grandma’s bubeleh--i.e., no foodie. (Although, I must say that my chicken alla Milanese, lasagna, and Bolognese sauce, after months of research-practice, are deliziosa.) So when asked where on earth I got the idea for THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, how I could write a novel about food and cooking and a main character teaching anyone to make classic Italian dishes, I often talk about my love of Italy, of the cooking memoirs I read, the research, the months of recipe testing I did--my dear son as taster. Because it’s almost impossible to explain how the essence of the book, what it’s really about, comes from those cramped kitchens of my childhood (and, much later, two very special trips to Italy), from beautiful, painful, very dear mish-mashes of memory--the kind you can’t necessarily conjure, but which forms you, stays with you, provokes in you questions big and small . . . and only hints at answers.

My ideas have always come from that place, the place in between the tuna fish smiley faces and secrets, where family and memory, love and loss, connection and lack thereof--and perhaps most of all, questions to which I have no answers, are always at work. It’s one of the things that makes “So where did you get the idea for this book?” so difficult to put into words. Except 90,000 of them, of course.

I would love to know your version of my smiley-face tuna-fish--those special meals from childhood you still love. For my son, now eight-years-old, I know it’ll be black bean tacos topped with a particular kind of shredded cheese, and the spaghetti Bolognese my heroine and I learned to make together. Giveaway Alert: One commenter (U.S./Canada only) will win an advance review copy of THE LOVE GODDESS' COOKING SCHOOL, so share away!

A bit of bio: I’m the author of nine previous novels, including my 2001 debut, SEE JANE DATE, which was made into a cute TV movie, two YAs, and my most recent women’s fiction title, THE SECRET OF JOY. My next novel, THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, will be published by Simon & Schuster in late October! For more info, please visit my website. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook. A former New Yorker, I now live on the lovely coast of Maine with my son.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Great Big Hello from Roberta Isleib!

ROBERTA:  Hurray for Karin Gillespie and this brand new Girlfriends Book blog! I'm so excited to be a part of a grand and ongoing celebration of women's fiction.

I write murder mysteries--and that started because (cross my heart) I was playing so much bad golf that I had to figure out how to make something of it! So five of my books feature neurotic but lovable professional golfer, Cassie Burdette. In real life, I'm a clinical psychologist so my next series stars psychologist, advice columnist, and amateur detective Dr. Rebecca Butterman (DEADLY ADVICE, ASKING FOR MURDER). She's also a fabulous cook--which is great fun to write! I had some exciting news recently--my short story, "The Itinerary", was chosen to be included in the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. The collection will be edited by none other than Nelson DeMille! Meanwhile, my agent has two books she's trying to sell, and I'm working on another.

Enough of all that. Besides writing, I love, love, love to read. Last year I chaired the Mystery Writers of America committee that chose the best crime novel of 2009, so I've been resting a little from reading mysteries, instead concentrating on women's fiction. Here are a few books that I've read and enjoyed this summer.

THE RED THREAD by Ann Hood. From the jacket: "After losing her infant daughter in a freak accident, Maya Lange opens the Red Thread, an adoption agency that specializes in placing baby girls from China with American families." The book takes us through the stories of six couples who are waiting to adopt through Maya's agency. As the adoption date draws near, the lives of these people begin to unravel and Maya is forced to face her own tragic history with her daughter and her husband. Ann Hood is an expert about getting into the minds of her characters so they come alive on the page.

by Ayelet Waldman.  Two families in Red Hook, Maine are joined by a marriage and then shattered by a tragedy almost as quickly. As their grief unfolds, the tension between the families does too, bringing cracks to light that were not visible before the wedding. Waldman started her writing career with a mystery series, the Mommy Track mysteries--her books have only gotten better and better.

THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED by Maddie Dawson. Dawson is Sandi Kahn Shelton's new identity. I've loved her other novels, which are set in my neck of the woods in Connecticut. STUFF wanders through the long marriage of Annabelle McKay, from its unusual beginning to its major hiccups to the warm and wonderful ending. The book asks the question: "What if you were married to a wonderful husband for twenty-eight year but in love with another man?" An excellent read.

And my last recommendation, SPOON FED by Kim Severson, is not fiction at all. But if you follow the food articles in the New York Times, you'll have seen Severson's byline. In this appealing book she profiles seven cooks who've had a big influence on her career and her life. You'll get her inside scoop on Alice Waters, Rachel Ray, and others, and you'll be drooling by the time you finish. I interviewed Kim on my group blog, Jungle Red Writers, so go over and check that out when you're finished.

Okay, that should keep you busy for a few days anyway! And you can find me on Facebook, my website, or Jungle Red writers. And can't wait to hear what my other girlfriends have to say....

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Write Books (About Dogs)

Hi Everyone!

Alison Pace here.  I'm so excited to be a part of this great collection of bloggers...many thanks to the lovely and talented Karin Neches for getting it started, and for the invitation to participate.

So, a little about me: I'm the author of four novels, so far.  My first novel, IF ANDY WARHOL HAD A GIRLFRIEND is a romantic comedy set in the contemporary art world, inspired in part by the many (does ten count as many? I think so) years I spent working in that world.  There were also some schnauzers in that book. Over the course of writing that novel I realized that in addition to writing about romance and art and New York, I really love writing about dogs.  My second novel is PUG HILL, written before I had a dog, about a woman in want of a dog.  Right after that book came out, I got a dog.  Carlie.  Here's Carlie, hard at work as muse:

Next came THROUGH THICK AND THIN. That book (started pre-Carlie), about two sisters embarking on a diet together, features a dachshund mix named DB Sweeney.  DB Sweeney acts a lot like Carlie.  Then I wrote CITY DOG and gave Carlie a starring role.  She talks.  There are some people who don't really like the concept of a talking dog.  Just so you know, I have no problem with a talking dog.  I kind of love a talking dog.

My biggest news is that I've just turned in the first draft of my fifth novel.  It's a sequel to PUG HILL and it's a mystery of sorts (I say "of sorts" because it's not all mystery, there's some romance and New York and a lot of art, too). It's tentatively titled PUG HEIST.  I'm not sure that title will stick, but I hope it does.  So, right about now, I'm just taking some deep breaths, waiting for my edits, getting back in touch with friends and loved ones and the gym, and enjoying the last few weeks of summer in New York City, where Carlie and I live.  I've just started reading ONE DAY which I've heard so many great things about.  I'm actually quite excited to get immersed in a book I'm not at all responsible for writing.

If you'd like to know even more about me, I hope you'll check out my website, my blog, my facebook, and my twitter.  Sometimes I wander off, but I can most often be found on the twitters.

Til next time,


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Welcome to Girlfriends Book Club

I recently started an MFA program. A male instructor read my first chapter, saying, “Do you realize that the only audience for your fiction is women?”

It was clear by his tone he thought I was traveling down a dark and desolate road. Writing just for women? Unthinkable.

Just in case his first comment went over my head, he rattled the pages of my manuscript saying, “This is… parlor fiction.”

Had I somehow accidentally time -traveled back to the nineteenth century? Was I wearing a whale bone corset? Were there horses tethered outside? No. I noticed my fellow students were pecking away at the keyboards of their laptop. Still in the present day.

“And another thing,” he continued. “In the second paragraph, you mention how nicely a man fills out the seat of his blue jeans. I find that disturbingly sexist and offensive.”

Heh. As if men writers never write about women’s bodies. Have you ever heard of John Updike? Vladimir Nabokov? Nearly every male writer that’s ever lived?

Truth is, sometimes it feels like it's still the nineteenth century when it comes to women’s fiction. Even though women read twice as many books as men, writing for women is considered a lesser art form than writing for men. Especially in the academic community. Female writers aren’t reviewed nearly as much as men writers. Their writing isn’t as well respected. A woman writer has never made the cover of Time. Shoot. Even Oprah has been dissing them for the last few years.

Will this blog change any of that?


Will this blog celebrate women's fiction?


Welcome to the Girlfriends Book Club. We’re a group blog of 35 women authors. We’ll be taking turns blogging Monday through Friday. During the weekends, we’ll sometimes have guest bloggers and other news. This is the place to hang out if you’re a reader or writer of fiction aimed primarily at women.

The Girlfriends Book Club evolved from Girlfriend Cyber Circuit, a virtual tour of thirty-some women writers. The GCC started five years ago when blog tours were still a novelty, and it was so well-known around the Internet that it got some ink in The Village Voice and New York Times. The GCC for YA authors is still plugging along.

Most of the members of the GCC have been blogging their hearts out for years and some we’re getting burned-out by blogging daily. None of us wanted to lose the community feel of the GCC, so it made sense to start a group blog. We hope you will stop by and visit us regularly.

P.S. One of our blog topics this cycle is favorite summer reads. Since I’m in an MFA program, I read a couple of classics: Catcher in the Rye. (Loved it), and Great Gatsby (meh). I also adored Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It’s a series of linked stories and took a while to get into, but it’s really wonderful. If you haven’t discovered the amazing Ms. Strout, I suggest you start off with Amy and Isabelle and be prepared to have the top of your head blown off; it’s that good.

I also loved Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. It’s about a young Korean women who comes to NYC in the nineties with her mother and they end up living in an unheated flat and working in a sweat shop. It’s my best read this summer and has become an all-time favorite. What was your favorite read this summer?

About me: I’m the author of the Bottom Dollar Girl series, co-author of Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Novel, and most recently Earthly Pleasures under the pen name Karen Neches. Currently I’m enrolled in an MFA program (Despite poking fun at it, I’m loving it and learning a lot!) and working on my thesis novel, which is a departure from what I usually write. Visit me at