Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finding our Fire

What is our fire, and how do we go about finding it?

I spent over 20 years as an interior designer. Most days I loved it—the fabulous furniture, gorgeous fabrics, wallpapers and artwork delighted me—it was a glamorous career with not-so glamorous hours. And the stress? Oh, the stress! People can be so demanding and unreasonable; didn’t I know the world would stop spinning if the powder room window treatments weren’t installed before the neighborhood BBQ!

Often I would fantasize about leaving my career and going after my secret dream of writing novel, yet I never had the courage to take such a serious leap. But several years ago I nearly died of septicemia, and that’s when everything changed.

And I do mean everything.

I woke up in intensive care surrounded my machines and tubes. My body felt foreign and it was an effort to form a sentence. I was terrified. After spending weeks in the hospital, I was finally released with instructions that I was not to return to work until my doctor gave me the go-ahead. I remember being sprawled out my bed having myself a full-blown pity party. Questions ranging from why me? all the way to what did I ever do to deserve this? banged around in my head. I wept into a wad of soggy tissues and watched my hair fall out from the massive antibiotics that had been pumped into my veins. I was a sobbing, sniveling, basket case of wrecked humanity.

It was later that same day that I discovered a box filled with short stories and character sketches that went back to my pre-teen years. They were silly and unpolished, but the more I read them, the more I knew my fire could no longer be ignored—it was time to let it burn, even if it scorched me in the process.

In my novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Aunt Tootie looks into CeeCee’s eyes and says, “Far too many people die with a heart that’s gone flat with indifference, and it surely must be a terrible way to go. If there’s one thing I’d like most for you, it’s that you’ll find your calling in life. That’s where true happiness and purpose lies. Whether it’s taking care of abandoned animals, saving old houses from the wreckin’ ball, or reading to the blind, you’ve got to find your fire, sugar. You’ll never be fulfilled if you don’t.”

I believe Tootie’s words to be true. Each of us has a fire, a dream, or whatever we want to call it, and it’s so important that we acknowledge our fire and go after it with gusto. Granted, the acceptance of Tootie’s philosophy didn’t come to me overnight, but when I finally realized that life was too wondrous to spend worrying about fabric delays and broken lamps when the one thing I really wanted to do was write, I sold my business and took the first steps to fan my flame.

It’s the gutsiest thing I’ve ever done, and as it turns out, it was also the wisest.

So how did you discover your fire?

About me: My debut novel is a New York Times bestseller; foreign rights have sold to Italy, France, Germany, Israel, Poland, and Korea. The paperback will be released on October 26, 2010. For a list of all my upcoming author events please visit my website. You can also find me on Twitter (@wordrunner) and Facebook.

I live in a quaint historical town in Kentucky with my husband and several furry, four-legged children. I love animals, feeding the birds, reading, gardening, and laughing with girlfriends. Oh, and I’m a nut for handbags.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You Gotta Love It

By Therese Fowler

When people learn that I’m an author, they ask, “What do you write?” These days my answer is “domestic drama.” It’s an answer born of trying to find a description that’s simple and brief, yet accurate enough to head off the kinds of misinterpretations I used to get. When Souvenir, my debut, was first out, my answer was “Love stories.” But I found that a lot of people equated that term with “romance,” and if you’ve read Souvenir or my second novel, Reunion, and you’re familiar with actual romance novels, you know my books are not that.

I do love a good romantic tale (Pride and Prejudice tops my list). I love the tension and the conflict, the slowly unfolding answer to “How can it possibly all work out?” A romance novel follows a prescribed path that leads to a happily-ever-after ending, whereas the stories that come to me, the ones that snag my writing imagination and refuse to let me go, refuse to take that path—or any path that’s genre-determined.

If I’m feeling loquacious, I might say, “I write dramatic stories about difficult situations, families, and love.”

But really, in my mind the answer is still, simply, love stories. Stories about love. All kinds of love: sibling love, parental love, romantic love, filial love. It’s the force that motivates all of my characters, for good or ill. It leads them to poor choices. It leads them to redemptive choices. Heartache, heartbreak, hope, happiness—not necessarily in that order. Love is like that.

In Exposure, my newest book (set for release next spring), eighteen-year-old Anthony, who is madly in love with a girl named Amelia, muses about the subject:

The world needed less cynicism, more love. Love was the answer. Love made the world go 'round. Love was all you needed. Love, actually, was all around.

(If an engraver will kindly put this excerpt in the present tense, I would be glad to have it on my grave’s headstone when that time comes.)

As you may know (especially if you caught wind of the Picoult-Weiner-Franzen-inspired debates of recent weeks), in the literary world, such “soft” themes as romance, domestic drama, and love aren’t given much respect, no matter how artfully they’re written. You might wonder how, then, those folks account for their reverence for Jane Austen. Well, apparently she didn’t write stories about those themes, she wrote about “manners and morals.” O-kay.

When I set my sights on a writing career, I was ignorant of literary politics. Had I known, or if I could go back and do it over again, well, I wouldn’t change a thing. I write fiction in pursuit of truth; and what’s true is that at the heart of the matter (whatever that matter may be) we are all, even the most sophisticated or jaded among us, motivated first and always by either the love we have or the love we want.

To celebrate love stories, I’d like to give some away! One winner, drawn at random, will get three books: a copy of Souvenir, a copy of Reunion, and a third love story of their choice (provided I can get hold of it easily). All you have to do is leave a comment naming your choice, then check back Friday morning to see if you’ve won.


Therese Fowler is the author of three novels: SOUVENIR (2/08), REUNION (4/09), and EXPOSURE (coming 5/11), all from Random House/Ballantine Books. Her fourth novel, tentatively titled Escape, is under contract and expected to publish in early 2012. Her books, which are also published internationally, have been featured by IndieBound, the Borders Book Club, the Barnes & Noble New Reads book club, Target’s Bookmarked Breakout program, and were selected as Featured Alternate titles for the Literary Guild, Doubleday, and Rhapsody book clubs. She loves buttered popcorn, and has four cats (one of which shares this love, except no butter for him). For more information, go to

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Girl Power (aka Gushing Over the Girlfriends Book Club)

by Susan McBride

Writing is such a weird business. I always think of my friends who don’t write as “civilians,” because—while I love them dearly—they don’t always get me like my author pals do. When it comes to dealing with the insanity of the publishing world, there’s nothing like having people around you who’ve experienced that insanity, too.

That’s why I adore the idea behind the Girlfriends Book Club. I’m all for girl power and women supporting each other. Maybe because I moved around so often as a kid (my dad worked for IBM = I’ve Been Moved), I deeply value the friendships I’ve made in my adulthood. In fact, I wouldn’t be on this blog without a little help from a fab friend named Marilyn Brant.

When I think of how Marilyn and I met, it’s so fluky, as some of the best things in life often are. Late last year, I ran a contest on my web site. Marilyn entered, and I thought her name seemed familiar. (Cue light bulb.) I quickly realized she was the author of ACCORDING TO JANE (which I read and loved). I promptly begged her to donate a signed copy for a fundraiser I was doing for the local chapter of Susan G. Komen. She generously replied, “Of course!” Emails about the fundraiser led to more emails about everything under the sun, including Tales of Glee and Woe from the Publishing Front.

Even after a decade as a published author, I still experience Pub Date Panic. I would’ve been a basket case (okay, even more of a basket case) without Marilyn and my trusted writer pals when THE COUGAR CLUB debuted earlier this year, particularly when I realized not everyone finds the C-word as amusing as I do (FYI, I married a younger guy who chased me; so when folks call me “Cougar,” I laugh and tell them I’m an ‘accidental’ Cougar”). Marilyn talked me down on several occasions, like when I stumbled upon a Tweet by the fiction editor of a major publishing trade journal stating: Do I really have to assign a book called THE COUGAR CLUB? (Well, apparently she didn’t, because nothing ever ran despite them giving my publisher a review date. I guess I should've been relieved.)

And when I found rabid online rants about COUGAR on my city paper’s web site a week before the book came out, I freaked. It was clear the ranters were reacting to the title without knowing the contents, but it still got my goat seeing my baby called—among other things—“filth” and “trash.” At its heart, THE COUGAR CLUB is about three 45-year-old lifelong chums supporting each other as they deal with mid-life crises in their work and relationships. But the trash-talkers would have to crack the spine to find that out, so they probably never will.

Besides dissuading me from going back on the newspaper web site to comment “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK,” Marilyn did me the favor of playing fairy godmother and introducing me to the Girlfriends Book Club. I did a happy dance the day Karin emailed to say, “Welcome!” I feel like I’m a part of an incredible sorority that's way funnier and more interesting than the one I joined in college.

It's because of the GBC that I came face to face with yet another cool chick, Judy Merrill Larsen, who serendipitously lives in my neck of the woods. I had a laughter-filled lunch with Judy not long ago, and I instantly felt like I’d known her forever. We talked families and books and growing up, and I often found myself nodding and saying, “Yep, I know just what you mean!”

There’s just something magical about connecting with other women who write. There’s an instant empathy and understanding, like we’re all sisters from another mother. And the support goes far beyond our books.  I've had my hands held by my publishing pals and civilian pals alike during some rough stuff.  True friends are very much like human life preservers.  They keep us afloat.

Every morning when I get up and head to the computer to begin my day, I make sure to check out the newest post on the GBC. It’s so much fun learning about each woman in her own voice and seeing what topics are being broached. Inevitably, I find myself nodding and thinking—as I did at lunch with Judy—“Yep, I know just what you mean!” It feels good to be with a group of literary ladies who celebrate the quirkiness of life and who understand the ups and downs of this writing thing I’m so passionate about.

So thanks to my fellow Girlfriends on this blog and everywhere!  We're like a merry band of modern-day Musketeers...all for one and one for all!  Well, you know what I mean.  :-) 

P.S.  My latest reading addiction: Australian author Kate Morton’s books, including THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN and THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON. I’m looking very much forward to her next one, THE DISTANT HOURS, which comes out in November.

Susan McBride is the author of THE COUGAR CLUB (HarperCollins, 02/10), her debut in women’s fiction about three friends who learn you’re never too old to follow your heart. COUGAR was named a Bookmarked Breakout Title by Target stores, was a Midwest Booksellers Association Midwest Connections Pick, and made MORE Magazine’s list of “February Books We’re Buzzing About.” Susan has also penned five award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries for HarperCollins/Avon, including BLUE BLOOD and TOO PRETTY TO DIE, as well as three young adult DEBS novels for Random House. She is currently at work on another women’s fic title about two sisters, a daughter, and a magical LITTLE BLACK DRESS that changes the course of their lives (HarperCollins, fall of 2011), and she’s signed for another after that. She’ll also be writing a young adult thriller for Random House in 2011. Susan is a breast cancer survivor and frequently speaks on the subject of "books and boobs." For more scoop, visit

The Flavor of Fall

A few years ago, on another fall day, my brother and I went to dinner at a restaurant in Chicago's Italian Village and he ordered something for us called "chestnut ravioli." It was a savory version, kind of like this. Well, I was so taken with it, that I wanted to incorporated it somehow into the book I was writing at the time...a book that later turned out to be the novel I have coming out today, Friday Mornings at Nine.

In this story, there are three women who get together for coffee every week (bet you can guess from the title when that is), and they talk about the things many of us talk about with our friends: the men in our lives, our work, our kids, the people from our past... But, one September morning, one of the women admits she's been getting emails from her college ex, a guy she hasn't seen in 18 years. Given her marital ups and downs, it sets her wondering whether she chose the right man after all. It also makes her friends reconsider their relationships and question their choices, too.

One of those women is a character I named Bridget, and I lovingly gave her all of the cooking skills I don't personally possess. This woman can make anything. (Whereas I can only microwave stuff and, on occasion, stir-fry packaged foods. I think I need to take classes at Melissa Senate's Love Goddess' Cooking School. :) Well, I knew if anybody could figure out how to make this delicious ravioli, it would be Bridget.

But Bridget has a sweet tooth and, in researching recipes for her, I came across this gorgeous, sweet version of chestnut ravioli by's Peggy Trowbridge Filippone. I read through it longingly, imagining myself getting to taste it...making only a couple of changes to the original in my fantasies of fixing it: Instead of deep frying it, I suspected health-conscious Bridget would keep it very tender -- lightly browning the raviolis in butter, perhaps, so they would be sweet pasta pillows filled with chestnut puree, almonds, candied orange peel, grated bittersweet chocolate, amaretto liqueur, cinnamon, honey and more...sigh.

This combination of flavors seemed to encapsulate the autumn season for me. I'd need only pumpkin muffins and, maybe, apple crisp with whipped cream on top and nutmeg sprinkles to complete the wheel of fall flavors. To go with them and add the crowning touch, I'd make a hot spiced chai tea like this one and revel in the scents of clove and cardamom, too.

Oh, I love fall and the bounty of its offerings! Everywhere I go, it seems, there are gifts awaiting us: the breathtaking colors of the changing leaves, the flavors and aromas of the season and a focus on celebrating the harvest at hand by sharing our gifts and giving thanks. And on that note, I have one other treat to share with you all -- a non-edible one this time:

In celebration of the release of Friday Mornings at Nine, my publisher -- Kensington Books -- is giving away FREE e-book downloads of my debut novel, According to Jane (the story of a woman who has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head giving her dating advice). For four days, starting Wednesday (9/29) and going through Saturday (10/2), if you have access to any of these e-reader formats -- Kindle, Apple, Sony, B&N, Kobo or Diesel -- feel free to enjoy a copy! Also, I'll give one randomly chosen commenter on this post an autographed final copy of my new novel (in trade paperback), so you can read about the chestnut ravioli in context!

What are some of your favorite fall recipes? What tastes like autumn to you?

Marilyn Brant is a chocolate lover and music junkie who lives in the Chicago area with her husband, son and very paranoid guinea pig. She's the award-winning women's fiction author of According to Jane (Kensington, 2009) and Friday Mornings at Nine (out this week!). She can't cook, but she spends a lot of time online. Visit her at:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pulling on my Big Girl Panties

Hi, I’m Stephanie Julian and I’m happy to be at the Girlfriend’s Book Club.

Since this is my first blog here, I thought I’d introduce myself.

I’m a romance writer (of the erotic variety). I’ve been a writer all my professional life, first as a journalist then as a romance novelist. I sold my first romance (a sweet one to Avalon) in 2003, sold another in 2004 then completely switched my focus and began selling to Ellora’s Cave in 2008 and to Sourcebooks Casablanca earlier this year for their new erotic line.

When you’re a romance writer—and in particular, an erotic romance writer—you’ve got to be ready.

For the questions. Those questions. The snide and the sly. And the looks. The pursed lips and the rolled eyes. The leering smiles and the occasional cold shoulder.

You have to pull on your big girl panties, straighten your back and smile and say, “Yes, I write erotic romance.”

I didn’t start out planning to write erotic romance but I love the freedom of expression available to me in erotic romance.

I adore writing detailed love scenes and the ability to say what I want exactly how I want to say it. I love being able to explore, in depth, every aspect of a romantic relationship.

Now, critics might complain that there’s no plot in erotic romance.

So not true. Erotic romance simply examines a relationship with an emphasis on the sexual and emotional interplay of the couple. And isn’t that the core of any loving relationship?

Of course it is.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Paperback or Hardcover? What Format Brings in the Bucks?

When I sold my first novel and was told it was coming out in hardback, I was worried. I myself rarely bought hard covers and feared no one would pay twenty-something dollars for a novel by a debut novelist. What I didn’t know is hardback often trump trade paperbacks when it comes to subsidiary rights, i.e. audio, book club, and large print. I practically ended up making back my advance before the first copy was sold. Moreover, royalty rates are higher for hardbacks, library sales are larger and there are usually more reviews. Although that’s changing.

Lately though, more and more authors are coming out in trade and sometimes success is big as in the case of this summer’s smash hit One Day. Occasionally a hardback will experience middling sales but the trade paperback soars as was the case with Memory Keeper’s Daughter or Secret Life of Bees.  Penguin is a publisher that seems to have a lot of luck with turning paperback reprints into huge sensations. Also some types of novels have always come out in trade such as a lot of first-time literary novels as well women’s fiction, particularly chick lit.

An article this week in the Wall Street Journal covers the advantages and disadvantages of both formats. A book editor at People is quoted as saying:

Seeing 'paperback original' in a catalog used to mean I could safely skip a book—that the publisher probably didn't have big ambitions for it. That's slowly beginning to change."

I’ve come out in trade and hardback and see pros and cons with both formats. Yeah, the royalty rate is better for hardback but as an author it’s a pain to promote both versions. Also at book signings it’s easier to get people to pay fourteen dollars instead of twenty-four.

What’s your thoughts? As a writer, do have a preference for a particular format and if so why? As a reader, do you usually buy hardbacks or trade paperbacks? Or do like mass market paperbacks. (Like the fat paperbacks sold on grocery shelves.)

 Click worthy Links:

Rejected novels rake in the dough. J. A Konrath’s ebook sales hit 100,000.

Few Boys Allowed. Publishing is an old-girl business.

Thursday, September 23, 2010



I just returned from a visit to my father after he was hospitalized with heart failure. I thought it would be my last. Arthur Ranger Curran’s a hearty, hardy guy. Until his ninetieth birthday, the man was walking four miles a day, studying statistics and French for a mental jog, and had every radio in the house tuned to world events.

Last week, he barely had the strength to swallow from a straw. If we’d not sprung him from the bed-rest the hospital prescribed, I have no doubt we’d be planning memorials right now. Instead, after a few days of being back in his house, sleeping next to his bride of 68 years, and being free to move about (albeit on a walker) I found myself saying to him, “Well, Dad, I guess the rumors of your death have been greatly exaggerated.”

While I was with him, I was deaf to the chatter of emails, feckless to my calendar and focused on the smallest things. Now that I’m home and catching up with bills and deadlines, I stumble upon the most delicately-worded facebook messages asking how I am. I ramble on about what it is that’s occupying me, my dad, my daughter, my refinancing, my mischievous dog.

It didn’t quite occur to me that what my correspondents would really like to know is whether I’m OKAY. As in: Last we heard, you were treated for cancer. So, are you OKAY?

Yes, lovely people, I appear to be very much okay. Better than that. I won’t test the Evil Eye by saying I’m cured. However, the odds are very much in my favor. I see my favorite surgeon every month and he says I’m great. I believe him. Sort of. I know nothing in this world is guaranteed, but when I stay up late worrying, it’s not about throat cancer.

It’s about the surprises that visit when we least expect them.

In the same week Dad collapsed, my sister-in-law was hospitalized with meningitis and my nephew and his girlfriend narrowly escaped the fire that torched their Atlanta house.

A photo of the fire seconds after they got out.

Now they’re all steadily recovering but Crikey! In the same moment that you’re thanking God for what didn’t happen, you’re hit square in the face with the recognition that s*&t happens. And not just to other people! Katy, bar the door!
The next morning

The trouble is, it’s never just s*&;t. It’s always a mixed bag of ‘Things got pretty scary,’ and “Hey weren’t we lucky?” In the same month all these near-disasters happened, I got a visit from dear Irish friends, the news that my novel Everyone She Loved would be translated into German, an unexpected royalty check and a thousand other blessings.

Even as I was composing this, my dear friend Julz called to say her cancer doc had just pronounced her ‘home free.’

Given my odd fascination with how life serves up catastrophe with sacred moments too lovely to express, I’ve been drawn to stories that do just that. The novels I list below have lifted me up even while they took me places no one would voluntarily vacation. What they’ve done for me, and I hope they will for you, is to remind me of the simple privilege of ordinary life, of peace, of food, of shelter and of freedom from persecution. These are things we all take for granted as we grumble about the trimmings of life in this beautiful country of ours, a place that, for all its divisions and flaws, provides us with so much treasure, if only we could pause for a second and take notice.

Fabulous and Unforgettable Books

 Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

As a recent translation of the Rule of St. Benedict goes:
The first rule is simply this:
Live this life and do whatever is done in a spirit of Thanksgiving.
Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile,
give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning,
quit the search for salvation, it is selfish,
and come to comfortable rest in the certainty
that those who participate in this life with an
attitude of Thanksgiving will receive its full promise.

Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II

The Book Tour That Never Takes Off

The Book Tour That Never Takes Off

by Saralee Rosenberg

“Are you the actual author?” A teenage girl asked me, her eyes open wide.

“Yes I am.” I smiled, all ready to autograph one of my novels.

“That is so cool.”

“It sure is.” Awwww. We’re bonding!

“Do you know Tori Spelling?”

“Tori Spelling? No. Should I?”

“Well yeah. She’s an author too... sure wish I could meet her.”

“Oh me too.”

And so it goes in the book tour trenches. Authors can spend years writing a book, get wonderful reviews, have book clubs all over the country discussing their work, but we learn fast. If we’re not a mother of eight named Kate, an heiress named Paris, a bitchie named Ritchie or a TV mogul’s daughter who thinks it’s adorable to insert her name into every book title (sTori Telling), we are just another writer.

And yet I feel lucky. This year marks my twentieth anniversary as an author and what a ride it’s been. Four non-fiction books. Four novels. And now I am at work on my first novel for tween girls, which has been a blast to write.

The publicity side has been good to me too. I’ve done hundreds of radio interviews, TV appearances, book store signings and book group discussions and was lucky enough to reach the holy grail on the author train- a stop at the Oprah Show. Still gives me goosebumps! Oprah was a doll and as a bonus offer, Stedman was there too (he smelled so good!) Unfortunately my favorite blue suit is long gone, but then so is my size eight waist.

Now all these years later, I’m still getting great opportunities to meet and greet readers. Currently I am participating in a new kind of publicity tour- one that never leaves the ground. It takes place at major airports and it’s being tested by the Paradies Shops. They wanted to see what happened to book sales when writers and readers got up close and personal in a busy terminal.

Try it they said. It’ll be amazing. Thousands of travelers will pass by your table. Think of how many will want a great read for the plane. You’ll chat, you’ll sign books. Win win!

So two weeks ago I showed up at 7AM at the Jet Blue Terminal at JFK International, not just on any day, but on the day that Hurricane Earl was threatening to strand passengers. Ca ching ca ching, I thought. Until I sat behind a table and waited for the throngs of new readers to greet me. And they did.

“Miss, where is the ladies room?”

“Hey. Where did you get the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee? I can only find Starbucks.”

“Have you heard the weather? We’re on our honeymoon and we’ll be so upset if New York gets hit bad… and by the way, are there still a lot of muggings?”

In between I passed out Tootsie rolls, held a crying baby and selected a soft neck pillow for an elderly woman who couldn’t reach. I sold a few books as well, but you wouldn’t believe how many people were pissed when I said, "Sorry, they’re not free. Have a tootsie roll."

Would I do it again? Absolutely. The management and staff were great, I signed a ton of books they were excited to display in the shops, and it was a rush to have signs posted everywhere promoting my book.

In fact, tomorrow I’ll be appearing at Long Island’s MacArthur airport for round two of the book tour that never takes off. This time I’m thinking of reading from my latest novel, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avon Books) to see if that attracts a crowd. There is a funny airport scene that would get a lot of laughs. On second thought, it does involve a possible crash landing. Scratch that. Maybe I should just marry a guy named Dean and change my name to Tori and say things like come fly with me!

All I know is this. Every time I hear from someone who discovered my novels and takes the time to tell me that I made them laugh or cry or think, I know that I am exactly in the right place. Book writing is a great gig and my hope is to keep connecting with readers for years to come, even if it’s just to point them in the direction of the ladies room... and suggest something fun to read!

GIVE ME A SHOUT OUT. Authors, tell me your craziest book tour stories. Readers, tell me who were your favorite authors to meet in person? Why was it such a great experience?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nothing Better than a Group of Girlfriends

by Sarah Pekkanen

You know the saying “lucky in love”? I’m lucky in girlfriends. During the past decade, especially, I find myself feeling exceedingly grateful for the funny, warm, supportive women in my life – the kind of friends I can call on at a moment’s notice for a pep talk, glass of wine, good laugh, or, best of all, mix of the three. That’s why I’m so happy to be part of this blog, to connect with a new group of writer and reader friends.

Publishing is a funny business. Every one of us cycles through ups and downs, bad reviews and good sales weeks, disastrous book-signings in which two people show up and the manager is forced to make strained small talk with us for three hours, and days when the luminous words in our heads evaporate into wisps at the precise moment we sit down before our computers. It’s why we need to support each other – to offer up a chilled glass of generously-portioned Chardonnay (sip steadily; repeat as necessary).

I’ve heard dire predictions about the future of publishing - “No one reads anymore!” “Kindles will make books obsolete!” – and yet, in the midst of it all, I’ve also noticed a wonderful kind of backlash: Women authors reaching out a hand to others, spreading the word about new books they love and infusing publishing with a fresh burst of energy.

For me, it happened when Jennifer Weiner read an advance copy of my debut novel, The Opposite of Me, and decided to do something extraordinary. She held a one-day giveaway in which she signed and sent off copies of her book to every single person who pre-ordered my novel (yes, I can hardly believe it either)!

It’s an incredible story, but it gets better. Emily Giffin saw what Jennifer did – and held a nearly-identical giveaway for another new author named Irene Zutell, who wrote a terrific book called Pieces of Happily Ever After. Since then, I can barely navigate the Internet without tripping over similar shows of support - Jen Lancaster champions the new Stacy Ballis novel, Good Enough to Eat; Julie Buxbaum turns over her blog to an author who is in turn trying to get attention for yet another author’s books; and now Jen Weiner is launching a big on-line book club (check out her FB page to follow along ). This blog just began, but already, we're all celebrating each other’s new covers, re-tweeting our colleagues’ glowing reviews, and joining forces for book giveaways.

Some people might say this is a tough time to be writing books…. but in a way, I think it’s the best time ever.  So, in the spirit of girlfriends and book-lovers, I’d like to offer a book written by any of the contributors to this blog (you can see all the names in the list on the right-hand side of this blog). Leave a comment letting me know which book you’d like and I’ll pick a winner using and buy it for you.

Happy reading – and writing!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is Your Mama a Writer?

You would think given my life with a four year-old, a two year-old and a baby due in a matter of weeks that I would spend most of my time reading such adorable books as IS YOUR MAMA A LLAMA, from which I have shamelessly adopted this post's title. But this is not the truth. Being a reader with an endless appetite, I sometimes consume so many books I find that I have, as though devouring a box of Cheez-its in a single gulp, read so many books in a month that I can't remember a single thing about any of them. Compulsive reading at its worst.

But I can remember the lessons of children's books. Like the llama searching for its mama among the many animals that are not at all llama like. My mother was not a llama. Nothing like it. She was and is a novelist whose twentieth novel came out last June (same time that her 19th came out in paperback and she finished the revisions on her twenty-first). Of course I've learned a tremendous amount from this Nancy Thayer about the craft and the industry and the profession, but it doesn't make it any easier to be the daughter of someone so prolific and successful. One example: my mother's 19th novel, SUMMER HOUSE, and my debut novel were published on the same day in June of 2009. In one of those anxious/curious/hopeless moments new writers know so well, I checked on Amazon to see my rankings. Then I checked my mother's.

She was visiting at the time, helping to take care of my two small children. I headed straight upstairs after my fateful visit to the computer and announced: "Mom, you're at 2000 on Amazon. I'm at two...hundred thousand!"

It begins to seem that my mama may be a llama, but I am something more like a turtle or a rabbit, any other animal in fact, for all our differences.

My mother, for one thing, always wanted to be a writer. She knew it as clearly as anything from the age of five and with unwavering certainty accomplished her goal and has sustained herself and her family with a lifetime of novels. I, on the other hand, always knew I wanted to be a mother. Other passions came in and out. But motherhood, I knew I wanted it, and many children too. My poor husband. When he met me he claims I said I wanted twelve, but this isn't true. I have only ever wanted six. A measly half-dozen.

Perhaps it's no coincidence then that my life as a published writer began with my life as a real mother. (As opposed to the mother of many dolls that I was for so many years of my childhood. Six Cabbage Patch Kids, for one thing.) I began writing THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME during my son's nap time when he was about nine months old. By the time he was a year-and-a-half, I had a two-book contract.

Still, sometimes even a llama isn't what it seems. Both being published--as opposed to my dreams of it--and being a mother--as opposed to my dreams of it--have been different than imagined. My mother has always made it look so easy.... Too, I imagined certain kinds of greatness that are statistical unlikely--you know, Oprah calling me in person to invite me on her show, choosing my book, that kind of thing.

The rewards? Well, as far as my novel goes, nothing has been more satisfying than hearing from readers who love the book, in particular mothers who have found it to be a wonderful, healing, humorous, wacky kind of salvation, as the book ruefully follows a new mother through the first nine months of mommy boot camp (for which there is no adequate preparation).

And the rewards of motherhood? Far too many to list and some possibly too standard to bother saying again (though they are all true). One of the greatest rewards though is seeing my own mother in a new light, as a person, as a woman. In my own motherhood, I can see clearly all the sacrifice and selflessness, what it meant to be dragged away from her desk (as a single mother raising two children alone), away from her novels, to take care of sick children, sad children, simply children.

It's as rich as anything, this mother stuff. Good enough for fiction in fact. Perhaps I should write a novel....

In the meantime, does anyone out there who has children feel like having them changed your own sense of (if not your relationship with) your mother? Anyone feel like after they had children they could forgive their mothers for basically everything? Did becoming a mother give you new insights into your own mothers?

Samantha Wilde is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME. Her next novel is due out in 2011. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two and 9/10ths children. Among her other pursuits besides novel writing and motherhood and voracious reading are chocolate consumption, yoga practice and teaching, and spiritual pursuits. She is, among other things, an ordained minister. You can visit her blog,

No, Really. It's Fiction.

by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My mother was so mad at me. She was reading Face Time, the second Charlotte McNally mystery. She called me, nothing unusual. But it was her tone that was unusual. “I’m reading—your book,” she said. Her tone was more like: “I’m holding—a bug.”

Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.

So anyway. I had hoped to chat with her a bit, prepare her, before she started Face Time. But, things happened and life got in the way. Why is Mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”

It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother in Face Time is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte might want to give up her very successful 20-year TV career to marry some tycoon and become a tycoon wife.

No matter that Charlie is happy with the personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and happy with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, even though she’s fearful she’s going to be replaced by someone younger). Mom also thinks Charlotte (she refuses to call her Charlie, saying, “nicknames are for stuffed animals and men who play sports”) might want to visit the plastic surgeon for some face time of her own.

Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books that are purported to be memoirs are actually true—I find myself fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.

It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you.

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Of course it’s me, dear,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

I’ve worked in television for thirty years. And yes, I watched Mary Tyler Moore, and did indeed recognize some Ted Baxter qualities in a few anchor people (men AND women) I’ve known over he years. And Murphy Brown, too. The smart but aging investigative reporter Murphy could be Charlie McNally’s older sister. But those characters, though based on qualities real people in newsrooms may have, are fictional. Made up.

Digression: You know those ‘something meets something’ descriptions authors are supposed to come up with for their books? (Like you’re supposed to say: “My book is about a crime-fighting but fashionable deep-sea fishergirl—sort of Jaws meets The Devil Wears Prada.”) Because of the success of the secret-code element of The Da Vinci Code, I wanted to characterize Prime Time, my first Charlie book, as “Dan Brown meets Murphy Brown.” A bigwig in the publishing biz told me that was no good--because one knows who Murphy Brown is. Oh. Dear.

Anyway. Then there’s the husband situation. My dear Jonathan, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, is nothing like, looks nothing like, behaves nothing like, the possible love interests in the books. Still. He can’t bear to read the “mushy parts” and can’t bear to hear bout what Charlie does or even thinks about, when it comes to men.

IT’S ALL MADE UP, I tell him. There have to be men involved, this is romantic suspense. But Charlie’s men are not you.

Silence. “Of course they are,” he says. “Or even worse, old boyfriends. And I don’t want to read about that.”

And finally, there’s the “Is Charlie McNally you” question. And I must admit that one stops me. Yes, Charlie’s an investigative reporter for a Boston TV station. And I am, too. And it would be silly to waste thirty years of TV experience—that’s what (I hope) make Charlie’s life seem authentic. But she’s younger. More confident. And fictional. And yes, okay, things that happen to Charlie have happened to me--in a—way. But she can say things I could never say, reveal things I could never reveal, and I must say, I’ve never actually been in the life-threateningly frightening situations Charlie has. Chased? Yes. Threatened? Yes. Punched? Almost. That stopped when I said to my photographer: “make sure you’re rolling on this.”
It’s hard for the bad guys to get away with it if their assault is caught on camera.

And, like Charlie does in AIR TIME, I've wired myself with a hidden camera, put on a disguise, and gone undercover. All to get a good story. But my TV stories, of course, are true.

Anyway. So I’m wondering, do any of you have a problem with this? Do people “recognize” themselves in your books—and you have to convince them it’s a fictional character they’re recognizing? Would you “use” someone for “art”?

Or if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?

And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just get to the end of the book—Face Time is not only a mystery, and a romance, but kind of a love story between mothers and daughters. My editor said she had tears in her eyes at the end. One reviewer told me she cried. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)

Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. Creating a new world. New characters and new relationships. And it’s ALL MADE UP.

Okay, Mom?

Do you have a contentious relationship with your mother? (or daughter?) Do you understand each other?

PRIZES!--A copy of the TIME book of your choice to four lucky commenters!
Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers, and AIR TIME was nominated for the AGATHA Award for Best Novel of 2009 and is now an Anthony Nominee for Best Paperback Original. (Of AIR TIME, Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment.") DRIVE TIME, February 2010 from MIRA Books, just earned a starred review from Library Journal saying it “puts Ryan in a league with Lisa Scottoline.”

Hank's short story "On The House" won the AGATHA for Best Short Story of 2009, and is now an Anthony nominee and a Macavity nominee.

Hank is on the New England Board of Sisters in Crime and the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her website is

She and her husband, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, live near Boston.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Books That Get Too Much Attention and Books That Deserve More

Did Jonathan Franzen sell his soul to the devil? You gotta admit it, the guy has gotten his share of breaks, including an Oprah blessing TWICE. And this after he dissed her back in 2001. I read Kitty Kelly’s book on Oprah and if that biography is accurate, she is a woman who does not take kindly to dissing.

It’s not as if Franzen needs a big “O” endorsement.* He captured the number one spot on the NY Times list this week AND you can’t walk into a bookstore without stumbling over a towering display of Freedom. I can’t help but wish Oprah would have picked someone a little less obvious. (Like Emma Donoghue’s Room for starters. Writing an entire novel from the point-of-view of a five year old is no puny feat.)

Which leads me to this week’s topic: Certain books seem to get more attention than they need (or possibly deserve), while other very fine books slip silently into the night. For instance, did you know the “Great Gatsby” was initially declared not-so-great by critics and that many copies went unsold? It wasn’t until after Fitzgerald’s death that the novel really took off when 150,000 copies of the novel were given to US serviceman.

Or were you aware that the  Red Tent experienced tepid sales until the author sent remainder copies to hundreds of rabbis?

Can you think of a book that deserved more attention than it got? This week I’m giving away a copy of the recently released “Love in Midair” by Kim Wright because I FLIPPED over it and while it did well, I think it deserved far more love than it got. Leave a comment and this fab book could be yours. Here’s some more info:

A chance encounter with a stranger on an airplane sends Elyse Bearden into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly Elyse is willing to risk everything: her safe but stale marriage, her seemingly perfect life in an affluent Southern suburb, and her position in the community. She finds herself cutting through all the instincts that say "no" and instead lets "yes" happen. As Elyse embarks on a risky affair, her longtime friend Kelly and the other women in their book club begin to question their own decisions about love, sex, marriage, and freedom.

PW gave it a starred review and said, “Wright hits it out of the park in her debut, an engaging account of a woman contemplating divorce.”

Even cranky Kirkus gave it the love saying, “Sharply written and emotionally accessible.”

I’ll announce a winner after 6 p.m. EST on Sunday.


P.S. Last week’s winner: Debra S. Email me at kgillespie@knology and I’ll send you the signed Dot Frank book.

(On a completely different note, I wonder why Oprah’s audiences continue to blindly support her endorsements. Lately, she doesn’t seem in touch with her female followers when she makes book recs. The magazine, however, seems to understand its readership and picks books accordingly.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Sense of Place

I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel about bookstores the way some people feel about places of worship. I’ve never been the type to seek solace in a church, a mosque or a temple, but when the small pressures of daily life are squeezing me under their accumulated weight, nothing beats the feeling of walking into a bookstore and trawling around for a sense of peace, quiet, and the promise of escape.

Just yesterday, at precisely 5:08 – wouldn’t want to give away my clock-watching habit – I logged off of my computer, snuck out of the stereotypically drab office where I work and into the warmth of the dying late-summer day, headed for the nearest bookstore.

I reached it, strode through the adjoining coffee shop, past the magazines racks and their screeching headlines – Celeb Cellulite! Lose 10 Lbs in 10 Days! Best Fall Fashion Under $50! – and browsed the themed tables at the front of the store. I didn’t know what I was looking for – I usually don’t. I must have picked up half a dozen books, read a few opening lines, some back covers, put them back on the shelf, intrigued, but not enough.

And then I spotted it, on the “Prize Winners” table, somewhere in the middle on the big-box store.

I scanned the cover, front flap, back cover, the glowing reviews, and, finally, the price, tucked away in the top right corner of the back flap.

I really didn’t need another book. Really. I had stacks of yet-unread books, all equally alluring in their own way, in corners, under tables and towering precariously on top of cabinets. Hadn’t I reviewed my budget just last week – I’m an accountant, we are sadomasochists by nature – and was appalled by my expensive monthly book habit? Hadn’t I resolved: no more impulse book buying! (In fact, one of my impulse buys was a discounted book about, you guessed it, budgeting and personal finance).

I walked around the store, scanning a few more aisles with the book tucked under my arm, taking it for a trial jaunt, as if feeling its weight in my hands could make the purchasing decision tip one way or the other. If I still wanted to buy it by the time I reached Photography, then clearly, it was meant to be. Of course, my mind had been made up, and the stroll took a turn toward the cash register before I was anywhere near Photography.

What had decided me? Not the fact that it had won the Orange prize – prize-winning literature has a history of letting me down. Not that it was by a well-known author – that helped, but I’d never been moved to buy her books before. Not the glowing reviews, though these also anointed my choice with an aura of confidence. It wasn’t the cover, though the saturated yellowness of it was certainly eye-catching.

It was, quite simply, place.

The book is The Lacuna by Barbara Kingslover, and it is set mostly in Mexico City, covering the early nineteenth Century to WWII, delving into the lives and art of Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo as experienced by their one-time cook and, eventually, Great American Writer.

I am a pretty eclectic reader – I’ll read anything from the back of the cereal box to a treatise on what’s truly ailing the economy – but it’s books that take me away to another place that remain engraved in my memory.

I might as well have been soaking up the Jamaican sun right alongside Stella in Terry Macmillan’s How Stella Got her Groove Back. I could almost feel my skin glistening with sweat in the Yucatan jungle as I read Margot Berwin’s Hot House Flower, Nine Plant of Desire. This summer I let Isabel Allende take me to Haiti and Louisiana in Island Beneath the Sea, and walked the cobbled streets of Montevideo, Uruguay in Carolina de Robertis’ The Invisible Mountain.

It was place that motivated me to take writing seriously. I wrote my first novel, Fashionably Late, many years after a trip to Cuba which had opened my eyes to travel and altered the course of my life. In my second novel, Cutting Loose, I had hoped to capture the essence of a city that captivated me so much that I keep going back – Miami. Before I can begin writing a single word of a new piece I have to think about place – where can the foibles, antics and neurosis of my characters really shine? Which city reflects them, challenges them, makes the perfect backdrop for their problems?

Hatuay, Taino Chief, Baracoa
I also go about it the other way round – some places are so unforgettable to me that I can’t rest until I’ve found the right story, the right characters for them. I had one such place in mind when I started penning my latest (and yet unfinished!) novel – The Upside of Down. That place is Baracoa on the easternmost tip of Cuba, a tropical town where Columbus set foot and built the first church of the Western Hemisphere (that you can still see in its full, dilapidated glory) and where Cubans later erected the hefty, haughty bust of Hatuay, a Taino Native Chief who had fought back the conquistadors and was burned at the stake for his trouble.

I have been to the very place Kingsolver writes about in The Lacuna – Diego Rivera and Frida Khlao’s Mexico City – and I was just as enchanted was the colors, the bloody, passionate murals, the confluence of great civilizations in this one extraordinary spot. It has been catalogued in my brain, a place to be mined for future settings for conflicts and characters yet to be born.

Has a place ever moved you to write? What are some of the unforgettable places books have taken you to?

GIVEAWAY – I’ve got a signed copy of CUTTING LOOSE up for grabs. Just leave a comment and I’ll announce the winner next week, right after I’m back from – you guessed it – Miami!

Nadine Dajani is a hedge fund accountant by day and the author of two novels – FASHIONABLY LATE and CUTTING LOOSE – and several travel articles. She’s lived in Saudi Arabia, Montreal, and the Cayman Islands and has visited Cuba more times than she can count. In fact, framed on her wall there’s a press pass issued by the Cuban government but they’ve butchered her name so much no one is likely to believe it’s hers. She’s currently at work on THE UPSIDE OF DOWN, a novel set in Connecticut and Baracoa, Cuba. She blogs over at and can be found on Scribd (as Cubanista) and Facebook. These days she calls Toronto home. We’ll see how long that lasts.