Tuesday, November 30, 2010


This is going to be long, even though I’m only giving you the Cliff Notes version, so grab some popcorn and wine.

Sixteen years ago I walked out on my 11-year job as an independent bookseller. The position came with a good salary and full medical benefits plus four weeks of paid vacation a year. It was a lot to walk away from but I’d always wanted to write a novel and I’d come to realize that that was never going to happen if I kept working a job that took 55 hours a week door-to-door out of my life. It was finally time to take a chance on myself and my dream.

Book 1, Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes, was a typical first novel, a wish-fulfillment comedic mystery about an independent bookseller who believes the bookstore would be a better place if only she were in charge. She gets her wish, and a chance to play amateur detective, when the owner is murdered. For a while I had an agent, Agent 1, but she was nuts. She said the book would be better if the murder – originally taking place around page 40 – happened earlier. So I moved it up, and kept moving it up at her urging, until finally the dead body was on page 1. Agent 1 said it was great, now if only I’d…and she proceeded to describe the book exactly as it had been before I made any changes. We parted company.

I did try to submit it on my own to publishers, and I got glowing rejections. One publishing director called to say she was laughing on every page and would be taking it to sales conference that weekend. I was sure I was in; you know, like Flynn. Two weeks later, she called and in an entirely different tone of voice, said she couldn’t buy it. Eventually, someone else in publishing explained that since one of the villains was the CEO for a made-up chain bookstore, and that I’d portrayed that pretend CEO as no better than a Mafia lapdog, no publisher would ever touch it for fear of upsetting the real-life chains. I set the book aside.

Book 2, Falling for Prince Charles, was an alternate-universe romantic comedy wherein an underachieving Jewish cleaning lady from Danbury meets and falls in love with Prince Charles. Having grown tired of agent searches, and having learned that I had a knack for phoning editors directly and getting them to agree to read, I submitted it myself. In August of 1997, arguably the most popular woman of the previous century, Princess Di, died. In September, a vice president of one of the biggest publishing companies in the country called me on the phone. In pre-Internet days, wisdom used to dictate “no comes in a letter, yes comes in a phone call.” But she wasn’t calling to say yes. She was calling because she wanted to tell me personally how much she loved my crazy book but that she couldn’t buy it and nobody would be able to.

Having written one book that was offensive to chain bookstore CEOs and another that was offensive to certain lovers of the Royal Family, I decided to go for broke on Book 3 and offend everyone, or at least everyone in publishing. Book 3, The Reviewer, was a dark comedy about a frustrated reviewer/would-be novelist who kidnaps an editor, an agent, and a reviewer with a higher profile, and holds them hostage in increasingly larger basements. No one wanted anything to do with that book.

Book 4, Plain Sight, was a bizarre mystery ala Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians but with a twist: told from 10 viewpoints, no two of the main characters are ever seen in the same place – meaning there’s nothing to tie them together – until the very end.

Book 5, If You Should Die Before I Wake, represented a departure. It was a serious book about an undereducated septuagenarian who learns that her editor daughter will predecease her. For Book 5, I managed to secure Agent 2, who proved to be just as nuts as Agent 1, only in a different way. Agent 2 called one day to ask if I’d mind if she sold the book as a movie first because she’d received a fax from Viacom/Paramount saying they were looking for Terms of Endearment types of properties and she’d always thought of the book that way. I knew all about John Grisham and The Firm, and told her I did not mind at all. A few months went by and I finally got up the nerve to ask how things were going with the movie people. That’s when she explained that her partner handled all the Hollywood deals but he had to be in the mood to submit something, and he just hadn’t been in the mood lately. The book had never been sent, even though a film company was looking for something just like it. We parted ways.

And then came Book 6, The Thin Pink Line, a dark comedy about a British sociopath who fakes an entire pregnancy. I probably would have tried harder to submit it, but I kept getting glowing letters that would end in rejections, saying bizarre things like, “Americans don’t like to laugh.” Chick Lit hadn’t hit yet, certainly not as big as it would. So I wrote a seventh book, Vertigo, a suspense novel set in Victorian England about a woman who ultimately decides that the only way to get what she wants is for her husband to die.

Vertigo got me Agent 3 and I was working on revisions when, in late fall of 2001, I began seeing reviews for books from a publisher I’d never heard of: Red Dress Ink. I was sure that the editorial sensibility behind this new line would be a match for my fake-pregnancy book and asked Agent 3 if he’d read it with a view toward submitting it. He read it and said he liked it very much but that he couldn’t see it selling; there were too many books like it already. I asked if he’d send it to just this one publisher and he said no, that he knew for a fact they weren’t interested in any books with London settings. So I submitted it myself.

In May of 2002, nearly eight years and seven books after leaving my day job, Red Dress Ink called and offered me a two-book deal. The book was published in 2003 as the line’s first-ever hardcover and was the first book published by any Harlequin imprint ever to receive a starred review from Kirkus. It was published in 10 countries and optioned for a film, never made. Needless to say, somewhere in there, Agent 3 and I parted company. I negotiated the contract myself, having read 700 pages of publishing law while waiting for it to arrive.

Before The Thin Pink Line was even out, the publisher offered me an additional three-book contract. While I felt confident that I could negotiate a contract pretty good on my own – I’d argued, and won, 17 points on the original contract – I knew it should be for more money than was being offered, but how much, I had no idea.

I had no problem securing Agent 4, and Agent 4 did get me substantially more money than was being offered. But Agent 4 didn’t do much else during the next year, and made one huge error, so we parted company.

Then there was Agent 5, who was supposed to sell Vertigo, but never submitted it. And so, in late spring 2005, running the risk of becoming the Elizabeth Taylor of publishing, I moved on to Agent 6.

I have no complaints about Agent 6. To date, Agent 6 has sold 18 books for me and by the end of next year my grand total of published books will be 23. In addition to Red Dress Ink, my books have been published by Random House, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bloomsbury, and BenBella. I’ve written for adults, teens, tweens and even young readers (The Sisters 8). Defying the publishing wisdom to brand oneself and avoid “selling meat in your fish store,” I’ve sold just about everything in my store. Both comedy and drama for adults and, in terms of YA alone, I’m all over the place: an earnest novel about teen pregnancy (Angel’s Choice); a seriocomic sort-of mystery about an online predator (Secrets of My Suburban Life); a re-visioning of a classic fairy tale (Crazy Beautiful); a Victorian suspense novel (The Twin’s Daughter); and next, in August 2011, a time-travel story involving a contemporary teen and the classic novel Little Women (Little Women & Me). This is not a way to have a career that makes sense to most people’s definition of a writing career these days and yet it makes perfect sense to me. From the first time I ever called an editor on the phone, Larry Ashmead at HarperCollins, to ask if he’d read my book, I’ve never been about walking the tried-and-true path.

Oh, and during those eight years of unsold books, how did I keep the mortgage paid? I talked Publishers Weekly into giving me a job as a reviewer, eventually reviewing 292 books; talked a publisher into giving me a job as a freelance editor, editing nearly 100 books; the local library created a position for me where I led book discussions and writing groups, and arranged events; and I washed a lot of windows for my husband’s window-washing business. I used to get up and begin writing between 2:30 and 4:30 in the morning, before my one-job-two-jobs-three-jobs-four began and before the fear set in.

Do I wish I’d sold my very first book? No. Because my path would have been different and I would not have learned half so much along the way.

Just because I’ve been lucky enough to have so many books published, does that mean I have it easy? No. Every day, there is some pain or rejection or frustration or worry. But if I am writing, there is always joy too. Because that’s been the thing, the unifying theme of my writing life from the very beginning: I have written, not to be published – although once a book is finished, I want that for the book, very much so – but because I love to write.

Sometimes, interviewers ask me to pick one word to describe my greatest strength as a writer, and that is an easy question to answer: resilience.

Resilience got me through seven books in eight unpublished years and it has seen me through every day since.

When asked to give out writing advice, I always say the same thing: the only person who can ever really take you out of the game is you. That is true of me and it is true of any writer reading this. People can reject you, they can reject you until the cows come home, but no one can stop you from writing if that is what you want to do.

Phew! And, as I say, that’s the Cliff Notes version!

OK, here’s today’s giveaway: One person will get a signed hardcover copy of The Twin’s Daughter and another person will get a signed hardcover copy of Crazy Beautiful (which is due out in paperback on January 3, by the way!). You do need to comment to enter. I will select the winners at random and notify them by email.

Be well. Don’t forget to write. 

Roberta Isleib: This Writer's Crazy Journey

Let me say first: it’s hard to follow Sheila’s great blog post! Love the postcard from Pat Conroy...But here is something about my writer’s journey…

Oh how I envy those folks who say they have always known they wanted to be writers! Imagine how I could have shaped my college and graduate training, the teachers I might have studied under, the classes I might have taken. I only knew I was crazy about books and reading-and that has never changed, starting with my early run through every Nancy Drew ever written.

After wandering through several career false starts, I ended up training and working as a clinical psychologist-wonderfully interesting and productive work. Then I fell in love with a guy who was a golfer. As I got more interested in the sport, I began a furious campaign to learn to play and spent lots of time (and money) trying to master it. I couldn't get over how nervous I felt on the first tee, especially in a competition. How did professional golfers survive and even thrive with this kind of stress?

I’ve never been able to explain it exactly, but writing became a way to make something useful out of my golf obsession. Over time, the idea of a character called Cassie Burdette, neurotic professional golfer wannabe, began to take shape (write what you know and all that!) In 1998, I hatched the idea of writing a mystery about a woman caddie on the men's golf tour and her pal, a sports psychologist. With Tiger Woods mania incinerating the PGA Tour, I was sure the story idea would be a natural. Besides, this was fun! Any time I spent on the golf course or attending tournaments or even reading golf magazines was, you guessed it, research. Over the course of a five-book series I was able to talk Cassie into starting psychotherapy so that both her golf game and her taste in men improved.

And along the way, Cassie and I had some amazing adventures. I spent most of my first (admittedly modest) advance paying to compete in a real professional-amateur LPGA tournament so I could absorb the correct ambience for book two. And I played golf at Pinehurst, Palm Springs, and in the Dominican Republic—all tax-deductible without stretching the IRS code. I met and corresponded with professional golfers, and many fans—mystery fans, golf fans, and best of all, fans of both. These people worried about Cassie: how can she drink that much before a tournament? How can she eat like that and stay in shape? Lose the boyfriend—he’s a bum! Over coffee, my friends were more likely to ask what was new with Cassie, than with me.

Once the golf gig was over, I wrote a second mystery series starring clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Butterman, that tailgated on my own career. I loved showing the world of psychotherapy from an insider's perspective and using Rebecca's special training and talent to solve mysteries. And now I'm busy writing the first book in a third series featuring a food critic in Key West, which will debut in January 2012. How can I go wrong with the research for that??

I still shake my head in wonder when I think about how my life has changed over the past ten years. Maybe I would have learned more about the theory and practice of writing if I'd known I was headed this way back in college. But on the other hand, maybe the timing of my life experience was exactly right. 

How about you? Are you surprised about the turns your life has taken? (I'm delighted to offer two copies of PREACHING TO THE CORPSE, which takes place at Christmas, in exchange for your comments.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Writer's Journey May Just Take a Village

Sheila Curran
Diana Lively is Falling Down, 2005
Everyone She Loved, 2009

I have such a pitiful sense of direction that in the world’s most notoriously inhospitable cities, New York and Paris, I’ve often found myself surrounded by strangers asking if I could use help finding my way.

And so it’s been with my writer’s journey

In 1986, I was 30 years old. I had fallen in love at 20, followed my boyfriend to Chicago, gone to graduate school in literary criticism and done a whole lot of waiting tables.

Graduate school was a bit like reading Camus. You know it’s good for you. You despise it. Half the time you think (like Susan Sontag, who was in the same exact program before me) that you aren’t nearly smart enough to have been admitted.  The rest of the time, you find yourself suspecting that much of what you’re being told might just be The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In the meantime, I LOVED waiting tables. Instant gratification, the ‘flow’ of utter concentration on something other than one’s pitiful self, and filthy, dirty, gorgeous money  It was a guilty pleasure, and sometimes, worse. Not degrading, not ever. Still I knew my parents had higher hopes for me, my peers were moving up the career ladder and new employers were starting to ask why I was applying to work in their restaurant when I had a masters’ degree from the University of Chicago.

That might have been the moment I found my calling. And my curse.

I did what fiction writers do: I made something up. “I’m actually working on a novel," I confided. "I just do this to make money.”

Enough said.

I got the job. And I started to wonder if writing might be something I could try, just so I could tell myself I was doing something other with my time than schlepping cocktails.

Being a mystery fan, I chose that plot form to begin with. I began writing, tore up lots of pages, but eventually completed my first novel, THE MINNESOTA CHOP HOUSE.

That was when I turned 30.  Through a friend of my brother’s, I found an agent willing to represent me.

I had no clue how lucky I was. Like most newbie writers, I expected the “call” any minute.

In the meantime, my new agent sent me an advance reader’s copy of Pat Conroy’s THE PRINCE OF TIDES. Already a fan, I was nevertheless unprepared for the way in which I would be held captive by this glorious book. For three days, I, a dedicated workaholic whose Catholic guilt colluded with a severe case of the Protestant Ethic, did nothing but curl up on my futon and read. It was one of the more exhilarating and memorable experiences of my life.

Inexorably shy, I had never presumed to write an author, but in this case I was so infatuated that I couldn’t help myself.  I typed out a note (which I sent to the publisher of THE PRINCE OF TIDES.)  I told Pat Conroy that 1) this was my first fan letter, and 2) I would never, ever measure up to the fantabulousness of his talent.  I wanted to thank him for writing the book..

Meanwhile, the rejection letters on my own novel started pouring in. I received single-spaced letters of three pages from top New York editors praising my work but finding some reason my mystery wouldn’t work for their particular ‘list.’ I cried. I sighed. I wrote my agent a ‘Dear John’ letter, saying it was wonderful that he’d given me a chance but there was no sense in trying to sell a book that had so many flaws.

I continued to mourn my premature death as a person of substance. Noisily.

Shortly thereafter I got a postcard in the mail from my idol.

front of card

This is what he wrote:

Dear Sheila,
You write a great letter and no matter what you feel about fan letters you praise too fully and too well to neglect the form. You also write beautifully. Don’t worry about the depressions, they come with the territory, no matter the degree of success or failure. It’s what makes you different as a writer. “oh Sheila, just write it down. Just do it.” All love and luck to you. And all thanks. This postcard is my family’s and my view of Rome this year.

Pat Conroy
I tacked the card  to my bulletin board and used it as a talisman against despair.

In the meantime, I tried to improve my writing. I started another novel, to which the publishing world also gave me encouraging responses but ultimately rejected. I began again and again. I had kids, took a professional job as a grant writer and continued to read novels for the transporting joy of living in a dream world built entirely from the human imagination.

I have never seen myself as persistent. However, just when I found myself thinking that maybe I should have chosen nursing or law school or multi-level marketing, some dear soul would give me the sort of encouragement or leg-up that allowed me to believe in myself just enough to continue doing that thing to which I’d become quite addicted, creating my own fictional dreams.

There were my family and my friends, who are too numerous to mention. (That abundance, of course, beats the pants off all possible  literary accomplishments.)

My first big publishing break came with the help of Joyce Maynard, who offered to show an essay I’d written to editors at McCall’s.  They loved it and the editor encouraged me to write more. I worked for magazines, raised my kids, wrote grants and hoped to someday finish another novel.

After I finished my next one, a decade had passed since my McCall's piece was published.  Finding an agent seemed next to impossible.  It took a LONG time. In the end, I found the absolutely perfect agent for me.

If Pat Conroy was my talisman, my literary agent, Laura Gross, was my shaman. She pressed my book into the hands of Susan Allison at Penguin, who treated my novel as if it were her first-born child. She ‘got’ it. Susan would call me out of the blue with insights about characters that had come to her in the shower or while walking her dog.

So many other kindnesses followed. Jodi Picoult was kind enough to take the time to read Diana Lively is Falling Down and give it a wonderful review. Julianna Baggott and Carlos Eire did the same. The book did very well and continues to yield fan letters of the sort I’d sent so many years earlier to Mr. Conroy.

It took me four years to finish the second novel, EVERYONE SHE LOVED, which was adopted by Simon and Schuster’s well-known editor, Emily Bestler, the champion of such writers as Jodi Picoult, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor and other household names. Emily pored over my second book with the same eye to detail and ear for dialogue as had my previous editor at Penguin..

Again, far better and more well-known writers than I decided to help me out. Joshilyn Jackson, Julianna Baggott, Masha Hamilton, Paul Shepherd. What lovely generous souls!

I’ve been so fortunate. I would never, ever think that I made it on my own, It has only been through the generosity of other writers, including my lovely compadres at the Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit, to say nothing of my husband/bread-winner/cheerer upper and my dear, dear agent that I have had the great good fortune to get published and find a readership.

Through all of this, my family and friends have been at the very center of telling me I must keep writing.

And so I do.
Just a few weeks back, my niece sent me a photo she took at one of Atlanta’s biggest bookstores.

Note the book on the table just above Everyone She Loved!

This lovely coincidence  pleased me no end.
Mr. Conroy, you are one damn fine neighbor!

To celebrate the kindness of strangers, I will be giving away a copy of each book, wrapped for the holidays and inscribed to the person of your choice.  The winner will be selected at random from those who take the time to comment.  I'll email you and get your address.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

AUTHOR SUNDAY: Q and A with Tina Welling, author of COWBOYS NEVER CRY

Tina talks about her gorgeous covers, why she doesn’t outline and her top tip for writing dialogue.

Q. You mention on your web site that Cowboys Never Cry  is a great choice for book clubs. What's it about and what issues lend themselves to discussion?

A. COWBOYS NEVER CRY is written with humor, though it’s a story about two wounded characters who manage to heal each other through love. Robbin became a star of western movies as a child and followed that career to world fame, which eventually led to excess in every area of his life. Cassie, as the story opens, lost her husband three years earlier to a mountain climbing accident. The novel explores fame and grief, and how they similarly affect a life. The setting is a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a side story addresses ranching issues versus land conservation. So there are a lot of subjects to discuss.

Q. Who are your literary influences?

A. I am influenced by beautiful language wherever I find it. I can study a paragraph for half an hour, marveling over a metaphor or trying to figure out why the placement of the commas were so effective.

Q. This cycle we are talking about the writer's journey. What brought you to writing?

A. I discovered as a young woman that I understood myself and my life better when I asked a question and then began writing about it in hope of stumbling upon an answer. Always clarity about the issue arose. From there I found it really satisfying to be able to put words to puzzling issues for others. And if I could make them laugh while doing it, we both – reader and writer - had extra fun.

Q. You have beautiful covers, Do you have any stories about how they came about?

A. Mary E. O’Boyle at Penguin Group is responsible for all three of my book covers. I especially like the cover of COWBOYS NEVER CRY. There is something pensive with a touch of the wild that’s depicted with the woman and the outdoors. She feels content with her solitude, connected to the land and kind of sexual all at once.

Q. I see you write nonfiction writing as well. What topics do you gravitate to?

A. Lately I’ve kept to working with the novel form, it’s deliciously consuming. But when I do write non-fiction, I enjoy writing about covert feelings like longing, the healing power of the natural world, and creativity – hidden energies that affect us far more than we credit them as doing. I really enjoy leading writing workshops that pull in these topics.

Q. Saturday we all gave tips for writing dialogue. Do you have a tip to share?

A. Writing dialogue is one of my favorite parts of working on a novel. Usually I begin with a feeling I want to engender between two characters. If I can convey this information in dialogue with humor or a special tone of tenderness, I depend on that to touch a reader. My tip: rewrite and reread out loud, over and over and over. If I am still smiling after that, I figure I’m on to something.

Q. Do you outline or write organically?

A. I love that you used that term “organically.” I never had a word for it before and now I suddenly feel smarter. See? That’s what is fun about writing, being able to make a reader feel better because a writer found words to explain them to themselves. That’s what you just did. So the answer is: organically. I do not resonate to outlines and before now felt inadequate about that. I love to just begin writing and trust the process.

 Vist Tina at http://www.tinawelling.com/

Would you like be featured on Author Sunday? If you’re a female writer promoting a recent traditionally published book you might be eligible. Drop us a line at kgillespie@knology.net

Want a daily dose of the Girlfriend Book Blog? Scroll up and subscribe via Feedburner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

10 Tips to Terrific Dialogue

Today’s novels rely more on scenes than narrative so mastering the art of realistic dialogue is a must for every writer. Our bloggers offer their best tips. 

Talk less, listen more

Sharpen your listening skills. Wherever you go, put down your cell phone, stop blabbing and start listening. Pay attention to tone, cadence, word choice and flourishes.

Malena Lott

How does it sound?

If you are having problems with dialogue read the dialogue out loud. Read it with a friend our a partner like you might a script. You can even record dialogue and play it back so you can actually hear how the dialogue sounds. You want the dialogue to sound like that character sounds.

Maggie Marr


I just speak it as I write it to make it sound more real.

Leslie Langtry

Be realistic

No one speaks in full sentences at all times. We drop words, we don't finish, we use our hands when we can't think of a word fast enough. Read your dialogue aloud so you can hear the rhythms.

Stephanie Julian

Avoiding clumsiness

One of the biggest mistakes people make in writing fiction is trying to cram exposition into dialogue, which makes it clumsy and unnatural. Put the exposition in the narrative and let the dialogue serve to bring the characters to life. Also, people don't often say the name of the person they're addressing, so use that sparingly.

And here's a small trick that will help your characters sound natural: delete every unnecessary "yes" or 'no." That makes a surprisingly big difference, as us humans rarely answer questions very directly. And finally, the golden rule: Don't search for synonyms for "said." Your characters can occasionally "ask" or "whisper," but that's it. If you have a scene that's becoming overwhelmed with "saids," try substituting a bit of action to show who's speaking.

Ellen Meister

Variation is key

It's important to remember that even characters who have a lot in common - gender, age etc - shouldn't speak in exactly the same voice. Dialogue is often character and my greatest challenge in creating The Sisters 8 for young readers has been creating octuplets such that the voice of each of the eight sisters is so distinctive that readers can practically play blind-man's bluff with the dialogue, matching snippets to character. I have some sense that this has been successful because over at the official website there's a quiz, "Which Eight Are You?" - http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/features/sisters8/quiz.html  - and fans have told me they actually rig the quiz so it comes out that they're most like whichever character they most want to be!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Stay in character!

Just as a character acts, thinks, moves in ways unique to him/her, that character should speak in a way individual to him/her. Whether a smartass or an earnest Joe, whether kind or not so nice, old or young, north, south, east, west, characters should sound like the people they are when speaking. Dialogue is an amazing tool for coloring in characterization and advancing every element of the story.

Melissa Senate

Learn from masters

Reading dialogue in Karen Joy Fowler's WIT'S END, I actually looked up from the book because it seemed her characters were in the room with me. Spooky. I stared at the page and dissected the dialogue. Fowler chose words people really use in casual conversation, and created a sense of timing by the way she placed those words. Either that, or magic.

Cindy Jones


I love writing dialogue--it's one of my strategies to get me out of being stuck--and I always remember that we rarely talk in sentences. By that I mean we interrupt, trail off, speak in fragments. I also like to show, through actions, what my characters are thinking while they are speaking. Are they staring out the window rather than paying attention to the other person? Is their leg bouncing?

Being an eavesdropper in public also helps me get the rhythms down of how different people talk.

Judy Merrill Larsen

Larger than life speech
Remember that your characters must be more witty and sparkling than the average Joe. They are always saying things you wish you had thought of it. Luckily, as a writer, you have plenty of time to think of the perfect comeback or double entendre. Also eliminate mundane exchanges. For example small-talk or introductions should not be put into dialogue.

Karin Gillespie

Do you have a dialogue tip? In your opinion, what author is an ace at dialogue? have an cliche dialogue to share?


Dark Angel's blog identifies cliche dialogue. Hopefully none of the following creeps into your manuscript:

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Don’t you die on me!

Tell my wife and kids I love them.

Breathe, dammit!

Also Chelsea Cain gives some orginal tips on how to be an author. Here's a great one:

The best signing pen is the extra fine tip Sharpie. The regular tip Sharpie emits more fumes and will make you high after about a half hour.


Join Ellen Meister’s email list and get a chance to win a very cool T-shirt.

Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been will release in paperback just in time for Christmas.

Have you ordered Melissa Senate's The Love Goddess' Cooking School yet? Publishers Weekly just gave it a major rave:

"Senate handles the hefty topics of loss and remembrances with lightness and respect and in so doing, redefines comfort food."


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Failure? It's All Part of the Writing Journey. My Story By Karin Gillespie

I went from the top of the publishing world to the absolute bottom in the space of four years

When I was eight, I read a casting call in the newspaper for a community theater production of Alice in Wonderland. Since I had long, blond Alice-like hair, I was anxious to try out. Sadly the notice in the paper said actors should be twelve and above. I was discouraged but decided to give to audition anyway, behaving older than my years and ruthlessly scrutinizing my competition. (No one was a match for me in the hair department.) Although my mother tried to temper my expectations, I was convinced I had the part in the bag.

That afternoon I got the call: I was Alice. From that time on I won nearly every role I wanted, and always went for the big, juicy parts. I was very cocky about my acting abilities until I was cast as the lead in a college play called “Hot L Baltimore.” To my dismay, the director was unhappy that my performance didn’t mature during the rehearsals. As a result, I was excluded from his next play, a rare failure for me. Determined to find out what I was doing wrong, I went to the library and checked out at least a dozen books on acting. I finally figured out that my performances lacked nuance. I’d always relied on raw talent, never refining it. I spent months reading plays, working on my delivery. When it was time to audition again, I easily landed the lead.

From actress to writer

Later, in my mid- twenties, I became a single mother and no longer had the time for acting so I sniffed around for another creative outlet. Since I’d always enjoyed reading, I decided to give writing a whirl. Novels seemed too daunting so, at initially, I wrote non-fiction pieces. My first byline appeared in a free weekly, and I was hooked. I started to freelance for the weekly, and I also wrote theater reviews for the daily. Later on I finally gave novel-writing a try and wrote one rambling, autobiographical 100,000 word novel with no idea of structure, characterization or artistry. I also went to my first writers’ conference, clutching the first thirty pages of my opus, convinced I was on the verge of being discovered. Instead the evaluator scoffed at my efforts. Still, the conference fired me up. One of the presenters said that writing a publishable novel was “harder than rocket science.” I’ve always loved a challenge so I trashed my previous efforts and started a new novel that day.

A few months later, I went to yet another writers’ conference; this time the evaluator loved my new novel. (Honestly it wasn’t very good but I guess he saw some sort of spark.) He challenged me to finish my novel in a year. If I did, he’d refer me to his agent. I felt like I’d been given the keys to open the publishing doors.

A dream of a lifetime realized

I accepted his challenge and completed my novel by the deadline with the help of a critique group. The evaluator kept his promise, referring me to his agent, who promptly rejected me. I continued to query until I found an agent to take me on. After several rewrites, she was ready to submit my work to the world; rejections streamed in. (Too quiet, too much plot, too precious.) Finally an editor at Simon and Schuster showed interest, requesting rewrites with no guarantees. I worked diligently to please her and a few months later, my efforts were rewarded. She offered me a three-book deal. Many wine bottles were uncorked that night; I felt like I was living in dream world.

My agent told me to keep my expectations low: no tour, small marketing budget, etc. But another miracle happened; the main fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble liked my book. Suddenly my unassuming little Southern novel was going to be the lead book for Simon Schuster. They flew me to New York to meet with sales and marketing and decided to send me on an eight-city tour. James Wood, the actor, optioned movie rights and I got a starred Kirkus, as well as many other glowing reviews. I was being treated like a rock star, but the whole time I felt like a fraud. I’d just started writing novels. How could people be so excited about my work?

I ended up writing three more novels, touring for each one and receiving healthy royalty checks. Secretly, though, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d start writing a book with a bare bone concept and let my characters lead me around. After the first novel, my editor barely touched my work; it went straight to copywriting. I was starting to get a false confidence about my abilities. It was all so effortless.

 The lowpoint of my creative life

Then, the fall of 2008 dawned and my option was not renewed. I wrote two novels that I couldn’t sell, and I didn’t know how to fix them and eventually gave up on them. No one seemed particularly impressed with my track record; it was all terribly humbling and for a long while, even though I wrote daily, I didn't feel like a writer. Instead I felt like a complete loser. Eventually, I recalled those days years ago when my acting had disappointed the director, and a feeling of familiarity washed over me. Again, I’d been relying on raw talent (and a flair for humor) and hadn’t bothered to take my writing to the next level. I’d also been writing novels from sheer instinct, without structure or planning.

That’s when I decided to get my MFA; I knew I needed a swift kick (albeit expensive) in the butt and Lord have mercy, did I get it. I also read numerous books on structure and decided to never again blindly write a novel. Now I make informed, artistic choices, and give a great deal of thought to my characters and their arcs. I no longer write funny just to be funny (or at least I try not to). Now I bow to the story and not to my vanities. And finally, now I’ve arrived at a place in my evolvement as an artist that I know I’d continue to write for seven or eight hours every day even if I knew I’ll never get published again.

Hope renewed

I've just finished the first draft of a novel that's very different from what I used to write; trusted readers tell me it's my best work yet. But even if it doesn't work out, there's always the next one or the next one after that. To me, failure is only one part of my long, rich journey as a writer and I would not have changed a thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. No blog on Friday but look for new blogs on Saturday and Sunday!


During the holiday period and into early January, many of the girlfriends will be giving away books so visit daily and leave comments for a chance to win. Today I’m giving away a copy of EARTHLY PLEASURES about a greeter in Heaven who falls in love with a mortal of Earth. Just leave a comment for a chance to win.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Amen, Anne Lamott

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, my first novel, is set to debut right along with the New Year. Even with finished copies set to arrive, it’s as surreal as a winning lottery ticket. I keep checking the numbers; I think I’m good. We’re past the point of a befuddled call from Berkley saying, “Sorry, wrong writer. Spillane, Spinelli… Spinella, they all sound alike.” I doubt my angst is different from thousands of other writers who look forward to 2011 debuts. It’s one reason I wanted to be part of this group, Girlfriends Book Club. Along with the anticipation and anxiety of publication, I feel oddly isolated. It didn’t seem to matter so much when it was just me, Mia, and Flynn muddling our way through rewrite number four. While their story is a twelve year journey—from a college campus in Athens, Georgia, through a grueling separation, to a hard fought ending—the writing time was exactly half that and no less challenging. I was fine with the process; I used rejection as a catalyst. I was slaphappy silly when Writers House took me on, and relieved when the book sold—I’d gotten the monkey off my back.

Well, say goodbye to the monkey and welcome to the zoo. And, ohmigosh, while there’s so much to see, it’s the learning curve of salesmanship that has me staring stark-eyed through the bars. A writer with the sales finesse of Willy Loman has been catapulted into Billy Mays territory—and the competition is fierce. I don’t know a lot of novelists, not personally. But I watch them. I’m awed by the ones who can make literary connections with the ease of chatting up moms on the playground. They’re adept at capitalizing on social networks, dropping pithy comments on Twitter, and using Linkedin to create a cyber-empire of devoted readers and writers. For me, book writing has been a hindrance to those outlets, resulting in what, by the definition of any good analyst, amounts to a social disorder. Of course, I’ll soldier on, getting the hang of things, because like rewrites and revisions, promotion is a necessary tool of the trade.

This final phase of publication was easy to spot, like the passing of a torch. About a month ago, notes from my editor began to dwindle while emails from my shiny new publicist picked up pace. I like to think of her as shiny, sparkly with a wand that will make this all turn out okay. However, no matter what happens, it’s Anne Lamott’s words I’ll take to the finish line: “Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it will probably not make you any richer.” Amen, Anne Lamott. I’ve already had a glimpse of the extremes, one not so pretty review and a request to take a look at the book for movie rights, all within the same hour. Go figure. The everyday people around me are supportive and excited—confused as to why it takes so damn long. Prudently, I’ve corralled expectations, finding satisfaction in the last link. It connects, Flynn, a character who channeled through me like an electric current, to a story that, I believe, is worthy of him, transposing imagination into typeset ink and beautiful cover art. Less idyllic, these last steps have me scrambling for old newspaper colleagues and alumni contacts, wondering if I’m doing everything I can or just doing it all wrong. Either way, I’m ready for this thing to which I have been taskmaster and champion to pitch in and do its part. I’m ready for BEAUTIFUL DISASTER to speak for itself.

Visit me at http://www.lauraspinella.net/

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Road to Publication: Each Writer Has Her Own Personal Journey

Midori by Moonlight, published by St. Martin’s Press, was my debut book, but actually the fifth novel I tried to get published.

When I took a job as a technical writer in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s, I found that many of my co-workers were frustrated fiction writers. I found this intriguing and it led me to sign up for a creative writing class at a community college where I began writing short stories about my experiences with Japan and Japanese culture. The stories were well received in my classes and after many rejections I managed to eventually get a few of them published in some small literary journals.
The next step seemed to be to write a novel—how hard could that be? Trusted readers and friends read my Novel #1 and assured me that I was on my way to fame and fortune, proclaiming me as the next Amy Tan. With confidence I sent out Novel #1 to a good fifty agents who all rejected it soundly, mostly via form letters, and others with brief comments that translated to: What were you thinking?

Hurt, but somehow undeterred, I hunkered down to write Novel #2, titled No Kidding. Again, I received rejections from every agent on the planet, though this time I got a few morsels of comments I interpreted as slightly encouraging. I’d read about how author M.J. Rose had scored a major book deal by self-publishing her first novel, so I decided to self-publish No Kidding through iUniverse, the premier POD publisher at the time. The book ended up winning the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category of the 2002 Writer’s Digest Best Self-Published Book Awards. I figured it was only a matter of time that agents would be banging on my door, but my second round of queries relaying my success resulted in further piles of rejection letters.

With Novel #3 I finally signed with an agent who represented a writer friend who had passed my manuscript on to him. This agent received rejections from every editor he contacted. He half-heartedly pitched Novel #4, but it was quickly dead in the water. “If this were a few years ago, you’d be on the shelves,” he told me. “Fiction is an extremely hard sell these days. There’s nothing more I can do for you.” (And this was in 2004 when things were supposedly brighter in the publishing world). So now I’d garnered the ultimate rejection: getting dumped by my agent.

All along I’d been workshopping my novels and consulting with teachers and writing experts. I knew my craft was improving from the comments I’d receive, but I still couldn’t get anywhere and it frustrated me to no end. And I knew from reading the deals on Publisher’s Marketplace that debut novelists were still getting published despite my former agent’s negative assessment.

So once more I was sending out queries for Novel #5, which was Midori by Moonlight. I had some close calls with a few agents, but still no offer of representation came. Meanwhile, I’d decided to apply to MFA programs and used the first chapter of Midori in my applications. I was under no assumption that getting an MFA would guarantee my getting published—I just wanted to take my writing to the next level and spend two years concentrating on my writing and learning about literature. I was accepted at University of San Francisco and started there in Summer 2006. But I still hadn’t given up on Midori and continued to query agents. In August I finally got an offer of representation and by the end of September I had a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

What do I want you to take away from my story? First, that perseverance pays off. But I also advise you to not compare yourself to other writers when it comes to how long it will take you to get published. Each writer has her own journey and no two are the same. Keep writing because you can’t not write, not just because you want to get published. Seek out advice from trusted sources, believe in yourself and be flexible.

And, most of all, don’t give up!

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels Midori by Moonlight and Love in Translation, both published by St. Martin’s Press. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches novel writing for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio. She also gives her own seminars and enjoys helping private clients get their novels and memoirs into shape, giving practical advice on how to fix problems so they don’t make the same mistakes she did on her road to publication. She is currently revising her third novel, which is not about Japan and working on a non-fiction book about cross-cultural marriage. Visit her at: www.WendyTokunaga.com

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hollywood on the table ... by Beth Hoffman

So this month we’re talking about Hollywood. Ah, yes—the place where fantasies are played out, dreams come true or crash and burn, careers are made and lives destroyed—all for the sake of that glorious but sometimes dangerous mixture of art meets ego. Oh, and money of course. Sometimes buckets of it.

Though I’m thrilled to have a well-respected film producer interested in Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, it’s not something that was on my radar when I wrote my novel. During those times when I allow myself to envision my story on the silver screen, I see, so vividly, Oletta and CeeCee in the kitchen of that big old home in Savannah, and I laugh when imagining the slugs flying through the night air, wondering how they’d capture that scene—slow motion or special effects? And no real slugs please! Is there such a thing as s stunt slug? Probably not.

But here’s the thing—I’m not jumping out of my skin to move forward and close any deals, and the reason might sound odd, but it’s true. I’m scared. Scared that somehow the characters I love so much will not be portrayed and/or played in the manner I see them and know them, and scared that somewhere in that all-important phase of transforming a full-length novel into a screenplay, something valuable will be forever lost. I suspect most authors have experienced these fears when presented with a film offer.

Maybe it’s due to all I’ve been through in my life, but right now I’m happy with where things are, so while I am genuinely delighted and honored to have a bona fide offer sitting neatly on the table, and while I do enjoy the occasional Technicolor daydream, I’m happy to wait patiently and watch how things pan out. (No pun intended … lol.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Author Sunday: Q and A with Jillian Cantor, author of Transformation of Things

What is the premise of THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS?

The Transformation of Things is the story of a woman named Jen, who is the wife of a prominent judge and who lives in an affluent suburbs where she appears to have everything she’d ever want: nice house, country club friends, handsome husband. But when her husband gets indicted and is forced to resign from the bench, Jen begins to dream things about her friends and family, things that allow her to see beyond the surface of their lives. And she soon realizes that nothing about their lives (or hers) is what it appears.

You've also written two young adult novels. Why did you decide to write an adult novel and what are some of the differences between writing for adults and young adults?

Actually, I never really decided to write a young adult novel! When I wrote my first novel, The September Sisters, I thought I was writing a novel for adults with a teenage narrator. However, when it didn’t sell to adult editors, my agent suggested a revision to make it young adult and then it sold that way (in an auction!). That book sold in a two-book deal, so I had to write a young adult book the second time around. Though I found I loved reveling in my teenage angst, I also wanted to get back to writing adult books again and so I began working on The Transformation of Things.

I honestly don’t think there are many differences for me in terms of writing for adults and young adults, other than the ages of the narrators. Of course, along with this comes different age-appropriate problems and conflicts, but when I write I’m always imagining myself in the shoes of my character, whether she is 13 or 33.

You have an MFA in writing. Do you thing writers need one and what's the most important thing you gained from the program?

No, I don’t think writers need an MFA. And to be honest I don’t think it necessarily helped me get published or succeed at a writing career (I’ve never published anything I wrote while in the MFA programs – lots of short stories, a novel, and a screenplay, which all currently reside in a drawer!). But what I did gain was the ability to revise and take criticism. There’s nothing quite like a fiction workshop, where 10 other writers spend an hour ripping your story to shreds! This has been an invaluable tool for me years later in being able to take and use constructive criticism from editors to revise my work.

You almost gave up writing all together. Tell us about that struggle.

Well, I think every writer gets to a place where they let rejection get them down at one point or another. I sent my first novel (the one I wrote in graduate school) out to about 100 agents and never got representation, which was probably for the best in hindsight since now I can see that the novel wasn’t really working. I wrote another book (what would eventually be The September Sisters), sent out to agents again, got rejected a bunch more times – though, several rejections were very close misses. Then I had a baby, and I just didn’t have it in me to go through more rejection. I put the book in drawer, figured I’d move on with my life, got my real estate license. But when my son was about a year and a half old, I suddenly had the drive to take the book out again, do one more revision and give things one more shot. I think it was because I realized that one day my son would ask me what I did for a living, and I wanted to be able to tell him I was a writer (or at least that I’d given it my absolute best shot.) About six weeks later, I had an agent!

Who are some of your influences and what books are on your nightstand or ereader?

In graduate school I loved the stories of Lorrie Moore and Ann Beattie. These days I mostly read novels. Anna Quindlen is one of my favorites – I just finished her latest, Every Last One. I also get really behind on my reading, especially if I’m working on a project since I don’t like to read while in the midst of my own writing. So I’m just now in the middle of The Help. Sarah’s Key is on my nightstand, just underneath that!

For you what is the most satisfying element of the writing process?

 I love typing the words “The End” at the end of my first draft. Even though I know I have lots more revision ahead of me and that the book isn’t technically anywhere close to “done,” I love the feel of accomplishing a complete draft, the feeling that I have created something from nothing.

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University. She received her MFA from The University of Arizona and was the recipient of the national Jacob K. Javits fellowship. Her first novel, THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS, was called "memorable" and "startlingly real" by Publishers Weekly and was nominated as a YALSA Best Book For Young Adults. Her second young adult novel, THE LIFE OF GLASS, was released in February 2010, and her debut novel for adults, THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS, ia available now. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons. Vist her at http://www.jilliancantor.com/

To view an excerpt of The Transformation of Things click here.

Authors Speak Out on NaNoWriMo

I think NaNoWriMo is fabulous-- anything that encourages people to sit down and express themselves creatively is a good thing! Of course, in my experience, it takes waaay longer than a month to write a book, but I think that sometimes we writers just need that initial kick to get us going. So, if declaring November as a special month does it, I say why not?!

Brenda Janowitz

I honestly wish more attention was paid to reading than writing; the truth is there are more books than there are readers these days. While anything that encourages honing our written communication skills is to be commended, I think that every writer participating in NaNoWriMo should be required, the month before, to buy several books and read every day. We need a NaNoReMo more.

Melanie Benjamin

I think Nanowrimo is a terrific idea. Unfortunately, I've never been able to participate because November is such a busy month. I would love to see it moved to January, when the weather is usually cold enough (even in north Florida) that you want to stay inside and the holidays are over. Plus it would make a terrific New Years resolution!

Maria Geraci

I've never formally participated, although you could say that the last several years of my obscenely productive life have played out like one long Nano. A while back, as many know, there was a great furor when Salon's Laura Miller posted a negative and discouraging piece about Nano. I thought her piece was sour and wrongheaded, wholly missing the point of the exercise - to finally get a first draft written and to do so within an encouraging environment - but I chalked it up to dispepsia over the election results of the night before and didn't think that anything she wrote warranted death threats.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I love NaNoWriMo because it gets people writing, talking about novels, and commiserating, all things I enjoy in abundance. But I'm afraid I would fail miserably if I tried to write a novel in one month. I might be able to accumulate the pages if I hired a cook to feed my family and an off-duty policeman to supervise homework. But creative ideas come to me at their own pace (think: molasses in January). And since it took five years to write my first novel and will probably take two years to finish my second, I think I'll sit this one out. Instead, I'm getting fired up about: ReWoProMo (Resume Work-in-Progress Month).

Cindy Jones

I'm one of those slow, plodding, anal writers, so people who do nano impress and astound me. And I think of the sense of community is pretty fabulous. Writing can be so isolating that any push toward making it communal is a good thing indeed.

Ellen Meister

I think any event that inspires people to write is a great thing, and the NaNo community can be very supportive, from what I hear. I'm such a slow writer myself, though, that I've never participated. I have to revise quite a bit, even when I'm really taking my time with the first draft... I'm afraid to imagine how much revision a super-fast draft of mine would require, but I know it would be a lot!

Marilyn Brandt

My own first novel began as a failed NaNoWriMo challenge, so I definitely approve. However, I do wish it were a two-month challenge. I think that's much more reasonable and the success rate would be higher if the challenge was to start your novel on November 1st and finish your rough draft by January 1st of the next year.

Ernessa T. Carter

Every month is NaNoWriMo when I’m writing a novel because if I’m laying down a first draft my goal is 2,000 words a day. For me it’s easy to meet goal if I’ve extensively outlined beforehand. I get a thrill out of watching the word count mount, knowing I can accumulate 80,000 words in only 40 days and keeping the momentum up. I love when I finally have that many words because my favorite part of writing is polishing the prose.

Karin Gillespie

What's your thoughts on NanNowriMo? Do you particpate? What's your word count?  Comment and win a copy of Mentor by Tom Grimes, a memoir by a writer who was mentored by Frank Conroy, the director of the prestigious The Iowa Writers Worskhop,

Clickable Links:

An entertaining excerpt about author promotion from Betsy Lerner’s wonderful book “The Forest fof the Trees: An Editor’s Advice for Writers.


A new feature at the GBC AUTHOR SUNDAY. Look for an interview with Jilian Cantor, author of The Transformation of Things.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


By Therese Fowler

Though I write novels and have an enduring, unwavering love for books, I sometimes step out on the relationship and go see a film. It doesn’t feel like cheating. After all, the love I’m indulging in either case is Story.

In the same way that I lose myself inside a good book’s story, a good movie takes me someplace new and different. Sometimes it’s an escape. Other times it’s an experience. I especially love a book or film that can bring me to tears—of mirth or of sorrow, I have no preference. All I want is to be in some way significantly moved.

Film does something that a book can’t: it presents action, setting, and dialogue simultaneously—which is why you can experience in only a couple of hours a story that would take days to read. This fascinates me. In another life I might have been a filmmaker.

But I’m a novelist, a storysmith whose medium is words. The next best thing for me, then, would be to see one of my books made into a really good film.

Authors gets used to spending a great deal of time in limbo. We wait for inspiration, for epiphanies, for our agent and/or editor to read our drafts; we wait to see cover design, we wait for our paychecks, we wait to see copyedits and page proofs and bound galleys and the finished book in stores. We wait to see if readers respond well. So when a film agent decides to take on one of our books with hopes of finding it a Hollywood home, we’re already good at the limbo that is surely ahead here, too.

This is where I’m living right now—in Hollywood limbo. My latest novel, Exposure, which will be published in early May, captivated a film agent at Paradigm. This itself is a thrill; Paradigm reps some of my favorite talent (to use the industry term); I love that I now have something in common with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The agent put the manuscript into the hands of some producers, some of whom then became captivated too, I’m told. Not being of Hollywood, I wasn’t instantly familiar with the names. Google helped me out, and very quickly afterward I swooned. (Truly. I am not prone to hyperbole, my friends.) I wish I could tell you more, but I’m not at liberty to share names right now. I have to say, though, that regardless of the outcome, this is a lifetime highlight for me.

Right now, certain directors are considering the project. Certain writers have been approached, and certain studios, and certain actors. Certain meetings are taking place. Of course, the whole endeavor is uncertain. Even if the film rights get optioned and the ideal people sign on, there are many more hurdles that have to be overcome before the movie gets made. Some of the other gals here can tell you that what happens most often in these scenarios is…nothing.

So, I wait, and I hope, and I admire the chicken eggs without counting them. I write—my April 1st deadline won’t wait, after all. I go see movies, and I buy my favorites and watch them over again at home. Two DVDs I own that are among my favorite books-to-film are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. While I wait, tell me, what are some of your favorites?


Therese Fowler is the author of Souvenir and Reunion. She has worked in the U.S. Civil Service, managed a clothing store, lived in the Philippines, had children, sold real estate, earned a B.A. in sociology, sold used cars, returned to school for her MFA in creative writing, and taught college undergrads about literature and fiction-writing -- roughly in that order. With books published in nine languages and sold world-wide, Therese writes full-time from her home in Wake Forest, NC, which she shares with her husband, four amiable cats, and four nearly grown-up sons.

I Heart Amy Bloom

by Susan McBride

Amy Bloom is an award-winning novelist and short story writer (among other things). Do I know her? No, I’ve never had the pleasure. Have I read her work? Sadly, I can’t say that I have as of yet, although I’ve added her novel, Away, to my “must get” list.

Regardless, I wanna be like Amy and here’s why.

A recent Amazon ad showed a couple relaxing on the beach with Kindles in hand. The camera focused on the woman’s screen, and it revealed the page of a book. Most of us couldn’t even see what it said, but some clever person figured out that it was from Amy Bloom’s short story collection, Where the God of Love Hangs Out.

Once that became known, the media descended. When asked about her “appearance” in a Kindle TV ad, she remarked, “I feel very grateful for whoever it was who said, ‘Hey, how about a page from an Amy Bloom story.’”

What she said next in that same interview is what made me decide, “Ms. Bloom, you rock.” In response to being asked if the Kindle brouhaha would increase sales of her book, she answered:

"You never know. It probably won't do me any harm. On the other hand, the other way to look at it is who cares? I've done my job as a writer. I've written the best work I know how. And I'm appreciative of the people who read it and care about the work—and that's pretty much the end of that. Anything else that happens is sometimes nice, and sometimes not so nice, but not really directly relevant."

Now do you see why I heart her?

I want to be that writer who doesn’t worry about promotion, Twitter, Facebook, and getting on Oprah. (Is anyone else relieved it’s her last season? Maybe then well-intentioned but clueless family members will stop asking me, “When is Oprah having you on?”).

I crave indifference to both good reviews and bad and the ability to sincerely and confidently state, “I wrote the best damned book I could. What happens next is up to God/Fate, Readers/Booksellers, and/or The Easter Bunny."

I yearn to sigh happily when I’ve typed “The End” (okay, I don’t really ever type “The End,” but it sounds better), close that chapter of my writing life, and move on to the next deadline without worrying about a million tiny things, like, will my mother-in-law enjoy it, will it get reviewed by someone who likes women’s fiction and not by a devoted fan of Amish Vampire YA Dystopian Cozies, and will people judge it by the words inside instead of by its cover? (Speaking of covers, you already heard me whine about cover issues with The Cougar Club so I’m hoping to avoid the same fate with Little Black Dress, although I'm not holding my breath and my cover fairy seems to be on an extended vacation.  Damn her.)

When I sit down at my keyboard to tell a story, it is truly a passion. It isn’t always easy, but it’s what I love. So much is involved with being a published author these days, way beyond the storytelling. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m in this for the words and for the high I get when a tale that’s existed only in my head for months and months is suddenly out there for anyone to read (even folks unrelated to me who buy copies from bookstores in places I’ve never been).
I will turn in Little Black Dress tomorrow and, when I do, like Amy Bloom, I'll be thinking, "I’ve truly done the best job that I can."

And I hope that it’s enough.

Susan McBride is looking forward to sleeping in, watching mindless TV, and eating plenty of chocolate while recovering from deadline-itis. LITTLE BLACK DRESS, her tale of two sisters, a daughter, and a magical little black dress that changes all of their lives, has been moved up in the schedule and will be available from HarperCollins/Avon in mid-May of 2011.  Visit her at SusanMcBride.com.

P.S.  Happy Birthday to Ellen Meister!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Snappy Dialogue: Classic Hollywood Love Stories Set the Bar High

When the subject initially came up to talk about Hollywood as one of our Girlfriends Book Club themes for the fall, the very first thing that came to mind for me were these two classic films: "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, and "Roman Holiday" (1953), starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert. I watched them both first in black & white as a teen and -- these many, many years later! -- I still love them best that way.

I'll always adore the inspired banter in "The Philadelphia Story," particularly the back-and-forth zings of Katharine (Tracy Lord) and Cary (C.K. Dexter Haven), still-feuding ex-spouses who are reunited by a little journalistic blackmail on the eve of Tracy's wedding to another man. There's this moment, fairly early in the film, when they're out by the pool arguing and Jimmy Stewart's character (innocent journalist Macaulay "Mike" Connor) is getting a bit uncomfortable with Tracy and Dexter's rising tempers. He tries to slink away from them, but they notice, of course, and refuse to let him leave. They like having the audience. Long before I was ever a writer, I'd laugh whenever I'd hear this exchange. It was just so well paced and comical:

Dexter: How about you, Mr. Connor? You drink, don't you? Alcohol, I mean.
Mike: A little.
Dexter: A little? And you're a writer? Tsk, tsk, tsk. I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time I think I secretly wanted to be a writer. [He looks up at him and grins.]
Tracy: Dexter, would you mind doing something for me?
Dexter: Anything, what?
Tracy: Get the heck out of here.
Dexter: I couldn't do that. That wouldn't be fair to you. You need me too much.
Tracy: Would you tell me what you're hanging around for? [Mike tries to sneak away.] No, please don't go, Mr. Connor.
Dexter: No, please don't go, Mr. Connor. As a writer, this ought to be right up your street.
Tracy: Don't miss a word.

Then, of course, there's "Roman Holiday," with an escaped princess (Audrey Hepburn playing Princess Ann), who's feeling the effects of sleep medication but is on the loose in Rome late one night, and an American journalist (Gregory Peck as Joe Bradley), who just stumbled onto what could be the biggest story of his career. This is one of many laugh-aloud scenes:

Ann: Do you know my favorite poem?
Joe: You already recited that for me.
Ann: "Arethusa rose from her couch of snows in the Acroceraunian mountains" - Keats.
Joe: Shelley.
Ann: Keats!
Joe: Now, you just keep your mind off the poetry and on the pajamas, and everything'll be all right, see.
Ann: It's Keats.
Joe: Now, I'll be - it's Shelley - I'll be back in about ten minutes.
Ann: Keats.
[Joe walks to his door and hides his wine bottle on the top of the mantelpiece.]
Ann: You have my permission to withdraw.
Joe: Thank you very much...

There aren't a lot of films that make me feel as giddy with happiness as these two classic love stories -- I have posters of both in my writing office for inspiration -- but I also really enjoy "When Harry Met Sally," "While I Was Sleeping" and "The Mark of Zorro"... What about you? What are your favorite (modern or classic) Hollywood films? In which of them do you feel the dialogue just sparkles?

Marilyn Brant is a chocolate lover, music junkie and old-movie addict who lives in the Chicago area with her husband and son. She's also the award-winning women's fiction author of According to Jane (October 2009), Friday Mornings at Nine (October 2010) and the upcoming novel A Summer in Europe (Fall 2011). Visit her at: www.marilynbrant.com.