Monday, February 28, 2011

Hi everyone! My second book, Skipping a Beat, came out exactly a week ago and I've been busily making the rounds of blogs, writing guest posts and meeting new readers. I was asked to write about how I found my agent and I thought I'd share the story here - hope you enjoy!

When it came time for me to find an agent, I did all the right things.

Except for one very wrong thing.

I figured there had to be a secret way to break into publishing – some special handshake or code word or magic door like the one Harry Potter flung himself through to get to the secret train to Hogwarts – but no one would reveal it to me. So I figured I had just one chance of breaking in: I had to write a really good query letter.

It took a while – as I recall, actually writing my novel was much easier – but finally, I distilled the essence of my book into a paragraph, listed my writing credentials, and spell-checked that sucker to within an inch of its life. Then I blasted e-mails to agents I found in the acknowledgements section of novels I loved. If an author raved about his or her agent, I figured it had to be a good sign.

I got back a few interested responses from agents – along with a note from the assistant to a big-shot agent gushing about my book and how eager they were to read it. This sounds more flattering than it actually felt, because the assistant mistakenly included her email correspondence with the big-shot agent under her note to me. (“Oh, I don’t know,” big-shot agent moaned. “Doesn’t it sound kind of boring?”)

So, I sent out copies of my manuscript by UPS and e-mail, then sat back and patiently waited. A few weeks later, I went to pick up my kids from school and checked my answering machine for messages remotely, which was completely natural since I’d been out of the house for seven minutes.

I’d gotten the call. THE CALL! Victoria Sanders liked The Opposite of Me. She wanted me to come to New York to meet her and her staff. In an effort to sound professional, I spoke in a voice several octaves below normal when I called her back — then became paralyzed with fear I’d have to talk to Victoria this way for the rest of my life.

But before going to New York, I decided to do a little research. After all, I’m a former reporter, I thought to myself smugly as I fired up my computer. I e-mailed one of Sanders’ most well-known clients and explained that she had expressed interest in my book. “Is she still your agent?” I wrote, congratulating myself on my moxie and still-sharp reportorial skills.

Minutes later, a reply dinged into my inbox.

“This is Victoria Sanders,” it said. “I answer [this author’s] e-mail when she is on her European tour. Yes, I’ve happily represented her for seven years… .”

If I’d been a cartoon character, all of my hair would’ve stood straight up on my head. Thank God, thank God, thank God Victoria has a sense of humor. Later, she told me later she’d laughed aloud when she’d read my note.

By the way, a while back I wrote a magazine story about breaking into the publishing world, and I interviewed agents. I asked them what writers shouldn’t do when approaching them – and got an earful. Agents often get letters addressed to rival agents (oops), emails that reek of despair (“I’ve queried 100 agents and been turned down by them all!”) and even abusive, foul-language notes from writers they’ve rejected (shockingly, this doesn’t make agents rush to reconsider).

One of the agents I interviewed was Jeff Kleinman of Folio, the agent for The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein—a Starbucks book pick— and Jeff revealed ways writers have tried to catch his eye. They’ve offered to give him massages, sent him a tiara as a tie-in for a book proposal, offered to hypnotize him, tried to buy him drinks at writers’ conferences and sent him box after box of chocolates. (For the record, he turned down the massage – I think that was a wise call – but took the drinks. Again, a wise call, in my opinion).

So there you have it: Do your research, skip the offers of a massage, and make sure you query an agent with a sense of humor, like I did.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Tidal Wave of a Learning Curve

By Laura Spinella

There’s a learning curve to publication; it’s different for everyone. Mine amounts to years of ripples in the ocean followed by one ferocious wave. My first instinct was to yell, “Wait! I can’t swim!” I don’t know anything about being a published author. Is there a code of conduct, a manual, perhaps? Preferably one with pictures and step-by-step instructions. Which page do I sign, and in what color ink? Does Penguin know how horrid my penmanship is? Didn’t they see my signature on the contract?
Didn’t I?
The truth is I was good at possibility. I reveled in it. When agents’ assistants, gals who are half my age and dress size, emailed me to say they’d love to read more, I’d live off it. Really, there was no need to rush a reply. When responses did arrive, generally in the form of a polite rejection, I knew how to throw a hell of a pity party. I had honed these skills, and not only was I good at them, I was comfortable. I’d just gather the advice and keep plugging along. To my surprise, the advice eventually snowballed. Character conundrums became my own, landing me on the main thoroughfare of careful what you wish for… As I said, I thought I’d sink without knowing how to swim. But like a mutt diving off a pier, I’ve found that I do know how to dog paddle.

Eight hours into publication and the first review was up on Amazon. Really? How is that even possible? Yet, there it was. Or at least that’s what I was told. The fact that it was a good review made no difference. I simply did not want to know. I made a rule that day, if I was to keep swimming there would be no Googling my name or anything remotely related. I kept paddling, through my first book signing in Massachusetts and onto a four-city stop down South. I had the privilege of signing the book on the campus of the University of Georgia, which is the novel’s setting. I don’t think I got it. Not until one of my biggest BFF’s showed up. She’s also a published author (non-fiction) and a most excellent physician. We had lunch beforehand in a little bistro that could have been plucked from the pages of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. Plucked had I been a savvy enough writer to include this vintage bistro in my book. God, it could have made all the difference… I digress. Anyway, as I’m vexing over this clear faux pas and an oily spinach salad, Melisa, the BFF, says, “Think about it. A few years ago you called and said, ‘I have this idea about a guy—he’s edgy, provocative… And the girl, of course there’s a girl. I think it takes place in Athens…’ To be honest, I had no idea what to expect or how good it would be. But then I read that first draft, and now look!”

Okay, she forced me to look. It wasn’t so bad, and I didn’t sink straight to the bottom. Actually, it’s kind of cool. And the book’s not even the icing on the cake. I think the story behind the story is equally compelling. As noted, Melisa Holmes M.D. is a published author, spearheading Girlology, which offers educational programs on all things girl. The third book in the Girlology series was released last fall. Oddly, interestingly enough, Melisa and I were roommates (a LOT of years ago) at UGA. To this day, we remain each other’s sounding board. Her steadfast enthusiasm earned her the big shout out on my acknowledgement page. I can’t quote you the number of college roommates and lifelong friends who’ve gone on to become published authors, but I like to think it’s not your everyday occurrence.
Feeling better about my foray into publication, we went on to the UGA signing. Also in attendance was my daughter, who happens to be a freshman at UGA. (Remember, we live in Massachusetts) A little over a year ago, had you asked, I would have said that I didn’t know which was more of a long shot: my Athens set novel making it to publication or my daughter ending up on that same campus. For the record, this is the same kid who, two years ago, was lucky to see the outside of Children’s Hospital Boston—a long story for a different blog. But trust me when I say kismet and karma collided that day, coming full circle.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m comfortable wearing the label of published author. A glance in the mirror says it’s not quite form fitting, in need of alterations, a garment from which I’ve yet to cutout the tag. Yet, I find myself happily answering emails from people I don’t know, perched on the edge of my seat at book club meetings where my book is the topic of conversation. I’m still wrapping my mind around that one. I’ve done better than I imagined at these gatherings. Most people are kind enough to relay positive comments. I shrug at small criticisms, bothered far less than I thought possible.

So I guess this leaves me treading water. The book will do what it will do, and I get, for the most part, to return to the realm of possibility—a place that fits me perfectly. I’m comfortable, happy there, working with new characters that have no guarantee of an ISBN address but the benefit of my complete attention. I’ll keep you posted. Maybe in a year or so I’ll be doing my best Esther Williams impersonation, yelling to Aidan and Isabel, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

** During the month of March I’ll be giving away two signed copies of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER via my site, Leave a comment on any blog and you’ll be entered to win. Check out my interview with Number One Novels, on March 7th. For more information on GIRLOLOGY visit “BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is a heart-wrenching love story that promotes the message that the power of love never fades away… Spinella crafts a beautiful story.” Las Vegas Review-Journal. “The complexity of the characters, and the mystery surrounding them, adds to the suspense… making BEAUTIFUL DISASTER a page-turner…” Suffolk County News

Saturday, February 26, 2011

EXPOSURE Goodreads giveaway contest

Who doesn't love free books? Here's your chance to win one: Random House is giving away fifteen copies of Exposure, my newest novel (out May 3rd), to readers who enter the Goodreads contest before midnight Sunday.

Good luck!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Girlfriends Talk About the Books That Got Away

At one time we thought they were masterpieces; now we’re relieved they never saw the light of day. Some we might revive, others are destined to line bird cages.
Almost every writer has one: the book that got away.

A Second Life For a Once Dead Book

Every good writer has a drawer full of possibilities- seeds of ideas, pages of notes, funny stories, great lines, interesting character names, crazy what if's... call it our inventory. But which ones do we actually end up using?Ultimately what we gravitate towards (or should) are the stories that scare the ever livin' crap out of us because that's where the honesty is hiding. And regardless of the plot, or even the characters we develop, what we are always seeking is emotional truth. No point dreaming up a fantastic scenario if at the end of the day it hasn't pulled back the curtain on the wizard.That's why I love to share my "book that got away" story because it has a happy ending.

My very first novel was called All in the Cards and it was never published but it was optioned by Bette Midler for a film deal. After two years in the Hollywood spin cycle, it never happened as a film deal either and the manuscript got tucked away in the basement next to boxes of baby clothes. I thought it was dead forever.Fast forward to ten years and three novels later. I told my editor that I would love to revive it- that the idea of two bickering next door neighbors who have to come to terms with each other still resonated with me. Her response was that it didn't strike her as especially catchy, and then Desperate Housewives went on the air and she said, "Let me take a look."

That original story, rewritten and rewritten again, was finally published in 2008 as DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD. It ended up being a much more honest and poignant story than the original, truly funny but equally heartfelt, and I was so proud that I was able to share it with readers.I have two other works -in-progress that so far have not found their footing but I am inspired to keep going because of this wonderful turnaround... Timing is everything, yes. But so is perseverance and the desire to get it right.

Saralee Rosenberg

Not Sexy Enough

The book that got away? That's simple, it was the book that landed me an agent. It was a historical romance titled, The War Bride. I really loved that book! It was my second completed novel and I spent hours and hours researching it. It was set during the Regency period and featured a Spanish heroine. Unfortunately, the book's setting worked against me (or so I was told). Instead of being set in England, it was set mostly in Portugal and Spain. It was also being shopped in New York at a time when historical romance was seeing a resurgence but the books that were selling were very very sexy. I remember sitting down with my agent to have a talk. She was trying to tell me that she didn't think the book would sell and why (location and lack of hot sex). Jokingly, she asked me, "do you think you can rewrite it with a S&M scene in it?" We laughed and then I sobered up and said "no." And then we laughed again.
Maria Geraci

Slush for the Slush pile

SLUSH… No, not the pile, but the title of my third novel. As I write this, it’s the one winking at me from the desk drawer. Yes, I get the double entendre. And no, the title was not a swipe at the publishing industry. It was deep. SLUSH reflected the various, heart-wrenching themes portrayed throughout the book. Lydia Sommers is reduced to emotional slush after her son falls through a slush-filled pond and drowns. What do you mean you don’t get it? Seriously? That’s okay; neither did two agents and three publishers. Still, it’s the one that will go down as the thorn in my side. I loved that book. I saw the characters as moving, the setting sublime, and the plot captivating. Unfortunately, I was the only one who did see it. On the other hand, this flawed novel was a blessing well disguised. First, it got my foot through a lot of doors. Agent-less, I managed to get three publishers to read the entire thing. While disappointed by their rejection, it did make me think there had to be something to my writing. In a business where you can parlay a speck of approval into a hearty slap on the back, SLUSH’s maybes kept me writing.

My current agent politely rejected it, but offered me encouraging words. It was enough to make me try again and say, “Well, if you kind of liked that, maybe you’ll really like this…” SLUSH melted into a full-fledged puddle when I gave her the draft of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. I have a few manuscripts that I think about reworking. SLUSH isn’t one of them. Here’s the difference: At some point, all the manuscripts have met with positive comments and suggestions as to how I might flesh out their potential. SLUSH never received that sort of endorsement. Sure, people said nice things about my writing. But they never said anything constructive about the story. Its fate was a given from the start. Really, it’s okay. What else could you expect from a novel titled SLUSH?

Laura Spinella
Too Much Carpool
The novel that got away was the one I wrote when my children were very young. I had no time for research and one reader complained there was too much carpool in it. Agents agreed. When my children were old enough to go to school all day, I busted out of carpool line and got the idea for My Jane Austen Summer. I put the first novel, along with 21 rejections, in a drawer, and never looked back.

Cindy Jones

Writing By Instinct

Ah, the doorstop book! I have one of those. It came between my second and third novels. I wrote my first two novels never having read a writing "how to" book in my life. I just wrote the way I wrote. With #3, I thought I'd be more deliberate. Only, as it turned out, writing advice books at the time were all about structure and outlining and making charts and extensive character bios. And, as I learned much later, I am not that sort of writer. At one point my outline hit 70 pages. Boy, that book was dead on the pages. It had its moments, but no one wanted it. I kept getting told it was beautifully written, which it was, but, you know, pass. It was beautifully written AND freaking boring.{Time passes, and Carolyn contemplates giving up the writing. . .] Then I decided to heck with all these books that said I had to have a plan and structure and know what was going to happen in advance. I went back to the way I'd written my first two books, wrote a different novel the "wrong" way, and sold it. I've never looked back.

Carolyn Jewel

Failure As a Blessing

My first novel was so awful I actually deleted it from my compute like it was a virus. I sold my second novel and then, after having published five novels, the economy got bad, and I wrote two novels out of desperation. Desperation novels rarely makes for good literature, and after some reflection, I knew I had to shelf both. (Many tears and much teeth gnashing was involved.) Ironically, my two failures were the best thing that ever happened to me. Made me slow down and really, truly learn my craft. The novel I’m currently working on comes from a much calmer and wiser place. Although I want it to rock, I'm not nearly as attached to the results any more.

Karen Neches

I Thought of It First

I've got a file cabinet drawer full of unpublished manuscripts and a file on my computer full of novels I started and then abandoned. Sometimes these books fail because the idea of them was better than the reality of them. Sometimes because the characters walked out on me, or the plot fizzled, or I just couldn't sustain the story's energy. Sometimes because the timing was off. My first attempt at writing a women's fiction novel (after I'd published many romance novels) generated a great deal of publisher enthusiasm but ultimately wasn't bought by anyone. Ten years later, a book with a very similar premise came out and was a huge bestseller. When I'd written my book, I guess, the time just wasn't right for that kind of story. Ten years later, the time was right. And of course, I never went back to that manuscript and tried to sell it, because now it would seem imitative of someone else's successful novel.


Adulterers and Disney Don’t Mix

My third ms, THE ADULTERER'S UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO DISNEYWORLD, was the book I thought would make it. It wasn't Editors were interested but didn't like the word ADULTERER'S and liked DISNEYWORLD even less. My fourth book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, is the one that actually sold. I still think ADULTERER'S GUIDE has potential. Maybe someday I'll just post it as an ebook.
Leslie Langtry

Writing About Vampires Before Vampires Were Cool

I wrote my first book in high school. It was about an orphaned human girl, whose vampire gang leader brother takes over her guardianship. The girl has to choose between the vampire who has been chosen to mate with her and the high school's basketball star. At the time, I was like, "Vampires in high school? Who wants to read about that?" Sigh. Maybe I should revisit that book...
Ernessa T. Carter

Where’s the Plot?

I wrote many, many beginnings of books. This was when I was dreaming of being a writer. I had great opening scenes, but then I didn't know what happened next. In short, I had no plot.

After many years of reading books I loved, mostly mysteries, I began to see how they were plotted--their structure. When I got serious and decided to make another attempt at writing a novel, I made sure I knew the whole story--beginning, middle, and end. Now I'm working on a thriller and I'm a superstitious. I don't want to talk about it, but it's completely different from anything I've ever written. I'm muddling my way through, trying to get a grip on this new structure. I sure hope this one doesn't turn into the book that got away!

Sara Rosett

No Writing is Ever Wasted

It's always so hard to accept that a book you've worked so hard on, with characters you've come to love, might never see the light of day. I have two such documents on my laptop . . . and here's what I've come to understand about both of them. First, no writing is wasted. Ever. It might get used in another MS, but even if it doesn't, every word I write makes me a better writer. Second, the story isn't necessarily dead, I just haven't figured out the right way to tell it. At some point, I'll either tell it right or realize it's better left untold.

Also, whether it's a complete MS or scenes that I love but I've taken out, I save them all in a folder on my laptop labeled "Crap I took out"--I can go back and revisit it anytime I want. Dumping it in the trash is too final for me. Not that I'm a hoarder or anything . . .

Judy Merrill Larsen

Cringe Worthy

When I was in law school, I started work on a novel. At the time, I'd never taken a writing class, never studied the craft of writing-- I just thought it would be fun to write a book.
And it was! I loved taking a break from law school and getting lost in these characters I'd created. I never finished that book-- things like the New York State bar exam and my job at a large Manhattan law firm kept getting in my way-- but when I finally decided to really give writing a chance, I dug it out. After taking a writing class and really getting to learn the basics of good writing, that book made me cringe! But I will always have a soft spot in my heart for those characters.
Brenda Janowitz

Bad Timing

It was the second book I wrote, Falling for Prince Charles, in 1997. It was a romantic comedy about an underachieving thirtysomething Jewish cleaning lady from Danbury, CT, who wins a million dollars in Lotto. She uses the money to fulfill her dream to see London where she meets and falls in love with Prince Charles. Through a series of misunderstandings, no one in the Royal Family realizes she's Jewish or that she's used to having her arm up to her elbow in the wrong kind of toilet water. By the time they do, Prince Charles is in love with her. Did you hear me say I wrote that book in 1997? I did, and sent it out on submission. In August of that year, arguably the most beloved woman of the last century, Princess Di, died.

In September I got a call from the vice president of one of the biggest publishers in the country. We all know that publishing tradition dictates that "no" comes in an envelope - or an email these days - while "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 no one would be able to. To this day, when I talk about that book, I still get people laughing, saying they would love to read it. Maybe it's time for me to self-publish it on Kindle?

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

My Own Personal MFA

The problem with "The One That Got Away" is the word ONE. I wrote two novels that my agent's never seen. They were my own personal MFA. I then wrote a screenplay, and read books about that craft, which allowed me to learn about plot and character. I'm still learning, and working on my third novel, which has its own little history of getting away from me. I've written hundreds of scenes and characters for a story I wasn't sure how to enter. I think I've finally found my way in, fingers crossed, and tell myself that the hundreds of pages already lost aren't so much wasted as simple a refresher course in the baffling and tantalizing art of fiction.
Sheila Curran

Hopes of Resuscitation

The books that got away: Actually, I have four and a half of them. But 2.5 I still hope to resuscitate one day! My first novel ever, a mystery about a lady golf pro, FINAL ROUND, did he job it needed todo--it sold the series both to my agent and to a publisher. And it served as background for the next five books. When I look back onthat, I'm actually relieved that it never saw the light of day--everything got better after that first attempt!

Roberta Isleib

The Sucessful Series That Got Away

There's a novel out that I won't name...but I very nearly wrote it. About three years back, my agent was approached to see if I wanted to write a new series. The idea presented was intriguing, and I really wanted to take a shot. I knew other writers were being propositioned, too, so I was driven to see if I could come up with fifty pages that thrilled them enough to pick me. It was a genre I'd never tackled before, and I just loved the opportunity to try. I must've written those fifty pages in a matter of days, and my agent submitted it...and they said, "Yes, we'd like you to do this!" But the contract terms hit some big snags, ones we could not un-snag and I finally said, "Let's walk away." When I saw the book was out (and heard about the very generous print run), I got a pang in my heart, thinking, "That could have been me."

But, you know, I've loved every book I've written in the meantime, and I couldn't imagine not doing any of them because each has taken me to a place closer to where I want to be. I truly believe all things happen for a reason, even if we don't know what that reason is at the time. And one of these days, I will read my "book that got away!" I have a feeling I'll see that I wasn't meant to write it, and I hope the writer who did kicks some a**!
Susan McBride

Girlfriend News:

Maria Geraci will be teaching a week long online workshop beginning Feb 28 over at Savvy Authors. The subject is deconstructing the elements of romantic comedy and how to use them to pump up your writing. Here's the link:

Congrats to Joell for winning Tales From a Yoga Studio. Email us at kgillespie (at) knology. net and I’ll send it to you.

And Now For Something Competely Different

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

By Hank Phillippi Ryan

So we’re talking about resolutions. I’m in the midst of writing a new novel. Almost, almost finished! And semi-frantically wondering what will happen. I think--I HAVE TO FINISH! And then I realize—it’ll be done when it’s done.

So I’ve “resolved”—maybe, “decided to allow,” is there a word for that?-- to discover the flow, and be there. And as sometimes happens, just when I needed it, I found this.

Does that happen to you too?

Maybe this is one of those times.

Learning the Characters (Yue Liang — The Moon) by Koeeoaddi

My hand,
stiff as horsehair
falters and balks.

"The moon," he tells me
and draws the lines.
Listen to me.

I grind the ink,
look into the wet black slab
but see no sky.
I worry my hand
across the page
the sun fastened tight
to obstinate dusk.

"Watch" he insists.
His lesson forms
in rock and light.
I retrace his strokes,
and he smiles —
my crude moon
climbs a crumpled sky.

But later
alone at my desk,
I sketch the spiny shadow
of the asparagus fern,
a cat on the sill
looking into the night

And the moon blooms
like an orchid
my astonished brush.


Agatha, Anthony and Macavity-winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan is the investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate. She’s won 26 EMMYs and dozens of other journalism honors.

Her debut PRIME TIME, won the Agatha Award, and was nominated for two RITAs. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers, with AIR TIME nominated for the Agatha and Anthony. (Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment.") DRIVE TIME's Library Journal starred review says “puts Ryan in a league with Lisa Scottoline.”

DRIVE TIME is now a nominee for the AGATHA AWARD for Best Mystery Novel of 2010!

Hank's short story “On the House” won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity nominee.

She’s on the board for New England Sisters in Crime and the national board of MWA.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Q and A with Rain Mitchell, author of Tales From a Yoga Studio

A sparkling new series introducing five unforgettable women who flock to yoga at turning points in their lives and find the gift of lasting friendship. Tales from the Yoga Studio is an insider's look at the current obsession with yoga, told with enough humor, wit, and warmth to charm and delight readers, whether or not they've ever done a Downward Dog.

Leave a comment and get a chance to WIN A COPY Of Tales From the Yoga Studio.

You're a debut author. What's your publication story? Your bio says you had a few false starts.

I’ve had a lot of false starts in my life, and not only in the area of writing and publication! I was brought up to have a love of books (my mother was an English teacher) and always wanted to write. I started a number of novels (what I thought/hoped would be novels) but never got past the first few pages. I finally got pretty deeply into one novel that was somewhat autobiographical, based on the miseries of dating and one bad relationship in particular. I showed the unfinished manuscript to an editor friend. Instead of commenting on it, she said: “You do a lot of yoga. Have you thought about setting a novel in that world?” At first, I felt totally humiliated—she wasn’t even mentioning the pages I’d sent her. But then I realized she was being polite. And I loved the idea of writing about yoga. So I started working on it immediately. Nothing I’ve written has ever come so easily or quickly, so I knew I was on the right track.

Tales From a Yoga Studio is a series. Did you plan that when you were writing it?

I know it sounds a little obnoxious to say this, but the truth is, I really, really loved all the characters in the book as I was writing it. Even the “bad guys.” (Okay, especially the bad guys.) I hated the idea of parting company with them at the end. Then, too, it seemed to me that there are so many changes taking place in the world of yoga so quickly that there would be more to write about in that area. I came up with the series idea before I finished the first book.

Did you face any particular challenges writing the novel?

There’s only one main character (Lee, the owner of the yoga studio) but there are four other women who are central to the story. I decided to dip in and out of each character’s point of view. The challenge for me was keeping the stories moving, trying to find a balance of perspectives, and also to make sure they all converge at the end. Every day when I sat down to write, I did so with a little bit of excitement—I wonder what’s going to happen today. That was a lot of fun.

What's the backstory of Tales From a Yoga Series.

I started doing yoga a while ago, and I’ve been doing it since. With a few interruptions, of course. I know it’s hard to imagine today, but even ten years ago, it was sometimes hard to find a yoga class. I would follow teachers around to different church basements and community centers where they were holding classes. And then, all of a sudden, it seems, there was an explosion. In most major cities in the US, you can pretty much walk down the street randomly and find a bunch of yoga studios. And then there are the clothing stores and the websites and the vacations and all of that. It seemed to me this was fertile ground for drama. And comedy! I love doing yoga, but I can really see all the excess and the silly part of it, too, and in the book, I tried to include enough satire to make it fun, but ultimately show the benefits.

Do you still practice yoga? What are some of the benefits you get out of it?

Funny you should ask. I got some weird foot injury a while back from walking around in a pair of boots I really had no right to be wearing. Tomorrow marks three weeks that I haven’t practiced because of the injury. At first I was cranky, and then I got lazy, and then I started to realize how much more free time I had. (I try to practice at least five or six times a week.) Now I just miss it a whole lot and am planning to start up again in two days. Honestly, I started just for the fitness aspect, but the other benefits sneak up on you. I used to roll my eyes when teachers would start talking about “intentions” and “the universe” and other new agey or spiritual concepts. But little by little, it started to sink in. I am much more patient than I used to be. I don’t get so angry in traffic. I was in Washington a couple weeks ago and got a call at 4am from US Air saying my flight had been cancelled. This was exactly the kind of thing that would have thrown me into a spiral of anxiety and annoyance and…you name it. I really did take a deep breath and just thought “minor problem, deal with it.” That’s yoga, for sure. Every once in a while, I find myself spouting out some yoga chat philosophy to friends, but I’m pretty good at reeling myself in.

Rain Mitchell, author of Tales From the Yoga Studio, began practicing yoga as a teenager and is currently at work on the second novel in the series. Rain's favorite pose is corpse.
Winner of book will be announced on Saturday's post

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ma'am, Step Away From Your Comfort Zone by Melissa Clark

My New Year's Resolution had nothing to do with writing. In fact, it had to do with everything BUT writing. I've identified with being a writer for so long now that I think it's actually getting in my way. What if I'm an amazing golfer and I just never had the chance to explore that? Or, say, have a knack for Swahili but just never knew? I spend so much time alone writing that I fear I'm missing out on other extracurricular activities life has to offer.

With that in mind, I signed up for a stone sculpture class at the art college where I teach. I've been there for four years and only recently realized they offer free classes to their faculty. Stone sculpture isn't completely out of my comfort zone. It is still creating something from nothing, but in this case 'nothing' is a giant slab of stone and 'creating something' requires a hammer, various tools and lots of dexterity. For my stone I chose I simple, small, pinkish one. I immediately envisioned a foot - perhaps to be used as a door stop.

Unlike writing, carving stone requires much physical exertion as you chip away, layer after layer. You can identify how solid or hollow a stone is by the 'ping' sound the tool makes. The whole experience is loud, but very musical. You're not working out plot points, thinking about dialogue or any of that business; you're simply following the lead of a piece of alabaster. Similar to writing, however, when you're in a groove, time flies. Last week I was shocked when I heard the three hour class was over, thinking I'd been hammering away for maybe an hour at most.

Who knows what I'll try after this class ends in April. Perhaps I'll take up sailing or spend time in a community garden.

Like many, though, I must admit that I've slipped a little in my resolution. Two weeks ago I started writing novel #4, but it's not really my fault. See, the characters were starting to slowly circle me, appearing in dreams and speaking over me while I was trying to teach my literature class. What was I supposed to do? Ignore them?

Melissa Clark is the creator of Braceface, the animated television show on ABC Family (2000-05), the author of "Swimming Upstream, Slowly" and an instructor at Otis College of Art and Design. Novels #2 and #3 are looking for a home. You can follow her at connections clark.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Good the Bad and, yes, the Ugly

First of all, I want to thank you for the privilege of joining your group and for your warm welcome. I look forward to getting to know you all. But remember, I'm a rookie at this blogging stuff, so cut me a little slack, will ya?
Of the suggested topics Karin sent out, looking at the good and bad of the last year jumped out at me because, if I amended the year to six months, it would give me the opportunity to look back at the first six months of publication of my debut novel, Mothers and Other Liars. So here we go with the good, bad and probably some ugly:

The best GOOD is a no-brainer: having my book selected by Target Stores as a "Breakout Book".

The worst BAD is easy, too: breaking my foot 10 days after the novel was published and trying to do promotions while clomping around in a heavy black boot (there's your UGLY!) At least it was a conversation starter, especially when I told old ladies that I broke it while pole dancing. And I did get priority boarding on airlines -- if you've flown Southwest you know how valuable that is!
The ugly boot

Between the "Breakout" and the "break", though, things get a bit murky.

My soul has been warmed by readers who have taken the time to write to tell me that my characters are real to them, taht my story sticks with them, and by meeting with Book Clubs who are so enthusiaistic about my work and engage in
lively (especially when wine is involved) debate about Ruby's choices.
This is GOOD. Yet, I am a very private person, and sometimes that enthusiasm pushes a bit uncomfortably far into my zone of personal space (BAD).

I have been dumbstruck (literally) when someone points out some wonderful inference or symbolism that I haven't seen in my own work (BAD -- or is it GOOD?)

I have reconnected with long-lost friends (GOOD).
I have reconnected with long-lost "friends" (BAD).

I was surprised by how much the validation of being published actually meant to me. I had always said that for me it was just about the writing. And then there I was basking in my own Sally-Fields-at-the-Oscars moment! (GOOD) But I found that with that validation comes a whole heaping pile of expectation. People ask you for advice, for help, for connections. And the expect answers. Overnight I have transformed from just another "would-be" wafting a cloud of eagerness or desperation, to The World's Greatest Expert on Writing, Publication, Marketing and Everything Else Word-related (Not so GOOD, given I know few of those answers).

St. Martin's exercised its option for my second book just days before release of MAOL (Very GOOD), but this has meant that I have had the challenge of being a novice marketing my debut novel while working on the second novel. I have failed miserably at this challenge. The pressure of marketing has pushed the new novel right out of my feeble brain. Oh, and did I mention that I have a deadline of April, THIS April, for the WIP (Very BAD).

So, how does this all look when I lay it all out like a kid counting nickles?
It looks like I'm not sure about anything.

But I have found a few nuggets to try to follow next time around:

Do what sounds fun, interesting or informative for me, and forget the rest.

Don't let the fragile voices of the characters in my WIP get lost in the cacophony of advice (to tweet or blog or follow Goodreads or do signings or book clubs or organize events or or or) about marketing my published book.

And don't break any appendages.

Literary agent Simon Lipsker says, "[T]he most powerful and valuable thing an author can do to help his or her career: write the best possible books." And that can only by GOOD.
--amy bourret

So what do you think?

What has been Good or Bad for you?
What is the one marketing chore (apart from the good writing) that you think is most valuable for a writer?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Go for the fear

by Maria Geraci

This January I made a writing resolution, or a quest (as I like to call it in my more Quixotic moments) to have a completed manuscript to send to my agent by the end of June. I made a chart outlining how many words I'd produce in a week, the date I'd have my first rough draft, the date I'd finish the second draft, etc...

The lovely thing about this resolution is that it is self-imposed.

Which is also the scary thing about it.

Because for the first time since I've sold, I'm writing a story without a contract and there's that little voice niggling at me from behind my shoulder saying "this could all be a big waste of time."

Or not

This all started when I met with my agent in January to discuss my career goals. Back in October, I'd sent her a rough synopsis for a story I wanted to write and she said "Go for it!"

So I did.

But as these things happen, the story I started writing didn't fit the synopsis I'd pre-engineered.
A square peg does not go in a round hole.

I told her how the story wasn't the same anymore, and how for the first time I was writing in first person present tense, that there were elements in the story that were out of my comfort zone, etc. And for a second time she said, "Go for it!"

So I did.

And let me tell you, those areas that are out of my comfort zone are starting to get painful. And scary. Not in a horror kind of way but in a "Oh my God, can I write this and will it be "true" kind of way?" Because there is nothing worse than writing fiction and coming across as unauthentic.

Having worked for years as a labor and delivery nurse (my "day" job) I know that the one position a laboring woman finds most uncomfortable is often the one that produces the most progress. I was thinking about this the other day and relating it to my own labors as a writer.

Can I write characters who have experienced things that I haven't?

Can I draw from my own experiences and emotions and inject them into those unfamiliar situations to make them resonate with my readers?

God, I hope so. Because the characters in my wip are taking me places I've never been before, but I know that if I don't go there I'll let my characters down and my story will crumble.

I remember hearing Michael Hauge (if you ever get a chance to attend one of his seminars, I highly recommend it) talk about character arc and say "go for the fear." You have to take your characters to the places they fear the most. It's the only way they'll change. Same goes for me as a writer. If I don't take my writing to the places that make me squirm, my writing won't grow either.

If you write your book for yourself, instead of with a readership in mind, then the book will be true. And if the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.”
Wally Lamb

Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. Her newest release, THE BOYFRIEND OF THE MONTH CLUB is available in bookstores everywhere.

"Romance readers will revel in the Austen-perfect happy ending and the warm friendship among members of the club." —Publishers Weekly

To learn more, please go to her website at

Friday, February 18, 2011

Girlfriends Talk About Their Most Memorable Book Signings

The good, the bad, the lonely. Girlfriends give the lowdown on author book signings
More Than Just a Signing

I love planning different and fun things for kick-off book signings. Last year, I worked with the great folks at my local Borders (not closing, thank God!) and the wonderful ladies at our chapter of Komen for the Cure to do a fundraiser at my event. I wanted to do a talk and signing but have fabulous baskets to raffle with lots of goodies and signed books by authors that would draw people into the store. So I did a lot of emailing to friends, saying, "Could you please send signed books for this?" I got wonderful things from everyone, including generous peeps like Marilyn Brant, my Stiletto Gang buddies, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and on and on. I believe I ended up making a dozen baskets that looked amazing. It was a very, very cold night in February, but at least 50-60 people showed up and bid on the baskets and bought books. The Komen folks sold the raffle tickets so I didn't have to handle money (good thing, since I can't even balance my check book), and the Borders folks had coffee and yummy things to eat. All in all, just a fabulous time, and I feel like it was more than "just a book signing." Now I want to do something like that with every launch!

--Susan McBride

Out of the Mouth of Babes
My favorite book signing story went like this. I was walking around a Borders in Vermont the day before my scheduled signing bewildered by the fact that the store didn't seem to have my book anywhere! It felt conspicuous to ask so I meandered and searched for quite awhile with my two children, then one and three, toddling at my ankles. Finally, frustrated and confused, I gave up and headed for the exit. At that moment, my son said, "Look, Mama! They have the same baby we have at home!" I turned to see what he was pointing at and there indeed was "the same baby," otherwise known as the baby on the cover of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME. And not just one of these babies but a whole Danielle Steele worthy cardboard, six-foot high container of babies/books. I was pleased to see such a huge vote of confidence in my upcoming signing, but if I couldn't find the book, how would anyone else! They would need a toddler by their side...
Samantha Wilde
Cupcakes Anyone?

For booksignings, I always really loved the authors who would take a minute or two to really try to connect with each person who stopped by -- whether they bought a book or not. I'm, personally, not a fan of the hard sell (at all!), so I refuse to push books on anyone, but I'm happy to chitchat with passersby. And I think it's always wise to have some freebie material onhand that you can give out to potential readers. Like bookmarks or postcards -- something with your book covers and blurbs on it that they can look at on the spot and/or take away with them. And sweets (cookies! chocolate!) on your signing table are never a bad idea either, if only as a conversation starter. ("Who wants a mini-cupcake, hmm?")
Marilyn Brant

Feeling Like a Rock Star

I love signings. I love meeting people who have read my book that are not related to me. It gives a face and a smile to the readers I am imagining as I bang on this keyboard. I am not a person who likes public speaking, but when I have a reading, I never feel shy or self-aware. It's usually easy and fun. At the risk of sounding too new age-y, I like readings because it's the chance for the characters whose voices have been cluttering up my brain for months or years to finally get to come through me and speak for themselves. Plus, it's the closest I'll ever get to feeling like a rock star. I always get myself a new "signing shirt" and sometimes if I feel especially indulgent, I get my hair blown out. And afterwards there is usually alcohol and cheese.
Ariella Papa
An Endangered Species
There are different kinds of book signings. There are the ones where you go into the bookstore and sign copies of your books that they have in stock. Then there is the author event where you sign books at a table and sometimes give a reading beforehand. My very first stock signing was in the fall of 2007 at Stacey’s Books, a major independent store in downtown San Francisco where they featured my debut novel, Midori by Moonlight, in a lovely display. I was thrilled and signed each book with the Cross pen my husband had given me to celebrate my first published novel. A couple of hours later I was at my first author event at the huge Borders store in Union Square where I read from my novel, answered questions and signed copies—another major thrill I’ll never forget. Stacey’s closed a few years ago, a victim of Amazon and the big box stores. Borders has just filed for bankruptcy and the Union Square store (one of the largest in California) is on the closure list. Things are changing in the publishing world and more and more people are purchasing their books through Kindles and iPads. Book signings are an endangered species and are set to become extinct—a quaint memory from the past, much like the album signings by your favorite rock star at Tower Records.
Almost Famous
People have always told me that I should have been a stand-up comic but I much prefer sitting down so book signings are great. I adore speaking to readers about their love of discovering new writers and I know how much personal inscriptions mean to me when a favorite author signs my book. That's why I always, always write a meaningful message- no matter how long the line. Anyone who buys my book and waits for an autograph deserves a special token of my appreciation. They may not be able to read my scribbles, but they'll always remember that I took the time to say something nice.One time I saw a young girl waiting in line with her mom and she was clutching a copy of my new novel. Maybe she was 9 or 10 and the closer she got, the more nervous she appeared. Of course I wanted to make her feel comfortable when it was her turn so I asked her what grade she was in and what she liked to read and did she enjoy writing and she cut me off mid-sentence. "Are you famous?" she asked. "Not yet," I replied. "Okay never mind." She grabbed the book back. "Mom can we go now?"So much for life in the trenches. Couldn't even impress a kid, but hey. Maybe one day I will be famous and she'll show up for an autograph again. But this time I'm going to charge her, lol.- Saralee Rosenberg--
Saralee Rosenberg
So far, with a January release, I’ve been to five book signings—definitely baptism by fire. My experiences run the gamut, from a pump-up-the-ego crowd in Mansfield, MA, to an Atlanta Borders that echoed. First lesson learned, unless you’re somebody, never agree to a weeknight signing. Let’s just say, by the time I left, I knew the manager’s birthday and the four subjects he majored in before settling on interpersonal relations. (BTW, Happy B’day Dave on March 3rd!) Secondly, nothing beats a sure thing signing. A large real estate firm, near Boston, recently threw themselves a red carpet, open house, launch party. They purchased BEAUTIFUL DISASTER in vast quantities and gave the books away as gifts to their guests. All I had to do was show up, drink their wine, and sign! Not surprisingly, I highly recommend this format for book signings ;-)

Laura Spinella
Weird First Signing
My first signing was at the huge Literacy Signing at RWA. My book wasn't scheduled to come out yet but the publisher sent some anyway. I was so excited! My very first signing.The first person who came up to me looked at my book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, and asked me what my hero type was. I was flustered and had no idea what to say. They have types? I thought. So I said, "well, um, he's a bodyguard." She looked at me and said, "Oh. A warrior. I'm looking for something else," and she walked away. Weirdest signing ever.
Leslie Langtry

I See Real People

I love book signings. Absolutely love them. I spend the majority of my writing time alone in a room with made-up people who seem very real to me. (Some would label this behavior as psychotic, but I just call it a job.) In fact my characters often become so real that I fall in love with them, I grow angry with them, I talk out loud to them. These characters become a piece of my life. So when my books finally come out and I get to introduce my pretend friends to my real readers...well there really isn't anything much more wonderful than that!

Maggie Marr
James Frey Fracas
For booksigings, I once wrote an article for The Baltimore Sun about funny things that happen to big-name authors at booksignings. The best interview was with Jodi Picoult, who told me about the time she was asked at an event why she didn't write nonfiction. She replied that getting all the details right was so tricky - and she brought up the case of James Frey and how Oprah went after him when he fabricated parts of his book. At the end of the event, the librarian brought by a couple to meet Jodi. They were James Frey's parents!

Sarah Pekkanen

Pulling Out the Stops
Book signings are either the best of times or they're the worst of times. I've had some great signings with friends, family, and strangers turning out to buy my book. Then there's the flip side: standing at the entrance to the bookstore, handing out bookmarks and smiling inanely at everyone who walks in--essentially doing cold sales, which is very hard for an introvert! When my first books came out, I did tons of signings and worked for hours to promote them with press releases, posters, and post cards. Lately, I've been doing more group signings, which are so much more fun for someone like me who would rather not be the only focus of attention. Since my books have a military spouse as a protagonist, I've done quite a few signings at military base exchanges, small department stores located on military bases. The exchanges pull out all the stops to promote the signings. At Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, I walked inside and saw a five-foot-high banner suspended from the ceiling with my book cover positioned over a round display table with about two hundred of my books. I nearly had a heart attack because that is not the treatment I usually get from my local chain bookstore! I certainly didn't sell out of my books at that signing, but it was sure memorable.

Sara Rosett

Visible Yet Invisible
A writer friend of mine once said that having a book signing is like going to the bathroom in public. The funny thing is, however true that is, it's even worse if no one shows up to witness the event. There you are, in a big Borders, parked at a table signing your books, feeling so invisible and yet so visible. Strangers pass by avoiding eye contact, and who could blame them? They might get roped into having to talk to this person they've never seen about a book they might or might not have heard of. Perhaps a sign saying, "I won't bite or talk to you about past lives or multi-level marketing" would help, but the only thing that really works is to have three or four people come over at once, to stand up and start talking to them and then you're popular. If you want to make friends with a writer, go to her book signing; you'll never find someone so eager to make your acquaintance.
Mall Signings: Seventh Circle of Hell

Mall bookstore signings - the kind where it's just you and a table and a pile of books - can be the seventh circle of hell. Conventional wisdom is to set out a bowl of wrapped candies, then try to snag a would-be buyer's attention as they pluck out a sweet. Mystery writer Meg Chittendon once told me about a time an old woman came up to her table, pointed at the candies, and asked if they were free.

When Meg said yes, the old woman opened up her purse, poured in the contents of the candy bowl, and then walked away.

April Henry

Puzzling Personalization
I love book signings--they're fun, they make me feel like a real grown-up writer, and you can actually see your books selling. A perfect trifecta. I always ask how the person wants the book signed (and to whom) and I try to personalize it. Anyway, one day, a woman came up buying the book for a friend. She'd been all chatty during my little talk. So, I asked how she'd like me to sign it and she thought for a minute and smiled and said, "Because we all like little boys." I smiled back at her thinking, there's no possible way I'm writing that and signing it. I nodded and wrote, "From one mom of sons to another." I just really hope she had sons.

Judy Larsen
I've had two one-person-in-the-audience book signings in my career, the second of which came at a B&N in Danbury. I’d simply done far too many area performances at that point for my debut novel, The Thin Pink Line, plus it was pretty much well the most gorgeous fall day of the year. The World Series may have even been on. This meant the only person there was a nine-year-old girl with a notebook. She told me she wanted to be a writer too, but we both agreed that her mother probably wouldn’t approve of her reading my novel just yet - you know, my dark comedy about a sociopathic Londoner who fakes an entire pregnancy - so instead she had me autograph her journal. Then she proceeded to pump me with questions on the biz. It fast became clear that she was positive she’d outshine me as a writer one day, just as soon as she got discovered. If she’d been sitting behind that desk, there’d have been a lot more people there than just one girl with a notebook! Still, despite the withering looks she gave me, I felt it was time well spent, since I always count it time well spent when I help out other writers, even if the only help I’m providing is in giving them cause to tell themselves, “Hey, if she can do it…”
Bodily Functions
Once I spoke at Cocoa Florida library and the crowd was sparse and composed primarily of elderly retirees. The librarian apologized for the small turnout. A retiree who was listening in said, “You should have been here last week. There was an author who had a long line out the door.”“Who was the author?” I asked wearily.“I don’t remember,” said the retiree. “I just remember the name of his book. It was called Overcoming Incontinence.”So yes, I was upstaged by incontinence.
Karen Neches
Worst Vs Best
The leading candidate for my worst signing would be one my publisher had set up at a Borders near the town where my novel, HEART ON THE LINE, was set; it was thought that the local angle would attract hordes of fans. I drove 230 miles to get there, and entered the emptiest Borders I've ever seen. Even the events manager who'd scheduled the signing wasn't there. The clerk behind the counter seemed bewildered, but he located two huge cartons of my book and led me to the enclosed booksigning area at the back of the store, where he left me. The only person who ventured into the signing area during the entire evening was a chatty janitor who wound up telling me about the novel he hoped to write someday while I signed stock and stuck "Autographed Copy" stickers on the books.My best signing took place on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. I'd visited Block Island on a family vacation and knew at once that I wanted to write a book set there. Exploring the small island, I ventured into the Block Island Pharmacy, which also served as the island's book store. I got to chatting with the pharmacist and told her I was planning to write a book set on the island. She scoffed, insisting that everyone who visited Block Island declared they would write a book set there. I swore I would really do it, and she said, "I'll make you a deal. If you write a book set here and it gets published, I'll host a book signing for you."
I promptly went home and wrote SAFE HARBOR (one of my all-time favorite books, which went on to become a RITA Award finalist and which I've recently reissued as an ebook, available at Kindle, Nook and Smashwords.) I contacted the pharmacist and, true to her word, she set up a booksigning. The pharmacy was owned by a couple who also owned an inn. They insisted that my family and I spend the weekend on Block Island as their guests. The pharmacist ordered 200 copies of my book, which seemed awfully optimistic, given that the island's year-round population at that time was only about 500 people. But we sold out! Because the book mentioned actual shops, restaurants, streets and beaches, the locals bought multiple copies to send to their friends and relatives on the mainland. Vacationers snapped up copies, too. I sat on the pharmacy's rustic porch signing books, and at times the line of people eager to buy the book extended down the steps and halfway up the street. By the end, I was signing bookmarks for disappointed customers, and the pharmacist was promising to order more books for them. My visit to the island was a front-page story in the Block Island weekly newspaper, and my sons got to see their mother as a star--or at least as a big fish in a small pond.So, yeah--good times, bad times. That's what book signings are.

Judith Arnold

Girlfriend News
Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a Beat launches this week on Tuesday, 2/22....
Wendy Tokanuga os teaching a class called So Not Chick Lit: Writing Novels About Women's Lives for Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio. Registration starts Feb 22 and it's open to anyone since it's online. More info is here:
The winner of yesterday's giveaway was Aurora M!