Thursday, June 30, 2011

Utterly Distractable

Even as I write this--a small piece of writing unrelated to my novels--my daughter stands beside me explaining patiently that, "I stepped on Ellias' starfish and he hit me. Is that the baby crying? Can I go get him?" before she breaks into song about something "rubbery-with-bumps." (By the way, that's my baby in the laundry basket.)

So, "writing season" a la Allende, NO WAY! I'm fortunate to find a writing minute in which to gather my disparate thoughts and try to build something.

Being a full-time stay-at-home mother and a novelist, while seemingly compatible from the outside--after all, you do both things at home, and as we all know, writing can be squeezed into you spare time, has no overhead, and can be done while half-asleep and nursing--from the inside it demands some creative scheduling. I feel blessed to straddle both world, as well as confused by the mental gymnastics that are required in order to do both things well.

In truth, as far as my process goes, I rarely am able to write for any uninterrupted period of time, even when I have a babysitter in the house (which I do right now). I've been gladly and happily nursing one of my three babies for the past five years pretty much non-stop, so that even during the writing of my first novel when my house was quiet and I didn't have to pay my babysitter three times what I make in order to watch a whole gaggle of children, I stopped to nurse my son. Even now, sometimes, I stop writing to go watch my children playing. They always play so perfectly when I'm not around!

I would not recommend the distracted method of writing. On the other hand, as I've said to other writers aspiring to publish and produce, don't wait until you have time to write. If you want to write, do it now, however you can do it, in whatever way. I believe in this advice for all activities, and I cringe to hear friends say things like, "I'll do that when I've paid off the mortgage," or "I'll start that when I have enough money."

Yes, I am a carpe diem writer. Being distracted, being pulled by my children's needs probably makes me a lesser writer. In fact, I'm sure I could come up with a hundred more active verbs than "was" if I didn't have little hands pawing at me. But I want them and love them and wouldn't have it any other. If I had a zillion dollars, I wouldn't hire a nanny and spend all day writing the great American novel. There's a great saying in the world of religion and spirituality (of which I am also a part as an ordained minister), that the best sermons are not preached but lived. The same could (maybe) be said of novel writing. Our best stories aren't written but lived day to day. Our lives are much better books than our books. Or so it is for me, anyhow, and so I want it to be.

And so I encourage the distracted among us to write anyway, and any way you can, for its own sake, and to see what might happen. Some writers write to live. Some writers live to write. And some of us write while we live and live while we write and that may mean a little pureed sweet potato gets a free trip to Random House on the cover of a manuscript and that's okay. I'm a work in progress myself.

Samantha Wilde is the mother of three, 4, 3 and nine months, the author of This Little Mommy Stayed Home, a graduate of Smith College, Yale Divinity School, and The New Seminary, a certified Kripalu yoga teacher, an ordained Interfaith Minister, and the Director of Mission at Spring Street Preschool in Amherst, MA. You can visit her website at

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Free Advice

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I'm going to veer from the current monthly topic of Process here at GBC to talk about something else that's been on my mind tonight.

On a writing forum I participate in, a relatively new member posted today about some of the writing/publishing advice she'd been receiving from nonwriting friends. The writer was upset because she felt the advice was misinformed and misguided. "Why don't you just self-publish your manuscript as an ebook?" people kept telling her. "That's where all the money is these days!" I'm not going to weigh in on that, on the self-published ebook v traditional publishing debate - at least not in this post! - but I will weigh in about the advisability of getting upset about stuff like this.

Cliff Notes version of my advice? Don't do it!

Longer version: There are so many things a writer can and sometimes should get upset about, it's wise to eliminate as many as possible and this is one of them. Having people in your life who are interested enough in what you do to offer advice - even if that advice is misguided! - is a grace. So many writers, over the years, have told me that their significant others, children or friends are dismissive of what they do. For some reason, I've never had that problem. From the beginning, even total strangers grew interested once they found out that I'm a writer. One time, I was on the table having a procedure to determine if I had breast cancer when the doctor, having been told what I do for a living by the nurse, began pumping me for information. I was sorely tempted to say, "Thank you for your interest, but can we wait to have this conversation until after you've removed that hollow tube thingy from the side of my breast???" For the record, I didn't have cancer.

And back to my topic.

For most things in life, there's more than one right answer. But when anyone offers you writing advice, the only right response is gratitude. It's not rage. It's not the stance of being offended. It's not hurt. It's not defensiveness. It is gratitude. Even if you think what you're being told is the most riduculous thing you've ever heard, even if the person offering the advice is the biggest asshat you've ever met, the only thing you need to say is, "Thank you. You've given me something to think about."

For those of you reading this who are in earlier stages of your writing life than my GBC sisters, internalizing this now will serve you well when you later are a published author and you receive a revision letter from your editor.

Believe me, when I first started writing seriously 17 years ago, I wanted what all writers want in the beginning: I wanted people to love my writing unreservedly. But over time, I learned that my best readers are not those who feel that way; my best readers are those who can say, "I love what you're doing here but this is what I think you can do to make it even better." Those kinds of readers are, again, a grace. And you don't get those kinds of readers if you're constantly being defensive and arguing with people who try to help you. I'm not saying you should heed every bit of advice you ever receive - far from it! You need to learn how to turn on your own inner editor so you can filter the useful advice from its opposite. But I am saying that writers need to learn how to take advice so that people will keep offering it. The truth is, if someone asks me for advice and then they make the whole experience unpleasant, I soon learn to stop helping. The thing is, the person can think all they want to that I'm all wet, but what they should be saying is, "Thank you."

One last thing to think about: The person whose advice you spurn today could turn out to be the person who could help you tomorrow...if only you hadn't turned them off.

Thank you for listening. I hope I've given you something to think about because you give me something to think about every day.


Years ago, I participated in a symposium called “Women and Popular Culture” at Brown University. In the morning, I sat on a panel with two other novelists. In the afternoon, professors presented talks on the depiction of women in film, TV shows and music videos. One professor analyzed a rock music video, claiming it was a meditation on Christianity because of all its “cross” imagery: the singer’s crossed arms, a crucifix-shaped earring, the X-shaped intersection of two spotlight beams. The speaker went on and on about how the people who created the video were making a subliminal religious statement. When she said this, one of the novelists from my morning panel muttered, “Or else they were all high on cocaine when they were filming it and they said, ‘Hey, that looks cool!’”

I was reminded of that comment recently when a friend sent me a link to a writing coach’s dissection of Karen Stockett’s novel, The Help. The essay explained the book’s phenomenal popularity by breaking it into scenes and beats and showing how Stockett had constructed her novel with the plot’s first turning point occurring exactly one-fifth of the way into the story, and each chapter containing a specific and uniform number of scenes, and so on. I couldn’t get through the essay because I was laughing too hard. For all I know, the writing coach may have conceded later in the essay that The Help’s huge success had something to do with its being a beautifully written book about a group of smart, sympathetic women who change the world for the better. But he was obsessed with the precise, mechanical composition of the story.

Perhaps some authors create their novels the way these academicians seem to think we do: Graphing the turning points to make sure they’re exactly one-fifth, one-half, and three-fourths of the way through the story. Counting the beats. Inserting symbolic imagery at regular intervals.

But that’s not the way I write.

I’m a sculptor, not an engineer. For me, the process is intuitive. It’s possible that my stories have their turning points located exactly where a calculator says they should be, but if so, this happens purely by chance. I don’t write with a straight-edge and a compass. I write the way a sculptor creates a statue, kneading and molding, chiseling away this part and slapping some more clay on that part, then stepping back to assess what I’ve created and thinking, “Hmm, it needs something more here and something less there,” or “I like the way that part is shaped,” or, if I’m very lucky, “Hey, that looks cool!” (I should add that cocaine plays no part in this process. )

My next book, Good-Bye To All That, has five point-of-view characters. I start a new chapter each time I enter a different character’s point of view. When I was writing the manuscript, I never counted the chapters and tallied whose turn it was or how many pages I devoted to each. Instead, I thought, “I’ve spent enough time with Jill. Let’s see how Ruth is doing now,” and opened the next chapter in Ruth’s point of view. It was a thoroughly organic process. I switched chapters and viewpoints whenever it felt right.

When Good-Bye To All That comes out next March, some academician may post a meticulous analysis of the novel, explaining how masterfully I paced all those point-of-view changes, how cleverly I used Diet Coke as a symbol of Jill’s attempts to reinvent herself, how brilliantly I deployed Brooke’s and Melissa’s hair styles as a metaphor for the emotional turmoil in their lives. I’ll read this analysis and laugh myself giddy, thinking, no, I used Diet Coke because Jill just seemed like a Diet Coke kind of woman, and the hair thing fell into place because Melissa was dating a gorgeous salon employee and I needed Brooke to make Doug jealous, and anyway, hey, it looked cool!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Do You Go Off Process to Promote?

You know, I would really love to talk to you about my process. I think writers just adore process questions, because they're easy to answer and maybe they make your writing life seem much more romantic than it is. "Why yes, I have a process. I write for x amount of time every day" or "I put a single yellow rose on my desk, and then type pages every morning while sitting at a particular window with a gorgeous, specifically regional view" or "Like, Isabel Allende, I have a 'writing season' and I spend the rest of my year cooking for gorgeous meals for my large family and enjoying life" -- though seriously, does anyone but Isabel Allende have a writing season? Only she could pull off something like that.

So yes, I would just love to write a post about my process. The only thing is that as of this writing I'm totally off my process. That's because my paperback is dropping today, so I'm in promotion mode. I'm not working on the rewrites of second novel as I promised my agent I would. Instead, I'm blogging about all of my giveaways and tweeting about the e-book, and basically using my writing hours to sling paperbacks in as many ways as my introversion will allow.

This wouldn't be so disconcerting if I didn't actually have a strong writing process now. Back in the early days of novel writing, I was happy to abandon the 32 CANDLES manuscript for weeks, sometimes months at a time to write a new play or put together a short film festival or you know, just go to a really awesome party (read: free booze). But that was when I was a beginning novelist, undisciplined in every way.

Now that I've finally achieved all this hard-won discipline, it feels so weird to just stop everything and promote. Don't get me wrong I love promoting. It's great to use my brain for activities that involve people who actually do exist in the living world we know. But there's this vague-but-persistent guilt that attends every hour I spend promoting as opposed to writing. It feels like someone keeps tapping me on the shoulder while I'm trying to concentrate on something else. Seriously annoying.

I wonder how other writers handle this. Do you go off process to promote? Stop every thing to spread the word about your book? And if so, do you have ways of soothing the (really impatient) writing beast inside of you? I could really use the advice, so do let me know in the comments.

Oh, and if you're so inclined, you can pick up the paperback of 32 CANDLES at your local bookstore are right HERE.

This is My Kind of Roughing Jenny Gardiner

Summer's here and the camping is easy… Yeah, right.

You might have gleaned from previous pieces I've written that I'm no fan of camping. In fact if given the choice to camp or take a Calculus exam, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory decision. (You may have also gleaned from previous columns that my math skills came to a grinding halt in Mrs. Harcharik's fourth grade math class. Thank goodness she mercifully allowed me to write an essay about Albert Einstein in order to make up for my lackluster year-end grade. Didn't help me to ever learn to balance a checkbook, however. Nevertheless picking between the two would practically be a Sophie's Choice for me.)
Back when my husband and I were dating, he decided he wanted to make a believer out of me in the camping department. I'd grown up as a beach baby, vacationing with sun, surf and sand when I went on holiday. The idea of roughing it in a tent in the woods during vacation never arose in my childhood. Well, there was that time my Girl Scout troop was supposed to camp for a weekend, only to be thwarted by flooding from Hurricane Agnes. Instead we did a day-trip and were forbidden from using the latrines because poisonous snakes were floating around in them. Yep, camping didn't present much in the way of charms with that red flag.

But my husband came up with a snake-free plan that entailed us camping amidst the rugged coastal beauty of Acadia National Park in Maine--how could we go wrong? Well, we erroneously arrived a day early for our reservation. On Independence Day weekend. Nary a campsite to be found (a day earlier in Freeport we were told the only place to stay in all of coastal Maine due to holiday crowds would be a display tent at the LL Bean store. Seriously.).
Luckily the park ranger was able to come up with a lone campsite that had been abandoned by some early-departers. After setting up the borrowed ancient tent (I was warned not to touch the canvas as any place you'd touch would leak if it rained--good luck there), we cooked steaks over the grill, made s'mores, and basked in our happy camper experience, just a little smug we were able to nab a campsite so late despite our scheduling error. After once more admiring the breathtaking canvas of stars in the clear night sky, we zipped the tent closed for the night. I set my book down next to my pillow as I was falling asleep, then several hours later woke to it floating away from me. Turns out a storm had come in, and the aged tent leaked in approximately, oh, two million places. And our campsite was at the bottom of a flood plain.

We spent the night in our Honda Civic, and cleaned the muck out of our mildewing tent at dawn the next day. Memorable? Yes. Fun? Not so much.
A few other camping experiences (one after the release of the Blair Witch Project had me sleepless for fear of looming murderers) left me with a generally tepid reception toward the practice of camping. I did, however, love camping one time: when we were in Africa, some 25 years ago. Much of our trip involved roughing it--including a few nights in a spartan tent in which we came face-to-hairy-face with a hirsute spider the size of my hand skittering across my bed (which resulted in my enveloping myself from head to toe in a circa WWII army-issue stiflingly hot wool blanket/spider guard each night). But then we spent two glorious nights in a luxury tented safari in the Masai Mara with a mahogany four-poster bed, marble sink, the works. I was in heaven.
Now Africa was about the only place in which austere camping even remotely appealed to me. Cloaked beneath the barely-there canvas of a tent with the possibility of a pride of lions or a herd of elephants loping by seemed so cool. But snoozing away in dense Virginia woods with ticks and spiders and snakes of no real mystique threatening me? No thank you. I'll take my own cozy bed any day over that.

But then I heard about about glamping. A friend filled me in on the beauty of glamour camping, the pampered persons alternative to getting down and dirty to enjoy the great outdoors. It involves king-sized beds and maybe 600-thread count sheets and fluffy down comforters and someone else doing all the dirty work. And me not having to trudge in the dark amidst the things that are going bump in the night just to find a public toilet (one that always fails to have a seat, is usually prison-issue stainless steel and comes equipped with cobwebs). Glamping is my kinda camping: the country club variety. Not that I'm elitist, but when it comes to camping, I need the comforts of home. And then some.

I usually suck it up and camp once a year with my family, me in full martyr mode. Usually the general family consensus at the end of the weekend is that Mom should've stayed home. But this glamping thing, it seems like a happy medium, a meeting of the minds. Except for the price, which can't compare with the pack-it-all-from-home way, darn it. If only someone would come up with discount glamping, all the comforts, none of the expense, I'd be golden. And maybe even try to pretend I'm enjoying myself just a bit.
Until then, I think I'll aim for microwaving s'mores and kicking back with the TV remote, maybe even attempting to balance my checkbook. And just be very, very grateful I'll get to sleep in my own bed with a roof over my head.

Jenny Gardiner is the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver (coming back in ebook form this week!), as well as the novels Slim to None and Over the Falls and the humorous memoir Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me. She also has a story in Wade Rouse's upcoming humorous dog anthology I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship (NAL/Sept '11), a fundraiser for the Humane Society of the US and selected animal charities.

Feel free to visit me at my website
You can also find me on Facebook
And my Facebook fan page
And don't forget Twitter

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weekend Book Giveaway

Pitch Uncertain and Rules of Civility

Do you lap up Vanity Fair articles about simpler yet more moneyed and privileged times? Do you wish you were around for the café society? Are you a fan of Edith or Fitzgerald? Than these two selections might just be up your alley.

by Maisie Houghton

What’s It About?

In Maisie Houghton's luminous account of where she came from and who she became, the privileged worlds of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and coastal Maine are vividly evoked as background for the complex family she depicts with such compassionate insight and courageous candor. She has given us a small masterpiece of self-discovery and acceptance that will leave no reader untouched.”
--Walter Kaiser

First line:

“I was born in 1940, a bad time for the world, but I never did anything bad until the day I cut off my hair and left it on the floor for my mother to find, a bright, hot pool of yellow curls.”

My mother guided me toward the dining room. "We must finish lunch," she murmured, rousing herself. The table looked half-ravaged, like my hair, with crumpled napkins and tired lettuce on the plates. I started to weep at the enormity of what I had done. Fat tears fell on my grilled cheese sandwich. "Don't fuss, darling," consoled my mother distractedly. She wasn't even looking at me.There was an unspoken lesson in that afternoon. My mother should have been angry but instead she held her tongue. Was it at that point that I learned to guard the peace, to mind my manners, to keep my mouth shut?On my report card, the music teacher wrote "pitch uncertain."In school someone would grab me from behind on the playground: "whose side are you on? Lucy's?" -- the charismatic troublemaker, or "Kitten's?" -- the charismatic good-girl. It seemed easier -- and smarter -- to keep my mouth shut.One day I came home from school tense, weepy from trying to please everyone. My mother uncharacteristically drew herself up and exhorted me to "Stick by your guns, have the courage of your convictions." Most important of all, "Be yourself!""But how do I know who I am?" I wondered.Growing up, I swam like a fish in the clouded waters of family life.


What’s It About?
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

First Sentence:
It was the last night of 1937.
With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground.

The Buzz:
A starred PW review
Blurb by David Nicholls, author of “One Day”

If you'd like to win either of these books, leave a comment with your email and the book you want to win. Winner will be announced after 10 p.m. Sunday.
WINNER is Febe. Congrats.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Girlfriends Share Summer Reading Choices

I'm a big fan of deep beach reads. I save the light stuff for my day-to-day grind.

I read THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD by Lionel Shriver on my Hawaii honeymoon and just loved reading it by the pool:

Last year on our annual Hawaii vacation, I read FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen (, GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (, and WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor (

This summer, I'll be going to Hawaii again and traveling for the paperback release of 32 CANDLES, so I'm hoping to get a lot of reading done, including THE SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones: , KINKY GAZPACHO by our own Lori Tharps , and the second book in the GAME OF THRONES saga, THE CLASH OF KINGS by George R.R. Martin:

Ernessa Carter

I am really curious about Before I Go to Sleep by S.J Watson. This is the description that grabbed me:

Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he's obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis--all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben."

Karen Neches

At the top of my summer reading stack are several Girlfriends' books, of course, like Alison Pace's A PUG'S TALE (which I won from GoodReads and have already started!), EARTHLY CHARMS by Karen Neches (I've peeked inside the pages and it looks so cute! Cannot wait to read!), the galleys for PROOF OF HEAVEN by Mary Curran Hackett (sent to me by my editor, since she's Mary's editor, too--looks fab), and Judy Moticka's COLLECTING FEATHERS manuscript (which I intend to savor once life is a smidge less hectic!).

--Susan McBride

I'm all over the map with my summer reads this year . . . currently, I snagged an ARC of Ellen Baker's I GAVE MY HEART TO KNOW THIS, and even though I've just started it, I know I'm going to love it. I also have Ann Patchett's STATE OF WONDER waiting for me, and I'm really looking forward to that. A couple of my English teacher buddies and I are tackling WAR AND PEACE--and I'm reading it on my iPad which is a first for me. I'm eagerly awaiting Melanie Benjamin's MRS. TOM THUMB, too.

Judy Merill Larson

I'm currently reading The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman. A mystery about a literature professor who goes to Italy for the summer--can't beat that for summer reading!

Another favorite escape book: Austenland by Shannon Hale. A woman who is a tad bit too obsessed with William Darcy heads to England for a vacation at an Austen-inspired resort.

Sara Rosett

So much sun, so much fun! My 2011 Summer TBR pile (in no particular order.)

1. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey

3. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

4. Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski

5. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Maggie Marr

Oh, my most recent favorite book (in hardback still) is TOO MUCH PRETTY by Carah Hoffman

Michele Young- Stone

Right now I'm reading GONE WITH THE WIND which I somehow never got around to before. If I had known how magnificent it is, I would have made time sooner. Every writer should read this book. It's like taking a graduate course in constructing a novel. Later this summer I'll be reading a few books for professional reasons, as well as Sandra Novack's PRECIOUS, which I've been meaning to read for a good long while, and Gilbert Gottfried's RUBBER BALLS AND LIQUOR, because I need to laugh and he makes me fall right off my chair.

Ellen Meister

Some of my favorite summer reads are Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Flirting with Forty by Jane Porter, Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs, and Younger by Pamela Redmond Satran. Plus, anything written by my fellow Girlfriends!!

~Marilyn Brant

My favorite summer read - so far - is The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. Great story-telling and gripping romance against the backdrop of the nightmarish Viet Nam war. Loved every page!

Deborah Blumenthal

Summer books I've loved/am loving: Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer, Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany, Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto (think this comes out in August), and Wherever Grace Is Needed by Elizabeth Bass. Right now I'm reading Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan and peeking at Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand. Looking forward to the new Kristina Riggle: Things We Didn't Say. --

Melissa Senate

On my summer reading list (so far):

Money Can't Buy Love by Connie Briscoe
You Are Free by Danzy Senna
Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany
Black Girl @ The Gay Channel by Darlyne Baugh
The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton
Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker
Summer in the City by Candace Bushnell
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Exposure by Therese Fowler
An advance copy of My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due
An advance copy of Passing Lane by Jacqueline Luckett

And I blurbed If Sons Then Heirs, which just came out, by Lorene Cary and HIGHLY recommend it!

Carleen Brice

I just read a phenomenal book. It wasn't necessarily on my "planned" summer reading list. I ordered it for my son for his birthday, then stayed up three nights to read it before wrapping it to give to him. It's MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, by Ransom Riggs, and it is wonderful! I highly recommend buying the hardback version because it has old, Victorian photos that accompany the story. It was heartwarming, odd, and sad and I can't recommend it enough!

Leslie Langtry

Currently, I'm reading "The Island" by Elin Hilderbrand. I'd never read her before and find her writing style quite unique. After that I'll finish up the Hunger Games trilogy and read "Mockinjay." Then I have "Summer Rental" by Mary Kay Andrews and "The Daddy Catch" by Leigh Duncan to keep me busy. Should be a fun summer!

Maria Garcia

Girlfriend News:

Ernessa Carter’s 32 CANDLES paperback releases this coming Tuesday, June 28, 2011. Here's the Amazon link:

Catch the Wave with Six Beachy Reads

Summer means beach books, and I don’t mean just fluffy, entertaining reads, I mean books that are actually set at the beach, some even having the word beach in the title. (Hmm… wonder why mountain books for winter have never been a trend? Or how about fall foliage books?)

Seems like there are more of these sandy tomes every year because the beach is a healing place where characters go to heal their wounds. (Unless, of course, they get sunburn or jelly fish stings)

If you’re looking to ride the waves, here’s a few books to tuck into your tote this summer


Would it be summer without a low country release from Dorothea Benton Frank?

One-sentence summary: A woman returns to the past to find her future in this enchanting new tale of loss, acceptance, family, and love.

Setting: Folly Beach S.C. just outside of Charleston.


Not to be outdone by Dot Frank, the saucy Mary Kay Andrews blows into town with Summer Rental.

One-sentence summary: Five people who each need a sea change, and one month in a summer rental that might just give it to them.

Setting: North Carolina Outer Banks


Nancy Thayer continues her run of beachy books with Heat Wave. (Apt title for Thayer who also wrote the Hot Flash Club series)

One-sentence summary: Heat Wave tells the moving story of a woman who, after her seemingly perfect life unravels, must find the strength to live and love again.

Setting: Nantucket


This year Nantucket must be overrun with fictional characters because Elin Hilerbrand also sets her ripped-from-the headlines novel Silver Girl there.

One-sentence summary: Hilerbrand Meredith Martin Delinn just lost everything: her friends, her homes, her social standing - because her husband Freddy cheated rich investors out of billions of dollars.


Karen White (who already covered Folly Beach in a previous novel called On Folly Beach) has written Beach Trees.

One-sentence summary: Julie, the main character, begins a long and painful process of healing for leading her to a house on the Gulf Coast, ravaged by hurricane Katrina, and to stories of family that take her deep into the past.

Setting: Gulf Coast


A little father north is Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. You may remember this author from her last novel, Commencement.

One-sentence summary: By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other

Setting: It’s Maine, of course. Specifically Cape Neddick, ME.

Do you have a favorite beach book. (Literally beach?) Do you like to read books set at the beach? Any new beach books I missed you want to tell us about? Will the beach be a part of your vacation plans this year?

Join us tomorrow when girlfriends share their favorite summer reads.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking for a Plot

When my agent shopped my first novel around, she kindly reported back to me the initial rejections. (All before I landed a two-book deal with Bantam Books.) I still remember a few of the "thank you anyway" emails she forwarded on. One editor succinctly stated: "This is good writing looking for a plot."

I think about that phrase often, for while it seemed more insulting than not, I took it as a compliment. In addition, I have enough self-awareness as a writer to agree with this editor, at least in part.

As a writer, I love character. That's where I begin inside the mind of a person. I am less interested in the driving plot that makes for page-turner popular fiction, usually littered with death, scandal, sex, disaster and redemption, in one form or another. Now, don't get me wrong. I love to read well-plotted novels, writing them simply doesn't come naturally to me.

What happens to me, my starting point, usually evolves out of a glimpse into someone's life, perhaps a person walking down the road, or maybe spotting a house in the country and imagining the people who reside in it. I rarely spend time in the mall, but it is the sort of people watching that occurs in populated places like the mall that inspire my curiosity. I also love the idea that in fiction we can live out parts of our life we haven't chosen, create a new ending for some part of ourselves.

Plot comes later. I find my characters tell me about their lives, for better or worse. Writing about nothing much happening may not be a marketable skill, but it's interesting. I still remember reading a passage (I think by Sylvia Plath) where she described someone picking her nose in page long detail. Gross, of course, but also fascinating to see the ordinary, and for most of us, quite common occurence played out on the page.

I'm always in search of a plot that propels. In real life, the internal world seems so rich to me, and the tragedy/comedy of life often too far from Hollywood pace to be worth much on the commercial page. Still, it is good for me to try; it is where I need to grow as a writer. As it is, I usually only know the whole story when the book is done.

Any good advice from plotters on how to be "good writing accomplishing a good plot?"

Samantha Wilde is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME, the mother of three small children, a yoga teacher, and an ordained minister. Visit her at

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Best Writing Advice Ever!

by Susan McBride

A few years back while scoping out the bargain table at a local bookstore, I found LETTERS TO A FICTION WRITER (edited by Frederick Busch). It didn’t take long for me to realize what a gem it is. I’m not much on how-to books, but I love those that inspire me, and this one sure did. I wanted to share my favorite tidbits from some of the authors showcased in LETTERS. I have a feeling you’ll be nodding your head, smiling, and enjoying these wise words every bit as much as I did. So without further ado, here we go!

Lee Abbott: “Don’t write drunk…or stoned. Get a reader. Better yet, be a reader. Write fan letters. Show up for readings and the like. Fret not about fame and fortune. Take every opportunity to write well. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Pay your bills promptly. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Change your oil every three thousand miles.”

Richard Bausch: “Don’t compare yourself to anyone, and learn to keep from building expectations. People develop at different rates, with different results, and luck is also involved. Your only worry for yourself should be: did I work today? Be happy for the successes of your friends, because good fortune for one of us is good fortune for all of us…You will never write anything worth keeping if you allow yourself to give in to petty worries over whether you are treated as you think you deserve, or your rewards are commensurate to the work you’ve done. That will almost never be the case, and the artist who expects great rewards and complete understanding is a fool.”

Ann Beattie: “Find the time to write. Protect the time to write. Be inventive: get gorgons. Forget e-mail. Whatever it takes. Because you’ll still need more time than there is, and also it’s important to leave enough time to waste…hope for luck, wish to turn out to be photogenic, and pray that the mess that book publishing is in may eventually result in something good.”

Andres Dubus: “I learned from Hemingway to stop each day’s work in mid-sentence, while it is still going well, then to exercise the body and not to think about the story till you go to your desk the next day…then with pen in hand, I turn to the first page of the story and read all that I have written, and I revise, cutting, adding, changing words and punctuation. When I reach the unfinished sentence, I do not have to pause.”

Shelby Foote: “The dirty minds, the slow wits, the critics with their pick-brain tendencies: these people must be ignored in the creative process. Nothing but ruin can come of even considering them. A man must write for himself, and then he must accept the penalties, including the possibility of damnation. You’ve got to put it all on the line; anything less than all is hedging and your work is weakened at the wellspring, hopelessly flawed, shot through with rot. Not to mention the sapping of vitality; that’s what hurts.”

George Garrett: “Trust your original impulse. Trust the muse completely until she proves to be, beyond the shadow of a doubt, unfaithful. But after vision comes revision. That’s another thing, a bag of tricks and then some. You need to know, confidently, that during revision you can fix anything, change anything to suit yourself…the creative process is a little like taking a bath. Other people can help you do it, but they can’t do it for you…all of us would rather not have to revise anything at all. Just put it through the typewriter or into the computer, perfect and complete the first time, effortlessly. Pure inspiration. No sweat and strain and doubt. And that happens, probably will happen once or twice in your lifetime. And that will always seem to be the best time, the way it ought to be. But through the labor, sometimes hard labor, you will discover what every good writer does, that you can make a work seem to be the effortless result of pure inspiration.”

Joyce Carol Oates: “Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject…Don’t be discouraged. Don’t cast sidelong glances and compare yourself to others among your peers. Writing is not a race. No one really ‘wins.’ The satisfaction is in the effort and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any. Read widely and without apology. Read what you want to read, not what someone tells you you should read. Immerse yourself in a writer you love and read everything he or she has written, including the very earliest work. Especially the very earliest work…Write for your own time, if not for your own generation exclusively. You can’t write for ‘posterity’—it doesn’t exist…don’t expect to be treated justly by the world. Don’t even expect to be treated mercifully…Don’t be ashamed of being an idealist, of being romantic and ‘yearning.’”

Megan Staffel: “The mistake people make when they think about writing has to do with the assumption of ease. In other words, because you can write, you assume that you can write fiction. But writing fiction requires the same kind of struggles that doing anything requires…it will continue to be a struggle even after you’ve done a lot of fiction writing. It’s just the nature of the process.”

Hilma Wolitzer: “So this is what you’ve decided to do with your life. I’ll bet your parents aren’t exactly thrilled. When they were walking the floor with you during those long colicky nights, visions of a future neurosurgeon or international banker were probably what kept them going. But instead of supporting them grandly in their old age, you’re off to work in your pajamas every day, at no one’s behest, and without a guaranteed market for your product.”

I couldn't have said it better myself. ;-) Now I’m totally inspired to put on my hot pink Hello Kitty jammie pants, settle down at the keyboard, and get ‘er done. Happy writing, everyone!

Susan McBride is the author of the forthcoming Little Black Dress (William Morrow Paperbacks, August 23, 2011) about two sisters, one daughter, and a magical black dress that changes all their lives forever. She has also written The Cougar Club, a Target Bookmarked Breakout Title and one of MORE Magazine's "February (2010) Books We're Buzzing About." For more scoop, visit Just for fun, view the book trailer for Little Black Dress on YouTube.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Writer's Menu by Marilyn Brant

Where do writers get their story ideas?

I'd love to give some kind of witty response to that question -- and would, if only I could think of one. When asked at author talks about where I get the ideas for my books, I worry I'm supposed to grin and say brightly, "Why, at The Dollar Store, of course. They're cheap and easy to find there." And then, when the few polite chuckles die down, launch into some semi-serious and detailed ramble about how my mom and her sisters said something wise to me while making holiday pastries when I was an angsty adolescent and how the memory of that conversation lodged itself deep into my mind and flowered into an original plotline when combined with a handful of less-than-delightful dating experiences years later...

It may well have happened that way.

But, for me, the where of getting a story idea is an almost uncomfortable thing to discuss because...well, I rarely understand its appearance any more than the person asking me about it. Often, the ideas are just out there. I wander out into the world and they exist. Like stepping onto a patio in summer and being surrounded by sunshine, oxygen and the occasional swarm of mosquitoes. How could I explain the existence of story ideas any more than the presence of air molecules or insects? They're a familiar part of my world, ever present, undeniable, frequently mystifying.

But I think there's another question, lurking right behind it, that has proven marginally easier to analyze and, perhaps, something else aspiring writers and thoughtful readers might wonder about as well: How do writers manage these story ideas once they're here?

In my (admittedly, heavily food-obsessed) mental world, I think of the ideas as sitting in wait for me, like an infinite variety of ingredients listed inside the cookbooks next to my stove. The ingredients on their own don't usually make a meal, but when combined in appropriate amounts, they might result in a pretty good recipe.

My real-life cookbook collection contains recipes with an ethnic flavor, vegetarian meals, lite dishes, grilling guides, more dessert creations than one person should be allowed and scrap sheets of paper with special family favorites scribbled on them. All of these clamor for my attention at meal time, and I must choose between them. There are a gazillion possible combinations and, yet, before dinner (or before writing), I have to sift through them and pluck out a few that appeal to me because "that's what I'm in the mood for right now" or "that's what I know I can do reasonable well" or "that's one I'm absolutely fascinated by and just have to try for myself" or even sometimes "that's one that was highly recommended."

For me, selecting menus -- or novel plots -- are strikingly similar tasks. And before choosing either, I've always got my fingers crossed in hopes that it'll turn out.

But, in my experience, it's the next step that requires the trickiest manuevering. There are times, yes, when I'll fix a one-dish meal. A stew in the crockpot, for instance, or a casserole in the oven. But, most of the time, I'm not so focused. Most of the time, I have a few different things on the burners and one thing heating in the microwave and another that needs to be tossed together on the counter.

My story ideas are like that, too. A set of blog posts, essays and/or interviews that I can assemble, like a salad, in between other tasks. A short story I'm revising -- a brief but intense project. A couple of items on the stove top: the proposal I'm working on, for example, which requires constant attention and frequent stirring, along with this other idea, which sits on the back burner and mostly just simmers. I know what it needs most is rice that takes 30+ minutes to soak up the water. You don't want to mess with it too much until it's ready. Once it's ready, though, some fast action is required or you'll end up with a dish that's burnt on one side and mushy on the other.

I'm not an expert in the kitchen by any stretch of the imagination (the truth is that I love looking at the pictures in cookbooks more than doing the actual cooking, LOL), but the multitasking doesn't bother me. I'm well accustomed to this as a writer. And, as a reader, I'm much the same. I have four or five different books that I'm reading now. I'm in different places in each of them, and I switch back and forth often between titles, depending on how I feel and the time available to me.

What about all of you? If you're a writer, do you tend to only work on one project at a time, or do you juggle multiple stories/essays/articles frequently? What about reading -- do you read one book completely before picking up another, or do you have several books in progress at once? I'd love to know!

Marilyn Brant writes women's fiction for Kensington -- her third novel, A Summer in Europe, will be out at the end of November. She also writes light romantic comedies and recently released her first ebook romance, On Any Given Sundae (aka: a literary ode to one of her favorite foods!), about a shy dessert cookbook writer and the talkative ex-high-school football star she once had a crush on. Her website is:

Sunday, June 19, 2011


by Therese Fowler


“Where do you get your ideas?”

This question is one every writer I know has fielded countless times. My answer is often something like “from the Story Well,” “from the Story Fairy,” or “from the Story Cloud”--which of course hovers nearby full-time, and all I have to do is reach up and pluck out a new idea the way Harry Potter plucks memories from Dumbledore’s pensieve.


The truth is that there’s no actual answer to that question. Story ideas come from everywhere, and they come from nowhere. Sometimes I’m inundated with new ideas and have trouble prioritizing my interests; at other times I’m stumbling through the desert under a blazing sun, my hand shielding my eyes while I search and search for the smallest story seed, but to no avail. You get them when you don’t need or want them; you can’t find one when you need one…they’re fickle, that’s simply the way of it, and every writer has to embrace that truth or go find a more predictable occupation, such as mortuary technician.

I began writing fiction seriously ten years ago. To date I’ve completed eight novels. Three of those are published. A fourth—number eight—is under contract and scheduled to come out next year. I turned in the manuscript just before my newest book, Exposure, was released, then held my breath waiting for my agent’s and editor’s feedback. While I was on tour, the news came in: the story was “drafty,” yes, but its bones were good and they were confident it was all going to come together very well.

This is exactly what a writer needs to hear after spending long months (or sometimes years) with the story idea that captivated them enough to merit such a commitment. When tour ended, I was all set to review my editorial letter and then get to work again.

I read the editorial letter and, as I always do, began mulling my wonderfully astute editor’s various questions and observations. Each character arc was examined, the plot arc tested, the overall message considered. This manuscript had a lot going on, and so my editor asked what, in my view, did I think readers would take away from the story?

When I answered that question for myself, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Something that didn’t suit me at all. Something that, after two weeks of mulling things over, made me realize that I as a reader didn’t want to read that story—and therefore I didn’t want to have it published.

I hardly need to tell you that this is not an ideal situation.

I knew that before I told my editor I’d gone off the rails in this way, I needed to offer a solution to the problem. So I went to the story cloud and plucked from it a brand new story premise. Remarkably, that premise contained almost all the same characters as my completed draft, but in a situation that was so elegant in its simplicity and so interesting that I could see the story in its entirety. I was confident (or as confident as an experienced writer ever is) that the writing would feel more like taking dictation than the pushing of boulders uphill that it sometimes is.

Do I make it sound like finding that solution was easy? It felt easy—once I’d obsessed about it for almost three weeks, tortured myself with scenarios of never having another novel published, of being thought difficult and unreliable. It felt easy once I overcame my certainty that real pros would never write the wrong story in the first place. It felt easy once I remembered that the only person I ever truly have to satisfy is myself.

Will this new idea turn out to be the right one? That test is still ahead of me. The challenge is a rigorous one. But it’s the kind of challenge I’ve succeeded with before, so as I set out, I’m both confident and terrified—which should play well on the page, since that’s the state my characters find themselves in as well.

One thing I know for certain is that even if this story doesn’t end up working the way I want it to, doesn’t get published, never reaches readers, I can go back to the story well/fairies/cloud, and if I’m patient, be rewarded with a new idea, another chance to get it right.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Weekend Book Giveaway: Wanna Get Lucky? and Lucky Stiff

Sex and the City meets Elmore Leonard in Vegas? Isn’t that a summer book you might want to read? Especially since author Deborah Coonts seems like a fun person to hook up with over a glass of Pinot Noir.

Here’s some fun facts about Deborah:

She was raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer.

She thinks Diet Coke is a life-sustaining beverage.

The reason she moved to Vegas… wait for it… her 15-year-old son wanted to live there, which of course makes her the coolest mom EVER!

One of her favorite books is The Thirteenth Tale, demonstrating that she has excellent taste.

On to her books. They’ve caused quite the sensation. Kirkus loved them. Those folks at Booklist said they “hit the proverbial jackpot;” the New York Times said, “Deborah Coonts makes the cut with WANNA GET LUCKY? and there’s also couple of starred reviews to boot.

First sentence of Wanna Get Lucky?: As her final act on this earth, Lyda Sue Stalnaker plummeted out of a Las Vegas helicopter and landed smack in the middle of the pirates’ lagoon in front of the Treasure Island Hotel, disrupting the 8:30 P.M. pirate show.

Wanna win both Wanna Get Lucky and Lucky Stiff? Leave a comment with your email address. Winner will be chosen by 10 p.m. Sunday.

Congrats to Laura Kay, winner!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


While I try not to write too much about my children what with my strange fears about internet privacy and all, I think my son will forgive me for being the inspiration for this post.
We were recently having a talk about we what should get a friend of his for her birthday party.
ME:What does Florence (not her real name, privacy) want for her birthday? What should we get her?
CHILD: I don't know.
ME: I mean what kind of stuff does she like?
CHILD: I don't know. . . Girl stuff.
ME: Girl stuff?
At last it seemed my women's studies minor would finally have a practical purpose. Whatever did my boy mean?
ME:Like what, what's girl stuff?
CHILD: You know. Strollers and dolls and stuff.
ME: That stuff is not just for girls.
He looked at me with all the certainty of an almost five year old and said matter-of-factly. "But I don't play with it."

Girl stuff is something that I am increasingly aware of in my writing, or more accurately my publishing. I never set out to write women's fiction, even though with my pretty covers and strong female voices, it would appear that's what I am doing.
While the men who have read my books either inadvertently or because we went to college/work together or because they married me all seem pleasantly surprised, I am not out there attracting the number of male readers that I would like. I want to get more readers with testosterone. I just don't really know how. I think part of me might be starting to sabotage myself. The other day a new male colleague was asking me about my books and I found myself kind of underselling them (did I mention my day job is promoting things?) I had to stop myself before I said, "You wouldn't be interested, It's more for women."
I guess what bothers me - what's bothered me since I was considered a chick-lit-writer is when these terms are used dismissively. It still smarts. I will always believe that moments in people's lives mean something. When I got that minor in Women's Studies I learned that the personal is political. I like telling stories. I write to entertain.
So I'm beginning to happily embrace this community. One of the other things I've learned from the aforementioned day job is to know your audience and I think I do. I feel like they know me too. Maybe one day I will have crossover appeal. Maybe I'll write a novel of political espionage solved by a football team. I'd like that. But for now I celebrate writing what I know. Girl stuff.

Ariella Papa promotes a lot things other than her new novel Momfriends. She is happy to report she did not keep Florence's princess Barbie for herself. You can email her at or like her