Friday, March 30, 2012

Guest Post: How Happy is a Dead Pig? By C.Hope Clark

I belong to a glorious critique group that's international in flavor. Members range from Australia to Sussex, England, from Paris to Tucson, and Galveston to Canada. Several have been in the business long enough to be almost brutal in their reviews of my work, which I adore since it's that brutality that's enabled my fiction.
          Dialogue is one of my strong suits, and since my Carolina Slade Mystery Series is South Carolina-based, and rural in setting, I have to clarify the occasional Southern witticism just like my UK friend has to explain some of his country's terminologies. In doing so, however, I've learned that dialect and regional lingo must be carefully scrutinized if you intend your book to sell outside of your home town.
          "I awoke late on Saturday morning and stretched, basking in the rays filtering through my yellow curtains, happier than a dead pig in the sunshine." The sentence was something along that line. I say WAS, because it's no longer in existence.
          "Um, how can a dead pig be happy?"
          "Ew, dead hogs. What's that got to do with feeling good?"
          "Wouldn't a dead pig stink?"
          I kid you not. Those were actual remarks from my reviewers, and I couldn't get them to stop making cracks about pigs! Now, to some of you, the remarks from my critiquers are off-the-wall ridiculous. Everyone knows that a pig lying in the sun, fat and satisfied, is at his happiest. Also, feeling extremely lazy and relaxed is equated to being almost dead. At least it is in most of the Southeastern US. However, my Western and Northern peers, not to mention my international friends, thought I'd lost my mind. The debate on how, or whether, to use the phrase went on in jest for days, totally removing the discussion away from the chapter at hand.
          Most of us already know that when using dialect, less is more. You do not write verbatim how dialect sounds or you risk losing the reader's interest as he bogs down in the commas, apostrophes, and abbreviated words. Apply that same logic to witticisms. Temper them so they are part of the storytelling, not the noise in the midst of it.
          Admittedly, I'm a fan of metaphors and catch phrases. They're colorful, and when used strategically, they paint a character prettier than a basket full of Easter eggs. "He couldn't pour water out of a bucket with the instructions on the bottom" tells you as much about the speaker as it does the character being referenced. So much accomplished in so few words . . . words that are memorable to the reader.
Displaying characters in such a verbal snap is so much more fun than two paragraphs of clothing description and hair color. The sweethearts and good old boys, the intellects and the dunces, the wicked and the kind become all too clear when we use distinctive wording like "You're gooder than grits" or "Bless your heart" or "I'm gonna smear you like peanut butter."
However, falling in love with your phrasing can lead to a bit of overdoing and a sense of the overdramatic. Splash that with regional naiveté, and you might lose some readers who just don't get it.
Enjoy a spicy vocabulary and flex that dialogue, but make sure that when your reader reaches the chapter about dead pigs that it's about barbecue, so nobody gets confused.
Hope is founder of, a career resource for freelance writers, recognized by Writer's Digest Magazine in its 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2001 through 2011. Her  online publications reach over 43,000 readers each week, and she makes appearances at conferences across the country. In 2012, Hope will speak in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa and Oklahoma.

But Clark considers the Carolina Slade Mystery Series her professional personal best, debuting with Lowcountry Bribe.  The novel won several awards as it evolved, from semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award to finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery/Suspense. Hope graduated from Clemson University, in the field of agriculture, enabling her to walk the walk of her protagonist, the illustrious Carolina Slade.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do Writers Dream?

By Ellen Meister

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dina Santorelli for her cable television program, The Writer's Dream. Dina asked such insightful questions about craft that I thought readers of this blog might want to have a look.  Big thanks to producer Linda Maria Frank for granting me rights to use the video, which I've posted here in two parts ...

Thanks for watching! If you have any questions, feel free to post below. Happy writing!
Ellen Meister is the author of three novels. Her most recent book, THE OTHER LIFE has appeared on many best fiction of the year lists and is in stores now. For more information, visit You can connect with Ellen on Facebook and on Twitter. She hopes you will also join her Dorothy Parker Facebook page for daily quotes from America's most notorious wit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Diving Head First Into The Indie Pool

by Maggie Marr

Publishing is changing. Yes, I too, like most readers still enjoy the tactile sensation of a book in my hands. I love the smell of the ink, the crush of paper against my fingertips, and the flipping noise as I turn pages to return to the spot where I last left the story.

I was a resistant ebook reader--at first. Now I am a Nook carrying member of the revolution. Why? What turned the corner for me? Well--a couple things.

First I got a cover for my Nook. In the beginning I had a horrible time with my Nook because I missed turning the flap back on a book. This also impacted how the Nook felt in my hand. My new Nook cover made the sensation of holding my Nook more akin to what I'd grown accustomed to the last 35+ years of reading.

(This isn't my actual cover as they no longer make the one I have but I do like this one.)

Second I can keep 10,000 books at my fingertips. I don't like to give away books once I read them. I like to keep them--like little trophies. On my Nook these little lovelies don't take up nearly the space and my husband thanks me as he no longer has to pack boxes of books up and down stairs.

Third, ebooks are cheaper. I know as an author who makes my living writing this isn't necessarily something I should rave about but hey, it's true. Cut out the paper, ink, shipping, fuel, packaging and at least some of that savings gets passed onto the consumer. I love that I can get 2 and sometimes 3 fantastic books for the price of 1 trade paperback.

Finally, ebooks publish faster. My latest book Can't Buy Me Love releases today! I've worked on this book for a very long time in fact the first chapter was runner up in the Harlequin Presents contest ages ago. But when I finally decided to indie pub Can't Buy Me Love it took a mere 3 months to get the book ready for distribution. The process remained the same, with a substantive edit and a copy edit but everything took less time.

So yes, publishing is changing. With the publication of Can't Buy Me Love today I am now a traditionally pubbed author and an indie author. What a lucky girl am I!

Everyone knows that Cole Jackson is lethal--in his charm and in his reputation as ruthless media mogul and one of the world's great CEOs. A fact his former executive assistant Meg Parson has learned firsthand. He's the one who banished her from his executive suite with no explanation.

Determined to secure her long awaited promotion within Comnet, Meg Parson is back and can deliver the one deal Cole Jackson has always wanted and could never get. This deal is Meg's ticket to the top. Now Meg must juggle this high-stakes deal with her unfathomable attraction to her former boss--an attraction Meg has denied for three years. An attraction which raises painful memories from her past. An attraction that Meg's boss Cole seems to share. If Meg can't pull off this multi-media merger, not only is her career at stake but also her heart.

Maggie Marr is an author living in Los Angeles. You can follow her on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, and her latest obsession Pinterest. She asks that you please buy her latest book Can't Buy Me Love so that she can continue to feed her children, cats, and husband while writing down the stories that bounce around in her head.

A Fat Writer Walks Into a Bar by Karin Gillespie

Writing, like most professions, comes with its shares of occupational hazards. There’s Amazon-itis, the compulsive checking of one’s Amazon rating—usually most severe in debut novelists but even the old saws can’t always resist a daily peek or two or three… or ten. Also the unhealthy pallor from staring into the blue glow of the cathode ray tube for hours on end. Not to mention the looming risk of carpal tunnel, and nightmares of being forced to write an entire opus with one’s big toe.

But the real bugaboo, the tragic little secret is that, after several years as full-time writers, most of us transform from being thin, neurotic artistic types to… how should I put this delicately?…downright robust artistic types.

In other words, we become chunky monkeys.

I’m speaking from experience. And I know I’m not the only scribe who has far too much junk in the trunk, a bit too much butter on the bean.

Fact is I no longer resemble my author photo--taken in those lean, hungry pre-publication months—and I refuse to replace it with a more true-to-life Jabba the Hut version.

The weight snuck up on me. I kept telling myself I was retaining water, or pre-menstrual or post-menstrual or that my pants had shrunk in the wash. Unfortunately denial finally had a head-on collision with reality and I was forced to go up a couple of sizes.

That’s when I tried to accept my bloat: So what if I’m a little round, I’d rationalize. Life is short! Who wants to give up red wine, chocolate and the occasional Krispy Kreme run? Bring on the BLT.

But in truth I was a fair weather friend of my newly “enhanced” physique. Some days I’d strut around like Jennifer Hudson before she got skinny; most days I felt like the dumpiest woman on the planet.. There were times I didn’t recognize myself in photos. Do my arms really look like twin loafs of sour dough? When did I get that extra chin?

My weight issue started occupying far too much space in my mind. I was constantly touching my belly as a gauge. Am I having a fat day or a thin day? Would I ever lose weight? Where would I get the motivation?

It was an unforgiving hotel mirror that finally prompted me to take action. I had ways of tricking my home mirror (standing in front of it only while wearing head-to-toe black, high heels and Spanx) but this mirror bounced back my image just before I was getting into the shower… Enough said.

So I started a diet. Truth is I’m a pretty healthy eater. I love veggies, salads, fruit and fish. And I’ve always exercised, Most days I run four miles and two times a week I lift weights. But the combination of being in my mid forties, having a sedentary occupation, and coming from a less than svelte gene pool all added up to a couple of Michelin radials around my middle.

I decided to cut out all starches (except for fruit and yogurt in the morning to give me energy for my run) all sugars and… this was the hardest for me by far… all alcohol.

I LOVE red wine—how it smells and tastes—the way it looks in the glass like liquid rubies. I love the curve of the bottle, the wide-mouth goblets, the velvet feel of a Cab, the delicate bouquet of a Pinot and the slap-you-in-face, jammy taste of a Zin.

I thought I’d only last a day.

But here I am nearly THREE WEEKS later, and I’ve already dropped a size. (Not a real size mind you,. I went from a loose size eight to a tight size six. I’m five foot two and very fined-boned so a size eight is big for my body type.)

Do I miss the wine?

Every day when five o’clock rolls around the drum beats start up, growing more insistent with each passing minute; I swear I’m going to race to the liquor store, grab the first bottle I see (a screw top bottle; cork takes too long) and chugalug in the parking lot.

Instead I shush the drums and drink a diet Snapple instead. Eventually Dionysus’s siren song dies down.

I made a vow I’d go without the sauce for six weeks. When those six weeks are up, I’ll be less Chunky Monkey and more Skinny Minnie.

I’m hoping to lose ten pounds, and if I do…well, I will definitely drink to that.

P.S. One of my favorite reds is a Zin called Writer’s Block.

It’s about fifteen bucks and worth every nickel.

(Caution: Object in the box at right is much larger than it appears.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ripped from the Headlines: Get Your Best Story Ideas from the Morning News by Lori L. Tharps

Hi Girlfriends,

So, we've been talking about coming up with good story ideas and I have a few things to add to the discussion. First and foremost, I'd like to say that my kids provide me with an endless supply of things to write about, both as a magazine journalist and a fiction writer. As a mother of three, I have a rich fantasy life about live-in help, luxurious vacations, and spa-days. If I ever find the time to pen another novel, it might have all of those elements in it because it's clear I won't be experiencing them in my real life. (sigh)

The idea for my first novel, Substitute Me, did actually come from my own trauma surrounding the search for the perfect nanny. I never found one, but the protagonist in the book does and drama ensues. These days, given the fact that my life seems to be on a permanent replay of work, feed the baby, laundry, grade papers, repeat, I'm not feeling another domestic drama. But that's okay.

When I'm not on duty as a human cow, I teach journalism to college students. This semester I'm teaching a class called Ripped from the Headlines: Using Journalism's Tools to Write Fiction. One of the main things I'm teaching my students to do, is scour the news media to find great story ideas. Because we all know that truth really is stranger than fiction. For example, my students just handed in an assignment where they had to research a recent story they discovered in the news that they thought would translate well into fiction. I received a slew of great stories -- from a female PhD candidate in chemical engineering who moonlights as a dominatrix, to a man who was rescued from a deadly shark attack by a group of friendly dolphins. Besides the fact that I felt like I must be living under a rock for not knowing about some of the more outrageous stories, I felt completely smart for creating this class.

A person doesn't have to go any further than their local paper to come up with clever, intriguing, unbelievable story ideas that they can spin into an amazing work of fiction. From natural disasters like the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan, to the recent lottery winner who is 85 years old, dramatic stories happen every day. This is not to make light of or profit from other people's misery. On the contrary, sometimes by unraveling the truth in fiction, we can give tragedy a happier ending, or at least sort out some of the complicated feelings involved. I just read such a book, the bittersweet Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, which revisits the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

So, rather than 'writing what you know' or wracking your brain for creative ideas that may or may not be in there, open a People magazine and get inspired.

Lori L. Tharps is a magazine writer, college professor and mom. She blogs at

Friday, March 23, 2012

March Book Round-Up

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose
What’s it about? A magical perfume that may unlock the secrets to reincarnation.

Why you should read it: Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, saying, Rose’s deliciously sensual novel of paranormal suspense smoothly melds a perfume-scented quest to protect an ancient artifact with an ages-spanning romance. Also she’s a former girlfriend!

Interesting fact: M.J. wanted to commission a perfume to go along with the book but found it was too expensive. She gave a copy of the book to a perfumer who loved it so much he offered to create a fragrance for it, called Âmes Sœurs the sense of soul mates.

Sample prose: “Perfume can evoke feelings, Papa,” L’Etoile had argued. “Imagine what a fortune we’d make if we were selling dreams and not just formulations.”

“Nonsense,” his father admonished. “We are chemists, not poets. Our job is to mask the stench of the streets, to cover the scent of the flesh and relieve the senses from the onslaught of smells that are unpleasant,vile and infected.” 

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

What’s It About? Follows a group of female classmates from Miss Pratt's boarding school into their adult lives, one who owns a high-end dress shop on the Upper East Side.  

Why You Should Read It? Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of Good-bye and Amen, Leeway Cottage, and More Than You Know.

Sample prose: Could we talk about fur for just a minute? When whoever it was wrote of “nature, red in tooth and claw,” he could have been talking about the kind of mayhem an ermine can cause in a henhouse. They kill for pleasure. My father tried keeping chickens for a while. Believe me, the sight of those slack, defenseless feathered bodies lying on the floor of the coop with their throats ripped open while the rest of the flock screams in terror is enough to make a fur wearer out of anybody.

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue

What’s It About?  An old friendship is renewed when two young women open a cupcake shop.

Why You Should Read It?  The title alone is compelling but this one’s also getting some good buzz.

Sample prose:I handed her one of the red velvet cupcakes that I’d made in the old-fashioned style, using beets instead of food coloring. I had to scrub my fingers raw for twenty minutes to get the crimson beet stain off of them but the result was worth it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Taking Ideas from Whatever Comes Your Way, Without Getting Caught

This morning, I treated myself to breakfast at a restaurant, all by my lonesome, without a book to keep me company. Instead, I checked out my fellow diners. I never know what I'm going to see or hear when I people watch, and that's why it's fun.

Go forth! Eavesdrop. People watch. Butt into a stranger's conversation. And see what happens.

Three tables away a woman spoke loudly enough for me to hear the snap in her voice as she chastened her companion about the cost of his trifocal lenses. She asked, in the same sentence, if she could order the BBQ chicken. I can only assume, because of her weight, that her anger wasn’t based in his buying habits or his opinion about what she wanted to eat. I think that she was hungry.

Why take it out on him?

Nearby, two pairs of women chatted on either side of me while they waited to order their food.

On my left:
Woman A: So are you two involved, or what?
Woman B: I don’t know what we are. I haven’t asked.


On my right:
A sixty-ish, well-polished woman, having lunch with a much older friend who looked to be in her 80s. What fascinated me more than their conversation (prescriptions, doctors and the twins) was the older woman's appearance. Small, withering, manicured and pedicured, blond hair draped on her shoulder. Huge gold earrings, dark orange pants, bright orange fitted tank top covered by a sexy sheer top through which I could see sagging skin where her triceps used to be. She was a woman who still cared about her appearance.

These three sets of people, and their conversations, intrigued me: Who were they? What was their relationship to one another? What they were doing before they met for lunch—and why now?

For me, these kinds of questions, thought starters more than anything else, can lead to conflicts and story ideas.

Some writers use current events, newspaper articles, and personal experience as starting points for their work. Others use history or stories from childhood. We all have ideas that scurry in and out of our brains. Not every idea works, but they set the imagination in gear and, sometimes, they provide a story premise, the setting for a scene or a character.

The key, and where the hard work begins, is in taking these ideas and turning them into a work with all of the critical components—a beginning, middle, and end—that make a compelling read. 

Jacqueline Luckett is the author of Passing Love, a novel of secrets, betrayal, and Paris. You can learn more about Jacqueline and hear an excerpt from Passing Love at Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter .

Author interview: Lynn Messina
by Brenda Janowitz

I'm so thrilled today because we've got the wonderful Lynn Messina here to chat!  Her latest novel, The Girls Guide to Dating Zombies, is out, and it's everything you'd expect from the title: funny, original and a great read.  Lynn and I are talking publishing, inspiration, and of course, zombies!

Tell us about your latest novel in 25 words or less.
Hmmm. (Hold on, that "hmmm" doesn't count. Neither does this.) Post zombpocalypse, 99.999 percent of men have been turned into zombies, so women start dating them. But don’t worry: These zombies are on their meds.

What was the inspiration for this novel?
The first glimmer: I was on an Internet talk show promoting Little Vampire Women and we fell into the inevitable vampire-zombie-werewolf conversation. I was emphatically on Team Vampire because the zombie seemed like such a nonentity to me. Where was the learning curve? The room for growth? But while we were discussing it, I found myself trying to figure out how a zombie could be a non nonentity. And that challenge became the core of the book.

How did you become a writer?
For me, the key was working out a schedule that allowed me to devote entire days to writing. I'm not one of those people who can come home from work and sit down at the computer. I flop on the couch. And I can't imagine getting up early to write. So I needed to figure how to structure my life around writing time--which I did by becoming a freelance copy editor. 

What is your writing schedule like?
I work at a magazine two weeks a month and write at home for the other two weeks. With copyediting you have lots of downtime, so I get a lot of writing done at work, but I always look forward to the uninterrupted days when I can write for eight hours straight (well, seven, counting lunch eating, couch flopping and TV watching).

Who would you cast as the characters in your novel when it (inevitably!) becomes a movie?
Ha! You're talking to a woman whose first book has been under option for nine years. Trust me, there's nothing inevitable about it. 

What's the thing that's surprised you most about being a published author?
How hard it is to sell books to friends and family. Everyone wants a freebie. 

What books are on your nightstand right now?
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Funny. I just tried to type that without the "sir" but it seemed so oddly naked.)
Julia, Naked by Nick Hornby
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
Keep writing. The first book I sold, Fashionistas, was the eleventh book I wrote.

Thanks for stopping by, Lynn!  

I’m the author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist.  My third novel, Recipe for a Happy Life, will be published by St. Martin's in 2013.  My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly.  You can find me at

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What if a premise falls in my brain, and there's no one there to hear it?

A few nights ago, I took my standard running leap into bed (we have one of those old, four-posters…and, yes, I know there are stools for beds, but they look too much like church kneelers, which I find disturbing next to my bed. But that’s another story). Just as my cheek met the cool pillow, an idea charged through my sleepy stupor into my brain.

A brilliant idea. Brilliant, I tell you. Nothing less than brilliant. Enough to hip-shove The Hunger Games into Twilight. Enough to make Brad Pitt want my phone number to ask if he could play the male lead. Enough to tell Angelina she couldn’t bribe me for the female lead.

I can’t tell you the idea.

Why? Because I can’t remember what it is. Because I didn’t drag my brilliant butt out of bed to write it down. Because I didn’t lean over and risk a head injury to find the paper and pen I store in my nightstand to scribble the idea.

I should know better. Well, I do know better. As soon as I hear my brain whisper, “Oh, this one is so A-MAZING, you won’t forget it,” I need to make one of those Bella Swan Cullen new-vampire dashes to write it.  Unfortunately, unlike Stephenie Meyer, I do not wake up from a dream with a four-book series in my head.

So, where do my ideas originate?

In the most boring of circumstances.  Like one day, after retrieving mail from my mailbox, I wondered, “What if a woman went out to get her mail and never returned? Or what if she walked out in one year, but when she walked back into her house, twenty years had passed?” 

Those two words, “what if?” can launch me into writer orbit. But I have to be willing to turn ideas inside out and upside down. I have to muzzle the editor in my brain who says, “Go you…you’ve just thought of the dumbest premise in the known universe.”

Years and years ago, I attended a conference and delighted in listening to Georgia Heard talk about her recent book, For the Good of the Earth and Sun:Teaching Poetry. What I most remember is her talking about poetry constantly surrounding us, that it’s everywhere…from the worn steps outside your grandmother’s house to drinking coffee with a friend.

And while those may not be ideas that carry a novel into hundreds of pages, they’re a beginning. Even poems marinate in my brain. When I read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell or “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, I just know a story is there waiting to happen.

If there is anything I can share, it’s this: whatever the idea, however ridiculous and goofy it may seem at the time, write it down. It’s a gift. 

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken GlassThe Edge of Grace, and, her newest and first historical,  Love Finds You in New Orleans. You can find her at www.christaallan.comFacebook, and Twitter. When she's not frantically crashing into deadlines, waiting for the next and best premise, and praying for June, she teaches high school English. Christa and her husband recently moved to New Orleans to live in a home older than their combined ages. Their three neurotic cats are adjusting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dipping My Toes into the Steamy Waters of Romance by Jenny Gardiner

Our very own girlfriend, the lovely Maggie Marr, invited me to help launch the release of her fabulous novel Can’t Buy Me Love recently by celebrating romance on her blog. I had to laugh when Maggie asked me to be featured as part of her “Spring Into Romance” theme, because I’ve found myself as a novelist to be at times adrift somewhere in that multiple-personality world that straddles commercial women’s fiction, chick lit and romance. Often times women's fiction doesn't fit in a particular category, which makes it harder to find a home for the book. And while my novels sometimes have been slotted as romance, I don’t regard myself as a romance writer in the same way that someone who writes category romances, for instance, does, perhaps because I don’t exactly write uber super steamy romance scenes (I’m too much of a weenie, because I think my teen kids would about kill me if I did). My nomadic genre-straddling was a problem for me when I published books with New York publishing houses-- I think the conundrum of where to shelve my books in a bookstore occasionally confounded the powers that be.

Over the past two years I’ve been able to enjoy a career as an indie author, publishing my work digitally direct to Kindle, Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore, Smashwords, and such, and have grown to love the freedom this provides me. For instance, there was a time when you really had to focus on one specific genre to “brand” yourself, which makes sense on many levels--find readers who like you as an author of historical romances, for instance, and they’ll follow you far and wide and buy/read all of your historical romances. But I tended to be all over the map, with non-fiction memoir, creative non-fiction, women’s fiction, chick lit, I even pitched a self-help book which I was told I could only sell to a New York house if I had a profile on a national level as an expert in that field. Natch. Oh well. And yeah, lurking in my laptop were a couple of straight-out romances as well, books I figured at some point I’d publish but only once I’d gotten my brand established enough to be able to veer away from it and not leave the “professionals” in New York to wonder what to do with my books.

But with indie publishing, I’ve been able to publish my novels and get them to readers. With the beauty of digital, I can categorize them to reach various audiences, and leave it up to the reader to decide if they like this book enough, maybe they’d like to try another of my novels as well. So that meant I was able to dust off those lurking romances and bring them out into the light of day (and, um, er, yeah, my kids might not be too thrilled, but more on that in a minute). And the thing about my romances is they’re a little too edgy usually to fit in the normal confines of “romance”, so all the better that I can publish them myself and let my audience figure it out! The first romance I published, ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE, is a lighthearted story of a woman tired of waiting for Mr. Right to come along. She wants kids, so she takes matters into her own hands (turkey baster, anyone?!). Unbeknownst to her, she’s then hired to be the photographer for her “donor’s” high society wedding. Mayhem ensues, etc.

My next romance, COMPROMISING POSITIONS, could almost be accused of being romantic suspense, but not really. It’s about a woman determined to get hired for a public relations job on Capitol Hill despite rampant sexism working against her. When she lands her dream job against her boss, the press secretary’s, wishes, it’s only because her other boss, a Viagra-sated Senator, wants to add her as another notch on his bed board. Sparks fly as my heroine falls fast for her press secretary (yeah, he falls for her as well) while having to dodge the aggressive moves of the horny Senator. Embezzlement, corruption and yet more mayhem ensue ;-). Oh, and those steamy sex scenes? Yep, I sucked it up and tried my hand at it (I’d originally written this book to enter into a contest sponsored by a New York Times bestselling author in which hot sex scenes were a must). I just decided to not tell my kids it’s out there. Oh, and I published these two novels under the pseudonym Erin Delany. Well, sort of. Jenny Gardiner writing as Erin Delany is more like it. Everyone asks me why I did it this way and I figured it made sense. Readers of women’s fiction are not always interested in migrating to romance, so I didn’t want to confuse those readers into thinking these were straight-out women’s fiction, but romance readers are often happy to straddle those lines, so I wanted them to be able to find my other books if they enjoyed these two romances. Make sense?

Anyhow, so I guess I am a romance writer. Well, sort of, at least sometimes. I like to say I'm a varied author. Whatever it is, I am definitely still a crazy mixed-up kid in publishing. But the great thing nowadays is that this confusion can work in my favor, rather than being a detriment. I hope you’ll go check out these books, as well as my others: #1 Kindle Bestseller SLIM TO NONE, American Title III winner SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER, WHERE THE HEART IS, ANYWHERE BUT HERE, WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO’S DETERMINED TO KILL ME, and I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP (a humorous anthology of dog stories in which I’m a contributor).

Oh, and to show you how I love to jump all over the place, writing-wise, I'll be publishing a collection of humorous essays in the next week or so. Here's a preview of the cover:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

You Have The Best Luck

“Wow, you have the best of luck.”

I hear this more than I care to nowadays. My first novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, was published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in September of 2011 and my second book, Barren Soul, will be published by Gallery in the summer of 2013.

“What a dream come true!”

Now I don’t mind hearing this so much because yes this is the stuff of dreams, but in no way should this ‘living a dream’ idea be associated with the word easy. Ghost On Black Mountain is not my first novel. I spent five years writing a four hundred page epic story only to discover it to be dry as overdone roast beef and lacking voice so I shoved it in a drawer to collect dust. Wasted time? No, I had to write this first book to find my way to the fictional community of Black Mountain.

So, luck? I don’t think so.

My journey to book publication began on a spring day in 2004. I was cooking supper when a character calling herself Nellie Pritchard began to speak to me. “Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw my future in her tealeaves, death.”   I wondered if somehow I had finally gone around the fictional bend and was hearing voices. I brushed the thought away but not before writing down Miss Nellie’s words. Those two lines would evolve into first a short story and then the beginning of my novel. Ah, but that was so far away.

The year I heard from Nellie Pritchard I had only begun to publish short stories, owned a dull novel—like I said shoved in the drawer—had no agent, and believed writing in my southern voice was uninteresting.  There was a time in my life when I was ashamed of my southernness—if there is such a word. I would have rather died than admitted my family came from the North Georgia Mountains. These were what I now call my smart years; the years I spent trying to outrun my roots. I wanted no part of tall tales, superstitions, and folklore. I think some of my attitude came from my grandmother, who was the first in her family to move from a rural farm to the big city of Atlanta. I stripped all traces of an accent from my words. I spoke only proper English. (I don’t do that now.) When I wrote stores, I never allowed my characters to speak as true southerners. Nope, these stories were the most intelligent pieces a person could read. But dry, Lord they were as dry as three day old bread. But Nellie wouldn’t leave me alone. She sprang in my head anytime she felt the urge. Finally I sat down at my desk and wrote a short story I promptly called Ghost On Black Mountain. Little did I know it would become the skin for my novel.

One Black Mountain story after another came through me, as if I were channeling these strange characters. I mean really where did names like Oshie Connor and Hobbs Pritchard come from? A little over a year later I had a story collection that I packed away under my bed. No one would be interested in such hick town characters.

Then in the fall of 2006, during a moment of insanity or maybe inspiration, I registered for a local writing workshop. For an extra five dollars, I could submit the first five pages of my book to an agent. She would then give me her opinion. I turned in the first five pages of the short story, Ghost On Black Mountain. I think I must have been possessed by Nellie at the time. The agent requested my whole manuscript. Within a month she made a trip to Atlanta to deliver a contract. At the time I was too naïve in the ways of publishing to know this was highly unusual.

“Now you have to write a novel. You must write about Nellie and Hobbs.” She said to me over a cup of coffee.

Write another novel? Was she kidding? But I took the challenge and signed up for Nanowrimo—a website that dares writers to produce 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. I did. By early 2007 I had a rough draft. In late spring of the same year my agent began shopping Ghost On Black Mountain.

Luck? I don’t think so. I must stop here and tell of pure divine intervention though. Because had I succeeded in my wants, this novel would have been sold for what amounted to nothing.

My agent received a bite from a small publishing house here in the south. The acquisition editor had to discuss it with the press owner, but he wanted my book. They were looking for a new voice to put them on the map. There would be no advance only royalties.

Dear writers please beware of that awful need to publish your book. This desire is blinding at times.

Even though the whole proposition felt wrong—I mean I did deserve some money—I jumped in with both feet. I waited a month while the discussion at the small press took place. Exactly thirty days later, the editor phoned my agent and turned down the book. It seemed he couldn’t sell it to the press owner.

Devastation turned me inside out.

I swore off those silly characters and went back to the dull book in the drawer. Of course Black Mountain had taught me much about voice and writing. I began to rewrite the dull novel, breathing fresh air into its lungs. A deadly quiet year later I submitted it to Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. In my complete shock, the new version pushed me into the semi-finials. This was the equivalent of making it to the last five couples on Dancing With The Stars before being voted out.

In the meantime my literary agency had signed on a new agent. My work was shifted to her. She was good with mainstream and literary books. Her enthusiasm couldn’t be denied. Dull book was shopped to all the major publishers.

“What ever happened to that novel about mountain people?” She asked me in an email.

“The deal fell through.” I didn’t want to think about it.

“Send the latest version over.” The new agent promptly ordered.

Within two months said agent had three bites on Ghost On Black Mountain. All major publishers.

On March 4, 2010 I received the call. “Simon & Schuster wants to offer you a deal.”

Luck. No. Six years of hard work is more like it.

In the years it took to sell my novel, I used marketing skills I learned from working at BP Oil. I published as many short stories as I could. I wrote book reviews and developed a relationship with a medium size press. The owner edited Ghost On Black Mountain in return for all the wonderful reviews I’d written for his books. I taught classes on voice. I put my writing and myself in front of anyone that might help make my dream come true. In short I never gave up. It was not an option for me. I took each and every opportunity that came my way.

So to borrow a terrible cliché: I made my own luck, sweetie.

Ann Hite
Author of Ghost On Black Mountain (Simon & Schuster)
Barren Soul will be release summer of 2013 by Simon & Schuster  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hidden Secret, FOMO, and Tubthumping by Jess Riley

“Oh my gosh talk about depression. It's exhausting. Is it the hidden secret...that no writers talk about this depression that hits so hard?”

This was the raw, honest response I received a few days ago from a writer friend after I asked how she was holding up while waiting for industry feedback.  Another author friend of mine also recently hit an emotional low; she’s enormously talented, a cheerful, wise, and calm port in the publishing storm, and seeing her so uncharacteristically pessimistic scared the crap out of me. And me? Yeah. I’m the one who had the meltdown in the parking lot of her neighborhood Petco last August. 

If you’ve hit a few roadblocks on your road to publication you know you’re getting closer to achieving your goal, you know you’re learning and growing and becoming a better writer, but you also begin to suspect you might be crazy. Or, at the very least, a masochist. You have to steel yourself for the Late Night Self-Doubts, which creep up on you around 1 am and chip away at your self-confidence ‘til 3. Facebook becomes filled with landmines—cheerful updates from other author friends who have Janet Maslin on speed dial and more good news to share than an original disciple of Christ. 

This is, according to SELF magazine, an actual condition: Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. On the social networks, everyone seems shinier and happier and more successful than you…it’s all an illusion, of course, and you must remind yourself that they are just as carbon-based as you, with the same moving and working parts and many of the same dreams, human foibles, and even some of the same hurts. 

So let’s talk about the untalked-about. We’re not supposed to (who wants to hang with Debbie Downer? LAME!), but we’re not truly alone when the Late Night Self-Doubts tiptoe into the room.  We’ve all felt the crushing angst that comes with rejection, bad reviews, endless uncertainty, and industry mishaps or decisions that leave us unable to get up off the couch, covered in potato chip crumbs and a dusting of malted milk powder. The good news is, there are things we can do about it:

Be a shark and keep moving. Begin and finish a new novel. The minute you submit it, begin another one. Repeat again and again. You are a shark. If you stop moving, you die.

Enter a contest, apply for a grant, enroll in a writing class, email your favorite author to tell her how much her last book meant to you, craft a publicity plan, research an idea, write a freaking haiku—even small steps count. Do something every day to advance your writing career.  (If you haven’t read Malena’s and Sara’s posts from Wednesday & Thursday, start there. You will leave inspired.)

Build a behind-the-scenes support network of other writers. Kick anyone out if they get too successful. Just kidding. You’ll want them for a blurb.

Find the humor in it all. Did I cry when only two people—a middle-aged man and a mentally-ill woman—showed up at my last event? No! I poured myself a beer and laughed about it. I laughed even harder when a friend of mine told me that the only attendee at one of her events was a homeless woman who pissed herself during the reading. These are called “character-building” or “humbling” events and will make great material for your next project, even if your next project is simply sharing an entertaining anecdote at a party.

Keep it together. Be professional even if you want to burn that agent / editor / reviewer in effigy. Remain friends after the break-up, as they say. Voodoo dolls and pins are acceptable, but keep that wacky shit to yourself. 

Remember--you have options. Right now, writers have more control over their fate than ever before. Develop a plan and educate yourself.

Most importantly, never forget that every writer gets hit with the Shit Stick at least once in his or her career. It’s how we react that matters.

EDIT: I don't mean to imply that I laughed at the homeless woman urinating on herself in public. That's actually horrible and not funny at all. 
Jess Riley is anxiously awaiting word on her last novel's fate, outlining the new one, and still spending way too much time on Facebook.

The Octopus and the Goat

by Malena Lott

There are two kinds of marketing methods for authors emerging in the "new publishing climate" - the octopus and the goat.

The goat stands on the mountain, bleeting his little heart out over the canyons, hoping whomever is in hearing distance will pay attention and do as the goat demands: buy my book! Click this link! Like me! The goat has found a way to "work the system" by continually bleeting, non-stop, sometimes tweeting every five minutes, mixing the content just enough to appear that it's not self-promotional. The goat may have even joined up with other goats in a network of re-tweeters who do little more than post each other's links. They are aggressive, but rarely stray from their daily movements on the mountain. They can be successful simply because they never let up. Or they get so burned out, they give up and retreat to the shade. There are also goats who are so afraid to try anything new that they stay put.

The other type far below the mountain, working the depths of the sea, with a solid center, eight arms and three hearts, is the octopus. The octopus swims to opportunity, builds tribes and utilizes all eight arms for outreach and community building. It's equipped with a funnel to ensure the best decisions are made for its marketing efforts and uses all three heart: two hearts to pump blood through each of its two gills (one for the heart of the story and the other for marketing), and a third one to pump blood through its body - to care for itself.

The octopus is a solitary animal, self-reliant, but uses those eight arms wisely to build a team, a tribe and a loyal following. It's not a one-trick pony like the annoying or fearful goat. Because it's mobile and flexible, the octopus slowly builds success, strategically. The octopus is a promotional machine, but because it siphons all the decisions, it knows the right type of boards to put on Pinterest, the best hashtags to be a part of on Twitter, the greatest advantages of the new timeline on Facebook pages, and feels confident saying "no" to things it isn't passionate about.

The octopus invests time and money in its enterprise and understand publicity and traditional marketing still have its place and face-to-face time is more important than ever. The octopus thinks to answer, "what's in it for me" for the reader so the octopus can provide value to the reader with its events and promotions. Those suction cups come in handy, too.

Face it: it's not easy being either an octopus or a goat, but as authors in this day and age we are expected to market ourselves and be a part of the action. But one invites people in, spinning the person into his world, while the other has readers turning them off or never heard them in the first place. Which one are you? How can you make the dive off the rock and learn to swim?

Malena Lott is the author of three novels, her latest The Stork Reality: Secrets from the Underbelly. She's invited 40 mamas to blog about pregnancy and motherhood over at She's a brand strategist at her creative and media firm, Athena Institute, and the executive editor at Buzz Books USA. She is currently working on an ebook, "The Octopus and the Goat" to assist small businesses, and her next novella, The Last Resort, set in Maui.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Secrets of a Page Turner by Saralee Rosenberg

Learning the secrets of writing a great novel is not as seductive as learning the secrets of a Geisha. But I digress.

Last week at the Hofstra University Writer's Salon, I had the extreme pleasure of hearing uber-selling suspense writers, Andrew Gross and Michael Palmer, spill their secrets on how they have managed to turn out one great thriller after the next. They were joined by debut novelist, Kira Peikoff, who also had much to say about keeping readers engaged.

What are their secrets to success? Developing memorable and compelling characters first... and then sending them off on mysterious journeys where anything can happen. And does.

It got me thinking. Regardless of genre, aren’t all novels mysteries? Shouldn't their chapters be brimming with suspense? Unresolved issues? Unpredictable characters? Shouldn't readers be kept so invested in the outcome of the hero that they not only wonder what happens next, but care what happens next?

I teach novel writing through Hofstra University's Continuing Ed program and encourage students to inject endless suspense in their novels, whether they are writing a police procedural, a romantic comedy or historical fiction.

It's not about using gimmickry, it's about making sure that the beam supporting their story structure is solid with intrigue, secrets and conflicts.

If you are an emerging novelist, here are a few ideas I recommend to keep readers turning pages:

Make something BIG happen IMMEDIATELY.

Forget back story. Readers have zero attachment to the hero in the early chapters, so whatever happened to them in past means less than what is about to happen to them when the #$%%^ hits the fan.

By creating an inciting incident within the first few pages, readers will be drawn in. Then back story can be weaved into the narrative so that readers understand the high stakes and become more and more invested.

Raise questions.

As those iconic Clairol commercials asked, does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.

Stories that don’t pose questions and raise issues leave little to our curiosity and imaginations. From the start, have readers wondering: Will John ask Mary for a date? Will Mary say yes? Will John and Mary go cliff jumping on their date? Who will cry at their funerals? What would possibly possess them to do something so dangerous and out of character? Or was it out of character at all? Keep 'em guessing! That's the key.

You could plotz from all the plots

Novels need to explore multiple story lines in order to build suspense and conflict. But inherent in each story line must be more surprises, questions and drama. Even more important, each storyline must raise the stakes for the hero so that tension is always mounting.

One way to do this is to give a minor character(s) an unusual hobby or occupation so that they can complicate matters with their knowledge. But just when readers think they get where you’re going, throw them off-balance by having the character's involvement mean little to the outcome.

Reveal, Reveal, Reveal

Every chapter should offer the writer a chance to share something about the character that the reader did not already know. Or, something that the character did not know. Or something that the character has known all along but kept a secret (or so they thought). Or something that the character thought they knew all along but turned out to be mistaken.

The key is to let the secrets out slowly, like air in balloon.

Go West Young Man

Choose a setting that adds to the intrigue either because of its unique terrain, climate, environment or time period. If the location is well described and well defined, it can take on the same level of importance as a mysterious character.

Speaking of mysterious characters, we don't call our protagonists heroes for nothing. Challenge them from the start and keep increasing the odds of failure. Then we'll root for them and follow them to the very last page.

I so admire novelists that can grab readers within the first few pages and keep us guessing until the end. No easy feat, though there are techniques and strategies that when properly employed, do make a difference in the storytelling.

As for the secrets of a Geisha? How they put up with so many men remains a mystery to me.

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of four novels from Avon(HarperCollins) including DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD; FATE AND MS. FORTUNE; CLAIRE VOYANT; and A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE. She is finishing her first novel for girls, HOTLINE TO HEAVEN. visit her

Live on Long Island and interested in learning the craft of novel writing? Check out my courses at Hofstra University's Continuing Ed program. Each semester I lead hands-on workshops and classes that will get your creative journey off to the best possible start.