Monday, April 30, 2012

Block by Block

by Samantha Wilde

It would be hard to improve upon Sandra Novack's piece on writer's block from yesterday's post. It offers such perfect advice from the practical to the profound. I particularly like the last suggestion: What is really going on here? Since I can't improve upon it, I want to share what I know about it from a different angle.

I was thinking about the idea of writer's block while taking a walk with my three children today. I kept coming back in my mind, over and over again, to the word "block," until I no longer thought the word, but saw the image of a block, a wooden one, sort of like the kind my children play with almost every day. Their wooden blocks are excellent for building towers, houses, roads, barns, cathedrals, as well as for getting left around for house visitors to trip on.

This is one of my children peering underneath a block creation. c. Sam Wilde

As I walked, I no longer focused on the idea of a block as something in the way of something else--like a roadblock--but as an object akin to a brick, something you would build with, something you could build on. What if writer's block is an opportunity, I started to muse. Then I thought of yoga and breathing.

One of the many breath practices I have learned and also taught in the yoga tradition focuses the mind on the space between the breaths. If you breathe in and breathe out, there is this infinitesimal moment of time between the in-breath and before the out-breath, and after the out-breath but before the in-breath. These tiny pauses can be prolonged, drawn out, and extended for what's usually called a retention of the breath. Breath retention is said to build energy, among other things.

What's interesting about the spaces between breath is that from the outside they look like nothing. Those are the moments when nothing is happening, no action, no apparent energy. Yet they are also the places where energy can build, as well as where peace can be found, the brief pause, a moment of non-doing, a rest.

I have always been a believer in rest. I constantly extol the virtues of sleep. Though I don't keep it perfectly myself, I do practice a Sabbath day. My family now lives across from several working farms. Two of the fields closest to us have been left fallow. They need it, for restoration, to regain equilibrium.

Perhaps it is possible that a writer's block is just that, a block to build upon, a pause from the doing, a space of being. It's so difficult in our culture to ever really stop doing, yet nothing, no animal or vegetable or mineral, can exist in a perpetual state of output. It might simply be a matter of an empty well that needs filling. Or it might be more interesting than that. Something might be happening in the empty spaces that we aren't the doers of.

Occasionally I end yoga class by pointing out, while students are in savasana or corpse pose, that they are being breathed. It's wonderful to take deep breaths and work on lengthening the breath, but for most of us, most of the day, the breath does itself. Wouldn't it be nice to allow for the possibility that on some level, one we can't immediately observe, writer's block is the moment in time when the writing is doing itself. Eventually we'll lay down a few more blocks. Only then will we be able to see the new structure and the foundation that began it. could be. And if not, it seems an awfully nice way to think of something that can bring such frustration.

Any Zen stories of writer's block out there?

Samantha Wilde is the author of This Little Mommy Stayed Home. The mother of three young children, she lives in Western Massachusetts with her scientist husband where she spends most of her time hugging, scolding, cleaning, and cooking with the occasional glittering moments of teaching yoga, writing novels, and ministering, though for all her complaining there is nothing she'd rather be at this moment in time than "Mama." Her second novel will be out next February from Bantam Books.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Writer's Block?

By: Sandra Novack

Over the years I've been asked what I do when I have writer's block, and my response has usually always been the same:  There's no such thing as writer’s block!   But recently, about a year ago, wouldn’t you know it:  I had to eat those words.  I wasn’t having trouble writing so much as carrying things through.  I was in a stage where I felt discouraged.  I still wrote everyday, but every time I read the words I’d written, I swore they were all bad.  So finishing things became a problem—I was suddenly scared, set back—and I came to consider that fear of ending something a form of writer’s block.

Some tips for those who hit a wall:

Be kind to yourself.  Don’t let the hypercritical part of the self step in too early.  If everything needs to be perfect right away, nothing will ever get written, or finished.  Be sloppy.  Write through the chapter, even if the scenes are awkward or the language is clumsy.  Write through, even if characters say really stupid things, or if a simile or metaphor falls flat.  Write through the next chapter, and the next. Just write through!  I believe it was Sara Gruen who once said that you can revise anything, except, of course, a blank page.

Stop writing.  Why not?  Go ahead.  Take a break for a while.  Do yoga.  Play tennis.  Take two weeks off and knit something gorgeous for your mother.  So often we get caught up in thinking that writing is all there is in life.  This is especially true once you’re in the ‘publish or perish’ paradigm. Look, your brain is a muscle and it needs downtime.  It needs to refuel.  Often just doing something else recharges creative thinking and gets us ‘unstuck.’

Play around with juxtaposition.  When I’m writing one scene and I start to hit a wall, I sometimes switch to another scene or character altogether.  Skip that trouble spot and keep going.  Sometimes you have to write ahead or write another sequence, in order to see what something you’ve left behind needed.

Read.  Reading is often the best solution to everything:  getting unstuck, learning how to write, getting inspired, learning new tricks of the trade.  I’m always getting ideas when I read, and those ideas fuel my writing when I sit down at the computer again.

Words are fuel, too.   Back in graduate school, I had to write a story for a workshop deadline.  The problem was that I had no inspiration for a story.  I had no ideas whatsoever.  So I wrote my short story “My Father’s Mahogany Leg” one word at a time.   This was actually an idea that came from a mentor, Francois Camoin.  He said, “Some narratives are driven by plot, by the idea of what happens next…Other narratives are driven by language, by the writer’s search for the next word, the next phrase, often without conscious attention to narrative logic.”  Instead of thinking ‘big’ – in terms of character, scene, plot, or theme – think ‘small.’  Write a word, then just say, okay, what word next?  You CAN compose an entire story from this micro-level approach alone.

Write a story from a minor character’s point of view.  You’ve already got the story outline, then, but you have a totally different vision of known events, and a totally different desire to fuel the outcome.

What If?  This one is from Pam Painter’s marvelous book, “What If?”:  Take a story that you feel is stuck, and, at the top of the page write WHAT IF.  Add a list of ways to continue the next scene or event sequence.  What if my main character’s car breaks down?  What if she calls her mother?  What if an old boyfriend shows up?  What if an alien lands from the sky?  Be as playful and wild as you want.  Do that until you find a ‘what if’ that feels organic.

Be productive in other ways.   Polish up other stories, or other novels.  Work on your agent query, or research journals that will accept your poems.   There are many ways to stay productive, even if the muse isn’t whispering sweet nothings in your ear.  Writing and publishing both require a hell of a lot of work, so turn your attention to some other aspect of the trade for a while.

Take a walk already.  This is similar, I suppose, to ‘stop writing’, and some of the suggestions there, but what I mean is this: Balance yourself out.  Writing is very much a mental endeavor.  Remember your body, too.  When you’re fried and tapped out mentally, go do something physical. 

What’s REALLY the issue here?  Identify your demons.   Writing requires an understanding of craft, human motivation and desire, and plain old story telling.  But I frequently think that much of the writing process also deals with the mind-fucks we play on ourselves, too.  So go ahead.  Have a little therapy session.  Sit down.  Make a list.  What are you really afraid of?   What is REALLY blocking you?  I’m afraid of endings. I'm afraid I won't have any more novel ideas left.  I’m afraid of beginning anything new.  I’m afraid my family won’t speak to me if I write this.  I’m afraid of saying goodbye, so I don’t want to write a death scene.  I’m afraid my editor will pass on this story.  I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I’ll SUCCEED.  You’d be surprised what can cause writer’s block.  Write the demons down, if only to better recognize what is really going on sometimes with your process. 

Well, those are just a few suggestions.  What about you?  What do you do to get unstuck?  

Sandra Novack is the author of the books PRECIOUS and EVERYONE BUT YOU.  Visit her at:

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Footnotes in Fiction 1

1 and Nine Other Trends in Publishing 

by Sara Rosett

Marketing folks would classify me as the classic “late adopter.” No first generation iPod or iPhone for me. No color blocking or printed pants going on in my closet—been there, done that with Guess jeans in the late eighties. 

Yes, by the time I pick up a trend it is usually well into the mainstream, sometimes it’s even on the way out. In contrast to this “lagger” tendency (awful name, but it is a real name applied to late adopters) in most of my life, there is one area where I’m often aware of and possibly even ahead of the curve:  books and publishing. I thought I’d take a look at a few of the popular trends of the last few years in books and publishing as well as some of the possible trends on the horizon.

1. Footnotes in Fiction – What is up with footnotes in fiction? I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster, and the Spellmen books by Lisa Lutz. Personally, I find footnotes a bit distracting. I feel obligated to drop to the bottom of the page, read the note, then find my place again in the narrative. Slightly jarring.  Have I missed any other Footnote Lit? What side are you on:  Team Footnote or Team Parentheses?

2. Supernatural – I’m lumping all witch, vampire, zombie, troll, and mythical figures together (Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson, et all). This phenomenon is the zombie of trends. It defines the accepted rule:  publishers overdo successful trend, flooding the market, thus digging their own graves. However with supernatural lit it’s been years and it’s still going. The upcoming release of Johnny Depp’s new movie Dark Shadows indicates the stake hasn’t been driven home yet.

3. Nordic NoirThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started it and now there is a plethora of gritty books set in cold climes by authors whose names have dots above or dashes through consonants.

4. Chick Lit – Bridget Jones, Sex in the City. DOA or still kicking? The debate rages, but there sure are a lot of articles about Chick Lit out there for a dead trend. Chick lit authors also report brisk sells of their ebooks.

5. Buggy Lit – Girlfriend Karin contemplated this trend (Amish Lit) in another post and I have to agree with her puzzlement. Is this evidence of a collective nostalgia for simpler times? A reaction to the Supernatral Lit trend?

6. Non-fictionalization of  Mystery (i.e. Hobby/Craft Mysteries) – Every mystery must have a theme nowdays: knitting, couponing, scrapbooking, cooking, decorating, vintage clothing, and even beekeeping. It’s the “added-value” concept of non-fiction brought to fiction. Go ahead and by the book, you’ll use it. It has recipes/patterns/tips. My first book came out six years ago when this trend was taking off. I wrote about a professional organizer and I suggested I could include some tips, if that would help the book sell. Eight books later, I’m still including tips. Apparently no end in sight for this trend at least from publisher perspective. I’d love to hear what readers think. Do you like the tips and the hobbiest focus of mysteries or would you rather read a magazine than read about a sleuth whose hobby is, say, ice fishing?

7. Futuristic Dystopian – With the success of the Hunger Games there are sure to be more of these themes. Uglies and Cinder are two recent examples of the trend as well.

8. Historical People as Main Characters in Fiction – Another blend of non-fiction and fiction, this trend involves using a historical figure as a main character in a fictional story. The unsinkable Molly Brown has a mystery series as does the ever witty Jane Austen. The Paris Wife (Hemingway and his wife Hadley) and Clara and Mr. Tiffany are two examples of the trend in general fiction books.  

9. Fan Fiction Goes Mainstream? 50 Shades of Gray is the latest sensation. It grew out of fan fiction based on Twilight. Following the success of the fan fiction, the author rewrote, revised, and “repurposed” her story. Trend of the future?
10.Bookstore Morphs into Gift Shop—a funny thing happened to my local B&N. It’s become a gift shop/electronics/café, at least on the first floor. Refitting is going on at most major bookstores. Paper books are out, ereaders, cards, puzzles, and games are in. People are actually reading more according to some research, but many of those books are ebooks, so bookstores are shifting the physical stock they carry in their stores to reflect the changes.

What’s your favorite publishing trend? Which trend do you wish would go gently into that good night? What trends did I miss?

Sara Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mystery series, an adult “whodunit” mystery series in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Publishers Weekly has called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Library Journal says, “...Rosett’s Ellie Avery titles are among the best, using timely topics to move her plots and good old-fashioned motives to make everything believable.”
Visit for more information or connect with Sara on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, orPinterest  

My Fifty Shades Blog

By Laura Spinella

Note, this blog contains sexually explicit material—none of it pertaining to Fifty Shades of Grey

It began with a call from Liz, wanting to know if I was watching the Today show. They were doing a piece on the titillatingly popular Fifty Shades book by E L James.  My good friend wanted to know what all the hype was about and was it worth reading?  I assume the fact that I am her author-friend and not her auto-mechanic-friend, made me the go-to expert. I hadn’t read it—not at that point—so we watched together.  One psychological expert applauded the book for putting fantasy on paper, making it okay to indulge in kinky sex (don’t email me, kinky according to the bi-laws of vanilla sex, pg. 8 in the Submissive contract, clause 13E). The argument was that women had come full circle and it was okay to give back control in the bedroom.  Liz asked, “Do you think that’s right?”  I was glad she was on the other end of the phone, preventing her from seeing the blank look on my face. The other expert said the book was dangerous territory, exploiting an inexperienced young woman who would submit to just about anything to please a man. “Oh, she makes a good point,” Liz said, clearly caught up in the right and wrong of reading Fifty Shades of Grey.      
            I put the thought aside, too busy with two jobs, not to mention a manuscript that required one more round of revisions. In addition to this, I’d recently agreed to be the resident author for a critique group, the initial meeting scheduled for the next day. I’d all but forgotten Fifty Shades until I showed up to the critique group.  The women, all new to each other, were immersed in anything but a grey discussion of the New York Times bestselling novel. Some were huge fans while others argued everything from the lack of writing skill to that earlier mention about the parameters of vanilla sex. Again, not being their auto-mechanic but closest facsimile to a breathing author, they wanted to know what I thought, especially since I’d penned a love scene or two.  I felt as if I’d turned up to class without my homework, sheepishly confessing to not having pulled the shades to read Fifty Shades.
Trip & Gus, Trip is the biter
            Moving on, I arrived home to find a Fifty Shades message on my Facebook page.  It was from an old high school friend. You guessed it. Her PhD self was midway through the provocative read, thoroughly engrossed.  What did I think? Without answering, I turned off the computer and went to bed.  There I did nothing but sleep—no silky neckties, no blindfolds, no spanking. Well, that’s not entirely true.  The cat bit my chin around 3 a.m. and was the recipient of a flailing arm. Hot multimillionaires with a penchant for pain need not apply, not when we have a pedestrian tiger-striped cat willing to do the same for wet tuna.  The following day put me over the Fifty Shades edge, finding a gift copy on my Nook. It was from my boss. Really? Yes, really, but it was all quite innocent, a work-related assignment from the same person who'd sent me The Goal, a dryer than dirt book on effective process improvements. However, he was not without a specific motive.  Apparently, he’d been contacted by a major magazine wanting to interview men who’d read Fifty Shades.  What did I think?
            From here the plot thickens about as much as the one in Fifty Shades.  I submitted, sitting down and reading the damn book.  I read from two different perspectives, half writer, half audience.  I did have a couple of must-share thoughts: First, I’d no idea riding crops were so versatile. Second, I think E L James should have to produce a breathing girl over the age of 21 who does not have an email address or computer—and an Amish girl does not count.  I won’t bore you with a more detailed opinion.  Surely, by now, you’ve heard it all, the outward protests of those dedicated to literary prose, as well as those who take pride in complete sentences. Clearly, there are many who loved the book.  Honestly, my reaction was neither here nor there.  Take a spin through your TV channels; you can find bars set far lower without subscribing to pay TV.  Just the other night, I wandered into an MTV Q&A where the male interviewer was discussing, in excruciating detail, the female interviewee’s oral sex life.  All I’m thinking is WTF, why is this crap on my basic cable channels?  With the blatant over sharing of personal information so available to this impressionable demographic, I’m not sure a novel, which appears to have found its audience with women well over the age of 21 is that brow-raising.  Fifty Shades of Grey is a conscious choice where readers can happily indulge or otherwise conclude that the book is nothing more than another prop in the red room of pain. Yeah, you actually have to read the book to get the last one.  There are, I suspect, more important thoughts to think.  

Laura Spinella is the author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, a 2012 RITA Finalist for Best First Book. Visit her website at               

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why I Don't Get Writer's Block OR Just Keep Writing

by Ernessa T. Carter

At least once a year I talk about having been called to writing as a curse. Most of the time I regard doing what I do for a living as a blessing, but every so once in a while, I feel the need to gnash my teeth and rend my clothes over my "terrible fate" in the form of a blog post.

That time of the year is now. That post is this one. 

Like a few of the other writers who have covered writer's block for this topic cycle on "Girlfriends Book Club," I have never truly come down with it. I have often really not wanted to write, but I have never been blocked per se.

Sadly, I always have something I could be writing, some story nagging at the back of my head, some voice just ridiculously insisting on being heard. This often makes life difficult. For example, I haven't taken a writing-free vacation since my very early twenties. I often have trouble paying attention when I'm supposed to, because I'm working out knotty story problems. Even when I'm in a rush, I'm subject to what I call "sudden toilet and shower thrall." This is when a story idea or plot point comes on so strong that it freezes you in place anywhere from five to twenty minutes while it downloads. Being a writer can get like stupid-weird. 

So I say if you're able to not write for a long period of time, think about just going with it. You're lucky! I consider real writing passion more of an affliction than anything, mainly because I cannot stop writing. If I try, I get wildly depressed or completely despondent or ridiculously ragey or all three. In any case, it's not pretty. Like at all.

In fact, if I don't write for over 72 hours, I often find myself the subject of a gentle intervention from my husband. You know how some guys ask if their girlfriend or wife is on her period when she's being "crazy?" My husband says things like, "Hey, honey, when's the last time you wrote?" or "Do you think you might be feeling this way because you haven't been writing?" (Spoiler Alert: It almost always is.) Sometimes he volunteers to take care of our daughter while I go work on my book. And he even points out good places for me to write when we're on our family vacations. 

"Just keep writing," he says when I call him in a frantic state, insisting that I can't do this anymore and that I'm going to get a cubicle job in marketing and leave this writing junk behind or better yet, fully dedicate myself to our daughter's upbringing. "You can't do that, honey. You'd go crazy and that wouldn't be good for you or her."

So here's what I think when I hear someone is suffering from writer's block. Good! Can you keep it going? Maybe get a regular job with regular hours that will be somewhat satisfying and that you can turn off when you're on the freaking toilet? If so, that's awesome. 

And I'm so jealous. 

However, if you're like me and your case of writer's block is sending you off the deep end, I'll co-sign on my husband's advice: Just keep writing. Yeah, seriously. Write poorly. Write blog posts. Write anything  at all. Just keep writing. It might be the only thing that keeps you sane. 

Photo Credit:  photosteve101

Monday, April 23, 2012

To Be Blocked or Not to Be Blocked?

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Regarding the title of today's post? That is the question. And it's a good day to ask a question like that since April 23 is the date of William Shakespeare's death and quite possibly his birth.

One of the topics we're discussing this cycle at GBC is writer's block.

I'll confess something right up front and can only hope no one will hate me for it: I've never had writer's block. I've felt sluggish about projects from time to time. I've become bored (rarely) or otherwise disenchanted (occasionally) and I've wondered what the point of it all is (once in a blue moon). But I've never been blocked, which for our purposes here we'll define as an inability to put words on the page for an extended period of time.

I'm a writer. It's who I am. It's how I make my living, meager as that may be some years. For me, not to write is the same as if, when I was an independent bookseller, I said: "I can't sell books today"; or when I was a window washer, "Nope, I'm afraid those windows must remain spotty today because I just can't do it." When it's your job, you may not always feel like doing it, but still you show up and do the job.

Those times when I do feel sluggish or go stale on a project, I have two - for me - sure-fire ways of dealing with it: 1) spend the day working on some other writing entirely - a nonfiction essay, a blog post, even a really well-crafted email - so I maintain confidence in my ability to put words, good and well-chosen words, on the page in an effective manner; or 2) jump ahead in the story and write a scene I am excited about writing, one I've been dying to write, while vowing to come back later to the problem scene. Whichever way I choose, I always feel refreshed the next day. The trick is to always be moving forward, in some way and however small the step, toward your goal.

Over at Grub Street Daily, there's a terrific interview with Alexander Chee, which you can find here. One of the things I love about it is what Alexander has to say about needing stamina to go along with talent, because without the stamina, your talent won't get you where you want to go. After being led to the interview by a link on Twitter, I tweeted to GSD and Alexander that I would add to that the need for a writer to have resilience (of course, I managed to do it using typos galore, compromising the otherwise brilliance of my obvious resilience).

Resilience is a big deal to me. It's the ability to show up as a writer, sometimes under spectacularly adverse circumstances, and do the work.

One last thing before I go: Over the years I've been doing this, I've come across the occasional person - OK, more than occasional, but I know none of you are Those People! - who has bought into the idea and convinced themselves that writers are artists (which is true) and if a writer is a true artist, that writer must be tortured, a tortured artiste (which is false). Those People work themselves into states about all manner of things and before you know it, they've got a block to go along with it.

Well, the truth is, no one has to be a tortured artist. You can choose to be a happy one - or at least a resilient one! - and you can choose to reject and push aside that block.

And that's all I've got!

Now it's your turn: Have you ever been blocked? How do you deal with writing stumbles or blocks? And finally, am I getting on your nerves yet with my disgusting happy-pappy-sappy resilient talk?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 24 books for adults, teens and childrens. Her most recent novels for adults are The Bro-Magnet and Z: A Novel   and she'd be estatic if you bought one, or both even ($2.99 each; a steal!), but she'll never know if you don't and thus won't be able to hold it against you.

Guest Blogger Kate Noble: Fashion and the Story It Tells

Fashion, and the Story it Tells by Kate Noble

Let’s talk fashion.  

I have to admit something.  I’m not really into fashion.  (*dodges thrown chairs*)  And as someone who as two stories out right now that feature fashion heavily (If I Fall and the e-novella The Dress of the Season) this is tantamount to swearing in church.  Listen, I like a new pair of shoes as much as the next girl, but I couldn’t identify Manolo Blahniks on sight.  And I may like watching what the stars wear to the Oscars, but I couldn’t tell you who designed all the prettiness.  The truth is, fashion doesn’t have a big impact on my daily life.

But in my romance novelist life, fashion looms large.  What my characters wear is very important – it’s informed by their station in life, and informs how they act in society. A man in a starched and shined naval uniform is approached differently than one wearing the same uniform but worn through at the elbows and cuffs.  A proper young lady wearing a plain but appropriate costume acts very differently than a proper young lady wearing the height of fashion of the day.   Fashion – in historical romance especially – takes center stage.

In If I Fall, Sarah Forrester recovers from the doublewhammy of heartbreak and social disgrace that stemmed from being dumped by a duke at her engagement ball, by transforming herself into the Golden Lady.  She does this by developing her wit, her laugh, and very importantly, her wardrobe.

 When I saw this silk and metallic embroidered Portuguese ensemble from 1825 at the LACMA Fashion through the Ages, I knew it was Sarah Forrester’s.  I even wrote it –palm fronds and all – into a pivotal scene.   For me, finding this dress helped me find the character.  Any women who wore this dress would not be a shrinking violet.  She would be the center of attention – the Golden Lady.

But what does a golden lady wear when she is not on display at a ball, but still needs to maintain that golden standard?  Well, during the Regency and pre-Victorian Era, British India was highly informative of fashion.  With the advent of new weaving styles and new dyes, it opened up a whole new world to ladies of the ton.  And a curry or saffron colored Indian shawl, along with muslin dress with a bright yellow embroidered hem, would have fit the bill nicely. 

Taking these two dresses together, I began to get a real sense of who Sarah Forrester was.  A well-bred young lady who had branded herself in an effort to hide the pain of her past.  From there I was able to build her character, and her story.  And I hope you find Sarah – and If I Fall –as intriguing as I did.

And now it’s your turn – tell us, does fashion affect how you see characters when you read about them, or does it detract from the story?  One lucky commenter will receive a copy of If I Fall!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Writing Routine

A Really Bad Poem by Susan McBride

How is it done? I'm often asked
About the task
That’s my love and my livelihood.

Are you chained to your desk,
Not leaving your nest
Until your word count’s in the can?

I wish I could say,
“Hey, this is the way”
I always tell my stories.

But every book’s a new deal,
I don’t know how I’ll feel
Or what’ll crop up and annoy me.

When deadlines loom
Emails boom
And laundry piles up.

Something breaks or leaks
My husband freaks
And I wait for the repairmen.

I have author friends
More disciplined
Who write everyday like clockwork.

Some in car pool lanes
(which I think is insane)
or at Starbucks while the joe perks.

I admire the ones
Who don’t miss a beat
With second jobs and kids at their feet.

I just try to keep
My butt glued to my seat
And hope nothing gets out of hand.

But crises always arise
Things I never surmised
That throw me off my game plan.

So when I’m asked
How I do this task
I don't always have an answer.

“I don’t know,” I'll admit,
It’s a mysterious bit
Then I'll shrug and say, “It’s magic.”


Susan McBride is the author of Little Black Dress, The Cougar Club, and the forthcoming The Truth About Love and Lightning (William Morrow Paperbacks, 02/13). At nearly eight months pregnant, her writing routine is pretty well shot to hell, which is good practice for after the baby comes. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dear Girlfriends and followers: I was scheduled to post on the 1st anniversary of my father's death.  I have asked my dear friend, and honorary girlfriend (okay, he's male) to step in for me.

Guest blog by Jon Jefferson, bestselling author of The Inquisitor’s Key, due out May 8 from William Morrow.

I write murder mysteries; forensic thrillers. My pages are populated by corpses and skeletons; rivers of blood run from my scenes. Imagine my surprise, then, to find myself devoting many chapters of my latest novel to one of the most famous romances of all time. How the hell did this happen?

Well, one thing leads to another; take enough steps, and you’ll walk a thousand miles, even if they’re meandering miles rather than crow-flight miles. My first step was deciding to set a crime novel in Avignon, a beautiful, walled city in Provence that was the seat of the popes for most of the 14th century.

To do justice to Avignon, I realized, I needed both a modern-day murder and a medieval mystery, one set during the lavish heyday of papal Avignon. (The court of Pope Clement VI – “Clement the Magnificent” – cost 10 times as much to maintain as the court of the French king!) Not surprisingly, medieval Avignon boasted a fascinating cast of characters. One of them was Jacques Fournier, a heretic-obsessed Inquisitor (he of the book’s title) who tortured and burned his way all the way up to the papal throne, becoming pope in 1334. Another was Petrarch, a wonder-boy cleric who wrote history, philosophy, and poetry – reams of poetry – on the Church’s dime. In Avignon, Petrarch fell famously in love with a beautiful young countess – a married young countess – named Laura de Noves. Apparently Laura was more committed to her marriage vows than Petrarch was to his chastity vows, for she refused to be wooed. Petrarch worshiped her from afar … and yet from near enough that his broken heart could be seen by Laura and everyone else in Avignon. He channeled his love into sonnets – hundreds of sonnets – extolling her beauty and virtue. He even hired a prominent Avignon painter, Simone Martini, to paint a miniature portrait of Laura, one he could gaze at whenever he wished to refresh his memory or rebreak his heart. So far, mind you, we’re squarely in the realm of historical fact.

All that unrequited, sublimated passion set my fiction-brain to thinking: What would it be like for the painter, Martini – to follow the young woman, secretly observing her in the streets or at church, sneaking glimpses of her in profile, in half-profile, full-face? Gradually, as I began mentally pursuing the lovely Laura, I realized that it would be easy for Martini to become obsessed: infatuated with the subject of his artistic observation, his painterly voyeurism. Then I thought, And what if she one day she catches him, confronts him, demands to see the surreptitious portrait? My next step was to write this:

One Sunday as she kneels, he sees her head slump and her shoulders slacken; then, with a jerk, she awakens, wide eyed, and suddenly he hears her laugh—in church!—when she realizes what she has done. The matron beside her gives a sharp, reproving look, and she forces her face back into its mask of composed piety. But Martini has now seen something else behind the church-face mask, and his curiosity is aroused.

That night, as he lies beneath the covers before going to sleep, he plays a painter’s game with himself, imagining how he might paint her face in various scenes, with various expressions and emotions: worry, gratitude, tranquility, terror, irritation, delight, lust. And then, when Giovanna rolls her body against his in the dark, and her fingers seek him out, stroke him to hardness, and guide his flesh into hers, it is Laura’s face, and Laura’s breasts, and Laura’s moans that he imagines, and that make him gasp and shudder with a fiery passion that Giovanna’s simple, honest love has never managed to ignite.

The next Sunday, she is not there. He checks her usual stations—the side chapels where she always pauses to light candles—scanning the congregation with confusion and growing dismay. Somehow, because she has always been here, he has taken it for granted that she always would be here. His surprise gives way to another feeling, one he recognizes as fear—no, as panic! What if she’s gone for good—moved away to Paris, or killed by a sudden fever? How can he possibly finish the portrait until every detail of her is etched in his mind? How will he explain his failure to Petrarch? And then: How will he fill his Sunday mornings, and the other hours of his days and nights that she has come to occupy? Good God, he thinks, I am worse than the poet. I have a good wife, a sweet and faithful woman who loves me, and yet I am turning into a schoolboy over this woman—this girl—who is thrice forbidden to me: She is married, I am married, and she is beloved by my friend Petrarch.

In a state of consternation, he stumbles over the feet of worshipers, turns up the side aisle of the nave, and makes for the door. Just before he reaches it, he feels a tug on his sleeve. He turns, and there—hidden by a pillar—is the woman herself, a sight so unexpected he almost cries out in surprise. She watches him regain control of himself, then says, “Monsieur, vous me cherchez?”: Sir, are you looking for me?’’

For a startled medieval painter named Simone Martini, that encounter will change things forever. Who knows: perhaps it’s also a turning point for an equally surprised, meander-prone writer of crime fiction … or is it historical romance?

#          #          #

Jon Jefferson writes in Tallahassee, Florida, where he lives with his wife, the peerless Jane McPherson – to whom he was introduced three years ago by Sheila Curran, blogger, novelist and matchmaker par excellence. For more on The Inquisitor’s Key, visit and Jon's author blogspot. And check out the book’s high-octane, 30-second YouTube video trailer.

Judging a Cover By Its Book

by Ariella Papa

I never met a cover of mine that I didn’t like. I know some authors who hate what they wind up with, but not me. From the first time I saw the sketch for my debut novel – there were donuts worked in-  to every random copy of my novels in numerous translations, I love them all. I have a couple of covers framed in my house and one day when I win that Mega Millions jackpot or get that big option, I will wallpaper the writer’s room in my eco-friendly lake house in book covers. The Danish version of Up&Out is super cool (at least I think that’s what it is).
I guess it’s because when I see the cover I know that the book is soon to follow and I am grateful again that this is all happening. Maybe if I were a NY Times bestselling author I would be more picky, but I doubt it. I love seeing the way an artist decides to translate my book.
Things are a little bit different now that I am epublishing. I am told that covers aren’t as important in epublishing. People who buy ebooks aren’t browsing covers they say, but I don’t know if I buy it. Either way, now that I intimately involved in the process of creating the cover, I definitely want it to be good.
I am lucky that I am good friends with someone who makes covers for actual books for a real publishing company and she (I’ll call her Joan since we both like Mad Men and she is a sassy redhead) will trade a good meal for a book cover. It’s a win-win for me, because I love her style and this is great reason to go back to Brooklyn Fare.
For my first epublished book Momfriends Joan gave me three different options. We went with a style that would appeal to my chick-lit fans. The cover was pink and had three different sets of shoes to represent the three women in the story. I asked for a tweak of the middle shoes to differentiate it more from the other two and Joan put in the cute blue kicks she happened to be wearing. I loved it. It totally got the vibe of the book.

Then I decided I was going to epublish some short stories. All of these stories were set around Y2K, and sort of went together in my head. What I really needed was six separate covers. I needed covers that were different, but tied together. It was probably time to move away from pink. Joan suggested keeping some stylistic elements like my name placement and certain typography. I suggested incorporating some iconography from the stories and this is what we wound up with.

Again, I love it! As I release each story that story's name will be the boldest, but all the names are still there. I’m working on a little trailer based on the cover.
I’ve wanted to publish these Turn of the Century Stories for some time and I will be epublishing one every couple of months over this year. It’s kind of an experiment and we’ll see how it goes.  In content and cover this is a departure for me and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
 Because these books are epublished and I don’t get to hold the tangible book, seeing this cover was the moment where I started to feel like this book was going to be real.

 What are YOUR cover stories? Are you always happy? Is epublishing changing how you think about them?

Ariella Papa is releasing Turn of The Century Stories all year long. Find out more about her at or like her on facebook

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to Begin by Deborah Blumenthal

How to begin?

Writing the first sentences of an article or book are the hardest, at least for me.  They have to be perfect before I go on because they set the stage for everything that follows, hinting at not only where the story will be going, but also letting readers know they’re in capable hands.

After watching six mesmerizing hours of Gatz, the Public Theater's reading and dramatization of the entire text of The Great Gatsby,  I went back to look at the opening lines of  this iconic work:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind every since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

The morning after the show,  which started at two on a Sunday afternoon and ended at ten fifteen at night, including a dinner break, I went back to those lines and marveled at how they put the entire book in eye-opening perspective.   Although few books can compare to Gatsby, I scanned my book shelves to see how others began their stories. 

The opening paragraph of “Sweet Dreams Baby,” a novel by Sterling Watson,  is one of my favorites:

I look out through the back door screen to see if the Pultneys are there. One of them is, Jimmy. I’m scared of the Pultneys, but I don’t say so. Dad says never say you’re scared and you won’t be. Jimmy Pultney has a chicken in one hand and a hatchet in the other.  He holds the chicken by the next, and the neck stretches long. The chicken doesn’t try to get away. It hangs quiet, knowing it can’t. The chopping block is an old hickory stump. My dad says the Pultneys probably dragged it with them from some holler in the Ozarks. He calls them Okie trash.”    

Okay now you can let go of that breath!

Another favorite opening is from Lolly Winston’s “Happiness Sold Separately.”

Elinor Mackey is cleaning out her purse, try to lighten her load, wondering how a broken sprinkler head wound up among the contents, when she first learns that her husband, Ted, is having an affair.

You're hooked, right?

What are your favorite opening lines or paragraphs?  Why do you love them? Share your favorites!

Deborah Blumenthal is the author of thirteen books. Her latest young adult novel, THE LIFEGUARD, was published last month by Albert Whitman & Company.  

The Author to Her Book by Hank Phillippi Ryan

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The time is almost here. My new book is coming out, in a few months, and there's nothing more I can do. I love it, in fact  I'm thrilled with  it. But it is what it is. Sometimes, I pick up the (very gorgeous) advance reading copy--here's a confession for you--and open to a random page, and just start to read. Simply to see if, say, some reader chose it in a library or bookstore, and just flipped to a page and started reading, would they like it? Would they want to buy it or check it out?

This is, of course, absurd.  (Ah, Isn't it? Trying to pretend I'm "not-me" to test how a random stranger might react?) 

Now, soon, people will be getting copies of it. And reading it . And I love the book, I do, but there's always the moment when you send the baby out into the world and say--fly! fly! fly! Okay, I'm madly mixing metaphors, but you know what I mean. It's terrifying--and so exciting.

The other thing about being a writer is that we alwyas feel--it's only me. Just me. I'm here by myself, loving this but worrying, and no one else can understand. And then, a dear pal sent me this poem.

Written in 1650 or so! To me, it comes from love and pride and the bond a writer feels to her work--and a sweet affection for her "offspring." Anne Bradstreet was born in 1612. And emigrated to Massachsetts in 1630.  We certainly share the frustrations of editing...don't you love when she  rubs off a spot--only to find another flaw? It's fascinating to think about her--almost 400 years ago!--having some of the same feelings we all do now.

Apparently some of her acquaintances took her poems, and had them published against her wishes. And tht proably wouldn't happen today!And I don't agree with all of her emotions, of you? But I do love the sisterhood and the common ground. And the idea that though many things change--can you imagine Anne Bradstreet seeing her poetry in an e-book?--so many things for writers are universal and constant, transcending time. 
She might even have become a "Girlfriend," right?
The Author to Her Book
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i' th' house I find.
In this array 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.  

HANK: How do you feel at those turning point moments for your book? How do you handle the nerves? I say to myself--this is what I dreamed of! So now--enjoy it. 

(THE OTHER WOMAN is the lead title for Forge Books' fall catalogue...Lisa Scottoline says "Riveting!"
find out more at )

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Those Elusive Ideas by Lucy Burdette

Ideas for books and stories are everywhere out in the world--it's putting my finger on them that's not so easy. But here's an example of how a story evolved--the pieces were all there; I simply had to put them together.

Every year Mystery Writers of America publishes an anthology of short stories centered on a theme that is chosen by a big name guest editor. Two years ago, the editor was Nelson DeMille and he called for stories based on the very rich.  I very much wanted to be included, so I racked my brain for ideas. At the time, I was staying in Key West and my sister and her husband had come to visit for a couple of days. We wandered down to Mallory Square, where the sunset celebration takes place every night. The big cruise ships dock there too, though almost always they are required to set off before sunset so they don't block the tourists' view.

On this particular night, one of the ships seemed to be delayed. And then we spotted a man carrying his luggage off the boat, by all indications arguing with the crew. He steamed off into the crowd and the ship left the dock. Now that got us all thinking...and finally we came up with these ideas: What if his girlfriend had not returned to the boat in time to depart the port? And what if a detective from out of town happened to be watching, and had seen the same man squabbling with a woman on Duval Street earlier that day? And what if her picture turned up as a missing person in the crime report of the Key West Citizen the next day? And what if the cat man of Key West had seen something that turned into a clue?

All I had to do was to figure out what happened to her....

And where the detective had come from and why he was there...

And why he preferred to spend his vacation in Key West helping the local cops solve a crime...

The last part was the easiest. I borrowed Detective Meigs from my advice column mysteries and gave him an unwanted, nonrefundable vacation from his sister. And had him greeted at the airport by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder.

And out of all that emerged my short story "The Itinerary" (by my alter-ego Roberta Isleib), now published in THE RICH AND THE DEAD, edited by Nelson DeMille. And even better, nominated for an Agatha Award at the Malice Domestic convention!

Here's how it begins: 

"Detective Jack Meigs knew he’d hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren’t declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket: He was screwed." Read the rest of the story here.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib is the author of nine mysteries including the first Key West food critic mystery, AN APPETITE FOR MURDER. Please follow her on twitter or facebook.

Author Promotion: What Worked, What Didn't

I'm a big believer in Skyping with book clubs all over the country. It's very folksy like a fireside chat, with all these women sitting in someone's living room or kitchen glued to a computer screen. But it's a great way to interact, answer questions, have a few laughs and endear yourselves to readers you would never otherwise have met. They love it, I love it and it costs not a dime. But if you try it, I suggest doing a trial run with the group host before the actual "meeting". Work out all the technical kinks and you're good to go. Worth the extra time, and it's also a way to review how you want to work the discussion. Generally I begin by talking about my writer's journey, I discuss the book and then take questions. The whole thing takes 20-30 minutes and everyone is happy.

Saralee Rosenberg

Good: I wrote personalized letters to booksellers and sent them ARCS. My efforts resulted in my novel being a Booksense Notable (Which is now Indie Bound.)

Bad: I wasted too much time on bookstore appearances. Lots of time only a few people would come out, so now I mostly do drop-in signings where I just sign stock and chat up booksellers.

Karin Gillespie

I obsessed over the launch of my debut novel with the same degree of passion applied to the birth of my first child.  No detail was too minor, no expense spared, and all chickens were counted as hatched.  My published friends counseled restraint.  “Just do what you like to do,” they said, “because, in the end, none of it will matter.”  I listened, but their words were confused by memories of those very authors, besotted with their debut novels, pumping blind enthusiasm into the dead-on-arrival veins of book signings, action figures, and t-shirts.  My advice?  Just do what you like to do because you love your book—and enjoy it while you can.  Your next book will have to hit the ground running.        

Cindy Jones

I am on day six of an eight day blogads campaign, and so far the results have been disappointing.

Deborah Blumenthal

What worked
Whenever I do a reading/signing, I bring "autographed copy" stickers, and tell the audience I have them. I mention that they make a nice addition if you're giving the book as a gift. This gives people the idea to actually BUY the book as a gift for someone. And I believe it increases sales all around. (Even grown-ups like stickers!) 

FYI, I get mine from Alpha Business Forms.

What didn't work
I once tried giving away prizes to get people to help spread the word about my books, and it wasn't as effective as  I thought it would be. Turns out, people actually LIKE to help, and would rather do it out of kindness and generosity than for a reward. So although the program didn't work out, it was an uplifting lesson about human nature!

Ellen Meister

What I believe has worked best for me promotion-wise throughout my career is just getting to know the book people in my city and developing a really lovely relationship with them. It's so nice when they email and say, "There's this cool event coming up, and we'd like you to participate." Also, taking every opportunity to meet booksellers and librarians in other cities and states, say, through book festivals or trade shows. It's such a different feeling meeting them face to face, and I've made some really wonderful friends that way. And it's been crucial getting to know the folks at my publishing house through the years (I've been with HarperCollins since 2002 when I signed my first contract with them--wow!). They're my book family, and I appreciate the ease with which I can communicate with them and share ideas.

What didn't work was spreading myself too thin, trying to do too much promotion-wise (like, travel anywhere and everywhere anyone would have me, go to every convention or conference I could possibly squeeze in, etc.). I did get very good at writing a book in three months because of backing myself into a corner time-wise; but I've realized things work out much better if I focus on the writing and keep my butt in the desk chair these days. I've learned it really is okay to say "no" every once in a while!

Susan McBride

Some of the low-tech stuff I did, business cards with the book cover, and a book party that also raised money for a charity tied to the theme of my book, seemed to me to have more 'legs' than others. My huge failure, 500 window decal bumper stickers with Diana Lively is Falling Down to stimulate intrigue among drivers.  I'd say 10 people, all family and close friends, put them on their cars, I was too shy to press them on anyone else, and they remain, to this day cluttering my file closet. 

The worst promotion, for me, has been doing  'readings' at Borders (pre-bankruptcy) and Barnes & Nobles out of town.  As my friend Mark Winegardener says, "It's like going to the bathroom in public."  Worse, yet, when no one shows up to witness the event, it's somehow even more humiliating!  If you've got a big name, it might be different, but for me, it was simply a waste of the miles on my car and lots of nervousness ahead of time.  I signed all the books I could, knowing they couldn't return them, but still...

The best advice I got was to do what you love to do anyway, and forget the rest.

Sheila Curran

Aah, promotion.  The bane of every author's existence!!  In my experience, it's really hard to tell what works and what doesn't.  There's really no way of knowing what exactly drives people to buy books.  Sure, an ad in People Magazine couldn't hurt, but does that really encourage people to buy?

So, I think it's a really good idea to just do what you're comfortable with.  That having been said, having a website, blog and Twitter account, I think, are a great place to start.  Getting your name out there is always a good thing.

Brenda Janowitz

 What worked:
Bookmarks have always been a good giveaway for me. I have some made with each book. I put the cover of my new release with a blurb on the front. I put the covers of the other books in the series on the back so that readers will have all the titles listed in order. I use them at signings and to hand out to family and friends. 

Waste of Time: 
T-shirts for a panel. Years ago I was on a panel at a convention with several author friends. We blogged together at a now-defunct blog called Good-Girls-Kill (We wrote mysteries.) We came up with idea of wearing t-shirts for the panel to promote our blog. We found an on-line company that printed customized t-shirts and decided on long-sleved black t-shirts with the blog address on the back. 

The problem was that by the time we decided on logo/no logo, font size, slogan, color, long/short sleeve, regular/baby doll fit, etc the deadline for the con was fast approaching. We had to rush the t-shirt order and have them FEDEXed. In the end, the shirts cost an outrageous $80 each. My friend Diana Killiian quipped she was going to be buried in hers. Definitely not worth it! 
Sara Rosett

Obviously, good reviews were a plus, but other than that, I think networking with other writers.