Friday, January 31, 2014

GUEST BLOG + GIVEAWAY: Featuring Kim Boykin

Okay, to know what the sweetest thing is, you have to know what the NOT sweetest thing is. And as a newbie novelist, it’s having ONE book out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so FREAKING grateful to have a published book, sometimes, I just squeal for no reason. Or for that very reason. I didn’t have anything else for readers who say, “What else do you have for me to read?” And while I thank GOD for my fabulous editor at Penguin, sadly I’ve had to say to readers, “the new book will be out next AUGUST.” BTW, Palmetto Moon does come out 8/5/14. YAY!

But in a world when our baked potatoes can’t bake fast enough in the microwave, that’s too long for some people, I know it is for me. All of that changed today! Scratch that, all that changed at a cocktail party when I met the amazing author and rebel girl, Jane Porter. Being a rebel girl, Jane is making sense out of this crazy publishing business with her new company, Tule Publishing Group, which offers a better way. Like you can put out a book almost as fast as your can write it better way.

Jane’s first imprint is Montana Born Books, about a small fictitious town, Marietta, Montana, that is chock full of hot cowboys and heroines, with fabulous authors writing those stories like Jane herself, Lilian Darcy, Megan Crane, and C.J. Carmichael, and a whole bunch more!

When Jane suggested I write a novella for her, I laughed because I didn’t think I belonged in the same sentence with those lovely ladies. I’m still not so sure about that, and I’ll be the first person to confess I know nothing about Montana. Never been there, but I’ve seen pictures, and let me tell you it’s beautiful and now on my bucket list.

Anyhoo, Jane said, “write me a story about a sassy South Carolina hairstylist who goes to Montana for some reason.” Good thing Jane is a whole lot smarter than me, because this novella is a good example of an an editor, publisher, and friend giving you wings and then giving you a gentle shove off of the cliff. And that’s what it felt like writing Steal Me, Cowboy. Soaring.

With Jane’s vision and Rainey Brown’s great big sassy southern voice I was hooked and so caught up in writing Beck Hartnett that I found myself sighing A LOT. And when my husband gently reminded me I’d been writing for twelve hours and it was time to make dinner, I took one hand off the keyboard, just for a second, mind you, and shooed him away. Because, once Beck Hartnett gets hold of you, you really don’t want to let go.

And how should we celebrate all things Montana (and Beck Hartnett!), you ask?  Comment below for your chance to win a copy of Montana Born's first print anthology Love Me, Cowboy, a $10 Amazon gift card, and yummy chocolates!

Kim Boykin is a women's fiction author with a sassy Southern streak. She is the author of The Wisdom of Hair, Steal Me, Cowboy, and Palmetto Moon (Summer 2014.) While her heart is always in South Carolina, she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, 3 dogs, and 126 rose bushes.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stay in the Story

by Maria Geraci

About 15 months ago, I began writing my latest wip (work-in-progress).

I'm only about 3/4's done with the story. A novel that should have taken me about 6 months to write.

So why haven't I finished it yet?

Yes, life got in the way. But life always gets in the way. I really have no excuse. I like this story and every time I sit down to write the words seem to flow. Sure, they flow more on some days than others, but overall, it's a good story. At least, I think it is. So, what's the deal? The deal is, I've divorced myself from the story. I've neglected it when I should have been nourishing it. It's like the little crab my son got on his eighth birthday. He put the cage in his closet (for some reason) then forgot to feed the thing. About a week later when I went to clean his room, I found it. Yeah, not a pretty sight. It taught him an early lesson. Neglect is an awful thing. I should have paid more attention.

Writing is like exercise. The more you do it, the more endorphins you release and the better you feel. But take a week off from the gym and it feels like pulling teeth to get back there again. So in the infamous words of Nike, Just do it. Write. Plant your butt in the chair and get the fingers moving. It's the only advice I know to give any writer. The more you think about and dream about your story the more you stay in the story and that's how the story gets written.

So what have I done with the novel I began in the fall of 2012?

I had to go back to page 1. Read from the beginning. Get to know the characters' all over again and what makes them tick. I've had to force myself to write at different times of the day. Best writing time for me? When I wake up in the morning and then again right before I go to sleep. Writing before bedtime helps me dream about my story. Not consciously, not all the time, but I know deep down that my subconscious is figuring it all out, hence, why writing when I wake up is so productive.

Writing for me, has got to be a passion.  All fire-breathing dragon. Like something that's alive and waiting to consume me if I don't get the words on the page. That's how I write my best stories. I'd forgotten that. I'd let dustballs and the rest of life get in the way. Not anymore. Not if I want to continue to call myself a writer. Not if I want to get this story done.

Maria Geraci writes humorous, romantic women's fiction. Her latest novel, A GIRL LIKE YOU was nominated for Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA award. You can connect with her by checking out her website

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Books, barn doors, bugs and other ruminations

by Michele Young-Stone, author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, and the forthcoming novel, Where I Am Born.

I am currently between books.  After finishing my latest novel, WHERE I AM BORN, I now have the opportunity to start reading fiction again.  

I just finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  Let me tell you: it is one of the most extraordinary novels I’ve ever read.  It’s now up there as one of my top five reads of all time.  Beautiful Ruins was incredible.  Beautiful!  I felt like I’d been given a gift, something precious and holy to hold in my hands.  I will read this one again. 

Next, I read Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, one of the most creative, original love stories I’ve ever experienced.  Actually, it is the most creative, intelligent, character-driven, intoxicating love story I’ve ever read.  The whole concept and story telling was wholly unexpected and weirdly wrought, like nothing I’ve experienced.  I loved it.  I highly recommend it. 

I also read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

In 1990, I was taking a class called The Politics of Southern Africa, and while enrolled in the course, as I was learning about apartheid and its effects on the whole of southern Africa, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the state of Apartheid was dismantled.  It was an incredible time to study the southern region of this continent.  I did a semester long project on Zimbabwe, formerly northern and southern Rhodesia, and back then President Robert Mugabe was supposed to be a liberator, a real man for the people.  Here we are, over two decades later, and he is a dictator.  He is stripping the country of its diamond and gem wealth.  Additionally, he is bullying all white farmers who came to know Zimbabwe as their home, to leave.  These are farmers who support whole villages with good jobs, and he’s making them leave the only home many of them have ever known.  If threats don’t work, the famers are beaten and sometimes murdered.

Simultaneously, he's invited the Chinese communists to do what the former colonists once did: mine and rape the nation's wealth. 

This novel was sad and alarming.  It was the truth.  It was hard to put down.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys character-driven novels, novels based on historical events, anyone with an interest in African politics, or anyone who enjoys a good read.  This was a page-turner.      

I am currently reading Robert Goolrick’s newest novel, Heading Out to Wonderful.  This book, like The Reliable Wife, is a real page-turner.  Only a few chapters in, there is an ominous tone that permeates the pages.  Smart.  Wicked.  

I am also thinking about my next novel so I am getting ready to start The Waterman’s Song by David S. Cecelski.  This book is research for my next novel.  It’s about “Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina”—where I currently reside.  

Like most writers, I MUST stay busy so in addition to reading, I am on a quest to avoid all Chinese products (not possible when it comes to electronics).  We had a very homemade Christmas.  I turned an extra bedroom into Santa’s workshop.  I was the top Elf, the only Elf most of the time.  I started making bug jars for yard art, and I made a barn door for one of my bathrooms.  I plan to make another one for my upstairs bathroom.

I am a novelist and barn door bug builder.  Cheers.

Concerning Where I Am Born, I am pleased to tell you that it will be released in Spring, 2015.  I am very grateful to share some early blurbs with you.  I am grateful to Lydia Netzer and Tracy Guzeman for taking the time to read and comment on my manuscript. 

REVIEWS for Where I Am Born:

"Where I Am Born is a raw, beautiful, unforgettable book that folds unfathomable horrors and unfathomable love into a story of incredible power. Young-Stone is a master writer, and her deft control of this novel's many moving pieces puts her in the highest echelon of our craft. Yet at the center, literal and figurative, of this novel is a story so brilliantly simple and deeply moving, you'll forget you are reading a book. This story shook me to my core, and I can't wait for the rest of the world to experience it." -Lydia Netzer.  Her debut novel Shine Shine Shine is not to be missed.

“The beautiful prose in Michele Young-Stone’s Where I Am Born flies off the page. A stirring meditation on resilience, the ties that bind us to our past, and what it means to have wings.”—Tracy Guzeman, author of The Gravity of Birds. 

Please check out my updated website, and as soon as the novel can be preordered, I’ll let you know.  

Favorite Dorothy Parker Quotes

by Ellen Meister

"I hate writing, I love having written."

That quote comes from Dorothy Parker, one of America's greatest wits. And while I understand exactly what she meant (writing is often an exercise in compressed angst, after all) I'm a little too ambivalent to get on board. Writing gives me enough moments of exquisite rapture to love it at least as much as I hate it.

But today I want to talk to you about a byproduct of my writing that's brought me joy, my Dorothy Parker Facebook page. Several years ago, when I was just beginning to write Farewell, Dorothy Parker (a novel that resurrects the great wit's ghost), I started the page as a lark. I was just curious to see how easy it would be to find fellow Dorothy Parker fans online. I thought it might be fun if I connected with as many as a few hundred like-minded souls.

Little did I know that within a few years the page would have over 100,000 followers. I'm still awestruck.

But here's the most surprising part: running the page is a blast. The followers are smart, challenging, funny and completely engaged. In honor of that, I'm going to share with you some of  the followers' favorite Dorothy Parker quotes ...

"The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."

When a certain garrulous woman was described to Dorothy Parker as "outspoken," she replied, "Outspoken by whom?"

Asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, Dorothy Parker replied, "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think."

"Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common."

“Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.”

 "Don't look at me in that tone of voice."

 "Brevity is the soul of lingerie."

 On an unwanted pregnancy: "It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard."

 "If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."

 "I was always sweet, at first. Oh, it's so easy to be sweet to people before you love them."

When told Calvin Coolidge had died, Dorothy Parker remarked, "How can they tell?"

 "Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart."

 "Ducking for apples -- change one letter and it's the story of my life."

 “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

If you have a favorite Dorothy Parker quote, please share it below. And if you're not a follower of the Facebook page, what are you waiting for?
Ellen Meister is the author of four novels, including Farewell, Dorothy Parker and The Other Life. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, and is working on a follow-up novel about the ghost of Dorothy Parker. For more information visit her website at

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ready! Set! Procrastinate?

I wish you could see my underwear drawer. It’s—pristine. All divided by color, and lined up in nice perfect rows. (I will spare you the photo, so just imagine.) I have organized the heck out of it.

You should also see my upstairs summer closet. It is fabulous. Every t-shirt and even slightly saggy or out of fashion item has been removed, cleaned and donated. There is actually room in the closet for what’s there, and even a little left over. I could close my eyes, and select something wearable and the right size. I have organized the heck out of it.

The reason I am on this organizational rampage is that I will do anything, anything to avoid starting my new book.  Girlfriends, I have actually considered changing the shelf paper in my kitchen cabinets.

 Do you realize what that would entail?

Taking out each and every canister, jar, and can, weird tubes of anchovy paste and  marginal cookies and packets of salad dressing, peeling away the tattersall-plaid paper lining, cleaning the wood underneath,  driving through the SNOW to the the hardware store, choosing the perfect new paper, making sure there’s enough in stock, driving home,  measuring, cutting, peeling, sticking, applying, and then REPLACING every canister, jar, can and tube of anchovy paste.

Do you REALIZE how long that would take, and what a PAIN that would be?

And yet, and yet, it is a walk in the park compared to sitting at my computer and starting my new book.

Now, truth be told, I do want to write it.  (And TRUTH BE TOLD  is an especially funny expression, since it it’s the title of my new book—my finished book!—the one which I had no idea how to write a exactly this time last year, and that is now about to be in galleys and is really really good if I do say so.)
So why am I contemplating actual housework instead of starting the new book? Why am I intimidated by myself? I have written SIX SUCCESSFUL NOVELS, (the most recent is THE WRONG GIRL)—I say to myself. Each time, (except the first time, which is an altogether different story because I had no idea) each time, I was apprehensive, and afraid, and each time I second-guessed my self.

“What if this is the time it isn’t going to work?” I wailed to my husband.
“That’s what you always say,” he replies,  “and then it always works.”
“But what if this is the time it DOESN’T work?”
"That’s what you always say, too,” he says.

And he is right right right.

I just gave a movie-book talk about To Kill A Mockingbird , one of my favorite books and movies, and learned in my research that Harper Lee tossed the manuscript of TKAM out the window and into the snow, because she was so frustrated with it. Her agent made her go out and pick it out.  You of course know Stephen King threw CARRIE into the trash—and his wife had to retrieve it.

It’s such a climb, isn’t it? Or like one hilarious and well-meaning pal of mine once described: “Like Godot pushing that boulder up the mountain. “

Yes, indeed. Or something like that.

So girlfriends, here’s the thing. I have a very good plot idea. And a title: WHAT YOU SEE. And I have—well, let’s call it faith in the universe. It has never failed me, not ever, that when it is really and truly time to start, the perfect words form in my brain, and there’s no force in the galaxy that can keep me from my desk.

Has that happened to you? It’s like some force says—okay, ready.

Peter DeVries famously say: “I write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired very morning at 9 am.”

So today, as you are reading this, picture my house in Massachusetts. . My underwear drawer is perfect, my upstairs closet is perfect. My kitchen cabinets-- forget about that. I ‘ll do them next time. But  it’s time. Really and truly time. I will  be at my desk. 

And slowly and wonderfully, I have complete confidence, WHAT YOU SEE will come to life.

I don’t have to write a whole book today, I have to write one page, maybe two.  I’ll have great days, and I have horrible days. Ill have days when I’m in despair, and days when I secretly applaud myself.  Word by word, page by page.

And soon, well, not soon, but eventually, I’ll do what I always do. I’ll call my husband in the study and say, “Sweetheart, watch this.” And I’ll type: THE END.

And next year, about this time—I’ll be thinking Wow. I did it. And I can’t wait to start again!

I might have to alphabetize my spices first. But hey. We do it how we do it. (What have you ever done to procrastinate?)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Commitment to Excellence

By Marilyn Brant

"Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal -- a commitment to excellence -- that will enable you to attain the success you seek." ~Mario Andretti
road blur
Andretti said a mouthful of keywords here: Desire. Motivation. Determination. Commitment. Goal. Excellence. Success.

He may have devoted his life to being a champion race-car driver, but he knew something a lot of us writers also understand. He knew all about a commitment to excellence.
Some years back, I was talking with my brother-in-law about martial arts. He has a black belt in jujitsu and has competed many times, including once in Taiwan. His day job was as the deputy chief of police in a northern Chicago suburb -- and he answered a million cop/detective/crime questions for me when I wrote The Road to You -- but jujitsu has been his longtime hobby. (One that also proved rather useful in his line of work!) He mentioned to me that, as much as he was interested in all of the martial arts, he found it best to focus on attaining excellence in just one of them, so he'd know what it was like to be really good at that one sport. That it would be easier for him to learn another one later, once he'd reached a high level of achievement in jujitsu first.
   I don't believe he meant that judo or karate or any other martial art would be that much easier to learn once a person has learned another. Rather, I think it's because, once we know what constitutes excellence in ANY ONE area, we can fully understand what it should look and feel like in another. Knowing what it really means to EXCEL in one subject or at one particular skill keeps me from being fooled (or, more likely, fooling myself) into thinking a mediocre performance is an excellent one. Because it's not.
I've seen the same thing with those who study foreign languages or musical instruments. Someone who strives and attains excellence with French, for instance, or with the flute knows the time, work, effort, practice, commitment, etc. it takes to become a master. Someone who's a world champion chess player isn't likely to think he'd make a stellar tennis player, unless he'd trained as hard for the tennis as he did for the chess. And I can assure you all, much as I love to paint landscapes and to play pop/rock songs on the piano, I will not be hosting an art exhibit or a concert anytime soon. I may still have a lot to learn about writing, but I know enough to recognize when an essay or a novel is in essentially publishable condition...and, likewise, this hard-earned knowledge helps me to recognize (with sadness but certainty, LOL) that my artwork and my piano playing are NOT at a comparably high performance level.
That said, no one reaches excellence in any arena if he or she isn't willing to take risks and write, paint, sing, or whatever at an absolutely dreadful level first. No one just jumps into mastery with one or two easy leaps. Some people may be fortunate in learning how to advance more quickly, while some of us (*raises hand*) need years or even decades to acquire the same skills. But I think as creative people we always have to push ourselves, even once we think we kinda know what we're doing. We still need to take risks. To try new, more complicated, more emotionally dangerous things on the page, so that we're not only improving our own skill level, but we're raising the bar of excellence collectively across all creative fields.
Or, to quote Mario again: "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough."
Yeah. That applies to writers, too.
So, here's to a year of striving for excellence for all of us! What projects are you working on right now? Anything that's a little out of your comfort zone?
Marilyn Brant is a USA Today bestselling author and was named the 2013 Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English...but she still makes a big mess when trying to paint with oils. And don't ask her to play Mozart with any accuracy. Her most recent novel, The Road to You, is a coming-of-age romantic mystery, and it's on super sale for just $0.99 for a few more days (reg. price $3.99) at Kindle, Nook and iBooks. It's a story about finding truth -- and love -- along the highway of life, and it's a book club pick for February on The Reading Frenzy. Anyone who'd like to join us is welcome :wink: .