Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Favorite Audience – 6 year-olds by Ariella Papa

This cycle we are talking about authors in public forums. I happen to have a lot of experience with this.
Almost three years ago I cofounded a reading series called Authors Unbound. It’s the only reading series dedicated to independent authors and providing events for them to share their work. I’m happy that AU exists in the world and if you are an indie author or you are looking for a fun night of lit, drinks and cookies please check out
However my favorite public forum was something unexpected. Last year my son’s first grade teacher asked me to come in and speak to a group of thirty young writers who were doing a fiction unit. I was probably more nervous about this then any other reading or author talk.
I started with a question that I was sure they would know the answer to: “How many of you want to be writers when you grow up?” About a quarter of the hands shot up. I nodded. Of course they were certain.  I believe it’s something you know right away. I loved seeing that confidence. It doesn’t exist always in adults. Sometimes you ask someone who has published several books if they’re a writer and they hesitate.
The teacher took out one of my earlier books. Several of the kids actually “oohed”. I may have blushed. It was amazing.
I spoke for a bit about the life of a writer trying not to edit yourself and making time to write. I said things that I would say to anyone who wanted to be an author but I really appreciated that these kids weren’t jaded at all. It reminded me about all my dreams when I was that age. I had no idea about all the hardships. I just wanted to be a writer and believed that anything was possible.
But by far the best part of the talk was that I had one person I really wanted to impress and he was beaming.

Ariella Papa’s most recent book is A Semester Abroad. The next Authors Unbound event is April 22 at Entwine NYC at 7pm.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brainstorming: Good for Creative Writing, Not for 24/7 Cable News

by Wendy Tokunaga

Like most people I’ve been fascinated (and saddened) by the mystery of the Malaysian airliner that went missing on March 8. And I’ve also been intrigued by the speculation on exactly what might have happened. Because of the extraordinary situation and the fact that so much is unknown, 24/7 cable news outlets like CNN have been piling on the theories with little or no hard information to back them up. Suppositions and assumptions are the name of the game and ratings only increase as tantalizing new scenarios are pulled out of a hat.

Did the jet turn into a “ghost” or “zombie” plane? Was it struck by a meteor? Or what if it were sabotage by the pilot? After all, he had a flight simulator at home. Had he rehearsed this scenario weeks or months before? Was he in cahoots with terrorists who wanted to use the plane for nefarious purposes at a later time? Did he land the jet at a hidden airstrip in a top-secret location? What if the passengers were still alive but unable to contact loved ones?

And what about that mysterious phone call the pilot made right before the plane took off? He also had close ties with an opposition leader in Malaysia who had recently been arrested on a sodomy charge that could have been a frame-up by those currently in power. And what about the fact that his family moved out of their house the day before the incident? Did he have serious personal problems that led him to commit suicide and cause an intentional crash?

Or was he a hero? Did he divert that plane off course because of smoke or some other problem in the cockpit to get closer to where he could make an emergency landing? Did he fly at a lower altitude, not to avoid detection, but to try and save the lives of the passengers?

These theories and unanswered questions remind me of what I do when I’m brainstorming plot points, character motivations, conflicts and complications for a novel. I open up a document and write a series of “what if” and “why” questions. Then I’ll put it away and read it another day and add to the list. At this point nothing is too outlandish to delete; I just let my imagination run wild. Eventually I pare it down to something more focused and throw out what I don’t need. While it might not work for every writer, it’s what works for me.

I’m not so sure it works well for the news. And, of course, I’m dealing with fiction.

Girlfriends, do you use brainstorming techniques when you write your novels? Do you think there’s a place for theorizing on the news?

Find me at:
Twitter: @Wendy_Tokunaga

A Few Of My Favorite Things...

So yesterday - Sara had this great list of books she loves. And that made me think that I should do the same...mainly because hey! I like books! And I have opinions! Why not?

So here are a few of my favorite books that you SHOULD read if A) You have my weird sense of humor and B) Have nothing else to do:

LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson:

Best book ever written. If you like to laugh. Jenny writes about everything from taxidermied Hamlet mice to important turkey documents. The most important book you'll ever read. Ever.

UNICORN WESTERN! 1-4, by Johnny Truant & Sean Platt:

My favorite series. The authors were told by their publisher that if they ever did an historical novel, they'd have to do tons of research first. "Not if we do a unicorn western!" Was their reply. And then they wrote them. It's a futuristic western where the marshall rides a smart-assed talking unicorn. What's not to love?  I've only read 1-4 and they've since made more. Haven't read them yet but will!

THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: Adrift in the Equitorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost:

A book so funny you can barely get past the first page of each chapter. The story of a Dutch man who moves, with his government employed American girlfriend to the islands of Kiribati - this book had me laughing from the start. No explicit sex, even though the title somewhat implies it. Totally worth it though.

So there you have it - my list of must-reads.

Go forth and enjoy!

Leslie Langtry

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Books

The sleuth in my cozy mystery series, Ellie Avery, is a professional organizer and is inordinately fond of lists. While I’m not an organizer, I do love to make lists. And, what could be better than a list about books?

So here is a random sampling of some of my favorite books.

Favorite Children’s Book: The Secret Garden

Favorite Mystery Series: The Good Thief’s Guide series

Favorite New Non-Mystery: Where Did You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Sample

Favorite Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger

Favorite Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Favorite Thriller: At Risk by Stella Rimington

Favorite Romance: Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig


Favorite Re-read: Austenland by Shannon Hale

What about you? What books make your favorite things list? 

When not avidly searching for new favorite reads, Sara writes a cozy mystery series (Ellie Avery series) and a suspense series with a dash of romance (On the Run series). As a military spouse Sara has moved around the country (frequently!) and traveled internationally, which inspired her latest suspense series. Publishers Weekly called Sara’s books, "satisfying," "well-executed," and "sparkling."

Sara loves all things bookish, considers dark chocolate a daily requirement, and is on a quest for the best bruschetta. Connect with Sara at or sign up for her newsletter list here. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.

Writing tips: if you show me yours, I'll show you mine….
by Brenda Janowitz

This cycle on the Girlfriends Book Club, we're talking about writing conferences. But, true confession time: I've never been to one! It's not because I don't want to. I think a conference could be a great experience. Hanging out with other writers, meeting agents and editors, what could be bad? But with two small children at home, I just haven't been able to find the time.

I bet there's a lot of you like me out there. So, let's make our own little writers conference.  If I share some of my writing tips, will you share yours?!  I'll go first:

Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.

This is the advice I give to every writer I meet.  There will always be excuses to avoid writing-- I have no free time, I have little kids, I have big kids, I don't have kids yet, my job is too demanding, I need to find a job...  you fill in your own.  If writing is really your dream, make the time.  Start with a writing class, and then find a writer's group.  Once you commit to taking the time to write, you'll be able to find the time to put pen to paper.  (Or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be.)

Edit! Editing your work is almost as important as the writing itself. Sure, you’re telling your story, but it’s also important to consider the way that you tell it. You want your writing to be tight, elegant and polished. It can only get to be that way through careful and thorough editing.

Develop a very thick skin. You’re putting yourself out there when you write and not everyone is going to love what you do. But that’s okay! You’re not writing to please everyone out there. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. So start getting used to criticism and then see tip #1—keep writing!

Now, I've told you my best writing tips.  What are some of yours?

I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKS and JACK WITH A TWIST. My third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, was published by St. Martin's on July 2, 2013. My fourth novel, THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB, will be published by Polis Books on May 6, 2014.

My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me at or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Me Worry?? by Jacqueline Luckett

This picture has nothing to do with writing--though it's inspirational. It has more to do with procrastination. And, when writers can't write, we do whatever we can to keep us from writing, including searching through vacation photos. 

I love deadlines. They make me work harder and faster. They’re like a lovely little itch in the middle of my back—I have to find a way to scratch (translation: write, write, write) before the darned thing (translation: deadline) drives me crazy (No translation needed: hot water with an editor, yikes!). And, sooner or later, I do.

Believe or not, deadlines push me and when I’m stuck, a big push is exactly what I need.

Right now, I’m stuck. Yes, we writers get stuck. 

I read a post today by author Trice Hickman . After many years of writer's block, Trice made herself write every day and soon that writing became a novel, then another, then another. Her story speaks to the power of determination. As writers, we must believe in our stories and ourselves. We can't give up.

I’d love to finish my third novel soon. I’m trying to finish my third novel soon. Without a contract, I feel unfocused. I don’t feel the obligation or need to meet a deadline. What works for me? Sadly, I confess that I’m not entirely sure what will get me to the finish line sooner rather than later, but here are several steps that I’ve taken this year to help (and in my book, something is better than nothing).

1— Enrolled in a once a week, online class that focuses on just writing. The obligation to meet my commitment works.

2—Connecting with my writing group (or writing buddies) if not on a scheduled basis, then as often as possible.  Again, it’s the obligation and deadline.

3—Calendaring writing times and days.  I’m not one for a lot of structure, but I’m finding that even if I don’t stick to the allotted times, I’m getting work done—and that’s the point. 

4—Trying not to be hard on myself.

5— Resisting the strong (and frequent) temptation to compare myself to other authors more prolific, regimented, successful; wealthy, tall …

6—Resisting the urge to bail on one or all of the above.

That’s what I’m trying. So far so good (refer to number 4 above!). I'll keep you posted and let me know if any of these steps work for you.

 Jacqueline Luckett has proved, at least twice, that not only can she write, but she can meet deadlines. She's the author of two novels, Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner. She's currently writing her  third novel and working to expand her writing career by studying Screenwriting/Playwriting at the University of California, Riverside/Palm Desert MFA Program. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Setting myself apart, with a magic wand

I’ve always been odd.  Happily accepted into my loving family, I didn’t feel rejected, but I did feel different.   From my aspiration at age four to grow up to be a refrigerator (I reasoned I’d have my choice of food and drink) to my penchant for wearing half slips around my head as pretend straight hair, I was always weird. 
I was also a bit prone to worry.  The likelihood of the Viet Cong bombing our Florida house was so remote, it’s laughable now.  Nevertheless, the evening news brought the war into our living rooms and into my six year old brain.  I remember praying at night to keep their planes from buzzing overhead.
          Add those two traits, high imagination and high anxiety,and you get a grown-up who isn’t eager to live in her body in the real world.  I truly would rather read about a place than go there, especially if it involves plane travel.  I am anxious about disrupting my routines, and even more worried that my daily desire to drink coffee the way I like it, when I like it, preferably alone, will be only one of many losses in an uncertain world outside my total domain.

This fear of leaving was much worse back in the year 2000, when my children were twelve and five. I was invited to go to Rome with my husband, to stay at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.   I wanted to go.  I really did.  Housing was free, food was free.  I just had to get there.    Nevertheless, I was, for week before the trip, a nervous wreck.  Beyond anything I’d ever been.   I could whip myself into a frenzy sometimes over leaving the kids with a sitter for two hours, much less a week. 
          I barely remember the three days before I left, except for a dear friend Charlotte Morrissey’s advice: Picture God’s hand on the small of your back.  Picture the same hand on the backs of your little ones.   Trust.   
Thank heavens for my imagination and for my friend.  Between such a lovely image and some pharmaceutical intervention, I made it to Rome. 
  That first night, two very famous authors were seated at our table.  At the time, I was yet to be published except in magazines. A more pragmatic soul might have rehearsed something smart to say.  I was too jet-lagged, and at the same time, exhilarated at having single-handedly kept our plane aloft, the whole way across the Atlantic Ocean, to be anything other than myself. So when the authors  asked me how my flight had been, I said “Oh God, I hate to travel.  I really do.”
          For most audiences, this statement gets bemused tilts of the head.  People aren’t sure they’ve heard me right.  But there, in a crowd of creative people, for the first time ever, I got knowing nods.  The affirmations began.  “Isn’t it awful?”  “Did you bring your white noise machine?”  “I know just how you feel.”
          For the first time ever, I thought, despite the fact that my companions were in the stratosphere of a group I’d never quite join, I felt so at home.  I’d found my people!  Or, as my writer friend Julianna Baggott says, “My peeps!”
          Since that time, promoting each of my novels, I’ve been to several book festivals.  Each time, I’d be nervous before going, for all the reasons mentioned above. Each time, once I got there, I’d find myself feeling that same moment of great relief: I was home, away from home.   

Meeting another writer, trading stories, it’s different in real time and space.  They become someone you know. You might spend an hour in a bar or fifteen minutes before a panel, but you can’t replace that experience.  Which is why I tell myself, each time I resist pulling myself out of my comfortable world to travel “for no real reason,” that there actually is a reason.  It’s just not tangible.  It can’t be measured or monetized.  You can’t bank on it.   It’s the opposite of a market force.  But none of us, if we were propelled forward by the bottom line, would be in this crazy business.   
We are all speculators in the realm of the imagination, trading a boost in spirits or a tale of woe, feeling comfort and joy at the weird and the wild.   Getting together allows us to grow in a way we wouldn’t otherwise, and sends us back to our predictable solitude with a pinch of fairy dust, or maybe just an image, that invisible hand at the small of our backs, to rise another day and begin again. 

Sheila Curran is the author of Everyone She Loved, about a woman’s efforts to protect her own family even after her own expiration date has come and gone.  Her first book, Diana Lively is Falling Down, was a romantic comedy Jodi Picoult called warm, funny, inventive and original and Booklist called ‘a gem.’   For more on dogs who stand on two feet, visit this video.