Monday, June 30, 2014

I Like Weird People

by Samantha Wilde

Here I am. Riding a bike.
When I pick up a book in the bookstore or the library and look it over, deciding if I want to read it, I hope for an interesting character. In fact, I prefer a novel filled with eccentric folk, and by that I mean creative, interesting unusual, complex (not simply a a character who has more sex or happens upon more dead bodies than I do).

One of the masters of creating this kind of character is the incomparable Elinor Lipman. The only problem with her is that she doesn't write fast enough for my book a week habit.

And really what is the difference between a character who is experiencing an interesting or unique challenge and an interesting character? For me, it's the difference between buying a book and leaving it on the shelf-- because a unique, richly complicated character holds my attention even when she's doing the laundry, but an ordinary character requires an elaborate plot to prop her up and give her substance.
My book is SO interesting, cats read it.

Unfortunately, most readers don't want unique characters. One of the readers of my second novel, I'll Take What She Has, wrote about the book and gave me one of the most confusing compliments I've ever gotten. She wrote: "I loved the book and didn't like a single one of the characters." Apparently, my characters were too life-like.  I can still remember my editor looking at an early draft of the novel and erasing a number of scenes in their totality. The trouble with the scenes? They were too close to the truth. I think she wrote something in her notes along the lines of, "no one wants it to feel like their real life."

Most real people are weird in one way or another. Life is mixed-up and crooked in a beautiful, unpredictable way. The stories I've been writing since I was a child come from a desire to understand people in all their infinite, imperfect variety.

This past weekend my family and I went camping. We had many neighbors--and quite close--at this particular campground. I got to engage in some harmless people watching (it was unavoidable). What intrigued me the most? Not the people whose stories I could guess at, but the campers next to us whose story I just could not figure out. It appeared to be a woman camping by herself with her dog. She didn't make any noise. Her dog didn't bark. She spent a lot of time in her camper. I couldn't figure out why she was there. Who would go camping if they didn't like being outside? Her behavior was so curious to me that when I woke in the middle of the night and couldn't sleep, I speculated on her circumstances and then I gave her an imaginary life I invented. That day at the campground with her could open a novel. Would she be running from something? Going towards something? Challenging herself with the trip? Escaping a situation?

Of course, this is my failure as a novelist. I don't get a plot then write a book. I get a character and then hang our with her. When my agent sent out my first novel to a series of editors, she forwarded me a few of the rejections (before I ultimately landed an editor and a two-book deal). I still remember one of the rejection emails she passed along to me. It read: "This is good writing looking for a plot."


I guess I'll take that criticism. It sure beats, "a plot looking for good writing." Although I know that plot sells commercial novels. And weird people don't. Which is too bad, since most of us are pretty weird.

It begs a question: do we read/love the books that showcase the characters we are, or do we only read the books with characters who reflect what we wish we were (or imagine ourselves to be? In other words, pretty, successful, in love, rich, living an exciting, action-packed life, etc.)?

What do you think?

Samantha Wilde is the author of I'll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home. She is an ordained minister, hosts a radio show called You Are Loved, has taught Kripalu yoga for 14 years, and authored a book of spiritual essays, Strange Gifts. But in her real-life, she is the stay-at-home mother to three young children with a fourth on the way. And yes, that does sound very ordinary. But she assures you that, despite the domesticity of her daily life, she is actually quite interesting. Find her and like her on Facebook.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why I Love Radio

Judith Arnold

Some years ago, I wrote a romance novel called Going Back. In it, the heroine was ugly. She wasn’t just sort of adorably funny-looking, with untamed hair and a few cute freckles scattered across her nose. She didn’t have too-full lips, too-big eyes, too-lush curves—the sort of features most of us would kill (or pay a plastic surgeon) for, but which she considered flaws. She was full-bore ugly. She had bland, washed-out coloring. She wore thick eyeglasses. Every day was a bad hair day for her.

In those days, series romance fiction generally abided by certain rules, one of which was: The Heroine Must Be Pretty. She might not realize how pretty she was—she might fret over her too-big
eyes and too-lush curves—but she had to be appealing enough that the hero was staggered by her attractiveness from the first instant he glimpsed her. He might view her as his adversary, even his enemy, but oh, man, her appearance turned him on.

It troubled me that in Romance Fiction World, only gorgeous women got the guys. Didn’t ugly girls deserve true love, too? Not just true love—true love with a romance hero.

So I created Daphne Stoltz. She and Brad Torrance, the novel's classically handsome hero, had been college classmates, their social circles overlapping enough that during their college years, they’d both gotten drunk one night and had one of those ghastly, I’m-gonna-pretend-this-never-happened sexual encounters. Brad would never have looked twice at Daphne if he’d been sober. Daphne would never have done anything so stupid if she hadn’t just had her heart broken that day with the news that the boy she’d had a crush on her entire life had announced his engagement to her beautiful sister. Years after that humiliating occurrence, Daphne and Brad found themselves thrown together once more. Brad was as dazzlingly handsome as ever, and Daphne was…well, Daphne.

But eventually, they fell in love. Not because Daphne underwent a miraculous physical transformation. Not because Brad suddenly realized that she was, indeed, ravishingly beautiful and he’d just failed, for some reason, to notice this essential fact. No, they fell in love because they discovered they could trust each other in a way they could trust no one else. Because when they felt insecure, they could lean on each other. Because they could make each other laugh. Because they gave each other good advice. Because their friendship grew and deepened and became the best thing that had ever happened to either of them. Because when they finally decided to have sex, they found the experience infinitely more satisfying than that disastrous college interlude. In other words, because they found with each other all the things that really matter when it comes to love.

I adored Going Back when Harlequin Books originally published it—and so did more than a hundred thousand readers. Last year, when I got the rights back to the book, I reissued it in a digital edition so new generations of readers could celebrate what true love is all about. As Brad and Daphne learn, it’s not about appearances.

What does this have to do with why I love radio? When Going Back was first released, it generated quite a bit of buzz, which led to a radio interview. The interviewer asked me about the book, and
since Daphne’s appearance was central to the story, I described her. She was ugly. She was gawky. She had a pudgy nose and those nerdy eyeglasses. When the hero gazed into her eyes, he was reminded of the green olives in his mother’s martinis. I went on to discuss the power of romance novels, the joy readers experience in celebrating the triumph of love over seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the hope romance novels generate in a difficult, often cruel world. And then the interviewer asked, “So, do you model your heroines after yourself?”

Because it was radio, I could say, without missing a beat, “No. I’m beautiful.” On TV, I couldn’t have said that. Newspaper interview? There would have been a photographer snapping my photo. But radio? On the radio, everyone is beautiful!

As hero Brad eventually figures out in Going Back, Judith Arnold believes that love is the true source of beauty. She hopes you’ll enjoy Going Back, which is available at Amazon, Barnes& Noble, iTunes, Kobo and Smashwords. You can learn about her releases—and see a few untouched photos of her—at her web site . For more information about her upcoming titles, sign up for her newsletter.


Friday, June 27, 2014

When Hook-Ups Go Jenny Gardiner

            A few weeks ago my son lost his phone. Which is not such an unusual thing; people lose phones all the time. But one minute he had it at work, the next, it seemingly evaporated.
            Now, normally, we'd have left it at that and not bothered to intervene in attempts to unearth the missing device — Kyle's a grown man, he could figure it out himself. But soon after the thing went AWOL, we realized this meant we were incommunicado with our son at a time in which we needed to figure out complicated scheduling details. With three kids returning from school and moving out of dorms and apartments, we had a lot of logistics to map out in a short period of time. Which meant many calls and texts between all kids to reach consensus. Orchestrating five people to settle on mutually agreed-upon dates is hard enough without one basically being cut out of all means of communications.
            Worse still, the battery hadn't been holding a charge on the phone, so its findability was dwindling with the passing hours. Oh, and that Find My iPhone app, designed to, uh, find your iPhone when it disappears? He hadn't remembered to download it. Oops.
            About a day or so after its mysterious disappearance, one of Kyle's friends came up with the clever idea to try to see if "he" showed up on the Tinder app. [Tinder, for the uninitiated, is a widely-used dating app that uses Facebook profiles to match compatible participants based on geographic location, mutual friends and shared interests. The app allows users to anonymously "like" or skip others, and if two users "like" each other, Tinder introduces enables to "chat", or, if things really go your way, hook up.]
             So his friend decided to check Tinder to see if my son's phone was beaming out its location, and sure enough, it emitted weak signals indicating it was within two miles of where they were.
            The problem was Kyle was in the midst of finals, with no time to embark on a wild goose chase hunting this thing down.
            But then I had what seemed like a brilliant idea: if indeed the phone was within two miles, that meant it was likely somewhere still at work, downtown. Which meant if someone closer to downtown logged onto Tinder and tried to locate my son's profile, it might confirm the phone's general location, greatly narrowing down the hunt. A no-brainer, if you ask me. And as the life-span of the dying battery was withering away, I knew we had to act fast.
            So I called my husband, who was, conveniently enough, downtown.
            "You've got to join Tinder, fast!" I urged him. And yeah, he had no idea what it was either, so I gave him a two-minute primer and pressed him to download the app and get to work.
            Five minutes later I got a phone call.
            "Man. My friends and I were single in the wrong century," he lamented, noting that Tinder seemed like a veritable free-for-all that would have meant nary a night alone back in the day. "But forget about that. Right now I'm having a big problem."
            Seems as soon as he entered his information and linked it to Facebook, he started being bombarded with "likes" from women nearby interested in "chatting" with him. It was like the slot machine bells pinging when you get three cherries on the jackpot, coins spilling out onto the floor. Which meant that in small-town-everyone-knows-everyone Charlottesville, soon someone would start wondering why my husband was seeking dates online. Bad enough. But worse still because he soon realized that he'd never find our son while looking for women on Tinder, so he had to change his preference. Which would have been even more provocative for the cognoscenti in this town, wondering why my husband was suddenly in search of men. Not only men, but substantially younger ones, because he had to narrow it down to Kyle's age in order to connect (never mind that little detail that Kyle would have had to stipulate that he was interested in not just men but those more than twice his age, so it was all a moot point, we realized too late). Names and pictures were popping up all over the place and it was all tied to my spouse's Facebook account, which was no doubt a rather amusing place to watch as this unfolded.
            "Help!" he said, stymied by the app. "I can't seem to stop all these people from connecting with me!"
            Of course by then I had tears streaming down my face, laughing as I was. "Call one of the kids to find out what to do. Meantime, I have to call my friend, who is going to love this story."
            Alas, said friend wasn't available, so I relayed the story to her husband. Who then decided to play a trick on my spouse and contacted him.
            "What in the world is going on?" he texted. "I'm getting calls from women asking if I know you because they saw your picture on some dating thing on Facebook and want to go on a date."
            My husband was mortified. All he was trying to do was locate the darned phone before the battery died forever. And now he was going to be seen as a serial creeper. He hemmed and hawed, tried to explain what was going on, when our friend burst out laughing. In the background was his wife, cracking up loudly over his quandary.
            At last my husband figured out how to delete his existence on the app, my dubious idea having backfired, albeit not without a large dose of entertainment. And a short while later, a co-worker found Kyle's phone, which had slipped behind a drink cooler, none the worse for its wear and tear. Giving us just enough time to figure out our kids' collective moves, while making sure no strange women would be making their own unwanted moves on my unwitting spouse.

  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
find me on Facebook: fan page
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 find me on my website

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

All the Crazy Characters ... And Where They All Came From.

Crazy characters. My family aside, I love creating them! One of the more popular questions I’m asked by book clubs is how I came up with the nutty ensemble in All the Lonely People. Where do they all come from?  (My warped mind, thank you very much!)

In ATLP, the impetus for their development came from the storyline itself. After the death of her mother, my main character has a falling out with her remaining family and posts an ad on Craigslist for a new family with whom to share Christmas dinner. Who answers her ad? Well, maybe the best way to introduce them is with a long, direct quote from the book:

In less than twelve hours, more than two dozen lonely people have responded to my ad. I hunker down and begin to feverishly read. I immediately delete ten because they invite me to engage in various acts of perversion that would violate the sanctity of my marriage as well as most laws of state and physics. I delete twelve more because they are badly misspelled jokes, they are boring, their authors sound like serial killers, and/or they try to sell me Viagra or Jesus. But the remaining four have piqued my interest:
Hello, my name is Evelyn Richards, and I live here in Madison. I’m a 74-year-old widow, and I enjoy knitting, swimming, and welding. I’m a metal artist (primarily garden sculptures), but don’t worry, I won’t try to sell you any. I was just thinking of doing something different for the holidays this year, and I read your ad. What sort of Christmas get-together are you planning? I’m interested in learning more. Thank you in advance!
Wow, I can’t believe I’m answering this…I guess I really don’t want to spend Christmas alone. This is the first time I’ve even used Craigslist (I always associated it with oddballs—sorry!), but something about your ad compelled me to answer. (You are serious, right?) I’m a grad student here in the molecular biology program, and my schedule won’t allow me to make the trip back to Fargo to see my family this year. My friends are all traveling or with their own families, and I just lost someone dear to me, so here I am, with that horrible power ballad “All by myself” stuck in my head. I am definitely not a fan of the Kardashians but I do like Bob Ross.
Sincerely, Alyssa P.
PS: Sorry if I got that song stuck in your head now, too.
Oh my dear, can I just tell you how happy I was to see your strange, wonderful, unconventional, refreshingly honest, perfectly timed invitation? So let’s see, I should tell you who I am. My name is Chris. My family disowned me after they learned I was transgender. Possibly perpetually pre-op, unless I win the lottery. And honestly, perhaps I had clues that coming out to them would go badly (what, tell your extended relatives who believe the earth is less than 6,000 years old that you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body and you wear more mascara and perfume on the weekends than your sisters do? What could go wrong? I mean, seriously!) I sing at various clubs on the weekends, and I am a well-camouflaged office drone during the week. I typically share the holidays with friends, but I’m fresh out of a long-term relationship, and unfortunately, he stole most of them in the split. And to be quite honest, I need a small break from the rest of them. So it’s time to make some new ones! I love, love, LOVE to cook, and I would be happy to bring a dish to pass. Are we doing potluck? Looking forward to meeting you and the other lost souls!
I had so much fun inventing this motley crew! Just from their personal introductions, I hope you get a feel for how different they all are, how crazy each is in his or her own way. (Aren’t we all?) I pulled them from opposite corners of my brain to play off of one another’s strengths and weaknesses and help each other recognize and overcome their personal obstacles. They are all unique in both external and internal attributes, because who wants to read a story populated by fifteen eczema-and anxiety-prone racist welders named Harold? I set the basic plot framework, but the story didn’t live and breathe for me until I gave the keys to the characters, allowing them to drive the story.

If you want to make your characters not only come to life but also defy stereotype and assumption, Nancy Kress’s Dynamic Characters is a fabulous book to have on-hand. I’ll probably give it a re-read before I sink my teeth into my novel-in-progress again this summer. 

What are some of your favorite ensemble character novels? 
Jess Riley is the author of three novels (Driving Sideways, All the Lonely People, and Mandatory Release) and one novella (Closer than they Appear).  When she's not writing, she's raising Monarch caterpillars in her kitchen, watching MST3K, trying to get her Cairn Terrier to stop barking, or foisting vegetarian meals on her husband.

Bad Boys Are the Love of My Life

by Saralee Rosenberg

What do Matty Lieberman, Drew Fabrikant, Ken Danziger, and Artie Sherman have in common? They are all deeply flawed and if not for me, would never have had a shot at redemption. 

This is in no small part because without me they would never exist. They are the love interests in my novels and the characters I worked hard to break and then fix. Or at least help them get out of their own way.

When it comes to creating the object of my heroine’s affections, I start with the premise that beneath the cynical, stubborn and exasperating exterior is a loving man waiting to emerge… After he stops acting like an asshole. And just like in life, this is no easy feat!

Of course in all fairness, I’m the one who gets them into hot water by putting them in situations that challenge their egos and test their invincibility.  

For example, in A Little Help From Above, poor Matty is stuck in an ice cold marriage being held together by a special- needs child, only to discover that his true love is his former childhood friend. Trouble is she is currently a surrogate, pregnant with twins as a favor to her sterile sister, with whom she no longer speaks.

In Fate and Ms. Fortune, Ken is recovering from a breakup and broken bones when he reconnects with Robyn, the girl who once secretly loved him, but who now loathes men after her gambling ex-husband left her with nothing funny to say in her stand-up comedy routines.

In Claire Voyant, a demanding, neurotic, possibly pregnant girlfriend has her claws in Drew at a time
when his beloved grandfather drops dead on a plane and the model/actress who tried to save him (my girl, Claire) has issues with telling the truth. It could be love at first sight if not for the fact that he is a walking medical miracle- a man without a spine.
This is why when readers ask what my books are about, I suggest the better question is who are my books about. Without complex, compelling and relatable characters being thrust into a cauldron of problems, there is no story.

But how do writers know when they’ve created fully developed characters? For me, the first signs of life are when characters speak up for themselves. When they take the story in a direction that was not in my outline, let alone on my radar. When they react in ways that make me laugh, cry and ponder, and like a reader, I wonder what they will do next. 

Truly nothing is better than when their souls surprise me, for then I know that as with my children, I have breathed life into them, but they are taking it from there.

Yes, it seems counter intuitive that a writer is not in complete control, but I am happy to be the “designated typist”. It means that I not only listened to the voice in my head, I trusted that voice. Or as I like to say, no surprise for the writer, none for the reader either.

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of four adult novels and the recently finished her first novel for younger readers, THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM. Visit her website.