www.marilynbrant.com

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm in Charge of Celebrations

In a recent email conversation with a friend, I was reminded of a kids' book: I'm in Charge of Celebrations written by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall. I remember reading it to my 3rd graders when I was a teacher, and I got a copy for my son when I thought he was old enough to appreciate it. Thing is, much as kids seem to like this book, I think it resonates with me more.

The girl who narrates the story explains that people often ask her if she's lonely growing up in the desert of the American Southwest. She suspects they're talking about a sense of isolation in living with fewer humans and more cactus plants, rocks and coyotes, but she's surprised, nonetheless, by how unimaginative these question-askers are. How they don't realize she's the one in charge of creating her own celebrations, and that the holidays she's made are more memorable for being personally chosen and entwined with nature. (I'm extrapolating a bit here.)

Anyway, the last celebration she mentions is the one she created for the New Year--which, in her case, comes in the spring, not on January 1st. How it's not a day printed in ink on the calendar but one she waits for until "wildflowers cover the hills" and her "favorite cactus blooms." How she plans her celebration for a Saturday in April when the air feels just perfect, and how she then wanders along her most beloved trails and admires everything she encounters.

Despite decades of devotion to the act of making New Year's Resolutions (always the same ones, as I mentioned last year), my New Year's Day is really not in January. I celebrate the New Year on July 1st, and I have since I was sixteen. Maybe it's a function of living in the Midwest and having a perpetual case of brain/body freeze during winter, but I need to be in the sun, fully thawed and at least marginally active to be capable of celebrating the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Of course, years of teaching added onto 2+ decades of traditional education have me entrenched in a school-calendar mindset where June finishes out a year and September means full emersion in a new one...so that plays a part too, I suppose.

In any case, though I fervently wish you all a Happy and Healthy 2009, I am not yet ready to take the plunge into a "new year" myself. At least not in any sense beyond the most literal one--the changing of the date numbers on my notes and checks. I'm still dealing with the half-finished plans of the year that began for me in the Summer of '08 and am nowhere close to completing those projects. Plus, after all the pressure of the holidays, I'd be afraid to add to the pre-2009 stress by trying to honestly take on anything more.

But what does this coming Wednesday night/Thursday morning mean to you? Is it your New Year? Do you make resolutions? Typically follow through with them? However much--or little--you celebrate, may it be wonderful for you :).

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Naughty, The Nice & The Clueless

I stupidly went to the mall this morning. In the face of such horrors, and in an attempt to stay connected to my happy, joyful, non-Scrooge side this holiday season while maintaining some small measure of perspective, I've taken to distinguishing between the different social behaviors I've been forced to notice over the course of the month, slotting them into one of three categories and sending the various recipients my holiday wishes accordingly.

The Naughty
A small but repugnant group that includes:
*Drivers who purposely cut you off on icy roads or who stop indefinitely in the middle of a narrow parking-lot lane, trapping you there.
*People who push and shove on escalators so as to beat everyone to the sales items.
*Those rotten individuals who steal store merchandise, wallets and purses, gifts intended for others or someone else's identity.
May Santa bring lumps of coal to each of them...and pelt them with it.

The Nice
A far larger group that includes:
*Thoughtful souls who bake gingerbread or sugar cookies from scratch and insist on sharing them.
*Those incredibly dedicated people who serve others by volunteering in soup kitchens, donating time and resources to charities they believe in and smiling sincerely at all who pass by.
*Anyone who shovels or plows anyone else's 10-inch-deep, snow-covered driveway without any expectation of payment or even a word of thanks.
May they receive gifts back in kind--tenfold.

The Clueless
This may be the biggest group of all. They include but are not limited to:
*The accidental line cutters.
*Visitors who stop by "for just one minute" but manage to track in an hour's worth of slush, salt and mud.
*Guests or relatives who, in forwarding an agenda or a timetable of their own, unwittingly create innumerable inconveniences for others.
May they one day see their actions through a more perceptive lens, cease their not-mean-spirited-but-still-really-annoying behaviors and choose to either embrace a heightened sense of awareness during the holidays or hide away until after the New Year.

But back to The Nice category...while I rarely have a chance to see any of you in person and, thus, you are relieved of having to witness my usual December Grinchiness firsthand, I think of you all just the same. With my deepest gratitude for a year of sharing blog posts and my heartfelt joy at having gotten to know you all just a little better through our exchanges, I send one final wish: May your holidays and the coming year be filled with good health, happiness, delicious (and miraculously calorie-free) treats and the fulfillment of your dreams.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lazy Sperm and an Exciting New Novel

The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is going on its last, high-speed tour for 2008! There are only a couple of GCC book releases slated for the next few months, so it's an extra treat to get to end the year with a visit from Melissa Clark.

Melissa is the creator and executive producer of the award-winning television series, "Braceface," and she's written for shows on the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Fox. She received a master's degree from the writing program at U.C. Davis, and currently lives in Los Angeles. Her debut novel is called Swimming Upstream, Slowly (Broadway Books/Random House) and it has--to use an Audrey Hepburn term--a "most unusual" premise.

Welcome, Melissa!

Tell us about your book and the inspiration behind it.
"Swimming Upstream, Slowly" is a novel about Sasha Salter, who wakes up one day to find she is pregnant. Only problem is she hasn't had sex in over 2 years. The doctor's diagnosis is that Sasha's body has been harboring a 'lazy sperm'. Sasha must now open up the Pandora's box of her past loves to figure out which of her exes is the father - and what the future holds in store. The idea was born because I was having lunch with a friend and overate. I lifted my shirt to expose my bloated belly and the friend said, half joking, "Are you sure you're not pregnant?" and I said, "Yeah, right, from a lazy sperm." I went home that night and started outlining the idea for a movie. I decided, eventually, to write it as a novel instead. (What a fantastic story concept! And I bet it'd be great as a movie, too.)

Could you please tell us a little about your writing background?
My dad is a writer, so I was always playing on his typewriter and writing on legal steno pads. I wrote short stories from the time that I could write. I studied writing and literature in both college and graduate school. In my 20's to mid-30's I worked as a writer in television. I created a kid's show called "Braceface" which ran for 5 seasons. I loved that experience, but really wanted to write a novel, so I quit my own show and set out to write "Swimming Upstream, Slowly." It was the best risk I've ever taken!

What comes most naturally for you to write, dialogue? plot? character? And what's hardest?
I love writing dialogue. I've written a few plays in the past and found it incredibly satisfying. I learn so much about my characters through what they say. I often have the feeling that they speak through me and I'm just listening and transcribing their words. I know a lot of writers feel this way. It's hard for me to slow down and be descriptive - really describe a setting or something. I am very aware of this and tried to do it more consciously in the new book. (I SO can relate to this. I think I'm missing that descriptive-writer gene. :)

What do you love most about this book?
I appreciate this question because I feel a little weird loving it so much. I feel genuinely tender toward my characters and feel very disconnected to the fact that I created them. I appreciate their personalities and foibles. Every time I reread the book, I enjoy going on the journey with them all over again. When I was writing the book I had that swoony feeling of romantic love. I couldn't stop thinking about it, I bumped into things all the time, etc. I've never told anyone this before!

What's the most surprising thing that has happened to you on your publishing journey? Have you learnt things about the industry you never knew before?
I was invited to speak at the Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival. There is a famous food writer named Melissa Clark who writes for the NY Times and I was sure they meant to invite her. I wined and dined with the likes of Frank McCourt and Elizabeth Edwards. I gave a talk during which I explained that I thought they invited the wrong Melissa Clark. The audience thought it was hysterical. They were cracking up, but I was really venting my insecurity. The head of the program came up to me after the reading and said it was great, but never assured me... a few months later a friend, after hearing that story, told me she knew the other Melissa Clark - they had been in a wedding together - and gave me her email. I wrote about that experience and she replied, "That's okay, everyone thinks I wrote the lazy sperm book." (Ha! I love that!!)

Thanks so much for being here, Melissa, and congrats on the release of your first book!

And, to anyone in the Austen World...or to anyone outside of it who needs a reason to celebrate...today is Jane's 233rd birthday. Let's raise a glass of something toasty warm and/or heavily spiked in her honor :).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Great Links

On the subject of visual modalities, take a look at these "Foodscapes"--food art by photographer Carl Warner (and HUGE thanks to Brett for hunting down this artist and letting me know about him!!). The first image is called "Salmon Sea" and the second is "Tuscan Kitchen." Even more can be found on his website. Remarkable.





And, in the Wonderful World of Austen, hugs of gratitude to both Eliza and the Smart Bitches for providing me with this fantabulous gem: Austenbook, a.k.a. the story of Pride and Prejudice as told through Facebook updates.

I'm loving the Internet today.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Synesthesia, Metaphors and Digital Cameras

The auction to raise money for Jo Leigh is still going on. (FYI for anyone interested: The historical partial manuscript critique by GH finalists is up only until Monday, and the contemporary critique is up until Wednesday...) Because I've been thinking about her, I've been popping over to her website and reading several of her blog posts this past week. The topic of one of them, from September 19, 2008, continues to fascinate me.

Jo was talking about her research on the brain, particularly in relation to creativity and, more specifically, to the use of metaphor. In her post she writes:

"People think in all different ways, and it turns out that a great many artists are synesthetes, where the brain blends two or more senses. For example, someone hears the word cat and simultaneously sees the color blue.

There are various grades of synesthesia, some profound and some subtle. Some people are simply visual thinkers, or perhaps that should be visual rememberers. When they see a cat, they don’t see blue, but their memories pluck out things that somehow, someway resonate with cat and bring them to the fore. As in: cat-soft quilt from childhood-scratch of sandpaper on fingertip-squish of Jello-distant thunder-etc. All in a split second of course, but the remembrance of somewhat similar, vaguely suggestive memories are available for use. Sometimes they’re just thoughts, but sometimes they become a book by Barbara Samual or an image that lingers from Stephen King.

Some people simply think metaphorically, and when you read their words, they are filled with color and light and images that surprise and delight, that give the reader the gift of their special sight.

And some people do not think metaphorically. Like me. Instead of images and sensations, what happens to me is that odd bits of other conversations come to me. Real or imagined, I don’t know, but my associations are predominantly heard, not seen."


I not only loved her insight here, but I appreciated it for personal reasons. It added a critical piece to an unsolved puzzle of mine. (Or, to expand the visual reference, it was like one of those X-shaped puzzle pieces that you just don't believe is really going to match the others around it, but when you slip it in, it DOES and it illuminates the whole section.) Jo goes on to talk about how she's a dialogue writer. How she's had to struggle with the use of metaphor in her own writing. That her strength turned out to be auditory in nature as opposed to "word-pictures," but that doesn't mean her process isn't a good one, too.

I nodded as I read this. Part of my unsolved mystery has to do with modalities--and the fact that I've never been able to pinpoint my primary one. I seem to slide around, depending on the art form, from visual to auditory to kinesthetic--and it disturbs me that I'm so inconsistent. More than that, it makes me wonder why I can't seem to tap into my more visual side when I write--at least not in that first draft, where the only visual things my characters do are smile too much and shrug too often. I'm very dialogue heavy in fiction, and I find myself forgetting to describe...stuff.

I kept thinking about Jo's interesting post tonight as I was buying my first digital camera. Finally. And laughing at myself and my mysterious, long-standing resistance to getting one. It was behavior so completely polar to the reaction I had when getting my beloved iPod, it almost made me think, "Ah-ha! I'm one of those auditory learners after all! Mystery solved. Case closed."

But then I found out that little camera could take movies (I know, I know, everyone else already knew this) and the world was suddenly orange and gold--a Florentine cupola blinding passersby with its relentless glinting--and I wanted to be visual again. To try to capture it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dating Da Vinci (and a Visit with Malena Lott)

I'm pleased to welcome Malena Lott to Brant Flakes today! Her book DATING DA VINCI (Sourcebooks Casablanca) is her latest women's fiction release, which Publishers Weekly said was "Written smartly...satisfying and uplifting." (Nice!) Aside from writing novels, Malena is a brand and marketing consultant who lives with her family in Oklahoma. She also facilitates personal and professional development workshops for women.

Welcome, Malena! Can you tell us about your book? Dating Da Vinci is a Texas-based Under the Tuscan Sun meets How Stella Got Her Groove Back. A young widow, 36-year-old Ramona Griffen, searches for joy with the help of a handsome younger Italian immigrant named Leonardo da Vinci. Her humorous and heartwarming journey takes her on some unexpected adventures of body, mind and spirit as she learns to let go of her grief to make room for a wholly new life.

What pulled you into this story, and as a writer made you think "I have to write this"? What do you consider the heart of your story? Women, especially mothers, tend to put themselves last on the list. I wanted to share the story of someone who has lost the love of her life and has focused on just “getting by” each day, but is ready to find a way to be joyful again, even through the pain. The heart of the story really is, is there love after death, and the courage it takes to not only survive but to build a great life again.

Any tried and true tricks for beating procrastination? I have to say, I'm pretty lucky. Hugh (Jackman) typically promises a shirtless steak dinner (him, not me) if I meet my word count goal. If that's not enough motivation, Brad's aromatherapy massages usually get me in the mood, though sad to say, it's not for writing. Heck, usually my imagination can trick me into getting back on the laptop to write away into the sunrise. Like, "finish this and you'll be as famous as Sophie Kinsella and you'll never have to buy groceries again and you can spend all your time lounging on the beaches drinking frozen Flirtinis!" I'm so easy.

What is your author fantasy? Writers already have active imaginations, so this one is a no brainer. Vision board, here I come! Hit the top 10 of the New York Times bestseller list, have a long line waiting for me when I arrive for book signings, have my books optioned for films that actually get made and made well, and a few national TV appearances to boot. TODAY show, The View, Oprah, you know. Just the small stuff, you know? Not that I’ve given any of this much thought. Not a bit.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance? I use Google Alerts so I’m kind of like Santa. I know when people have said naughty or nice things about my book! Fortunately, reviewers have enjoyed Dating da Vinci, so that’s a thrill when you click that link and get to read what people are saying about your “baby.” I’ve selected some of my favorite quotes on www.malenalott.com.

Oooh, not only does she have favorite quotes, she also has contests, book excerpts AND cooking recipes/videos on her website! She has one for "Monster Cookies"--Yum!! Thanks to Malena and you all for stopping by :-).

Monday, December 1, 2008

ABC's of December: Auctions, Blog-Love and Chilliness

The lovely and kind Robin Bielman honored me last week by including my blog in a list of seven of her favorites. Having met her only once in person (and very briefly at that) did not stop me from wanting to span the 2,000 miles between us to give her a huge hug of thanks. You're a sweetie, Robin!

On the other hand, the downside of this honor is that I'm allowed to pass along the blogging love to ONLY seven others...not an easy task, as I've frittered away numerous days in compulsive clicking from blog post to blog post, learning and laughing as I go. Limitations such as these find me fleeing to the tightly packed containers of leftover Thanksgiving treats for greater mental acuity and energy. I do believe heated apple pie (with ice cream) can put almost any crisis into perspective.

So, with that inspiration, I've chosen people whose posts are--like that pie--longtime favorites of mine. Many of these are the first blogs I read as I entered the Blogosphere, written by people who kept me posting because they cared enough to cheer me on in those early days (as well as now :). Thanks to you all! And thanks, again, to Robin for choosing Caryn and Pam on her list, because otherwise I'd have had to disregard the rules, add the three of you, and end up with 10 nominees on mine!! Not that I'd consider that a bad thing, either...

Eliza of not quite lost, not quite found
L.A. Mitchell of Writing in a Vortex
Maureen McGowan
Pamala of Time Flies
Brett of Cultural Observations
Nadine Dajani
Sandra of Lone Star Meanderings

In other news, author Jo Leigh lost her husband to cancer this past summer. In an effort to help her deal with the resulting medical bills, an array of writers have come together to host an auction for her. Among these, several of my fellow '007 Golden Heart Finalists are offering a 55-pg. partial/synopsis critique, to be read by a bunch of us simultaneously. Actually, we're auctioning off two multiple critiques--one for a historical manuscript and one for a contemporary. Five of us, myself included, are critiquing the historical for the winner of our bid, while another six finalists are critiquing the contemporary. But we're not the only ones with something good for sale! If you're interested, or know someone else who might be, check out the link below:



And, finally, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. We got several inches of snow last night, so my little suburban world is blanketed in pretty whiteness. But, it's also freezing, so I'll be staying in and enjoying it from the warmth of my living room.

Happy December, my friends!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Fidelity Files

It's wonderful to have Jessica Brody here to talk about her debut novel THE FIDELITY FILES (St. Martin's Press). I was lucky enough to meet Jessica and get a copy of this book at the RWA National Conference in San Francisco this summer. What a fascinating story! Rather than trying to explain the premise myself, I'll let Jessica tell us about it in her own words.

**Welcome, Jessica! Can you tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it? THE FIDELITY FILES is the story of a beautiful, L.A. woman who works as an undercover “fidelity inspector,” hired by suspicious wives and girlfriends to test the faithfulness of the men in their lives. Except no one in her life knows what she does. Her friends and family all think she works for an investment bank.

Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in a very corporate environment. And like all corporate jobs, there were a certain number of “alcohol-related” events that I was expected to attend. I would often find myself at work happy hour functions in nearby bars, observing the interactions between single and non-single co-workers as their behaviors gradually declined from professional to something else entirely. Something hardly capable of being described as “appropriate.”

Witnessing these “indiscretions” upset me on a profound level. I secretly wished that someone would tell the “conveniently” absent significant others about what their husbands/wives/boyfriends/ girlfriends/fiancés really did while attending these “obligatory” and supposedly “uneventful” work functions. But I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to do it. I was brave enough to think it…but not exactly brave enough to go knocking on people’s doors with bad news. You know what people tend to do to “the messenger.”

So instead I created a character whose job and purpose in life was to do just that. To reveal the truth to anyone who wanted to know. To knock on all the doors that I never had the courage to knock on. An invincible superhero-esque woman whose quest is to fight against the evils of infidelity. But of course, she soon finds out…she’s not as invincible as she once thought.

**Do you put your friends in your books? Names, incidents, characteristics? Have any of them recognized themselves in a not-so-good way? My friends are definitely in my books. There’s one in particular that stands out. One of Jen’s friends, Zoë, has a bad case of road rage. And she tends to talk on the phone while she drives, so Jen often finds herself on the phone with Zoë while she’s cursing out another driver. I have a friend who does that and that’s where I got the idea. This friend has read the book but I’m not sure how she feels about the similarities. She acts like she’s fine with it, but I guess you never know. She could secretly be totally offended.

**Which 'craft' book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career? I can’t sing enough praise for SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. It has “saved” so many manuscripts of mine. It’s meant for screenwriters but it works flawlessly for novels as well. It’s just a very intuitive way to write stories and make sure the audience isn’t bored to tears because nothing is happening for fifty pages. Now, I consult the book before I even start writing and I use his “beat sheet” to help me outline the major story points. It saves me so much time later on! (Oooh, LOVE Blake Snyder! I agree he's amazing!!)

**What's your Writer Fantasy? Of course I have all the regular fantasies like Oprah, Movie deal with an opening the size of Twilight, NYT Bestseller list, etc. But honestly, the one fantasy that I would really like to see fulfilled is just seeing someone reading my book in a public place. Like on an airplane or in the gym. I think that would be such an amazing feeling. Now, I just have to decide whether or not I would approach them and tell them I wrote it. Or better yet, ask them what they think without telling them who I am. I might not want to hear the answer to that though!

**What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline? Oh, gosh, I have so many things going on right now, it’s hard to keep track! Although, this question may help me get my head around everything. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to The Fidelity Files which St. Martin’s is publishing in Fall of 2009 and is yet untitled. That’ll also be out in the UK around the same time. I’m waiting to get my revision notes back on that so I can go for round two. Also, I just finished revising the manuscript for my new young adult book, THE KARMA CLUB, which FSG is publishing in spring of 2010. And I recently started a new YA series that I’m super excited about and will hopefully try to sell early next year. AND…one of the screenplays I co-wrote just got financed for a feature film so we hope to start shooting that in April. Yes, I know, I’m a masochist. What can I say, idleness is my only enemy. (Congratulations on all of this, though. It sounds so exciting!)

**What advice would you give to other writers trying to get published? Take criticism. Believe in your work and stand behind it, but don’t be afraid to make changes. Try to be as objective as possible when it comes to your writing (I know how impossible that sounds) but it will only help you in the long run. Use rejections to evolve yourself as a writer, not just to line your waste basket. When someone rejects your work and offers a reason, don’t just blow it off and claim that they “didn’t get it” or that they clearly didn’t read it closely enough, dissect it and try to figure out if what they’re saying makes sense and if it will inevitably help your work. There a lot of people in this industry—agents, editors, other writers, etc.—who know what they’re talking about and know what it takes to make a book work. After all, that’s what they get paid for! Listen to them with open ears and grateful hearts. There’s a fine balance between staying true to your art and being open for suggestions, try to stay somewhere in the middle. If they “didn’t get it,” chances are, readers won’t get it either. And you won’t be there to explain it to them in the middle of Barnes and Noble.

**What other art form inspires you as much as writing? Before I started writing full time, I actually dabbled a bit in songwriting. One of my songs even won a songwriting competition. But I soon realized that I could only write song lyrics after I’d had my heart totally stomped on and destroyed by some dumb, stupid boy. Apparently, that was the outlet for my pain. And so once I found myself in a good relationship, the song lyrics stopped coming. I have to say, though, I don’t really miss them!

Thanks for being here, Jessica, and to all of you reading this, may you each have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hey, Blogger, What's Your Type?

Okay, I just had to share this, courtesy of Jenny Crusie, who posted something about it this week: The Typealyzer analyzes your blog posts and tells you, in Myers-Briggs terms, what type of blog it is. If you have time, try it for fun on yours, and let me know if you think it rings true for you.

For me, I got stamped "ISFP: The Artists." The program informed me that those so labeled are "not friends of many words" (which makes me laugh uproarously--of my many authorial bad habits, "too wordy" heads the list...), but perhaps that's not quite the intended connotation. However, the worst infraction is in regards to that "S". The other three letters I have no quarrel with, but the 25+ times (in as many years) that I've taken some version of the Myers-Briggs, I've always been an "N". Always. And by shockingly high percentiles.

So, clearly, someone else is writing these blog posts in my absence or, as Jenny suggested about herself, I'm blogging under an assumed personality. If it's the latter, I won't admit to it. If it's the former, I need to find this supposedly "gentle and compassionate" person and tell her to make dinner for us because I have no intention of doing so. I'm too busy cutting unnecessary words out of my latest scene.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

It's a pleasure to have Saralee Rosenberg here today to tell us about her latest novel, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avona Books), which Publisher's Weekly said was "Full of edgy wit and chicken-soup-for-the soul warmth. If you enjoy giddy diversions, this bumpy suburban ride is well worth the trip."

Glad to have you here, Saralee!

Q. What was the inspiration for your new novel?
A. Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! This story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.

Q. When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?
A. Phew. You can’t imagine the relief. I had given up a successful career writing non-fiction, which had sent me on two national book tours, including an appearance on Oprah (heaven!!!!), only to have my writing life come to a screeching halt when I switched to working on a novel. It took me three years to write A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, another year to find an agent, and the agent a year and a half to make the sale to Lyssa Keusch at Avon. In theory, the sale should have been one of the greatest events of my life, if not for the timing. I got word that the deal was done exactly two days after 9-11, and because I live in the New York area, the grief and shock was all I or anyone could think about. I let family and friends know, of course, but run out and buy diamonds or book a cruise? Didn’t happen. And interestingly enough, all of my book celebrations since then have been, not subdued as much as put in perspective. I’m sure that my joy and satisfaction will always be tempered with the memory that life is so full of yin and yang. And maybe that’s for the best.

Q. Is there a scene you cut from the book that you kind of wish you could put back in?
A. Funny you should ask. Originally, I wanted to title the book Same S--T, Different Zip because the story was very much about that no matter where you live, you have to put up with so much petty neighbor crap and competition. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t allowed to have a curse in the title but in keeping with the theme, I incorporated a funny blog in the story titled, “You Say You Want A Revelation”. It was “written” by a mom in Georgia and Mindy was so hooked on it, she couldn’t wait for the next post. Unfortunately, the blog, which appeared every few chapters, took up a lot of space and got cut on the editing room floor. Bummer. It had some very funny commentary, but I did get to include one out-take in the back of the book.

Q. Do you put friends in books? Have any of them recognized themselves?
A. I get asked all the time by family and friends to be in one of my novels, but I tend not to go there unless they’re willing to buy several dozen books in appreciation for being immortalized (if Girl Scout Moms can bribe, so can I). Once I did give in and named a character after a friend, only to describe the character as a philandering shoplifter. She was horrified and wanted to know how I knew? I didn’t know, I made it up, but boy did that make things interesting afterwards... Also, my husband’s business partner had been prodding me for years, to which I would say that a character who sold insurance, played golf and visited his grandkids in Florida would not exactly be memorable. But finally, in Dear Neighbor, to get him to stop bugging me, I did name a minor character Steven Hoffman. I made him a lawyer in Portland, and it really made Steve’s day... then he asked why he wasn’t a major character and could I feature him again in the next book? Men!!!!

Q. If Oprah invited you on her show, what would the theme of that show be?
A. Sigh. I’ve actually had the distinct privilege of appearing on Oprah to discuss my non-fiction book, 50 FABULOUS PLACES TO RAISE A FAMILY, and I gotta tell you, it was awesome. She was soooo nice and I and my husband/co-author were treated like royalty. We got the limousine, the fancy hotel, the nice dinner out, hair and make-up and a souvenir coffee cup that still sits on my desk as a pen holder. And Steadman was there, too (he smelled so good!) Would I love to be a guest again? Are you kidding me? It would be a dream come true to be invited back as a best selling novelist. In fact, I had a dream scene in DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD that involved my character Mindy being on the show to talk about what it was like to live next door to Beth, the bitch. It had to be cut because of space limitations, but trust me, Oprah is always on my mind. Nobody sells a book like her.

Q. What is one of your strangest/most quirky author experiences?
A. My first three novels are a trilogy in that they all deal with the supernatural. All of my main characters have funny and intriguing encounters with the other side, the after life, and/or a ghost. But never did I expect that I would personally have a strange encounter with the spirit world while I was hard at work. And yet... I had been writing my debut novel, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE over a three year period, and as you can imagine, was very very tired. All I wanted to do was cross the finish line, have a good cry and eat a box of Mallomars... One night, I was working on the final pages and was so bleary eyed I convinced myself that the ending was terrible but maybe my editor wouldn’t notice, or would say to me, no, this is great, don’t change a word. But just as I was fixing the last page, we had a power outage and the whole house went dark. It was so strange. There was no storm, no reason to lose power. But when the lights came back on a minute later, I had lost the latest version of the ending. It literally disappeared and I freaked out and cried. How could this happen? On a whim I called my neighbors to see if their power had gone out but it turned out ours was the only house that did... Clearly it was a sign from above. The next morning I started over on the ending, and when I finished, it was so much better, so much more rewarding. This time I cried from joy. I had finished and it was great.

Q. Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you’d become a novelist?
A. Funny question. When I attended my 20th high school reunion in Munster, Indiana, I had been living in New York since graduating college and had lost contact with most of my classmates. One of the first people I ran into was Mary Ann Jugovic, the class valedictorian and the sweetest girl ever. The first thing I said to her is, “please tell me that you went to med school and became a pediatrician.” To which she said, “only if you tell me that you moved to New York and became a writer.” And the verdict was? She was a pediatrician with a beautiful family and I was an author with a beautiful family. Dreams do come true.

Yes they do! Thanks for the visit, Saralee, and to any of you out there who write fiction, would YOUR high school friends be surprised by your calling?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Branding

For most of my life, I've had this peeve about being categorized. It wouldn't be too far a stretch to say I really resisted it and, when pressed, would act in a seemingly atypical manner just to prove a point. Like, you know, ordering the sushi for lunch when everyone assumes I'll get the same grilled chicken sandwich I got last time.

Thing is, I haven't had to overreact this way in my real life too often because my tastes are NOT that easily defined, and I've never been all that consistent in my habits. My friends and family know this about me. Some days I quite honestly prefer the sushi to the chicken. Some days I'm a burger girl. Other days it's Cobb salad or pizza or loaded nachos or vegetable lasagna. Food provides excellent examples because I like so much of it.

And music. Music is this way for me, too. ACCORDING TO JANE is an homage not only to Jane Austen but also to the sounds of the '80s. I love '80s music like I love gelato, but that doesn't mean those are the only things I'll play or eat. And I love Austen, but my favorite reads include more than her six novels.

Which is, to a large extent, why this focus on "author branding" has been so challenging to me. I've been forced to think about the concept more frequently in the past year or two and am now a product of that machine. I've been stamped a "women's fiction author," which is true, of course, but within the genre there are further delineations, and I've had to adhere to some them. The point of branding is to clearly provide for one's consumers the product they're anticipating. Women's fiction can be light or dark in tone, commercial or literary in intent, involving one main character or a group, having a small-town setting or a global one, employing some paranormal/suspense/romantic elements or not, etc. In saying yes to some and no to the others, I'm supposed to willingly shape my packaging so that my audience will know exactly what to expect when they open one of my books.

I get that. I really do. And as a reader, I've appreciated the gift of this literary shorthand on more than one occasion. I'm angry when I'm misled by a backcover blurb. I feel betrayed when an author known for her romantic comedies takes a depressing turn. And I'm surprised and disappointed when a novelist with a really strong erotic-fantasy voice tries to fake her way through a different genre.

But today, as a writer in the midst of a first draft...on a cold, dark, November afternoon with snow flurries outside...forcing my storytelling inclinations into a prescribed box is going against the grain. I'm sure I'll feel more up to being "light," "commercial" and (theoretically) "witty" tomorrow, but if I try to write another scene today, it'll come out as "dark" as my 7th novel or as "quirky" as my 4th.

And we can't have that, can we?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Girfriends Cyber Circuit: Kelly Parra is Here!


I'm thrilled to have YA novelist Kelly Parra here with me this morning! She's the author of Graffiti Girl, a double RITA nominee and a Latinidad Top Pick, and the contemporary paranormal, Invisible Touch, which is what we'll be chatting about today.

Welcome, Kelly!!

Can you tell us the basic premise of your new book?
Kelly: Invisible Touch is about Kara Martinez who sees "signs" on individuals' torsos and she must piece these signs together like a puzzle and do her best to stop unfortunate fates. When she sees the sign of a gun on a fellow classmate, the latest mystery takes her into dangerous territory that increases with a relationship with a boy from the wrong side of town. Invisible Touch has mystery, romance, and family drama, and I'm hoping I give readers an entertaining read.

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel?
Kelly: Husband! He'd been so supportive through the years, he was the person I had to tell first.

What's your Writer Fantasy? (I can never get enough of this question! :)
Kelly: Wow! I could go crazy with a fantasy, but my goals have always been like small stepping stones. I never dare to dream too big. Any bestseller list would do for me. *sigh*

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist?
Kelly: I think they would definitely be surprised. I was an art kid in high school. I even went to school for graphic design. The writing occupation came as a big surprise to me too!

Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you?
Kelly: When I first sold a book, I could not tell acquaintances. Only my family and a few select friends knew. Then when my book was released family and friends helped to tell others. I still don't tell some people I meet. I don't want anyone to feel like I'm bragging because you never know how some people will take your good news. Most people are supportive and interested and some try to top you. It's a strange situation!

Thanks for having me your blog, Marilyn!

It's been a pleasure, Kelly :). And thanks to all of you who've stopped by, too!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Ravioli Like No Other

You all know I've raved about creamy dark chocolate, sung songs of admiration to gelato and heaped ebullient praise upon the wonder that is a grilled muffin... But, I discovered a shockingly strange yet delicious fall treat when I was out with my brother last week, and seven days later I'm still kind of under its spell.

We were in downtown Chicago, at a place called "The Italian Village"--a spot that has a number of Italian restaurants under one roof. I'm a fan of all things Italian (food, culture, language, sites, people :), so there was little worry that I'd encounter a dish I wouldn't enjoy. However, my brother, being an adventurous sort, ordered something from the menu that included a side of "Chestnut Ravioli," and I'll admit to thinking, "Ugh!"

I couldn't have been more wrong.

He offered me a taste of it and, despite my fear that the filling would resemble the baby-food squash I'd never wanted to feed my son when he was little, the ravioli was amazing. Packed with a full, robust sweetness and infused into this tender pasta pillow, it created a combination of rich, smooth, earthy and spiced delight. I'm not a food critic, so I'm probably not doing the dish justice, but it just tasted like autumn. In a good way. Here's guessing that was the chef's intent.

I've searched to find a recipe similar to the one we tried, but I suspect it isn't on the open market. This one has several of the elements, although its preparation involves deep-frying (unlike ours) and it looks a bit labor intensive for my ability level. But it was fun to read, and maybe someday I'll work up the nerve to dust off my wire whisk and rolling pin and give it a try...

Chestnut Ravioli Recipe

By Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com
Pastry pillows of chestnut puree, chocolate, amaretto, almonds, and candied fruit are deep-fried for an unusual dessert.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 12 raviolis

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Allison Winn Scotch's Time of My Life

When I first read the premise of Allison Winn Scotch's latest novel, Time of My Life (Shaye Areheart Books, October 2008), I quite literally felt shivers of excitement. This is the kind of woman's-journey story that never fails to fascinate me and has the potential to provide hours of contemplation and discussion with friends. Allison is also the author of The Department of Lost and Found, and she's a frequent magazine contributor to publications like American Baby, Bride’s, Cooking Light, Family Circle, Fitness, Glamour, InStyle Weddings, Lifetime Television, Men’s Health, Parents, Prevention, Redbook, Self, Shape, USA Weekend, Woman’s Day, and ivillage.com, msn.com, and women.com. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Time of My Life has gotten some excellent advanced reviews and praise, such as being named a "Today Show Top 10 Must-Read for the Fall Season."

People magazine wrote: “Scotch’s novel is a clever, entertaining look at the compromises women make – and the dangers of getting what you asked for.”

Publishers Weekly said: “Scotch keeps one dexterous step ahead of page-flipping readers eager to guess the outcome.”

And, from Booklist: “Scotch’s second book shows a writer coming into her own, a storyteller who doesn’t take the easy way out, and a woman with a fine understanding of human nature.”

All this AND it's been optioned for film rights by The Weinstein Company with producer Meryl Poster (whose work includes "Emma," "The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat" and "Cold Mountain"). WOW!!

Hi Marilyn, Thanks so much for touring me! You're very welcome, Allison! It's a delight to have you here :).

New readers want to know about your book! Can you describe the premise? Time of My Life is the story about a woman who, on the surface, seems to have it all. But when you peel back her layers, you discover that she is deeply unhappy and has lingering “what ifs” about her past. Rather than face her current problems, she wakes up one day seven year in her past – at her old job, with her old boyfriend – and has the opportunity to rewrite her future.

What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you? Oh, wow. Well, I loved the scenes in the book in which Jillian, my protagonist, ran into her future husband, Henry, only she was now running into him in the past…and she was also now attached to someone else. They were great fun to write because, well, imagine what would be going through your head if you KNEW what was going to happen with this person but had to pretend that he was a stranger? Those scenes gave me the opportunity to have a little fun, infuse some humor, but also have Jillian reassess how she remembered her husband: she sees him through clear eyes before she got used to seeing his face wake up next to her every morning. (I can imagine how this would happen, too. Every once in a while I get a flash of what I'd felt or thought when I first met someone...and then that impulse is gone, and it's replaced by the years of familiarity between that moment and the present. The memories change the experience, adding depth and shading to the relationship but, also, they cloud that fresh vision.)

Favorite food? If I had to, I could probably live on dessert alone. (Ohhh, me, too!!) Preferably anything with chocolate, but I’m not so picky. From there, maybe cereal. I eat cereal every morning for breakfast, and I swear, I love it. Some people love going out for brunch on the weekends – French toast, pancakes, waffles… But me? Nope, I’d much rather just stay home and enjoy my cereal!

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? My husband. We knew that the offers were coming in – there was an auction with an expiration time – so he was waiting at his office to hear from me. When the final offer came in, my agent and I squeed, and then I picked up the phone and called him. From there, I called my parents, my best friend and my brother. The second time around was a little less exciting. I DID call my husband again immediately after getting my offer, but once you’ve been there, done that, the squeeing is a little calmer and quieter.

What's your Writer Fantasy? Great question! And I’m not really sure of the answer! I guess it would be to hit the NY Times list because then you know that actual real people, not just your friends and family, are picking up your book! LOL. They actually are already working on an film adaptation of Time of My Life, and that’s definitely a big writer fantasy as well. Seeing it come to life with real people and real vision. But, since I’m never one for resting on my laurels, I’ll make the NY Times my next goal…though to be honest, that’s such a lofty aspiration, I’ll be okay if I never get there. Just getting two books published and knowing that people are reading them seems pretty a-okay with me too. :)

Looking forward to seeing the film, Allison! Glad you stopped by.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mind Over Matter

So, I was reading this nonfiction book (because I was kind of procrastinating) and I'd expected...well, I hadn't expected much from it initially, but it kept pelting me with its insights nonetheless. Or, more accurately, the book's author--K.C. Cole, a physicist and talented writer--kept forcing me to expand my worldview by sharing her unique one...and this uncomfortable sense of agitation set in (because I was being given a fascinating scientific window and unable to tell anyone about it), so I decided I'd better start blogging.

[Side note: I always understood the allure of reading other people's blogs, but it's taken me a year and a half to finally know WHY people get addicted to blogging themselves. I just HAD to share this book with someone...]

The book, Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos, is a collection of 92 short essays from Cole's Los Angeles Times science column. The column no longer exists, but the essays remain--divided into four sections and revolving around concepts like "the subjectivity of inquiry" and "the politics of science."

Publishers Weekly can better explain the premise. They write:
Cole's technique is to set her stage with a scientific factoid or news blip and then ruminate on the unexpected insights, inversions or ironies she finds there. Her themes include uncertainty, the limitations of measure, fragility, illusion, humility before nature, complacency. A solar eclipse "exposes our fragility" and dispels illusion "like turning up the houselights during a movie." The millennium, indeed the notion of time itself, is an artificial concept, and "it's a fine line," the author writes, "between discovering something and making it up." Ever the navel gazer, Cole seeks the wondrous in the stuff we mistake for just ordinary. Her piece on clouds ("wind made visible") segues inevitably to dying stars ("a cosmic-scale cloudburst") and atoms (a nucleus "engulfed by a cloud of electrons"); her piece on wind leads her to the hurricanes on Jupiter and the complicated "weather" of galaxies.

Maybe having a dad who was a scientist and getting (from him) a Periodic Table of the Elements as my very first poster (yep, it's true) influenced my opinion, but I was intrigued by the merging of human drama and scientific revelation in every essay. The piece on "Uncertainty" was one of my favorites. But there was another piece--one writing-related and on the topic of "Simplicity"--that especially held my attention.

Cole was relaying the discovery of her female mathematician friend that math and poetry boiled down to much the same exercise: "You discover some essential truth, distill it to its pure form, and figure out how to communicate it to others."

YES!! At least that's the goal, isn't it??? Isn't everything we write just another way of trying to prove some theorum we hold dear? Some emotional truth about humanity we hope will be verified? Those of us who are novelists, of course, get 400 or so pages to try, whereas poets are allowed but a handful of lines and mathematicians only an equation...but I think we're on the same team. And I think so many of us are trying--across disciplines, across cultures--to find those kernels of truth. To link them. And, when possible, to let each other know we're not alone in our search.

Has anyone else read this? Other recommendations?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And the Winner is...

Pamala Knight!

Congratulations, Pamala!!!! You win the signed ARC of Nadine’s Cutting Loose and the Beauty Rush “Big Caramapple” lip gloss… However, since this was my very first contest, and because I so appreciate all of you for taking part in it, I’m sending you ALL a little prize! Yes, that's right (don't I sound like a game show host? I've been working on it :-), everyone who entered gets a specialty book clip from Borders with a cute creature on it. I hope you'll enjoy them!

For a few of you--and you know who you are--I already have your snail mail addresses. For the rest of you, please email it to me at marilynbrant@gmail.com and I'll send out your book clip within a week.

Thanks again to all of you for participating!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cutting Loose Contest!!

Along with the crisp scent of autumn and the aroma of pumpkin muffins, there are exciting "firsts" in the air for this coming year, starting with something I've long wanted to do: My first blog contest!

Being a member of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, I've had a chance to host virtual book tours for many wonderful authors over the past six months, and I look forward to many more. However, Nadine Dajani has an extra-special place in my heart because she was a friend prior to my joining the ranks of the "pubbed," she's the one who paved the way for me to join the GCC in the first place and she's simply a fantastic person whose women's fiction stories are funny, well-narrated and insightful. And because I think everyone out there should have a chance to read one of her books, I'm giving away a signed ARC of Nadine's newest release Cutting Loose (Forge, October 2008) to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this post. And, because fall is my favorite season and because I'm a fan of the seasonal treat, caramel apples...I'll include a Victoria's Secret Beauty Rush swirl lip gloss--flavor: "The Big Caramapple"--too!

A little about Nadine: Born in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents, she spent the first nine years of her life in Saudi Arabia before settling in Montreal. While Nadine could definitely think of better ways of spending a year than devoting it to mastering the French language, the experience (and all that duty-free terminal shopping) would turn Nadine onto the wonders of world travel and the quirky, unexpected (and usually hilarious) ways cultures meshed (or stubbornly refused to). As an adult she moved to the Cayman Islands to pursue a career in, what else – offshore banking. And while Nadine has yet to see her “golden parachute,” she did get to reap the rewards of Caribbean relocation by island-hopping to nearby Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and Miami whenever the travel bug bites. Nadine’s travel articles have been published in Atmosphere magazine, and her first novel, Fashionably Late, was released by Forge in 2007.

Welcome, Nadine!!!

*I know Cutting Loose is the story of Ranya, Rio and Zahra--three very different women, or at least that's what they think!--whose paths and romantic relationships collide in sizzling, sexy Miami. What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you?

There were two chapters in this book that were just so much fun to write, they made every this-is-such-utter-crap-why-do-I-do-this-to-myself moment totally worth it.

Interestingly, they’re both from Rio’s POV, the Honduran-American editor-in-chief of Sueltate magazine, who has a… how shall I put this… booty call relationship with her boss. Her voice is just so snarky and cynical and in your face, the complete foil to Ranya’s sickly-sweet innocence. The first scene I loved writing is when we first meet Rio – she’s just had a roll in the hay with Joe, the boss, and it was amazing as always, but now he’s getting up to go and leaving Rio totally alone and empty. What I love about this scene is how Rio comes off strong and completely jaded to the reader as though this treatment could never affect a tough chick like her, and yet, we still sense the vulnerability and despair underneath.

I know you said just one, but there’s another chapter I can’t say too much about for fear of giving too much away, taking place much later in the book where Rio is at her lowest point, desperate, and looking for trouble… and life throws her a life line in a way Rio would have never expected. This is the scene in the book I am constantly reading over and over again. It’s so hopeful, yet manages to stay true to the grit and realism of Rio’s outlook. I will tell you this little bit of a spoiler… they’re both love scenes! I never in a million years thought I could pull off so many different, plot-advancing sex scenes!

*Name some of your favorite musical artists/groups. Did you use any musical references in your novel? If so, do they play a significant role?

I can read a lot of heavy books and I’ll enjoy them, but when it comes to music, it has to be upbeat and catchy. There is nothing that will lift my spirits better and faster than pop tunes or dance music, salsa, hip hop, etc. Music snobs hate people like me probably because they blame me for all the “crappy” music that’s produced (at least I make up for my bubblegum music tastes in more refined choices in film and literature… sometimes).

Since I’ve discovered Spanish music, I haven’t gone back. There are a lot of things that Spanish and Arabic cultures have in common, and music is one of them (actually, they share some common roots). Seeing as this book takes place in Miami, there’s a whole lot of reggaeton happening. It’s basically a unique Caribbean-Spanish hip-hop style that I totally adore and can’t get enough of.

(Oh, you know what a music lover I am, too! And, yes, though it's often criticized, I agree that there's nothing like a fast-paced, toe-tapping poppish tune to brighten my mood!! You'll have to recommend a few Caribbean-Spanish hip-hop artists for me to listen to next. :)

*Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist?

No – I always did better in “word” heavy subjects like literature and history and, while most of my high school friends would probably rather lick the bed sheets aboard the Motley Crew tour bus that write a composition, I liked it when the topic was inspiring (which, unfortunately, it hardly ever was. And in senior high, I voluntarily elected “Creative Writing” as my English requirement, which elicited quite a few “what the heck is the matter with you”s from friends. So no, those people would not be surprised, but I’ll bet my fellow accountancy classmates in University would be!

*Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you?

In Montreal, only my friends and family know (and their friends and families…) but Cayman is such a small place that I often get that do-I-know-you-from-somewhere stare, and so I’ll say, “I’m the one who wrote a book,” and their face will light up in recognition. It’s amazing! I also do a lot of client meetings for my current job, and every once in a while, someone will squint their eyes at me and say: “Aren’t you the one who wrote a book?”

I love it.


(After all the hard work of learning the craft of writing and finally getting a novel published, this kind of recognition must be frosting!)

*What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why?

Good question! Hmm… this is a trait that both Rio and Zahra share throughout the novel, and that Ranya struggles with – resiliency. Rio and Zahra take a lot of serious punches, both throughout the plot development and behind the scenes, and they keep rolling with them one way or another. They may not always respond in ways we like, but when we meet them, we can imagine they’re already done some serious growing up which has left them scarred: Zahra is the only daughter out of five offspring who had the chance to escape a life of destitution in Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. She’s now carrying the burden of supporting this family she left behind, which is the fate of so many immigrants in this world. Rio hasn’t had it much easier – taunted with the label of ‘illegal’ just because of the way she looks and the language she speaks, and this in spite of being a perfectly legal citizen of the United States. I find a recent study about the decrease of illegal immigration to the US very interesting – the stats did not go down because of better detection or deportation methods, but because the US is no longer an attractive beacon for employment. Hoarding doesn’t pay in the long run folks – sharing and empathy has a way of paying dividends while xenophobia does just the opposite.

Resiliency is just another way of saying “growing up” for me, and I admire both Rio and Zahra for it, and so does Ranya, as a matter of fact!

As always, Nadine, thank you for your thoughtful and detailed answers to my questions. It was a delight to have you here and to celebrate the release of your second novel! And to anyone out there who posts a comment, I'll draw the name of the winner at 10pm (Central Time) on Tuesday, October 21st.

Happy fall, everyone!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

JASNA in Chicago

I've been back home a week, but my head's still spinning from everything I saw/heard/learned at last weekend's Austenfest (more formally known as The 30th Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America :-).

The theme of this year's festivities was "Austen's Legacy: Life, Love & Laughter" and, being that this was a gathering that drew 650 truly devoted fans of our dear Jane, I had the pleasure of meeting several of my favorite writers of Austen-related novels--Laurie Viera Rigler (Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict), Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen), Stephanie Barron (the Jane Austen Mystery series), Carrie Bebris (the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery series), Paula Marantz Cohen (Jane Austen in Scarsdale) and Abigail Reynolds (Impulse & Initiative, Pemberley by the Sea, and more). Plus, we were all treated to a panel presentation on "Romance Fiction in the Wake of Jane Austen" with NYT bestseller Eloisa James.

There were books and books and books for sale--of which I bought many. There were magazines available, like the delightful Jane Austen's Regency World, published by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. There were delectable toffees and scones and jewelry. Oh! I bought a Jane Austen wristwatch from Jane Austen Books!! (A must-have timepiece for the fan who likes to periodically announce, "Jane says it's 5:45...") There were workshops like Jeanne Kiefer's excellent "Anatomy of a Janeite" and a varitety of sessions with enticing titles like "Mr. Collins on Screen: Legacy of the Ridiculous, "The Pemberely Effect" and "Love in the Shrubbery."

Dr. Joan K. Ray, who wrote Jane Austen for Dummies, presented a hilarious plenary speech she called "Jane Austen for Smarties," and the brilliant Claudia Johnson gave a keynote asking those of us in the lecture hall, "Can We Ever Have Enough of Jane Austen?"

No, I think not.

In a spectacular performance, Broadway actor Colin Donnell performed alongside the creative musical team of Lindsay Baker and Amanda Jacobs (writers of the upcoming Broadway show, Pride & Prejudice, The New Musical) to give us a sampling of the November 2009 play. Never have I wanted an excuse to visit New York more, and I've got 13 months to think of one... (They are, however, doing a one-night-only preview in Rochester on the 21st of this month for those lucky people nearby.)

All this AND there was a Regency Ball! Complete with costumed gowns. And bonnets. And English dancing.

So, it was fun, and it was made even more so by getting to meet Shomala, Pat, Judy, Joan, Rita, Marsha & Conrad and so many other wonderful Janeites...and to share the weekend with Pamala, Abigail and Elaine--thanks to you all!

Next year, Philadelphia.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Visit with Deborah LeBlanc

Instead of my usual list of GCC tour questions, and in celebration of the spooky month of October (boo!), horror/thriller author Deborah LeBlanc has offered to share a few thoughts on publishing to coincide with the release of her latest novel WATER WITCH (Dorchester, Oct. 2008).

Hailed by Cemetery Dance as "One of the best new voices of modern horror," Deborah is an award-winning author from Lafayette, Louisiana. She's also a business owner, a licensed death scene investigator, and an active member of two national paranormal investigation teams. She's currently the president of the Horror Writers Association, president of the Writers’ Guild of Acadiana, president of Mystery Writers of America’s Southwest Chapter, and an active member of Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Women Writers, and International Thriller Writers Inc. In 2004, Deborah created the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual, national campaign designed to encourage more people to read, and soon after founded Literacy Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting illiteracy in America’s teens.

A little about the book: Dunny knew from an early age what it meant to be an outsider. Her special abilities earned her many names, like freak and water witch. So she vowed to keep her powers a secret. But now her talents may be the only hope of two missing children. A young boy and girl have vanished, feared lost in the mysterious Louisiana bayous. But they didn’t just disappear, they were taken. And amid the ghosts and spirits of the swamp, there is a danger worse than any other, one with very special plans for the children—and for anyone who dares to interfere.

Being a fan of the TV show "Supernatural," this premise is definitely an eye catcher :). Welcome, Deborah! What has inspired you in this industry?

When I first started writing, I had been in business for more years than I cared to remember. At first, I thought the two entities (writing and business) had absolutely nothing in common, so I tried separating the two. It didn’t take long for me to realize how big a mistake that assumption was. Writing is a business, just different from the ones I was used to. Needless to say, though, as I restructured my thinking and attempted to merge the two together, I met with frustration of the highest order. Argg! As some of you have heard me spout off about before, publishing does not follow any standard business practice known to man, woman, or wooly-back orangutan. It’s its own worst enemy at times.

That being said, however, I decided to take the advice of a man I’d admired for years. One whose wisdom has helped me understand the meaning of success, which inevitably moved me up the ladder in quite a few corporations. I figured why not use those same principles in writing?

So I did. And I’ll be damn if they didn’t prove to be just as true in the publishing business as in any other venture.

I thought I’d share some of that guy’s wisdom with you today….

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will. The spirit, the will to win and the will to excel-these are the things that endure and these are the qualities that are so much more important than any of the events that occasion them.

Success is like anything worthwhile. It has a price. You have to pay the price to win and you have to pay the price to get to the point where success is possible. Most important, you must pay the price to stay there. Once you agree upon the price you and your family must pay for success, it enables you to ignore the minor hurts, the opponent's pressure, and the temporary failures. If you'll not settle for anything less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your lives. Remember, it's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." ----Vince Lombardi

Ah, my Wisconsin friends and relatives (especially all you Packer fans out there!) will appreciate this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Deborah, and I know you're off on a busy book tour right now, but I'd LOVE to hear more about those "paranormal investigation teams" when you return! (What do you DO? How do you do it? Do you have a really cool tools??)

To everyone else, what or who has proven inspirational for you?

I had a chance to attend the Jane Austen Society of North America's annual conference this past weekend, and I'm still recovering! I had a wonderful time and was inspired not only by "my beloved Jane," but also by the many tremendously kind and intelligent people I met there. More on this later in the week...once I've fully returned from Regency times to our post-millennial present :-).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Have You Seen the Muffin Man?

Okay, total silliness, I know, but if I have to talk about politics for one more minute this week or listen to yet another inane sound bite, my head may implode. So, really, I'm talking about high-caloric foods for health reasons.

Specifically: Muffins.

I remember this place in my undergrad university town that served these grilled double-chocolate-chip muffins. OMG, were they amazing! And some of the guys who took the orders from my friends and me were kinda hot, too :-). Well, I included a line in a new manuscript about a coffee shop that served something similar, and one of my good friends called me on it as she critiqued those pages. She said, "Marilyn, muffins are baked, they're not grilled."

Au contraire, mon amie!

FIRST, they're baked. THEN they're grilled. They're split vertically into three sections, liberally buttered and put on a sizzling grill until you can see the stripes. Then they're buttered AGAIN and served warm.

Like I said: Amazing.

In an attempt to force a feeling of fall (despite the uncharacteristically warm Midwestern weather), I baked muffins this weekend. They were not the extra-buttered version that I remembered from my college days, nor were they double-chocolate-chip (they were banana-walnut-chocolate-chip), but they were still delicious and reminded me of old times.

And so I ask you all in the Blogosphere, if you care to share, what's your favorite kind of muffin and how do you like it served?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Roberta Isleib's Latest Mystery

On the GCC tour bus again, this time for an exciting new mystery! ASKING FOR MURDER by Dr. Roberta Isleib (Berkley Prime Crime, September 2008) is the 3rd book involving psychologist-advice columnist-sleuth Dr. Rebecca Butterman. A clinical psychologist herself, Roberta says the work of the detective in a mystery has quite a bit in common with long-term psychotherapy: Start with a problem, follow the threads looking for clues, and gradually fill in the big picture. Her advice column series debuted in 2007 with DEADLY ADVICE and PREACHING TO THE CORPSE.

Roberta is the president of National Sisters in Crime and the past president of the New England chapter. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards.

Welcome to Brant Flakes, Roberta. It's great to have you here!! Thanks, Marilyn!

New readers want to know about your novel. Can you tell us the basic premise? ASKING FOR MURDER: When Dr. Rebecca Butterman's dear friend, a sandplay therapist, is found beaten and left for dead, Rebecca's determined to help search for answers. With a would-be killer on the loose, she can only hope the clues are buried within easy reach. How intriguing! I've never read a book involving a sandplay therapist. What a fascinating occupation...

What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you? Dr. Butterman goes to see a sandplay expert, hoping to unearth the killer's identity in an arrangement she discovered at her friend's house. Instead, she learns a lot more about herself and her own sad past than she ever imagined. It gives me goose bumps to reread this scene!

Do you have a favorite food? I love to eat so this a hard one--I'd say anything with cheese in it. Maybe cheese puffs stuffed with hot pepper jelly? Lucky thing my protagonist is a very good cook. So she prepares wonderful recipes as she solves murders--gives me a chance to cook and eat for research purposes! Now, see, I'd love this, too :). Could I join you and Dr. Butterman for dinner sometime??

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? Definitely my husband. He's been a super-supporter every step of the way. In the beginning, he read every word. And he's gone on countless research and book promotion trips. He's absolutely there through all the ups and downs.When my agent called to tell me she'd landed a 3-book deal, but it wouldn't include the one book I'd written, I was devastated. My husband reminded me that this was REALLY GOOD NEWS. I couldn't do it without him! He sounds like such a wonderful man :).

What's your Writer Fantasy (I love, love, love this question!!)--i.e., to see your book made into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? How about all of the above? As a psychologist, I know the importance of having "big goals" for my subconscious to aim at. So I keep a copy of the NYTimes bestseller list pasted up over my computer. Then I forget about it and work on the books word by word...

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Don't rush off too soon to try to get your work published. This business is extremely competitive, so it's crucial to have your writing polished before sending it out. The internet makes querying too easy! I have lots of info on my website about agents and getting published and some of the scams writers fall for. Read it over. http://www.robertaisleib.com/

Do your neighbors or hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you? Oh gosh, I look for opportunities everywhere. My family's trained to look for openings, too! How else are people going to know to look for it?

What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel? My protagonist is a loving and loyal friend. She has two really close girlfriends that make all the difference in her life.

Sounds like a fantastic book, Roberta! Thanks so much for visiting this week :).

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Need an Event Planner

Not because I'm getting married. Thankfully, I'm very happy with my husband, a fact I'm sure he'd be pleased to hear.

I do, however, need a wedding-planner-esque checklist or, heck, a 200-page guidebook for this whole publishing process. Brides-to-be have that ginormous binder thingy where they're told at, say, 12 months pre-wedding to make sure the church/ceremony site and the reception hall is booked. They're informed they'd better get in their caterer requests by month #8 or something, and hire the band or DJ by month #6. I can no longer remember the dates by which we needed to order our cake or send out our invitations, but I do remember clinging to that damn planner like a lifeline amidst the endless yards of white tulle and my mother's overenthusiasm.

I want a planner like that right now for the pre-book-debut year. When do I have to get the author bio in to the publicity department? When does the art department need cover ideas? When should I do a photo shoot? (And do I have time to lose 20 pounds first? Answer: Um, no--because the novel comes out in 2009 not 2019...) When should I place ads in magazines? Send ARCs to reviewers? Update my website? Write a press release?

OMG. All I know is that there's a freaking LOT to do. (And my mom, unfortunately, is not going to be able to field my questions or manage the endless details on this one.)

Any suggestions or useful articles? I've gotten some helpful hints from a few online loop friends but, ohhhh, I'm very open to more ideas. Or, you know, links to funny YouTube videos that'll take my mind off the madness...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Joanne Rendell's Delightful Debut!

The GCC tour is zipping through the Blogosphere again, this week featuring the lovely Joanne Rendell and her first novel, The Professors' Wives' Club (NAL/Penguin). I've already had the pleasure of reading a few posts on this intriguing new book, as well as an excellent interview by The Book Lady just last week. (Check out Caryn's 9-2-08 Q&A with Joanne if your can!! :-)

The book's gotten a lot of buzz, including praise from New York Times bestselling author Kate Jacobs who said: "As an NYU alum, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes escapades at the fictional Manhattan U. in THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES’ CLUB. Joanne Rendell has created a quick, fun read about a wonderful group of friends."

Joanne knows what she's talking about when it comes to the wild world of academia. She was born and raised in the UK and, after completing her PhD in English Literature, she moved to the States to be with her husband, a professor at NYU. She now lives in a student dorm in New York City with her family, which would--I imagine--provide a perfect atmosphere for observing some of the otherwise unseen antics of university life.

Welcome, Joanne!
Thanks so much for touring me!

My pleasure! New readers want to know about your book...can you tell us the basic premise? Four professors’ wives’ do battle with a mean dean to save a faculty garden.

What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why? I particularly love the character Sofia in my book. She’s a real firecracker. It is Sofia who leads the fight against the ruthless dean. She’s feisty and witty, but also sensitive, smart, and intensely loyal. I love her blend of guts and passion, but also her kindness. If THE PROFESSORS' WIVES' CLUB is ever made into a movie, I imagine someone like Selma Hayek or perhaps Tina Fey playing her.

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your novel? I got The Call when my family and I had just arrived back from a trip out of town. The only thing is my husband, who was the person I really wanted to tell, had to go and park our car – which in New York City is a long and arduous task. I was bursting with excitement and my son, who was three at the time, wasn’t really the perfect sounding board. In fact, he was watching my whooping and cartwheeling with a wide, slightly alarmed gaze! So I called my mum. She lives in Spain and the timing was off, so I woke her in the middle of the night. She didn’t care though. She whooped and cartwheeled too!

What's your Writer Fantasy (yes, I love this question :), i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? All of the above, but perhaps 80 weeks on “the list” would be even better! Seriously though, my biggest writer’s fantasy is to be able to keep on writing and publishing books. It’s such a fun vocation, but in this day and age when books aren’t selling like they used to – and to be a bestseller is like winning the lottery – there are few guarantees.

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist? It’s funny, through the powers of Facebook and Google, some of my old school friends are now finding out that I’ve become a novelist. Some seem surprised, some not. I was always a studious kid and was often nicknamed a “swot” (which in Britain means a kind of egghead, goody two-shoes student). I don’t think it would surprise any of my classmates that I went onto to do a PhD in literature. But my more recent turn to fiction, with sexy legs on my book covers (!), might raise a few eyebrows.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Join a writer’s group, either on or offline. Other writers can be fonts of infinite wisdom, not only about the craft of writing but also about the publishing industry. Plus, writing can be pretty isolating sometimes and finding a community of like-minded souls can really help. I have a small group of writer friends who live in New York , like I do, and we exchange drafts and emails regularly. I’m also a member of Backspace (a wonderful online forum for writers), as well as various writer’s listservs.

Thanks for being here, Joanne. I'm really looking forward to reading your novel! Any readers out there have behind-the-scenes experience with universities? If so, are any of those fiction-worthy tales? (Or shouldn't I ask?!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Defense of Top 40

On her blog, "Writing in a Vortex," the talented L.A. Mitchell offered six interesting tidbits about herself this week and opened up the meme to the rest of us, should we be so inclined. L.A. expressed, shall we say, a rather harsh opinion of Top 40 music. (Yes, it's true! Read her 8/26/08 post and you'll see!) So I felt I must take it upon myself to defend the genre.

Six Things I LOVE About Top 40:

1. Creativity in group monikers. I mean, c'mon. The name The White Stripes has nothing on on Wang Chung. Nothing.

2. Priceless lyrics. Who could forget the immortal words of Michael Jackson's "We Are the World," eh? Not only are we the world, but we are the children, and we're the ones who make a brighter day, so... (Don't tell me you can't finish that chorus. I know you can.)

3. Something for "American Idol" hopefuls to use to distinguish themselves. What would those high-soprano females sing (or, more accurately, screech) if it weren't for Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston?

4. Longevity (well, sometimes). Bon Jovi is STILL hot. It's been 20 years and that group STILL rocks. Will Busta Rhymes have that kind of staying power, huh? In two decades, will the lead singer of Incubus look as great in leather pants as my buddy Jon B.? (Then again, Howard Jones kind of faded away, didn't he?)

5. Cool accessories. Admit it--some of you out there are longing to own the Backstreet Boys Party Pack http://backstreetboys.shop.bravadousa.com/Product.aspx?cp=1010_4139&pc=BGBACOMBO02 or the N'Sync Light-Up Yo-Yo http://www.oldglory.com/lp/product/~category_id=MUS_1760/~product_id=007191NSMI;jsessionid=dh889zukz2rd . I dare even Kenny Chesney to produce such an interesting and useful product line. Or Yo-Yo Ma, for that matter.

6. Personal soundtrack. The Top 40 provides songs to fit almost any occasion. This week alone we could sing along with V.I.C. to "Get Silly," follow Metro Station's advice and "Shake It" or have "The Time of My Life" with David Cook. (Full disclosure: Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" and "It's Not My Time" by 3 Doors Down are really the only two songs on this week's list that I like. Miley Cyrus scares me too much, but I'm trying to be fair and give Kardinal Offishall's smash hit "Dangerous"--featuring Akon--a chance because, you know, I'm openminded that way... :-)

So, there. Valuable stuff to be found in our Top 40. Flip on your radio and enjoy--at least for a song or two.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beach Drumming

School starts tomorrow (whoo-hoo!!) and the mothers nearby are already anticipating The Annual Rejoicing. I will be celebrating the happy event with a dear friend, chatting about any thought that crosses our cheerful minds and drinking a large frozen hot chocolate, which tastes like cool heaven and causes the best kind of brain freeze.

In other forms of celebration, I'm still pondering a weekly "happening" that took place on the Siesta Key beach. We'd gone out to lunch one day during our Florida vacation and I, preoccupied with my coconut shrimp, didn't quite understand what the friendly waitress was saying. Something about "Sunday night drumming on the beach" and that we'd love it.

Well, she was very nice, and a knowledgeable local, and though we weren't sure what we were getting ourselves into, we took her word for it and went to the beach spot she'd suggested. An amazing event awaited us.

A large group of drummers gathered and formed a circle on the white sand--some who knew each other, many who did not--and they began playing. It was spontaneous and unrehearsed. A percussive jam session. A handful of regulars started it off but, soon, everyone with any kind of instrument joined in. There were big bongos and small bongos, hand-held drums of all varieties, tambourines and maracas, too. And in the center of the circle, people were dancing in joyful frenzy to the rhythm. Older men and women, toddlers and all ages in between. It was pure, unspecified celebration...and it lasted for three hours.

The sun set, and fresh flowers were passed around, cradled in a tambourine, for us to put in our hair. Glow sticks came out as darkness fell, lighting the night with neon flashes of color. At one point, a pair of women dressed in belly dancing outfits, delighted the attendees/participants with their twirling and the distinctive ping-ping-pings of their finger cymbals. Muscle-sculpted surf boys showed off their hottest moves. Children and teens were beckoned into the fold.

A twenty-something guy and his girlfriend were each drumming next to us and, as my extraverted child rushed into the center to join the dancing crowd, I turned to them and asked, "This is wonderful...and wild! It happens EVERY WEEK?"

He grinned. "Yeah." Then he reached into his backpack and pulled out a small bongo. Offering it up to me, he said, "Wanna play an instrument?"

Who could help but say, "Sure..."?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Touring with Ellen Meister

I became an Ellen Meister fan a couple of years ago when I first read her delightful debut novel Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, so it's a special treat to be part of her Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour this week for her second novel, The Smart One.

A little about Ellen: She grew up in the heartland of suburban Long Island. She spent her early career in advertising and marketing, and later worked as editor for a literary magazine and published numerous short stories. She now lives in New York with her husband and three children.

Of her new novel, The Smart One, Jane Green, bestselling author of The Beach House, wrote, "Wonderfully funny, irreverent and entirely unexpected. I loved it!" Booklist called it "A perfect beach read!" And the Library Journal said it was "Character-driven ... fast-paced and features great dialog." All fantastic and well-deserved words of praise :).

Welcome, Ellen!

In your first book, Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, three women forge a strong bond when a Hollywood scout announces the local elementary school might be the perfect backdrop for the next George Clooney movie. Marital challenges and societal obstacles result as they try to hold the project together. What's one theme you wanted to explore when you wrote this terrific book? Friendship! I think a lot of people who haven't read the book assume that I "skewer" the PTA, but that's not at all what it's about. I really wanted to explore the layers of pain, passion and joy hidden beneath the perfect mom exterior so many of us show the world. And it was important for me to give each of my three protagonists an arc she couldn't have achieved without her friends.

Lisa Kudrow said your "characters are so funny, smart, and real. I feel like I've made three new friends!" Plus, I believe she read the novel for the audio book, right? Did you talk with her prior to that reading about how to portray the characters' voices? Lisa is brilliant! Yes, she did the audiobook, and no, we didn't chat about voices. She read the book and did her own interpretation of each character. She was full of surprises and did an astounding job. I can't even imagine where she pulled all those voices from!

Your new book also involves three women, can you tell us the basic premise? In THE SMART ONE, three adult sisters find themselves both blessed and cursed by their childhood labels: the smart one, the pretty one and the wild one. They love each other, but can't understand where their differences begin and their own destructive tendencies end. Then they discover a decades-old body stuffed inside an industrial drum, and begin a bold, heartbreaking and often hilarious journey that will either bring them together ... or tear them apart for good.

Since "The Smart One" refers to one of the sisters, will there also be books about "The Pretty One" and "The Wild One" for readers to look forward to? No plans to do a sequel right now. I've fallen in love with another idea I'm working on...but someday? Who knows...

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your debut novel? The first person who found out was my son, Ethan, who was 8 at the time and the only one home when I got the call. Poor kid! I screamed so much I scared the hell out of him. He may still bear the emotional scars. I think I was still squeezing him and jumping up and down when I picked up the phone and called my husband. (LOL! I can totally relate to that. My son, age 9 at the time, was the only one home and the first one I told, too. We were jumping up and down like caged zoo animals--a very happy memory! :-)

What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? Can I choose all of the above? Seriously, I'd like to be successful enough to keep my career going. And yeah, being on the New York Time best seller list would be pretty damned sweet.

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist? They would not be surprised because I email them constantly. Beware the author who gets ahold of an alumni mailing list! (Ahhh...an excellent marketing/publicity suggestion!!)

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? J.D. Salinger, speaking as his character Seymour Glass, said to write the story you most want to read. I can't think of a better approach than that.

Thanks so much for the great interview, Marilyn!

It was absolutely my pleasure, Ellen--glad you could be here!