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 :-).