Monday, July 27, 2009

A Visit with Carleen Brice (and a Book Giveaway!)

We've just returned from our whirlwind Northeastern U.S. trip (as of the wee hours this morning!), and I'm finally able to plunge back into the Blogosphere. I've missed being a regular poster, and I've missed my short but daily chats with many of you, either here or on your own blogs... I have much to catch up on, both online and off, but I promise to fill you all in on details later this week with headers such as: "D.C.--THE place to see the Cubs play the Nationals while simultaneously getting a decent tan" or "Lobster, breathtaking coastlines and other delights of Massachusetts and Maine, even amidst a flood-like downpour" or "Vermont--home of Ben & Jerry's and, yes, of course I made the family go on the ice-cream-factory tour with me!"

But, for now, I have the pleasure of introducing fellow GCC'er Carleen Brice to Brant Flakes. Carleen’s debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, was an Essence “Recommended Read” and a Target “Bookmarked Breakout Book.” She won the 2009 First Novelist Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the 2008 Break Out Author Award at the African American Literary Awards Show for this book, AND Orange Mint and Honey was optioned by Lifetime Movie Network. (Wow!)

Her second novel, Children of the Waters (One World/Ballantine), is a book about race, love and family, and it was just released at the end of June. Booklist Online called it “a compelling read, difficult to put down.” Essence says, “Brice has a new hit.” You can read an excerpt at her website.

Right now, she's at work on her third novel, and she maintains the blogs “White Readers Meet Black Authors” and "The Pajama Gardener". She's also generously offered a signed copy of Children of the Waters to one commenter, so thank you, Carleen, and welcome!

New readers want to know about your newest book! Can you tell us the basic premise? Two women, 1 black and 1 white, discover several family secrets, including the fact that they are related. (Sounds fabulous!)

What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why? I loved writing the scene that introduced a secondary character who’s a senior citizen pot dealer. He only deals to other seniors and the idea just cracks me up.

Name a few of your favorite musical artists/groups. Did you use any musical references in your novel? If so, do they play a significant role? One of my characters is a musician, so music plays a role in the story. I mention Stevie Wonder’s music a couple of times.
My favorites include:
Aretha Franklin
Mary J. Blige

I've never been able to choose just one favorite food, but what are some of the foods you love? Pizza, chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, roast chicken, hummus and good bread to name a few. (Oooh, I love all of these...I think we need to go out together for lunch. :-)

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? My husband, but soon after I had called all my friends and many relatives too!

Thanks so much for visiting, Carleen, and for offering an autographed copy of your latest novel to one commenter! I'll draw a name on Thursday night from all who leave a message on this post and will pass the winner's name along to Carleen. Good luck, everyone!

Friday, July 17, 2009

RWA Nationals: Late Nights at the Marriott Wardman Park

So, I'm here in Washington D.C. at the Wardman Park for the big RWA National Conference and, since I have expanded my digital horizons enough to have finally bought a laptop with wireless, I felt it was high time I used my nifty new technology.

For those who have never attended one of these events, RWA Nationals is a writing conference involving some 2,000 publishing professionals--from authors to literary agents to editors to booksellers and librarians. It is a largely female gathering and, as such, there is much talk of cute shoes...girly drinks...hair annoyances and wardrobe selections... But, do not think for a second that a range of professional issues aren't discussed as well. The Google settlement, character arcs/motivation, book contracts/advances and a number of aspects of e-publishing are up for heavy debate just as often.

For me, as is usually the case, I've been here since Wednesday morning and have gotten, maybe, 9 hours of sleep total. There are publisher parties and a range of special-interest-chapter gatherings that go late into the evening, it's true, but the reason most of us find ourselves reaching for the most highly caffeinated beverage we can find the next morning is because we're up until way past midnight just chatting... (And, for those of you wondering, yes, I did bring some Starbucks VIA™ coffee packets along with me! And I've been sharing. :)

For many of us, we see each other only once a year--at this event. In some cases, a friend may have skipped a conference or two, so we have a couple of years worth of writing-life and personal-family news to catch up on. My good friend and conference roomie, YA author and 2008 RITA-nominee Simone Elkeles, lives less than a half hour away from me at home. We're members of the same local RWA chapter. But, due to her chaotic schedule and mine, we haven't had a conversation that's lasted longer than 10 minutes in months. Now--finally--we get to TALK!

This is my seventh consecutive RWA Nationals. Looking back, these late-night conversations are what I remember most about prior conferences. And for those friends who are not in D.C. this week, I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you, missing chatting with you and wishing you all were here.

Next year: Nashville. Put it on your calendar, okay?!

**A note to all: If you're a coffee lover, please sign up for "The Great Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew Taste Test" in the July 12th post below! I will respond to all private emails when I get back home (if not before), and I look forward to leisurely reading all your comments!! Now, back to the conference...**

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Great Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew Taste Test!!

I'm so excited about this event!

Those of you who know me already know I love coffee (especially with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and those little white-chocolate shavings, but I digress...), and I drink it on the go with alarming frequency. So, it was a thrilling moment when I discovered these new Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew packets last month because they came in two flavors (the Colombia and the Italian Roast), were in very convenient little pouches, and all I had to do was open one, add 8oz. of hot or cold water, stir it up and voilĂ ! I tried it, I loved it and I thought it would be an excellent coffee accompaniment while reading books...so I gave some away. Anything to add further joy to the fun that was AustenFest, right?

Well, things got even more exciting when Starbucks, thanks to their representative Jason, offered to send me additional packets to give away for other online contests, or with my books or, really, to whomever I wanted.

"Wow!" I thought. "How great is that?!"

And--since I'd heard the product was only available online or at stores in Chicago, Seattle and London--I suspected there were A LOT of people who probably hadn't tried it yet. So, then I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a taste test?" (I always wanted to host a taste test!) Then a bunch of other people could get a sneak preview of VIA™, too, and they could tell me how they enjoyed fixing their coffee. (Because I'd love some new, creative ideas!) And they'd also let me know whether they preferred the Colombia to the Italian Roast or vice versa, and if they liked to drink it hot or cold or with some kind of topping...

I figured, "Hey, 20 or 25 of us will have a really good time doing this."

Then, at the end of last week, I found out I'd be getting a box with 150 individual servings of each flavor--that is, 300 packets!! (Thank you, Jason! :)

So, Dear Coffee-Loving Friends in the Blogosphere, we're gonna have some serious taste-testing fun...

I have samples for 150 new participants, not including the people who won the VIA™ coffee along with the B&N giftcards or the ARCs of According to Jane. [You don't need to sign up below because your coffee has already been sent to you, so you're all set to take part in the event next month!] Here's how it'll work for those who don't have the packets yet:

1. All you have to do is be one of the first 150 people to sign up in the comment section of THIS post before Saturday, August 8, 2009. You can sign in with your Blogger account or, if you'd rather, you can sign in as Anonymous and use just your first name or your initials or a nickname to distinguish yourself from the other participants.

2. Then, please email me (marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com) with your name and mailing address, also by August 8th, so I can send you two coffee packets: one of the Colombia and one of the Italian Roast. Absolutely NO names, addresses or emails will be shared with anyone else!! It's just me privately sending them out to you.

3. Finally, in the later part of August, after the packets have had a chance to arrive in your mailboxes (I'll send them anywhere, btw, so you don't have to live in the U.S.), I'll put up a blog post specifically for everyone who tried the coffee so they can share what they liked or didn't like about it. Oooh! And maybe we'll do a coffee poll! (I don't know how to create these yet, but I have friends who do...right, Caryn? L.A.? :) Or maybe some sort of a prize for Most Imaginative Coffee Creation! I, personally, want to get one of those nifty tumblers someday that can hold up to six VIA™ packets so, perhaps, that would be a cool prize...or maybe one of the 12-pack boxes of coffee...or a Starbucks giftcard...or a couple of novels...or some tasty chocolate truffles... Still deciding, but you get the idea!

Anyway, sign up and tell your coffee-drinking friends to sign up, too. I'll be away at the Romance Writers of America's National Conference in Washington D.C. over the next week and a half (it's a roadtrip with a few extra stops...) but, after I return, I will respond to every email I receive so I can let participants know that I have their addresses for the taste test. Then, I will buy a box of envelopes and prepare to do a mass mailing of coffee and more coffee... Whoo-hoo!

So, are you in?!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Visit with Samantha Wilde

The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is zipping through the Blogosphere with a new book tour, and I'm pleased to have fellow member Samantha Wilde visiting today to talk about her debut novel. Her book introduces a character named Joy McGuire, who has gone from being skinny and able to speak in complete sentences to someone who hasn’t changed her sweatpants in weeks. But now with a new baby to care for, she feels like a woman on the brink and as she scrambles to recapture the person she used to be she takes another look at the woman she is: a stay-at-home mom in love with her son, if a bit addled about everything else. As a new mom herself, Samantha, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, wrote THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME (Bantam trade, June 2009) after the birth of her son when she was experiencing the ups and downs of new motherhood.

Welcome, Samantha!

Could you tell us a little more about your book? Joy , a seemingly normal person with a seemingly normal marriage, has a baby, after which point, nothing is normal again. Not her breasts or her belly or her heart or her marriage. It’s a rueful, postpartum tale about the grueling work of the first nine months of the first baby when change is an urgent necessity that you wish you could run away from.

Do you have a muse, good luck charm, writing vice? I do tend to eat chocolate while writing, which is very museful. [Oh, I agree!] I also work well under pressure, so it helps that my real job is being with my kids around the clock. My writing is squeezed in. Very motivational.

Have you had a "rock star" moment regarding your writing career? If so, what was it? I think I’m too new to feel like a rock star. I’m waiting for Oprah to call. Or, actually, the other day, after a Borders book signing, a woman came over and picked up my novel and looked at it. She read the back. Flipped through the pages. Stared at the cover. I was by the bathrooms with my mother. Then she put it down and walked away. Isn’t that what happens with real books?

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your book. How about “The Eensy Weensy Spider,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Oh, wait. You mean there’s other music out there? I haven’t heard any in a LONG time.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of your novel? I started THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME when my son was about nine months out of some desperate creative drive. I wrote during his nap times. Twice a day, one hour each time.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal? It’s an industry. Not a cozy writing club.

What are you reading now? THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY. It’s hilarious. Since I moonlight as a minister and spent some years in divinity school, I lap up religious stuff when it’s true, witty and liberal. [I read and loved this book, too!]

Is writing your main job? If not, what do you do for your real source of income and how does it impact your writing? The “real source” of my income is my husband. What do I do with him? Send him to work! He’s a professor of chemical engineering. I “stay home” with the kids, which includes a great deal of being elsewhere. I adore being with my children--even if it is honestly the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. By training I’m a yoga teacher and an ordained minister. I do keep up with both of those occupations, teaching a weekly yoga class, and “free lancing” by officaitng at weddings and blessing babies. My real job is mothering.

Do you have show and tell with your first draft? Who do you trust for honest reaction, or is so fragile you show it to one you love who you know will be kind? My mother, Nancy Thayer, is almost always my first reader. She’s just published her 19th novel and as a bestselling writer who’s been in the industry for thirty years I trust her opinion. She’s a good critic for me, not too soft or too hard, and I always know she has my best interests in mind.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published? Ask yourself WHY. Do you want to write? Or do you want all that comes with being published? They are not necessarily the same. And some things (many things) can be got without publishing. Like a sense of personal satisfaction and joy.

What was the one thing you learned in getting your book published that you were really surprised to find out? You never get to the top of the mountain. Getting published is not a lighting bolt. Life does not change in any substantive way. You never arrive at the place you long to be from outward things. The inward changes are cool, though. I feel like, impossibly, I am learning to be more gracious.

Thanks so much for being here, Samantha, and congrats on the release of your debut novel!!

**Thanks again to everyone who took part in the AustenFest! A couple of people have yet to claim their book prizes, so please check the prior post to see if you're a winner and email me (marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com) if you are! Also--ATTENTION COFFEE LOVERS!!--I now have the details I've been waiting for and, let me tell you, this next event (a taste test!!) is gonna be really fun! I'm in the process of writing the post about it and will have it up before next week gets rolling...**

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

AustenFest: Final Thoughts & Book Giveaway Winners!!!

Although my AustenFest comes to a close tonight, Austenmania is never quite at an end...nor would I want it to be.

I was talking with a very personable bookseller a few weeks ago, and she told me the staff is thrilled with -- but rather surprised by -- the mushrooming popularity of Austen. She wondered if I could account for it in some way.

Truthfully, I could not. To my limited (and seriously prejudiced) perspective, it seems the world is finally catching on to the genius of Jane. I'm sure I wasn't the first 14-year-old to fall in love with Jane's characters, her humor and her worldview, nor was I the first to claim her as my favorite author in the early 1980s...but it does feel as though many more people are jumping on a bandwagon of collective Austen consciousness these days.

It's impossible for me to see that as a bad thing, even if I can't quite explain it.

I began writing According to Jane in the summer of 2004 and finished it in early 2005. And that wasn't the first Austen-esque novel I'd tried to write. (I attempted to do a P&P spinoff in the late 1990s, but I didn't have either the determination or the narrative skill to push this beyond the idea stage back then.) But publishing is an industry where the wheels often turn at a snail-like pace, so I've gotten a raised eyebrow or twelve this year at my premise, along with a knowing nod and an air of certainty that I'm jumping onto one of the faster-moving writing wagons.

I shall let doubters ponder what they will. I, personally, don't think it's possible to fake a love for Austen, however. I believe true fans of her work will spot copycats in a matter of paragraphs. And it thrills me that amongst the authors of heartfelt Austen-related projects, I've had a chance to host four such dedicated writers in the past few weeks. Thanks to all of them, and to all of you, for being a part of the "fest."

So, now...onto the giveaways!!!

Names have just been drawn and, so, let me be the first to say Congratulations to all of the winners below for coming away with a book. And, for the record, we'll be giving away 12 books tonight, not just 10!!

The winner of Syrie's Charlotte Bronte novel is Melanie!

Kim's In the Garden book goes to Caroline!

Abigail added an additional novel tonight, so her FOUR winners are: alison (who is with the Knitty Bloggy Baby Bumpers), Erica, Marlyn, and hthideman!

The winner of Laurie's Confessions novel is Maria Geraci and the person whose name was drawn for Rude Awakenings is Deb Jensen!

Finally, I have personally decided to give away four ARCs of According to Jane, as well as some Starbucks VIA Ready Brew coffee, so the winning names for that are: AlisonB, Kwana, Nina (aka: Lizzy), and Stargazer!

Some of you I know I can reach, but if we have never emailed privately before or if you know for sure that I don't have your mailing address--and that's most of you!--please contact me here with it: marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com. I will be passing along those addresses to the authors as soon as I get them. So, the faster you email me, the faster you'll be able to get the books you won!!

Congrats, again, to everyone, and thanks to you all for making this event a success. And, don't forget, if you're a coffee lover, I have something exciting coming up very soon especially for you. Expect further details no later than Monday!!!

Everything Austen Challenge: "Lost in Austen"

Just jumping in very quickly to say that I completed my first "challenge" when I watched "Lost in Austen" on DVD in its entirety last week. And I laughed hysterically through it... Obviously, it's not entirely true to the characterizations (let alone the plot) that Austen created in Pride & Prejudice, but I appreciated the humor and the inventiveness of the concept. I was relieved when someone mentioned that the one missing scene (where the main character, Amanda Price, sings "Downtown" at Netherfield) is available on a YouTube clip here. Very funny!

Tonight's the night when AustenFest will officially come to a close with the drawing of winners for all of the books. We'll be giving ten away! Good luck to all who participated--I hope you'll come away with a book or two!!

I intend, however, for everyone to be a winner, if not with a book, then with a beverage... Details are still being worked out, but I will keep you posted!

Friday, July 3, 2009

AustenFest: More Giveaways and Celebrations

Thanks to all of you for your comments on Laurie's post and on the posts of all of my wonderful guest authors during AustenFest! I simply can't wait until July 7th at 7pm (Lucky 7-7-7) to do the big book giveaway... Also, congratulations to the winner of the final $10 B&N giftcard, Judy K.--yay! In addition to this, she'll receive a 3-pack of Starbucks VIA Ready Brew coffee, as will the other B&N giftcard winners. (Please email me, Judy, with your address so I can get these out to you. :)

Something I didn't know until this week: These VIA packets that I've grown so attached to are very new and, thus far, only found in Chicago, Seattle and London (although it's possible to get them online here). However, through the generosity of Starbucks, and their representative Jason, who was kind enough to send me some additional packets, everyone who wins one of my ARCs during the AustenFest drawing will get a sample to taste, too.

But that's not all!

I have an idea for for a new event--one I'd like to begin later this month after the chaos of the RWA National Conference subsides. It's something I hope many of you will find mouthwateringly delicious and a fun way to add a little zing (or at least a little caffeine!) to the end of July and the beginning of August. To participate, you need only have (1) an interest in coffee and (2) a willingness to try a mini taste-testing experiment with me... So, if this sounds like you, please mark your calendars! Next week, after the book drawing brings AustenFest officially to a close, I'll post further details...

But, today, I'm giving away two ARCs (along with VIA packets for each winner) to two commenters on my group blog--a new site with daily posts written by my fellow 2007 Golden Heart finalists, aka my Bond Sisters. For those who may not be familiar with the Golden Heart, is the major award given by members of the Romance Writers of America to a handful of unpublished novelists each summer. Approximately 1,200 people enter the writing contest every year, about 65 final and 10 win. My debut novel, According to Jane, won the Golden Heart in 2007. It was one of my happiest--and most terrifying!--moments (if you're interested, you can read about it here). And the book sold to Kensington the following spring.

So, if you have a chance, please join me over at Nobody Writes It Better today. I'll be talking about the music authors use in our novels and--in my case--some of my favorite '80s tunes!

For those of you in the States, Happy 4th! For those of you elsewhere, Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Austen Around the Internet: The Everything Austen Challenge

I just discovered a really great online event starting this week: the Everything Austen Challenge from Stephanie's Written Word. The goal is to read, watch or do 6 Austen-related things (books, films, the making of recipes from The Jane Austen Cookbook even!) over the next 6 months--from July 1, 2009 through January 1, 2010. The deadline to sign up is July 15th, so you still have a little time if you haven't done it yet, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun! Check out Stephanie's first post about this challenge on her website for all the details!

I just signed up officially tonight--the only problem being that I'm not sure I can limit myself to just SIX things. I have so, so many I want to do... I've read only the 1st chapter or two of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, so I want to finally finish it. I own the "Lost in Austen" DVDs and haven't watched them yet. I want to read Me & Mr. Darcy (Alexandra Potter), Darcy's Story (Janet Aylmer), Jane Austen Ruined My Life (Beth Pattillo), The Independence of Mary Bennet (Colleen McCullough)--even though I was warned it was dreadful--but, still, a girl has to decide for herself, right?

In nonfiction, I have these in my towering TBR pile: Two Guys Read Jane Austen (Chandler and Hill, Jane Austen in Hollywood (Troost and Greenfield, ed.) and The Annotated Pride and Prejudice.

For films, aside from "Lost in Austen," I've never seen that Mormon version of P&P called "Pride and Prejudice: a Latter Day comedy" and I think I kinda need to...

Oh! And I have the first 3 magazines in the the Marvel Comics P&P series, and I'll be getting the final 2 parts when they're issued, so I want to read those (but I'll only count this as "one" thing).

Then there's the Austen stuff I've already enjoyed but will want to see or read again... Like being able to settle down and leisurely read Abigail Reynold's Impulse & Initiative and Laurie Viera Rigler's Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, because I gobbled them up the first time and it would be nice to sit back and slowly drink them in :). And, I want to see the Keira and Matthew version of "P&P" again because I've watched the Colin and Jennifer version so many times I have whole sections memorized.

If anyone else out there is doing the Everything Austen Challenge, I'd love to hear one or two things you're planning to do. And if you're NOT doing it, I'd also love to know what are a couple of books or films you've always wanted to read or watch but never got around to it?

**AustenFest reminder--I'll be drawing the name of the last $10 B&N giftcard winner on Friday morning and also I'll be telling you about a Very Cool Thing that happened this week as a result of the "fest"...something that many of you will get to enjoy as well! The big book giveaway is set for Tuesday, July 7th--so there's still time to add comments to my lovely guest authors' posts and get in on the drawing!!**