Monday, November 23, 2009

A Cornucopia of Blessings

I was thrilled when the very kind Edie Ramer invited me to visit her and the gang at Magical Musings today!! What an AWESOME group of writers over there! Thanks so much, Edie, for the invitation, and thanks to Michelle Diener, Liz Kreger and LaDonna Paulette, too, for welcoming me. I'm blogging about my Cornucopia of Publishing Irritations/Blessings, aka, "Really Annoying Things about the Publishing Industry that I'm Oddly Thankful For..." Please stop by here, if you have a chance, and say hello :).

In this week of Thanksgiving, I feel I have a lot to be grateful for, not the least of which is all of you wonderful blog friends. I appreciate the joy and friendship you've shared with me and the way you've helped make 2009 such a happy year (even when I was kinda stressed and freaking out over everything--LOL). I'm SO thankful for YOU!! xoxo

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Melissa Senate Shares "The Secret of Joy"

It's an absolute pleasure to host Melissa Senate, GCC pal and fabulous writer, on Brant Flakes today as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, THE SECRET OF JOY (Simon & Schuster, trade paperback)!! Melissa lives on the coast of Maine with her son and their menagerie of pets. She’s the author of eight novels (seven women’s fiction and one young adult) with two on the way. Of this book, New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips said, "The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate opened my heart, made me laugh, cry, and smile all at the same time. A don't-miss read!" It's also a Simon & Schuster Book Club Pick! For more information, check out the Reading Group Guide.

What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed?

28-year-old New Yorker Rebecca Strand is shocked when her dying father confesses a devastating secret: he had affair when Rebecca was a toddler—and a baby he turned his back on at birth. Now, his wish is that the daughter he abandoned, Joy Joyhawk, read the unsent letters he wrote to her every year on her birthday. Determined to fulfill her father’s wish, Rebecca drives to a small town in Maine—against the advice of her lawyer boyfriend who’s sure Joy will be a “disappointing, trashy opportunist” and demand half her father’s fortune. But when hopeful Rebecca knocks on her half-sister’s door, Joy—a separated mother who conducts weekend singles tours out of her orange mini-bus—wants nothing to do with Rebecca or the letters her father wrote to her. Determined to forge some kind of relationship with Joy, Rebecca sticks around, finding unexpected support from Joy’s best clients—the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset—and a sexy carpenter named Theo...

I love the sound of this story! Welcome, Melissa :).

Can you tell us the inspiration behind your new novel? Several years ago, I received an email out of the blue that said: I think you might be my half-sister. I was. Am. It took me a long time to decide to take that little (huge) nugget and write a novel to help me figure out the answer to some burning questions, such as: if you haven’t seen or heard from your biological father, or any member of his family, since you were little (or, in Joy’s case, never at all), is his child from another relationship really your sibling? Or just a stranger? Does the word father or sister or brother mean anything without back up? I had a ton of questions and set out to uncover how I felt through a fictional character, but it’s interesting to me that I flipped everything on its head in the writing of the story. Nothing but the basic questions that are proposed in the novel are autobiographical. Just the questions! And I surprised myself quite a few times during the writing of this story with how I felt about certain things. Amazing how writing fiction can teach you so much about yourself. (That's fascinating, and so, so true!)

Who do you picture in your mind when you write? Sometimes I picture a lone woman reading my book on a bus or on her sofa or in a coffee shop, and I imagine what she’s responding to, relating to, thinking about as she reads. Would this scene make her smile? Would she relate? But most of the time, I picture my characters’ faces with their personalities etched into their features. I rarely base my characters physically on celebs (except for my first book—Jane from SEE JANE DATE looked just like Ann Marie from “That Girl” (a young Marlo Thomas). She did not look like Charisma Carpenter, who perfectly played her in the TV movie, but now when I think of Jane, I think of Charisma only. Which makes me think of hot David Boreanaz, which is a good thing.

What was the inspiration for your hero? An actor, a picture you saw, some random guy in the coffee shop? I have long been drawn to guys with dark eyes and dark hair, starting with my very first serious crush in 7th grade. But Theo, Rebecca’s love interest, has sandy-blond hair and pale brown eyes because that’s just the way he came out of the keyboard—he sort of created himself. I never base the guys on anyone. They’re always inspired by the guy I wish I were dating. (Yes, I’m single!) Right now, as a single mother, I’d love a guy who, like hot, wise Theo, works with his hands and made things, like porch swings and tree houses for my son. A guy who’s smart and honest and romantic and always seems to say the right thing at the right time. Oh and hot, too.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Trust yourself. Your gut knows. You know.

Can you tell us why your editor is the best editor ever in the universe? I’m crazy about my editor, Jennifer Heddle at Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books. I love working with her. She’s just so razor-sharp smart and aware and interested in the world and pop culture (which I’ve learned via being her friend on Facebook!). Her suggestions, starting with our first conversation before she even bought my book, were so intelligent and thoughtful. And she’s New York honest in a very kind way with her editorial letters and edits. I absolutely trust what she says. As I’ve gotten to know her, I’m even more touched that she bought my book. She’s a tough customer, I think. And that’s a good thing.

Which 'craft' book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career? The most inspiring, to me, is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. But I also love Stephen King’s On Writing; Carolyn See’s How To Make A Literary Life, and Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping Into The Open. (Oh! I have ALL of these on my writing shelf and love them. I'm a big Elizabeth Berg fan, too...)

Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment? The moment my seven-year-old son closes those eyes for the night, I stretch out on my little sofa with a good book, hot chocolate (it’s getting cooold here in Maine) and my two black cats at my feet. I’m reading Elizabeth Berg’s Home Safe right now. I love how she manages to write so honestly and elegantly at the same time. She’s able to call someone a shit in the loveliest way. Next up: the seven or so books that came from Amazon, staring with Kristina Riggle’s Real Life & Liars. I love women’s fiction—all these interesting storylines and gorgeous covers.

What’s next for you? Next up is my second novel for teens, THE MOSTS, which will be published by Random House in June 2010. Then, my next women’s fiction novel from Simon & Schuster, THE LOVE GODDESS’S COOKING SCHOOL, about five people in an Italian cooking class, will be published November 2010. I’m staring down a 1/1 deadline (the worst deadline to have!) And I’m being poked at by a new idea... (Best of luck to you on all of this!!)

Thanks so much for visiting today, Melissa, and to everyone reading, I hope the rest of your week is fabulous!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Contest Winner!

Good morning!

Just a quick post to share the winning name in the drawing yesterday for one of Maria Geraci's fabulous books. And the novel goes to: Rain Maiden. Congratulations!! Please email me privately (marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com) with your mailing address and the name of the novel you'd like (either Maria's first book--Bunco Babes Tell All--or her newest release--Bunco Babes Gone Wild). I'll get that info to Maria and she'll send a book out to you. :-)

As Thanksgiving plans begin to solidify for those of us here in the States, I know I'm already thinking about the delicious meals we'll be enjoying over the long holiday weekend. I have a thing for creamy mashed potatoes and all year I look forward to this cranberry-apple-orange salad my mom makes. We're not going far this year (an hour's drive, at most), but do any of you have big travel plans? And what is on your dining wish list for next week?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jessica Brody's Love Under Cover

This is a busy release month for the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit and several of my GCC sisters have new books coming out--I'm excited about all of them! Today, Jessica Brody is back with LOVE UNDER COVER (St. Martin's Press), the follow up to her wonderful women's fiction debut THE FIDELITY FILES. This series is currently in development with the the executive producer of "Crash" for a possible TV series--wow! But Jessica is no stranger to the film world. She graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with degrees in economics and French. In 2005, she left her job at MGM Studios in Los Angeles to become a full-time freelance writer and producer. She also writes young-adult novels, and her first--THE KARMA CLUB--will be coming out in April 2010.

In LOVE UNDER COVER, Jennifer Hunter runs a company that specializes in conducting fidelity inspections for those who suspect their loved ones are capable cheating. An expert on men, Jennifer can usually tell if they're single, married or lying... Unfortunately, her new boyfriend, Jamie, is one of the few men that she's never been able to 'read.' Has she finally found the perfect man or is he too good to be true?

Welcome, Jessica!

What was your inspiration behind Love Under Cover? As soon as I finished writing my first novel, The Fidelity Files¸ I knew that Jennifer’s journey wasn’t over yet. Although she had seemed to find her happy ending there was so much more fun stuff I had in mind for another book. Setting Jennifer up with an entire agency of fidelity inspectors was definitely the first and foremost on my mind for the next installment. Plus, I really wanted to explore what a fidelity inspector would be like in a committed relationship. After everything she’s seen—all the cheating, dishonesty, and betrayal—would she really be capable of settling down herself? So that’s what I set out to focus on in this book.

Which 'craft' book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career? SAVE THE CAT, by Blake Snyder. It changed my life. People tell me my books read like movies. Well, that's probably because SAVE THE CAT is actually a book for screenwriting. But I've found it translates exceptionally well to novels. A well-told story is a well-told story, regardless of the medium and a fast-moving story keeps the pages turning. Blake Snyder lays out a simple (yet effective) step-by-step beat sheet of how to tell any story and I'll never write another book without it! He was very well-respected in the industry and I know many writers (screenwriters and novelists alike) that utilize his books. Plus, the book is extremely funny and entertaining to read! (I'm a HUGE fan of Blake's work, and I use it for everything, too. It's still very sad to me that we lost him so young...)

Since becoming a writer, what’s the most glamorous thing you’ve ever done? When my first book, The Fidelity Files, came out in France last year, my French publisher actually flew me out to Paris to promote it! It was a dream come true! I speak French almost fluently so I was able to conduct all my interviews in French, which was both nerve wracking and exciting at the same time. Paris has always held a special place in my heart. I was a French major in college and I lived in Paris my junior abroad. Plus, I spent a month in Paris in 2005 finishing the novel so it was all very magical and kismet to be back there to see it in French book stores!

If you could be a superhero, what would you superpower be? Calorie Immunity. That would definitely be my super power. The ability to eat anything I want and be completely unaffected by the calories contained within. That would be really awesome. And I guess that would automatically make my nemesis cupcakes. Although, if this were a comic book, he would be called “Dr. Cupcake” and his side kick would be called “Sprinkles.” (LOL!!!)

What's the main thing you hope people take away from your book? Entertainment. That’s all I seek to do. Entertain people. The reason I started writing was because of Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. I read that book in college whenever I would go to the gym and I remember looking down at the elliptical and thinking, “Seriously? I’ve already been exercising for thirty minutes!?” The time would FLY by. I was so inspired and awed by the fact that a book could take me away from my life like that. I knew from that day on that I wanted to be a writer so I could attempt to do the same. So if my book can help pass the time of a long flight or a boring workout then I’ve accomplished my goal. And if some of the issues about relationships and love and trust that I’ve delved into get people thinking, than that’s just icing on the cupcake.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Jump and the net will appear. Although I think this applies to any career you’re trying to get into. You have to jump in with both feet. Right into the deep end. You can’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come along, you just have to go for it. When I decided I would be a published author, I made the decision and I leapt off the cliff…without a parachute. I quit my high-paying, corporate job at a movie studio, started taking odd jobs off of Craigslist to make ends meet, downgraded my car, my apartment and my lifestyle to save money and just went for it. I never looked back. I turned down three job offers from other studios, all which paid even more than I was making when I left my previous one. I sold my first novel a year and a half after I quit. Now I write full time and this year, for the first time since I quit my corporate job in 2005, I’m making more as a writer than I was making as a “suit.” Do what you love and the money will eventually come. I’m a big believer in this. And I am living proof that it works!

Which fictional character would you most like to have dinner with? Um, Edward Cullen, of course! Although after dinner, I’d probably ask him to stick around for a drink, a movie, coffee, and then who knows where it might lead. I’m not to be held responsible (or accountable) for fictional dinner dates with hot vampires.

Thanks so much, Jessica! It was great having you visit :). And, everyone, please don't forget that we'll be drawing a winner for one of Maria Geraci's books (!!!) tomorrow afternoon--so if you haven't left a comment on her November 9th guest post, please stop by before then!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meeting Kate Jacobs

As I mentioned briefly on Monday, I had a chance to meet the very gracious Kate Jacobs this past weekend. I was thinking I'd just slip into the library, listen to her presentation and say a quick hello to her as she signed my copy of Comfort Food. (GREAT book, btw, and I loved the story's heroine, Gus, who's such a wonderful, beautiful, well-developed character. :) I was trying not be too much of a geeky fan girl, but Kate and her husband were truly welcoming. And, when one of my favorite librarians, Debbie Hoffman (who's standing to the right of Kate in this photo*), called me up to introduce us, I felt immediately at home chatting with them both.

Having read and loved her writing, I wasn't at all surprised that Kate's talk was delightful. She spoke a bit about her hometown in Canada and about her writing process. She told us about her friends and the characters she created for her beloved Friday Night Knitting Club series. Knit Two came out late last year and Knit The Season was released just this month.

I do have one confession: Although I've read and enjoyed more than one of Kate's stories, I'm terrified of knitting. I've fancied myself "crafty" on a number of occasions and, while I did a passable job with fabric painting, not completely dreadfully with Sculpy baking-clay jewelry and even showed some potential when it came to beading, I failed at knitting. If Twitter has a trending topic somewhere called #knitfail, my "work" ought to be featured. I have some perfectly horrid and misshapen woolen projects I could show you as proof--but I won't. I also still have a half-full trunk of untouched yarn for the "cute pastel vest" I'd intended to make once. Skeins in a very pretty pink, light blue and cream. They have been safely stashed in that trunk for, oh, about 15 years. Yeah. It's a testament to how much I liked Kate that I'm actually considering pulling them out again... I also have needles. I'm scared of them, too.

But for those people who have fewer issues and more talent when it comes to knitting, Kate's involved with a FABULOUS program right now, in conjunction with Lands' End. It's a project called Warming Families, and they're trying to get 25,000 caps made for families in need this fall. I know my skills fall short when it comes to making anything complicated, but Kate said on Saturday that scarves were welcome, too. So, there may be a weirdly misshapen pink, light blue and cream one added to the growing pile soon... Maybe some of you will join me in the attempt?

*I snagged the picture from Kate's blog, and I believe the photo credit goes to Kate's husband :-).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Guest Blogger Maria Geraci + a Giveaway!!

I had a lovely weekend. First, the weather was, like, 65 degrees. In Chicago. In NOVEMBER! (Not as warm as Maria's home state of Florida, but c'mon! Midwesterners everywhere rejoiced and wore shorts.) Plus, there was a long-awaited, Friday-night get-together with friends that included hours of fun conversation, homemade brownies and "beer-itas," a form of margaritas made with beer--surprisingly tasty and deliberately potent. (One that Maria might find to be an excellent Bunco drink, btw...)

Then, on Saturday, I got to meet the fabulous Kate Jacobs at the library (will post more about that later this week!), who was so funny she had the crowd giggling from the moment she took the microphone...and so kind that she even mentioned meeting me on her blog. What a sweetie :).

And Sunday night, I got an email from the wonderful Kwana Jackson, who told me she'd reviewed my debut book in the just-launched (!!) Booksquawk blog, and she wrote this line, which I'll treasure: "ACCORDING TO JANE felt like a delightful mix of part Pride and Prejudice, part Ally McBeal with a little bit of High Fidelity thrown in. Discuss… as the main characters Jane and Ellie would say." (My novel and Nick Hornby's High Fidelity in the same sentence?! I adore you, Kwana!!)

But, what's so incredibly awesome is that it's a dreary-looking Monday morning here, yet it still feels like the weekend for me... Why? Because I not only have the pleasure of being a guest on two really great blog sites today: Shades of Romance Magazine/SORMAG with LaShaunda and Over Coffee with Sia (Thanks, ladies!), but I also get to host on Brant Flakes my friend and fellow women's fiction writer, Maria Geraci , and celebrate with her the release of her newest novel, Bunco Babes Gone Wild!!

Maria is my very first guest blogger, and I couldn't have chosen a nicer, more supportive one. When I read her debut novel, Bunco Babes Tell All, I loved and identified with her main character, thought the hero of her story was incredibly sexy and knew Maria was going to be one of my "automatic-buy" authors from that point onward. So, I can't tell you how pleased I am that her second book is finally out and that Amazon got my copy to me quickly!

Please join me in welcoming her!!! (Hi, Maria. ;)

First, I’d like to thank the lovely and generous Marilyn Brant for hosting me on her blog today, as well as congratulate her once again on her wonderful debut novel, According to Jane. It’s definitely on my “keeper” shelf!

With a new book out, I find that I’ve been giving a lot of interviews lately, and while a majority of the questions always seem to have a similar theme, each interviewer always asks a question or two that makes me stop, scratch my head, and have to think on how to answer. Which as a writer, is always good. Thinking spurs my imagination into different directions and anything that makes my brain work is fine exercise.

Recently, I was asked to describe each of the lead characters in my books in three words. And while that seems like a simple enough task, I’d never done it before. I’m not one to do character sketches ahead of time, or even necessarily afterward. While I do pre-plot my novels, I try to let my characters evolve organically from the story and let the chips fall as they may, so to speak. But having to think of those three words to describe each of the heroes and heroines of my books made me realize how those character attributes naturally led to the conflict that arose between them, and of course, ultimately, their character growth.

In my first novel, Bunco Babes Tell All, my central character’s name is Kitty. I always envisioned her as a sort of “everywoman.” Pretty, but not gorgeous. Smart, but not a Wall street banker, maybe a little bit klutzy, and a whole lot insecure about the things we women are insecure about in life, including sex. So I gave Kitty a hero who, in a lot of ways, is her complete opposite. I gave her Steve. Confident, relationship weary, and a whole lot distrustful of someone like Kitty who comes across as true good to be true. As a writer, you have to put your characters in constant conflict. You have to throw uncomfortable situations smack dab in their faces and see how they react. That’s how you discover their strengths, their flaws, the things that make them “them.” To challenge Kitty I set her up to do something she’d never done in her life. I gave her a one-night stand with Steve. At thirty-five, it’s not like she’d hadn’t had the opportunity before. But this time, she took it. And as a writer, I have to ask why. Why now? Why this guy? Their first “encounter” while successful in the fact that they got the “deed” done, leaves a lot to be desired, creates some incorrect impressions, and sets up the major conflict between them. Which of course, when resolved, will give them their happily-ever-after.

In Bunco Babes Gone Wild, I purposely set out to write a heroine who was very different from Kitty. Georgia is someone I like to call the “anti-Babe.” She’s smart (yes, like Wall St banker smart, although she works in Birmingham, Alabama, not NYC), confident of what she wants in life, and determined to get it at all costs. Alas, poor Georgia is not perfect. She’s also friendless and a bit humorless. And a whole lot clueless about what’s really important in life. There was nothing left for me to do but give her sweet, funny, sexy, care-free Dave. He’s the kind of guy who likes to kick back and enjoy watching the sunset while drinking a cold beer, but he also doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. Just by Dave’s very nature Georgia is forced to have to stop and wonder if what she thinks she wants in the beginning of the story is really what she wants. So what do I do as a writer? You probably guessed it by now. I give her what she wants! And the story conflict begins. I don’t think I’ll spoil it by telling you that Georgia also gets her happily-ever-after, because frankly, I just couldn’t write any other kind of story.

I love introducing readers to my Bunco Babes, and I love giving away autographed books, so leave a comment, and one random person will be chosen to receive an autographed copy of either Bunco Babes Tell All or Bunco Babes Gone Wild. Winner gets to pick! If you want to read more about the books to help you decide which one you’d like, you can read an excerpt here.

Isn't Maria WONDERFUL?!! Answer: YES! A winner's name will be drawn from the list of commenters next Monday, November 16th by noon, so please stop by before then. Hope you all have a great start to the week!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guest Blogging, Book Clubbing & Tweeting, Oh My!

Today, I'm over at the 007 Blog, spending the day with my fellow Bond Sisters and writing about "An Author's Intentions." It's a post based on a very interesting phone call I received recently, and one that required hours of post-conversation analysis...

Also, I've begun my Cherry Forums Book Club week, so if any of you would like to join in on the According to Jane book discussion, I'd love to see you there!!

Finally, after months of futile resistance (and MUCH pressure from the very persuasive NovelWhore--LOL!), I have finally joined the Twitter-verse. In the memorable words of Phil Collins, "I will follow you if you'll follow me..." (I can't get that song out of my head when I'm on my new Twitter home page. :) Quite seriously, though, I'm such a newbie at this, I'm open to all pointers and suggestions about navigating this constant stream of info. And, because I haven't yet learned the lexicon of the Tweeting world, I'm going to borrow from my Facebook terminology and say, "Please friend me!" Having some friendly faces (or even just the tiny square icons representing your faces) there will definitely make this transition easier!

Hope you'll all have a great week...and to those doing NaNo: Hey, get offline and go write!!