Friday, January 29, 2010

And the Winner is...

...Pamala Knight--Congrats! Susan McBride drew your name to win her new women's fiction release, The Cougar Club!! Please email me (MarilynBrant AT Gmail DOT Com) with your mailing address so I can forward it to Susan ;).

By the way, this is a fun thing, too! Here is the video link to the segment Susan did on "Great Day St. Louis"--LOVE those animal prints! (Pamela Cayne does too, as I recall--hee!) And to the left is a photo from Susan's book launch/Komen fundraiser. Looks like an awesome turn out.

Susan, it was wonderful to have you here this week and, to all who stop by, may you have a fabulous weekend. Blogger tells me this is my 200th post, so I need to find something goofy to do this weekend to celebrate. String a necklace with 200 Cherrios? Nibble on 200 M&Ms? Jump on a mini trampoline 200 times? Something, perhaps, other than what a kindergartener might choose to do to commemorate the occasion?! Please feel free to share your suggestions!

p.s. It's no coincidence that I'm posting this on a Friday Morning at Nine--LOL! This may just be my favorite day and time to do all of my giveaways this year...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Susan McBride: COUGAR Awesomeness + a Giveaway!

I've been hearing great buzz about The Cougar Club for months and seeing its cute cover pop up in unexpected but delightful places. I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy and find out more about its author. And then--because the writing world is so small and full of fabulous surprises--I ended up having a wonderful email conversation with the super-cool chica in question and my sneaky plan to lure Susan McBride here as my blog guest was realized!!

Here's the official premise of the novel. I think you'll see right away what a fun book this is:

If you think that life—and romance—end at forty…think again!

Meet three women who aren’t about to run and hide, just because the world says they should be on the shelf and out of circulation:

Kat Maguire: her life seems perfect until she loses her high-powered advertising job and catches her live-in lover in a compromising position—with his computer!

Carla Moss: this sexy TV news anchor is in danger of being replaced by a twenty-something blond bimbo. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was the up and coming star?

Elise Randolph: a married dermatologist, Elise thinks her plastic surgeon husband is playing doctor with someone else.

Kat firmly believes that aging gracefully isn’t about giving up; it’s about living life with your engine on overdrive. So this unofficial “Cougar Club” quickly learns three things about survival of the fittest in today’s youth-obsessed society: true friendship never dies, the only way to live is real, and you’re never too old to follow your heart.

Today is the release day--finally!--for The Cougar Club, and I couldn't have been happier when Amazon sent me one of their "your order has been shipped" emails ;-). Susan, I know this is a crazy-busy day for you (she's got a live morning interview on "Great Day St. Louis" as well as a big Susan G. Komen fundraiser!), but thank you for making time for us, too. Welcome to Brant Flakes!

What inspired you to write THE COUGAR CLUB? After writing my Debutante Dropout Mysteries, which feature a 30-year-old deb ball refugee and her 60-something mother, and then doing a young adult series with four 17-year-old protagonists, I was dying to write about women my own age. I turned 45 last October, and two years ago, I married a guy who's nine years younger. Since I met Ed, a few people have called me a Cougar, even though I'm more of an Accidental Cougar, since I hadn't set out to date younger men. The media seems bent on depicting women over forty as either desperate and Botoxed to death or wrinkled old hags, so I wanted to show that life doesn't end after forty. In fact, for a lot of us, it truly begins. Most of my real triumphs--like with my books and meeting my husband--didn't happen until I turned 40. So THE COUGAR CLUB is dedicated to all the women out there who have achieved their greatest success and found their truest love after forty. We rock!

You've also written several terrific YA and mystery novels (The Debs are great!), how did you get started in fiction? I knew from early on that I wanted to write, but I didn't realize I could make that my career. I wrote three books during grade school, which I still have in a box in the basement. One is a mystery, similar to Nancy Drew, and mysteries kind of dominated my reading for a long time. (Marilyn adds enthusiastically: I *loved* Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid and read 48 of them one year...) Although the first adult novel I wrote was an historical romance when I was 19. It didn't sell, but the encouraging letters from editors and agents made me realize this was something I could do if I worked hard and got a little lucky. I ended up writing 10 manuscripts after college (one a year) until I won a novel contest sponsored by a small Illinois press. They published my first two books before I signed with an agent who snagged me the deal with Avon for BLUE BLOOD, THE GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER, and THE LONE STAR LONELY HEARTS CLUB. The Debs young adult series came about while I was doing the mysteries, so for awhile it felt like I had deadlines around every corner. When I look back, I realize every book I've written somehow prepared me to write THE COUGAR CLUB. I just lovedlovedloved working on that book and can't wait to start another!

What's your favorite and/or least favorite thing about being a writer? Hmm, my favorite is probably when I've finished revisions and I think, "Wow, I love this book! I hope my editor likes it half as much." ;-) My least favorite is seeing criticism of a novel that I've poured my blood, sweat, and tears into. THE COUGAR CLUB will be my 10th published book, but negative reviews don't get any easier to stomach. (M: Sigh.)

Are there any other art forms (painting, music, dance, etc.) you enjoy as much as writing? I love music, and I'm crazy about '80s rock (Marilyn, I saw on your web site that you're a fan, too!). I still heart Def Leppard like a teenager. (M: YES!! We bonded over our adoration of Joe Elliott!) I am not afraid to karaoke in the car, grocery store, or at Blues hockey games when I hear a favorite song, which my husband lovingly refers to as "Sing along with Susan." I also love to paint and draw, and someday I'd kill to take lessons. I'm famous for drawing flowers and cats on the paper tablecloth at Macaroni Grill.

If you could ask your readers one question (or two!) about your novels, what would you want to know? Let's see, how about: Did I take you away from your real-life for awhile? Did I make you laugh out loud at least once?

Any tips for aspiring writers? Practice your craft. No one gets good--or great--at anything without doing it a lot. Don't expect to sell the first (or even second or third) manuscript you write. If you believe in yourself, it will happen at the right time. Also, read, read, read. And don't limit yourself to one genre or what's on the best-sellers list. Discover new authors or pick up books you normally wouldn't. I think it broadens us as writers to go outside our box, both in reading and writing.

What novel is next for you? A new Debs book? Do you have another women's fiction project in the works? I've got another YA book due to Random House, and I have a new editor there so we're discussing ideas right now and finding the perfect fit. I'm also working on a proposal for my next women's fiction project, which is taking me a wee bit longer than I'd hoped! But by the time you read this, I swear, I'll have turned it in! Or else, please feel free to smack me.

Marilyn, thanks for doing this!!! I had fun answering your questions.

Oh, Susan, I had a blast having you visit! Thank you so much for taking time to stop by... Also, because Susan's a sweetie, she's giving away a copy of The Cougar Club to one of today's commenters. (The drawing will be on Friday morning!)

So, a question for the ladies: Ever been interested in a man younger than you?? A guy from your regular life (you don't have to name names, if you don't want to!) or a famous person (like, say, Jensen Ackles, perhaps)? Hmm?!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Trib!

It's the start of a new week and, while there's much to be done today (and even more to clean) after the weekend, I did just want to pop in with one bit of exciting news: According to Jane was reviewed this weekend in the Chicago Tribune! My Chicago-North chaptermates have already been subjected to my squeal of delight (albeit virtually ;), but I didn't want to be accused of being withholding on the blog. (LOL--as if!) So, it's here, for those interested, alongside a lovely review for another Chicago-North friend's novel--Sherrill Bodine's A Black Tie Affair. It was so nice to get noticed by our hometown paper and an absolute thrill to see our book covers showcased both in print and online. Kicked off the weekend in a most wonderful way!

Hope all of you had fun weekends, too. Anything new??

Friday, January 22, 2010

Giveaway Winner and the End of a Love Story

Happy Friday, All!!

First and foremost, the winning name for Nancy Parra's drawing has been chosen. And that person is (drumroll)...Terry!! Congrats! Please email me with your mailing address (MarilynBrant AT Gmail DOT Com) and I'll pass it along to Nancy so she can send you her cool prize.

In far less pleasant news, I was incredibly saddened to hear of Erick Segal's death this week. I first read Love Story in high school (and then again several times in later years), laughed then sobbed through the film and wished more writers had his ability to create characters as memorable as Jenny and Oliver... To write dialogue that was, by turns, so funny and so heartbreaking.

The Washington Post has a thoughtful article on Segal and the story behind the story. And while I never bought into the line that "love means never having to say you're sorry," I think the high-brow literary critics who dismissed this screenplay/book and its author missed the mark. Big time. Anyone here also read or watch Love Story? If so, what did you think? (And, no, I won't pitch soggy Kleenex tissues at you if you say you hated it! But I would want to know why...)

Since it's "Friday," today's probably a good day to officially announce this: You may have noticed there's been a slight title change to the book at the right. Fridays at Nine, my second novel, slated for release this fall, will now be called Friday Mornings at Nine. Because being specific is a good thing in the writing world. Well, we hope so, anyway! It was a recent publisher decision and, as we get closer to seeing a cover, I'm looking forward to discovering the artistic choices the design team has made as far as images and font and color. I loved the way According to Jane turned out and have my fingers crossed for this one, too.

Nancy, thanks again for visiting this week--it's so fun when friends stop by! And for the next two weeks I know I'll get that same pleasure because I have two more friends popping over for great Q&As and book giveaways--Susan McBride and Laura Moore!! I must say, 2010 has been off to a wonderful start with new releases... My TBR pile is towering ;). What are some of the books you're looking forward to reading this year??

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Curling Up with Nancy J. Parra's DREAM MAN

I have the great pleasure of hosting a friend, Chicago-North chaptermate and all-around marvelous person on Brant Flakes today--Nancy J. Parra!! Her latest novel, Dream Man (The Wild Rose Press), just came out in December and is a wonderfully intriguing story. Take a peek at the blurb:

A NO NONSENSE WOMAN...Dr. Eva Stanford only wants to help her patient sleep through the night. Little does she know that the old woman holds the secret to a thirty-year-old mystery that threatened the political life of a presidential candidate and Eva's own family. A MAN WITH A DREAM...FBI Agent Nate Cancaid has a reoccurring dream of a woman with dark hair and blue eyes whose murder he is unable to prevent. When the blue eyed doctor enters his office, he feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. A MYSTERY THAT TRANSCENDS TIME...It's bad enough when Eva's patient claims that Eva and Nate are her married assistants, but coincidences grow too complicated for her scientific mind when some of the clues come straight out of Nate's dreams. Can Eva keep from losing her heart to a man of intuition or has fate already dealt her a losing hand?

This is a fabulous romantic suspense that you won't want to miss. And, to add to the fun, Nancy has a special giveaway for visitors: On Friday at noon, the name of one commenter on this blog post will be drawn to win one of Nancy's soft Dream Man sleep masks, bookmarks, a signed book plate and silky hand lotion, too. Thanks so much for visiting us today, Nancy!

Can you tell us the basic premise of your new book? Dream Man is a romantic suspense where Doctor Eva Stanford has a patient who reaches third stage REM and becomes another woman. That woman is the missing first wife of a current presidential candidate. To help her patient and solve the mystery, Eva contacts Nate Cancaid, local cold case FBI Agent. Her hope is that solving the missing persons case will “cure” her patient. FBI agent Nate Cancaid has a recurring dream of the death of a woman he believes is his wife. So he vows to never so much as date a blue eyed brunette. Until Dr. Stanford shows up in his office and he realizes that you can’t walk away from fate.

What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you? I love the scene early on when Eva comes to Nate for help and he recognizes her from his dream. He is instantly attracted and yet believes his dream has told him how it all will end. He tells himself to stay away, pawn the case off on someone else. But he just can’t seem to help himself.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? The best advice I received was from an agent who told me I should join Romance Writers of America. RWA taught me so much about craft and marketing. Plus brought me many, many wonderful friends. I have no idea where I would be without it. If you aren’t a member, scrap up the money and join. It is worth every penny.

Did you go on any special trips to research the setting? I lived in Kansas City when I wrote this novel, so research was a simple as leaving my house. I like to set stories in places where I live. I think it adds authenticity.

What do you think readers might be surprised to know about you? I joined the Air Force in my early 20s and trained as a satellite downlink repair tech. I was stationed on the island of Guam and then returned to the States and finished my four years in Colorado. Yes, that was me in combat boots ordering around 300 young men, including parade calling, (hup, two , three. four...) uniform inspections, (Yes, while they were wearing them. *G*) and general duties, i.e., shining my boots for me. I now belong to a great group of other veteran romance writers--check us out at http://www.romvets.com . You can find pic of me in uniform on the before and after page, along with pics of Merline Lovelace, Joann Ferguson and Diana Cosby, to name a few.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance? Yes, I do. It’s sort of a paranoid writer thing to do, but you always hope for a reviewer to love you. My latest was a Night Owl Romance reviewer who wrote, “This is the first time I’ve read Nancy J. Parra and wow...” I’ve also been lucky enough to have 5 starred reviews from ALA’s Booklist and my western historical romance, The Lovin’ Kind, was named one of the top ten romances of 2006 by Booklist.

What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline? As of writing this blog, I don’t have another book release date. But never fear. I have six books out on submission and am certain one of them will be picked up for sale soon. Please keep your eyes on my website and my once-a-week writing blog for breaking news.

So glad you were able to include us as part of your blog tour, Nancy!! Congrats, again, on your terrific new release ;).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If a Picture Paints...

...a thousand words, would you write a thousand words (or, say, 100K words) the same way you'd paint a picture?

For me, it turns out I would.

I'm no skilled artist, but I have painted a few things--in watercolor, acrylics, even oils--and I tend to approach that art form in much the same way that I prefer to approach the writing of a novel: I first do a quick pencil sketch on the canvas (like a plot outline or, my fave, Blake Snyder's 15-point beat sheet). Then, in broad but fairly careful strokes, I paint the sky/background and block out the big areas where the important visual stuff is happening, slowing down in places where I want to make sure I'm shaping it correctly (like writing that first, messy draft that takes me eons but is usually structurally solid). Then I focus on the main image, fleshing it out so the right parts stand out in the foreground and the right parts blend in as seamlessly as possible with the background (the second, third, fourth drafts where my focus is on the action/reaction in the individual scenes and on strengthening the emotional logic and flow of the narrative). Finally, those significant but small details are added in last with my tiniest brush tip (the story particulars that make the characters or the setting pop and the novel's important themes emerge, plus all the wordsmithing and punctuation checking, etc.).

Other people, of course, paint (and write) differently but, for me, this way has proven to work best and, since I'm currently writing my 10th novel, I've already done my share of experimenting; I'm happy with this process.

Only...this is not how proposals are written. Not at all. Some well-established (or very lucky!) writers can simply present a story idea in a paragraph or two and sell a book based on that. For those of us who need to submit a synopsis + 3 chapters, though, well...I don't get to write like I paint.

For proposals, that first step is fine for me. I still get to start out by working on my overall plot (not only because I need it to write but, also, because that eventually becomes my synopsis). But the next step--the time-consuming broad-stroke first draft--is shot to hell. I only have time to write 3 or 4 chapters in the new manuscript draft, then I have to STOP EVERYTHING and irrationally--from my POV, of course--go on to the next stage of revising (and revising again) whatever is in those early chapters before adding in "final" details on a manuscript that is not, in my case, remotely final. To me, that would be like working on a painting where the pencil outline is sketched but only the bottom-left quadrant of the canvas actually has paint on it. In that quadrant, however, almost everything has been done and, later, assuming the project is commissioned, the artist would need to go back to it, freshly mix all of the colors again and try to get the shades, lines and contours of the remaining three-quarters to match that one completed quarter.

To the painter (and the novelist) in me, that's a little crazy-making...however, until we've earned the reputation and the opportunity to call our own shots, we adjust our process to fit the industry, right? Right. So, you'll all understand what I mean when I say that I just sent in a partial painting, um, new-book proposal to my agent this week, and I'm hoping I'll have the chance to pull out my watercolors again and finish this project...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jane Bites Back

Just came across this essay by Michael Thomas Ford, author of JANE BITES BACK (Ballantine, 12-29-09) in The Huffington Post, and it made me laugh, so I had to share! Also, for a well-written review of the book, Laurel Ann at Austenprose has up a terrific one. Here's the beginning of Laurel Ann's review so you can get a sense of the story's premise:

"Jane Austen's novels brim with irony, witticism, and in the end, a gentle reprove or two. It is why I love her writing. Few authors can deliver this dry, deft and wickedly funny style. Michael Thomas Ford is one of them.

His latest novel Jane Bites Back is more than a gentle joke, it is a sly wink at the Austen and vampire industry. The clever title alone tells us that Ford has more than a keen sense of humor. The story concept is even better. Nearly two hundred years after her reputed death and burial at Winchester Cathedral in 1817, Jane Austen is actually not dead, but a vampire living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper-state New York. As the owner of Flyleaf Books she watches with irritation and frustration as other less talented writers make a killing off her novels and characters with sequels, spin-offs and absurd self help books. To add insult to injury, Constance, the last novel that she wrote before her turning remains unpublished after two hundred years and 116 rejections."

LOL! What writer wouldn't relate to those 116 rejections?! And, um, what writer of Austen-related fiction wouldn't be able to imagine Jane's annoyance with...well, all of us who've messed with her characters and plotlines?

After having had a less-than-spectacular reaction to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, I'm already far more optimistic about Ford's offering. The humor in his Huffo piece alone had me heading to Amazon to order a copy.

Hope your 2010 has been off to a great start!