Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Defense of Top 40

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

Six Things I LOVE About Top 40:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beach Drumming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Touring with Ellen Meister

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

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

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

Welcome, Ellen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much for the great interview, Marilyn!

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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Captain of the Sea

"I'm the Captain," my son informed me, already waist-deep in the swirling warm Florida Gulf water not far from our hotel. "I'll protect you."

I waded in after him, glanced around the sparcely inhabited shoreline and squinted at the harmless clumps of seaweed and the smooth rocks and shells nearby. "Um, from what?" I asked. I mean, this was last Sunday at 9am. Even the majority of seagulls were still asleep.

My son cast me a disbelieving look. "From the waves." His tone indicated that, clearly, his mother was an unseeing idiot for not being able to recognize the Enemy.

"Oh, great! Thanks," I murmured.

Thus, our white-sand, week-long, Siesta Key vacation began in earnest. And my 9-year-old Hero Wannabe--creating a world of intrigue and danger out of the blue sky and gentle surf--was true to his word. He, the Captain of the Sea, "protected" me from the waves. He held my hand, told the water gods he was on the Side of Justice and squealed, shrieked and giggled every time a new wave crested and splashed into us.

Then, suddenly, there was also a Golden Key to find. The Captain demanded that the Sea return it. But the Sea did not respond favorably, so the Captain was left with little choice but to embark on a search-and-rescue mission. When the Golden Key was at last located (being a Sunbeam sparkling on the water, it was visible but not easily grasped), the Captain engaged his great powers of imagination and scooped the Sunbeam from the Sea.

Clutching both my hands, the Captain now implored, "Help me carry it back!"

So, together, we sheltered the Golden Key of Light and raced from the water and onto the shore, the sun in our fingers. In doing so, we magically kept the Sea safe (I'm still not sure of the logistics on that), further bonded a mom and her son with an unexpected and joyous memory and reminded one writer that exciting explorations need not be reserved for novels. Nor do they require stringent plotting, inspired dialogue or excessive use of GMC.

Great Adventure exists in a parallel universe to everyday life...and it can be accessed with nothing more than a step through a sandy gate and a dash into a rising wave.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Touring with Jackie Kessler

We're welcoming author Jackie Kessler today, author of HOTTER THAN HELL: Book 3 in the Hell on Earth series (Kensington/Zebra, August 5, 2008), as she journeys on her Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour. Hello, Jackie!!

Hi, Marilyn. Thank you so much for touring me!

You're so welcome! It's great having you here :). In HELL'S BELLES and THE ROAD TO HELL, you brought readers into an unforgettable Underworld populated by alluring demons and sexy devils. Now you've got Daunuan's story--the most irresistible incubus of all. New readers want to know about your book. Can you tell us the basic premise? HOTTER THAN HELL is the third book in the Hell on Earth series. Unlike the first two, this one is in the incubus Daunuan’s POV. (Pronounced “Don Juan.” Sort of.) Daun gets a promotion in Hell, but for him to actually become the Prince of Lust, he needs to get a woman meant for Heaven to sin big enough for her to be damned to Hell. In other words, he’s got to seduce her. Problem is, she’s completely impervious to his devilish charm. And there’s also the small matter of the rogue demons hell-bent on destroying him. Whoopsie…

Whoopsie is right! You can't be too careful when it comes to rogue demons... What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you? There’s one scene in which Daun nearly does something unforgivable. And as I was writing it, I was like, No, Daun, don’t do it! Don’t do it! And he didn’t. It was close, but he didn’t. Heh. I sound completely insane. But sometimes, it feels like the characters are doing it all by themselves, and I’m just transcribing it.

I know what you mean. Our book characters can feel so real to us--it's one of those "special gifts" (or, more likely, "curses" :-) of being a writer. Did you use any musical references in your novel? If so, do they play a significant role? Music plays a major role in all the HELL books—but in HOTTER THAN HELL, Mozart himself actually plays an important role, along with his music. Lately, my favorite groups include Breaking Benjamin, Nickelback, Depeche Mode, Matchbox Twenty, Finger Eleven, and Godsmack.

My favorite classical musician is Mozart and I'm a HUGE, HUGE Matchbox Twenty fan (finally saw them in concert this year!!), so I know I'll love the HOTTER THAN HELL soundtrack. What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? To quit the day job and be a full-time, name-brand writer. And to have the first book I ever wrote get sold. Okay, I wouldn’t say no to a fabulous movie deal, either…

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist? Hee. I’m actually going to my 20-year high school reunion this Saturday. I’ll let you know. (Oh, you are SO much braver than I am! I'd love to hear about it...)

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? To paraphrase author Cindy Procter-King (Head Over Heels), there are three things you need to get published: talent, persistence, and timing. While it’s difficult to write to the market, you absolutely can hone your craft and develop a thick skin. Write. No matter what, write. And never be daunted.

This is excellent advice. Thanks for visiting, Jackie, and congrats on the big release this week!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

RWA Nationals--Always a Trip

I'm baaack.

I returned from San Francisco with relics from China Town, Fisherman's Wharf and, yes, Ghiradelli Square (!!!) late Sunday night...my body exhausted from getting less sleep than the mother of a newborn, my arms achy from lugging around boxes of books, my head spinning from the malicious rearrangement of plot elements in my next novel (thanks to a few excellent workshops I attended and to the insights of my friend Eliza on the flight home :) and my eyes still unfocused from so much visual stimulation in so few days.

While it's great to be home again wearing shorts and drinking cheap sodas, I had--as usual--a truly wonderful trip. My roomie and RITA finalist, Simone Elkeles, looked beautiful in her bright pink gown (stop by Books, Boys, Buzz for some photos) and it was pure delight to finally meet Pam from Pam Writes Romance and Caryn The Book Lady (who are both as kind and funny in person as they are in their blogs--and they're always in my blog roll, so you can see for yourself!), friends of friends (Hi to Sherry, Mary and Terri!!), a bunch of fun Kensington authors from our Z-loop (including Kris Kennedy--at last!) and my amazing editor John--all for the first time at this conference.

Plus, I got to see again some of my Cherry friends, my Knight Agency "sistahs," several fellow finalists from last year's Golden Heart (soon to be part of a new group blog: "007 Nobody Writes It Better"), other pals from The Golden Network, a few RT staff buddies, friends Heather Davis, Dona Sarkar-Mishra and Nadine Dajani (who all need to visit Chicago because seeing them once a year just isn't enough), my sweet agent Nephele and her lovely colleague Elaine (with thanks to the bartender who created those delicious Raspberry Lemon Drop Martinis at one memorable event...) and, of course, good friends from my local RWA chapter.

Now it's back to work. Revising, revising one project. Drafting, drafting, drafting another. And making plans for next year's Nationals in D.C., where I intend to drag friends old and new with me to the zoo to see the giant pandas, drink Icee coolers and daydream about the near future when we're all on the NYT bestseller lists...