Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Fidelity Files

It's wonderful to have Jessica Brody here to talk about her debut novel THE FIDELITY FILES (St. Martin's Press). I was lucky enough to meet Jessica and get a copy of this book at the RWA National Conference in San Francisco this summer. What a fascinating story! Rather than trying to explain the premise myself, I'll let Jessica tell us about it in her own words.

**Welcome, Jessica! Can you tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it? THE FIDELITY FILES is the story of a beautiful, L.A. woman who works as an undercover “fidelity inspector,” hired by suspicious wives and girlfriends to test the faithfulness of the men in their lives. Except no one in her life knows what she does. Her friends and family all think she works for an investment bank.

Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in a very corporate environment. And like all corporate jobs, there were a certain number of “alcohol-related” events that I was expected to attend. I would often find myself at work happy hour functions in nearby bars, observing the interactions between single and non-single co-workers as their behaviors gradually declined from professional to something else entirely. Something hardly capable of being described as “appropriate.”

Witnessing these “indiscretions” upset me on a profound level. I secretly wished that someone would tell the “conveniently” absent significant others about what their husbands/wives/boyfriends/ girlfriends/fiancés really did while attending these “obligatory” and supposedly “uneventful” work functions. But I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to do it. I was brave enough to think it…but not exactly brave enough to go knocking on people’s doors with bad news. You know what people tend to do to “the messenger.”

So instead I created a character whose job and purpose in life was to do just that. To reveal the truth to anyone who wanted to know. To knock on all the doors that I never had the courage to knock on. An invincible superhero-esque woman whose quest is to fight against the evils of infidelity. But of course, she soon finds out…she’s not as invincible as she once thought.

**Do you put your friends in your books? Names, incidents, characteristics? Have any of them recognized themselves in a not-so-good way? My friends are definitely in my books. There’s one in particular that stands out. One of Jen’s friends, Zoë, has a bad case of road rage. And she tends to talk on the phone while she drives, so Jen often finds herself on the phone with Zoë while she’s cursing out another driver. I have a friend who does that and that’s where I got the idea. This friend has read the book but I’m not sure how she feels about the similarities. She acts like she’s fine with it, but I guess you never know. She could secretly be totally offended.

**Which 'craft' book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career? I can’t sing enough praise for SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. It has “saved” so many manuscripts of mine. It’s meant for screenwriters but it works flawlessly for novels as well. It’s just a very intuitive way to write stories and make sure the audience isn’t bored to tears because nothing is happening for fifty pages. Now, I consult the book before I even start writing and I use his “beat sheet” to help me outline the major story points. It saves me so much time later on! (Oooh, LOVE Blake Snyder! I agree he's amazing!!)

**What's your Writer Fantasy? Of course I have all the regular fantasies like Oprah, Movie deal with an opening the size of Twilight, NYT Bestseller list, etc. But honestly, the one fantasy that I would really like to see fulfilled is just seeing someone reading my book in a public place. Like on an airplane or in the gym. I think that would be such an amazing feeling. Now, I just have to decide whether or not I would approach them and tell them I wrote it. Or better yet, ask them what they think without telling them who I am. I might not want to hear the answer to that though!

**What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline? Oh, gosh, I have so many things going on right now, it’s hard to keep track! Although, this question may help me get my head around everything. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to The Fidelity Files which St. Martin’s is publishing in Fall of 2009 and is yet untitled. That’ll also be out in the UK around the same time. I’m waiting to get my revision notes back on that so I can go for round two. Also, I just finished revising the manuscript for my new young adult book, THE KARMA CLUB, which FSG is publishing in spring of 2010. And I recently started a new YA series that I’m super excited about and will hopefully try to sell early next year. AND…one of the screenplays I co-wrote just got financed for a feature film so we hope to start shooting that in April. Yes, I know, I’m a masochist. What can I say, idleness is my only enemy. (Congratulations on all of this, though. It sounds so exciting!)

**What advice would you give to other writers trying to get published? Take criticism. Believe in your work and stand behind it, but don’t be afraid to make changes. Try to be as objective as possible when it comes to your writing (I know how impossible that sounds) but it will only help you in the long run. Use rejections to evolve yourself as a writer, not just to line your waste basket. When someone rejects your work and offers a reason, don’t just blow it off and claim that they “didn’t get it” or that they clearly didn’t read it closely enough, dissect it and try to figure out if what they’re saying makes sense and if it will inevitably help your work. There a lot of people in this industry—agents, editors, other writers, etc.—who know what they’re talking about and know what it takes to make a book work. After all, that’s what they get paid for! Listen to them with open ears and grateful hearts. There’s a fine balance between staying true to your art and being open for suggestions, try to stay somewhere in the middle. If they “didn’t get it,” chances are, readers won’t get it either. And you won’t be there to explain it to them in the middle of Barnes and Noble.

**What other art form inspires you as much as writing? Before I started writing full time, I actually dabbled a bit in songwriting. One of my songs even won a songwriting competition. But I soon realized that I could only write song lyrics after I’d had my heart totally stomped on and destroyed by some dumb, stupid boy. Apparently, that was the outlet for my pain. And so once I found myself in a good relationship, the song lyrics stopped coming. I have to say, though, I don’t really miss them!

Thanks for being here, Jessica, and to all of you reading this, may you each have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hey, Blogger, What's Your Type?

Okay, I just had to share this, courtesy of Jenny Crusie, who posted something about it this week: The Typealyzer analyzes your blog posts and tells you, in Myers-Briggs terms, what type of blog it is. If you have time, try it for fun on yours, and let me know if you think it rings true for you.

For me, I got stamped "ISFP: The Artists." The program informed me that those so labeled are "not friends of many words" (which makes me laugh uproarously--of my many authorial bad habits, "too wordy" heads the list...), but perhaps that's not quite the intended connotation. However, the worst infraction is in regards to that "S". The other three letters I have no quarrel with, but the 25+ times (in as many years) that I've taken some version of the Myers-Briggs, I've always been an "N". Always. And by shockingly high percentiles.

So, clearly, someone else is writing these blog posts in my absence or, as Jenny suggested about herself, I'm blogging under an assumed personality. If it's the latter, I won't admit to it. If it's the former, I need to find this supposedly "gentle and compassionate" person and tell her to make dinner for us because I have no intention of doing so. I'm too busy cutting unnecessary words out of my latest scene.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead

It's a pleasure to have Saralee Rosenberg here today to tell us about her latest novel, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avona Books), which Publisher's Weekly said was "Full of edgy wit and chicken-soup-for-the soul warmth. If you enjoy giddy diversions, this bumpy suburban ride is well worth the trip."

Glad to have you here, Saralee!

Q. What was the inspiration for your new novel?
A. Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! This story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.

Q. When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?
A. Phew. You can’t imagine the relief. I had given up a successful career writing non-fiction, which had sent me on two national book tours, including an appearance on Oprah (heaven!!!!), only to have my writing life come to a screeching halt when I switched to working on a novel. It took me three years to write A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, another year to find an agent, and the agent a year and a half to make the sale to Lyssa Keusch at Avon. In theory, the sale should have been one of the greatest events of my life, if not for the timing. I got word that the deal was done exactly two days after 9-11, and because I live in the New York area, the grief and shock was all I or anyone could think about. I let family and friends know, of course, but run out and buy diamonds or book a cruise? Didn’t happen. And interestingly enough, all of my book celebrations since then have been, not subdued as much as put in perspective. I’m sure that my joy and satisfaction will always be tempered with the memory that life is so full of yin and yang. And maybe that’s for the best.

Q. Is there a scene you cut from the book that you kind of wish you could put back in?
A. Funny you should ask. Originally, I wanted to title the book Same S--T, Different Zip because the story was very much about that no matter where you live, you have to put up with so much petty neighbor crap and competition. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t allowed to have a curse in the title but in keeping with the theme, I incorporated a funny blog in the story titled, “You Say You Want A Revelation”. It was “written” by a mom in Georgia and Mindy was so hooked on it, she couldn’t wait for the next post. Unfortunately, the blog, which appeared every few chapters, took up a lot of space and got cut on the editing room floor. Bummer. It had some very funny commentary, but I did get to include one out-take in the back of the book.

Q. Do you put friends in books? Have any of them recognized themselves?
A. I get asked all the time by family and friends to be in one of my novels, but I tend not to go there unless they’re willing to buy several dozen books in appreciation for being immortalized (if Girl Scout Moms can bribe, so can I). Once I did give in and named a character after a friend, only to describe the character as a philandering shoplifter. She was horrified and wanted to know how I knew? I didn’t know, I made it up, but boy did that make things interesting afterwards... Also, my husband’s business partner had been prodding me for years, to which I would say that a character who sold insurance, played golf and visited his grandkids in Florida would not exactly be memorable. But finally, in Dear Neighbor, to get him to stop bugging me, I did name a minor character Steven Hoffman. I made him a lawyer in Portland, and it really made Steve’s day... then he asked why he wasn’t a major character and could I feature him again in the next book? Men!!!!

Q. If Oprah invited you on her show, what would the theme of that show be?
A. Sigh. I’ve actually had the distinct privilege of appearing on Oprah to discuss my non-fiction book, 50 FABULOUS PLACES TO RAISE A FAMILY, and I gotta tell you, it was awesome. She was soooo nice and I and my husband/co-author were treated like royalty. We got the limousine, the fancy hotel, the nice dinner out, hair and make-up and a souvenir coffee cup that still sits on my desk as a pen holder. And Steadman was there, too (he smelled so good!) Would I love to be a guest again? Are you kidding me? It would be a dream come true to be invited back as a best selling novelist. In fact, I had a dream scene in DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD that involved my character Mindy being on the show to talk about what it was like to live next door to Beth, the bitch. It had to be cut because of space limitations, but trust me, Oprah is always on my mind. Nobody sells a book like her.

Q. What is one of your strangest/most quirky author experiences?
A. My first three novels are a trilogy in that they all deal with the supernatural. All of my main characters have funny and intriguing encounters with the other side, the after life, and/or a ghost. But never did I expect that I would personally have a strange encounter with the spirit world while I was hard at work. And yet... I had been writing my debut novel, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE over a three year period, and as you can imagine, was very very tired. All I wanted to do was cross the finish line, have a good cry and eat a box of Mallomars... One night, I was working on the final pages and was so bleary eyed I convinced myself that the ending was terrible but maybe my editor wouldn’t notice, or would say to me, no, this is great, don’t change a word. But just as I was fixing the last page, we had a power outage and the whole house went dark. It was so strange. There was no storm, no reason to lose power. But when the lights came back on a minute later, I had lost the latest version of the ending. It literally disappeared and I freaked out and cried. How could this happen? On a whim I called my neighbors to see if their power had gone out but it turned out ours was the only house that did... Clearly it was a sign from above. The next morning I started over on the ending, and when I finished, it was so much better, so much more rewarding. This time I cried from joy. I had finished and it was great.

Q. Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you’d become a novelist?
A. Funny question. When I attended my 20th high school reunion in Munster, Indiana, I had been living in New York since graduating college and had lost contact with most of my classmates. One of the first people I ran into was Mary Ann Jugovic, the class valedictorian and the sweetest girl ever. The first thing I said to her is, “please tell me that you went to med school and became a pediatrician.” To which she said, “only if you tell me that you moved to New York and became a writer.” And the verdict was? She was a pediatrician with a beautiful family and I was an author with a beautiful family. Dreams do come true.

Yes they do! Thanks for the visit, Saralee, and to any of you out there who write fiction, would YOUR high school friends be surprised by your calling?

Sunday, November 16, 2008


For most of my life, I've had this peeve about being categorized. It wouldn't be too far a stretch to say I really resisted it and, when pressed, would act in a seemingly atypical manner just to prove a point. Like, you know, ordering the sushi for lunch when everyone assumes I'll get the same grilled chicken sandwich I got last time.

Thing is, I haven't had to overreact this way in my real life too often because my tastes are NOT that easily defined, and I've never been all that consistent in my habits. My friends and family know this about me. Some days I quite honestly prefer the sushi to the chicken. Some days I'm a burger girl. Other days it's Cobb salad or pizza or loaded nachos or vegetable lasagna. Food provides excellent examples because I like so much of it.

And music. Music is this way for me, too. ACCORDING TO JANE is an homage not only to Jane Austen but also to the sounds of the '80s. I love '80s music like I love gelato, but that doesn't mean those are the only things I'll play or eat. And I love Austen, but my favorite reads include more than her six novels.

Which is, to a large extent, why this focus on "author branding" has been so challenging to me. I've been forced to think about the concept more frequently in the past year or two and am now a product of that machine. I've been stamped a "women's fiction author," which is true, of course, but within the genre there are further delineations, and I've had to adhere to some them. The point of branding is to clearly provide for one's consumers the product they're anticipating. Women's fiction can be light or dark in tone, commercial or literary in intent, involving one main character or a group, having a small-town setting or a global one, employing some paranormal/suspense/romantic elements or not, etc. In saying yes to some and no to the others, I'm supposed to willingly shape my packaging so that my audience will know exactly what to expect when they open one of my books.

I get that. I really do. And as a reader, I've appreciated the gift of this literary shorthand on more than one occasion. I'm angry when I'm misled by a backcover blurb. I feel betrayed when an author known for her romantic comedies takes a depressing turn. And I'm surprised and disappointed when a novelist with a really strong erotic-fantasy voice tries to fake her way through a different genre.

But today, as a writer in the midst of a first draft...on a cold, dark, November afternoon with snow flurries outside...forcing my storytelling inclinations into a prescribed box is going against the grain. I'm sure I'll feel more up to being "light," "commercial" and (theoretically) "witty" tomorrow, but if I try to write another scene today, it'll come out as "dark" as my 7th novel or as "quirky" as my 4th.

And we can't have that, can we?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Girfriends Cyber Circuit: Kelly Parra is Here!

I'm thrilled to have YA novelist Kelly Parra here with me this morning! She's the author of Graffiti Girl, a double RITA nominee and a Latinidad Top Pick, and the contemporary paranormal, Invisible Touch, which is what we'll be chatting about today.

Welcome, Kelly!!

Can you tell us the basic premise of your new book?
Kelly: Invisible Touch is about Kara Martinez who sees "signs" on individuals' torsos and she must piece these signs together like a puzzle and do her best to stop unfortunate fates. When she sees the sign of a gun on a fellow classmate, the latest mystery takes her into dangerous territory that increases with a relationship with a boy from the wrong side of town. Invisible Touch has mystery, romance, and family drama, and I'm hoping I give readers an entertaining read.

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel?
Kelly: Husband! He'd been so supportive through the years, he was the person I had to tell first.

What's your Writer Fantasy? (I can never get enough of this question! :)
Kelly: Wow! I could go crazy with a fantasy, but my goals have always been like small stepping stones. I never dare to dream too big. Any bestseller list would do for me. *sigh*

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist?
Kelly: I think they would definitely be surprised. I was an art kid in high school. I even went to school for graphic design. The writing occupation came as a big surprise to me too!

Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you?
Kelly: When I first sold a book, I could not tell acquaintances. Only my family and a few select friends knew. Then when my book was released family and friends helped to tell others. I still don't tell some people I meet. I don't want anyone to feel like I'm bragging because you never know how some people will take your good news. Most people are supportive and interested and some try to top you. It's a strange situation!

Thanks for having me your blog, Marilyn!

It's been a pleasure, Kelly :). And thanks to all of you who've stopped by, too!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Ravioli Like No Other

You all know I've raved about creamy dark chocolate, sung songs of admiration to gelato and heaped ebullient praise upon the wonder that is a grilled muffin... But, I discovered a shockingly strange yet delicious fall treat when I was out with my brother last week, and seven days later I'm still kind of under its spell.

We were in downtown Chicago, at a place called "The Italian Village"--a spot that has a number of Italian restaurants under one roof. I'm a fan of all things Italian (food, culture, language, sites, people :), so there was little worry that I'd encounter a dish I wouldn't enjoy. However, my brother, being an adventurous sort, ordered something from the menu that included a side of "Chestnut Ravioli," and I'll admit to thinking, "Ugh!"

I couldn't have been more wrong.

He offered me a taste of it and, despite my fear that the filling would resemble the baby-food squash I'd never wanted to feed my son when he was little, the ravioli was amazing. Packed with a full, robust sweetness and infused into this tender pasta pillow, it created a combination of rich, smooth, earthy and spiced delight. I'm not a food critic, so I'm probably not doing the dish justice, but it just tasted like autumn. In a good way. Here's guessing that was the chef's intent.

I've searched to find a recipe similar to the one we tried, but I suspect it isn't on the open market. This one has several of the elements, although its preparation involves deep-frying (unlike ours) and it looks a bit labor intensive for my ability level. But it was fun to read, and maybe someday I'll work up the nerve to dust off my wire whisk and rolling pin and give it a try...

Chestnut Ravioli Recipe

By Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com
Pastry pillows of chestnut puree, chocolate, amaretto, almonds, and candied fruit are deep-fried for an unusual dessert.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 12 raviolis