Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Criticism and Writers

The year 2009 has been an interesting one, and I use the word "interesting" deliberately and in exactly the evasive manner with which it's often intended...

For me, this was a year of a lot of ups and downs and, while I mostly talked about the ups on this blog (the book! the book!), there were plenty of other things that created challenges. It was a tough and stressful year for so many people I know and care about, and I couldn't help but think this week what a blessing it is when, in the midst of some such challenge, you encounter people who are gentle with you. Who give you the benefit of the doubt. Who treat you with care. Not because they think you're fragile and can't handle it, but because they're wise enough to know they don't know what else might've been going on in your life in the days or hours before you met up with them.

It's been surprising to discover those who naturally demonstrated this gift of perception...and, likewise, those in whom I haven't seen any evidence of it this year. In a lot of ways, I think it comes down to a sense of fairness, whether innate or developed. Trying to be as evenhanded and as objective as possible when dealing with others--in person, on the phone, online. Being critical for a specific purpose, perhaps, but not as a state of being. Not as a way of relating to the world at large.

And so, as 2009 comes crashing to its conclusion at a snowbank near you, I want to discuss a subject that has been very interesting to me throughout the year, and this involves a few facets of criticism, particularly in the writing world.

I wandered into this year expecting literary criticism. Writers write and reviewers comment. ("That According to Jane book had kind of a cool premise, I mean, if you could get over the really odd 'hearing voices' thing and all of those sex scenes.") While I may not have always agreed with someone's analysis of the story, my debut novel is out there, and it's not just mine anymore. A part of it belongs to every reader willing to pick it up, and everyone who does is entitled to comment as they see fit about the story structure, the characters' motivation, the plot conflict, etc. I'm more than okay with that. I find genuine, thoughtful novel critiques fascinating, and I never tire of learning more about writing craft.

Criticisms of me, personally, however--fault-finding not of the story but of the author--created a far less sedate internal reaction. Turns out, published writers are open to criticism from everyone, from everywhere and for just about everything. There is little discretion and often even less tact in some negative reviews. And though we want to send hugs and chocolate to those kind souls who take the time to write something positive and encouraging about our novels, there is a subset of readers who think nothing of linking their individual dislike of a specific story element with a personal slam against the author. ("Since the main character is obviously an immoral tramp--the writer must be, too.")

But, as bizarre and irrational as that reaction seemed to me initially, I grew to expect it on nearly every major review site (Amazon, GoodReads, Library Thing, etc.) and for a large percentage of novels reviewed there. If an author had more than, say, 10-15 reviews, you could almost bet one of them would be by some angry person who felt justified in spouting a grammatically challenged missive like, "Whata bunch of crap. Only a lonly, fat, cat-loving spinster could of written such a unbeleivable 'love' story. Blehh!"

Actually, I noticed a lot of Internet rage in general this year, with Anonymous people posting callous remarks not only in book reviews but on discussion loops, article comments, forum walls. There was a particularly ruthless dig directed at Stephenie Meyer that was so personal, insulting and not remotely writing-related, it succeeded only in making the commenter seem jealous, petty, insecure and extremely bitter about Meyer's tremendous writing success--far from the "smart and witty" observation that I'm sure he/she had intended.

But I've been both intrigued and frustrated to find that the criticisms don't end with anonymous nasties. This year has brought a windfall of other, non-novel-related criticisms--ones that I've learned writers deal with all the time--and they come in forms both verbal and nonverbal. These are "personal" in a different way, and they have to do with the expections other people have of us. There's one criticism in particular I'd heard leveled against debut authors in prior years, and I'd been monitoring myself carefully in hopes of avoiding it. I desperately didn't want to be one of those new authors who, in the gossipy cocoon of RWA and among a mix of writers at a range of publishing stages, could be accused of this serious charge: Now that she's published, she's changed.

But it's not so simple. No one undergoes any sort of trial by fire and is left unchanged by the experience. So, in case anyone is wondering: Yes, I have.

That change, however, is not, as some might suspect, because of the book contract, or because of some newfound love of being in the public eye (LOL! I'm an introvert, people...), or because of my now permanent affiliation with the Published Authors Network. It's because of the very public nature of criticism itself and the braided strands of toxicity that are Envy, Resentment and Insecurity. It's having spent the majority of 2009 trying to come to terms with other people's misperceptions of my job--while still trying to do my job--that made me reevaluate the attitudes and actions of those around me. It also made me rethink my own and, as a result, draw some new boundaries.

Online, of course, separating oneself from antagonism requires different tactics. Sometimes, I think the only effective method is to turn off the computer... With increasing frequency, I'm stunned by things I read there. Like this week, I read a one-star review of a fellow novelist's first book--a novel I loved, by the way, by an author who went on to have seven successful books in her popular series so far (with more to come!) and then to see those novels translated and sold throughout the world. And a random commenter/non-professional reviewer, who claimed to be an aspiring novelist herself, said she'd wished she'd thought of the high-concept story premise first, so she could have done a much better job of writing it than that talentless author. I laughed aloud at the computer screen, cheered for my multi-published friend and, to the anonymous reviewer I said, "Yeah, honey, good luck with that EVER happening."

I was an aspiring writer myself in rather recent history. I also have the pleasure of knowing a great many wonderful aspiring writers who are working hard to hone their craft and break through the cement-like wall of query letters and agent/editor rejections. I know it's hard. But this I've learned for sure in 2009: It doesn't get any easier. As a published author, you get just as many rejections on your story ideas as you did pre-contract, at least as many (usually significantly more) editorial suggestions, very public objections to elements in your book AND you have to promote your novels and your "brand" while writing new material on deadline.

When a writer, whether aspiring or published, turns into an incessant critic of, let's say, a New York Times bestselling author, and that writer-critic publicly--or, even worse, behind that other author's back--insists that this famous author's writing sucks, her publishing contract paid her more than she deserved, her print runs were too high, she looks far less attractive in person than in her author photo and her agent and/or editor must be battling a crack addiction to have ever signed her...well, I wish that writer-critic the opportunity to see every one of her publishing fantasies realized, and that wish isn't out of loving kindness on my part. I'd look forward to watching her try to juggle all of the required aspects of the writing life and the pressure that comes with the perception of success in this industry. Even more, I'd like to see the knowledge dawn on her (sooner rather than later, if at all possible) that every critical and ungracious thing she's ever said about some other writer will be said about her--if she's lucky enough to be noticed by readers--whether those comments are deserved or not, true or untrue, simply because serious and persistent criticism comes with this territory. It's a whole lot easier to stand on the sidelines and be a constant critic than it is to be the central focus of that criticism, especially when it's sung to the tune of "Hey, she's made a lot of money and/or hit a bit list, we should all spew hate at her."

And knowing this--really, really knowing this--even to my far lesser, smaller-contract, non-NYT-bestseller, no-big-list-hitting degree, has, indeed, changed me this year. Though I've never written a nasty online review (who has TIME for that?!), the awareness of all the criticism writers receive has now fully penetrated, and it's made me unwilling to tolerate even clever little quips at a famous writer's expense. Do not trash Nora Roberts, Dan Brown or Stephen King here, please, unless it's in the context of a fair and honest literary analysis of their writing. I only have the tiniest inkling of what they've had to deal with, but I'm in awe of the difficulty of their accomplishment, and no one got to their level without a hell of a lot of work. For the same reason, please don't trash my published writer friends, least of all in my earshot (not that anyone here would!), especially those friends who've scored big contracts or won major awards. They may have faults, but so do we all, and I can tell you, most of them didn't get to where they are by spending their precious writing time blasting their negativity and futile what-ifs at other writers.

In my opinion, if someone thinks he/she can do a better job of writing a story than someone else, that person had best put his/her energy toward actually writing one. Save the sniping comments for those people who, by claiming they could have done a far superior job with another writer's storyline, clearly show just how incapable they are of coming up with an original idea themselves and following through on it. (And I sincerely believe every writer skimming through this essay is more than equal to the task of creating authentic and inspired work... :)

And so, while I'm not one for making grandiose New Year's Resolutions, I am making this vow for the coming year: To take my own advice and to practice it, every day, to the best of my ability. I can't force anyone to follow me in this, nor do I expect it, but, considering what I've seen of the alternative, I know I'll feel cheerier and better able to rise above the unfair criticisms out there if I'm not getting swept into taking part in them myself.

Here's to wishing everybody reading my end-of-the-year ramble a happy, healthy and productive 2010! May the books you read--or write--bring you so much peace and joy in the coming year that there's no room for anything negative. And may you feel as fortunate as I do, to enter a New Year with such a terrific, supportive and fabulous blog community. Thanks to all of you for being one of the really good parts of 2009. Wishing you the fulfillment of every cherished dream...plus a few unexpected but delightful ones.

**P.S. Congrats to Silvia!! You're the winner of my December prize package (DVD of "The Jane Austen Book Club," 2 packets of hot cocoa, Nancy Parra's Dream Man sleep mask, large refrigerator magnet of According to Jane and 1 Ghirardelli dark chocolate and caramel bar :). Please email me -- marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com -- with your snail mail address!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Jumping the Blog

It's really cold and snowy over here. In my attempt at adjusting to winter (#fail), I just can't seem to get over this very simple fact: I like warm temperatures. Not hot, humid and hair-frizzing temps, but warm. And today...wasn't that.

In other news, a winner was chosen on Christmas Day for the big Super Secret Santa Giveaway on the 007's Nobody Writes It Better blog (although my contest here still runs until the noon on the 31st!). I am, however, the blogger of the day with the 007 gang, so I hope you'll join me there for a few post-holiday reflections as the year ends.

I'll be back here on the 31st with the winning name for my December contest and a longish, semi-reflective post on the subject of criticism and writers, which is where my end-of-the-year thoughts have been leading me... Hope all has been going well for you in your corner of the planet. :-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Shortest Day

It's the Shortest Day of the Year and, in keeping with that, I'll try to make this my Shortest Post of 2009 (or at least shorter than usual :).

A few fun things:

On the blog I share with my fellow 2007 Golden Heart Finalists, we're having a 007 Super Secret Santa Giveaway--and there are a TON of prizes! You must enter by 12/24 (winner will be announced on Christmas Day), but you can win books, handmade jewelry, a Peruvian knapsack and more!

My December contest is still ongoing. Anyone who comments on my blog this month is entered into a drawing. The winner will receive: a DVD of "The Jane Austen Book Club," a couple of packets of hot cocoa, an According to Jane refrigerator magnet, a dark chocolate bar (I've chosen one of my fave's--Ghiradelli's dark with caramel filling) and a soft sleep mask by Nancy J. Parra for her book Dream Man.

The fantabulous Lainey Bancroft wrote "A Reader's Shopping List in Rhyme," and I just wanna hug her for including me as a part of her poem. (Thanks, sweetie. :) Check out her suggestions when you get a chance!!

Finally, Happy Winter Solstice!! Hope you and your loved ones are having a great holiday week. Whatever your celebrations may be, I wish you joyful ones, and I wish us all a peaceful and healthy 2010. xo

Friday, December 18, 2009

JASNA-WI's Celebration & Tasty Trifle

Happy Friday! And, for those of us with children, Welcome to Winter Break ;-). Here in Chicagoland, it's snowing. Again. However, the holiday season is upon us and, in an attempt to be annoyingly merry, I will not rant about my hatred of shoveling. (Right now.) I will, instead, recount the wonderful time I had with the lovely ladies of the JASNA-Wisconsin chapter last weekend in Menomonee Falls. Several dressed up in beautiful Regency costumes for the occasion--the celebration of Jane Austen's 234th birthday--and they've tempted me to find myself a pretty dress from the era for the next party! We'll see...

One of the big highlights of the event was getting to hear "The Bingley Sisters" (aka, Molly Philosophos and Liz Philosophos Cooper, pictured right) advise their brother Charles (that would be the famed, Mr. Bingley of Pride & Prejudice) on Regency Life. This was an encore presentation of their beloved AGM breakout session from the national JASNA conference in Philadelphia this past October, and how fun to watch them in action! They showed us slides, spoke with the perfect hauteur on a range of subjects (such as those scandalous Bennets) and stylishly entertained their audience. One of my favorite tidbits of information came in the form of a handout where Caroline Bingley and Louisa Bingley Hurst "kindly" reorganized the focus of P&P so they were the two central characters in the story--as opposed to that "Elizabeth" person and Mr. Darcy, who we all know should have been Caroline's beau...LOL!

We also had a lovely meal--there were champagne toasts, a really tasty salad, a choice of beef Wellington, crab-stuffed chicken breast or vegetarian quiche and English trifle for dessert. Yum! At my table, I had a chance to talk and enjoy the presentation with Carolyn, Veronica, Judy (in costume!) and Sue (all pictured left), and I got to chat with Judy's daughter Sarah (pictured with me right) as well. It was a wonderful way to spend a cold December day, and I felt really lucky to have had such delightful companions for the celebration.

At the very end, I had a chance to catch up with a few chapter friends again that I've enjoyed getting to know at prior JASNA events. It's always so lovely to see Yodi and her daughter Susan (pictured with me on the left). They're so upbeat and sweet, I could sit around and chat with them on any subject for hours--especially books and bookstores! And it was a pleasure to get to talk to Vicki and Kathy again, even briefly (pictured on the right). What great costumes!! I'm hoping to have a chance to see all of these ladies again in the spring and, fingers crossed, also a few others that weren't there this time. (Abigail R.? Kim W.? Judy K.? Yeah, I'm talking to you. :)

Finally, for those who have never tasted it, English trifle is a dessert I adore, traditionally made in layers with sponge cake, custard, fruit and whipped cream. I like to make it with just a teensy bit of sherry, too. Since it's been been well established that I'm not exactly Super Chef, I have an incredibly easy version of this dessert that I make (see below). However, if you'd like to try something fancier by a more skilled baker, check out this trifle recipe, too!

Marilyn's Easy English Trifle:
1 angel food cake, divided into halves
1 large package fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1 container Cool Whip, refrigerated (not frozen)
8 individual vanilla pudding cups
Sherry to taste

Layer 1/3 of the strawberries on the bottom of a large, clear serving bowl, put half of the angel food cake on top of that (pull it into chunks so the strawberries are covered with cake), douse it with a little sherry. Then spread 4 of the puddings onto the cake layer and put half of the Cool Whip on top of that. Repeat with the next 1/3 of strawberries, the second half of the angel food cake, more sherry (!!), the last 4 puddings and the remainder of the Cool Whip. Use the final 1/3 of the strawberries to decorate the top. ENJOY!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raising a Toast to Jane!

Some breaking contest news: The wonderful Ann Victor is hosting a contest on her blog--check it out here! You could win some very cool prizes from South Africa!!

I'm also hosting a December contest--see my two previous posts for details--so you can win, win, win just by leaving a comment on one of my posts this month.

And, today, in honor of Jane Austen's 234th birthday (!!), I'm guest blogging on two fabulous sites: I'll be at Single Titles, sharing some info about the ongoing celebration of our dear Jane at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, along with a handful of insights I found particularly interesting. (Oh! And I'm giving away an autographed copy of According to Jane to one commenter. ;)

Also, as a guest of the lovely Kris Kennedy, I was invited over to Mama Writers today as well, and I'll be talking about how my son helped me become a novelist... Please visit if you have a chance!

In some fun and utterly unexpected news, my debut novel made a brief appearance in a newspaper far from Chicagoland. I was pleased to learn that According to Jane was mentioned in the "Books" section of Tulsa World last week (second-to-last paragraph) in an article by James D. Watts, Jr. called "Jane Addiction"--yay! (And anytime a writer wants to compare my novel to Bridget Jones's Diary--in the same sentence even!--I'm gonna be happy about it.)

Finally, I had an outstanding time visiting with members of the Wisconsin chapter of the Jane Austen Society this past weekend for Jane's annual birthday event. REALLY DELIGHTFUL!! Coming up in my next post: Photos! Advice for Mr. Charles Bingley from his sisters! An English Trifle Recipe! (And, possibly, fewer exclamation marks--but I'm making no promises!!)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chocolate is Gooooood...Yes, It Is

To brighten our Friday, here's a report based on the latest research on chocolate from the RealAge/YOU Docs (Drs. Oz and Rozen of Oprah fame). In case anyone was in doubt, dark chocolate is good for you. LOL! Good thing, 'cause I'm eating it regardless (along with its less healthy cousins: milk and white). However, it's heartening to know these findings:

Chocolate has all but been elevated to superfood status. And the good news keeps rolling in. So here are three more reasons why you may not want to be too quick to break that chocolate habit. (As long as you're hitting the dark stuff.)

Chocolate makes you smarter. Ample research suggests that the flavonols in dark chocolate increase cerebral blood flow, which in turn may trigger the creation of new blood vessels and brain cells. And a new study showed that older adults performed better on cognitive tests after eating small portions of the sweet stuff.

Chocolate weakens heart attacks. Although more research is needed to confirm this one, a new study showed that regular chocolate eaters who had heart disease were less likely to die following a heart attack compared with the people who didn't treat themselves to the dark and dreamy stuff.

Chocolate has a cavity-fighting compound. Okay, so you don't necessarily want to trade in your toothbrush for a chocolate bar. But some interesting new research shows a compound in chocolate -- theobromine -- may be just as good as fluoride at hardening tooth enamel. So the compound could find its way into toothpastes and mouthwashes one day. Until then, keep in mind that most commercially prepared chocolate has lots of sugar in it.

In light of this happy research, I'm adding in one dark chocolate candy bar to the December prize package (which includes the DVD of "The Jane Austen Book Club"--see previous post for details) and, also, because getting enough sleep is at least as good for us as eating chocolate, I've got a really cool fabric sleep mask, made by lovely author friend Nancy J. Parra, that the winner will get as well. Her upcoming romantic suspense novel Dream Man is awesome! And she'll be a guest on Brant Flakes next month, too. :)

So, for those fellow chocolate lovers out there, what's your favorite kind? Milk vs. dark vs. white? Cadbury vs. Hershey vs. Dove vs. Ghiradelli?? Do you like it creamy smooth? With fillings like caramel or raspberry? With crunchy almonds or hazelnuts? If by chance you like to wear your chocolate...I just came across this link to make "Hershey Kiss Holiday Lights Necklaces." My kind of art project!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Googolplex of Snowflakes, Hugh Dancy & a DVD Giveaway

Because we've had blizzarding conditions across the Midwest over the past couple of days, I've had a chance to take a look at WAY more snow than I typically enjoy seeing. Of course, while I'm less than delighted by the notion of shoveling our driveway again (and again!), viewing a snowflake up close--isolated from its 127 million dearest friends in our front yard--is really a beautiful thing.
And since I'll be spending a lot of time indoors this week, I suppose I could finally start decorating for the holidays...or try cleaning my office...or maybe just relaxing with a good movie or two. In fact, I'd planned to give away a copy of one of my favorite Austen-inspired films (a DVD of "The Jane Austen Book Club") to one commenter on my blog this month, and this looks like the perfect day to announce that prize! I'll throw in a couple of individual packets of Swiss Miss hot chocolate (with the mini marshmallows), too, so the winner will have something to drink while watching the adorable Hugh Dancy...and, um, the rest of the talented cast--LOL...onscreen.

**This contest is open to anyone, anywhere in the world who leaves a comment on my blog between today and December 31st at noon. I'll be posting a few other times this month, too, so one comment on each new blog post will count as an entry. And, because I'm new to Twitter , double the chances to win if you tweet about it!!**

So...what's the weather look like outside of your window??

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An Update: Sunday at Eight

Because I'm freakishly devoted to punctuality, it made me laugh that it was actually a Thursday at Two when I found out (thanks to my very cool brother) that my 2nd women's fiction book, Fridays at Nine, had its own Amazon page. Better to be early than late, right? Last year, when I first saw the site on Amazon for According to Jane, I got overexcited and did embarrassing stuff like squeal and memorize the ISBN number. I'm SO much calmer and more professional now. (I only jumped around my office a little and wouldn't dream of memorizing the ISBN for at least a week this time around. :-) Anyway, there's no cover art to share yet, so if you click on the page you'll see only the colorless "no image available" logo. But soon...

p.s. What did you all do over the weekend? Anything fun??

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Tale of Two (Most Excellent) Book Clubs

[L to R: Michelle, Kristi, Dina, Me, Evelyn, Brenda and Jeanne--who suggested my book to the club and sent me this picture, too--thanks! Gayle was also there but had to leave early.]

After having spent the month of November visiting five truly wonderful book clubs, I've concluded that it would be unbelievably hard for an author not to LOVE the experience. I mean, you go to it, and awaiting you are a bunch of people gathered together who have (A) read your book, (B) invited you to visit with them because they want to talk with you about it and (C) come prepared to feed you all kinds of amazing things. See what I'm sayin'? Unequivocal awesomeness!

At the book club pictured at the top, I got to chat with seven fabulous women who live just around the corner from me!! A couple of the members I've known for several years, while others I've only seen in passing until recently, but it was such a treat to spend the morning with them. We talked about books, families and Thanksgiving. They shared their thoughts on According to Jane and asked questions about the story and the writing process. And we nibbled on too many scrumptious things to count :). I left feeling I'd made some new friends, and I hoped they'd enjoyed the few hours we spent together half as much as I did. Thanks, ladies!

Just two days later, my good friends Karen, Joyce and Sarah, took me on a hilarious and much-anticipated roadtrip to Valparaiso, Indiana for Gloria's (Karen's mom's) book club. We'd been planning on doing this for over a year, so when the day finally came, I was incredibly excited. We stopped for coffee, of course--potent and delicious. We visited a pottery sale and bought some great Christmas presents. We went on a tour of Karen's high-school haunts. (SO fun and, oh, the stories!) And then we had a delightful afternoon of tea and conversation with Gloria and her friends--members of a book club that has been going strong for over 15 years. What a lovely, gracious group of women. And just look at Gloria's beautifully set tables for the Tea Party she hosted for us:

[Pictured: (Top L) Charlene, Carolyn, Suzan, Linda; (Lower L) Sarah, Joyce, Gloria; (Right) Judy, Kathleen, Elene and Karen]

I'm still regretting not having my camera along for the earliest book clubs I attended. My only excuse is that I was new at it, and I simply didn't realize how much I'd want to have snapshots of the occasion. (Maybe I'll be lucky enough to get invited back. ;) I will say, while I've never been a book-club member myself, I could really see how much fun these groups had together, and I was left with the temptation not only to join a group at once, but also to bake far more often...

Thanks to everyone who made November such a fun book-clubbing month for me. It was truly inspiring to talk with you all!

For those of you out there who are now (or used to be) in a book club, what were some of your favorite book-club reading selections??

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Love in Translation

For the last GCC tour of 2009, I have the pleasure of hosting Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, whose latest book from St. Martin's, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, just came out last week. Wendy is also the author of MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, which the San Francisco Chronicle called a “terrific first novel.” Now she’s back with her second book, again exploring the themes of Japan and Japanese culture and being a stranger in a strange land, which have played a major role in her life and writing.

Welcome, Wendy!

Can you tell us the basic premise of LOVE IN TRANSLATION? After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, 33-year-old fledgling singer Celeste Duncan is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. This overwhelming place where nothing is quite as it seems changes Celeste in ways she never expected, leading her to ask: What is the true meaning of family? And what does it mean to discover your own voice?

You use some fascinating musical references in your novel, and I know they play a significant role! Could you tell us a bit more about that? The power of music is a big theme in LOVE IN TRANSLATION. When the protagonist, Celeste Duncan, learns to sing a Japanese song called “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” her life changes in ways she never imagined. This fictional song is depicted in the book as being a hit by a singer named Maki Kanda (also fictional) who is described as a typical performer of traditional “enka” music, which is a kind of torch song influenced by Western pop and blues. Because in another life I’ve been a singer who sings in Japanese, I turned this made-up song into a reality with the help of my husband who wrote the music. We have released the song as a free download on iTunes and on my website. (That is SO cool!! Here are a couple of links for anyone who'd like to hear it--I *loved* it! Download at Wendy's website or on iTunes.)

What inspired your book? Many things. LOVE IN TRANSLATION is my cockeyed valentine to Japan, which is a place I’ve both loved and loathed, a place that has fueled both fascination and frustration. And it is also a place that has had a huge impact on my life and writing. I also wanted to explore what it means to be a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan and the benefits and downsides of that status and what happens when a gaijin sings in Japanese. I also am fascinated by the concept of the homestay, (something I never experienced), and how that would impact someone as an adult who grew up in foster homes and who never experienced a real family.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing instead? I’d be singing. Before I started writing fiction I wrote songs, sang lead and played bass guitar in my own bands. Later on I got into singing Japanese karaoke. And further down the road I took voice lessons from a great Japanese jazz singer. I learned so much from her and was able to take my singing to a whole new level. I began to sing jazz standards with my husband accompanying me on keyboards. We play low-key venues once in a while but usually we just practice for fun at home.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Develop a thick skin and a gracious demeanor to deal with rejection because it is very likely that you will still experience it in some way, shape or form even after you’re published.

Which craft books have inspired or helped you throughout your writing career? There are many and some are not technically “craft” books such as “The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors” by Catherine Wald. Others include “bird by bird” by Anne Lamott, “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman and “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing” by Oakley Hall.

What do you love about being an author? There’s so much that I enjoy. First, it’s great to be paid for something you love to do. But I also find it inspiring to help other writers. I enjoy telling my story of woe on my road to publication and let others know that they don’t need any special connections to the publishing world in order to get published. I like to promote the message that you should never give up. And if you work hard, keep at it and be flexible, your publishing dream may come true. I also like helping other writers make their work the best it can be.

Thanks so much for being here, Wendy. I loved hearing learning about this book and look forward to reading the story that accompanies your wonderful song!

I also had the honor of receiving a Creative Blogger Award from the very talented Chick with a Quill recently (thank you, Vesper!!!), but with all the running around of the Thanksgiving holidays and trying to meet a story deadline, I haven't yet had a chance to post my 7 trivial facts... Robin Bielman, however, just posted hers today and they're delightful! Stop by her blog and take a peek ;).

Up next: Book Club photos!!

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!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fabulous Friends, Friday Fun & a Fantastic New Release

Fridays are fun--especially when your writing friend Lainey Bancroft has a new release! The Trouble With Tessa (The Wild Rose Press) is the story of Erin Sanders who, at age 35, has resigned herself to a single, childless lifestyle. Then dynamic Tanner walks into her office and proposes that she pretend to date him in order to assess the mental well-being of Tessa, his orphaned niece. Erin falls hard and fast for the man. As an added bonus, she and the delightful Tessa come to adore each other. But like all things too good to be true, she discovers her perfect stud may be a perfectly deceptive dud.

The Trouble With Tessa was a First Place Winner (yay!) in the single-title category of the San Antonio Romance Authors Merritt "Magic Moments" Contest last year. But now you can get it on Amazon (click here) or on The Wild Rose Press website (click here), and at many other bookstores. WAY TO GO, LAINEY!!!! I'm thrilled for you and wish you many, many sales!

A week ago, I got the chance to visit Ruth, lovely B&N bookseller and YMCA friend (who works out more often and far more effectively than I do!), and I discovered that she'd chosen According to Jane as a "Staff Pick" at the Vernon Hills B&N. Even more exciting, she put my book right next to Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked!!! I get to sit next to Nick--someone who loves '80s music as much as I do! (Or, rather, Jane gets to sit next to Juliet...but you know what I mean.) Just to prove it, I had to take a picture. Thanks so much, Ruth, you're a sweetie. :-)

Also last Friday, I had a really nice coffee date (although it was far too short...) with three friends I hadn't seen all together since our time at the Jane Austen Society conference last fall. (Pictured L to R: Elaine, Abigail and Pamala.) The occasion was a celebration of Elaine's visit from Switzerland. (Yes, she gets to live in the beautiful land of Alps and Swiss chocolate...I'm only a little envious--LOL--"Take me back with you, Elaine!") So, she flew in, and Pamala Knight, Abigail Reynolds, Elaine and I got to chat all together...at a bookstore, of course, where it is reported that they had very tasty pumpkin bread, indeed.

Next week, I have the honor of being the author guest on Jennifer Crusie's Cherry Forums. According to Jane was chosen as the Cherry Forums Book Club Pick for the first half of November! So, if you are up for a book discussion, or you just want to stop by to say hello, please join us :).

Incidentally, I'm fairly new to the book-club thing. Not that I didn't read and discuss a lot of novels in college classes or informally with friends, but I've never been a part of an actual Book Club. Being that I'm going to be involved in four of them during the month of November alone, I feel as though I ought to get some tips or something. For those of you who have book-clubbed before, do you have any suggestions for me??

Finally, Happy Halloweeeeeen to everyone! May your trick-or-treat bags overflow with whatever your favorite goodies are this weekend. I have a bit of a weakness for those Snickers miniatures...well, and black licorice twists...and, um, also those cherry Starbursts...really, everything in a wrapper...

Monday, October 26, 2009

There Are No Germs in the Blogosphere...

...which means you can't catch the nasty flu virus sweeping through our house.

It was an exhausting weekend of illness and Tylenol here and, unfortunately, I'm not seeing a quick end to it now that it's Monday... However, even though I won't be setting foot out of my real house this week, I get to party around the clock at a number of wonderful blog sites elsewhere:

**Awesome writing friend Caryn Caldwell has an interview up with me today on her site The Book Lady! You can read about what being a debut author is really like and comment to win one free book!

**I'm the Free Book Friday author guest this week (and will be giving away three copies of According to Jane to contest participants :).

**Romance Reviews Today has their review up now of my novel. The words "fun," "quirky" and "charming" were used, so I'm very pleased!

**I'll be visiting the wonderful Heidi Betts in The Dungeon tomorrow for the final Part 3 of my October visit to WIPs & Chains, and we'll be talking about paranormal novels!! There will be prizes up for grabs there, too--an According to Jane t-shirt, a 4-pack of tea and a Victoria's Secret "Big Caramapple" lip gloss (my fall favorite)--so please join us if you can.

**Finally, throughout the next five days, The Knight Agency is hosting a Halloween Week on their blog, complete with a Scavenger Hunt! Books will be given away every day, and participants in the Hunt are eligible to win a $50 Visa gift card. I'm going to be the featured blogger on Wednesday the 28th and will be talking about things I love about the autumn and ways the season shows up in my writing. Hope to see some of you there for that, too. :)

Have a good week, everyone, and please stay healthy.

Antiseptically yours,

Friday, October 23, 2009

In the Circle

Just a quickie post this morning to wish you all a very happy FRIDAY (yippee!) and to share with you one cool link that my Kensington publicist forwarded to me yesterday. Family Circle magazine has an online edition called "Inner Circle," and Cheryl Grant, one of their editors, read According to Jane and posted a little something about it here. Definitely made my day/week (!!!), despite all the rainy, cold weather we've been having... Hope it's sunnier where you are.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone :).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Brant Flakes TOP 5

This is the first time in my two-and-a-half years of blogging that I've done a Top 5 (or a Top 10, Top 20, Top Anything for that matter...), but this has been a month of firsts, so I guess it's fitting. Without further ado, he's my Rocktober Top 5:

1. My book came out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I got to celebrate around Chicagoland *and* around the Blogosphere with THE MOST FABULOUS FRIENDS EVER!! (Thanks to ALL of you!!!!)

2. According to Jane has been on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller List for 4 straight weeks!! (It's still on there--between #18-#24 today--in the categories of Contemporary Romance and Fantasy, and it actually hit #1 in both of those categories earlier this month.) I'm well aware that it didn't get there by itself...so thank you to everyone who picked it up in paperback or ebook form. *smooch!*

3. I got an excited email from the truly wonderful NovelWhore last week telling me that my book was featured in the Barnes & Noble Review and had made it on "The Long List" for the week of October 13th!! The book was described as: "Fresh, original, and lots of fun." To that B&N-online writer: Thanks. You have rocketed your way onto my list of Favorite People for 2009!

4. After months (literally) of debate, my second novel finally has a title!! Coming October 2010 to bookstores everywhere: Fridays at Nine (Kensington trade). Like an Oxygen Network version of a Grimm's fairy tale, it's the story of three forty-something suburban moms who ask each other if they made the right choice in marrying the man they did... Interesting situations follow.

5. Last but far from least, I have the world's most awesome brother! He not only came to my book launch, bought several copies of an incredibly women's fiction-y book (despite being a very manly guy) to give as gifts to his friends and promoted this novel with the drive of a marketing exec, but he ALSO got us tickets to the Rob Thomas (with One Republic and Carolina Liar) concert to celebrate my book's release! To be able to sign my first novel AND dance to Rob singing "Smooth" and "This is How a Heart Breaks" in the SAME day...that was pretty memorable. Thanks, Bro!

I'm visiting Number One Novels on Monday and will be going back to The Dungeon with Heidi Betts on Tuesday!! As always, you're all welcome to join me, and I hope some of you will :).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Looking Inside

I've been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now, mostly because, when any book is released, readers have certain expectations. That's always been true for me as a reader, no matter what genre I pick up. Of course, with a "mystery," I know there will be a crime and it'll get solved somehow. With a "romance," I'm sure there will be a love story with the hero and heroine winding up together in the end. The "women's fiction" genre may leave a few additional doors open, but it's still a story about a woman's journey. What happens on that journey differs, of course--depending on the style of writing, the needs of the plot and the personal worldview of the author--but I'm not above glancing at the cover art, reading the backcover copy and making a prediction or two about how I think that particular journey will play out.

The best way I've chosen to deal with the potential dichotomy between (a) What I Expect from a Book and (b) What is Really in the Book, though, is to actually open up the book. If it's a print copy, I literally flip it open and read a few pages. Some of those pages are from the start of Chapter One, but some are just random pages from the middle of the book. If it's an ebook or a novel that hasn't been released yet, there's a really nifty feature on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble online where readers can often "Look Inside" the book. I'm then able to do in electronic form what I do when I'm holding a physical book: I get to read sample pages from various sections of the story. (Here's Amazon's Look Inside spot for my book.) And authors, myself included, frequently put scene excerpts up on their websites. (Here's mine for According to Jane.) Reading these pages or scenes gives me a strong sense of a writer's narrative style, so I'm not inclined to be "shocked" by the tone or the use of language.

None of this is to say that I haven't ever been in a situation where I thought I'd prepared myself for reading a book only to be surprised by a plot point that jarred me or a character trait that annoyed me. That stuff happens. I have not, however, encountered a book where the use of swearing, drinking or adult sexual situations "came out of absolutely nowhere."

Personally, I'm not so big into violence. While I can, on an intellectual level, understand the love some readers have for thrillers and serial killers, stories like those give me nightmares. Since I scare easily and know this about myself, I choose not to read them. One of the things I always check for when selecting a new book is the level of graphic violence. If I suspect I won't be able to read it without breaking into a cold sweat and imagining all kinds of horrific things for years to come, I DON'T READ IT. I do not, however, force myself to finish it and then go on a review site and blast the author for having dared to write so much violence in his book that the images are now burned into my brain and will never, ever go away no matter how many peace-loving, gentle-spirited novels I read later to comfort myself...

I'm just sayin'.

Fantabulous and funny women's fiction author Maria Geraci has a post up about this subject, and she suggests that books should have rating levels on them (G, PG-13, R, etc.) like we have for movies. Not a bad idea, in my opinion. What do you think?? Or how about this: a spot somewhere on the book cover where the author and/or publisher could mark off things readers might come across in the novel, like Profanity, Violence, Use of Drugs/Alcohol and Adult Sexual Content. What are the pros? Cons?

But for now, and when in doubt, please "Look Inside" the book... No author wants any reader to be "very disappointed" by something as preventable as a miscommunication of narrative style. A little initiative and curiosity about the text prior to reading can go a long way toward avoiding unmet expectations.

Today, author and reviewer Kelly Moran is featuring an interview with me about According to Jane on her blog and hosting a giveaway! If you have time, please stop by. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Visit with Therese Walsh

I have a visitor this morning that I've been looking forward to hosting on Brant Flakes for a few months, the lovely Therese Walsh. She's the founder and president of our new RWA Women's Fiction chapter (yay!) and an incredibly talented writer. Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Shayne Areheart Books) is out TODAY, and it's a book Publishers Weekly praised as being a "pleasing blend of mystery, romance, and the supernatural."

Welcome, Therese!!

1. Can you tell us the premise of your book, The Last Will of Moira Leahy? First off, thanks for having me, Marilyn. It’s a pleasure to be here at Brant Flakes!

The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a women’s fiction novel that borrows liberally from other genres: psychological suspense, mystery, family saga, romance and mythical realism. It’s about a woman who lost her identical twin--and a large portion of herself--about a decade ago, but reconnects with her former life after purchasing an artifact from her past. Through interwoven narratives, we see Maeve Leahy as she was and what led to the tragedy with her sister, Moira; and we travel with her in the present day as she unravels the truth about the artifact--who's following her and leaving her notes. We see her transform as layers of her past are peeled away and the course of her future is forever altered.

2. What was one scene you especially enjoyed writing and why? One scene is particularly special to me, because it was my touchstone when I began rewriting the manuscript in 2005. (I’d worked on a previous version of the book from 2002-04.) Before tackling the rewrite, I had to decide which elements to focus on; there’d been too much going on and the narrative was confused. I realized I couldn’t live without one scene, which I can’t describe in detail but features the twins Moira and Maeve Leahy. That scene is one of the very few to survive the mass slaughter of the first version of the book and—happily—is reflected pictorially on Moira’s cover.

3. What's your writing background like? Was Moira the first novel you wrote or have there been others? The Last Will of Moira Leahy is my first novel-length fiction. Since I wrote it twice, though, and the stories are so different, maybe you could say that I have a manuscript under my bed.

I worked as a freelance health writer while writing my fiction, mostly for Rodale Press. I’d previously worked as a researcher and writer for Prevention Magazine, and Rodale is Prevention’s mothership.

4. Your group website, "Writer Unboxed," has won a number of Writer's Digest awards for being one of the 101 Best Websites for authors. It's a great informational site for writers. How did it come into being? Thank you! Kathleen Bolton, who was one of my trusted critique partners, approached me one day and asked if I’d like to form a blog with her. I agreed. We weren’t sure of the blog’s focus at first. I remember telling her Rodale Press’s secret formula: provide empowering info, and they will come. We wanted readers, so we agreed to give it a try: provide empowering info to writers with posts on the craft and business of genre fiction, and interview a wide array of authors and other publishing pros.

5. What's your favorite and/or least favorite thing about being a writer? My favorite thing is engaging the muse. I love it when she surprises me—when a scene twists in a way I’d never envisioned or when the words come effortlessly. (That last is a rare but much appreciated phenomenon!)

My least favorite thing is the solitude—the number of hours you must spend alone before the computer screen to accomplish your goals.

6. What other art form inspires you as much as writing? Music. I was once a music major and still sing occasionally with a local performance group. That phenomenon with the muse I just described? When you’re singing some pieces—like Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium—you can experience that same sort of high, grateful just to be in the moment. The nice thing about music though is that you can anticipate those moments, phrase by phrase; they keep you coming back for more.

7. If you could have lunch with one author, one actor and one musician (these three people can be living or dead), who would you ask to join you? This took some thought!

Author: Barbara Samuel O’Neal, because I love her dearly and she adores food as much as, if not more than, I do.

Actor: Johnny Depp, because my children say so.

Musician: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, just because.

8. What's your next novel about? Is it related to Moira in some way? The next book won’t be a continuation with the same characters or setting, but it will be another work of women’s fiction melded with mystery, psychological suspense, family saga, love story elements and mythical realism. It’ll take place entirely in West Virginia , as the characters travel the state on foot. There is so much about this book I am falling in love with.

9. Any tips for aspiring writers that you'd like to share? I think many writers send out their work prematurely. Take your time, and polish, polish, polish. It’s too easy nowadays for agents and editors to say, “no,” so make it impossible by giving them something that’s both fresh and finely crafted.

10. What's one question you wish you could ask your readers? I’d feel happy with an affirmative response to this: Did The Last Will of Moira Leahy make you laugh, did it make you cry?

Thanks again for having me, Marilyn, especially since I know this is a crazy month for you as well. Congrats on the release of According to Jane!

My pleasure, Therese! :)

**Also in the Blogosphere today, I have the super-duper extra fun of being Heidi Betts's October guest on WIPs and Chains...in The Dungeon! Part one is up now, but I'll be back for the next two weeks, too. (Thanks, Heidi. ;-) I've also got an AuthorBuzz contest up this week for anyone interested in that. AND I've had a few new interviews and book reviews pop up online from some fabulous people, including Joni Rodgers, Nadine Dajani, Kristi at Books and Needlepoint, VVB32 Reads and Michele from The Rewrite Cafe. Thanks, everyone!!**

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Launch Dance Party!

On Wednesday, October 7th, I had the honor of being asked to speak at a local library about my writing journey. Afterward, I had the further delight of getting to go out with friends for margaritas! What a wonderful group!!
(pictured left to right: me, Janice, Ann, Anne, Heather, Karen, Sarah, Lisa, Erica and Joyce)

But the fun for the week was just getting started. Yesterday, October 10th, was my first big book signing! It's been in the works for months, so it was exciting to finally have a chance to launch the book officially...and to do it with a bona fide 1980s soundtrack! I brought my old boombox and a bunch of "The Best of the '80s" CDs to Borders, where we were greeted by the lovely Pamela Kramer (pictured below). We let the music play, munched on cookies and chitchatted. I got to sign lots of books and talk for a couple of hours with friends old and new. Below are just a few of the many photos we took!
(pictured: Ruth Kaufman, me-->seated, Jen Stevenson, June Sproat, Erica O'Rourke and Borders bookseller Pamela Kramer)

My high-school friend Erika surprised me by driving down from Wisconsin for a visit!! (left)

I had the chance to see Simone Elkeles and Kelly Farmer, too, who are writing friends from my very first weeks in RWA. I met them both 7 years ago... (right)

My friend Pam from my teaching days popped by to see me as well! (left)

And here are writing friends Eliza Evans, Karen Dale Harris and Simone Elkeles. Fabulous smiles! (right)

Finally, the photo below includes many amazing members of the Chicago-North RWA who took time out of their weekend to celebrate with me. Thanks to Erica, Heather, June, Simone, Karen, Pamala, Ruth and Jen!

Whew! I feel a bit like a bride post-wedding... It's hard to believe an event I'd planned for and waited to arrive for so long has finally come and gone. Thank you to everyone who stopped by and to all who sent me congratulations cards and emails. You helped to make these past couple of weeks very, very exciting. :-)