Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to Save a Life

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to the winner of my April contest for the Bartender's Pocket Guide and the Lolita Cocktail Crystals: Maureen McGowan --Yay!! (Especially appropriate since, in addition to her own great blog, she's also part of the blogging trio that comprises Drunk Writer Talk. Maureen, make some drinks for Molly and Sinead now, would ya? :-)

Second, the latest issue of Marilyn Brant News, the e-newsletter filled with scintillating facts and fun (hee!), will be out on Tuesday. And, with it, comes the Very Special Drawing just for newsletter subscribers. During one of my many treks to Office Max or Office Depot (I can't overemphasize how much I love office supplies), I came upon this Italian-made fountain pen with six different color cartridges. Perfect for writing notes to friends or teachers with a flourish...or for signing book contracts! My favorite thing about these colors, though, are their names: Romantic Violet, Friendly Pink, Emphatic Red, Reliable Black, Holiday Green and Inviting Blue. Oh, yeah...choose a color to reflect your mood...or just to confuse people.

Anyway, one person will win it on Tuesday so, if you haven't yet signed up for my free newsletter and you want in on the drawing, feel free to join my Yahoo group . It's information-only, not a chat loop, and I only seem to be able to gather up enough info worthy of newsletterdom about once per season, so it's infrequent.

Finally, a few thoughts I had lately as a result of a random conversation:

Another woman and I were talking about careers, and she said, rather smugly, that she chose her particular medical specialty because she "wanted to save lives."

Now, I have nothing against healthcare professionals. In fact, I've been indebted to them on many occasions. And, despite years of pressure to go into medicine myself--which I staunchly resisted, thank you very much--I believe there are few people who can calm someone down (or stitch someone up) during a health emergency like a knowledgeable and compassionate doctor, nurse or EMT.

But I don't think that's the only way to save a life.

I have memories of times--sometimes weeks or months, sometimes entire years--that were on the dark and painful side. I wasn't physically sick. I wasn't dying. But I also wasn't "fine." And the help I needed to get through those crises couldn't be diagnosed by a doctor, poured into bottle by "your helpful Walgreen's pharmacist" or x-ray'ed by a well-practiced technician. During those gray days, I turned first to novels and to music to get me through and to give me the wisdom, perspective and advice I sought. Those books/CDs/cassettes/records were so vital to my survival, I remember each author I read then, each musician I listened to, and the titles of their masterpieces (whether they were world-famous or hardly known) with a gratitude that's immeasurable, even to this day. IMO, they saved my life a hundred times over, as surely as any antibiotic or medical procedure.

So, I don't want to hear from anyone--whether overtly or implied--that the arts are frivolous. They are not. They. Are. Not.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


There's a product on the market called "Short Cuts"--which, for those not familiar with it, is a package of cut-up chicken or turkey breast available in the refrigerated section of the grocery store and aimed at harried, time-challenged shoppers so they can grab it and quickly toss it on a salad or something without actually having to cook an entire chicken and chop it into bite-sized pieces in their 10 minutes of prep time before dinner. (Yes, that was a very long sentence, but when I feel stressed out, I think in run-ons...)

Short Cuts/Shortcuts are very useful on occasion (I bought some this week), but I know they can't solve my underlying problem, which is that I just don't have enough hours in the day to do everything I imagine I should do. Sometimes that's a matter of priority--I want something "done," but I don't want to be "doing" it. Actually, that's the problem for me most of the time. I want my Fairy Godmother (where's that elusive chick hiding?!) to magically wash the dishes, organize my office and write Chapter 21 with the necessary-but-emotionally-taxing-scene-I've-been-avoiding...

It's just that I'm finding there seem to be no real shortcuts. To anything. Anywhere. That for me, at least, any accomplishment I value requires dealing with ALL of the steps in the process--in order, without skipping a single one, no matter how annoying or painful it is and no matter how long it takes.

I want there to be a health and fitness pill, and there isn't one (shocker). I want there to be a magical hair-care product that will once and for all get rid of frizziness and split ends (yeah, I know, good luck with that). I want a detailed checklist of everything I need to do (foreseen and as-yet unseen) before October...and, also, I want someone else to help me deal with all of the items on that list. But, unfortunately, that's not the way life--at least not in my experience--works. The most critical and necessary elements of any truly important thing in my life (not my hair so much, but my health and my writing career, for instance :-) require a sequence of steps that can't be skimmed over or done by anyone else. Others might be able to assist with a handful of details, but the BIG stuff--well, that has to be done by me alone.

But I guess the good news is that this forces me to prioritize, even when I don't want to. There may an activity I profess to value, but if I'm not following it up with action--if I'm not choosing it--then I have to admit to myself I don't value it as much as I thought. At that point, I then have to then decide: Am I willing to work at this without the excuses and the whining? Or am I willing to just let this go?

Ever feel like that about anything?

Monday, April 20, 2009


Jumping in with a quick note:

The wonderful Stephanie Pegler at Chicklit Club included According to Jane--along with Laurie Viera Rigler's Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict and Beth Pattillo's Jane Austen Ruined My Life--in her "Lost in Austen" feature of 2009 Austen-related releases. (Thanks, Steph! :-)

If you have a chance, take a peek at the site and check out some of the great women's fiction/chicklit reviews and interviews they've included. They've got an extensive list of reviewed novels, and I've picked up several new authors after reading about them there. Hope you'll enjoy visiting, too!

Friday, April 17, 2009

April Henry's Latest Thrill Ride

After a cluster of great releases in the summer and fall, the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit took a bit of a break through the winter, with only a couple of new books out. But now spring's here and, with it, FACE OF BETRAYAL (Thomas Nelson, hardcover, April 2009), a fascinating political thriller from mystery author April Henry and FOX legal analyst Lis Wiehl.

Take a peek at the premise and you'll know why I'm so excited about this book: When 17-year-old Senate page Katie Converse goes missing on her Christmas break near her parents' white Victorian home in Portland, Ore., law enforcement and the media go into overdrive in a search for clues. Three friends at the pinnacle of their respective careers--Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor; Cassidy Shaw, a crime reporter; and Nicole Hedges, an FBI special agent--soon discover that Katie wasn't the picture of innocence painted by her parents. Did Katie run away to escape their stifling demands? Was she having an affair with the senator who sponsored her as a page? Has she been kidnapped? Is she the victim of a serial killer?

I tend to scare easily when reading thrillers, but the mystery surrounding Katie Converse is so compelling, I'll chance it! I can't wait to pick up this novel--even if I have to read it with all the lights in the house on. :) April and Lis are under contract for three more "Triple Threat" mysteries and, in addition to April's many published adult works, she also just released her YA thriller TORCHED, which came out last month from Putnam. It's a pleasure to have April here today to talk about her latest novel. Welcome!

April, you and Lis co-wrote FACE OF BETRAYAL. What's one scene from the story you especially loved writing and/or working on together?
There’s a section where a runner finds a body part. We had written that scene, but then I started thinking we needed a second scene with him showing what he does next, even though he is just a walk-on character. So we worked on another scene where he realizes that he needs to take the body part with him (for reasons that might be spoilers). It was fun to write about his dawning horror.

What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.?
Um, can I have all of the above? I would love to have a great review in the New York Times. Once my name was in the NYT Book Review as part of an ad for PLAINSONG from Kent Haruf. I had reviewed the book for the Oregonian. The publisher quoted a variety of reviewers by name in the ad. I kept it on my desk for probably a year. (LOL! I'm sure I'd do the same. :)

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist?
My goal in life is to make sure that they know. I was a big reader in high school, but also kind of invisible. Getting published has made me more visible. I am probably the second most successful person from my small town high school. (The first being Lisa Rinna, who is married to Harry Hamlin and was on "Dancing with the Stars.")

Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you?
I usually try to let is slip. It’s taking me a long time to own being a writer. Before I was published, I didn’t feel valid. After I was published, people often questioned why I was still working full time, not realizing it’s very hard to quit your day job. Now I have (barely). I’m very proud of what I do – it’s a dream come true – and I’ve gotten better about believing that it’s actually happened.

Do you have a favorite food?
I love potatoes in any form, from baked to potato chips. I should be Irish, but I’m more Heinz 57, as my mom says.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication?
I’ve realized that tenacity is just as important as talent. It was my second book that got my an agent, my fourth book that finally got me published, and my eight book that allowed me to quit my day job. If I had given up at any point (and there were lots of heart breaking rejections along the way) I wouldn’t be where I am today. (You're so right! Aside from working on craft, I think aspiring authors have to vow to outlast everyone who says no to them until they find the one who'll say yes... Glad you kept at it!!)

Thanks so much, April, and congrats on the new book!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Smart Bitches on Tour--Part 2

They're back! Yes, more from Smart Bitches Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan! More wit! More wisdom! More references to Heaving Bosoms! Enjoy Part 2 of their interview and, because it was just released yesterday (YAY!), let me remind you again that you can get your very own copy their book right now. You know you want it :-).

Sarah and Candy, are there any films or musical groups you find particularly inspiring? (or hot actors??)

Candy: My two favorite movies with a central romantic story are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Harold and Maude. The former kind of depicted some of my darkest, most cynical beliefs about the nature of human desire and experience in beautiful, hilarious, heart-rending movie form. The latter basically shows us that there's somebody for everybody, even if you don't get to keep them forever.

As for musical groups: I think post-Pablo Honey and pre-Amnesiac Radiohead managed to express modern alienation in beautiful, and oftentimes eerie, music. Of Montreal is great because they're both incredibly brainy and incredibly silly, and listening to Kevin Barnes exorcise his mental demons in the last three albums is both fascinating and cathartic. And The Shins are great because they write these beautiful little story snippets and character studies; James Mercer knows how to turn a mean phrase. This is just the tip of the Musical Groups Who Turn My Crank iceberg, and nobody wants to read the 20,000 treatise on Bands Who Inspire Me.

Hot actors: I mostly watch TV shows on DVD nowadays, so I'm woefully behind the times and have only recently discovered Pushing Daisies. Man, Lee Pace. I want to climb him like a tree and lick him--not necessarily in that order.

Sarah: Alas, no, I haven't watched a movie in full that wasn't for the purposes of hilarious badness (i.e. Twilight) for over three years. I do love all versions of Pride & Prejudice, though. (Marilyn interjects: Yes, yes, yes!!! Excellent choice. :) And have a serious weakness for tv shows like SportsNight and Cupid, which base their strengths on sharp dialogue from even sharper characters.

Do many people in your day-to-day life know about your popular blog? Make comments to you personally about what they've read on it? Essentially, how much cross-over is there between your real and virtual worlds?

Candy: Just about all my friends and most of my family know about it, and a bunch of them have Smart Bitches on their RSS feeds, but we don't really talk about it. Very few of them are romance readers. However, a few of my friends, including my best buddy, had visited Smart Bitches before they ever met me, thanks to things like the Bill Napoli Googlebomb and the LOLPorn. That tickles me no end. It's, like, if you know of me before meeting me in person, you're either in the romance community, or you spend way too much time on the Internet.

Sarah: Depends on the venue! My family all know about the site, though we haven't told my children the proper name of the blog. I do have a full-time job, and they are also aware of the site, and think it's funny. But I try very deliberately to keep my family and work life separate from the site, and rarely mention them online. I adhere to what I call the Mafia Rule of Blogging: don't mention the Job. Don't mention the Family.

It is rare someone will meet me who has heard of SBTB, but has not put me + the site together. Candy, on the other hand, has met people who have heard of the site before they've met her, and says that the experience is way, WAY cool.

What I really, really enjoy is meeting people who read the site who are so happy that they have a venue through which to discuss romance with other savvy, intelligent women and men who are utterly unabashed about their love of romance novels. That's just awesome.

I know you've both been to the RWA National Conference--what is the experience like for you? Do you have conference goals? Have there been any lectures or workshops you attended that were especially interesting or valuable to you? Planning to be in D.C. this summer?

Sarah: We are indeed planning to be in DC this summer. I've been a member of RWA for a long time. I volunteer from them (check out the eNotes. It's the best digital publication from RWA! Seriously! It's so awesome!) and have a lot of respect for the organization as a whole. Attending RWA is awesomesauce for a number of reasons. First: you can't write romance if you're not a fan of the genre, and so the bar at RWA is like a giant meeting ground for like-minded fans of romance. Second: it is rare and wonderful and powerful and impressive that there is an organization where established best sellers actively mentor and teach aspiring writers in their chosen genre. This summer in DC I'm presenting on a panel and that's going to be tremendously fun: The Billionaire Tycoon's Secret Promotional Baby: Making the Most of Online Marketing. No really, swear. That's the title. I'm presenting with Jane from DearAuthor, Carrie Lofty, Barbara Ferrer and Ann Aguirre. (With Carrie! And Barb! Awesome!!)

Candy: Yes, we're definitely planning to be in D.C. For myself, I don't generally arrive at the Conference with goals, other than to spend some time with Sarah and making sure I have dinner with Heather Osborn, because she makes me laugh harder than anyone, ever. I've attended a grand total of two workshops so far: one on bad covers and one on plagiarism, and they were both tremendously informative. During the former, I managed to snag an Ellora's Cave novel that not only had an amazingly lurid cover, it had completely neglected to include the author's name.

Who are some authors you're currently raving about or feel romance lovers should read?

Sarah: I am loving Maya Banks' latest May 09 Silhouette, which features a brave and feisty heroine who is, in some ways, the sexual aggressor - quite a departure from the shrinking heroines I encounter! I also love Joanna Bourne, Kresley Cole, Victoria Dahl, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Erin McCarthy, Nora Roberts, Lisa Kleypas, Kelley Armstrong, Kathleen O'Reilly, Loretta Chase, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Jill Shalvis. If they were fruit and I was at a juice bar, that would be a hot mess of
awesome writing in the blender right there.

Candy: My leisure reading time nowadays runs between scant to OH JESUS WHEN IS THAT PAPER DUE, so no amazing new names have fallen on my lap. My tired old litany still holds true, though: Laura Kinsale, Patricia Gaffney, Loretta Chase, Sharon and Tom Curtis, just about everything Lisa Kleypas wrote in the 90s. Lois McMaster Bujold and Naomi Novik are also consistently excellent authors and storytellers, though neither are romance novelists in the usual sense.

In the years of running your site, what are some of the most memorable topics that've been discussed or hotly debated?

Candy: Easily the Cassie Edwards scandal. Holy whoa, that thing exploded in all kinds of unexpected ways. (Oh, yes...who could forget that? It was fascinating.)

Sarah: The most powerful threads are often the ones where people come out of the lurkdom to add something profound or eloquent, and there have been a ton of those. The most memorable in terms of total count of comments include our discussion of rape in romance, on costumes and cosplay at romance conferences, on plagiarism, and on how we as readers and authors support one another, even when we fiercely disagree on something.

But my favorites are when we help someone through romance. Recently I posted an update from a woman who is going through hellicious chemotherapy for a relapse of cancer, and she's been reading through a recommendation list compiled by the Bitchery of romances that are happy, light, friendly, and satisfying. I love picturing her in bed surrounded by the best of romance. (I read about this on your blog. Great novels are a huge life-affirming gift. Wishing her well...)

Thanks again, you two! It was wonderful to have you here. Congrats on the release of BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS, and may you hold steady at #1 in "Movements & Periods." Way to stake out a worthy goal and reach it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Smart Bitches on Tour--Part 1

I've been a Smart Bitches, Trashy Books fan girl for a number of years now, so it's a great pleasure to host them this week as they tour their fantabulous book BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels--on sale tomorrow! Now, I have to tell you, when I sent them my list of questions, I expected a handful of responses in return, maybe four or five... Well, despite their big NPR interview last week, the holiday weekend craziness and their blog-touring all over the Net, they EACH answered all ten of my questions with the openness and hilarity we've come to expect from them. So, I'm gonna post them all. Part 1 is today. Part 2 is coming up on Wednesday. Enjoy!!

Welcome, SB Sarah and SB Candy! Could you tell us a bit about the book and how it's organized?

Sarah: The book is a tongue-very-much-in-cheek guide to the romance genre from the perspective of two women who adore it, admit it's flaws, and love it all the more for each and every virginal, turgid one. It's organized with silly chapter names (Chapter Petticoat! Chapter Codpiece!) and each section examines a different aspect of romance novels, from the hero and the heroine, to bad sex and good sex, with special sections, such as how to defend your love of the genre with absolutely no shame.

One point I do want to make: it's not reprinted material from the website. Oh hell no. Fresh and original Bitcherating is in this here book.

Candy: The largest chunk of the book tackles the major elements of romance--the heroines, the heroes, rape, sex; in between the literary analysis wanking (and God knows we loves us some wanking), we have fun little sidebars, diversions and games, as well as our own mascot, Mavis, who's Everyromancereader. The last part of the book is dedicated to an assortment of fun stuff, like a Romance Maze, Mad Lib-style games, and a Choose Your Own Man-Titty adventure. (LOL! An activity section! This sounds awesome--just think of the car-trip entertainment possibilities, my friends...)

How did the book come into being? (I think I remember reading somewhere that you two were approached by your publisher...more to the story? Did your agent play a part in forming the idea for the guide?)

Sarah: Rose Hilliard at St. Martin's Press is all to blame. She suggested we think about writing a guide to the genre because, as she correctly pointed out, there wasn't one. At least, there wasn't an examination of the genre outside of academia that didn't approach the genre with prejudices firmly in place without any balance of pride. As honest and critical fans of the genre, she thought we'd have a curious and interesting perspective.

Along with Rose, our agent, Dan Lazar, coached us through the process, and we ended up with Touchstone/Fireside, a division of Simon and Schuster.

Candy: Editor Rose Hilliard was the person who approached us and asked, "Hey, have you thought about writing a book about romance novels?" Not only that, she introduced us to the personification of fabulous that is our agent, Dan. After the two of us picked ourselves off the floor and stopped squealing, we wrote up a proposal, and Dan shopped it around.

Have there been any surprising things you've learned about the publication process? How long have you been working on this project?

Candy: I was a technical writer for many years, and I'd heard about the process from various friends and acquaintances who are published, so a lot of the nitty-gritty of the publication process wasn't surprising.

Sarah: We started working on the book over a year ago, from instant message sessions where we said, "Hey, what if we do....?" and late-night email messages that were completely incoherent to outlines and drafts sent back and forth. The book gave us an opportunity to do things we couldn't do on a website, like coloring pages and puzzles and crazy adventure games - coming up with that part was total fun.

As far as things I've learned about the publication process? True story: Our contract was for a 90,000 word book. I figured, the more the better, right? I mean, we run a blog. We don't run out of room. If you've read our entries, we keep on going and going word-wise. So, hell, you want 90? We give you MORE than 90! Imagine my surprise when the response was, "Uh, you need to edit this down, k?"

Do either of you write fiction? Romance?

Sarah: I do. BADLY. I attempt to write romance every now and again not because I'm a frustrated fiction author, but because I like to remind myself that it is really, really, REALLY fucking hard to write romance fiction. Then I appreciate all the more the novels that work so well for me, because that is some tough art and craft right there.

Candy:I've dabbled with fiction every now and again; in fact, I started a Serial Novel on Smart Bitches a few years ago that, unfortunately, was abandoned because life became too crazybusy. I still think about it on a regular basis, but realistically, it's not going to see much attention from me until law school is over.

Influential novelists from childhood or later?

Candy: In terms of novelists from my childhood, Roald Dahl with his dark sense of humor definitely made an impact; Rudyard Kipling made a somewhat different impact with his beautiful prose and the way he wrote about nature and what it's like to straddle two worlds. The same man who wrote "White Man's Burden" also created Mowgli, which breaks my brain; I think it speaks to how even the most talented and insightful of us are blinkered by our cultural context. As an adult, individual books rather than authors tend to stand out as having a huge impact on me--books like Barry Unsworth's A Sacred Hunger, for example, or James Morrow's Towing Jehovah. In terms of romance, I think Laura Kinsale does the best job of capturing how messy and difficult and painful it can be, not just to fall in love, but to make that love work, while Patricia Gaffney and Loretta Chase consistently create some of the most compelling characters.

Sarah: Holy crap. The minute I get asked a question like this, my mind just dries up and goes blank. Growing up I adored Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, and I loved re-reading and examining what specifically created the crack that was the writing of Kate Williams (ghostwriter for a LOT of the Sweet Valley High novels I read. There are a ton of us whose jump into romance was based in part on SVH). I also loved Roald Dahl, and Steven King. And when I finally achieved fluency enough to read in Spanish, which I have since lost, darn it, I was utterly in foodie-and-word-geek love with Laura Esquivel.

Oh, I love Patricia Gaffney! And Judy Blume was one of my favorites as a kid... Ladies, thank you so far! I cannot wait to read this book!!! Looking forward to posting the continuation on Wednesday :-).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Marilyn & the Chocolate Factory

It was intended to be "my son and the chocolate factory" being that he's, like, ten, and I'm, like, waaaaay older than that...but, really, the big excursion was geared far more toward me than any child.

My wonderful friend, who's also the leader of our church youth group, organized the tour for all of us. Hard to say who was more excited: the moms or the kids. (The dads mostly just tolerated the event--and the enthusiastic squeals of their family members. However, they were rewarded with the occasional free sample of dark-chocolate-covered cashews, chocolate-peppermint cookies and milk-chocolate-dipped strawberries for their patience.)

Wanna see one of the coolest things ever? The famous George Seurat masterpiece painted in chocolate! Now that's art!!

And, truly, nothing says Liberty to me like 800 pounds of solid chocolate...

Wishing everyone who reads this a Happy Easter, a Happy Passover & a Happy Spring! May there be many chocolate treats in your weekend :-).

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Cover


Sometimes you can't envision what it'll really look like until it arrives, fully designed, in your inbox:

My baby :-).

p.s. On my computer, if you click on the image, a larger, up-close version appears in a window... Does it do that for everyone or just on mine because I posted the picture?