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!!