Monday, December 29, 2008

A Mini MFA Program

A friend recently asked me about the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference, which is held every summer in Northern California. He wanted to know why it was useful to me. Was it the interaction with the other attendees or meeting agents and published authors or something else? I think I benefited from it due to several things.

After having recently graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing I realize now that attending Squaw (I was there in 2000 and 2001) was a bit like being in an intensive, mini-MFA program. I was able to devote an entire week to concentrating on my writing and learning about the business. I was with the same group of writers for the daily workshops, but the leader changed each day. It could be an agent, an editor, or a published author. One day I was lucky enough to have Janet Fitch (White Oleander, Paint it Black) as my workshop leader. This was my first exposure to a workshop setting, but some of my colleagues were more experienced and I learned from them as well. Being with the same students the whole week created a feeling of community as did the accommodations, which involved sharing a house with three other women.

When not in workshop we were able to take other classes and attend lectures about craft and the business of writing and getting published. Attendees were also paired up with a one-on-one appointment with an agent, author, or editor who had read their work. It was invaluable to get such personal feedback.

I think that for me, though, one of the most important things was the feeling of accomplishment I felt when I got accepted to the conference. This is not the type of conference where anyone can go and schmooze with editors and agents. You are admitted based on the quality and potential of your writing. I didn’t get in on the first try, so when I made it the following year, it was gratifying and boosted my self-confidence.

Although in my case I didn’t find an agent or editor (that came some years later), I know this has happened to some writers who attend Squaw. But my experience prepared me for my eventual entry into the publishing world as well as my MFA program and my overall journey as a writer. It was well worth doing and I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 15, 2008


My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog tour is Melissa Clark, author of Swimming Upstream, Slowly, published by Broadway Books. The novel is about Sasha Salter, who wakes up one day to find she is pregnant. The only problem is that she hasn't had sex in over two years. The doctor's diagnosis is that Sasha's body has been harboring a 'lazy sperm'. Sasha must now open up the Pandora's box of her past loves to figure out which of her exes is the father—and what the future holds in store.

Melissa Clark is the creator and executive producer of the award-winning television series, Braceface, and has written for shows on the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Fox. She received a master's degree from the writing program at U.C. Davis, and currently lives in Los Angeles. Swimming Upstream, Slowly is her first novel.

Melissa was kind enough to answer some questions about her book and writing career...

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Swimming Upstream, Slowly?

"Swimming Upstream, Slowly" was born because I was having lunch with a friend and overate. I lifted my shirt to expose my bloated belly and the friend said, half joking, "Are you sure you're not pregnant?" and I said, "Yeah, right, from a lazy sperm." I went home that night and started outlining it for a movie. I decided, eventually, to write it as a novel instead.

What are you reading now?

I just started Bright, Shiny Morning by James Frey (author of the infamous A Million Little Pieces) because a friend said he read it in a 24 hour period and I was just so curious as to what grabbed his attention. So far it's pretty good, but I don't think I'll finish it in 24 hours!

Could you please tell us a little about your writing background?

My dad is a writer, so I was always playing on his typewriter and writing on legal steno pads. I wrote short stories from the time that I could write. I studied writing and literature in both college and graduate school. In my 20's to mid-30's I worked as a writer in television. I created a kid's show called Braceface which ran for 5 seasons. I loved that experience, but really wanted to write a novel, so I quit my own show and set out to write Swimming Upstream, Slowly. It was the best risk I've ever taken!

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I'm now teaching at Otis College, so when I'm not writing I'm preparing lectures, grading, meeting with students, etc. When I'm not doing that I'm thinking about or cooking food. And when I'm not doing that, I'm either in a yoga class or jogging around my neighborhood.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?

I love this question because I love food! The answer changes often, but my instinct tells me to write Cora's Coffee Shop in Santa Monica. All fresh food from the farmer's market. The food on the menu is delicious but their specials are always the best.

Find out more at Melissa's Web site:

Melissa, we wish you continued success in your writing career!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Burying a Rejected Novel

Last week one of my Google Alerts led me to this amazing Web site, My Dream is Dead But I'm Not, where author Mary Patrick Kavanaugh described the funeral she was about to hold for her novel that, while agented, was rejected by sixteen major publishers. She even had blurbs from well-known authors (Lolly Winston, Adair Lara, Catherine Brady) and included praise from her rejectors, such as: "Ms. Kavanaugh is a talented writer with a fresh and unique voice…"—Crown Books, and "Ms. Kavanaugh is a laugh-out-loud hilarious writer, one who uses cutting humor to get at the heart of a situation. I understand why Lolly Winston is so excited by it…" —Riverhead Books. The Web site also invites people to celebrate and also bury their own dead dreams. Upon further investigation I found that Mary is an alum of the MFA program at University of San Francisco and graduated a few years before me. What a brilliant and creative publicity stunt, I thought. She also is selling the book on her site.

Mary did hold an actual funeral for her novel, Family Plots, at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, CA, this past Saturday. You can view a Web cam on the site.

Now we've found that the funeral for Mary's book has been mentioned in both The New Yorker and The Atlantic! Bravo to Mary for turning her tough rejections into such a creative idea. I know it's only a matter of time before she gets published.

Monday, December 1, 2008

DATING DA VINCI - by Malena Lott

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog tour is Malena Lott, author of the new novel, Dating Da Vinci, which Publisher's Weeky has hailed as "written smartly...satisfying and uplifting."

Ramona Elise is in a rut—a 36-year-old widowed mother of two, she can’t seem to find what makes her truly happy in life. Making sure her kids are happy isn’t the hard part; Ramona’s looking for the passion she lost two years ago after her husband died and her world turned upside down. When a handsome Italian immigrant walks into her English class, Ramona never expects to find la dolce vita (the sweet life) in a younger man—or in herself!

“Finding herself on a new path wildly different than the one she envisioned with [her husband,] Joel,” comments BookList’s Annie McCormack, “Ramona Elise (or Mona Lisa, as da Vinci calls her) learns to open her heart to new possibilities in order to find la dolce vita in Lott’s delightfully affirming romance.”

“…a Texas-based hybrid of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Under the Tuscan Sun. Happily, Lott takes her story in several surprising directions: she throws some serious curveballs in her wise-in-the-ways-of-love Italian stereotype, and Ramona, in a refreshing plot twist, discovers that some of her carefully nursed unhappiness was the product of her own insecurities…it’s thoughtful, heartfelt, and undeniably engaging.” - Word Candy

Dating da Vinci is Malena's second book. She is a brand and marketing consultant with national speaking experience, and facilitates personal and professional development workshops for women. She is a married mother of three and makes her home in Oklahoma. Visit her Web site for cooking videos, contests, a first-chapter excerpt, and more here.

Malena took some time to answer a few questions...

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your book.

Great question. I loved the Italian Café compilation and listened to it a lot to find la dolce vita – the sweet life – so I’d say the whole CD, which you can hear by watching my videos on malena “That’s Amore,” and “All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun,” by Sheryl Crow would be appropriate, too.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Dating da Vinci?

I don’t recall the exact a-ha moment when the book idea came to fruition, but I’d just moved into a new house in the ‘burbs, my whole department had just been laid off, and I was in a big transition period as a stay-at-home mom and starting my own consulting business. I was definitely in a place in my life where I was thinking: what’s next? And, what does it mean to truly be happy? So Ramona sprung to life, and since I’ve always been a huge da Vinci fan – there wasn’t anything that guy wasn’t gifted at – it all just came together.

What are you reading now?

Like most writers, I’m a voracious reader. As much as a book a week, and usually one non-fic and one fiction book so I can choose depending on my mood. I love psychology books, body/mind/spirit books and for fiction my bookstand is extremely diverse. Big influencers have been John Irving and Jodi Picoult for characterization and emotion and lots of great romantic comedy influences both from movies and books.

What is the elevator pitch for Dating da Vinci?

Dating da Vinci is a Texas-based Under the Tuscan Sun meets How Stella Got Her Groove Back. A young widow, 36-year-old Ramona Griffen, searches for joy with the help of a handsome young Italian immigrant named Leonardo da Vinci.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

Read every day. Attend writing conferences and workshops. Join a writer’s group. Finish your novel – one with a unique hook and interesting layers to it. Get an agent who reps and sells a lot of the genre you are writing. Believe in yourself. Never give up. And by never, I mean NE-VER! Good luck to you.

Buona fortuna, Malena!

Monday, November 24, 2008

THE FIDELITY FILES - by Jessica Brody

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog tour is Jessica Brody, author of The Fidelity Files.

On June 29, 2008 the book hit the Denver Post bestseller list as the number two bestselling paperback in Colorado. Now Jessica is aiming her sights at the global book market with a recent release in the UK and upcoming releases in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia and Taiwan.

The provocative novel (first released by St. Martin’s Press in June of 2008) strikes a sensitive chord in readers, telling the story of a charismatic, young woman who goes undercover as a “fidelity inspector” to test men’s loyalty.

Jessica recently flew to London to promote the November release of the book’s UK edition (published by Random House UK), which debuted in WHSmith’s (one of the country’s leading booksellers) top 100 bestselling paperback list. The title continues to sell across the pond, gearing up to outperform even the American release.

The Fidelity Files confronts the thorny issue of infidelity head-on with its controversial main character Jennifer Hunter. Operating under the code name “Ashlyn,” Jennifer leads a double life. Her friends and family all think she’s an investment banker who’s too busy to date. In reality, Jennifer is hired by suspicious wives and girlfriends to test the faithfulness of their partners. Her job has made her pretty cynical about her own love life. But just as she’s ready to swear off men for ever, Jennifer meets sexy, sophisticated Jamie Richards, a man who might just past her fidelity test. However, before she retires her secret agent self forever, she takes on one last assignment – a job which will permanently alter her perceptions of trust, honesty, and love.

A gripping story of one woman’s quest to come to terms with her past, find her future, and—most of all—rediscover her faith in love, the novel was chosen as one of USA Today’s hottest summer reads and has recently been optioned for television. St. Martin’s Press and Random House UK have already purchased the sequel (yet untitled) to be published in the fall of 2009 and Jessica has recently sold two young adult novels to Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Just back from her UK tour, Jessica took the time to answer some questions about her novel, writing, and the publishing biz.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of The Fidelity Files?

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

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

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

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

The writing process is very random for me. It all depends on the day. Because I tend to be equally right and left brained, sometimes I feel as though the writing process is just a constant struggle (or sometimes clash) between the two sides of my brain to come up with a consistent way to write a novel. I write outlines, because my analytical side tells me it’s the right thing to do, but then halfway through the story, I come to the conclusion that I only write outlines so that I’ll have something to deviate from. I create complicated spreadsheets (a nod back to my days as a strategic analyst) for my storylines and page counts and pacing only to abandon them halfway through. And yet, despite this seemingly random chaos, it all feels perfectly natural to me. As if it was designed specifically for a purpose. So I suppose, my lack of a defined process is a process in itself.

What is the elevator pitch for The Fidelity Files?

Okay, after many, many months, I’ve finally perfected my elevator pitch. Probably because I tend to ride in a lot of elevators. So here it is. Floor 1 to Floor 30. Go:

The Fidelity Files is the story of a beautiful, L.A. woman who works as an undercover “fidelity inspector,” hired by suspicious wives and girlfriends to test the faithfulness of the men in their lives. Except no one in her life knows what she does. Her friends and family all think she works for an investment bank.

What is your writing schedule like?

It’s actually fairly simple. I write when I have enough will power to stop procrastinating. Some days that will power comes at 9:00 am (a particularly good day) some days it doesn’t come until 7 or 8 at night. And then of course, some days it doesn’t come at all! Of course, all my procrastination can definitely be counted as “research,” I swear.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

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

Check out the book trailer for the Fidelity Files here. It recently won the Best Author Made Video from the New Covey Book Trailer Awards. And check out Jessica's Web site here.

Continued success to you, Jessica!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD - by Saralee Rosenberg

November is a busy month for the Girlfriend's Cybercircuit Lit Blog tour. Today my guest is Saralee Rosenberg, author of Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead, published by Avon A+, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers.

Nora Ephron Hates Her Neck. Big Deal! Mindy Sherman hates her whole body.

In Mindy's yoga-obsessed, thirty-is-the-new-wife neighborhood, every day is a battle between Dunkin' Donuts, her jaws-of-life jeans, and Beth Diamond, the self-absorbed sancti-mommy next door who looks sixteen from the back. So much for sharing the chores, the stores, and the occasional mischief to rival Wisteria Lane.

It's another day, another dilemma until Beth's marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly the Ivy League blonde needs to be "friended," and Mindy is the last mom standing. Together they take on hormones and hunger, family feuds and fidelity, and a harrowing journey that spills the truth about an unplanned pregnancy and a seventy-year old miracle that altered their fates forever.

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead
is a hilarious, stirring romp over fences and defenses that begs the question, what did you do to deserve living next door to a crazy woman? Sometimes it's worth finding out.

Publisher’s Weekly says, “Rosenberg’s novel is full of edgy wit and chicken-soup-for the soul warmth. If you enjoy giddy diversions, this bumpy suburban ride is well worth the trip.”

"Through a winning blend of hip and humble humor, Rosenberg simultaneously skerwers and celebrates the institution of suburban sisterhood." - Booklist

“Great read. Hilarious and heartwarming!” - Good Housekeeping Quick and Simple Magazine’s Book Pick of the Week (July 22, 2008)

Saralee, who actually has been a guest on Oprah, took some time to answer a few questions.

What was the inspiration for your new novel?

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

When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?

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

When and where do you write? Is it cluttered or minimalist heaven?

I’m a crack-of- dawn morning writer maybe because my muses are busy all night and can’t wait to have me pour out what they sunk in (at least they let me go to the bathroom first). That being said, when I’m in the zone, I write morning, noon and night. I know I’m done, however, when I look up at the computer screen and I see this, “She said, hjkljkl;uiop.” Then it’s time to shut the lights. As for where I write, the majority of my work is written while chained to my computer table which is situated right smack in the middle of my master bedroom... I never thought this would be my workspace. I always fantasized about having the kind of home office that “playwright” Diane Keaton got in “Something’s Gotta Give.” - this huge, white, ocean-facing office that was stocked with floral bouquets and a breathtaking view. Perhaps one day, but for now it’s fine. I look out at my beautiful backyard and at least my commute is a breeze. Not to mention I can make it to the fridge in under thirty seconds.

If Oprah invited you on her show, what would the theme of that show be?

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

What's up next for you?

I am very excited about my next novel because the focus is about a child leaving for college and this is hitting very close to home fas our youngest is now a senior in high school. But in this story, Jackie, a twice-divorced mom, has one son, 17-year old Daniel and she is in a panic thinking that when he leaves for college in the fall, she’ll be left alone with her ornery, widowed father. Thus, when she sets off on the campus tour circuit, she decides to throw caution and her underwear to the wind and boy does she have one hell of a good time. It’s worse senioritis than even Daniel has and their adventures visiting the Ivies is one for the books. In the end, she rediscovers the smart, ambitious girl she left behind at Yale Law and pledges to get her life back on track. The title of the book is EARLY DECISION and I think it’s going to be my best yet. No publication date as of yet.

Find out more about Saralee and her other books at her Web site.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Writing Tips from Nashville

Back in the day I fancied myself a songwriter. And a rock star. Needless to say, these aspirations didn’t come to fruition. Much later when I met my husband, our shared interest in music led us to collaborate on songwriting, but eventually his other interests and my moving on to writing prose caused us to drop that and concentrate on performing jazz standards for our musical fix. After all, these songs were a lot better than anything we could conjure up.

Fast forward to the present and now my husband is back into the throes of producing his own music and writing songs, mostly in the electronica/dance vein, something we both love. And he recently re-joined a songwriters association we had belonged to years ago where you could bring a demo in to be evaluated by a music biz person looking for hits. Back then they called them demo derbies and now they call them song screenings.

When we were on vacation in Southern California recently we found out that a country music song screening was taking place in Hollywood. On a whim we decided to go, just to see if these screenings were like the old demo derbies. My husband doesn’t write country music and had no demo to share, but it wasn’t necessary to have one to attend. A song plugger with his own publishing company based in Nashville was evaluating the songs. We sat in a large room with about a dozen hopefuls who had brought their demos and printed song lyrics for the evaluator to read along.

As the evening progressed I couldn’t help but be struck by how much this song screening resembled the many writing workshops I’d been in for the past two years in my MFA program and others before that. While some of the demos were quite polished with catchy melodies, the place where most fell apart was in the lyrics. They were often heartfelt but mundane, and too personal and vague to resonate with a listener. They needed to tell a story.

The evaluator explained how the songs had to have relatable characters, had to offer a story with which a listener could identify. They also needed dazzling imagery. And, of course all this along with a great musical hook—not an easy task. As he gently but very competently criticized the participants’ songs he also played examples of current country hits that fit these criteria. One was about a woman near death in a nursing home, reflecting on the love of her life; a faded rose in a vase was a memorable image. Another was an amusing story with a beginning, middle and end about a singing cowboy in a bar trying to woo a woman away from the rich banker man who was monopolizing her attention. Another tune was about a man who had recently lost his factory job in the United States to Mexico, now on his way south of the border to reclaim his job and earn some pesos. If you haven’t listened to country music for a while or ever, you might want to give it a shot; the good songs relay some pretty stellar, funny, or heartbreaking stories, often with a big dose of cleverness.

The Nashville guy didn’t take any songs with him that night and it was clear why. Besides the music, it was all about the story. And these demos lacked that focus. And that’s something I had never thought about when I was writing songs. All the elements of a great short story are the key to great song lyrics as well. Write a story first, the song plugger said. See what develops. Then turn it into a song.

That song screening inspired my husband and me. Now we’re working on a few country songs and I’m back to attempting to write lyrics for the first time in years. They may not be ready for Nashville yet, but it’s always fun to write a story.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

INVISIBLE TOUCH - by Kelly Parra

My guest today on the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit Lit Blog tour is Kelly Parra with her latest novel (for ages 13 and up), INVISIBLE TOUCH, published by MTV Books.

Do you believe in fate?

Kara Martinez has been trying to be "normal" ever since the accident that took her father's life when she was eleven years old. She's buried the caliente side of her Mexican heritage with her father and tried to be the girl her rigid mother wants her to be -- compliant and dressed in pink, and certainly not acting out like her older brother Jason. Not even Danielle, her best friend at Valdez High, has seen the real Kara; only those who read her anonymous blog know the deepest secrets of the Sign Seer.

Because Kara has a gift -- one that often feels like a curse. She sees signs, visions that are clues to a person's fate, if she can put together the pieces of the puzzle in time. So far, she's been able to solve the clues and avert disaster for those she's been warned about -- until she sees the flash of a gun on a fellow classmate, and the stakes are raised higher than ever before. Kara does her best to follow the signs, but it's her heart that wanders into new territory when she falls for a mysterious guy from the wrong side of town, taking her closer to answers she may not be able to handle. Will her forbidden romance help her solve the deadly puzzle before it's too late...or lead her even further into danger?

"A magical blending of mystery, romance, and deep and dangerous secrets. Kelly Parra’s Invisible Touch is an action-packed coming-of-age novel, sure to keep readers turning pages and begging for a sequel."
-- Laurie Faria Stolarz, Bestselling author of Blue is for Nightmares and Deadly Little Secret

"Readers are going to delight in this fast-paced, gripping story, and be kept spellbound until its surprising finish."
-- Tina Ferraro, author of How To Hook A Hottie

"The Gold Award of Excellence! An amazing, touching novel that deals with big issues in an original context." -- TeensReadToo

"Five out of five gold pens for Invisible Touch."—The Salinas Californian

Kelly is also the author of Graffiti Girl, a double RITA nominee and a Latinidad Top Pick. When not pulling her hair while writing her current novel, she likes to play with her abundance of websites and feed a serious television addiction. For excerpts visit her Web site or follow the Secret Fates blog. View the book trailer for Invisible Touch here.

Kelly took the time to answer a few of my questions...

What is one thing you've learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?

One thing I've learned is that when you don't have publisher backing with marketing, its really hard to get attention for your book. Authors have to work hard to try and get new readers aware of their titles.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

I start with the character, then plot, then I create the conflict that interlaces with both. I'm a lot about plotting as I go.

What is the elevator pitch for
Invisible Touch?

Invisible Touch is Tru Calling meets an edgier Nancy Drew, where a teenage girl sees signs on individuals' torsos and must piece the signs together in order stop unfortunate fates.

What is your writing schedule like?

I write for a couple of hours after I take my kids to school and then I again in the evening after I get them to bed. I don't have a set schedule, mostly because with a family things are always coming up. So I do what I can, when I can. :)

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I'm definitely a TV series addict. I love Supernatural, Heroes, and NCIS.

Thanks, Kelly! Best of luck with INVISIBLE TOUCH!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Novelist Looks at the Overwork Problem in Japan

Every so often the Japanese government takes a look at the problem of overwork in Japan, which in some cases can lead to death—known as “karoshi.” They even earnestly examine “work-life balance,” a common topic in the West but one that is relatively knew in Japan. Although Japanese workers are entitled to an average of 17.7 days of paid time off annually, but they generally take much less. Statistics show that in 2006 they took only 8.3 of these vacation days, which adds up to 46 percent of their entitled days off. There is a Child Care and Family Leave Law that lets both women and men take parental leave, but only 0.5 percent of men took advantage of this in 2005. Many of these enacted laws are merely lip service, and end up accomplishing little if any changes in societal behavior.

In a recent article in the Mainichi Daily News that examined overwork in Japan, the paper let renowned author Kaoru Takamura give her views on the topic. Winner of the Naoki Prize for her novel “Marks’ Mountain” and the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award for “Lady Joker,” Takamura is right on the mark with her comments. Takamura is 55 and worked as a company employee before becoming a writer. She states that the solution to the problem is not implementing more systems such as men’s childcare leave, but getting to the root of the problem by examining the basic responsibility structure of organizations. She says, “In an organization where the authority-responsibility structure is unclear, employees are unable to make their own decisions and must constantly refer to their superiors. But because these superiors are also unclear about their own authority, they can’t make responsible decisions. Problems just get shuffled around and everyone ends up working longer hours. Because individual authority and responsibility are left unclear, the criteria for evaluating an employee’s work performance are also unclear. In a situation where it’s unclear and you need to merit praise, it’s impossible for employees to work efficiently. An ‘all for one and one for all’ mentality becomes the focus.”

Coupling this with the typical “nail that always sticks up must be pounded down” philosophy so prevalent in Japanese culture it’s little wonder why change in ideas about overwork are so slow to come.

Monday, October 27, 2008

TIME OF MY LIFE - by Allison Winn Scotch

My guest today on the Girlfriends' Cyber Cirtcuit Lit Blog tour is Allison Winn Scotch, author of Time of My Life.

"Scotch's novel is a clever, entertaining look at the compromises women make - and the dangers of getting what you asked for." - People

"Time of My Life is a fabulous, madcap read, but don't be fooled: Allison Winn Scotch's narrator is wrestling with some tough issues: how do I find my place in the world? Can I become a wife and mother without losing myself? Would I have been happier if I had chosen another path? Scotch's book is hilarious and true. I loved it." - Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Sleep Toward Heaven, How To Be Lost and Forgive Me

"Book pick of the month. Insightful and honest, Winn Scotch keeps it light but delves into the dark doubts of the road not taken." - Family Circle

From the outside view, Jillian Westfield has a pitch-perfect life. Her cherubic 18-month old daughter, her wildly successful investment banker husband, a four-bedroom, five-bath, lemon-scented home with landscaping and neighbors to match. But that doesn’t stop her from mulling over the past, from pushing away the “what ifs” that haunt her when she allows them to seep into her consciousness. What if she hadn’t married Henry? What if she hadn’t abandoned her job at the first sign of pregnancy? What if she’d never broken up with Jackson ? What if she answered her mother’s letter? Because underneath the shiny veneer of her life, Jill waddles around in a faltering marriage, brewing resentment, and an air of discontentedness.

But after an ethereal massage in which her therapist releases her blocked chi, she wakes up to discover that she’s been whisked seven years back, back to her old life, her old self, back to the moments in which she made decisions that charted her future course. And now that she’s back, she’s faced with the same roadblocks and obstacles, only this time, armed with hindsight, she can choose a different path and finally lay to rest all of her “what ifs.”

Time of My Life is much more than a story about a real life desperate housewife. Instead, it speaks to so many of our tiny, lingering doubts, the same doubts that send us googling old friends and exes or wistfully pulling out pictures of days gone by. And through Jillian’s journey, in which she rediscovers the mother who abandoned her, reacquaints herself with the strengths she once deemed important, and may literally rewrite her future, we all get a chance to peek inside the windows of our own “what ifs,” and consider if the path we took was the one that has granted us the most happiness.

Allison was kind enough to answer some questions. I'm glad to hear there's another writer who admits to spending way too much time reading

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your book.
-Time by Chantal Kreviazuk: I totally see this playing during the trailer of the movie
-Time of My Life by David Cook: (I know, soooo cheesy, but I love it!): I totally see THIS playing on the credits of the movie
-Always On Your Side: Sting and Sheryl Crow: It’s this song of longing and regret and wondering why you didn’t appreciate what you had when you had it, which pretty much sums up the big themes of the book.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Time of My Life?
I knew I wanted to write a book that dealt with time-travel in some way…the last episodes of Felicity were among my favorite hours of television EVER, and I was drawn to doing something like that. But I didn’t know how to sort it out in my mind. In fact, I mentioned something to my agent about “time-travel” for my next book, and I think she thought I was nuts! But then one afternoon while this was on my mind, my best friend called while she was on vacation in a city of her ex-boyfriend, and she said, “I’m so weirded out…I can’t stop thinking about what my life might have been like.” Then we had one of those intimate life conversations that you can only have with your closest friends about her what-ifs and my what-ifs, and how this was all very normal, even though people didn’t really talk about it. We hung up, and I headed out for a run, and bam, the idea, characters and plotlines just presented themselves very clearly. I came home, wrote what are now the first 14 pages, and sent them off to my agent, who flipped for them. I think, as so many of us get older and look back on our younger years with nostalgia, it’s very easy (and normal) to consider what the other possibilities could have been – and I wanted to explore that.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?
I start with a plot idea - in this case, as I mentioned, I wanted to explore what-ifs and second chances. But the character very much define where the book goes from there. Jillian presented herself to me immediately – her voice and her situation rang very clearly to me on the run I just mentioned – so I came home and wrote HER story, that happened to fit into my plot. But from there, I let her (and the other characters) dictate what happens…often times, a book will go in an unanticipated direction because the characters lead me there. Which I why I don’t work from an outline – it seems like an exercise in futility.

What is your writing schedule like?
When I’m in the writing groove, which I’m not right now, I have a pretty specific schedule because with two kids and a dog to walk, I don’t have a choice. It also really, really helps curb my constant procrastination. So, basically, I drop my son off at school and take a little walk to clear my head. When I get home, I eat breakfast and surf any necessary junky gossip or writing sites that I absolutely can’t live without before I start work. I usually set a time limit for myself because if not, I will do this for the entire day – seriously Facebook or J.Crew or can suck me in forever – so at 10:30 or so, I start writing. I set a word count for myself, when I’m really in the groove, it’s about 2k a day – and this usually takes me about 2 hours to reach. Once I’m there, I break for errand running/lunch picking up/gym, and then if I have magazine stuff to tackle, I do so afterward in the mid-afternoon. Then, I’m off to walk the dog (he gets walked in the morning, so he gets a good romp in with his friends), and then, by 6pm, my sitter leaves, and I’m whipping up dinner for my kids. (And by whipping up, I usually mean nuking something moderately healthy. Let’s not kid ourselves here.)

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I waste A LOT of time online. In fact, just the other day I was thinking that I would have so much more free time if the internet hadn’t been invented! But other than catching up with friends on Facebook and reading PerezHilton, I like to hang out with my kids, just chilling with them, seeing movies, reading books (duh), going running (which actually really helps with my writing, as I do some of my best thinking while working out)…just generally relaxing. I’m a pretty low-maintenance person, and we’re a pretty low-maintenance family, so just vegetating while spending time together is pretty much my ideal day!

Thanks so much, Allison! Learn more about Time of My Life and Allison at her Web site:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CUTTING LOOSE - by Nadine Dajani

My guest on the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour today is Nadine Dajani, born in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents, and raised in Montreal, a writer who taps upon her multicultural heritage in her fiction. She is the the author of the new novel, Cutting Loose...

Meet three women who are as different as could be—at least that’s what they think—and the men who’ve turned their lives upside down as their paths collide in sizzling, sexy Miami. . . .

Ranya is a modern-day princess—brought up behind the gilded walls of Saudi Arabian high society and winner of the dream husband sweepstakes . . . until said husband turns out to be more interested in Paolo, the interior-decorator-cum-underwear-model, than in his virginal new wife.

Smart, independent, but painfully shy, Zahra has managed to escape her impoverished Palestinian roots to carve out a life of comfort. But she can’t reveal her secrets to the man she adores or shake off the fear that she doesn’t deserve any of it. Neither can she stop herself from thinking that if she holds on to anything—or anyone—too dearly, they will be taken away in the blink of a kohl-lined eye.

Rio has risen above the slums of her native Honduras—not to mention the jeers of her none too supportive family—to become editor in chief of Suéltate magazine, the hottest Latina-targeted glossy in town, and this in spite of Georges Mallouk, her clueless boss, and in spite of Rio’s affair with Georges’ delicious but despicable younger brother, Joe.
In this city of fast cars, sleek clubs, and unapologetic superficiality, Ranya, Zahra, and Rio wrestle with the ties that bind them to their difficult pasts, each wondering if she will ever manage to cut loose…

“Dajani spins a tale of three women and their individual journeys to find happiness. Through strong writing and distinctive characters, readers are drawn into their lives, their loves, and their internal struggles. Dajani wraps it up nicely in the end, leaving us with a delectable tale that is hard to put down” – Romantic Times

“Engrossing” – Publishers Weekly

As an adult Nadine moved to the Cayman Islands to pursue a career in offshore banking. She has yet to see her “golden parachute,” but was able to reap the rewards of Caribbean relocation by island-hopping to nearby Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and Miami.

Nadine’s travel articles have been published in Atmosphere magazine. Cutting Loose is her second novel.

Nadine stopped by to answer a few questions about the writing life and to give some advice, not the least of which is stop worrying about those fonts!

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

I blame Sophie Kinsella (AKA Madeleine Wickham) for introducing me to chick lit, and the notion that a young female writer may actually have an audience. Even though our styles are very different (no one does ebullient, quirky, and lovable characters like Kinsella) but it’s because of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding that we now have a resurgent market for female-centric books that portray young, realistic versions of women, and that’s what I want to write. Like chick lit in general, my writing is starting to veer away from the whimsical and more towards the realistic, and I think that trend will only intensify with these new economic times we find ourselves in… it’ll be harder to justify designer name-dropping when most of your audience now shops at Wal-Mart, and not just for tube socks and light bulbs!

Another writer I admire very much is Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a very angry, very political, very Latina writer who manages to have hilarious sex scenes, plenty of fashion and pop culture, and happy endings in her books along with the political and social commentary. She’s like the Tom Wolfe of Latina chick lit. She also fights the label “Latina” and embraces it in equal parts – there’s no doubt there are lots of themes particular to the Hispanic community in the States, that doesn’t mean only Latinas should be reading these books – in fact, the opposite is true – just like foreign films, books about cultural pockets in our world are vital for everyone to read since they present a more complete version of the reality on the ground.

Finally, Marian Keyes is wonderful for her voice and the depth of her characters, not to mention plots that start out fun and fluffy yet hold a much deeper – usually gritty – theme at the core.

What are you reading now?

My reading tastes are pretty varied, and I do love my political commentary and non-fiction. I started The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby and it’s a little dry so far, unfortunately, but I’m determined to get through this hefty tome since it covers a topic that weight heavily on my mind, especially in light of Sarah Palin’s strategy… when did Americans shift from electing people who should know a lot more about foreign policy, diplomacy, economics, and the differences between the three branches of government, to electing people they’d like to have a beer with?

The other one I’m trying to get through is The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, which is a brilliant concept: instead of watching the character make a choice at the beginning of the novel and then see where that choice takes her, we are presented with two alternate universes, each the consequence of Irina having chosen to go ahead and cheat on her common-law husband, or how things would have unfolded if she’d resisted…The writing is very elegant – I find myself rereading passages just to soak up the words and the full meaning – but so far it’s a little slow, as you might expect out of a novel where there’s two sets of every chapter!

What is the elevator pitch for Cutting Loose?

Ranya Hayek, of ex-Middle-Eastern royalty is cut off from the family reserves when she runs out on her gay (but otherwise perfect) husband and is reduced to begging for a job when luck brings her face to face with a studly Miami mogul (who she’d otherwise be cruising if she weren’t too broke and desperate to care. And still married…) Will Ranya make it in this strange city with a Latina editor out to get her, a roommate nursing a twenty-year-old grudge, and a womanizer (who just happens to be the boss’s brother) set to make her his next victim? Or possibly… his wife?? Throw in some political commentary, and brace yourself for a wild ride!

What is your writing schedule like?

Extremely erratic! Isn’t that terrible? For any writers starting out – please do not take this as license to be erratic… it is NOT the best way to work. Unfortunately, I find that if I don’t get in a ton of “thinking time” up front and don’t work out the characters’ issues from the get go, it’s difficult for me to start. But once I have a few “Ah Ha!” moments under my belt, I get started and zip through the first draft. If I start earlier than I feel comfortable starting, I end up throwing out most of what I’ve written at the beginning. So to answer your question – a whole lot of daydreaming for many months, then a few hours a night to get the broad strokes down, and then cramming as I would for an exam – getting 4 or 5 thousand words out in one sitting, wherever I can squeeze in the time, usually right after work and doe many hours in a row! It’s a harrowing schedule, but so far it’s worked for me.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

It’s not a “connections” game, like so many people assume. It’s actually much more democratic than that. It’s about honing your craft by reading a lot, writing enough so that it doesn’t feel like pulling teeth anymore, and staying true to your voice and your sensibilities. I’ve been to lots of RWA conferences by now and it always amazes me how newbie writers are so focused on things like font, margins, length of manuscript… it makes me feel bad for the poor editors who have to answer these questions over and over again every year! And I always walk away with the sense that so many beginning writers are missing the big picture… write a book that you yourself would love to discover in a bookstore, and devour in the course of one weekend. Are the characters interesting, or likeable enough you’d want t be their best friend, or funny enough that even though they’re nasty you’d stay with them the length of the story just to hear what they’ll say next? Is the plot logical and believable? Are you ending chapters with cliffhangers that will keep readers glued to the pages? Fortunately there’s no one way to do this (otherwise all books would sound the same!), but the flip side of this is that there’s no one answer to how writers write. It’s a long, messy process of self-reflection and indulgence, and the deeper you dig as a writer, re-examining your own choices in life and figuring out what the real issues at stake are, the more your writing will resonate. And that’s what you should be worrying about… not fonts.

Find out more about Nadine and Cutting Loose at her Web site.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Water Witch - by Deborah LeBlanc

Deborah LeBlanc is the showcase author for today's Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour. Her new book is Water Witch:

Dunny knew from an early age what it meant to be an outsider. Her special abilities earned her many names, like freak and water witch. So she vowed to keep her powers a secret. But now her talents may be the only hope of two missing children. A young boy and girl have vanished, feared lost in the mysterious Louisiana bayous. But they didn’t just disappear, they were taken. And amid the ghosts and spirits of the swamp, there is a danger worse than any other, one with very special plans for the children—and for anyone who dares to interfere.

“One of the best new voices of modern horror.” —Cemetery Dance

“It’s now official: Deborah LeBlanc has become a master not only of good spooky stories, but also of crafting great characters to fill them.” —The Horror Fiction Review

“An imaginative chiller. Riveting!” —Publishers Weekly on Family Inheritance

“A solid haunted house thriller.” —Midwest Book Review on A House Divided

Deborah is from Lafayette, Louisiana. She is a business owner, a licensed death scene investigator, and an active member of two national paranormal investigation teams. Deborah’s unique experiences, enthusiasm, and high-energy level make her a much sought after speaker at writers’ conferences across the nation. She also takes her passion for literacy and a powerful ability to motivate to high schools around the country.

Deborah is the president of the Horror Writers Association, president of the Writers’ Guild of Acadiana, president of Mystery Writers of America’s Southwest Chapter, and an active member of Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Women Writers, and International Thriller Writers Inc. In 2004, Deborah created the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual, national campaign designed to encourage more people to read, and soon after founded Literacy Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting illiteracy in America’s teens.

Deborah has said that publishing does not follow any standard business practice known to man, woman, or wooly-back orangutan, and can be its own worst enemy at times. I couldn’t agree more with her. In times of frustration she has received inspiration from the late American football coach Vince Lombardi who said, “If you’ll not settle for anything less than your best, you will be amazed at what you an accomplish in your life. Remember, it’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Something for writers everywhere to ponder!

Best of luck with your latest book, Deborah!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Adult Girls Around Thirty

When I lived in Japan for about a year in the 1980s I was struck by the various “rules” I perceived for women in regards to clothing and age. During one’s teens and early twenties, youthful fashion seemed acceptable, like what might be found in the Harajuku or Shibuya shopping districts. But once a woman hit her mid-twenties and, especially if she was married, she seemed to turn into some kind of unfashionable Stepford Wife, becoming a drudge in nondescript skirts, sometimes accompanied by thick nylons and overly sensible shoes. These women still looked young (and I often marveled at how, overall, Japanese women seemed to defy their real age much more so than a lot of American women), but it seemed as though they made an all-out effort now to look older. And once they became mothers, it got even worse, even though they still managed to keep their pert figures. And for those who were hitting thirty and still unmarried, it was more than time to give into the “obasan” (auntie) look since, after all, they were washed up now, doomed to be old maids.

According to recent reports, this is changing. You have to take these trend articles with somewhat of a grain of salt, but things look promising among the atmosphere of the newly liberated single woman over thirty who finds little in the way of marriageable men and has decided to live without such conventions. These new trends have names like otona gyaru (the Japanese word for “adult” and the Japanized English of “girl’) and arasa, which is a characteristic abbreviation of the shortening of the Japanized English term, araundo sa-tei (around thirty) and coyly depicts anyone in the thirtysomething age range. The picture on this blog of a cover of Story magazine even has a headline that says in rough translation: “Your 40s: Have One More Go at Love.”

It seems many of these women are no longer paying attention to the age police and celebrating their youth at any age. It reminds me a bit of the fashion scene in the United States where things have also loosened up for those who want to take advantage of it. Stores like Anthropologie seem to be vague on age, although they say their customers are in the 30 to 50 range, yet the clothes are fashionable and seemingly “ageless.” And a store like H&M, while seeming to cater to teens and young professionals, professes that it does not target its customers by chronological age or dress size as much as mental age and the desire to dress fashionably.

It can be a mistake to attach too much significance to this possible change in Japanese women, especially when a recent poll states that nearly all Asian countries have around 80 to 90 percent of businesses boasting women in senior positions, except for Japan, which has a rate of only 25 percent. It is still obvious that Japan has a way to go in its cultural perception of management roles for women, and things change very slowly there in general, but I think it can be a good first step when women feel freer to express themselves and by doing so get rid of some of society’s restrictions.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vine Tata (Daddy’s Coming) - A Wise, Funny, and Poignant Play

Recently I had the chance to visit New York for the second time. It was not only a vacation, but a chance to finally meet my agent and editors in person. Up until now I’d only communicated with them via phone or email so it was a special treat to finally meet them face to face. The other special treat was to spend time with my friend Irina Eremia Bragin, and see a rehearsal of her play, Vine Tata (Daddy’s Coming), which runs from October 3 through October 19 at the Queens Theatre in the Park.

Irina and I have been friends since junior high school and spent many a rainy San Francisco afternoon holed up in her bedroom, taking multiple parts and reading aloud from plays, from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf to The Tempest. I was the frustrated performer, she the frustrated writer. Irina went on to get her PhD in English from UCLA and has won awards for her plays. She also penned a memoir, Subterranean Towers, parts of which have been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, and Reader’s Digest. And I found my way to becoming a novelist and finally getting my MFA in Writing after years of futzing around with music.

My experience as a writer is only in the realm of book publishing: I know very little about the playwriting world. So it was fascinating to observe the process of a rehearsal of Vine Tata (Daddy’s Coming), where the playwright can see her characters come to life on the stage, and is able to give input to the director and even make changes to the script, all as part of the collaborative development process. I’ve heard stories about the film industry where the author of a book being adapted for a movie may be lucky enough to visit the film set once and, of course, the screenwriter (or more often screenwriters plus various screenplay doctors) are rarely welcome on set and seem to “disappear” once the movie is being made.

Vine Tata (Daddy’s Coming) is about a father, a former political prisoner in Communist Romania, who comes to visit the daughter he hasn’t seen in 25 years. He was forced to choose between his family and his principles and now she faces a surprisingly similar dilemma. Bringing together two separate worlds: a dungeon in Romania and a family kitchen in modern Los Angeles, this award-winning drama is about family and the strength to stand up for what you believe.

If you’re in New York in October I hope you won’t miss this moving and entertaining play!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Win a Signed Copy of MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT at Free Book Friday

You may win a free copy of MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT at an exciting new Web site called FREE BOOK FRIDAY. Created by best-selling author Jessica Brody (THE FIDELITY FILES - St. Martin's) the site features a new author each week, with info about their book, a chance to win a free signed copy, and an exclusive interview podcast. Each Friday winners are selected at random and announced on the site.

If you're a published author (all genres are welcome) contact Jessica on the Contact area of the site if you're interested. Or just stop by and sign up to win some free books!

Featured authors need only provide a minimum of two signed books and about 15-20 minutes of their time for a phone interview for the podcast.

All featured authors will receive:

• Prominent front page exposure for the entire week with information about their books, links to their websites, and any book trailers you want to feature

• A dedicated email marketing blast to all our subscribers promoting you and your book on

• An audio interview available to listen to on the site and added to our podcast on iTunes.

Hope to see you soon at Free Book Friday!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ASKING FOR MURDER - by Roberta Isleib

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Roberta Isleib, a writer who worked as a clinical psychologist for many years, and has a new book out called, Asking for Murder.

Psychologist/advice columnist/sleuth Dr. Rebecca Butterman plunges into her third mystery in ASKING FOR MURDER by Dr. Roberta Isleib (Berkley Prime Crime, September 2008.) When Rebecca’s close friend and fellow therapist Annabelle Hart is found beaten and left for dead, Rebecca is determined to help search for answers. But this time, no one wants her help. Not Detective Meigs, who thinks the crime was either a botched robbery or the result of a relationship gone sour. And not Annabelle’s sister, who makes it clear that Rebecca isn’t welcome in family affairs.

The only place where her opinion matters is the therapist’s couch. Rebecca's agreed to see Annabelle’s patients while her friend is hospitalized, but it won’t be easy. Annabelle’s area of expertise is sandplay therapy, which Rebecca knows little about. While she studies the images in the patients’ sand trays and puzzles through Annabelle’s family secrets, another victim is murdered. With a killer on the loose, she can only hope the clues in the sand are buried within easy reach.

Isleib's advice column series debuted in 2007 with DEADLY ADVICE and PREACHING TO THE CORPSE. A clinical psychologist, Isleib says the work of the detective in a mystery has quite a bit in common with long-term psychotherapy: Start with a problem, follow the threads looking for clues, and gradually fill in the big picture.

Roberta took some time out to answer a few questions. She is the president of National Sisters in Crime and the past president of the New England chapter. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Now an accomplished writer, it took a while for her to get a book deal, but she is living proof that perseverance is the name of the game.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of ASKING FOR MURDER?

Dr. Butterman, my therapist character, takes over the practice of her best friend (a sandplay therapist) after she's been attacked. The fun started as I began to think about what kinds of clues a would-be murderer might leave in an arrangement of figurines in a sand tray.

I love this character Dr. Butterman. Because I was a therapist for many years, I really understand her work and the way she thinks about the people she tries to help. I stumbled into the sandplay part of the story, but I found a wonderful therapist in New Hampshire who walked me through the process of how clients use the sand trays and the figurines and what it all means.

I love what I’m writing now. I can highlight my background in psychology and write about folks in that field who are competent and caring, rather than the idiotic and downright hurtful professionals you often see in movies and on TV. I’m very proud of the time I spent working as a clinical psychologist, but happy to be writing now.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?
I'm getting better at outlining because I find it makes the story much easier to write. Not so many black moments when I have no idea what's going to happen next... As I begin a book, I look ahead to the due date and figure out how many pages I will need to write each week in order to hand it in on time. I build in time for trips and family and time for my writers group to read and critique, and then time for me to rewrite. Then I have a page goal for each week. I write until I’ve hit the goal, sometimes even getting a little ahead. For practical purposes, I do write most days. And mostly in the morning, saving the promotion and other “easier” work for when I’m less alert!

What is the elevator pitch for ASKING FOR MURDER?

When Dr. Rebecca Butterman's dear friend, a sandplay therapist, is found beaten and left for dead, Rebecca's determined to help search for answers. With a would-be killer on the loose, she can only hope the clues are buried within easy reach. Think: best friends, crazy families, and the mysteries of sandplay therapy.

Describe how you got your first book deal.
I studied Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I contacted agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect. I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript-she directed me to several agents. I attended mystery conventions and talked with people there about the process. I attended the International Women's Writers Guild "Meet the Agents" forum in New York City. I groveled in front of everyone I even remotely knew connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour. Finally an agent I'd met at IWWG called: Another agent had visited her office, seen my manuscript, and fallen in love with it. We're still working together!

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?
There's a little Italian place in Old Saybrook, CT called Sal's where the ambiance is totally casual, but the food is old-fashioned to die for! Love their pasta fagiole, olive bread, bacon and onion pizza, insalata mista mmmmm, I'm getting hungry! My other favorite is the Hidden Kitchen in Guilford, CT. ditto for casual and totally delicious, only breakfast and lunch.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Joanne Rendell is my guest today on the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour. Behind four professors, there are four great women…the only thing is, Manhattan University doesn’t know it yet. But it’s about to find out.

In her new novel THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES’ CLUB (NAL/Penguin; 2nd September 2008), NYU faculty wife Joanne Rendell tells of four professors’ wives who risk everything to save a beloved faculty garden.

With its iron gate and high fence laced with honeysuckle, Manhattan University’s garden offers faculty wives Mary, Sofia, Ashleigh, and Hannah a much needed refuge. Each of them carries a scandalous secret that could upset their lives, destroy their families, and rock the prestigious university to its very core.

When a ruthless Dean tries to demolish the garden, the four women are thrown together in a fight which enrages and unites them. The wives are an indomitable force. While doing battle with the ambitious dean, they expose the dark underbelly of academia – and find the courage to stand up for their own dreams, passions, and lives.


"As an NYU alum, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes escapades at the fictional Manhattan U. in THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES’ CLUB. Joanne Rendell has created a quick, fun read about a wonderful group of friends."
Kate Jacobs, NYT’s bestselling author of THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB

"The four women in THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES' CLUB who risk it all in pursuit of life, love, and green space in New York City are smart, funny and real -- friends you'd want for life. Rendell doesn't shy away from tough issues, but her light touch and readable prose make this charming first novel a delight."
Christina Baker Kline, author of THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE

Joanne Rendell was born and raised in the UK. After completing her PhD in English Literature, she moved to the States to be with her husband, a professor at NYU. She now lives in a student dorm in New York City with her family. The Professors’ Wives’ Club is her first novel. Joanne’s second novel will be released by NAL/Penguin next summer (’09).

Joanne took the time to answer some questions. I was just in New York and sure wish I knew about Benny's Burritos before I left!

What was the inspiration behind the writing of The Professors’ Wives' Club?

I found my inspiration for my book at the bottom of a large glass of wine! I was out with one of my girlfriends who, like me, is a professor’s wife, and after our usual catch-up, the cabernet began to flow and we found ourselves gossiping about other faculty wives. We talked about a wife planning a boob job; another pregnant with her fifth child. The best piece of gossip came last, however: a professor’s wife who’d just run off with one of her husband’s grad students. The very next morning I started to hammer out my first ideas for the novel. As I typed, the more I realized what intriguing characters professors’ wives would make. Even if they aren’t professors themselves (which many are), most professors’ wives are deeply connected and invested in the university where their husband or partner works. Like my friend and me, they live in faculty housing, they go to the campus gym, often their kids go to the same daycare. Yet these women often have little power when it comes to university decisions.

I liked the idea of pitting these seemingly powerless women against a dean who in his little kingdom of the university has so much power.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?

I never knew that those tables at the big bookstores like Barnes and Noble were so darn important! Apparently those tables are officially called “coop space” and the bookstores charge publishing houses a lot of money to stack books there. If your book gets to sit on one of those tables, it is like it’s been awarded a three bed apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. It’s prime real estate.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

Join a writer’s group – either on or offline. Other writer’s can be fonts of infinite wisdom, not only about the craft of writing, but also about the publishing industry. Plus, writing can be pretty isolating sometimes and finding a community of like-minded souls can really help. I have a small group of writer friends who live in New York, like I do, and we exchange drafts and emails regularly. I’m also a member of Backspace (a wonderful online forum for writers), as well as various writer’s listservs.

Also, keep reading. Whichever genre you intend to write in – whether its mystery or literary fiction – make sure you know it inside out.

And keep writing. I really treat writing as a job. I sit down at my desk and tell myself I must write 500 words a day. I then get going. Often I trash a lot of what I write the next day, but at least I have words on a page to work with.

Keep learning about the craft. Even now, with one book published and another on the way, I continually go back to my books about writing. It is always good to remind myself what makes good dialogue, or how to transition well into a flashback seen, or how to pepper exposition into a chapter.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?

Benny’s Burritos in the East Village, NYC. My husband and I love the place so much we named our son after it. No kidding!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Children, Childish Husbands -- No Thanks

A recent article in the Washington Post describes the current thinking of many Japanese working women—why should I complicate my life by getting married and having children when my husband won’t help me raise them? Japanese women have been complaining about the poor quality of family life for years and years, and have dealt with it in a number of ways, including resignation (the stand-by Japanese phrase, shikata ga nai, which means there’s nothing one can do about it).

Karen Kelsky, in her book, Women on the Verge: Japanese Women, Western Dreams, wrote in 2001 of young Japanese women escaping Japan, and moving to foreign countries, often marrying Western men as their ticket out of a straitjacket society. This book and other observations were in part the inspiration for my novel, Midori by Moonlight about a Japanese woman who impulsively becomes engaged to an American English teacher and moves to San Francisco with him, only to find herself dumped a few weeks later. Other Japanese women who choose to stay in their native country are delaying marriage and postponing childbirth. The reason this is news now is because of the plunging birthrate in Japan and the graying of society. According to the article, Japan, with the world’s second-largest economy has the lowest proportion of young people under 15 and the highest proportion of people 65 or older.

Unlike some women in the United States, very few Japanese women want a baby at all costs and will simply not have one if they can’t find the right guy to marry. Out of wedlock births and adoption (whether by a single parent or husband and wife) are quite rare in Japan. Women basically have two choices: having a career and being financially independent, but remaining single and without kids, or getting married and becoming a full-time mother (to both children and husband). Throw in the classic overworked Japanese male and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to keeping the population humming.

Prime Minister Fukuda (who just resigned the other day, but that’s another story) put together a task force last December on “work-life balance” that hopes to pressure companies to send their employees home at a reasonable hour to improve the quality of family life, finally addressing Japan’s addiction to overwork.

It’s a noble effort, but knowing how slowly things move in Japan, I don’t hold out much hope that anything will change this depressing situation anytime soon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

THE SMART ONE - by Ellen Meister

Today's guest on the Girlfriend's Cybercircuit Lit Blog Tour is Ellen Meister, author of the hilarious The Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA returns with THE SMART ONE (Avon A, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; On-Sale Date: August 5, 2008; $13.95; ISBN: 0061129623), a funny and sexy tale of love, family, and transcending the childhood identities that mark us all.

Beverly Bloomrosen has always been the smart one, the middle sister sandwiched between Clare, the beautiful and popular older one, and Joey, the rebellious rock-star younger one. But she’s hit a bit of a slump lately. Now 35, she’s embarking on a new career as an elementary school teacher and not exactly living up to her family’s expectations (“Maybe she can work her way up and eventually teach high school. That wouldn’t be so bad,” her mother helpfully comments). Bev has moved back into her parents' home on Long Island while waiting to see if a job opportunity in Las Vegas materializes, seeing it as her chance to start afresh…but before she knows it, life back at home starts to get very interesting.

Kenny Waxman, Bev’s childhood neighbor—and the boy who almost became her high school boyfriend until she found him in bed with Joey—returns. Now a successful comedy writer in Los Angeles, he can still make her heart pound…and the attraction is still mutual.

Things take a turn for the sinister when a pregnant woman’s body is found in an industrial drum buried in the Waxmans’ backyard. As Bev and her sisters begin to unravel some mysteries of the past, some secrets of the present are revealed: Bev learns that the perfect Clare may not be as perfect as her glamorous, well-coiffed suburban life may suggest, while rebellious Joey is still attempting to exorcise some of the demons that have haunted her for years. In the end, the curse of being the smart one may just turn out to be a blessing.

Writer Ellen Meister grew up in the heartland of suburban Long Island. She spent her early career in advertising and marketing, and later worked as editor for a literary magazine and published numerous short stories. Her first novel was Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA (Morrow/Avon, 2006). Meister lives in New York with her husband and three children. To find out more, visit her website at

Praise for THE SMART ONE:

"Wonderfully funny, irreverent and entirely unexpected. I loved it!"
- Jane Green, bestselling author of The Beach House

"A perfect beach read!"
- Booklist

"Character-driven ... fast-paced and features great dialog."
- Library Journal

Ellen took the time to answer a few questions...

What was the inspiration behind the writing of THE SMART ONE?

The inspiration for THE SMART ONE hit me from several different directions. I always wanted to write a sister story because that relationship intrigues me. This thought was floating around in my head when I got an offer on my first book, SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA. I was thrilled about the offer, but also in a minor panic about what it would mean to become a world-famous author. (I'll wait a few moments while you finish laughing.) Yes, I was terribly naive, and didn't realize I wouldn't even become a celebrity in my own house. Still, the thought passed though my head, and it made me wonder what it was about some people that made them actually covet fame. Was it something from their childhood? Something about the family dynamic? I knew, then, that one of the sisters in my next novel would have to be a character who sought--and achieved--fame. It's not a major focus of the book, but it was a spark that started to make the story gel.

The other big inspiration was a news story that happened right in my home town. A man moving out of his home opened a sealed 55-gallon industrial drum that had been in a crawl space since he moved in ... only to discover a mummified body inside. It was a young woman, nine months pregnant, who had been killed thirty years before. After she was identified as a factory employee of the home's original owner, who had since retired, the detectives went to Florida to question him. They wanted to get a sample of his DNA to test against the fetus's, but before they could serve a warrant for it, the man shot and killed himself.

This happened so close to home that it captured my imagination and wouldn't let go. How could something like this happen in an ordinary suburban home in an ordinary suburban town? How did the killer keep his secret for so long? And how did it affect the people around him?
Of course, I had no intention of writing a true crime story, so I simply used this macabre event as the inspiration for a discovery made by my three adult sister characters ... and it became the catalyst that drives the arc of their relationship.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

It's about 50-50 for me. I usually have some idea I want to explore about a character or a relationship. But at the same time there are always a few plot ideas rattling around in my skull. The concept for a novel takes shape when a character idea and a plot idea meet and fall in love.

What are you reading now?

I'm reading FATAL, a Michael Palmer medical thriller that was published several years ago. It's brilliant.

What is your writing schedule like?

I'm a morning person, and feel like I can do anything if I get a good jump on the day. So I wake up around 5 am--before the children rise--and get to work. After I send them off to school, I go back to my desk. If I can manage to resist the temptation to surf the 'net, I might actually get some work done.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

Keep at it … and remember that almost every successful writer has a long history of rejections.

Thanks for coming by, Ellen, and best of luck with THE SMART ONE!