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 FreeBookFriday.com

• 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.