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 SuĂ©ltate 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.