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/fianc├ęs 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.