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 CafĂ© 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!