Thursday, December 16, 2010

Japan, Funny Side Up by Amy Chavez

I’ve read a lot of guidebooks about Japan, but I’ve never encountered one like Japan, Funny Side Up by Amy Chavez. Chavez, the long-time “Japan Lite” columnist for The Japan Times (the country’s premiere English-language daily newspaper) has written a funny and insightful guide that not only gives readers excellent travel advice, but also offers valuable insights into Japanese culture and society.

Chavez keeps us laughing with essays like Etiquette Tips for Santa Claus and other Foreigners (“When you come inside the house—through the window, please—take off your boots and use the XXL slippers we’ve put out for your big gaijin feet.”) and Japan: A Nation Ruled by Cartoon Characters, which introduces such kawaii mascots perhaps not as well known to Westerners as Hello Kitty, such as Miffy, Afro Ken and Koge Pan, the animated burned bread roll. She also gives practical advice on traveling in Japan, including free off-beat places to explore, as well as tips on living in Japan and teaching English there.

Whether you’re planning a trip to Japan, thinking of relocating there or are just curious about this fascinating country, you’ll find Japan, Funny Side Up a highly entertaining read.

Chavez, who was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, has been living in Japan for 17 years. I recently had the chance to ask her some questions about Japan, Funny Side Up and her life in Japan, her passion for all things Japanese and how she has come to write for a living.

How did you end up living in Japan?

I've been in Japan since 1993 (gasp!) and came over after getting my MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. I came to teach English at college.

How did you come to write for The Japan Times?

I have a BA in Creative Writing and another MA in Technical Writing. I knew I wanted to write for a living, but didn't think I could make enough money at it. I also loved to travel, so I figured a degree in ESL would allow me to live almost anywhere and teach, and then I could pursue my dream of writing. I landed the job as a columnist for the The Japan Times in 1997, after four years in Japan. I had done a lot of writing before that, mind you, but I really found my niche with the newspaper. It has been good to me and I now write for a living.

What made you decide to write a guidebook on Japan?

I had already turned down book offers by two major publishers, mainly because I didn't care for their contracts. Book contracts aren't that hard to get, but good book contracts are. So I took the book and made it into what I felt was needed, according to what was already out there in the market, what wasn't, and what I thought should be. I didn't want to write just another book about Japan. I wanted to write something provocative, something useful and something that offered a closer, more personal look at the country.

What differentiates Japan, Funny Side Up from all the others out there?

My aim with the book is to present Japan in the most honest but entertaining way possible based on my 17 years of living here. Japan is an endlessly fascinating country. Even after all these years, I still find out something new every day! This is what I want to share with others—an absolute passion for things Japanese.

In addition, I hope to pique peoples’ interest in Japan and get them thinking outside the box. So rather than just presenting some strange Japanese custom, I want readers to think how that custom came about and what makes it Japanese. This is the only way we can truly understand and respect another culture.

With the current popularity of blogs, videos, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, etc, another aim of the book is to recommend places people can go to find more information on various subjects. There are so many good J-bloggers out there who work really hard, usually with no compensation for their work. So I want to highlight the people who are doing an outstanding job of presenting up-to-date information about what's happening here in Japan. That's something a regular book just cannot do. And while there are a lot of average sites on Japan out there, the really good ones deserve a mention.

Did you have any interest in Japan before moving there?

I had done quite a bit of traveling in third world countries so I thought that if I were going to settle down somewhere, I’d choose a developed country where I could make a good salary, enjoy a decent standard of living and save some money. Japan was still hot at the time, and the opportunity to teach came via my university. Teaching at university in Japan was my first real job. I had planned on staying for five years.

Have you formally studied the Japanese language? Can you read and write Japanese? Are you fluent?

I studied Japanese formally at a language school the first year I was here. All the other students at the school were Chinese studying to pass the Japanese university entrance exams, so I had to study very hard to keep up (they already knew the kanji). I was also working full time at the university then, so I didn’t have time to do homework. I would go to language school for four hours in the morning, go teach university in the afternoon, then go home and grade papers. Nonetheless, I still managed to learn to read and write Japanese.

You live on a remote island in Japan. Tell us how you ended up there and a little bit about what it's like to live there.

I had lived in Okayama city, for almost five years when I moved to the island. I was looking for traditional Japan in its raw, unadulterated form. I found it, in a big way, on this little island. The people welcomed me into their community and that’s when I found out how much I really didn’t know about Japan. I wouldn’t trade this little island for anything! The people are awesome—all 650 of them! Life on the island is a sub-theme in my next book, about running the 900-mile Shikoku 88-Temple Buddhist Pilgrimage, which I currently have an agent interested in.

Thanks, Amy!

You can get Japan, Funny Side Up as a Kindle e-book HERE.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Girlfriends Book Club

I'm part of an exciting new writers blog called the Girlfriends Book Club. You can check out my post on the inspiration I find as a writer from Mad Men HERE. Thanks!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Friday Mornings at Nine by Marilyn Brant

My guest today is Marilyn Brant, a girlfriend from the Girlfriends Book Club Blog. Her second novel, Friday Mornings at Nine, comes out on October 1 from Kensington Books.

Every woman remembers her firsts: Her first kiss. Her first lover. And her first time contemplating an affair…

Each Friday morning at the Indigo Moon Café, Jennifer, Bridget and Tamara meet to swap stories about marriage, kids and work. But one day, spurred by recent e-mails from her college ex, Jennifer poses some questions they've never faced before. What if they all married the wrong man? What if they're living the wrong life? And what would happen if, just once, they gave in to temptation?

Soon each woman is second-guessing the choices she's made -- and the ones she can unmake -- as she becomes aware of new opportunities around every corner, from attentive colleagues and sexy neighbors to flirtatious past lovers. And as fantasies blur with real life, Jennifer, Bridget and Tamara begin to realize how little they know about each other, their marriages and themselves, and how much there is to gain -- and lose -- when you step outside the rules.

Marilyn has been a classroom teacher, a library staff member, a freelance writer and a national book reviewer. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn's debut novel featuring "Jane," According to Jane, won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart Award. When not working on her next book, she enjoys traveling, listening to music and finding new desserts to taste test. You can visit her website HERE.

Marilyn was kind enough to answer some questions below:

What was most important to you in the writing of this story?

I’m always trying to be honest about the complexities of human emotion, particularly in regards to relationships. I would say with Friday Mornings at Nine, the biggest issue I wanted to explore was not so much the concept of “cheating” as a theme but, rather, the far less titillating subject of “choosing.” The idea that a woman can really only be in a relationship fully -- marital or otherwise -- once she understands how and why she’s chosen to be there, and that she has to look closely enough and listen deeply enough to know who she is and what she wants. And, also, that in every romantic relationship or good friendship, she chooses over and over again (either consciously or unconsciously) whether she wants to stay. I believe that’s true of all of us, and I wanted my characters in this story to move from unconsciously living very unexamined lives to consciously, actively making a choice about where they were headed.

Is your relationship with your friends similar to or different from the relationship between the women in the novel?
For the most part, it’s different...and thank goodness! While my friends and I often get together for coffee to talk about our lives, just like the women in the book, the friends in Friday Mornings at Nine have a few things to learn, not only about each other but about themselves. (Big time!) I think they make a fair bit of progress during the course of the novel, but I also think it’s pretty clear that it’s difficult to be a good friend -- or a good spouse, for that matter -- if you’re not examining your needs and your motivations with a clear eye. I've certainly been in group situations with other women where there were secrets and hidden agendas, where the people involved still had so much personal stuff to work out that they couldn’t be honest -- even with themselves -- about who they were and what they wanted out of their lives.

By contrast, my friends and I, while we’re hardly Zen-like creatures of calm and poise (although I can hear one friend saying, “What?! I am too Zen-like!”), we tend to be pretty straightforward with each other. We have varying levels of comfort when it comes to revealing deeply personal information, and our personalities are different, but we also know each other well enough by now to trust that we have each others’ best interests at heart. None of us would do anything intentional that might hurt another. That sort of trust allows for a great deal of candidness in our conversations. And while we spend far more time talking about baked goods than about any subject someone might consider racy (it’s the truth -- talk of hot, muscular guys sadly takes a backseat to discussions about caramel brownies), I’m so grateful to them for being people who know the over-analytical geeky girl that I am and still want to spend so much time with me.

What is the inspiration behind this novel?
I’ve talked with a lot of women about their marriages -- and, in some cases, about their affairs. Sometimes these revelations came in the form of random comments thrown out unexpectedly. Other times they were part of well thought-out discussions about whether the women in question should or shouldn’t stay married. I met my husband 20 years ago and we’ve been married for almost 18 of those years. I consider us to be happy, but I don’t know anyone who’s been married that long who hasn’t experienced some ups and downs. I think the fortunate couples are the ones who keep choosing to be together and work on their relationships despite all of those years and the inevitable changes. Of course, it takes both people to do that, and it also takes a lot of time and effort. The individuals involved have to want to get to know these people they married and who they are now as opposed to the different creatures they may have been when they met a decade or more before, and they need to really pay attention to their own needs and desires, too. Sometimes, in the process of that kind of deep analysis, it turns out there was a profound disconnect somewhere along the line. In some cases, it’s possible to reconnect -- in others, not so much.

So, essentially, I wanted to write a story about three women who have marital disconnects to some degree that make them wonder what would have happened if they’d chosen differently. Then I wanted them to finally take the time to examine their lives so they could choose mindfully where to head next.

Did you run into any challenges or roadblocks while writing this book? If so, how did you overcome them?
There were the usual writing challenges -- especially that pervasive author fear that I’d never finish it or it wouldn't make sense to anyone but me [Ed.: I’ve been there!], etc. -- but the only really big hurdle was in trying to tell this story the way I wanted it to be told. I’ve read and enjoyed novels where thoughts of infidelity were contained in one woman’s perspective and were these really intimate, deeply personal portrayals. With Friday Mornings at Nine, I wanted to feature three individual women, but also show the group of friends as almost a fourth character. In fact, in my earliest draft, I even wrote the first chapter as “we” and “our” instead of “they” and “them” (i.e., “We met on Friday mornings at nine because that was when...” etc.). In the end, I decided to write those group chapters with more of a traveling third person/omniscient point of view, but I hope it still gets across that, in a way, the group of friends is an entity unto itself.

Thanks, Marilyn!

Friday Mornings at Nine is a Doubleday Book Club & Book-of-the-Month Club Featured Alternate Selection for October 2010. Congratulations!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dead Love by Linda Watanabe McFerrin

The amazingly talented writer and teacher, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, is my guest today. Her latest book, out on September 1, is the novel Dead Love, published by Stone Bridge Press. (You can pre-order it HERE).

Dead Love is a supernatural thriller in the tradition of Mary Shelley, E.A. Poe, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Anne Rice. The novel follows a cast of nefarious characters, both human and otherworldly, as they foil and foul one another’s plans and power plays in a conspiracy of global proportions. It begins when Clément, a lovesick ghoul, falls head over heels for a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, the girl is marked for death by the Japanese mob (the Yakuza). What’s a ghoul to do? He’s got to create a means to save her. Using secrets learned from a Haitian witchdoctor he finds a way to rescue and possess her, but not in the manner he’s expected. Set in Central America, Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and Southeast Asia, the novel jets readers all over the planet on a diabolical joyride that is destined to end darkly.

Linda not only writes fiction, but is an accomplished non-fiction writer, known especially for her travel writing. She is the editor of the 4th edition of Best Places in Northern California. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, newspapers, magazines, anthologies and online publications including the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Examiner, and many more. She also writes poetry and is the author of two poetry collections. Linda is the founder of the Left Coast Writers Literary Salon, which meets on the first Monday of every month at the premier independent bookstore Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.

Linda graciously agreed to take the time to answer a few questions...

Can you tell us a little about your background and your connection to Japan and Japanese culture?
I am part Japanese; my mother is Japanese and Welsh. Her father was a British journalist and teacher in Shanghai where he met my grandmother, who was a Japanese actress. My mother was raised there. We have super old family photos of Shanghai in the 30’s. When I was a girl I lived in Japan for several years. My first novel, Namako: Sea Cucumber is roughly based on the time I spent there as an adolescent. I love Japan, but being only part Japanese, I did not fit in at all. That’s where the concept for Namako originated … I felt like a creature in between two worlds and a part of neither. I’ve been back to Japan many times and I keep writing about it. My favorite city is Tokyo. I love the way it rose up from the ashes and became this crazy, new, almost frenetic place. But it also has its peaceful side, and there are still some magical old neighborhoods.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Dead Love?
First, I should mention that there is a very lovely supernatural thread that runs through Japanese literature and storytelling. I think some of my work is born of that tradition. My grandfather wrote; my mother, a linguist and translator, wrote; and as a child, my world was full of stories. They were pretty dark stories—a kind of kabuki-Brothers Grimm-E.A. Poe mélange. My mother was also quite dramatic. So that influenced my thinking and my fondness for a creepy tale well told. But as far as the actual topic goes, I was going through a rough spell when I read ethno-botanist Wade Davis’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, which was about his pursuit of a “zombie formula” in Haiti. It captivated me and was probably how the zombie seed was sown. I worked on Dead Love for years and years.

What's your advice for writers who are looking to get their novel published?
Well, I think we write for ourselves, we publish for others, so never lose track of your reader. My friend and teacher, the surrealist poet, Nanos Valaoritis, called this person “the fugitive other” and that really resonated with me. So I’d say that it is a chase, a hunt for the fugitive other. You have to find that “other” and get them to listen … whoever they are. Obviously that fugitive other is not going to come knocking on your door, so get out there and find him/her. I had to do that … I hunted long and hard … and now I’ve discovered a huge host of zombie lovers all over the world,—zombie walks, zombie this and that—and I am happy, happy, happy.

Describe your writing process.
I write every day as practice. I think writing is like any other performance work; you can’t just get up and do it in front of people without working out and perfecting your presentation. This is fine with me because I love to write. I write in a variety of genres; I’ve published poetry, long and short fiction, nonfiction. Generally, I think things out, then, I do a quick outline, leads and closes, transitions, scenes. After that I line up my characters, show them the space and see what they do. Well, in fiction, I do that. Non-fiction is far more managed and manageable because you don’t have all those characters insisting on things their way. For example: Clément was a VERY difficult character to manage and at first Erin would just sulk. She’s a lot better now. She blogs every single day. Yeah, it’s that real or virtual or whatever with them.

You founded the wonderful Left Coast Writers Literary Salon that meets on the first Monday of the month at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Can you tell us the story of how it came about and how people can join?
Well, I had a writers group that kamikazeed and I was in mourning. So I went to Elaine Petrocelli at Book Passage and said that I had this idea about a group and a salon and Elaine, who is up for almost anything literary and bookworthy, said, “Why not?” I love that about her. We thought it might be just 10 or so, but people kept calling and calling. Margarita was worried and called to say, “Oh, no, we have over 30 and they keep calling; I don’t know if we have space. Do you want to cut it off?” But Bill Petrocelli said they were adding the Gallery, so no problem, and the writers kept coming. That was years ago and it is SUCH a great group, don’t you think? I guess we all crave the company of other creative minds and an occasional break from the garret. All a writer has to do to sign up is call Book Passage or go the Left Coast Writers page on their website.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
That’s easy, I like to read, preferably on a plane going somewhere exotic and fascinating because I also love to travel and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Dead Love is set in Japan, in Haiti, in the Netherlands, in Singapore, and in Malaysia. I also write travel essays … constantly. I used to run, but I broke my ankle and have metal in it now, so can’t do that as much. I can do a light run—three miles or so—but too much, too often, and the ankle starts to trouble me. Broke my wrist when I fell from my bike in Holland and there’s more metal there. I love to eat, but I have all kinds of serious food allergies, so that’s been curtailed. And I like to cook, though my capabilities are questionable, except that I do make a mean brainloaf. The recipe for that is on the site.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?
In Tokyo, I love, love, love Kozue in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Nishi-Shinjuku. The hotel is actually the setting for a murder in Dead Love. I also love D’Vijff Vlieghen (The Five Flies) in Amsterdam. It is also the setting for a murder in Dead Love … and a rave. Both of these places have amazing food served in an extraordinary environment. In the Bay Area it’s Michael Mina in the Westin St. Francis. My uncle adored that place. I love it because it’s so posh and because it’s where my friends Tony and Maureen Wheeler celebrated the sale of Lonely Planet to the BBC. It was quite a momentous occasion with a small table of good friends toasting a tremendous accomplishment. The food and ambiance were perfect for a very special night.

Thanks, Linda, and best of luck with Dead Love!

You can find out more about Linda and her work at her website HERE.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good-Bye to All That - by Margo Candela

Award-winning and prolific writer of sharp and funny books, Margo Candela, has a brand new novel coming out on July 13. Good-bye to All That (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster; $14/paper; 1-4165-7135-3) is all about Raquel Azorian, 25, who has spent the last three years working her way up from temp receptionist to full-time administrative assistant and is this close to getting her long-deserved promotion to junior marketing executive at Belmore Corporation, the media behemoth she’s devoted herself to. After proving she has what it takes in a contentious department meeting, Raquel is sure she’ll get her promotion. Instead, her boss suffers a very public meltdown, putting not only his future at Belmore, but also Raquel’s future on the line.

Work life is a mess. And home life isn’t much better. Raquel’s mother has decided to leave her father and move in with her. Now she spends her days boozing on Raquel’s couch and eating all her food. Her older brother is dealing with his own marital problems, her sister-in-law, Cricket, won’t leave her alone, and Raquel is forced to be the family’s intermediary.

Two men seem poised to change all this, however. Raquel begins sleeping with Belmore Vice President Kyle Martin, and discovers the very marketable hunk, Rory Tilley, from the little known film Fire House Hero. Raquel hopes that her relationship with Kyle and the unearthing of Rory will put her back on the fast-track to corporate stardom. But the clash of her personal and professional lives pushes her to the breaking point—starting over may be the only way out.

Margo's first novel with Touchstone, More Than This, was chosen as a Target Breakout Book, an American Association of Publishers BookClub selection with Borders Books and Las Comadres in 2008. It was the 2nd place winner for Best Novel in the Romance (English language) category at the 2009 International Latino Book Awards and the Latinidad List’s Best Chick Lit Book of 2008.

Recently Margo took some time out from her break-neck writing and movie-watching schedule to answer a few questions...

Describe your writing process.

There’s no excitement here. Most days of the week, I turn on my computer first thing in and turn it off when I can’t look at it anymore. Some days I do lot of writing, other days none, but I always know where I want to be by setting short and long term goals. Since I spend so many hours a day sitting, I make a point of getting regular exercise, at least an hour a day. As with anything in life, you have to find a balance.

A while ago you made the move from Northern California to Southern California. Any differences in the writing world and the writing life in SoCal vs. NorCal?

San Francisco is definitely much more laid back. I belonged to a writers group and we’d just sit around and chat. It was all very leisurely and more of an ‘enjoy the process and find your voice’ kind of thing. L.A. is different because everyone assumes you write for film or TV. And when they find out you don’t, they come right out and ask why you’re wasting your time on novels. That being said, I was born in L.A. and, while I loved living in San Francisco and wouldn’t mind living there again, this is where I’m from. While I’m not immersed in the TV or movie business, I do feel that there is a different creative vibe around here. It’s more about doing (or at least look like you’re doing something) than just talking about it.

You recently wrote a screenplay adaptation of your novel, More Than This. How was this process different from writing a novel? Would you like to write an original screenplay someday?

I’ve adapted More Than This and my second novel, Life Over Easy, and I recently finished a draft of an original screenplay. For me the difference between writing novels and writing screenplays is like going from writing a bike to a unicycle—same principles, but a different technique to get from point A to B. Script writing requires a whole other skill set that takes time and practice to get comfortable with. It’s not easier or harder than writing a 90,000 word novel, just different.

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

Besides reading, especially in bed, I love to go to the movies. My biggest guilty pleasure is to sneak away from my desk for a matinee on a workday. I watch a lot of movies and TV. When I’m writing, I usually have something playing in the background. When I was writing More Than This, I had Black Hawk Down in my DVD player the whole time. For Good-bye To All That it was The Departed. By the time I sent the manuscript off to my editor, I could quote entire scenes of dialog.

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

At the moment, I don’t have a favorite restaurant, but I’ve eaten some good food. The food scene here in L.A. is nothing like what I took for granted in San Francisco. I’m still trying out places, but nothing has stuck yet. Having easy access to great food is one of the main things I miss about San Francisco. I also miss my friends and being able to just walk anywhere and not feel weird about it. I try to visit at least once a year and all I do is eat, walk and hang out with friends. But it’s not all a bad in L.A. I’ve gotten reacquainted with my mother’s cooking and she’s more than worth the time and effort it takes to drive over to see her.

Thanks, Margo! And congratulations on your latest novel!

Visit Margo at her website:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wendy's Summer 2010 Newsletter

Hello Everyone,

Hope you're having a great summer so far. The June gloom here in Half Moon Bay, CA hasn't made me feel very summery, (thought we've been getting some sun lately!) but at the very least it's been keeping me indoors and writing. I'm excited to be putting the finishing touches on the draft of my third novel, which—surprise!—has nothing to do with Japan. It's about a congressman's sex scandal and the impact it continues to have on his wife and daughters some twenty years later.

Along with writerly pursuits, I'm excited to be doing a lot of teaching this summer and fall. Here's the scoop:

Writers Workshops
~ 6-Week Writers Workshop for Novel and Memoir Writers - July 14 - Aug 18 - Wed evenings - 6:30 - 9:30 pm
Whether you're just starting your novel or memoir, are ready to revise or have gotten nothing but rejections on your manuscript from literary agents, this inspiring and practical workshop held at my home in Half Moon Bay will be just right for you.

~ Your Novel: The Road to Publication: A One-Day Workshop in Half Moon Bay - Saturday, Aug 7 at the Beautiful Seal Cove Inn
This workshop for novelists will teach you how to hook readers with the first five pages of your novel, avoid common manuscript errors, write a query letter that will get the attention of an agent and more.

For info on both of these workshops click HERE

~ So Not Chick Lit: Writing Novels about Women’s Lives - Online course through Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio - Sept 27 - Dec 10
Info on this course should be available soon in Stanford's Continuing Studies Catalog and online HERE

~ Strong Beginnings: A Workshop for Novelists - Saturday, Sept 11 - 10:30am - 4:30pm - Book Passage Corte Madera
Had a great time teaching this workshop in May and am happy to return. We do "close readings" of the beginnings of successful published novels and then analyze students' first five pages in class. You can get more info at the Book Passage site later on this summer.

Love in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband
I haven't had the chance to post any new interviews on cross-cultural marriage on my Chirashi Blog lately, but the good news is that these interviews (and more) will soon become an e-book! More details on this will be forthcoming. If you're married to a Japanese man and want to be part of this exciting project, drop me a line.

Twitter and Facebook
Yes, it's true: I'm addicted to social media. If you're a fellow junkie, please follow or "like" me or whatever they're calling it this week. And for business types, you can also connect to me on LinkedIn if you so desire.
Facebook Fan Page
Facebook Profile Page
LinkedIn Profile Page

Odds and Ends
~ Are you a writer looking for some inspiration? In How to Write a Great Novel top authors share their methods for getting the story on the page.
~ Ever wonder why we are sold books the same way we are sold cell phones, as if the latest models deserve the most attention?
~ That great magazine Poets & Writers has just launched a Database of Literary Agents.
~ Seg-Book-Ation: Black Writers are in a Ghetto of the Publishing Industry's Making.
~ Want to work in Japan, have the skills, but not sure how to make the move? Get some tips HERE.
~ Finally got a chance to see Kiyoshi Kurosawa's powerful and poignant 2008 film, "Tokyo Sonata." Highly recommended.

Sayonara for now!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives by Josie Brown

My guest today is friend and fellow writer Josie Brown, whose new novel, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, comes out on June 1.

The book explores the perceptions and deceptions affecting two marriages.

The Harpers, Lyssa and Ted, are socially entrenched in the tony Silicon Valley town of Paradise Heights, California, unlike DeeDee and Harry Wilder, who are admired by all, but politely aloof to their neighbors. Then word gets out that DeeDee has walked out on Harry and their two children. Gossip runs rampant through the Heights. Was DeeDee having an affair? Is it true that Harry is fighting her for everything—even the dog?

Lyssa's friends gossip about the neighbors while ignoring their own problems: infertility, infidelity, and eating disorders. The truth is, if the community's "perfect couple," Harry and DeeDee, can call it quits, what does that mean for everyone else?

At least one of the rumors is true: to hold on to his children and his home, Harry, once a workaholic, realigns his life and becomes a stay-at-home dad. Touched by his efforts at trial-by-error single parenting, Lyssa befriends him, never realizing the effect their relationship will have on her close-knit circle of friends—or its explosive impact on her own marriage.

Josie's previous novels are Impossibly Tongue-Tied and True Hollywood Lies. You can read excerpts of all her books on her website HERE. As a journalist, her celebrity profiles and articles on pop culture and lifestyle trends have appeared in numerous magazines and media outlets, including Redbook, Complete Woman and via the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International. She is also the Relationships Channel editor at Josie lives in Marin County, California with her husband and two children.

In this interview Josie talks about what inspired her to write her latest novel and shares some valuable tips and advice to those looking to get a book deal.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives?
I wanted to write a "fish out of water" book. One plot that struck my fancy was that of a Master of the Universe who decides to change direction and become a stay-at-home dad. For most overachievers, the usual reason for doing so is widowhood -- very dramatic! -- or, as of lately, a layoff at work . . . But I thought a more interesting catalyst could be spousal desertion. And certainly ego: Harry, the jilted husband is out to prove that a father can also be a great "mother" to his children. This was always planned to be a woman's story. In fact, it is told in first person, from the perspective of a neighbor, Lyssa, who is watching the implosion of this planned community's "perfect couple." To her dismay, their breakup is providing titillating fodder for her social set. Her goal is to make sure that this new stay-at-home dad doesn't get lost in the Siberbia. Through the process, Lyssa comes to realize that there are many parallels between her marriage and his.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?
"Last author standing." By that, I mean don't give up. While there are times you feel as if you're knocking your head against the wall, bottom line: if you aren't in the game, you can't win at it. But if you are going to make this your profession and avocation, study the craft. That's where a lot of aspiring novelists fall down before they even get picked up by a publisher. And yes, you do need an agent, if you want to stay in the game for the long haul, as opposed to getting in a situation where you have no advocate who can help you plan a career, as opposed to a book.

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?
I'd have to say (1) Margaret Mitchell.I read Gone with the Wind 13 times prior to the age of 16. It's a Southern thing, I guess. But now her phrasing and cadence permeates my own style.); (2) Edith Wharton. She wrote of the women of that time and place and circumstances of their time with a piquant eloquence and great plotting. (3) John LeCarre. He doesn't write about spies, but about humans caught up in a dirty business and politics and love. He writes poetry as prose.

Describe how you got your first book deal.
I was very lucky. Fate dealt me a "who you know." Still, if you don't deliver, it won't get published.

In my case: my husband and I had written a self-help book, self-published it, and sent copies to every friend we had. One of them, Emily Kischell, had just moved to New York and was working as an assistant to one of the biggest literary agents in the business. Seriously, we didn't really know that at the time, just that she had moved there. Turns out she loved the book, and handed it to her boss, Al Zuckerman, saying, "You have to rep these guys!' When he called, he said, "Your book just landed on my desk, and while I haven't read it yet, it comes highly recommended, and I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend." Me: "That's nice." (Heck, I didn't know who he was. I thought he was a book reviewer!) He: "You don't know who I am, do you?" Me: ", but by the next time we speak, I'll know everything about you." (Research is part and parcel of being a journalist. Unless it comes to knowing who your friends work for, apparently!) He: "I'm a literary agent. I represent Stephen Hawking and Ken Follett." Me: "Hmmmm...well then, I know you'll just LOVE what you read!"

Pretty heady company. I was cocky to say that. But at that point, I had nothing to lose, and a lot to gain...

As it turns out, he did like it, at least enough to take us on. He didn't sell that book for us, but came to me with another project that he knew an editor wanted. It was a "chick lit" (that word is blasphemy now) dream dictionary. I spent the weekend writing a 4,000 page sample. She felt it was too tongue-in-cheek for her (!!!! Helooooo! Chick lit, right?) but we sold it to St. Martin's.

Now that I had a taste of literary blood in my mouth, I wanted to sell fiction. I wrote the first five chapters of True Hollywood Lies, and it sold in a two-book deal, at auction.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
Whereas I had an interesting success early on, fate does play mean tricks on writers. You may have a great editor, but then she leaves the business, so you have no editor. Or you may end up with an editor who buys you on a whim, but doesn't really know what to do with you, so you languish. You can have a great agent -- for someone else, but not for you, if they don't naturally lean toward your writing voice. After all, your agent is your biggest cheerleader. If s/he in his/her heart can'tt sell what you want to write, put both yourselves out of misery and move on. Yes, you will find a new agent: hopefully one who gets your writing style and wants to represent you.

Describe your writing process.
A premise will come to me. I'll outline it fully: beginning, middle and end. This is very important to me. If feel that most of the writers I know who start with a great premise but don't know where it's going or how it ends usually end up with a project that never gets completed, or a book that befuddles the reader. I do pass the concept by my agent -- these days, my agent is Holly Root at Waxman Literary -- and if I get a good gut reaction, I know my idea is validated. I make sure she likes my two-page synopsis, and I also write at least fifty pages, so that she can hear the voice. She offers wonderful ideas on plot and character. Currently I'm working with a wonderful editor, Megan McKeever at Simon & Schuster. Editing is an integral part of the process. It's good to have someone who second guesses your characters' motivations. You want to leave your readers wanting more, and loving the depth of your story. Editors are also your advocates within your publishing house. You have to appreciate what you may not know or see of what they do on your behalf. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the process. Remember, you're on the outside looking in. They are part of your team -- and publishing is an inside job.

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

Hike. I live in Marin County, which has the largest amount of national parkland of any county near a big city. The trails surrounding Mt. Tam are spectacular, and offer views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay, and of course San Francisco. In other words, I live in Heaven

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?
Blowfish Sushi, on Bryant, in San Francisco. They are creative, the atmosphere is like a hip private party, and the management rocks. When you go in, as for Anna.

Thanks, Josie! And best of luck with Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Midori by Moonlight Giveaway!

During the month of May I'm running giveaways of signed copies of MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT.

Please go to my website for the scoop!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hand of Fate by April Henry and Lis Wiehl

My guest today on the GCC Lit Blog Tour is April Henry, co-author with Lis Wiehl, of Hand of Fate, the latest book in their successful Triple Threat mystery series.

When the host of a popular radio talk show is murdered, the suspects almost outnumber his millions of listeners. Outspoken radio talk show host Jim Fate dies after he opens a package that releases poisonous gas while his polarizing show, "The Hand of Fate," is on air. In the ensuing panic, police evacuate downtown Portland. Soon the Triple Threat of FBI Special Agent Nicole Hedges, crime reporter Cassidy Shaw, and Federal Prosecutor Allison Pierce begin piecing together the madness, motive, and the mystery that lie behind Fate’s murder.

While Lis has worked with Bill O’Reilly for years (often serving as the voice of reason or his liberal foil, depending on your point of view), the character is in NO WAY based on O’Reilly.

This is the second in the Triple Threat mystery series, which has been optioned for television. The first, Face of Betrayal, was on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks. And in April 2011, readers can look for Heart of Ice, which traces the path of destruction left by a sociopath and based on a real-life case Lis prosecuted.

About the Authors:
Lis Wiehl is a former federal prosecutor who is now a legal analyst for FOX-TV.

April Henry grew up in a little town in Southern Oregon where the main industries were timber and pears. When she was was 12, she sent Roald Dahl a short story she had written about a six-foot-tall frog named Herman who loved peanut butter. He not only wrote her back, but also showed it to the editor of an international children’s magazine, who asked to publish it.

Since then, April has written nearly a dozen mysteries and thrillers for adults and teens, with seven more on the way. Look for her young adult thriller—Girl, Stolen—coming this October.

April was kind enough to answer a few questions...

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Hand of Fate?
Lis and I were sitting with the publisher in Nashville, and he said he would love for us to do a book where we killed off a character like Bill O’Reilly, whom Lis has worked with for years. We actually managed to work in a number of references to other radio talk show hosts—about ten in all.

Describe how you got your first book deal.
It was actually the fourth book I wrote. The first book got rejection letters from agents, the second got me my agent and some nice rejection letters from editors, the third got me curt rejection letters, and the fourth sold in three days. So it was my eight-year overnight success.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting that book deal?
“Tireless self promoter” sounds ugly to everyone but your publisher. [Love this!]

What is your writing schedule like?
Two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Often, the writing stretches into the evening.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Run, go to kung fu class (The most fun ever! It's great to hit the bag really, really hard), read, and try out new cookbooks.

Thanks, April, and hope fate is kind to Hand of Fate.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me - by Jenny Gardiner

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Jenny Gardiner, author of the new memoir, Winging It, which is out today from Gallery Books.

Like many new bird owners, Jenny and Scott Gardiner hoped for a smart, talkative, friendly companion. Instead, as they took on the unexpected task of raising a curmudgeonly wild African grey parrot and a newborn, they learned an important lesson: parrothood is way harder than parenthood. Winging It is a hilarious and poignant cautionary tale about two very different types of creatures, thrown together by fate, who learn to make the best of a challenging situation.

A gift from Scott’s brother who was living in Zaire, Graycie arrived scrawny, pissed-off, and missing a lot of her feathers. Every day became a constant game of chicken with a bird that would do anything to ruffle the couple's feathers.

The old adage about not biting the hand that feeds you—literally—never applied to Graycie.

But Jenny and Scott learned to adapt as the family grew to three children, a menagerie of dogs and cats, and, of course, Graycie. Winging It is a laugh-out- loud funny and touching memoir, as Jenny vividly shares the many hazards of parrot ownership, from the endless avian latrine duty and the joyful day the bird learned to mimic the sound of the smoke detector, to multiple ways a beak can pierce human flesh.

Jenny Gardiner first appeared on the GCC tour as the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, and the Washington Post. She writes a column of humorous essays for Charlottesville, Virginia’s newspaper, the Daily Progress.

Jenny lives in central Virginia with her family and took some time out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions...

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Winging It?

Winging It came about because people were always so darned amused at stories about our parrot. We could host a dinner party and spend half the night with people cracking up about the things she says and does. I have a column in our local paper and wrote a piece about her a while back. Readers were so interested in more and that grew into this book!

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

You have to be really strong and true to yourself to tough it out in this business. And be your own biggest advocate. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. I think any creative venture is subject to the vagaries of subjectivity, so regardless of your ability it takes much more than just that to succeed. Sure, most often, you need to have writing chops (well, not that Pamela Anderson did, but still...). But you must have an unyielding faith in yourself and a whole lot of intestinal fortitude to withstand the rejections and to not take them personally. Because it happens to everyone. And there was a time when once you'd published your first book that meant all of your books got published. Those days are gone now, and most authors need to be content with slight incremental improvements in their career while the publishing industry weathers this economy and the really core-of-the-earth types of paradigm shifts that are happening in the business right now.

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

Gene Shepherd (In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash); JD Salinger (Catcher in the Rye); Meg Cabot (just about anything--I love her voice)

What is the elevator pitch for Winging It?

Think David Sedaris meets Marley & Me, with a deadly beak

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

Learn the business. Network, meet people, understand how it all works so that you can figure out how to make sure you can advance. Read what is selling in the market and try to glean what trends are out there. Although don't write to a trend--write what's in your gut, and make it the best it can be. Remember those who are ahead of you in the business who take the time to help you out and remember to be that person when you become successful. It's a very tough business and it's really wonderful to have the kindnesses of others to usher you along as you navigate choppy waters. And believe in yourself. Don't let rejection get you down (easier said that done). If you start to feel your confidence waning, go back and read your best work, and remember that you're doing this because you love to write. And then write as if you love to write.

Get more info at Jenny's website HERE.

And be sure to check out Graycie the Parrot on YouTube and Jenny's video interview.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My guest today on the Girlfirend's CyberCircuit Lit Blog Tour is Hank Phillippi, author of the brand new mystery DRIVE TIME from MIRA Books.

Investigative reporter Charlotte McNally is an expert at keeping things confidential, but suddenly everyone has a secret, and it turns out it may be possible to know too much. Charlie's latest TV scoop--an expose of a dangerous recalled car scam complete with stakeouts, high-speed chases and hidden-camera footage--is ratings gold. But soon that leads her to a brand new and diabolical scheme (incredibly timely!) that could put every driver in danger.

Charlie's personal and professional lives are on a collision course, too. Her fiancé is privy to information about threats at an elite private school that have suddenly turned deadly.

Charlie has never counted on happy endings. But now, just as she's finally starting to believe in second chances, she realizes revenge, extortion and murder might leave her alone again. Or even dead. When everyone has a secret, the real mystery is knowing when to tell.

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank has won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers and the latter has just been nominated for an AGATHA award for Best Novel of 2009. DRIVE TIME earned a starred review from Library Journal. Hank is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

Hank stopped by to answer a few questions...

Growing up, did you ever think you’d be an investigative reporter?

Definitely—not. You know, I have a funny juxtaposition of desire to be in the spotlight—and sheer terror of being in the spotlight. I love my job in TV—and have to go live and unrehearsed all the time. Confession: I’m still terrified every time. I want to be perfect, and when you’re on live, you can’t possibly be. That’s one reason why I love investigative reporting—there’s more time to work, and dig, and polish, and produce, It’s like making a little movie, and I can make it as perfect as possible.

Anyway, my sisters and I used to create musical shows when we were all young, and perform for our parents in our backyard. I did acting in high school and college. I wanted to be a DJ on the radio for a long time! But I thought I would be an English teacher, or a lawyer for the Mine Workers union, or for awhile, a political activist.

(My mother, though, says she always knew I would be a television reporter—but I think that was just her way of rationalizing that all I did as a pre-teen and teenager was read books and watch TV.)

I knew from my first Nancy Drew that I loved mysteries. Nancy was my first best friend—I was a geeky unpopular kid, and it was such a relief to go home and hang out with Nancy. She was smart, and made it be okay to be smart. She was confident and inquisitive and resourceful. I loved that. But being a TV reporter was not in my sights. Little did I know!

How did the character of Charlotte ‘Charlie’ McNally come about?

I have NO idea. She was born when I got a weird spam in my email. It was what looked like lines from a play by Shakespeare. I thought--why would someone send a spam like that? And it crossed my mind--maybe it's a secret message.

I still get goose bumps when I think about it. And I knew, after all those years of wanting to write a mystery, that was my plot. And that turned out to be the Agatha-winning PRIME TIME. But Charlie? Well, I knew I had a good story, but who would tell it? A television reporter, of course. And she just instantly popped into my head. Named, fully formed. I knew her perfectly.

The other characters were more difficult to get to know. But now, Charlie surprises me a lot! And I love when that happens.

Is she anything like you? Has she ever done anything you wouldn’t do to get your story?

When my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in—when “you” are held at gunpoint, when you track down the bad guys, when you solve the mystery… and I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction. It didn’t really happen.”

 But a couple of things: I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years, and so it would be silly in writing a mystery about TV not to use my own experiences. Think about it—as a TV reporter, you can never be wrong! Never be one minute late. Never choose the wrong word or miscalculate. You can never have a bad hair day, because it’ll be seen by millions of people! It’s high-stakes and high-stress—literally, people’s lives at stake--and I really wanted to convey that in the books.

 And everything that TV people do and say in the books is authentic and genuine. (Of course, Charlie can say things I can’t say, and reveal things I can’t reveal.) We’re both devoted journalists, and over-focused on our jobs.

But Charlotte McNally is different, too. She’s single—I’m happily married. She’s ten years younger than I am, and so is facing different choices and dilemmas. She’s braver than I am, certainly. Funnier. And a much better driver.

What is your advice to fledgling writers and journalists?

For journalists: Don’t be afraid. Be very afraid. Be scrupulously careful. Think. And think again. Never give up.

For writers? On my bulletin board there are two quotes. One is a Zen saying: “Leap and the net will appear.” To me, that means: Just do it. The other says “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” And I think that’s so wonderful—just have the confidence to carry on. Writing is tough, arduous, not always rewarding in the moment—but no successful author has ever had an easy path. When you hit an obstacle, pat yourself on the back. You’re a writer!

Thanks, Hank, and we wish you continued success with your novels!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Everyone Else's Girl by Megan Crane

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Megan Crane, author of Everybody Else's Girl, her critically acclaimed second novel, which is out now in the UK.

Meredith does things for other people. She irons clothes for her boyfriend, she attends her ex-best friend's horrendous hen party for her brother (who's about to marry the girl) and she moves back to her parents' house to look after her dad when his leg is broken. She's a good girl and that matters. But when she gets back home, all is not as Meredith remembered. Especially Scott, that geeky teenager from her old class at school. He's definitely different now. And so, it seems, is she. One by one, her family and old friends start to tell her some home truths and Meredith begins to realise she's not so perfect after all. Maybe it is time she stopped being everyone else's girl and started living for herself...

Praise for Everyone Else’s Girl:

"Megan Crane rules! Cancel your evening plans: You won't want to stop reading until you've devoured every delicious word."
—Meg Cabot

"Amusing, heartfelt and emotionally sophisticated chick-lit." —Kirkus

"Crane prevails with refreshingly real human emotions and reactions. In this book, actions have consequences, and no one gets off easy, despite appearances." —RT BookClub

Megan is a USA Today bestselling author who has written five women’s fiction novels, many work-for-hire young adult novels, and five category romances (under the name Caitlin Crews) since publishing her first book in 2004. Her novel, Frenemies, was a BookSense Notable in July 2007. She teaches various creative writing classes both online at and offline at UCLA Extension's prestigious Writers' Program, where she finally utilizes her MA and PhD in English Literature. Megan lives in Los Angeles with her comic book artist/animator husband and too many pets.

Megan took a break from writing and caring for her menagerie and answered some questions...

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

There is writing, and then there is publishing, and there is only one part of that I can control: the writing.

What are you reading now?

I just finished the latest in Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, which is SO GOOD. Wow. I can hardly wait for the next book!

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

What's that? "Not writing??" I don't think I know what that is... But when it happens, I like to read some of my towering to-be-read pile.

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

Just write. No one can tell your story the way you can, and no one will get to read it until you write it.

Visit Megan at her website here.

And follow her on Twitter here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi) is Here!

In my new novel, Love in Translation, fledgling singer Celeste Duncan, after receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, is off to Japan to search for a long lost relative who may hold the key to the identity of the father she never new. When Celeste learns to sing a haunting Japanese enka song called “Nozomi no Hoshi (The Wishing Star)” her life changes in ways she never imagined.

Now this fictional song is brought to life. My husband, Manabu Tokunaga, wrote and performed the music (and also produced this video!). I co-wrote the lyrics with Hiro Akashi. Hope you enjoy the music video of the theme song for Love in Translation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Catch of a Lifetime - by Judi Fennell

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cybercircuit Lit Blog Tour is Judi Fennell, celebrating the release of Catch of a Lifetime, the latest in her "Mer" series.

About Judi:
Judi Fennell has had her nose in a book and her head in some celestial realm all her life, including those early years when her mom would exhort her to “get outside!” instead of watching Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie. So she did—right into Dad’s hammock with her Nancy Drew books.

These days she’s more likely to have her nose in her laptop and her head (and the rest of her body) at her favorite bookstore, but she’s still reading, whether it be her latest manuscript or friends’ books.

A three-time finalist in online contests, Judi has enjoyed the reader feedback she’s received and would love to hear what you think about her Mer series. Check out her website at for excerpts, reviews and fun pictures from reader and writer conferences, and the chance to “dive in” to her stories.

To celebrate the release of each of her books, Judi Fennell and the Atlantis Inn ( and the Hibiscus House ( bed and breakfasts are raffling off three romantic beach getaway weekends. All information is on Judi's website,

Judi was kind enough to take time out to answer some questions...

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack for Catch of a Lifetime.
Come Sail Away because, hey, we're talking mermaids, oceans, sharks and a chase on the waves. Kiss Today Goodbye (from A Chorus Line) because of the tone. When the black moment hits, it's pretty much what Angel does for love. And, Can't Touch This, by M.C. Hammer. Maybe it's because there's a kidnapping shark in the story named Atlantic City Hammer—or A.C. Hammer, for short.

What is the elevator pitch for Catch of a Lifetime?
A Mer princess on a mission to save the planet meets the one Human who could help her do it. Too bad he wants Normal in his life and a mermaid is as far from Normal as he can get.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I wish I knew. LOL. I feel like all I do is write these days. Except when I'm doing mom/taxes/wife/homeowner stuff. I need more hours in the day.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?
Learn your craft and write. Keep writing. Submit your work to contests or critique groups (Charlotte Dillon has a great online critique group that helped me tremendously and several of us formed our own online group from it). Listen to the feedback and if a lot of people are saying the same thing, take a look at it. Don't take feedback personally; you have to pour your heart and should into your story but then let it go and analyze it objectively. Yes, I know, easier said than done. But you have to because, in the end, your story is a product and you need it to be a good one if you want to sell it.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?
If I'm not going to Outback Steakhouse, I'm either jonesy-ing for Chinese food (Hunan Chicken) or Olive Garden. But then, I love food (as my waistline will confirm), so pretty much any place is good with me.

Best of luck with the book, Judi!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Writing Meme

A fab friend and wonderful blogger, Mary Witzl of ResidentAlien, invited me to take part in a "writing meme." I'd never heard of it, but found it to be an interview with myself about writing. This was a lot of fun and I'd like to thank Mary for the opportunity. Probably every writer would enjoy taking a break from writing to answer these questions whether for publication or just for herself.

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

I think I have some early drafts of some of the first novels I wrote. I know I have a lot of the agent rejection letters. Ha! The last thing I wrote is the thing I’m working on now: my next novel.

2) Write poetry?

Not poetry, but song lyrics. I’d done this a long time ago and just recently got back into it. I’m writing them in English and Japanese.

3) Angsty poetry?


4) Favorite genre of writing?

Novel. I used to write short stories back in the day, but I think it would be difficult to write one now after having the luxury of pages you get with a novel.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

Probably Mariko in my latest novel, “Love in Translation.” I don’t find her so annoying, but I know some readers do. Hopefully she is redeemed in their eyes by the end of the book.

6) Best plot you've ever created?

I do feel that plot is my strong point and I owe a lot of that to having studied with Martha Alderson who runs Blockbuster Plots.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

“Love in Translation” has a few plot twists that I enjoyed putting together.

8) How often do you get writer's block?

I do get it from time to time because I have a hard time writing new material. So when I get like this I usually work on revising another part of the novel. But sometimes I just have to force myself and write something new even though I deem it crappy.

9) Write fan fiction?

No, I’ve never tried, but it would be cool to try my hand at “Mad Men.”

10) Do you type or write by hand?

The most handwriting I can handle now is a signature. I’ve been typing since I was 14 and I adore it.

11) Do you save everything you write?

I try to because you never know when you might want to repurpose content.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Yes. No idea is a wasted idea.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

The most recent thing I’ve written.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

Hopefully my two novels!

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

I’ve written romantic scenes and my MFA thesis has a Japanese teen character. As a pop idol singer she goes through lots of angst.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Japan and San Francisco.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Two: a novel and a non-fiction project.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Yes. I won in the Literary/Mainstream Fiction category in Writer’s Digest’s Best Self-Published Book Awards in 2002 for my novel, “No Kidding.”

19) What are your five favorite words?

check is in the mail

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Celeste Duncan in “Love in Translation.”

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
From real life, made up life, and the situations and themes I want to write about.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?


23) Do you favor happy endings?

I favor endings that are appropriate for the story.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

I’m very concerned about spelling. I know basic grammar but the grammar police have often ticketed me for obscure infractions.

25) Does music help you write?

Sometimes. When I’m writing about Japan I like to listen to Japanese music.

26) Quote something you've written.

In Japanese, we call someone who acts like she doesn’t have a brain a bokenasu—a dumb eggplant. And I realize now, after everything that’s happened, that this is a perfect description of me: a stupid vegetable.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

My guest today is Beth Hoffman, debut author of the delightful Southern, coming-of-age novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, which will be released on January 12 by Pamela Dorman Books (Viking). Kim Edwards, bestselling author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter says: "CeeCee is a sweet, perceptive girl with a troubled family, and this story of the summer that transforms her life is rich with hard truths and charm. This book unfolds like a lush Southrn garden, blooming with vivid characters, beauty, and surprises."

Beth's journey to publication reads much like a Cinderella story. And I heartily concur with her advice to writers looking to get published.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is your first novel. Can you tell us about your road to publication? How did you get an agent? And how long did it take to find a publisher?

Within a few hours of sending my e-query to Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management in New York, she requested the first three chapters. The following day she asked for the entire manuscript. Two days later my email dinged with a message from Catherine. I was certain the email was a rejection and I didn’t want to open it! But when I did, I was delighted to read Catherine's words—she loved my novel.

Catherine phoned shortly thereafter, and we talked for nearly an hour. I liked her immediately and didn’t even need to take a day or two to think about it—I accepted her offer of representation on the spot. She explained that the publishers were at the Frankfurt Book Fair and that she’d wait to send my manuscript to a few selected editors when they returned to their offices. She sent out the submission the following Monday morning.

On Tuesday Catherine called and told me that several publishers were already interested. Within an hour she called back with a staggering offer from Pamela Dorman (of Viking). It was so exciting that it didn’t seem real.

You were the president and owner of an interior design firm in Ohio before writing your novel. How did you make the leap from CEO to novelist?

During the busiest year of my professional life I developed pneumonia and nearly died of septicemia. While convalescing at home, something inside me shifted, and that’s when the longing to write reemerged. I say reemerged because I had loved to write since I was a little girl and had hoped that one day I might write a novel. But I didn’t see how I could fulfill the demands of my career and write at the same time, so I returned to the design studio.

For several years I secretly waffled back and forth, wondering if I really had what it took to write successfully. Then, in 2004, it was like all the planets lined up and I knew that if I were to going to write a novel, it was now or never. I sold my portion of the design business, went home, and began to write. It’s one of the gutsiest things I’ve ever done.

What was the inspiration behind Saving CeeCee Honeycutt?

When I was nine years old, I had taken a train from Ohio to visit my Great Aunt Mildred who lived in Danville, Kentucky. She picked me up at the station and drove me through town, the whole time talking a mile a minute while I craned my neck to see all the lovely old homes and buildings we were passing. When we arrived at her home and I got out of the car, it was culture shock of the best kind. There I was, a shy little girl from a rural farm area, standing in the shadows of towering trees as I peered up at her massive old Greek revival home. I was awestruck.

Everything I experienced and witnessed during my first visit to the South made quite an impression on me. Add to that my fascination with mother/daughter relationships and eccentric personalities, and I had the solid bones of my novel. And lastly, my love of Southern architecture took me to Savannah, and that’s when I had all the ingredients I needed for CeeCee’s story.

What advice would you give to those looking to get their first novel published?

Edit! Edit until you’ll think you’ll die. We writers become almost blind to the flaws in our manuscripts, and it takes discipline to step out of our writer’s shoes and pick up the proverbial red pencil. But I believe that’s the best thing we can do before submitting a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher.

And, there’s one more thing that makes an enormous difference in the final polishing stage of a manuscript: read it out loud as if you’re standing in front of an audience. By hearing your story, you’ll pick up any bumps that need smoothing, and, you’ll know if the dialog rings true. In my opinion, nothing can help a writer edit a manuscript better than reading it aloud.

Who are some of the writers that have influenced you?

I don’t know if I’d say they influenced me per se, but I have always loved the writings of Reynolds Price and the late Laurie Lee.

What's next for you on the literary horizon?

Though I’m certain I’ll write another Southern novel, the details haven’t yet taken form. As soon as my author tour is behind me I’ll have more time to think and develop a storyline.

I'm a big cat lover. Tell us about your three cats.

Sadly, I recently lost my beloved DeeDee Snow to cancer. It was devastating. So my current furry child count is down to two. Both are males and rescues: I found Bob as a kitten six years ago. I followed his footprints through the snow and discovered him huddled beneath my porch. My husband and I rescued Oreo during an ice storm last winter. And our two boys couldn’t be more opposite.

Bob is a huge, solid black bobtail—weighing in at nearly 20 pounds. He’s a momma’s boy and can be standoffish with strangers. Little Oreo is a tuxedo kitty, and he’s the happiest cat I’ve ever known. For Oreo, every day is magical and he’s not ashamed to up and explode through the house with sheer delight. I think Oreo is so grateful to have a home and be loved that he just doesn’t know what to do next.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and what makes it your favorite?

Before being diagnosed with celiac disease, my absolute favorite restaurant was Barbetta on 46th Street in New York. I adore fine Italian cuisine, and Barbetta’s is out of this world. I’m hopeful that they’ll offer some rice pastas in the future so I can enjoy their fabulous entrees again.

Beth is about to embark on an author tour. Check out her website to see if she'll be making it to your area.

Thanks for stopping by, Beth, and best of luck with the book!