Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2008

Holy happy hour (chatting it up with Karen Neches)

Touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week is our fearless founder, Karin Gillepsie. Her new release, Earthly Pleasures , , which is being published under the pen name Karen Neches , is about a greeter in Heaven who falls in love with a mortal on Earth. Buzz is divine with nibbles on the movie rights as soon as the book was reviewed in PW. How does this girl stay grounded as her career continues to soar? Is it the red wine or the watermelon-flavored gum? First, give us the backstory on the book. Hand of God or a deal with the devil? Over three years ago, I had this sudden thought: Lovely Bones meets Bridget Jones. I was so excited, I felt like I’d discovered how to turn rocks into gold. Then I spoke with a publicist who said, “What a horrific notion.” She hated the pitch because the two books were so different Too late. I was already 70,000 words in. My agent hated it. My editor wanted to use it for kindling. I almost gave up on it. I cursed the novel many times but now it’s my

GCC Presents: Earthly Pleasures

According to the bard, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But would a bestselling novelist writing under any other name write as beautifully? In the case of Karen Gillepsie (coauthor of The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel and author of the critically-acclaimed Bottom Dollar Girls series), the reviews say yes, yes, yes! Writing under the pen name Karen Neches, Gillepsie's new release, Earthly Pleasures , sounds like a real winner. Listen to this description: Welcome to Heaven. Use your Wishberry to hustle up whatever you want. Have an online chat with God. Visit the attractions such as Retail Rapture, Wrath of God miniature golf and Nocturnal Theater, where nightly dreams are translated to film. Your greeter might just be Skye Sebring who will advises her newly dead clients on what to expect now that they’re expired. “Heaven is like a Corona Beer commercial” she assures her charges. “It’s all about contentment.” So different than Earth where

The Liar's Diary blog day brings us all a little closer together

Happy Oprah Winfrey's birthday! And my birthday! And a very special birthday for Patry Francis , who is celebrating the birth (rebirth, actually) of a bouncing baby paperback. When Patry, who is also my sister in survivorship, let it be known that her cancer treatment and recovery was going to prevent her from doing the moving and shaking we all need to do for the paperback release of her debut novel The Liar's Diary , friends and friends of friends and total strangers in the literary community agreed to blog her book today and give it the boost that simply isn't in Patry's energy budget right now. There is so much cynicism in this business, so much jealousy, snarkiness, and strife, I find this a powerful affirmation of what we all must remember: We're all just folks doing the best we can. And when we care for each other, show compassion and support our fellow artists, we are creating a finer, more generous world in which to write. But let's talk about the bo

Are You Havin' Any Fun?

For another version of this song that I guarantee will leave you smiling, check out this rendition by the "Washboard Wizards" (at the fair!) Every once in a while, it's important to take a deep breath, look up from your rush to deadline, your haste to edit, or your desperate search for the next great idea and remind yourself, "Hey, this is a great gig." Because as writers, we get to work in the realm of ideas. We get to noodle around wherever our imagination and the research lead us. We get to exercise our creativity and, when things go well, share it with an appreciative (mostly) readership. We're living the dream that burns so brightly a million hopeful hearts. It's only fair that every now and then we take a few moments to grin over our good fortune before returning to the grind. What are you grateful for today?

A very happy unbirthday to Lewis Carroll

According to Writer's Almanac , it's the birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll . Carroll read Pilgrim's Progress as a young boy, in part to prepare for a life in the ministry. But he suffered an attack of whooping cough at age 17, a late age to get that illness, and as a result he developed a stammer to go along with his natural shyness. After recovering from his illness, Carroll decided that life as a minister would be too demanding. Instead, Carroll lectured in mathematics at Christ's College, Oxford, where he had also attended university. Carroll found the work dull and considered most of his students stupid, but he wrote seriously during this time. In 1855, he said, "I do not think I have yet written anything worthy of real publication, but I do not despair of doing so some day."

Cleansing the pallet

This week I sent my son off to Cambodia and my manuscript off to my agent, and then I laid on the floor in my office, watching cardinals eat croutons from my window sill, feeling motherless and unemployed. As a full-on workaholic, I find it difficult to not work, but after a few perfunctory attempts to start my next project, I decided to spend the weekend doing the thing for which I have the least talent: resting. My plan (yes, I admit it, I even make a plan for resting ) includes dog-walking, napping, puzzle assembly, a couple of movies, lots of music, and the reading of a few old favorites including The Wind Among the Reeds by William Butler Yeats . From "The Song of Wandering Aengus": I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head, And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread; And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out, I dropped the berry in a stream And caught a little silver trout.

Are You Putting in the Time?

This hilarious little video on gym membership cracked me up... and reminded me of all those people who gas on about how they're going to write a book or working on a book (but it's still in the "idea stage"). Ya gotta do the work, dude, not just expound on how you're going to be brilliant.

Letting Go

Both Joni and I both have children in various stages of leaving the nest. We also, quite coincidentally, have both just completed manuscripts that must be sent off into the world to live lives independently, using the tools we've lovingly instilled. Both offspring and novels may succeed beyond our wildest dreams, or they may fail entirely. In most cases, the outcome is somewhere in between. There will be some successes to celebrate, whether modest or great, along with some skinned knees and bruised hearts to mend. Sons and daughters will return at times, whether to visit or to lick their wounds. We'll shore them up and send them back into the world. Likewise, our manuscripts will drop in (also at the most inconvenient times) for editing or copy-editing, and finally in galley/page proof form so we can give them one final once-over before they trot off for their interviews with various reviewers and, most importantly, those readers who will judge them as worthy or flawed. But

On Margarine, Icing, & Authors

Q. So what do margarine, icing, and authors have in common? (No, dearest readers, it doesn't have a darned thing to do with leaving an oily residue or supplying the world with empty calories. But thanks a bunch, you snarkoholics who leapt to those unkind conclusions.) A. We can all be spread too thin. Authors, who are mostly competitive by nature (How do you think we got to be published?), have a tendency to do this to themselves. We convince ourselves that success lurks under the unturned stone and so drive ourselves to exhaustion attempting to do everything, especially when it comes to promoting our books. Early-career authors, especially, tend to find it impossible to say no, even to exploitative "opportunities." Y ou want me to drive five hours to speak (for free, natch) and participate in a group signing at a vacant K-mart? Golly-yes, I'd be honored. What do you mean there's a fifty-dollar table fee? Well... okay. Along with invitations for appearances,

Cast your vote in the World Book Day Search for Talent

March 6th is World Book Day in the UK, and two friends of ours have made the longlist for the World Book Day Search for Talent. Joshilyn Jackson's Gods in Alabama was also a #1 Booksense Pick and won the Southern Independent Book Novel of the Year Award in 2005. When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, she would stop fornicating with every boy who crossed her path, and she'd never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found. Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old school-mate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene's African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he's gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about

What's your scarlet letter?

Saw the delightful movie Juno this afternoon, and it got me thinking. Much has changed for unwed mothers since the time of Hester Prynne, who was branded as a sinner in The Scarlet Letter . But as the Bard said, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While pregnant girls are free to continue attending most public high schools today, the experience itself still segregates them from their peers. The beauty of the Juno script is in the way the wise-talking misfit is changed, how she evolves, as a result. It put me in mind of this passage from The Scarlet Letter , which has haunted and inspired me since I was a wise-talking high school misfit, entranced by the idea that being cast out meant being set free: But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or gu

Octopus Wrestling Is My Hobby (and My Job)

Rather than resorting to cleaning my office this morning (heaven forbid), I trolled the Internet and came up with this catch of the day from the fascinating blog Modern Mechanix which looks at visions of the future created in the past. This particular illustration came from a Popular Mechanix magazine issue of April 1949, from an article title "Octopus Wrestling Is My Hobby." Mine, too, dude. Only instead of diving into lagoons to pummel poor, unsuspecting cephalopods , I'm doing battle every day with the many slimy tentacles involved in being a working author. Tentacle One requires the author to continually feel about for new ideas and file them away for future projects. Tentacle Two keeps the writer working away at the project-under-contract or the proposal-under-construction. This tentacle can go into spasm, locking up, or it can be wildly frenetic. Tentacle Three has applied its suckers to a scene, a chapter, or a whole book in the editing/revision stage. T

Agent Lynn Nesbit on the nature of the beast

Jofie Ferrari-Adler conducts an interesting Q&A with literary agent Lynn Nesbit of Janklow & Nesbit Associates in the current issue of Poets & Writers . Here's a soundbite: How do you know when a book has you. Is it a visceral feeling? Yes. It's about the voice. You think, "Oh my God. This is an arresting voice." To me, voice matters almost more than narrative. Because it shows an originality. Many people can write good narrative—actually not many people; it's hard to write good narrative. But to have a style? Voice is what makes Joan Didion a great writer. Andy Greer and AndrĂ© Aciman have it... People have such romantic notions about the publishing world. To you, what are the things that ultimately make it special? It's given me a fantastic life. I have met so many interesting people. I have gone to so many interesting places. It just continually opens doors for me. I just came back from George Weidenfeld's eighty-eighth birthday party

Too Many Cooks

To celebrate the completion of my book in the required nick of time (yeaaaa!), I asked Joni to join me for one of the coffee (or chai latte tea in my case) brainstorming/bs-ing/kvetching sessions that I cherish. Since we've both been completing manuscripts, soliciting critiques from trusted readers, and incorporating those suggestions that resonate, we got onto the topic of how much is too much in the helpful advice department. To both of us, having only one reader seems too little, two seems pretty good, three teeters on the edge, and more than three (not counting the editor, whose opinion is the one that counts) definitely constitutes "Too Many Cooks." Once you've passed the TMC point, your original vision and even your authorial voice can get diluted. It causes you to lose confidence, since if given the chance, everybody and his dog will jump at the chance to "fix" your story. TMC-built manuscripts are often technically just fine, but somehow, they rea

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing

I just one-clicked Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing . I've had a dog-eared copy of the NYT article that inspired it posted on my wall for about five years, but I decided it would be worth it to have the bound, expounded, and illustrated version. Since it's no secret what's in the book, I'll cheat you the ten rules and encourage you to hie thee to the library or bookstore to get the full Elmore experience. 1. Never open a book with weather. 2. Avoid prologues. 3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue. 4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . . 5. Keep your exclamation points under control. 6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.'' 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things. 10. Try to leave out the part that readers

What is truth?

My new tattoo is going through this stage where it kinda feels alive with scorpions, which keeps the message close to the front of my mind. Be True. I've been contemplating the importance of being true to artistic vision and spiritual beliefs. Thinking about the old "True Confessions" magazines that reveal the flexible nature of the word. Wondering if anyone even cares about the truth when it comes to political campaigns. A brief visit to Bartleby's yielded these insights about the nature of truth. Philosopher William James: "Essential truth, the truth of the intellectualists, the truth with no one thinking it, is like the coat that fits tho no one has ever tried it on, like the music that no ear has listened to. It is less real, not more real, than the verified article; and to attribute a superior degree of glory to it seems little more than a piece of perverse abstraction-worship." Author Willa Cather: "Artistic growth is, more than it is anythi

La vie en rose encore

I was so delighted to see that Marion Cotillard won a Golden Globe last night for her gorgeous portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose . I became enchanted with Edith Piaf when I was a melodramatic tweenager, and paid my respects at her grave in Pere-Lachaise last fall. We met two Aussie girls on a scavenger hunt and led them to Piaf's tomb. Of course, they'd never heard of her, but they listened patiently while I gassed on about the French Resistance and how a the Little Sparrow sang her way from the street to the great stages of her day. While I labored through a tear-choked rendition of "Non, je ne regrette rien!", Gary snapped this photo, which I like to caption "La Vie en Polka Dots".

Tick, Tick, Tick... (Yikes!)

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." Douglas Adams English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 - 2001) For the record, I am not nor have I ever been in Douglas Adams' camp on this one. (Love his books, though!) Deadlines terrify me in a big way. I've never felt invigorated by them, although I have to admit they *do* motivate me, in the way a snapping, slavering Rottweiler on one's heels can inspire faster sprinting. Someone needs to explain to my publisher that abject terror is no way to motivate the delicate creative psyche. (For the record, I'd prefer flowers, small but tasteful gifts, or perhaps a trail of large-denomination dead presidents sweetly coaxng me toward my goal.) But the trouble is, I can't really *blame* the publisher. Crazy as it seems now, I willingly agreed to the date circled in red on my calendar. All I can tell you is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. The truth is, I'

Grounding Your Story: A Mess of Methods

After reading Joni's post on the images and music that served as an anchor to her most recent manuscript, I thought I'd add some of the methods I've used for inspiration, particular in the thought-gathering, prewriting days before launching into a new project. Over the years, I've used a variety of methods, from creating a musical mix, which I've played over and over until my family wants to ship me off to Siberia to "webbing" the characters and their interrelationships on a huge sheet of butcher paper to, most recently, creating a collage of associated images. Any of these can work, but I've found the collage to be especially fruitful. I first learned of this during a workshop given by author extraordinaire Susan Wiggs , who is as brilliant a teacher as she is a novelist. At the time, I had fun with it and found it somewhat useful, but I didn't try again until reading articles on the topic by two other authors I greatly admire, Jenny Crusie (t

Anchors a way: grounding a story in images and music

The writing of a book is a circuitous journey that tends to take the scenic route (a la Moses through the dry land) and almost never ends up at the destination envisioned at the outset. Creatively, it's healthy to let the characters jump the turnstile, set off plot bombs, allow the debris to settle where it will. But there has to be some connection, I think, to the original vision. On the most pragmatic level, you can't have a character start out with blue eyes and end up with green, but beyond the basic continuity issues, there's a vibe that needs to be consistent from beginning to end. By the time I finish a manuscript, whether it's fiction or a memoir I'm ghosting, my office is a clutter of images, artifacts, sounds, even smells that anchor me to my original vision. These sensory bookmarks aren't meant to be taken too literally. The anchor is supposed to tether the story to a specific place in my head, not drag it down to drown. It's not a shackle; I can

Shakespeare on my shoulder

Since we seem to be focused on revisions and alterations this week... This morning I dropped off my ms-in-progress with critique partner Bobbi and headed downtown to Sacred Heart Studio to have my shoulder rewritten by the astonishingly talented and delightful Christina Sparrow (her business card reads "Tatooer -- Heartbreaker -- Painter"). Here's the cell cam quickie. I'll post better photos along with the whole backstory (ba-dum-bum CHH!) later this weekend.

Why Revision Matters

As I meticulously make my way through this set of revisions, I'm reminded of one reason so few people are capable of producing a publishable novel. A lot of folks are blessed with talent, and a fair percentage of them also have the required stubbornness (or arrogance, depending on how you choose to look at it) to persist through the submission-rejection cycle. Of these, an even smaller subset will read widely, study the industry, and get an accurate feel for the market segment they wish to target. That still leaves a lot of people, but of this group, even fewer will have the focus and attention to detail it takes to go through the same manuscript the number of times it takes to bring out its potential. We used to live in a world that produced a lot more patient craftsmanship, a world that understood and valued the tireless pursuit of one's best effort. Today's faster-paced society, with its swift travel, lightning-fast communications, and emphasis on rapid-fire productio

Ch-ch-ch-changes: facing the rewrite

Had a long talk with my agent yesterday, and one thing I must say for this woman: she gives good critique. No smoke is blown; she's a realist about the industry, which is probably a healthy balance to my Pollyanna tendencies. I don't come away from these conversations with some pie in the sky notion that I'm going to be the next big thing, but I am left with a realistic expectation of income. Fame is not my objective. Neither is artistic masturbation. My goal is to continue making a living writing books I care about. My agent's goal is to make a living repping books she cares about. So it makes sense for us to have this conversation sooner rather than later, though I was nervous about showing her this rough draft before my critique home girls had cracked their whips over it. Her surgically correct advice mostly confirmed issues I already knew in my heart I'd have to change. Colleen pointed out to me the other day that this is often the case. You hope you're goi

Foreign cover fun: the sequel

I have nothing as chesty as Colleen's collection below, only this baffling vision of suburban Houston. Shouldn't there be a Starbucks in there somewhere?

Foreign Cover Fun: The Good, the Bad, and the Perplexing

Joni's been after me for a while to post some of my foreign covers. I've had some pretty good ones lately. Had to go back to my Gwyneth Atlee (my old pseudonym, used before I began writing romantic suspense under my real name) historicals to come up with some jaw droppers. With foreign covers, anything can happen. Mountains can appear in the background of a Galveston, Texas island setting. Civil War era beauties can find themselves clads only in towels, and celebrated steamboats can come equipped with sails. Imaginative, yes. Accurate, hardly, but I'm thinking the bare chests counted for more than the historical details. Enjoy!

Even Wonder Woman Has Allies

This week, I'm heading back to the drawing board to do some tweakage on the manuscript that's due (gulp!) in less than two weeks. My brilliant critique partners, Joni and Bobbi, have given me excellent food for thought, each of them pointing out weaknesses or making suggestions so brilliant that they're bound to make me a look a lot smarter than I am. They're also both wonderful to begin by pointing out my manuscripts' strengths so I can capitalize upon them, which also opens me to actually listening to their suggestions. My editor (who never sees anything I haven't had vetted by these trusted allies) has the same excellent habit. In teaching, we used to call this the "two to glow, one to grow" strategy. Everyone, from the tiniest child to an adult seeker (as opposed to an adult who reacts defensively to all suggestions)) takes criticism better if she knows the critiquer cares for and appreciates her and has a genuine interest in her progress. I d

Love Scene vs. Sex Scene: One Author's Take

Each of my romantic suspense novels details the development of one couple's relationship during a time of crisis. There's plenty of suspense, a full-blown mystery plot, and quite a bit of world-building, which includes the development of a number of secondary characters close to or at odds with the protagonists (a girl's gotta have her pool of suspects, after all). It's a whole lot of book to work into four hundred or so pages... Which is why is annoys me no end when some rarely-seen acquaintance or relation (let's call him Uncle Walt) gives me an Ooo-la-la waggle of dandruff-flecked eyebrows and says something in the order of, "So, you still writin' those smut books?" Usually there's an associated elbow-nudge, apparently a holdover from junior-high days. Argh! Of course, it goes without saying that "Uncle Walt" has never bothered to actually *read* one of my books, a suggestion that is invariably met with a variety of pathetically-lam

Literary Sex II: the Godiva factor

The real Lady Godiva was the beautiful wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, one of the most powerful noblemen in 11th century England. She was much younger than her husband and used her influence on him to divert support to the arts and religious orders, hoping to raise the consciousness of the common folks. In 1043, Godiva and Leofric founded an Abbey in Coventry. The town grew. Leofric initiated ambitious public works projects and levied taxes to support them. Suffering under the burden, the locals had little interest in aesthetics, so Godiva pleaded with her husband to reduce taxes. According to legend, Leofric sarcastically pointed out that the ancient Greeks and Romans viewed the nude human body as a high expression of nature’s beauty. So if she really wanted to crusade for the sake of art, she could bloody well ride naked through the market-place at midday, and if she did, he would abolish all local taxes except those on horses. Much to everyone’s surprise, she did it. Flanked by tw

"How far would you go?": Conversing with Colleen about reading and writing

I don’t want to jinx my blog buddy, Colleen Thompson , by saying so, but I think she’s about to become an overnight success. Her latest novel, The Salt Maiden , is turning out to be lucky #13: RT Top Pick, Reviewers Choice nom, and now off to a second printing after less than six weeks. Quoth the PR: " The Salt Maiden is the story of a woman's quest to save her missing sister. With a child's life hanging in the balance, Dana Vanover refuses to let anything stop her, from rattlesnakes to small town hostility to her desert-hot attraction to the sheriff determined to run her out of town." One of the delicious elements in the story is a little game played by the Vanover sisters since childhood: “How far would you go?” The answer for Angie Vanover: As far as it takes. The Salt Maiden explores to what lengths someone would journey when the stakes are at their highest. Colleen is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week, so I’m doing my part, plagueing her with a f

The Salt Maiden: a story blossoms in the desert

Long before the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians ever dreamed of making mummies, nature had perfected her technique. First, take a corpse — a human’s, for example — and protect it from the ravages of predators and weather. Then find a quick way to strip the body’s tissues of all water content. Dry winds do a fine job, providing the unfortunate’s final resting place is cold enough to discourage hungry insects. But even in a hot locale — say the arid country of West Texas — certain natural compounds serve the purpose quite as well. One of the most effective substances is common salt, including the white crystals surrounding a body in a cavern so far beneath the desert’s surface, the coyotes and the turkey vultures never sense its presence. And neither do the searchers, whether they use horses, SUVs, or small planes in their hunt for one missing woman amid the hundreds of square miles where rattlesnakes outnumber humans and scorpions have outlasted every species since the dinosaurs. Could

Is Your New Year's Resolution to Write a Publishable Novel?

If so, I *highly* recommend this class from bestselling novelist and acclaimed teacher Patricia Kay. I was fortunate enough to be taken under her wing years ago, and she's really made a difference in my career. Eight Weeks - Beginning Novel Writing Instructor: Patricia Kay When: February 13 - April 8, 2008 Cost: $175 payable by check or PayPal An eight-week intensive online writing class concentrating on the most important elements of good fiction: theme, characterization and dialogue, conflict and motivation, story construction emphasizing scene and sequel, and point of view. During the last week of class, a lesson on writing the synopsis and a sample synopsis will also be posted. With each lesson, homework is assigned. It isn't required, but it's recommended that all students do the homework as it helps you learn. In addition to discussion of the lessons and critique of the homework assignments, Pat will answer questions concerning individual projects and/or problems

Happy New Year!

Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred Lord Tennyson Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die. Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.