Friday, October 26, 2007

More TELL NO LIES news and other odds and ends

My UK publisher recently informed me that they've sold rights to a Dutch publisher to publish Tell No Lies in the Netherlands. Seems my novel is going to be translated into a different language!

It's finally cooling off a bit down here in Florida (though "cooling off" is relative, I know). I went for a run yesterday morning and the three and a half miles or so weren't too difficult, despite my sporadic running schedule. I credit the crisp air and overcast sky. I just joined up with a new running club in my area in an effort to force myself to run more regularly. I'm just not someone who likes to run solo every time out; I need the motivation of knowing someone has dragged herself out of bed at a wee hour to meet me, so I'd better show up. My first meet-up with this group is tomorrow morning, for a 5K run. Should be interesting . . . I haven't done a race since the Disney Marathon in '04, but I figure a 5K is manageable.

There's also been a change in the air with respect to movies, I've noticed. It seems Hollywood has finally realized some moviegoers are actually over the age of 17, and we like to see something other than special effects . . . For the first time in many, many years, I can honestly say there are several movies I want to see and they're all in theatres at the same time. Wow! Let's see: In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Gone Baby Gone, Into the Wild, Michael Clayton . . . I'm going next weekend to see Into the Wild with my book group.

Last item for today, for you writers out there -- here's a link to a funny article in the October 15th issue of Publishers Weekly. I actually enjoy answering questions from other writers, because I remember asking them (well, I still ask them, they're just different questions now) and feeling that it was so difficult to get straight answers (and it still is). But I guess the lesson is -- don't expect easy answers, don't give up if you really want it, and do the work. You'll know what I mean after reading the article.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

TELL NO LIES on display at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Rick's at the Frankfurt International Book Fair right now, and he was at his company's booth (which just happened to be next to the Macmillan booth), and something caught his eye, so he looked over and THIS IS WHAT HE SAW! My book on display! My book on a really, really big display! My book next to a Rolling Stone! In typical Rick fashion, when he calls to tell me about it he says: "Well, you finally got your name in lights!" I'm still smiling . . .

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

1. The other day I was running on the trail near my house, and I approached a little boy (he looked to be about eight or nine years old) who had dismounted his scooter and was crouched down low to the ground looking at something on the pavement. As I passed him, I saw that he was inspecting a leaf. I mean, really inspecting it. And I thought to myself: "How cool is that?" Here's this little boy, raised in the age of computers, video games, and DVD screens on the backs of every seat in the family minivan, and he's out on a Saturday morning, riding his scooter (not an electric one, by the way) and inspecting nature. I was truly thrilled. There is hope.

2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my daughters' piano recital last night. A cell phone started ringing in the middle of one boy's song. Not once, not twice, not even three times. And I don't mean "rings" -- I mean separate calls. As in, repeated calls to the same cell phone. AT A PIANO RECITAL. Had it been one of my girls sitting at the piano at the time this happened, I'm not too sure I would have been able to restrain myself. I might be sitting in jail right now on charges of assault instead of typing this blog . . . You've heard of road rage? Well, what about cell phone rage? TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONES, PEOPLE!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Introducing . . . .My Sexy UK Book Cover!

Here's the new cover of my newly titled novel, Tell No Lies (UK edition). I am so pleased with it!
I often hear stories about authors who hated their covers and felt like the their publishers didn't choose an image that adequately conveyed the concept of the novel. I was a bit nervous waiting to see what my UK publisher would come up with. My editor told me she rejected a lot of proposed covers, so when she finally sent this one to me, I couldn't have been happier. I think they did a great job of preserving the "sexiness" of my original cover, and I love the dreamy, evocative feel of the blues and greys.
Now I'm anxiously waiting to see what the US publisher comes up with . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Has it really been three months?

Without fail, every time I post an entry to the blog, I tell myself that I won't let so much time lapse before posting the next one. But without fail, I do.

It's not that I have nothing to say. The blog entries are in my head. I'm full of thoughts and opinions that I can't wait to share with the world, however trivial, but somehow I never find the time. When I manage to find time to write, it usually comes down to this: I can either (1) work on my novel(s), which means editing Best Intentions (which, by the way, is no longer Best Intentions, see below) or writing Book 2, or (2) blog. Since I have a publisher who is counting on me to do the first of these choices -- indeed, is paying me to do the first of these choices (and for which I thank my lucky stars on a daily basis -- no kidding! -- I really do), I usually end up choosing number one.

So why, you might ask, am I blogging this very minute? Simply put, I have a killer headache and though I'm perfectly capable of blogging in spite of my pain, there's just no way I'd be able to craft any type of readable fiction in this condition. Writing fiction, for me at least, involves entering a different realm, and the headache is like a sentry at the door, refusing to let me in.

Having said that, I hope the meandering topics to follow are somewhat coherent . . .

First, the novel. I came back from Africa to the news from my editor that they'd like to give Best Intentions a new title. Now, anyone who knows me probably realizes that I would freak out at this kind of news. (In fact, I think even my editor has quickly learned this about me, given the very nice and nonchalant way she mentioned the idea in passing -- but that could also just be because she is, without fail, a genuinely nice person.) I'm the type of person who freaks out whenever something unexpected happens, though it usually occurs behind the scenes (read: in front of my poor husband). And yes, I'll freely admit to some minor freaking out about the proposed title change. But the more I thought about it, I really warmed up to the idea. I found it easier to remember how I never really liked my existing title too much, and how it started out as a working title and only became the "real" title when I couldn't think of anything else. And once I saw the proposed title on the proposed cover (for the UK edition, that is), I moved quickly from "warm" to "thrilled". It looks fantastic! I'll share the title and the cover as soon as I have an image that's ready for public consumption.

Otherwise on the book front, I spent much of the summer working on edits, and I think (crossing fingers) that I'm about done. Without gushing too much about my editor again, I will say she's amazing, and truly knows her stuff. When I mention I'm working on edits, a lot of people ask me: "Well, what do you mean? What kind of edits do they want?" and I have a hard time explaining. I mean tightening, and pruning, and word choice, and knowing just the right moment when a chapter or a scene should begin and end. Knowing where the reader needs to have more of something, and where the reader needs less. All of these things and more. For those who are interested, I'll refer you to an article by Harriet Rubin from the June 4, 2007 issue of Publishers Weekly. The whole article is worth reading if you're a writer (and especially if you're a writer who gets defensive whenever anyone suggests cutting your "gems", as most newer writers do), but it's the paragraph in which Rubin mentions Victor Hugo that really rang true for me. It is a thrill when you see what your editor is suggesting, and you know, no matter how much it hurts to watch your words fall away, that she's exactly right.

So now I'm back to working on Book 2, and I couldn't be happier, because the story and the characters have really been quite active in my mind all summer, but I had to shoo them away. But my girls are back in school, I'm back at my workshop, and I have longer blocks of time to write, so if you send me an email or a comment and don't hear back right away, just know that I'm tucked away, writing.

Finally, last topic for the day: Africa. (I had other topics when I started, but that headache is making even the blog seem like an uphill battle, so I'll save them for another day -- a day, hopefully, sooner than three months from now). Rick and I traveled to Africa this summer to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We went to Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar, an island just off the Tanzania coast. So many people have been kind enough to ask about our trip, and I really appreciate that. But what's odd is that I find myself somewhat reluctant to talk about it much. I'm not sure why that is. I think there are several reasons, really. For one, the experience just feels very special to me, and I want to keep it to myself, as strange as that sounds. It's as if, by talking about it, I somehow diminish it. And that leads me to the second reason. I honestly feel that I lack adequate words to describe what I saw and how I felt. This too must sound strange coming from a writer, but I mean verbally. I do intend to eventually write about Africa, whether for my own eyes or for others to read, and hopefully I can do it justice, but it's the talking about it that trips me up. I resort to just saying: "Go." There are a lot of misconceptions about the place, and really, it's hard to dispel them in a short "how was your vacation" type of discussion. Indeed, I feel like I just barely scraped the first layer of my own ideas of what it would be like, and I'm anxious to go back and dig much deeper. Until I can manage that, I'm doing a lot of reading. I'll post some recommendations in a later entry. So that's it on Africa, for now, except a note about the picture above (only one of about 1400 that I took while there!): no one fed the little guy; he climbed into a Land Rover and helped himself to the cookie you see in his hand!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Like Being a Fly on the Wall

I had the wonderful opportunity on Monday evening to attend a book group meeting where the book being discussed was . . . drum roll, please . . . Best Intentions, written by yours truly. Now, I have attended a few book group meetings in the past at which my book was discussed, but in those instances the attendees were all friends of mine. In this case, the book had been recommended to the group by a friend, but otherwise I had no connection to the group.

It was a great experience. All of the women appeared to have read the book quite closely (indeed, one member had tabbed certain pages with Post-It notes!), and they were quite passionate about their opinions. I loved listening to them discuss Jack, the protagonist of the novel, and I found it very interesting to hear so many differents views about the choices he makes along the way. It was also satisfying to know that readers do pick up on the subtle things -- this particular group was very attuned to how one line of dialogue here, or a small action there, affected the meaning and tone of a particular scene. They were the enthusiatic and engaged readers that every writer hopes for!

Thanks to Leanne and Melinda, and all the other ladies who participated!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Great books I've read lately . . .

I have no idea why I didn't discover this writer earlier, but I'm hooked on Paul Watkins after just one book and I can't wait to read more of him. I just read The Story of My Disappearance and it was fantastic.

Other books I've read recently and highly recommend:
The Great Gatsby (okay, that's obvious, but I just reread it for the first time in years, and I just appreciated it so much more than I did back when I read it in high school).
The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle (should be required reading for Floridians and Southern Californians -- but would benefit anyone who thinks they have the whole illegal immigration thing figured out)
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (when I read the synopsis, I was skeptical - a novel with a circus setting just didn't appeal to me -- but I was wrong. It's a great read.)

Friday, March 02, 2007

DMB and other Online things

For those of you sick of my constant references to the Dave Matthews Band, you may want to surf elsewhere . . . (although there are two "non-DMB" items at the end).

For the rest of you:

1. I came across a piece written by a college student, Patrick Snyder, about how it's become trendy to bash the band, and why he believes these so-called critics are wrong. I really enjoyed his piece (and I wrote him to tell him so*), because he was able to put into words that which I hadn't been able to. I also think, given his youth, he showed a lot of maturity, because at his age it's sometimes hard to speak out and say you like something when it's no longer "cool" to do so. Here's the link to his piece if you're interested: Patrick Snyder's excellent article in defense of the Dave Matthews Band.

2. Now, having said all that, I must also add that Dave has broken my heart . . . Why is that, you ask? Well, let me first say that I listened to a lot of DMB while writing Best Intentions. I'm the first to admit that I listen to a lot of DMB anyway, of course, but the band certainly played a part in cranking up the ol' muse each day during the time I wrote the book. Anyway, I wanted to use a small segment of lyrics from a song called "Seek Up" for my epigraph. (In layman's terms, an epigraph is that little quote you sometimes see on its own page, before the novel begins, that sort of sets up the theme, etc.) I did my research, found out who managed the rights to the lyrics, and sent off my request for permission. For months I waited, receiving an e-mail every once in a while from the contact person telling me she didn't have an answer yet. Because I still didn't have an answer by the time the book was set to go to print with my first publisher, I gave up and instead chose the Lord Jeffrey quote that you'll find in the book, and also on my website.

Then, lo and behold, the Macmillan deal comes through, and I realize, "hey! I have another window of opportunity to see if I can get permission to use the "Seek Up" lyrics!" So I write to the contact again, explaining the situation, hoping that with a large, well-known and very reputable publisher, I might have a better chance of obtaining a positive response. After all, DMB is known among their fans for their generosity -- not only with respect to charitable causes, but with their music in general. This is a band that lets fans tape the live shows -- and in fact provides a special spot and set-up at the concerts to assist them with this effort. So I'm thinking, if only I could ask Dave directly, I know he'd grant the permission . . . But we all know that is never going to happen . . . So I put my faith in the bureaucratic route to obtaining permissions. . .

Well, this time the answer came back promptly, and the response was "no" -- no explanation or reason given -- just a simple "Unfortunately, the publisher of "Seek Up" is unable to fulfill this request. Thank you for your interest in the music of Dave Matthews Band and best wishes with your project." I sent off my polite "thanks anyway" but inside I was not too happy. I mean, I've spent a lot of money on this band -- I mean A LOT OF MONEY. CDs, concert tickets, plane tickets, hotel rooms, etc. I always joke that if I was young, single, and childless, I'd probably be a groupie (do groupies even exist anymore?). I deserve to be able to use these lines, right? Is it really asking much to want to use ten lines from a song that the average person has never heard of. ("Seek Up" is not one of the band's songs that receives radio play.)

As a writer, I've received many, many rejections, and they always sting, each and every one. And this one stung the most. I considered breaking every CD in protest, never buying another concert ticket, canceling my membership in the Warehouse, all that "cleansing" stuff that is supposed to make one feel better. I even seriously considered my husband's suggestion (made jokingly, I think), that in the Acknowledgements section of the book, I add a little special note to Dave -- sort of a "thanks for nothing." But no, I'm a bigger and better person than that. In fact, I believe I've actually come to terms with this biggest rejection of all. How do I know? Let's just say I'll still be in the audience when the band takes the stage at the MGM in Las Vegas later this month, screaming with pleasure when the first note is played, singing along to every song, dancing in the aisles . . . Some things never change. . .

Okay, now let's move on to the non-DMB items:

1. My daughters and I have become addicted to a Podcast called Dylan's Couch. The creator is a 13 year old boy, and this kid is really funny in a sweet, self-deprecating way. (Not to mention his theme song is catchy and sticks in your head long after you've watched the latest episode). He's the kind of kid that I'd be okay with one of my daughters bringing home one day (several years from now, that is!). If you've got pre-teens or thereabouts (mine are 12 and 14), you've got to show this to them. It's a hoot! (FYI, the link above takes you to his website, but you can also access the episodes on YouTube -- the picture is bigger there, for some reason, and that makes the overall effect stronger).

2. In reference to the asterik above: Readers, please know that writers are an incredibly insecure bunch, and we love to hear when someone likes something we've written. (Now, if you don't like it, please keep that to yourself.) (Um, just joking.) So when I read something I like, I've gotten in the habit of writing to the person and letting them know. I even once wrote to Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes), and though it was for a slightly different reason which I'll blog about someday, even he responded. (Hmm, maybe if I wrote directly to Dave about those lyrics . . . but I digress . . .) So I think the lesson here (if there is a lesson) is that us writers love to hear from you readers! Don't be shy!

The Genesis of a Short Story

One of my older short stories, "Flying Lessons," was just published at the on-line literary magazine, Hamilton Stone Review. The story was always one of my favorites -- I had a lot of fun writing it, and I enjoyed hanging out with my characters. In 2000, Glimmer Train reinforced my good feelings about it when they picked it as a finalist for the journal's Short Story Award for New Writers. But it was long, and that made it hard to find a publisher. Most journals have guidelines limiting word count, and at 7500 words, my story was way over the average limit of 3000 to 3500 words. So I'm especially grateful to Hamilton Stone Review for being willing to publish it.

A lot of people read it and see the similarity between Ricky's family situation and the real life family of my husband Rick. In the story, brothers Ricky and Joe live with their divorced mother and their grandma. My husband Rick and his brother also come from divorced parents, and their grandma lived with them growing up. Joe is a musician; my husband's brother is a musician. But before anyone gets the idea that I've contradicted my earlier post below, and that this story isn't fiction, let me give you a glimpse into a writer's mind (or at least this writer's mind) to see how we sometimes come up with story ideas.

In "Flying Lessons," the real "story behind the story" (as I like to say) is the character of Lisa. Now, it's true that my brother-in-law dated a lot of girls with the name of Lisa (in fact, he married and later divorced one of them). My husband once told me a funny anecdote about one of these Lisas (not the one he married), about how she was um, how should I say. . . clear throat . . . noisy, and how their quiet, unassuming grandma once remarked on this trait at the dinner table. Now, moving to another family -- mine -- I also remembered one of my own brothers dating a beautiful girl who was Israeli, and who did, in fact, have to return to Israel to serve in the armed forces. So the Lisa in "Flying Lessons" started as sort of a basic composite of these two girlfriends, and then I used the relationship between the brothers as my structural foundation because I find such relationships so, so interesting. (You'll see more brotherly dynamics in Best Intentions, too). To my knowledge, neither of the girls upon whom I based Lisa was a pilot -- the details about flying come from my own experience as a pilot. And everything else that happens in the story -- well, you'll have to blame that on what goes on in my crazy little brain . . .

So that's about it. Does the story have some real life components to it? You bet. So is it still fiction? Without a doubt.

I hope you'll check it out and let me know how you like it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Idle Musings . . .

There's this columnist who writes for the Calendar section of the Orlando Sentinel on Fridays -- he calls himself Commander Coconut. I love this guy. When I'm reading the paper, I usually find myself muttering things out loud, most often in the form of invectives directed at some politician, or generalized grumblings over the state of the world. But with Commander Coconut, I smile and laugh and say things like "Yes!" or "Exactly!" or "I couldn't agree more!" His column is usually a bunch of musings about sundry things, many of which relate to the entertainment field: celebrities, movies, and what not. I'm not too big on pop culture -- my sense is that we're all victims of a pop culture overload. But I like Commander Coconut so much, I think, because despite our generational differences (I suspect, though I'm not certain, that he is much older than I), I tend to agree with many of his opinions. And many of his opinions tend to be contrary to popular opinion. And therein lies the attraction . . . Anyone who really knows me, knows, at heart, I am a contrarian.

So, in honor of Commander Coconut, I give you some of my own musings (some pop culture related, some not, some contrary, some not).

1. Am I the only one who doesn't think Ugly Betty is all that ugly? I mean, just because Hollywood puts glasses and braces on a girl doesn't automatically make her ugly. Anyone can see that underneath the appliances is a decent looking actress. Somehow, I think if they'd used a truly ugly girl, the show would have had more meaning.

2. Do you think the radio stations were paid to start playing "Bad Day" over and over again just before the new season of American Idol started? The song had been played to death last year, and it seemed to have finally gone away, but then I noticed that in the weeks running up to the new season, it had been resurrected.

3. I finally got a chance to see "Crash" and "Hotel Rwanda" -- both were amazing, though depressing, movies. Probably need a good comedy next. Instead, The Constant Gardener is next in line on my Netflix list . . . oh well. I read the book and enjoyed it; hope the movie is just as good.

4. I have to admit I'm becoming a Stephen King convert. Now, I don't have a lot to go on yet. I've always been a bit anti-Stephen King -- based upon the movies made of his novels, I assumed his writing would be formulaic, and I never liked horror anyway. I first read him when he used to write a column for Newsweek, I think it was, and I found that I really enjoyed the columns and often agreed with what he had to say. Then, a while back, my husband brought home On Writing, a non-fiction book by King about his career, how it was derailed when he was hit by a car, and his subsequent struggle to begin writing again. It was really, really good; I found myself recommending it to everyone, not just to other writers. In it, he discusses some of his early novels, and I must admit, just reading about his process of writing those works piqued my interest. Recently, a neighbor loaned me one of his most recent novels, Lisey's Story, and though it's dense and at times hard to get through, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, what shocked me the most, his writing is quite lyrical. Anyway, I'm hooked and looking forward to the next Stephen King novel -- which for me, may be his first. I might just have to start at the beginning.

5. If our government truly believes that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," then can someone tell me why our current administration (and many citizens, judging by the letters to the editor I read in the paper) thinks that only Americans are entitled to these unalienable rights???? I mean, in my world, a human is a human is a human -- I don't care which country they come from . . . It's seems to me that we grant our citizens certain protections because we believe it's right to do so, not just because there's an official piece of paper that tells us we must . . . If it's right to do so, then isn't it right to do so for everyone . . .?

6. A lot of people ask me how I ever finished writing a whole novel. It reminds me of when I lost about 40 pounds some years ago, and everyone asked me how I managed to do it. It's as if everyone expects I will give them my "secret" for achieving these things -- as if they don't already know the answer. Of course, both in writing and in weight loss, people do want it to be easy -- why else would there be so many products sold that promise quick and easy results? But deep down, everyone already knows the answer. To write a novel, you just have to put your butt in the chair and write. Every day. On a regular basis. It's called discipline. Writing has to be like any other obligation. It can't be one of those things that you get to when you've finished everything else, because you'll never finish everything else, and you know it. You can't wait until you're "inspired" because as nice as that sounds, the inspiration usually hits after you've been writing for a while. Which brings me to the weight loss -- because, like writing, it's all a matter of discipline. The answer is easy: exercise more, eat less. It's that simple. It's not easy, but it is simple. (Now, before someone gets on me, I'm talking about the average, otherwise healthy person -- I know there are certain medical situations where this doesn't hold true). And you have to really want to do it, whether it's writing a book or losing weight. If you're going to write a book, it's best to actually enjoy the act of writing . . . Don't do it thinking you'll get rich or be invited to appear on Oprah. Such motivation won't sustain you for very long. As for losing weight, well, I can't ever admit to enjoy eating less -- I love food too much -- but I have experienced runner's high, and having gained back about 20 of those 40 pounds I lost, I will be the first to attest to how much better I felt when I was slimmer, fitter, and stronger. But -- and this brings me back to my original point (about already knowing the answer to the question) -- I know exactly why I gained those pounds back. I'd been exercising a lot less, and eating a lot more. It's as simple as that. So . . . today I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement, and guess what? It felt good. And afterwards, I noticed, that banana on the kitchen counter sounded a lot more appetizing than a muffin . . .

Booksigning Pics

I'm happy to report that Rick found his camera! We thought it had been stolen, and needless to say, I was upset because it contained the only pictures from the Wilmington and Deland booksignings. Actually, the truth is that my friend Debbie found the camera -- unbeknownst to us, we'd left it at her house on Thanksgiving.

So, here I am outside the Ninth Street Book Shop in Wilmington, Delaware on November 10, 2006. To the right is my youngest daughter, Sally, and to the left is Gemma Buckley, owner of the book store.

At The Muse Book Store in Deland, Florida on November 18, 2006.