La Tavola

Jo Thomas~ Jo Thomas

‘Write about what you know,’ people would tell me when I first started writing. The problem is, I didn’t know about anything…or so I thought! I knew I loved food, but I wasn’t a chef, or even one of those foodie types with fancy knifes and a cupboard full unrecognisable ingredients. I just loved to feed my friends and family. I loved the way food brought us around the table together. But what could I really write about?

Then, my husband was asked to go and work on the west coast of Ireland. We went over on a research trip and I had never seen so much rain. But whilst I was there we went to a seafood restaurant. It looked like a fisherman’s cottage at the end of the pier. When we stepped in, it was like walking into someone’s front room. The fire was roaring and there were candles on the tables and on the windowsills. We sat by the window and just for a while, it stopped raining. The moon threw out a silver shadow across Galway Bay and as I sat and ate oysters from the same waters I thought, this is sexy. This is what this place is all about. I began to realise that where ever you go, when you discover the food of the place, it takes you by the hand and introduces you to its people, history and culture. It was there I wrote my first book, The Oyster Catcher, set amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay.

notebook I was then researching my second book in Southern Italy, in Puglia, where my brother owned a small place. We were in one of our favourite restaurants, a family run tavern in the middle of a rural olive grove. After dinner, the owner joined us and brought a bottle of homemade limoncello, pouring us each a glass. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian. But somehow, we had this conversation. He asked me what kind of books I wrote. I told him I wrote about food and love. He explained that, for him, life was all about the food they grew on their land, and he held out an arm; to cook in the kitchen; to put on the table, la tavola, and he banged his hand down on the scrubbed wooden table; for the ones he loved! Then he placed his hand on his heart. ‘That’s it!’ I replied. That’s what I write. Stories about the food that’s grown on the land, cooked in the kitchen and put on the table for the ones we love. I write about la tavola, because it’s there that I share my love. We have our arguments, share our problems celebrate and show our love, at la tavola. Given that I’m from partIrish and part-Italian heritage, I think there must be something in the genes! It is the heart of my home and that’s what I know about.

Since Italy, I have written about wine making in south west France in Late Summer in the Vineyard, honey making and herbs in Crete in The Honey Farm in the Hill and I have just finished my new book set in Spain, Sunset over the Cherry Orchard. The more books I finish, the more places I want to explore through their food and the more tables, wherever they might be, I want to write about.

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 2's The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, THE OYSTER CATCHER, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan  Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

Ready, Set, BAKE!

carolematthews~ By Carole Matthews A Note from Melina (aka Melissa):  I may not bake as well as Mary Berry (though not for lack of trying). But I'm proud that that we have one thing in common.  We both adore Carole Matthews.  It was from Carole Matthews that I learned about The Great British Bake-Off, and I've been an addict from the first episode I was able to get my hands on.  The show is so soothing, with its rivers, fields, and adorable animals walking around. Even the music relaxes me.  The encouraging atmosphere in "the tent" reminds me of RWA meetings and conferences. Writers and bakers are clearly among the world's loveliest people.  Writers and bakers are clearly among the world's loveliest people.  And of course, the show is a great injection of enthusiasm for my muses (as is kneading bread dough and mixing batter).  The Great British Bake Off is the perfect show for a writer, and Carole has graciously offered to share some of her thoughts on the show.  Thank you so much, Carole!  It’s the time of year in Great Britain when everyone goes a little bit cake bonkers. As the nights draw in and the trees turn to gold, the nation becomes hooked on the latest series of The Great British Bake Off. Never has there been so much tension involving cake. We weep with them over their biscuit disasters. Empathise when their bread fails to rise. Commiserate with their soggy bottoms. We all love Mary Berry’s wisdom, Paul Hollywood’s steely blue eyes and the terrible innuendos from Mel and Sue, the comfort that comes from nothing more complicated than a bit of cake. For me, it’s a great time of marketing activity too. As well as keeping my eye on the trials and tribulations of the bakers, I live tweet during Bake Off while simultaneously balancing a plate of biscuits on my lap – for no one can possibly watch Bake Off without having something cakey-based to snack on. [caption id="attachment_7109" align="alignright" width="225"]Star Baker! Star Baker![/caption] Every week during the show we also give away signed copies of my book, The Cake Shop in the Garden, which has been one of my most popular novels worldwide. Helped in no small measure by having a glowing quote from THE Mary Berry on the cover. I also throw in a bit of chocolate for good measure. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary when she was doing a book signing in my local bookstore. When it was my turn for my books to be signed, I gave one of mine and thanking her for all the pleasure gives to me and my readers – we are all Bake Off fans and chat about it on social media. She said she would love to read it and I thought no more. So I was very surprised when, a few months later, I saw a piece from her in a magazine and she said that she was ‘addicted’ to my books. Go me! Now, of course, she can have free books for life as far as I’m concerned! You can keep all your celebrity chefs, for me there is only one cook. Her recipes always work and don’t have any weird and wonderful ingredients. I was chatting to a friend about her yesterday and we were saying, that in an age where it’s still very unusual to see older ladies on the television, Mary is a fabulous role model. She’s elegant, refined and a complete style icon. Long may she reign! And, of course, with all that fabulous cake on the telly, my diet goes completely out of the window as I reach for the flour and try a few new bits and pieces. I’ve always loved baking, but too often find that I’m doing it against the clock. In the winter, I feel happier to set time aside for a bit of baking therapy. Perhaps that’s why my books, so often, have a cake or chocolate theme. This week on Bake Off is batter week. Looking forward, already, to pancakey goodness. What could possibly go wrong? Carole’s latest book is The Chocolate Lovers’ Wedding. 

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You Go!

 ~ By Laura Florand When Melissa first approached me about writing a post for this blog, I wanted to talk about craft. I wanted to talk about texture, which is one of my personal “things”. (I think it’s a huge benefit to authors to get out from behind their computers and go out into the world and absorb as much texture from it as they can, so that it will underly their writing. I could go on and on about it, but…) But then I thought about how many times I’ve heard a writer say, “I came back from that workshop so inspired I rewrote half my work in progress” and how much that made me wince, every time. Because I really don’t want to read what some other author told you to write, not even if that other author is me. If I want to read what some other author wrote, I’ll pick up her book. (Even if it’s mine.) And I think that because of the exceptional generosity of so many wonderful authors in sharing their own knowledge and tips, and because of our own perfectionism and desire to “get it right”, to be the best we can be, and, of course, our own vulnerability about our work, that a lot of us fall into that trap: of writing and rewriting our work according to someone else’s model. Of trying to follow someone else’s established path. Because it works for them, we love their work, we want to be as successful, as good, etc. woman runningAnd humans, you know…we can often be quite careful. Checking around to make sure we fit in with our social group, trying not to stand out too much from the pack. There are good reasons for that. It’s one heck of a lot safer, to start. The problem is that there are about five million previous paths, at the very least. So from workshop to workshop, from book or post about writing to book or post about writing, we zigzag in place and never establish our own paths. Which might be frontier paths, straight into uncharted territory. Where the going will probably be tougher, the money less easy, of course. So you may want to ignore me. That choice is up to you. There are benefits to playing it safe. Definite, visible ones. But I guess I’m saying that what I personally want to read is a love story, and a love story with a happy ending. It might even be a love story with a happy ending that includes hot sexy billionaires or Navy SEALs. (Actually, let’s take it as a given that whoever the love interest, I probably want him to be hot and sexy.) So it’s true that if you write a love story with an unhappy ending and it’s gorgeous or you write mysteries that are fascinating and compelling but don’t contain a significant (happy) love story, you still won’t end up with me as a reader. (You’ll probably end up with someone else, though.) But I’d love it if you sat down and wrote the story you want to read, which, if you’re a writer, is probably a little bit different than all the other stories out there. (If you were getting what you wanted from all the other stories out there, would you really be compelled to write your own? It’s one heck of a lot easier to read someone else’s, I think we all know.) It may not be a lot different. It may be that little twist on a hot sexy billionaire story that came from your dissatisfaction with the other hot sexy billionaire stories you’ve read. But it will still be your story. And you can’t write that if you’re too busy following everyone else’s advice. Advice is helpful, don’t get me wrong. We’ve all benefited from it, and I think about most advice I run across at least a little. I’d be an idiot not to. But there’s a lot out there, and we can spend too much time following it and not enough time following our story. So I’m not going to write about texture. (Although, if you’ll take my advice, ahem, I still think my grandfather was right when he told me, “Go live life first and then write about it.”) I’m just going to say: You’re a risk taker. I mean, for crying out loud, you write stories. You put your heart and ideas down on paper (or virtual paper) and put them out there for the whole wide world to read. You are crazy. You should probably be seeing a therapist about this completely insane thing you do. But you don’t. Because it makes you feel sane. So while you’re taking this insane risk, don’t spend too much of your time and energy trying to keep to the safe path. It’s too late for that. Sure, there are some safer ways across the lava field (desert? vast dangerous ocean?) of writing and publishing than others. Feel free to note where the birds seem to indicate the possible existence of an island ahead and keep an eye on the stars for your direction. It’s always nice to have a healthy survival instinct and a dose of intelligence, after all. But don’t try to do what everyone else does and go where everyone else goes, no matter how many different directions that sends you. Don’t play it too safe. The only way to do that is to turn off your computer and go watch TV instead. And you know what will happen if you do that. You’ll wish the story you’re watching had gone a different way, you’ll start thinking how that heroine would be so much better if only she showed a little gumption, you’ll start wishing the hero had done this at that moment, and… You’ll be back writing stories again. So you might as well go for broke. Explore. It’s all right. The worst thing that will happen if you get something wrong is that you’ll have to write another book. Which is what you wanted to have to do anyway, right? If not, there’s the TV option again. In short, if you’ll take my advice…it’s to not take my advice. You go, girl. Explore. You can make your own path. And if not, if you screw up, if you find out your story tastes are weird and no one else likes them (which I doubt will happen), then you’re big enough to pick yourself up and dust off your skinned knees and try another path that appeals. Or keep going down this one a little longer to see if it gets better. You’re off to great places. So you go. And enjoy the journey. Laura Florand is the international bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen books, including the Vie en Roses series (Once Upon a Rose), the Paris Hearts series (All for You), and the Amour et Chocolat series (The Chocolate Thief). Her books have appeared in ten languages, been nominated for RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Book of the Year, received the RT Seal of Excellence and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and been recommended by USA Today, NPR, and The Wall Street Journal. She was born in Georgia, but the travel bug bit her early. After a Fulbright year in Tahiti, a semester in Spain, and backpacking everywhere from New Zealand to Greece, she ended up living in Paris, where she met and married her own handsome Frenchman, a story told in her first book Blame It on Paris.  Now a lecturer at Duke University, she is very dedicated to her research into French chocolate. For a glimpse behind the scenes of some of that research as well as recommendations for US chocolate, make sure to check out her website: www.lauraflorand.com.

A Little Girl And Her Big Dreams

~ By Anne Kemp There once was a little girl who dreamed in Technicolor of the life she wanted when she was older. The best and most favorite of her dreams were the ones where she was running away to an island so she could write a book. She knew it was hokey and farfetched, but one cannot help what they dream, or as they say, “the heart wants what the heart wants.” This same little girl had a vision of her life on the island. There was a small, crooked bamboo shack right on the beach, flip-flops freshly kicked off tanned feet and tossed haphazardly by the front door, askew in the fine powder-white sand. And just a few steps away from her front door were the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean. To the left of the little shack was a hammock strung between two palm trees, joined at the root in a perfect union. It was there the girl knew she would rest while swaying in the breeze and brooding over her next projects, while on break from hunching over her typewriter working on the next great American novel. Now, let’s fast-forward 30 years: The same little girl with the big dreams has packed a bag, sublet her apartment and has clutched in her grasp a one-way ticket to St. Kitts. She’s moving in with her 26 year-old nephew who’s going to vet school while she figures out her next steps after being laid-off right before the Christmas holiday. She’s also still freshly bruised from a relationship that ended quite suddenly and out of nowhere just a few months prior. This girl with her big dreams had strayed somewhere along the way and needed to find them again. So she went to the islands, because for once…she just could. It scared her to leave the familiar but she needed to get out of her comfort zone and take a risk in the unknown. What she got there was like nothing she ever imagined. Instead of a little shack on the beach, she was staying (gratefully) in a one-bedroom apartment on an air mattress - at 36 years old, this was quite the bold move on her part. Next to her air mattress, which was in the middle of her nephew’s living room, was a litter box that said nephew had issues with cleaning. It soon became part of her daily chores to make sure it stayed fresh. Now, since it’s 2012 and there really aren’t any typewriters handy these days, she packed her MacBook in her carry-on bag and proceeded to begin her newest chapter. (Traveler’s side-note: thank goodness she didn’t have a typewriter she needed to haul from LA to the Caribbean. Considering the price of extra baggage these days, her severance pay would have been spent in line at the ticket counter!) Her new residence wasn’t a few steps from the beach but close enough to get to it on foot. Even in the most terrible heat or on the worst of days, she knew she had that gorgeous Caribbean blue water oh-so-close-by in case of an emergency. There were even a few nights were she ended up swimming in those gorgeous waters with fun new friends until the wee hours of the morning…a feat not attempted since the 90s. It was to the point on one occasion that her obviously more responsible nephew was found on the shore begging her to “please come in! It’s 4 AM!” There was a hammock and it was amazing. The girl loved to sit in it and think…until it broke while she was swinging in it one day, spitting her out of it’s woven embrace like a scorned lover and knocking the wind from her lungs in the rudest fashion. While still loving hammocks and swings and such, the girl vowed she wouldn’t lie in one again…unless it was super-glued for stability. Her lesson? That life is never what we think it’s going to be. While she was making other plans, she forgot to sit back and let the fates take their course for her. Life is more than a daily to-do list. Instead it’s a day at a time, and it is made up of a series of beautiful accidents that if we were to attempt to plan them, we’d never see those plans come to fruition. The most beautiful and memorable of moments are made up in minutes, building into experiences and setting us on courses for our lifetime…or maybe it just steers us in the right direction for one day. The girl always wanted to write a book while living on an island. And guess what? She did. Anne Kemp is the author of the Abby George Series, which includes her debut novella, All Fruits Ripe, and first novel, Rum Punch Regrets, which is out Friday May 25th! Please visit her at www.AnneKemp.com for more information. You can follow her on Twitter: @MissAnneKemp of become a fan on Facebook.  A portion of Anne’s book revenue is donated to Lupus LA.  

Pastime or Addiction?

And How Real Virtue Came To Be
~ By Katy Lee Thank you for inviting me to your virtual home today to talk about the gaming aspect of my novel, Real Virtue. Did you know video game addiction is becoming an increasingly difficult problem with the youths in America today? It can affect the everyday life and social situations of children through young adults. Video game addiction can hinder a child's learning skills, cause real life problem solving to become more difficult, and cause a child to spend far less time with family and friends. In Real Virtue, the story opens with my heroine, Mel Mesini, reaching the highest level in this online interactive game she plays. A game that promises her a life she can love. She’s playing while she is supposed to be working. She plays because she doesn’t feel so great about her real life. She plays because it’s a world she can control. Or so she thinks. During my research, I read many interviews with gamers, mostly teens and young adults, where they admit to preferring their virtual lives over their real ones. Video games can become super appealing, especially if their real life is not so great. In a game, a player can zap out of a situation they don’t like. They can’t do that in real life. In a game, a player is rewarded for beating the next level or quest. In real life, it’s hard to accomplish things, and even when you do, people don’t always notice, or for some, care. And that is where my character, Mel Mesini, comes in, and this is how Real Virtue came to be: So there I was, flying cross-country, when the older gentleman to my right asks me if I have a virtual life. “A virtual what?” came my reply. He then continued to explain the details of his job of creating virtual possessions that gamers on interactive game sites can purchase for their avatars. “Seriously? People spend money on a fake character?” And apparently enough for this guy to make a living on. So, the remainder of my long flight was spent plotting out the story that would become Real Virtue. My questions to myself were what would happen to someone who took their virtual life just a little too far? What would happen if that said someone lost all these possessions to, say, a villain bent on revenge? How far would someone go to protect their virtual life? Would they be willing to give up their real life for it? Just what would drive a person to do it? Who would this person be? And since I write romance, my next question was just what kind of person would be their perfect match? And Voila! Mel Mesini and Jeremy Stiles were born. Thank you for having me on your blog! Readers, I love comments and would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here and let me know what's sparked the ideas for your stories, and how you've woven real life issues into fictional stories. Please keep in touch with me at my website: www.KatyLeeBooks.comTwitter and Facebook and Goodreads. Let’s connect and get to know each other! Katy Lee writes higher purpose stories in high speed worlds. As an inspirational author, speaker, home-schooling mom, and children’s ministry director, she has dedicated her life to sharing tales of love, from the greatest love story ever told to those sweet romantic stories of falling in love. Her fresh and unique voice brings a fast-paced and modern feel to her romances that are sure to resonate with readers long after the last page. Her debut novel Real Virtue is a finalist in many writing contests, and took second place in the 2011 Georgia Maggie Award of Excellence. Katy lives in New England with her husband, three children, and two cats.  

The Agent Search – Another Perspective

~ By Maureen McGowan These days, writers have options to get their books into the hands of readers, but many are still looking for something resembling the “traditional” publishing experience. And the simple fact remains, to up your chances of getting your manuscript read by editors at the big publishers, you need an agent. Since I’ve done the agent hunt thing, twice, I thought I’d share a few thoughts for those of you on the hunt, to put it in perspective, or at least to offer a slightly different perspective. I hope an empowering one. Yes, while on the hunt, often it feels like agents have all the power. Even once you've got an agent, it can take a while before that power imbalance starts to stabilize (depending on how your respective careers are going). But one thing writers often seem to forget is who works for whom. To remind us, I thought it might be interesting to boil the agent hunt process down to the business basics. First, at the risk of going all Econ 101 on you, the reason the power feels out of balance is a matter of supply and demand. That is, there are more aspiring writers and manuscripts, than there are qualified agents. Ergo, agents are a scarce commodity, and even if they're looking for new work, many can afford to be picky when choosing new clients. The more successful they are, the pickier they can afford to be. But the scarceness of the supply, doesn't change the substance of what's going on when a writer is agent hunting. It doesn't change the fact that the writer is the potential employer and the agent the potential employee, essentially making the agents job applicants. (Okay, the writer/agent relationship is more of a business partnership, where success is in both party’s interest... but for my analogy to work, let’s pretend it’s an employer/employee relationship... go with me...) Let's say you're a writer with a manuscript in need of a publishing contract, (and it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a manuscript in possession of good words, must be in want of a publishing contract), and let's say you're not currently represented by an agent. If you're in this position, you've got a job that needs to be done--the job of shopping your work and landing a contract. Some writers will chose to fill the agent position themselves, instead of hiring from outside the firm, so to speak, but savvy writers will have noted that the chances of landing a great publishing contract goes up if they hire an expert, a sales specialist, to handle the part of the transaction. So, let's say you've decided to find an agent. To attract qualified applicants for this position, you need to advertise. But because you're picky, and smart, and don't want to waste your time interviewing just anyone, you don't put it out on Craig's list, you target your want ad directly to those people you hope will apply for the job. These specialized want ads are called "query letters". Agents currently looking for more work, who were lucky enough to receive one of your ads, and who think the job sounds like one for which they might be qualified, will respond, effectively applying for the position. But before the applicants can be seriously considered for the job, each must pass a test administered by the potential employer. To pass this test, the agent-applicants must demonstrate they understand and love the employer's product and have a plan to find an editor who will feel the same way. This test is administered via something called a "submission", and typically the potential employer lets the applicants choose whether to complete this submission test in a one-stage or two-stage process. For example, less confident applicants (or applicants whose offices are particularly cluttered) might chose to start with a sample of their potential employer's product, often called a "partial", while others may decide to take the entire test at once by requesting to review a "full". Some applicants are so eager, and/or competitive, they ask the potential employer to take all the other applicants out of consideration for a set period of time. This is commonly referred to as an "exclusive", and employers may choose to accept or reject an applicant's exclusivity request. Agents who pass the submission test are granted the privilege of moving on to the final interview stage, often conducted over the phone, but sadly, many agents fail the submission test. Why the high failure rate? Can we assume the quality of the agent applicant pool is low? No. It's more complicated than that. Selling works of fiction is a passionate process, passion's a tricky thing, and sadly some applicants fail to find the requisite level of passion for all the products they apply to represent. Some discover they don't share the same taste as the potential employer, and didn't enjoy the product as much as they'd hoped. Some reach the conclusion that the quality or uniqueness of the product is such that they fear their sales skills will prove inadequate to place it. Still others might fall in love with the product, but don't believe they have the specific abilities and/or contacts with the right editors to do the product justice. Yes, there are many reasons why agents fail the submission test, but there's no reason for agents to feel ashamed about this, or take it personally. Sometimes the fit simply isn't right. ;-) Agents who fail the submission test send a letter to the potential employer to announce their withdrawal from consideration for the position. Occasionally, if the agent feels particularly demoralized, he or she might fail to withdraw their application in writing. In these cases, the dejected agent sends out passive-aggressive signals, such as breaking off all communications and/or not reporting their test results for an extended period of time, assuming the potential employer will deduce the agent's failure to pass the submission test. But most agents will send a written notice of their submission test failure, and these letters are often referred to as "rejection letters". This term is highly misleading slang as they rarely, if ever, contain the word rejection. The letters are simply the agents' notification that they no longer believe they'll be able to adequately perform the job for which they'd applied. If a large number of applicants fail the testing portion of the interview process, or if few potential applicants respond to the initial want ad, it can be frustrating and disappointing for the potential employer. At this point, the employer will have to round up another group of potential applicants, perhaps by using a revised version of the initial want ad, or by widening the pool of applicants to consider. If a writer has already widened his or her agent search net to include every applicant who shows potential, but has not yet found anyone qualified to hire, the writer has at least three choices.
  1. He or she might choose to let some time pass and then try to identify more applicants at a later date.
  2. Or, the writer might choose to consider the reasons for feeling unqualified that were offered by the past applicants', and then revise their product to better suit the tastes and skill levels of the available pool of applicants.
  3. Or, the writer might choose to return to the research and development stage and create an entirely new product. Then, with a new product in hand, they may return to the want ad stage.
Often agents who felt unqualified to represent one particular product may feel better qualified to represent another product produced by that same potential employer -- perhaps using refined production techniques, or a with more inventive overall design concept. Statistical evidence has proven this last option has the highest probability of success.* Bottom line: no reason to be angsty while trying to find the right agent. As clearly demonstrated by this analogy, we writers are in charge. ;-) Okay, I'm not that deluded, but maybe if writers thought of it more this way -- trying to find the right person for the job -- it might relieve some of the angst? Who am I kidding? We're an angsty lot. * You want a reference for the statistical study? Sorry. Umm... It's confidential. Yeah, confidential. Maureen McGowan is a two-time Golden Heart finalist. Her Young Adult Sci-fi Thriller, DEVIANTS, Book One of The Dust Chronicles, will be released in hardcover and e-book formats on October 30, 2012, by Amazon Children’s Publishing. Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer and Cinderella: Ninja Warrior are available now. 

As Old As You Feel

~ By Sandy James Thanks so much for having me today! My books have been reviewed by several different review sites, and I’m always grateful when a reviewer takes the time to read and comment on something I’ve written. Yet no matter how often I’ve had fantastic things said about my stories, like most writers, I focus on the less complimentary write-ups. I don’t mind good constructive criticism—in fact, I look at it as a learning experience that might make my next book stronger. But one particular comment that I’ve received more than once on my book, Turning Thirty-Twelve—and am likely to receive on my new book, Twist of Fate—baffles me. Some reviewers don’t like to read about older heroines. When I write, I tell the story that is screaming in my head, regardless of the age of the characters. I had never considered that younger readers might not appreciate heroines in their thirties and forties or that young women might not be able to empathize with the lives of more mature women. (Funny, but reviewers never mention the hero’s age, and often say how much they are drawn to the “mature” heroes. Nice double standard…) Perhaps I lost my own frame of reference when I crossed the boundary into middle age. Now that I’m thirty-eighteen <g>, I look at the world through different eyes, which also draws me to writing about heroines who are more seasoned. My critique partner, Nan Reinhardt, is also writing fantastic stories with older heroines. As the cliché goes, you write what you know. These heroines have lived through so much, and those experiences make them vibrant and interesting. At least they are to me—less so, evidently, for younger readers and reviewers. My new book, Twist of Fate, has a thirty-nine year old heroine whose husband has fallen into a typical midlife crisis. Since I teach psychology, I’ve studied this a lot. (Imagine trying to explain what a forty-year-old is feeling to a classroom full of teenagers—a challenge in and of itself.) When men hit that magical age of forty, some suddenly feel assaulted by their own mortality, and they often realize that they only have so much time left. As a result, some men who are married consider their wives part of the problem since they’ve also aged, their signs of aging reminding the man of his own mortality. If the couple doesn’t weather that storm, the relationship could end. Where does that leave the wife? That’s where this story begins. Susan and James Williams, my heroine and hero, face this life-changing time, and I chose to really crank up the internal conflict by showing it through an external conflict—I throw them back in time. To portray how a real couple handles a rocky relationship, I have Susan and James deal with the obstacles of trying to solve their problems in a new place in a new time. And just like real men facing a midlife crisis, James finds himself at a crossroads—one that leads him back to Susan and another that leads away from his twenty-year marriage. I suppose the ultimate irony in this older heroine issue is that I enjoy reading about younger heroines, and I can appreciate their adventures, trials, and tribulations. So why can’t the opposite be true? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!

* Sandy has kindly offered to give away an ARC of "Twist of Fate" to one lucky commenter! * 

Sandy lives in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis with her husband of over twenty-five years and is a high school social studies teacher. She is represented by Maureen Walters of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Look for her two new books coming soon - Twist of Fate (Damaged Heroes 5) from BookStrand on Oct. 25, 2011 and Rules of the Game from Carina Press in April 2012. Please visit her website at sandy-james.com for more information or find her on Twitter (sandyjamesbooks) or Facebook (facebook.com/pages/Sandy-James/280548586384)

Revisions and Revelations

Nan Reinhardt I’m a romance writer—as yet unpublished—and I just finished working on revisions to my first novel. My critique partner and I have gotten through all twenty-seven chapters and ironically, there are more things to fix/revise that either of us imagined. Not dramatically changing the story line at all, but rather tightening up language, creating more tension between my characters, just making it better. What I’m learning about my writing is that I may not actually be a straight category romance writer. I thought that was what I wrote, but I don’t think it is. I think I’m simply a story teller. My writing doesn’t fit in a specific genre, except perhaps maybe women’s fiction. I don’t seem to be able to write to a template or formula–I thought I was doing that, but I’m not. I’ve read tons of category romance and when I started the first book, I believed I was writing category with my own personal touch. I’ve been discouraged because category pubs aren’t accepting my work, but I’m beginning to see that maybe I’m not the writer for that particular genre of fiction. In a way, that makes me sad because I love category–I’m a huge fan and it made sense to me that if I love to read it, I should be able to write it. But, I can’t stay in the mold–no news there. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I haven’t fit a mold since I was born. I’ll keep writing what I write, the stories of the people in my head. These folks knock loudly, anxious to be out of my head and on paper where they believe they belong. Hopefully, my dear agent and I can figure out where their stories will be published. Hold a good thought, mes amies, and when we do find my publisher, check the Midwestern skies for the biggest fireworks display you’ve ever seen! Nan Reinhardt is a romance writer. She’s also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and grandmother to one aging bunny and a golden retriever named, Lily. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last fifteen years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. But writing is her first and most enduring passion. She has completed two novels and they are currently with her agent, Maureen Walters, of Curtis Brown Literary Agency in New York. Like Jo March (Little Women), she writes late at night in her upstairs garret, after the editing gig work is finished for the day and her household is asleep.

Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Maureen McGowan’s Experience

Author Maureen McGowan visits the Chick Lit blog today to reveal the role the Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest played in her publication success story. The Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest is directly or indirectly responsible for a few of my milestones. I love this chapter's contest. I've acted as entrant, judge and coordinator over the years. The first time I entered, I believe it was in 2004, it was with a very early draft of a darkly funny women's fiction manuscript with an older heroine and two alternating timelines. It wasn't exactly chick lit, but I figured it was close enough to enter. Back then the entries were longer, the same length as Golden Heart entries, and I remember trying to get far enough into my WIP to have enough pages to send by the deadline. My entry was rough. But I indirectly got my first agent because of that contest entry. No, it didn't final. Not even close. But my judges' scores were so wildly different from each other, and the comments so disparate, that the contest coordinator that year, Diana Peterfreund, read my entry to see what was up. The judges weren't crazy about my entry (one was encouraging and helpful, the other hated it), but Diana loved it and contacted me. The next summer, when I had finished the manuscript, I introduced myself to Diana at the chick lit chapter party, she introduced me to her agent and pitched my book to her. I'll never forget that. She didn't know me from a hole in wall, but she remembered my contest entry well enough to spontaneously pitch it. About seven months later, (I still had to submit a partial and wait, then submit a full and wait) I had an agent. That manuscript went on to final in both the 2007 Golden Heart and the inaugural Amazon Breakout Novel competition. But in spite of its contest success and accolades, and coming close at several houses, alas, it has not yet found an editor who loves it enough to convince her publisher to put it under contract. It definitely suffered from hitting desks in NYC just as publishers were telling their editors, "NO MORE CHICK LIT." But I do hope it will find its right time. Even if I have to rewrite it. Now is a way better time than 2005…. Switching Sides is my manuscript that was a finalist in 2009. That manuscript was also a Golden Heart and Golden Pen finalist. Although it's a body swap story and a little "out there", I consider it even more chick lit than the first one, and it has actually never been shopped to NYC, with the exception I suppose of the editor who requested a partial after the 2009 Stiletto. That editor requested the full after reading the partial (!!), but ended up passing. And by that time I'd already been offered my first contract to write YA fiction and decided to concentrate on teen fiction for the time being. Switching Sides is sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the right time. While I don't think aspiring authors should take every word offered by contest judges as gospel--most judges are also aspiring authors, and some know more than others--I do think that one can learn a lot from entering contests. I know I did. One of the hardest things to learn as an author is how to not only accept criticism with grace, but to parse through conflicting opinions and decide which pieces of advice to accept and which to reject. There's nothing better than having several anonymous opinions, say two-three judges from two-three contests, to separate the advice wheat from the chaff so to speak. It can be confusing the first time. But the more you learn about writing and the more you hone your craft, the easier it will be to glean great advice and insights (and reject silly advice and biased opinions) from contest judges. I also love contests because of the positive reinforcement when you final, or even get some positive comments from the judges. The publishing business is so full of rejection and disappointment, I think we need to grab accolades whenever we can. Even if your writing is publisher-ready, you won't final every time, but a first chapter strong enough to attract agent/editor attention is bound to final in some contests. I'd say I made about six-seven contest entries after I had an agent but before I was published (counting the GH and Amazon contests) and was a finalist in better than half of them. I also did spectacularly badly in a few--with the same pages--which just goes to demonstrate how highly unpredictable contests can be. But I don't think that unpredictability means contests are invalid or a waste of time. Au contraire. I think they mirror the publishing industry well: unpredictable and subjective, but the cream eventually rises to the top. As do some strange twigs and other random floaties. Maureen McGowan's first two novels, Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer were released on April 1, 2011 by Silver Dolphin Books. She's in discussions with a major publisher for her YA post-apocalyptic-set thriller trilogy, and hopes to announce exciting news in September. Born and raised in Canada, she currently lives and writes in Toronto. Wish you were in author Maureen McGowan’s fabulous shoes? Enter the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6.

Thoughts on Being a Best Selling Author

Note: This summer, we’ll occasionally be bringing back some of our favorite posts. Enjoy! :-) ~ By Eileen Rendahl A couple of weeks ago, I received an advanced copy of my new novel, Dead on Delivery. Generally, there aren’t too many surprises in an advanced copy. By the time we get to that point of the publishing cycle, I’ve read the book so many damn times I can do the dialogue in my sleep. I’ve seen mock-ups of the cover. I know who blurbed it. Sure, it’s a nice moment (is there anything better than that new book smell?), but it’s not a surprising one. This time, there was a surprise. Right there on the lower right hand corner of the cover, it said “From the National Bestselling Author of Don’t Kill the Messenger.” While I was well aware that I’d written Don’t Kill the Messenger, I hadn’t had any indication that I’d achieved any kind of bestseller status, much less a national one. I emailed my editor and got back a somewhat sheepish “Gee, did we forget to mention that?” response. Turns out that Don’t Kill the Messenger hit the trade paperback bestseller lists for Barnes and Noble, Borders and Bookscan when it came out. Last year. A little anticlimactic, but darn gratifying nonetheless. Now, I had been working on revisions of another book that I had been referring to as a steaming pile of . . . well, I’m sure you can fill in the blank. Suddenly, that book didn’t seem so bad. The words on those pages were the words of a Nationally Bestselling Author. Me. Obviously they were much more credible words now. Except, they’re not. I’m not saying I haven’t grown as a writer. I think I learn and grow and change with each book I write. But I was pretty much the same writer that afternoon when I sat down to work as I had been that morning before I emailed my editor. It all reminded me of something that happened to me not too long before my first book, Do Me, Do My Roots, came out. I was at Kinko’s photocopying eleventy bazillion copies of my book. I think I needed two for the publishing house, one for my agent, one for my Aunt Joni because she really wanted to read it, one each for my sisters because I’d based characters on them and wanted to make sure they would still speak to me after the book came out and one for my mother because she’d be irritated with me if Aunt Joni got to read it before her. As I was copying and collating and rubberbanding, I heard a man behind me say to his friend, “I bet she’s copying her novel to send off.” Then he laughed. Not a nice laugh. A mean laugh. Because that’s funny, right? We should all make sure to laugh at people who have the courage to try to pursue their dreams. I ignored him. He made a few more cracks to his friend about people trying to write books and how pathetic that was. I still ignored him. Then he ended up behind me in line and he finally addressed me personally. He asked if I was photocopying a book. I turned around, told him I was indeed copying my novel and that I had a two-book contract with Pocket Books and this novel would be published in the spring. All the sudden, he was all impressed. I was no longer some loser nobody. I was a published author. He wanted to know my name and about the book and had the decency to look a little abashed. Here’s the thing, though. A few months before, I didn’t have a book contract. I was exactly what he’d thought I was. Just another person with a dream and the willingness to sit her ass down in front of her computer and nothing about that had really changed except for a really fabulous phone call from my agent. I’m thrilled that Don’t Kill the Messenger did as well as it did. I am slapping the phrase “National Bestselling Author” on pretty much everything from sig lines to permission slips for my kids. I might even get it tattooed on my lower back as a tramp stamp (it’s that or a diagram of a caffeine molecule). But I’m trying not to let it fool me because I don’t ever want to stop being the girl with a dream and a willingness to plant her ass in the chair in front of her computer, because that’s what a real writer is and bestseller or not, a writer is what I want to be. In addition to the Messenger series, National Bestselling Author Eileen Rendahl is the award-winning author of four Chick Lit novels. Her alter ego, Eileen Carr, released her first romantic suspense, HOLD BACK THE DARK, in 2009, followed by VANISHED IN THE NIGHT  in July 2011. Both Eileens will be releasing books in 2011 and live in Davis, California.