Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Wow. So it's already the end of the year. How did that happen?? I know that I can't be the only one who feels like she's living life is on the fast forward button. Everyone says this is even more true once you have kids, and really, it's so cliche, but oh so true. I really cannot believe that my little newborn daughter turned one a few weeks ago. Doesn't it feel like just yesterday that I was announcing her arrival?

Anyway, the turn of the calender means assessing goals and assessing what I accomplished this past year. I've been ruminating on 2008 for the past few days, and something odd is happening: normally, my goals and what I hope to accomplish are really clear - in previous years, I'd set specific magazine targets or income goals or getting my fiction published - but this year, I have to say, I'm pretty content with my lot. And that's what's making this whole goal-setting thing so weird. In the past year, my debut novel came out and I sold my second one. Honestly, I feel like if that's all I accomplish in my career, I might just be content. Maybe it's okay to say, hey, I don't need to operate on overdrive 24/7, and instead, sit back and recognize that I've come pretty far in the past few years...and if nothing spectacular happens this year, well, that's okay.

That said, because I'm not a complete slug, I do have a few goals for the year, in addition to slowing down a bit and smelling the figurative roses. I'd like to find inspiration for my third novel, now that I'm winding down revisions on my second. I've found that I'm all or nothing when I'm writing: I can't even entertain other ideas for books when I'm working on a current one because then everything starts to melt together and jumble like a messed-up ice cream sundae. I'd like to continue doing more celebrity profiles because they're something that I really enjoy - it actually makes my pop culture obsession worthwhile. I'd like to have more patience with my children, and that means ignoring my email and my computer entirely when it's "their time," something I've gotten better at, but certainly, could still improve.

So...I think that's a decent list. Maybe it doesn't set my world on fire as in previous years, but I'm also at a point in my life where I think that's okay. I know how fortunate I am with my lot, and I think there's something to be said for that and the gratitude I have for having the career that I do.

So tell me, how do you determine your goals for the next year? And, since I just spilled mine, what are yours?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Random Question of the Day

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate!

So now I have a random question for you guys. I'm working on my revision of Time of My Life and am toying with the idea of putting a quote (I know that there's an official name for these, but can't for the life of me remember what it is - anyone know) on the page before the first chapter. Know what I mean? Sandwiched between the dedication and Chapter One, there is often times a quote from a song or a poem or another book or whatever. What do you guys think of these? I've been listening to a specific song over and over again as I revise because the lyrics completely embody what my heroine is going through, and thus, I think it might be fun to pull out a verse for that opening quote (assuming we can get the rights and all of that, and I have no idea how that works either)...but...tell me, are these quotes cheesy, intriguing, completely unnoticed???

What do you think?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Your Best-of-2008 Awards

It's that time of year - the time in which every magazine, website and Hollywood organization bestow their "best of" awards and compile a variety of top 10 lists. So I figured it might be fun to do the same here at Ask Allison. Here are some of my tops for the year:

Best Book: Then We Came to The End by Joshua Ferris. This book wasn't for everyone, but it was for me. I was flat-out amazed at his creativity and genius, and frankly, loved every single thing about the book. As an author, I read a lot of books and think, "maybe on my best day and with the right idea, I could pen something similar to this," but with Then We Came to The End, I set it down and just thought, "HOLY SHIT, this guy is all sorts of spectacular, and I revere him." (Btw, I don't meant to imply that I could write all the books that others do. I hope it doesn't come off that way! Just that, you know, I could understand their creative process and how they got to where they did, etc. With Ferris, there was none of that.) Again, I know that not everyone loved this book as I did, but for its creativity and genius, it was my favorite of the year.

Book that Made Me Nearly Pee in My Pants: I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle. OMG, I defy you not to have tears streaming down your face as you read. Side-splittingly hilarious but still entirely relatable, and I loved it.

Book that I Wished I'd Written: How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper. Now, here's one of those books I was talking about: I understood how he wrote it, how he created his characters, where his story arc was going, and just adored every single page and word of it. I think I read this book in 24 hours because I was so consumed with it, the words, the message, the writing. Love.

Best TV Show: 30 Rock. I can't for the life of me figure out why more people don't watch this show. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (who, incidentally, I saw at the gym yesterday!) are comic gold.

Best New Show: Chuck. Zachary Levi is the new Jon Krasinski, with a touch of Adam Brody thrown in. As if I need further reason to tune in.

Best Movie (Out of the Few Movies that I Get to See): I have two young kids and a husband who would always rather go out to dinner than see a movie when we have a sitter, so...I'm a movie buff who doesn't see as many movies as she'd like. So, for example, I haven't seen any of the recent Oscar-bait releases except for Juno, and thus my two favorite movies of the year (to date) are probably Waitress (my Keri Russell love knows no bounds) and Gone, Baby, Gone, in which Ben Affleck redeemed himself for any and all Bennifer 1.0 embarrassments.

So tell me, what were your favorite books, TV shows and movies this past year? I'm always up for suggestions on all fronts!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fudging the Facts

Question of the day:

I see this all the time:

"A novel based on her experience," "Inspired by a true story," "Names and identifying features have been changed..."

My question is, how much has to be changed? A few details? Major plotlines? Names and places and hair color?

I'm in the midst of writing a memoir. I've changed the names because it enables me to write about my characters, not the people I know. How much would have to be fiction for the book to be fiction -- if I'd like to pitch it that way? I'd never fall into James Frey territory.

And I know writers, agents and publishers have different opinions.

Just curious for yours.

I'm not an expert and I don't write memoirs, so I can only offer my opinion, which, obviously, counts for squat. But I loved this question and think it opens up a good debate/discussion, so I wanted to post it right away. (Trish Ryan, who has a memoir coming out next year, might want to weigh in.)

My inclination is that, in the day and age of James Frey, that you should adhere as closely as possible to the details. Changing names is understandable, and in some cases, advisable, as litigation is always a possibility if you paint a less than flattering picture of someone. A few details? Hair color? I don't think anyone will complain, especially because so many memoirs, like Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg, now offer caveats that, "ahem, this is written from the best of my memory and some dates/situations/people might have changed."

But I'd steer clear of creating fictitious major plot lines because, well, then, like Frey's book (which, not for nothing, I enjoyed a lot), it becomes fiction. I do think that there's a category for this type of book called "creative non-fiction," but from what I understand (and this could have changed as of late), these are tough sells for agents. Editors/publishers either want memoirs (which are already tough sells - make sure that yours highlights something unique) or they want fiction. Period. Either or.

Besides, the whole point of writing a memoir is that you have an incredibly interesting story to tell, one that's specific and unique to you. If you have to change it so drastically, maybe it's not a story you should be telling...

But that's just my initial inclination. What say you, readers?

Monday, December 17, 2007

On the Silver Screen

So this weekend, I caught Little Children on one of the movie channels and was really drawn into it. I LOVED this book, so was unsure about a film adaptation, but I thought it was really well-done, if not more bleak than the actual book. I guess it shouldn't be that surprising since Tom Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay, which had to help ensure authenticity.

It's amazing how many books-to-film are popping up these days, especially knowing how difficult it is to actually get a movie made, much less book rights sold, adapted, actors/directors/writers-signed on, etc. And with the writers' strike, these days, nothing is getting bought or sold.

But this season, there are loads of film adaptations popping up on screen. Some are highly praised - Atonement, which I haven't yet seen but people are saying is very good, and ditto Charlie Wilson's War; some are middling - The Golden Compass, which, again, I also haven't seen; and some are just abysmal - P.S. I Love You, which, given the reviews, you couldn't pay me to see. Incidentally, I just bought that book in hopes of reading it before the movie came out (this was before the horrible reviews), and I just couldn't get into it. Which goes to show that reading is so subjective because it was a huge best-seller but just wasn't for me. Go figure.

So, have you seen any of the above adaptations? What are your favorite book adaptations and what were the worst ones you've seen in recent memory?

Friday, December 14, 2007

GCC Presents: Eliza Graham and Playing With The Moon

I'm thrilled to present Eliza Graham today and her fabulous-sounding novel, Playing With the Moon. First of all, I'm just enamoured with the plot and concept. Second of all, read below to hear how she got published - what an inspiring story. After two thrwarted attempts, she did things on her own terms, which is just the type of gusto we like around these parts.

Anyhoo, here's a bit more about the novel, which World Book Day just nominated as a "Hidden Gem.":

Shattered by a recent bereavement, Minna and her husband Tom retreat to an isolated village on the Dorset coast, seeking the solitude that will allow them to cope with their loss and rebuild their foundering marriage. Walking on the beach one day, they unearth a human skeleton. It is a discovery which will plunge Minna into a mystery which will consume her for months to come.

The remains are soon identified as those of Private Lew Campbell, a black American GI who, it seems, drowned during a wartime exercise in the area half a century before. Growing increasingly preoccupied with the dead soldier's fate, Minna befriends a melancholy elderly woman, Felix, who lived in the village during the war. As Minna coaxes Felix's story from her, it becomes clear that the old woman knows more about the dead GI than she initially let on.
Here, she answers my usual questions:

1) What's the backstory behind your book?
Some years ago I visited a small village on the south coast of England--Tyneham. Tyneham had been evacuated in 1943 so that Allied troops could use it for D-Day practice. The inhabitants had never been allowed to return. I was spellbound. The village, with its gently decaying houses, cottages, church and manor house, seemed to reach out and pull me to itself.
Then I read--or saw--something about African-American GIs in Britain during WW2 and how many young British women were attracted to them, finding them gentle, humorous and kind boyfriends. My brain started to make connections between this and the fictional coast village I'd started to create in my imagination.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?
I've noticed that very little of my own experience has made it into my books. Perhaps because I've had a fairly settled kind of life (touch wood) I've searched outside for inspiration, finding that I'm drawn to periods of turbulence and upheaval such as war. Although I note that Felix in PLAYING WITH THE MOON is like me in not having enjoyed school and hating hockey!

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
Having been agented for two earlier efforts that didn't sell I was delighted to see that Macmillan had launched a new imprint: Macmillan New Writing, which didn't need you to submit via an agent. You could also send them your ms. by email--extraordinarily modern and convenient for the world of publishing. So I sent of PWTM and a synopsis and four or five months later they got back to me, saying they liked the book in principle but had some editorial suggestions. Once I'd rewritten elements of the book they sent me the contract.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What's your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?
A lot of web-surfing and emailing friends occurs before I can start writing. I seem to need to warm up first. Then while I'm writing I keep jumping up and down to make coffee. I have a rebounder (mini trampoline) and sometimes go and have a bounce to get the blood up to my brain again. Or I go for a walk with my dogs.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?
I think Dame Judi Dench for the senior Felix, the woman who lived in the village as a child and knows what really happened the night Private Lew Campbell died. The part of Lew himself is important (though he isn't in the book for much of the time)--he is a young, gorgeous African-American GI. I think I'd need to attend a lot of auditions for Lew. It would mean looking at lots of handsome men and would be tough, but for the sake of the film I'd force myself to do it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Asking the Big Questions

Today, I'm over at Writer Unboxed, getting all philosophical and posing the question about why we write.

Check it out!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finding the Perfect Expert

Before we begin, a few shots from vacation, as promised on Friday!

Question of the day: I'm new to the freelance community. I got my first article published last month! I came across your blog and enjoyed the information. One burning question I have regarding feature articles is how do writers find "Experts" to quote in their articles? If you could shed some of your ultra pragmatic light on this, I would appreciate it.

Sure! Of course. Finding the perfect expert can make or break your story, and certainly, I've been in the position of interviewing someone and feeling like, "Eh, this isn't quite right," which sucks big time because then you have to start all over.

A few places that I start:

1) Amazon. I like to head here first because more often than not, I interview book authors, and well, for obvious reasons, Amazon is a good place to find them. From there, if I find someone who might work, I head to...

2) Google. Again, not ground-breaking, but I google an author and if he or she isn't easily reachable, I often go back to point A. Or, alternatively, I also use google as a starting point - hunting down experts with very specific search terms.

3) I also use PubMed, especially when I'm looking for study authors or researchers. If I can find the exact study that fits into my story, I'm always keen to interview the person who performed the research behind it. Similarly,

4) NewsWise serves more or less the same function but with less medical terminology and a wider-span of press releases.

5) I'll also put out a query on Profnet if I can't find anything on my own. This usually yields me far more sources than I can use, and often times, they're not really what I had in mind (because they're coming from PR reps), but it doesn't really hurt, and often does land me a good source.

6) And finally (not always last, in terms of when I do things), I'll head to PR reps at various organizations that fit my needs. If, for example, I'm writing a story on something parenting-related, maybe I'll lob a call into the AAP or if I'm doing a story on nutrition, the ADA. That type of thing.

So, where do you guys find your sources? I'm sure that there are other bastions of info!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Turn Off, Tune Out

So a funny thing happened on my vacation: I fell out of love, just a little bit, with my Blackberry. And that's a good thing. A very good thing.

Here's the deal - in my normal life, I'm almost always connected and reachable. My agent needs me while I'm at the gym? No sweat. My husband wants to track me down while walking the dog? I'll pick up. I suspect that I don't need to elaborate because many of you relate. On one hand, this is wonderful; in fact, in the earlier days of my career, editors marveled about how, regardless of hour, I could respond to just about any and all emails. But on the other hand, it means that I am always available, like a 24/7 convenience store, and the truth is, which I didn't realize until my vacation, that I don't like being on call.

Here's what happened: while in Anguilla, I made the decision to leave my Blackberry in the room all day. Which meant that I checked it when I woke up and checked it again at night, and other than that, emails could clog it up to no end, and I wouldn't touch it. I thought that maybe I'd feel anxious, wondering about what I was missing, wondering if the world were imploding without me, but guess what? What I found instead was serenity. (The beach and the waves at my back door probably helped too.) But in all seriousness, I enjoyed myself SO MUCH MORE because I wasn't connected or reachable. In fact, my husband toted his Blackberry around all day, and beyond the fact that I found this incredibly annoying and made more than 5000 passive-aggresive remarks about it, eventually I moved past my irritation at him and just felt sorry for him. I mean, here we were, in arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth, and he couldn't let go of work! And yes, I'd be dishonest if I didn't say that I recognized a small part of myself in that.

When I returned home, I logged on to more than 300 emails. And it turns out that about 3 of them were semi-urgent. The rest were easily satisfied by my out-of-office notification, and I answered them at my leisure throughout the day and this past weekend. The world still spun on. The industry didn't collapse in my absence. Really, no one missed me too much. And that's a good thing. In fact, it was so good that these past few days, when I've taken the dog out for a walk or headed to the gym, I left the Blackberry at home. I need those few moments to myself, and everyone else can wait.

So tell me, are you addicted to your Blackberry? Or have you found strategies to put it down just like I have?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Want to Crack the Women's Mag Markets?

I'm back! And, I think, more exhausted than when we left. :) But we had a great time, and I'll post pictures next week. Meanwhile, just a quick post while I try to catch up on my hundreds of emails and deal with a lurking Monday deadline.

My pal, Denise Schipani, who has written for a slew of major mags, from Woman's Day to Women's Health, is teaching a class on breaking into the women's magazine market, and I wanted to let you guys know all about it. Here are the details:

START DATE: Monday, January 7, 2008

DURATION: 8 weeks

COURSE DESCRIPTION: You (probably) read these magazines regularly. Maybe your mom did, too. Would you like to write for one or more of the women’s magazines? In this course, you’ll learn how to navigate the sometimes alien (but fun!) world of women’s magazines, from the so-called “Sisters” (such as Woman’s Day, Redbook, and others) to health and parenting magazines aimed at the modern woman who’s grown out of Cosmo but isn’t quite ready for AARP. You will learn:

-The difference between FOBs, columns and features.
-How to interpret a masthead.
-How to write queries in a particular magazine’s writing style (the best way to grab attention!)
-How to come up with fresh approaches/packages and clever heads that scream “read me!”

This course is not aimed at the total newbie magazine writer; it’s aimed at the already-published writer who wants to expand into this market. That said, students will work on a query along with learning and practicing craft, and getting an insider’s glimpse of the woman’s mag editing process.

For more info and to sign up, head to The Renegade Writer...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And Even More, More Me!

I'm jetting off for a much-needed vacation this morning, so I'm posting the remaining GCC links. I'm not sure when they'll go up, but it should be at some point today or Friday. Right now, I am virtually brain-dead, and I swear, half of the exhaustion is due to packing and organizing for two little kids...seriously, how do people travel with kids all the time??? We've taken #1 with us a few times, but this is our first time with both. And I'm wrecked from figuring out all of the logistics.

So, with that, I'm off to a deserted beach in a far-flung island in the Caribbean. I can't get there fast enough. I'll be back late next week or early the following (I know when I'll be back, but I mean I'll be back on the blog around then!), and since I'm leaving for such a long time, I promise to devote the following week solely to answering the backlog of questions that have been sent in.
Until then, I hope the below links provide some good reading material!

I'll be downing healthy amounts of alcohol and basking in the sun (with ample sunscreen with the kiddos).

Toni McGee Causey:
Cindy Cruiger:
Sheila Curran:
Kyra Davis:
Jana DeLeon:
Laura Florand:
Joshilyn Jackson:
Deborah LeBlanc:
Blossom Kan and Michelle Wu:
Becky Motew:
Kelly Para:
Sara Rosett:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Me

A few more links that are now up today as part of the GCC Tour!

Southern Comfort:
Renee Rosen:

Monday, November 26, 2007

I'm On Tour!

Hope everyone is recovering from their turkey comas. We endured a brutal drive to New Hampshire (7 hours, 2 kids, 1 gassy dog) and lived to tell about it. Anyhoo...

Whoohoo! This week, it's my turn on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Tour, so I'll be posting a slew of links to various blogs on which I've done different interviews. There were so many questions asked - different for each author/blogger - so take a second and click through. I chat about everything from my favorite (and least favorite) part of writing to my dream vacation destination to if I'd still write if I won the lottery. And much more.

I'll post the links as they go up each day and will try to update them throughout the day, so check back or scroll down for the previous day's post if you missed something.

Here are a few to start out with. Enjoy!

Joanne Rendell:
Elizabeth Graham:
Colleen Thompson:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Getting My Groove On

I was cruising through some blogs the other day, when I came across this post on Tammie's site, which is all about how music influences her characters and her writing. And I asked her if I could raise that subject here because I think it's such a cool and relevant point.

I'm a big music-phile. (Is that a word? Probably not.) I'm completely and hopelessly addicted to my Napster to Go subscription and always devote at least a bit of time each day seeking out new bands and singers who strike literal chords within me. So after reading Tammie's post, I took some time to think about how music influenced my own writing and scene setting, as well as how much it's influenced my own life. I'm sort of someone who - at the risk of sounding like Ally McBeal (yipes!), has always had various soundtracks for my life, contingent on my mood or what phase I was currently in. More so than melody, I've always related to lyrics, and if the lyrics impact me in some way, you can bet that the song will be on rotation in my house for months or years to come. Right now, I'm sort of in this self-evaluation phase, and I'm digging melodic mid-tempo singers like Chantal Kreviazuk, Sara Bareilles, Mandy Moore, Mat Kearney, Brandi Carlile and the like. I listen to their songs and get lost in them, as if they're personally speaking to me.

And in some ways, I very much do the same with my characters. My heroine, Jillian, in Time of My Life is helplessly lost between two lives and two loves, and desperately trying to find her way back to what feels right, and so, when I hear Vanessa Carlton's "Home," it resonates and helps me dig into Jillian's mindset - it really transports me to the scenes in which Jill's trying to figure out what feels like "home." Ditto Ben Fold's "The Luckiest", which is all about how someone comes to appreciate how fortunate he is for the love he has in his life. And Five for Fighting's "The Riddle" speaks to Jillian's love for her child, even when she doesn't quite know her place in the world. I could go on like this for days: Dashboard Confessional's Stolen, Mandy Moore's "Most of Me," Snow Patrol's "Open Your Eyes," The Weepies' "The World Spins Madly On," even "Skid Row," from Little Shop of Horrors, which sounds random I know, but every time they launch into the last verse:

Someone show me a way to get out of here,
'Cause I constantly pray I'll get out of here.
Please won't somebody say I'll get out of here,
Someone gimme my shot or I'll rot here.

Show me how and I will I'll get out of here,
I'll start climbing up hill and get out of here,
Someone tell me I still can get out of here,
Someone tell Lady Luck that I'm stuck here.

Gee it sure would be swell to get out of here,
Bid the gutter farewell to get out of here,
I'd move heaven and hell to get out of Skid,
I'd give I don't know what to get out of Skid,
But a hell of a lot to get out of Skid,
People tell me there's not a way out of Skid,
But believe me I've got to get out of Skid row.

I'm always moved by the tenacity behind the lyrics and the fight in the voices behind them, and damn if it doesn't give both me and my characters a kick in the butt. (Yes, I love show tunes, so what?) :)

So, I'm always looking for music suggestions. Who or what inspires both you and your writing? Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Stuck in the Stone Age

Question of the week: Why do some agents insist sending queries by snail mail with a SASE? It seems so old fashioned not to mention wasteful in a few different ways. I recently sent a query letter, synopsis, 75 pages of my story, SASE etc. only to have it ultimately rejected. A trip to the post office, the cost of postage, not to mention printing out all those pages could easily have been avoided if I could simply send it all via email. So...what's up? In an age where we all are trying to conserve (gas, ink, paper, time, stamps) this practice seems archaic and old school.

Just a quick update to last week's post: I am officially in like with Facebook, much more so than MySpace. For promotional purposes, MySpace definitely wins - I'm "friends" with hundreds of people whom I really don't know, and I can blast out a note to all of them if need be. But on a more personal level, I'm really enjoying Facebook - I've found friends from high school and life whom I'm happy to be back in touch with, and what I like most about the site is how it alerts you to all of their updates - when they've added new pictures, when they've connected with someone new (and who that person is) - so I'm always kept in the loop about their pages and yes, their lives. I dunno. I think it's pretty cool. It doesn't serve a promotional purpose for me at all, but hey, so what?

Anyhoo, on to the above question. You know, I don't have the foggiest idea why agents still insist on the SASE or why, quite frankly, anyone would insist on receiving snail mail queries. Actually, that's not true: I'm sure that for some agents, it's much easier to read these queries while on the train or the bus or whatever, and why should they have to go through the trouble of sifting through their already clogged inbox and then printing any queries that grab their attention? I do, I suppose, understand the practicality of it.

But that said, yes, it seems completely archaic and outdated, and for me, at least, it was also a criteria with which I eliminated agents while in my agent hunt. I wanted someone efficient, on the cutting edge, and who used email just as often as I did (which, um, is always and for everything), so whether it seems reasonable or not, I didn't submit (with one exception) to any agents who refused email queries and required that dreaded SASE. (I do realize, of course, that just because someone requires snail mail queries doesn't mean that he or she isn't hyperly-efficient, but I think you get my idea. I'm just saying that I wanted someone who I felt would be most compatible with me and my working style...I hope that makes sense.) Before you jump up and down and say, "But everyone says that they don't accept email queries," let me interject that yes, I know that agents say this, but for the most part, they say this because they don't want to be inundated with queries, not because they won't accept them. Yes, it might annoy a few, but the vast majority of those who list "no email queries" on Agent Query or wherever will, indeed, take 'em.

Which means that you can kiss that pesky SASE goodbye.

(Btw, please do realize that everything I post on this blog is my opinion and mine alone. Well, okay, I do have some writer friends who usually agree with me, but what I mean to say is that you are welcome to disagree and discard my advice. I know that at times, I'd read Miss Snark and completely disagree with her, and hey, that's cool. It didn't take away from what she was trying to do and how she was trying to help people. I hope blog readers here understand this and feel the same.)

Anyway, so...did you guys query with SASEs? And why do you think that agents still insist on using snail mail?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reach Out and Friend Someone

So I spent the better part of yesterday tooling around on Facebook, at the behest of some writer friends. This? Was a mistake. Because once I started, I couldn't stop: it was like that poor girl in Silence of the Lambs trapped in that damn hole. That was me in Facebook. I desperately wanted to claw my way out but knew that it was to no avail.

So there went yesterday.

It got me thinking: I'm now on Facebook (friend me!), MySpace and LinkedIn. And honestly, though they sure are a hell of a way to procrastinate - tracking down old friends, spying on other ones - I dunno, are these honestly good marketing or writing tools? I dunno. You tell me. I'm genuinely curious to hear what, if anything, you guys have gotten out of them. MySpace - well, I can see that b/c I have hundreds of "friends," and I suppose if I had to blast something out about my book, then that would be cool. LinkedIn has been a superfun way to reconnect with old friends, and I suppose that Facebook is much the same. (I mean, seriously, if you're my friend in real life, do you have to now be my friend online? Because that's pretty much who makes up my "friend" list on Facebook!)

But other than that, what do you guys use these sites for? And if you're on Facebook, can you explain what your favorite parts of your profile are??? I feel like I spent the entire day trying to figure out how to add things, what things to add, etc, etc, etc, and it only made me more bananas than when I started!

Enlighten me on all of this, please!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Breaking In

Question of the week: I have some steady work from my former employer and other smaller titles, but I'd like to build relationships with some Conde Nast, Time Inc, etc. titles. What's the best way to begin building these relationships? How do I best make those introductions and let them know I'm available and would like to serve them? Do I need to spend much of my time working on solid queries and sending those out? Or do such editors even regard unsolicited queries? Your thoughts would be appreciated!

I get similar questions a lot, and the first thing I always say is to search the archives of the blog...I offered a lot of advice on breaking in last year when I answered questions daily.

But, because I don't mind repeating myself (just ask my husband!), I'll say this again: there really isn't a secret formula to breaking into the national markets. It sounds like you already have some clips, which should put you on your way, and now, I'd spend some serious time crafting very detailed, well-researched pitches. Those are the only way to break in. Yes, editors read unsolicited pitches all the time, but if you pitch them crap - poorly researched or poorly written - ideas, they'll likely ignore any follow ups or future pitches. I don't mean to imply that you get one shot and you're out because that's certainly not the case, but you know that phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Yeah, well, keep that in mind as you pitch.

I realize that this might make the process sound daunting and fray your already fraying nerves. And I don't mean to at all. But what I'm trying to impart is that good and targeted queries are the only and the best way to break in (barring having worked a magazine previously and/or having really strong connections), so it would be wise to take your time with them. Dig around for new studies or new trends and pack your queries with information that might make an editor take five extra seconds from her already harried day and think, "Oh, wow, this is a writer and an idea that I should give some consideration too."

If she writes you back and says, "Good idea but not for us," take that as now open lines of communication. Keep pitching her. Keep following up with her. The ONLY way that you're going to nudge your way in the door is with persistence. I think I've said this on the blog before, but I once had to follow up to a pitch three times before I heard anything from the editor, and when I finally did, I landed my first feature at SELF.

As far as letters of introduction to the big nationals? Well, unless you have competitive and/or national clips - i.e. unless you write for their competitors - I think this is a waste of time. Too many people are willing to do the upfront work and craft good query letters, and if you were an editor, who would you rather assign to - someone who took the time to put together a query that demonstrated their skills or someone who sent off a generic introduction letter. (I don't mean to say that intro letters never work. They do, and I use them these days, but I do think that you have to be established in the industry for them to garner any attention or weight.)

've also said this before (search the archives), but FOBs are a fabulous place to break in. Editors are more willing to take a chance on a new writer when the assignment is only 250 words rather than 2000.

So, that's my breaking in advice. Anyone out there have other tips? Or disagree with me? (Hey, you can!)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why You Should Care

I already noted last week why I care about the strike, but I wanted to pass on this great blog entry from Erik Sherman on why, if you're a freelance writer, you should care too.

Smells Like Something's Burning

On one of my writers' boards, we've been chatting about burn out, and the thread has been so fascinating as writer after writer tip-toes forward, raising his or her figurative hand and says, "Um, yeah, me too."

think that people assume that freelance writing is a thrill-a-minute...after all, you get to pick and choose your assignments, you work for yourself, you set your own hours, etc. But the reality is far different. In fact, many full-time writers take on any and all assignments in order to sustain themselves, and while in theory, we should be setting our own hours, we're so overburdened with work (or stress) that we work nearly all the time. Not to mention develop a pesky problem with saying "no," even when we are overworked because we always fear that the famine is never too far from the feast.

I know of what I speak.

I hit my first serious bout of burn out when my son, now 3, was about five months old, so, I guess that was about two and half years ago. I didn't take that much time off when I had him, not because I couldn't do so financially, but because I found myself a little bit bored and looking for some stimulation when he was a newborn and all he did was sleep or nurse all day...and that left me with not a whole lot to do other than change his diaper, pop out a boob or watch TV. So I got back in the saddle pretty quickly, and then, bam! A few months later, I looked at all of my assignments with boat loads of resentment. So I downshifted a bit - started querying less and reevaluating what my long-term goals were - and that's when I started really honing my fiction, which I took to with passion that I had long lost for my magazine assignments.

And I discovered that I wasn't burned out on writing. I was burned out on the writing that I had done for the past five or so years. After I wrapped TDLF, I picked up the pace on magazine work again...I'm someone who likes to stay busy, and this seemed like the best way to fill that void. But now, several years later, once again, I'm facing a serious rash of burn out, so again, I'm trying to flex different muscles with the fiction thing and taking my magazine work in different directions: doing more celebrity interviews because I think they're a hoot, hand-picking assignments that really get my cerebral juices flowing, and yes, saying no to work that I know will render me brain-dead. (I should note, however, that I didn't make the same mistake twice: that after my daughter was born, I did make sure to take some necessary time off, even if it was just to hang around and nurse in front of the TV because I knew that this downtime would pay off, in terms of my level of interest in my work, in the future.)

It's a tricky balance: finding enough work to sustain me and finding the right work to do just that, but not taking on so much that I'm pissed off just thinking about my to-do list or am forced to spend my nights crouched over my computer when I should be snuggling up with my husband and watching 30 Rock. (Tangent: who saw last week's episode? Seriously? That post-Kenneth's party scene?? Was it not the funniest thing on TV in ages????)

Anyway, have any of you guys dealt with burn out? If so, how have you coped?

Friday, November 09, 2007

GCC Presents: Jackie Kessler and The Road to Hell

Today I'm so excited to present my pal, Jackie Kessler, and her book, The Road to Hell. I met Jackie a few years ago over at Backspace, and she's an awesome all-around person, so I'm thrilled for her success. Even better, this week, she's holding a contest for her book and you, dear readers, can win prizes. Yes, prizes! Check out the "Hit the Road" section of her website.

Okay, get your mind off of prizes, and take a quick sec to read a bit more about the book...

1) What the Hell is HELL ON EARTH?
That’s the series I’m writing, published by Kensington/Zebra Books. The first book, HELL’S BELLES, is about a succubus named Jezebel who runs away from Hell, hides on Earth as an exotic dancer, and learns the hard way about true love. Sex, strippers, demons—what’s not to like? The second book, THE ROAD TO HELL, is about how Jezebel—now the human Jesse Harris—has to return to Hell to save the lives of those she loves…and somehow make sure it’s not a one-way trip. (If she’d known love was this tough, she never would have turned her back on lust.)

2) What's the backstory behind your book?
It's the second book in the Hell on Earth series, and the second in a three-book contract. So not too much backstory there. Just me meeting my deadline. :)

3) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?
Hee. If I were a demon, and Jezebel were Jewish, we'd be the same person.
Except she dances better than I do. And there's no way in Hell (or Earth) that I would ever strip in public. Eek!

4) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
My first published book, HELL'S BELLES, is actually the third novel that I've written. I took the fantasy that I adore from my first book and the tone that seems to work well for me from the second book and merged them to come up with an urban fantasy/paranormal romance for HELL'S BELLES -- a sassy narrator in a story that's dark and sexy and humorous. I wrote HELL'S BELLES fast -- three months, start to finish (it's like I was possessed) -- and then I queried agents. I really got lucky; instead of the triple-digit rejections I'd gotten for my first novel, or the 40+ rejections I'd gotten for my second novel, I got five offers of representation, within a matter of three weeks. So I selected my agent, and then he sold HELL'S BELLES a week later in a pre-emptive three-book deal to Kensington. Woot!

5) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What¹s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?
Here's how my usual day looks: Write, write, write, get kids and husband ready for school/work, write, write, write, do my day job, lunch/write, do my day job, pick kids up and get dinner ready, family time, get kids to bed, write, write, spend time with Loving Husband, write, write, write, collapse into bed. Repeat. (At times, "write" is loosely defined as "ego surfing" and other Internet activities.)

6) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal. Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?
Clearly! :) Let's see. Matt Damon as Paul, the love interest. Or any other character he wants to be. ((fans self)) Maybe Ben Affleck as Roman, the slimy club owner. I'd been thinking of Eva Longoria for Jezebel/Jesse, but I'm really open on her role -- as long as she's played by a petite actress (Jesse is five-foot-four).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why Can't We All Just Get Along

Today, I'm over at Writer Unboxed talking about writerly karma and wondering why we all just can't be happy for each other's success...

Check it out!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why I Care

So I'm a little bit obsessed with the writers' strike. I'm not quite sure why, but I am. I check out about 10 times a day, and I'm trying to stay on top of who is taking what position.

I think that I must be so fascinated by it all because it cuts so close to home. I'm not a television or movie writer (honestly, when anyone asks me if I'm interested in drafting the screenplays of my own books, I just laugh because I have no idea how to do that), but I am a writer, and that, I think, unifies us all. And the fact that the studios and moguls are trying to undercut the value of what these writers give to them just sickens me.

I tried explaining all of this to my husband last night, my husband who has more of the "mogul" mentality given his line of work, and at first, he sort of laughed me off, saying, "Well, of course the studios want to make as much money as they can. It's a business decision." And yeah, of course the studios do want to. Obviously. But then I said, "Okay, so let's say HarperCollins (my current publisher) wanted to put my book online - or wherever - and wanted to generate profits from this but didn't want to give me anything for it. Me. The writer of the book. How would you feel about that?" And because my husband is a good husband and because he fights for every last ounce of respect and every last penny that he believes that I have due, he paused and thought about it, and suddenly, things were a little murkier for him.

And I guess that's why I'm so caught up in the situation: it hits pretty close to home. I hope it's resolved quickly and fairly and that the writers, who are the ones with the vision and who create something from nothing for the studios in the first place, are handed their due.

In other news, I'm over at Monica Bhide's blog today doing a Q/A. Monica is an awesome food writer with a new blog that fun and interesting and insightful, so check it out!

Anyone else following the strike or is it just little old me?

Monday, November 05, 2007

One Strike and You're Out!

Over the weekend, I was reading a television forum that I frequent, and a slew of the posters were up in arms over the impending writers' strike. Not only were they furious that the writers were threatening to walk out, they were certain that if they - these posters in a silly forum about television ratings, many of whom frequently pepper their posts with misspellings and grammatical errors - could do a better job penning TV episodes than the current hired scribes.

Comments were posted along the lines of, "Come on, how hard can it be to write a sitcom?" Or, "God, anyone can be a writer, I mean, we all here could do their jobs."

To that I say: A. BIG. FAT. HA!

Now, because I just lurk in this forum and have no desire to join in the fray with some of these crazies, I didn't respond, but you can bet that my blood was boiling. Beyond the fact that I fully support the writers in their walkout, these comments just reiterated how the general public too often views our profession. Why is it that just about every person thinks that he or she could be a writer? Why is it that just about every person is certain that he or she could crank out a novel (as if!), be a freelance magazine writer (dream on!), or pen a successful television show or movie (even I don't kid myself about that one!)?

Here's the thing: just because you literally know how to write does not mean that you literally know how to write well. There is a huge distinction there, and one that so many people, too many people fail to understand. Including these idiots in that forum. Crafting a novel or breaking into the magazine world is hard f-ing work, and guess what? I'm also going to go on record to say that you have to have some innate talent to be able to do so. I'm not suggesting that I'm Hemingway or Ayn Rand or anyone like that: I'm not. But I'm also going to put it out there and say that not everyone can write well, and maybe that's a horrible thing to say and maybe it's not particularly pc, but just because you think that you have a novel in you (not you, dear Ask Allison readers, "you" meaning the general population) doesn't mean that, in fact, you do. And even if you defy the odds and actually write that novel (something that 99% of people do not), it doesn't mean that this book will be good. (With the understanding that "good" is subjective, and certainly, some people read my stuff and think that it's crap, and that's totally cool. But you get my point.)

Can you tell that I'm pissed? I am. Writers are too often discounted and thought of as second-class citizens, as if somehow, we have the job that the rest of the world could be doing if they only felt like it, and the truth is...this just couldn't be further from the truth. Which is part of the motivation behind the WGA strike: they're sick and tired of not getting the respect they deserve (as well as the money they deserve), and to them, I say, "hurrah." Does the strike suck? You betcha. Beyond the fact that come late-winter, my TV addiction is going to take a serious blow, the strike has affected potential personal projects, and I'm barely even connected to the industry. Hundreds of thousands of people will lose income and jobs, and all around, it sucks.

But the WGA writers are tired of being thought of as replaceable. And after reading some of the posts on the web this weekend, I can't blame them.

So, what say you? Why does everyone think that they can do our jobs for us? What do you think about the impending strike?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Writing for Websites

Question of the week: I was just wondering if you might know about writing for the websites of various magazines. For example,; is it easier to get something accepted for their website than for their mag? Any idea what they pay?

I don't have specifics on, but I will offer some general thoughts on writing for websites. In a nutshell, I think they're a fabulous way to build your clip file. Most websites turn over content a lot faster than a monthly magazine would, so they're always on the lookout for new ideas, and because there is a lesser sense of permanence on the site, I think they're more willing to take a chance on a new-to-them writer than a big, established magazine might be.

As far as pay, in my experience, websites do pay less than big magazines (i.e. vs. Parents mag, though that's just an example and nothing concrete because again, I have no idea what pays, and I'm sure that it varies per writer and per assignment), in terms of per word, but that doesn't mean that they aren't very worth your while. I used to do A LOT of web writing, and let me tell you, my hourly rate almost always came out higher than when I wrote for magazines.

Think of it this way: a magazine pays you $1 a word for 1,000 words, but between all the editing and interviews, you put in, say, 10 hours. You're making $100 an hour.

A website might pay you 50 cents per word for 1000 words, but the editing will likely be less consuming, at the very least. So even though you've started off with a lower baseline, if you put in, say 4 hours, you're actually making more per hour ($125..and I used to make a lot more per hour) than you would at the magazine.

So readers, what say you? Do you enjoy writing for websites? Have you found them easier to crack?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Story Behind My Story

For some reason, I got a bunch of emails last week asking how I got my start as a writer, so I thought I'd give you my backstory which, I think, is a good example of how luck, persistence and truly hard work all came together fortuitously and granted me a career.

I was always a writer, but I didn't always intend to be a writer, if that makes sense. In college, people suggested that I pursue it, but it just sounded so dang impossible. I mean, who makes money writing??? It sounded insane. So I dipped my toe in a variety of other careers (PR, acting (to this day, I have my SAG card!), internet ventures), and finally, writing came to me, not vice versa.

About seven years ago, just after the bubble burst on the whole internet boom, I was toiling at a start-up which I co-ran, focusing on our pr and marketing, basically, creating press kits, writing web copy, establishing partnerships with other sites, etc. When we sold the site (for peanuts), a lot of our partners asked me to continue doing their web copy and press releases, and voila, my freelancing career was born. I wasn't quite sure about working full-time for myself, however, so I applied for a writing position at a well-known PR company, but by the time they called and eventually offered me the job, I'd realized that I'd be bananas NOT to attempt the freelancing thing. And somehow, by the grace of God, I got the PR firm to agree to also hire me on a freelance basis - paying me for three days of work per week. (There is a point to this background, hang in there.)

As luck would have it, part of my job at this PR firm was ghostwriting for celebrity clients. While the PR work paid my bills, I still felt unfulfilled, so, because I was getting married, I pitched The Knot a story idea for their website. I don't think this was my first query ever, but it was one of them, certainly. As further luck would have it, they were looking for someone with ghostwriting experience to pen a book for them, and though I still can't believe this, they hired me. (I did have to submit sample chapters and all of that.)

The experience itself was less than ideal, however, it opened all sorts of doors for me because my very next pitch was to Bride's, who assigned me a story immediately, and just like that, I'd landed my first national assignment. Wow! Who knew it was so easy? Right? Right???

Er, wrong. I landed another feature at another big magazine, and when I returned home from my honeymoon, was unceremoniously told that it was being killed. No offers for a rewrite, no second chances. And then, came a dry spell.

I can't remember how long this dry spell lasted, but I'd venture that it was another six months until I landed any other type of assignment (beyond my usual PR stuff). But I hung in there, despite the hundreds of rejections that dinged my inbox. I pitched story ideas like no one has ever pitched story ideas: juggling dozens of them at a time. One editor rejects it? I sent it right out to someone else. I kept on top of research and studies and trends, and if anything remotely pinged for me, off it went to an editor.

Eventually, I started breaking in with FOBs and at various websites, like (now I made myself invaluable to my editors and became genuine friends with many of them. But I never stopped working at 150 miles per hour. I turned in work early; I kept pitching; I let editors know that I was available to do just about anything for them, big or small, menial or not. (Er, that sounds dirty, but you know what I mean.) And now, seven years later, I have a career. Yes, it takes that long - okay, maybe I hit this about two years ago - to firmly entrench yourself.

I wish that I could promise that there were easier paths. I wish that I could say that there are secret handshakes to open hidden doors. But there aren't. I got lucky - The Knot needed someone, and I was in the right place and the right time, but from there, I earned it. There are thousands of aspiring writers out there, if not more. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep knocking on doors. If you do so, sooner or later, you'll likely distinguish yourself and one (or more) of these doors will open to greet you.

Monday, October 29, 2007

GCC Presents: Jana DeLeon and Unlucky

You know, my husband has long told me that I should write a book that deals with gambling or poker or something along those lines (actually, "a woman with gambling addiction" was what he threw at me, as if that's supposed to somehow give me a plot or purpose, but ahem, I digress), and the good news is, that since I know nothing about any of these things, I can now tell him that the book has already been written: Jana DeLeon's Unlucky. I totally love this premise, here's the scoop:

Her luck’s so bad it’s a crime.

Everyone in Royal Flush, Louisiana, knows Mallory Devereaux is a walking disaster. At least now she’s found a way to take advantage of her chronic bad luck: by “cooling” cards on her uncle’s casino boat. As long as the crooks invited to his special poker tournament don’t win their money back, she’ll get a cut of the profit.

But Mal isn’t the only one working some major mojo. There’s a dark-eyed dealer sending her looks steamier than the bayou in August. Turns out he’s an undercover agent named Jake Randoll, and for a Yank, he’s pretty darn smart. Smart enough to enlist her help to catch a money launderer. As they race to untangle a web of decades-old lies and secrets amid a gathering of criminals, Mallory can’t help hoping her luck’s about to change….

Today, we're lucky enough (ha! I didn't even do that intentionally) to have Jana weigh in with some answers to my five usual questions...

1) What's the backstory behind your book?
My husband and I got married in Vegas in 2000. Before we left, I studied and studied blackjack combinations, determined to beat the house. Unfortunately, I have absolutely, positively NO LUCK. In fact, my luck is so bad that when I sit down at a table, not only don't I win, everyone else starts losing too. So I came up with Mallory Devereaux, the unluckiest woman in the world, who needs to make some money fast and decides to do it by "cooling" cards at a poker tournament of criminals.

2) What do you love most about writing fiction? What do you like least?
The fan letters/emails are definitely the best. All the waiting you do as an author (waiting to hear on proposals, waiting to hear on sales) is definitely the worst.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
I did it the old-fashioned way. I wrote the book, edited the ever-living heck out of it, queried agents, got/accepted an offer for representation, got a list of edits from my agent (13 pages – yikes), made revisions, my agent submitted and we got an offer.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What's your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?
I write first thing in the morning before I go to the day job. That way if other things happen during the day (ie bad work day, bad Chinese for lunch) I've already gotten my pages in and don't have to feel guilty for taking a night off. If I feel fine and get a second wind, I'll write some more at night after dinner. My drive comes from the desire to constantly improve my place as an author. I don't have any rituals, per se, but I love to write in cafes and work in the same one every week.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?
I would love someone like Eva Mendes to play the heroine. I think she's sexy in a fun way and could totally pull of a Cajun girl. For the hero, I'm thinking David Duchovny because I always loved him in the X-Files.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dressing on the Side

(Admin note: I know that I have a lot of outstanding emails to reply to...apologies, I'll get to them soon!)

So, it appears that I'm in a rut. Well, is it a rut? I'm not sure. Considering that I've been in it for oh, the past five years or so...I'm don't know if that qualifies. I suspect that some of you work-from-homers can relate: I'm in a dressing rut. Most days, I slog on my gym clothes when I get out of bed, figuring that at some point, I will indeed hit the gym, so why bother changing twice? Makes sense, right? Which means that I spend my days comfortable, but not exactly presentable. (Again, I'm certain that some of you out there know exactly of what I speak.) It's to the point now where, when I do jazz myself up, my doormen are always surprised, like, "Wow, you really clean up nicely!" Which leads me to question just how unimpressive I must look the rest of the time.

I've noticed, too, that when I take my son to school in the morning, most moms aren't in their Nike running shorts and their Adidas sweatshirts...unless, of course, they're headed to the gym. So while I might blend in there, the truth is, that I'm not always headed to the gym. I'm just dressed that way. Which I don't exactly announce, but doesn't make me feel any better, right? :)

So I've started making a bit more effort - you know, swap out the sweats unless I'm actually going to be sweating, and sprucing up the closet a bit. Showering before 8:00pm tends to help too. And I've informed my husband that I'm doing a bit of wardrobe revamping (and the wise man said "go forth and do what damage you must,") because I've noticed something: while I might not be as comfy in front of my computer without my beloved track pants, I actually feel a bit better about myself, as if a polished wardrobe might mean a more polished me. Now, I'm trying to motivate to the gym as soon as I drop my son off at school, so I actually shower in the morning and look reasonably put together the day through. We'll see how long that sticks.

But I'm curious about all you writers out there: which do you prefer? Comfort or polish? It's so easy to slip further and further into the former, but don't you feel like you're losing a bit when you do so? After years of slippage, I'm trying to claw my way out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pimp Your Favorite

Question of the week, sent in by the wonderful Kvetch: I read your blog all time and I'm curious if you could recommend some other writers/authors blogs as well. I know you have a long blog-roll, and I've clicked around but would love a little direction.

The truth is that I don't know many other than what is on my blog rolls, so if you readers out there have good ones, post 'em below!

Speaking of other blogs, check out fellow author Sarah Jio's blog. She's a prolific magazine writer who also just happens to have interviewed moi today! :)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Behind the Curtain: Jen A. Miller, book reviewer

Nearly every writer worries about reviews - hoping for the best, expecting the worst, cursing the negative ones, fully believing the positive ones. :) Okay, maybe not quite, but getting reviewed can be agonizing, so it's with much joy that today, I'm lucky enough to present a wonderful book reviewer, Jen A. Miller, who writes about books for a slew of mags and papers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Poets and Writers, and US Airways Magazine, among others.

Next year, Jen crosses to the dark side (and the hunter becomes the hunted!) to become an author herself (an author of books, I should say, as she already scribes for plenty of magazines and papers), when her first book, The South Jersey Shore, Atlantic City through Cape May: Great Destinations, is published. She also maintains two blogs, so check 'em out: Book a Week and Down the Shore with Jen, which is a taste of her forthcoming book, all about the Jersey Shore.

Here, a few reviewer insights:

1) How did you get into book reviewing? How could someone break in if he or she is interested?
I've always been a reader, and I reviewed books for my college newspaper. I've also been reading book reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer since I was in seventh grade, so when I came home after graduation, I pitched myself as a reviewer. Didn't get very far! I then went on testing out a few careers, and when I started freelancing, one of my first niches was author profiles. I built relationships with magazines and PR people so that, not only was I writing about authors, but I was also gaining access to book catalogues and galleys. I pitched the Inquirer book editor again -- four years later -- and was assigned a review not too long after that.

Book reviewing for newspapers, I think, is not easy. Not only are a lot of people trying to do it, but the space for reviews is constantly shrinking. Someone who is interested in reviewing can try their local alternative weekly, or a book website to start. Or they can start blogging reviews on their own (even though I've been reviewing books for over a year, I still do this at -- new project, but fun outlet for book writing). This way, they can show editors that they know what they're doing.

2) Who are some of your favorite authors?
Caroline Knapp had a real gift for non-fiction writing. She wrote a few books that were blends of memoir and research. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2002, but I keep going back to her books -- I even wrote an essay about 'Pack of Two," which is about dogs, for the September 2007 issue of Paste Magazine. I don't read a lot of fiction, but I'm always eager to read anything new by Elin Hilderbrand and Ian Sansom -- his Mobile Library Series is a hoot.

3) If you see a book on the horizon that you're interested in, do you pitch it or can you request that you review it?
I'm usually so busy with freelancing (and this summer, writing my book) that I can't keep track of new books like I used to -- it's more I look at whatever galleys come in the mail. But if there's something I really want to review, I'll send an email to an editor (whichever I think the book would be better for) asking if I can review it. I just did this with a magazine. I was on vacation, but wanted to be the first to 'put her name in the hat' for this book. And it worked.

4) What do you take into account when reviewing a book? I.e., even if you didn't love it, do you consider that other readers might and highlight its strengths?
I try to gauge the overall effect of the book because, even if one aspect of the book is lacking (word choice, sentence structure, even point of view), the book can still be powerful and worth reading. I'm also pickier now in what I review. I know I don't like overly flowery prose, so I don't review books like that. I'm not a chick lit or a mystery fan, so I don't review those titles -- it's not fair to the authors, or the readers.

5) What happens if you're assigned a book you really dislike? Or suspect that you might dislike?
I don't like writing negative reviews. I'm human, and even if the book is bad, someone still slaved over every word in that book. That being said, my allegiance isn't to the author. It's to the publication where I review, and to the readers, so if the book's a stinker, I will say so. That being said, I don't always review a book I don't like, even if an editor assigned it to me. This just happened -- my editor sent me a book he thought I would like. I couldn't even make it through the third chapter, so I emailed him and asked him if I could review something else. He didn't have a problem with that because, as he said, real estate for book reviews is so limited that he didn't want to waste space on a bad book.

But sometimes I will go ahead with a negative review, for one of two reasons:
1. Even if the book is bad, the reader can still learn something from the review. I just turned in a review of a biography that I thought was terrible. It was about a fascinating person, but the book was very poorly written. However, I felt that the readers would learn something about this fascinating person through the snapshot of the review, so I went ahead with the assignment.
2. It's an anticipated book. My first review for the Philadelphia Inquirer was the follow up work by someone whose first novel was a well-received best seller. I liked the first book, and I knew a lot of people were looking forward to book number two which was, well, seriously lacking a lot of what made the first book a gem. It was my job to alert readers that this second book might not be worth their $24, which is why I went ahead with the assignment.

6) Book reviews are getting cut from newspapers left and right. Why do you think this is? What are some of your favorite resources for readers who seek out reviews?
I think that a lot of this comes down to dollars. Publishers aren't spending as many in newspapers as they were before. If you look at your local paper, you'll probably see a weekly home and garden or food section. Why? Because businesses support those sections with ads. You won't find that with books. But that's not saying there isn't good literary criticism going on. You only have to go to book sites like or to see that.

Readers can also go to the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, Critical Mass, at And I'm not just saying that because I'm a member. The blog links to industry news, and to reviews written by members. It's a great way for readers to see what reviewers from all over the country are saying. I'm also keeping tabs on the new Barnes & Noble Review. It'll be interesting to see how that goes over.

7) I know that you have your own book coming out...are you concerned about your own reviews? :) Or do you know, as a reviewer, that everything is subjective and you have to try to roll with the punches?
Yes! It's scary putting something -- anything -- out there. I don't know how many reviews I'll get in the traditional book review sense since it's a travel guide, but that's not stopping anyone from picking it up, reading it and saying, "well, she didn't cover My Favorite Pizza Parlor, so this book is crap." It's scary, but I understand that I can't please everyone all the time. Remind me of that if I get a negative review!

Friday, October 19, 2007

GCC Presents: Renee Rosen and Every Crooked Pot

Nina Goldman is the youngest of three growing up in Akron, Ohio in the 1970s. She and her siblings must cope with their eccentric, larger-than-life father Artie, a dreamer and schemer who commands constant attention with his outrageous antics and mortifying behavior.

As if growing up with Artie as a father isn’t difficult enough, Nina also faces another issue. Born with a hemangioma, a disfiguring birthmark covering her right eye, Nina constantly tries to look “normal,” and spends hours experimenting with makeup and Veronica Lake hairstyles designed to hide her bad eye. When none of those things do the trick, Nina finds herself riding in laundry dryers, appearing on TV, and navigating a host of other hilarious escapades, all in the name of fitting in.

Nina’s spirit never falters in this endearing story about a captivating misfit, her peculiar family, and the lengths to which a girl will go to feel loved by her family, friends, and ultimately herself. In this autobiographical novel, Rosen conveys a message of hope and belonging to all people who feel “different” in a world where everyone else belongs. With a profound message and a cast of irresistible characters, EVERY CROOKED POT is sure to become a classic in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.

The Chicago Tribune calls ECP "heartfelt," and Publishers Weekly declares it "aborbing." Buy it here.

And, as always, we're lucky to have Renee here to answer a few pointed questions. Here ya go:

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?

Even though Every Crooked Pot is based in part on my childhood. I never thought to write about growing up with a strawberry birthmark over my eye until I enrolled in a week-long writing workshop with Michael Cunningham. This was long before he won the Pulitzer for The Hours. Anyway, Michael gave us an exercise about childhood memories and I jotted something down about how my father once used my eye to get out of a speeding ticket. Unbeknownst to me, I was writing what would later inspire the opening scene of Every Crooked Pot.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?

Nina (my narrator) and I are similar in some very obvious ways. For example, we were both born with a disfiguring strawberry birthmark over our right eye--though her condition was much more severe than mine ever was. I also grew up in Akron, Ohio which is where the novel is set and a few other aspects of the story were taken from my life, but the rest is fictional. It's funny but so many people assume I'm Nina and several reviewers said the book reads like a memoir but I assure you, it's definitely a novel.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?

I found an agent who believed in me and most importantly believed in this book. She continued to work with me to polish the manuscript and then she searched until she found the right editor and publisher.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?

You know, I used to have all kinds of things that had to be in place before I could write. But now that my writing time is so limited that I just grab the time when whenever and however I can--I've written in airports, hotel room, friend's couches, office building lobbies, while waiting in line at the post office--you name it. My laptop and I are now attached at the hip.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?

Well, now if it were up to me, I'd just cast Patrick Dempsey in all roles. But seriously, I think Sandra could be Reese Witherspoon or Hilary Swank and I think Adrien Brody would make a fine Artie. Nina--is really tricky--what I need is a young Natalie Portman, ala Beautiful Girls.