Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Improvement

I'm over at Writer Unboxed today talking about the endless room for improvement when it comes to our writing and why, if possible, you shouldn't be discouraged if you don't sell your manuscript. (Tall task, I know!)

Check it out here...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

GCC Presents: Jenny Gardiner and Sleeping With Ward Cleaver

I know that I've been covering a lot of books recently, but hey, there are a lot of new good ones coming out, so...with that said, I'm really excited to host Jenny Gardiner, a new member of the GCC today, not least because I think her book, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, might have one of the best titles this year. When I picture it, I actually picture sleeping with Wally Cleaver, which is a little bit disturbing, but nevertheless, the title certainly lodges in your mind and stays there. :) More seriously, the themes of this book echo similar themes as in Time of My Life, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Sounds like it will resonate with a lot of women. Here's the synopsis:

Claire Doolittle is not a happy camper. The married mother of five seems to have lost her way in life. Swept off her feet years earlier by Mr. Right, she’s dismayed that husband Jack has turned into Mr. Always Right, and the only sweeping happening in her life involves a broom and a dustpan. Jack’s officious, perfunctory way has left fun, spontaneity and laughter at the doorstep, and Claire is beginning to wonder if she’s actually married to a modern-day version of Ward Cleaver, the stuff-shirted father figure from Leave it to Beaver sitcom fame.

Worse yet, she’s so bogged down by her overwhelming life and so turned off by the idea of getting it on with her stodgy father-figure of a husband, she’s simply blocked out all of her memories of the Claire-who-used-to-be. Cue a former fiancĂ©, who re-enters her life when she desperately needs to figure out who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be. And if she wants to salvage her sagging marriage, or fall back on her old fiancĂ©, who’s wooing her with promises of what could have been. Throw in a predatory hottie from Jack’s office who’s set her sights on Claire’s ho-hum husband, and you’ve got the recipe for a mid-life crisis of epic proportions.

Jenny Gardiner’s novel, winner of Dorchester Publishing’s American Title III contest, is sure to lure you into the mundane yet compelling world of Claire Doolittle and will leave you cheering for her marriage.

Here, Jenny drops by to answer a few of my standard questions:

1) What's the backstory behind your book?
I've always liked to watch people, I love to observe, pay attention to what is going on in their lives and what motivates them. And I couldn't help but notice that so many women who I remember from their wedding days, so full of hope and optimism, had settled into more of a daily grind in their marriages--life, work, kids all get in the way of sustaining that level of positive emotions you experience when you first get married. We were starting to see marriages fail, which is always so sad.

And at the same time I was really interested to see how so many women became empowered as they approached middle-age. All of a sudden their kids are getting older and more self-sufficient. Many had left jobs behind to raise their kids, so found themselves in the position of having to reinvent themselves. Sometimes having to reinvent yourself is a really awesome gift, really. It forces you to explore what it is you want out of life, what it is you think is missing.
And at the same time I started noticing this difference with women and men at that point in life--while women seemed to be blossoming, men seemed to become more set in their ways. It's ripe for conflict, in that regard.

It made me think that many men really do become Ward Cleaver-like. And I don't know about you, but the idea of sleeping with Ward Cleaver isn't really so appealing LOL. Hence the title came to me, and with all of these musings swimming about my head, I started working on this idea, and the next thing you know I had a book!

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?
There's no doubt that my sarcastic voice is the thread running through the book--I've injected that into my protagonist's head. But generally-speaking, I sort of compiled all of those things that I'd heard sitting around over drinks with girlfriends--all those enormous chasms that occur between men and women once kids come along, and incorporated them into a composite marriage. I do, however, have a parrot who poops all over my house and it makes me CRAZY!

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
I followed an unconventional path to publication. I'd entered the American Title III contest in the hopes of expediting getting my book in front of an editor's eyes. In general, I think entering contests is a good idea--it helps to get feedback (albeit sometimes not the most useful feedback). And if you do well enough, it *can* expedite getting your writing in front of an editor or agent, which is a pretty nice thing.

Much to my surprise my book was chosen as a finalist in the contest. For the six months following that, I had to hunker down and become a marketing maven, spending many, many hours online especially, trying to enlist support for my book in the contest from all sorts of crazy angles. Little did I know I would be laying the groundwork for marketing/publicizing my book. I was just busy trying to stay in the contest, and because of the nature of the contest, and it was sort of before contests started becoming fairly ubiquitous, people were generally pretty enthusiastic about backing me--they felt somewhat vested in the process.

In the meantime, I had prior to all of this been talking back and forth with a lovely agent who had kind of taken me under his wing. We'd been batting about some book ideas, tried to flesh things out, but he was very busy and things kept being sidelined. But ultimately he facilitated my signing with my agent, as he thought we'd be a good match-up, which we have been. At around this time is when I won the contest, which meant that I won a book deal--hugely thrilling and I just didn't realize how lucky I was that on top of all of that, I had built up a potential readership along the way.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What's your routine? How do you dive in? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?
When not in publicity mode I like to start writing early. I'm up before dawn, to the gym and home by 7, then we get the kids up and going, fed, lunched, to school. I come home and sit down to write then, *usually*. Sometimes I'll divert to yoga instead! I do my best writing and my best concentrating in the morning. Plus, it's far easier to do when the kids are at school, because once school's out I am driving all over the place to their various sports practices, activities, etc.
I do tend to be a pressure writer, however, and when I'm facing my deadlines, I will just hunker down and write until my brain is fried. Sometimes that means writing into the middle of the night.

I have three awesome places at home in which to write. In nice weather, I hang out with my laptop on a porch swing on the front porch. When it's cold, I sit in the living room in front of a fire. And my husband just bought me this really cozy sort of fainting couch, which is tucked away in a room where the noises of our lives -(i.e. all of my pets, the kids, the TV, the phone, etc)- can't invade my brain quite so readily.

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?
It has to be an actress with some meat on her bones and who hasn't been bo-toxed to within an inch of her life. She has to have so lifelines on her face. I sorta like Kate Winslett or Laura Linney maybe. Oooh, maybe Emma Thompson? She'd be great! I'm trying to work on the love interest...Matt Damon has the "look"--like sort of Ward-ish but also handsome. I could see him morphing from black and white to technicolor LOL.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Q/A with Eileen Cook

So I am just tickled pink because today I have a Q/A with one of my favorite bloggers, Eileen Cook. If you don't check out Eileen's blog, Just My Type, you should because it brings a daily dose of funny, and I adore it. Eileen's debut novel, Unpredictable, was released last week, so I asked her if I could host her here on Ask Allison because I knew that it would be an enlightening and hilarious Q/A, and she didn't disappoint. Oh, and here's a little scoop on the book, which you can order here from Amazon.

Sophie Kintock isn't crazy, she just wants her guy back. And posing as a psychic to give his new girlfriend a face reading designed to break them up isn't going overboard, is it? Don't answer that. Faking psychic powers turns out to be easy and fun, especially after a few lessons from Nick, the cute (if a bit nerdy) skeptic, who knows all the tricks of the trade. But her readings do a lot more than she could have predicted, and soon Sophie needs to figure out whether the answers lie in the stars-or in herself.

1) Where did the idea of Unpredictable come from? A lot of people mistakefiction for real life, but I take it you're not a credited psychic in reallife?
Alas- I do not have a secret life as a psychic. My husband belongs to a group called CSICOP (Center for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.) Are you picturing a bunch of really smart people wearing t-shirts with math jokes on them that you can’t understand? Perfect. It’s a group of skeptics that use science to investigate everything from alien abductions to the Loch Ness monster. I went with him to a conference dealing with how psychic ability can be faked. At first I thought how I could turn this to my advantage and start a new career as a psychic to the stars as a way to leverage myself into A-list parties, but I found myself going back to one question. I knew how to fake psychic skills, but I still wanted to know WHY someone would do it. Playing with that question was the beginning of the story that became Unpredictable.

2) Tell me how you got published. A lot of aspiring writers read the blog -they'd love to take inspiration from you!
I've always wanted to be a writer. My parents were both big readers and passed on the book passion to me. When I was old enough to understand the concept that someone got to be the person to write those stories I knew what I wanted to do. I took courses , went to conferences and wrote as much as possible. I was reluctant to send things out until one writing teacher asked me "well do you think publishers are just going to show up at your f*&%ing door on their own?” It was hard to argue with that kind of logic. I started to send things off and had some sales (and LOTS of rejections.) I wrote two books before Unpredictable. They're unpublished and should stay that way. People are sometimes surprised- but I didn't have any super secret publishing contacts. My agent (the wonderful Rachel Vater) found my query in the slush pile. She's a great business partner. She sold the book to Berkley and foreign rights in Russia, Germany and France. Film Rights were picked up by New Line Cinema.

3) What's your best writing/publishing tip for aspiring writers?
Read. Read a lot. Read a range of things so that you can see how different writers and different genres work. My other piece of advice is that writing with the goal of publication is a rough ride, lots of rejection, lots of emotional ups and downs. If you don't like the actual process of writing I would suggest taking up some other pursuit. Knitting is good. WIth knitting you get a sweater and no one sends you a letter that says:

Dear Knitter- Thank you for the opportunity to review your sweater. Unfortunately it is not to our taste. Other people may like your sweater, but we sure didn't.

4) What the most unpredictable thing about the publishing industry?
There are predictable things about publishing? A wise writer friend recently told me "writing is a craft, publishing is a casino." Truer words were never spoken. There are so many factors that lead to success in this industry (print runs, distribution, trends) - however the only one in your control is the writing. Despite a few short freak outs along the way I'm doing my best to keep focused on the writing.

5) Do you believe in psychic abilities? Ever have a psychic moment?
I want to believe in psychics- does that count? I love the idea of being able to have super-human abilities. I also would love to be able to fly superhero style (except for the fact that I would look really bad in those Spandex suits). I think that sometimes in our desire to find something out of this world- we overlook what is right in front of us . We're so busy playing with tarot cards we miss the real magic- how you feel when you fall in love at first sight or finding a killer pair of shoes- IN YOUR SIZE.

6) I love your blog -so chock full of random tidbits that crack me up.Where do you find them all? What sorts of things tickle your funny bone?
I have this theory that strange news finds me not the other way around. I tend to click around the internet until something catches my attention. One of the most interesting thing has been as the popularity of the blog has grown now people are starting to send me things. You know it's going to be a good day when you open your email and there is a subject line "Ransomed Jesus Video- Must See." I come from a family that has always had humor as a part of everyday life- from bad corny jokes (yes Dad I'm talking to you) to dry sarcasm. I love writers like Meg Cabot or Dorothy Parker who are able to put a fresh spin on something by using humor.

7) Your blog has thriving and healthy traffic. Any words of advice tosomeone starting out on how to build a blog audience?
A blog is a lot of work, if you want to grow an audience you have to make a commitment to posting regularly. I also advise people to look at what is the purpose of their blog. Your blog for example has great writer's advice, it gives people a reason to come back. I couldn't offer writer's advice as I don't know what I'm doing, I decided to stick with funny. To give people a place to stop by for a quick laugh in the middle of their day.