Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas blessings

A belated Merry Christmas to all my readers, and blessings for whatever you choose to celebrate and honor at this time of year.

Thank you all for such a fab year of support for Faking It, and here's to another for Ordinary World.

Keep writing, keep reading, and live with passion!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

checking in

Friends, my apologies for going MIA. I'm currently staying with my mom on Long Island, and while her house reeks of comforts, internet access is not among them. I've been getting a chance to connect to civilization only every other day, once a day, if I'm lucky. And being that we're expecting a blizzard any minute, who knows when the next opportunity will be.

I've also just finished a week of intense revision and editing with my writing partner in crime on our novel Why I Love Singlehood (yes folks, we have a title!). We unanimously agree that we KICKED ASS, and we're very excited about this novel even though we still have a lot of work to do.

When I get a chance, I'll post a review of our work week. One thing I'll especially focus on is the importance of laughing at yourself when the writing is reaching new levels of suckage. Let's just say that we laughed a lot.

Anyhoo, in the meantime, if I get snowed in for days (and it's very possible that I will), let me wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Writing, and safe travels.

I recommend eating as many cookies as you can.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"there are places I remember..."

I can still remember it, clear as day. My twin brother and I were getting ready for school, when my dad called us into the living room and sat us down on the recently upholstered chair. The last time he'd say us into this chair was to tell us that our grandfather had passed away, so this had to be serious.

"John Lennon was shot... and killed."

My twin brother and I remember this inflection identically, the beat between "shot" and "killed".

We gasped, of course, and immediately my thoughts went to my eldest brother-- the one who idolized Lennon, the one who became a musician thanks to one magical night watching The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

My first words were probably Beatles lyrics. The first song I learned to play on the guitar was "Yellow Submarine". My mother appreciated Lennon's message of peace as much as the music. They were all like extended family members, but Lennon was special.

29 years ago today, John Lennon was murdered. Most of the world didn't hear about it until the next day. Many heard the news from the late great sportscaster Howard Cosell, who announced it during a Monday Night Football game. It was a world that didn't have instant access to all information, that didn't have 24-hour cable news channels.

The world mourned. So did my eldest brother. So did I, I suppose. I was 10 years old. I certainly mourned the tragedy of it.

The deaths of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Princess Diana, John Lennon -- such memories are etched in our psyches.

Where were you when you heard the news that John Lennon was murdered?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

dispelling doubt: a dialogue

Yesterday I attended a workshop about using written dialogue to enhance a deeper meaning of the academic disciplines. I had a lot of "why-didn't-I-ever-think-of-that" moments as I watched/listened to the presentation and then brainstormed ways to apply this in my own classroom.

In an unrelated activity, I also participated in a forum discussion in which many well-established, successful writers admitted that they fear they are, to use an appropriate phrase, "faking it". In other words, with each finished project (or new one about to start), they are afraid the world will discover them to be the fraud they really are.

And I confess, I experience this feeling sometimes, although not to the extent of others. My self-doubts usually kick in either when writers block strikes in the middle of a project or at the very start of a new one. And I don't know that I feel like a fraud as much as worry that I only had the one good idea, and the rest are crap. That maybe I'm not really a novelist after all, being that I have no formal literary training. I'm a rhetoric girl, remember?

Ok, so maybe that is a fraud-like feeling.

One participant on the forum was curious about coping mechanisms. How do we manage such doubts? how do we control the voices?

And so, in an effort to marry the two activities, I decided to create a little dialogue between the Doubter (D) and the Believer (B), perhaps not too far off from the internal dialogue I might actually have.

D: It's back. She's staring at the blank page, wondering if it's all crap, wondering if she's ever gonna write another decent novel -- hell, another decent chapter -- and whether she's gonna spend the rest of her life hearing people say, "It's not as good as Faking It, but..."

B: What evidence do you have to support this?

D: Ummm, well, none at the moment. I mean, no one's said that to her yet.

B: Has she run out of novel ideas?

D: Well, no (although she can't seem to think of anything to write at the moment).

B: That will pass. It always does. And she's gotten a lot of positive feedback, yes? People who aren't her parents or friends telling her that they like what she writes. And what is it that she tell her students about the continuum?

D: She tells them that they're better than some student writers and not as good as others. As is she on the continuum of professional writers..

B: Right. So, what's the problem?

D: Sure, she's got ideas. But what if she fails to execute them well? Just because she's gotten a lot of good reviews doesn't mean there aren't any bad ones floating around somewhere.

B: You think her favorite writers never got a rejection or a bad review? You think they've not executed well? Does that make them frauds, or participants in the process?

D: Um, the second one?

B: Right. So what it comes down to is a decision. She's got to decide whether she's a fraud or an honest-to-god writer that knows what she's doing. When it's not working on the page, I'll tell her to re-read and revise, and then read something else, or write something else, and keep honing her craft until she gets it. And really, do you think she wants to be a fraud?

D: Well, no.

B: So that's it. She'll decide not to be. Because she's not, regardless of what delusions you feed her about it.

D: So, she's the Decider...

B: Now let's not get carried away...

Monday, November 30, 2009

a new horizon

It's seems that I've shared an opinion about the Harlequin Horizons debacle everywhere but on my own blog. And although the conversation seems to have faded into the back of the fridge along with the leftover turkey, I thought I'd put my two cents here anyway.

In a nutshell, Harlequin, publisher of romance novels galore, attempted to get a piece of the self publishing action by partnering with Author Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons. Rejected by Harlequin? Well, for approximately 600 bucks, you could have your romance novel published through this press instead.

But wait, hold on. Apparently there was a little bait and switch going on. Because the moment you're roped into thinking you've got the Harlequin name attached to your book (and they've got your money), Harlequin fills in the rest. Oh yeah, but we won't distribute your book. And we won't support you at conferences, readings, etc. And we won't list you with our regular Harlequin authors. You'll have the HH name, but it's not really us.

In other words,
Come here come here come here...
Get away get away get away.

Suddenly, everyone went batshit. The literary agents went batshit. The Harlequin authors went batshit. The Romance Writers of America went batshit. Words like "slush pile" and "not good enough for the real Harlequin label" were being tossed around like Fabio's hair in an ocean breeze. Worse still, the words "self-publishing" and "vanity publishing" were being interchanged the way one might interchange the words "dinner" and "supper".

We even got into a debate about it on Stacey Cochran's web show "Book Chatter."

At the end of the day, it was literary agent Nathan Bransford who made the most sense:
Setting aside this controversy for a moment and the specifics of Harlequin's operation, let me just say that in principle I don't think publishers facilitating self-publishing is necessarily such a bad thing. However, there should be complete transparency, fair pricing, total disambiguation between traditional publishing arms and self-publishing arms, and every good faith attempt made to educate writers about the difference between the two. This industry obviously needs new revenue streams, and provided that the publisher's program is genuinely nonexploitive and transparent I don't see the problem, and I don't see why publishers should continue to cede ground to self-publishing companies when they have every capacity to provide the same service. It just has to be done correctly.
YES! Rock on, man.

P.S. Harlequin took so much flak that they removed their name from Horizons. But the damage has been done, and there are a few things that have left a bad taste in my mouth.

No doubt, Harlequin's model was flawed and unethical. But I can't fault them for doing what other publishing companies are failing so colossally at: trying to cash in on the independent publishing market. Sadly, they're going the same route as the music industry, having learned nothing from their mistakes. As my brother said about the music industry, "They are trying to respond to a way of life that doesn't seem to be controllable." I don't have an accurate source to back up this next quote, but I read that "For the first time since figures have been kept, print-on-demand titles outpaced traditionally-published titles in 2008."

And yet, the RWA, literary agents, and traditional publishers continue to marginalize independent authors like myself.

By interchanging "self-published" with "vanity published," this Web 2.0 model (as Stacey Cochran loves to call it), and authors who take advantage of it, continue to be stigmatized beyond measure. Nevermind that my Kindle sales of Faking It outnumber my print sales by 90%, and that I've been ranked in the top 2000 Kindle Store sales all month. Nevermind that two of last year's bestsellers in Japan were written on cellphones.

Agents constantly blog about how they turn down good writing all the time. One even recently wrote about how disappointed she was to turn down a high-quality piece of work because she had no idea how she would be able to sell it. And yet, in the midst of the HH frenzy, all I kept hearing about was "slush piles" and "authors not good enough for Harlequin" -- whoa -- double standard? Way to raise us up and smack us down! Despite the major success I've had this month, this little voice of shame echoed somewhere in the back of my mind, "You're still a sub-par author. Without a contract from a major publishing house, without your book in a brick-&-mortar Barnes and Noble, no one will ever take you seriously."

How wrong that voice is.

What does it say about the state of traditional publishers if they're turning down good work because they have no room for it, or can't sell it, and then resent those same talented writers for finding their own way of doing what the traditional publishers insisted they couldn't?

The music industry is down to about four major corporations trying to dictate what music product is most marketable, but fans aren't buying it anymore. Is seems that the publishing industry is stuck in this same hole.

I'm not saying that traditional publishers are bad, or anything like that. But more and more I'm questioning the validity of the notion that signing with an agent and a traditional publisher is far more preferable than independently publishing. If nothing else, it's six of one, half-a-dozen of another, as far as pros and cons go. Trashing either option is not wise, but I think criticism is important so that both can work to produce the best quality product that makes money for authors and publishers alike, and serves the consumer.

There are plenty of crappy, self published books out there. About as many crappy, traditionally published books, I'm guessing. The average run of a book isn't in the millions, like Stephen King novels or whatever Oprah's peddling. No, a successful run is considered 5000-10,000 copies sold. The average is probably even less than that, I'll bet. It no longer matters whether the book was published by Random House or

So here's my final word, in sum. I applaud every author who has landed an agent and traditionally published. The majority of you worked damn hard for that. But I also applaud every indie author who used a POD and then pounded the pavement to bring their book to the masses. The majority of you worked damn hard, too. Nathan Bransford said the rest of it for me, but dammit, every author, regardless of where or how he/she published, deserves some respect. And dammit, at the end of the day, every book, be it an e-book, a POD, or a traditionally published hardback, should be valued by the quality of its content, and not the place from where it came.

To all you readers, writers, agents, and editors: make it about that, and everybody wins.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

thank-you notes

From The West Wing epsiode "Shibboleth":
C.J.: They sent me two turkeys. The most photo-friendly of the two gets a Presidential pardon and a full life at a children’s zoo. The runner-up gets eaten.

BARTLET: If the Oscars were like that, I’d watch.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I'd devote this week's post to just a few of the things I'm thankful for this year.

I'll start with the superficial: my books. Faking It was released a year ago, and what a year it's had! I had a vision of how many copies I wanted to sell, and my vision was actualized in ways I never expected. I never expected that people all over the country (even out of the country!) would read my novel. I never expected to get messages from people I never met expressing how much they enjoyed the book, how appreciative they were for Andi and Devin, how they told their friends and family about it. I remember my hand shaking the first time I signed a copy of Faking It for someone who was neither a friend nor a family member, and that's when it hit me: My God, I'm a published author.

Ordinary World is having a fabulous debut on Kindle this month, and my vision for its success is already shaping up in a similar manner to Faking It. What's more, I'm already turning my attention to novel three. Oh, the possibilities!

Being a writer.
Every once in awhile, I experience a moment of pure presence and awe in which I look at what I've written and marvel at how it happened, where it came from, and if it'll happen again. My brother knows this all too well. In fact, it happens every time I listen to one of his songs. I'm moved by his ability to make something so wonderful, something that brings me instant joy--even the sad songs.

The act of creation is both mystical and magical. It requires skill, craft, time, patience, and practice, but there's always this X-factor, this thing that is odorless and tasteless and colorless and is part of every creation. The big bang, if you will. Writing is work, but it is a labor of love. I love being a writer.

Other writers.
You make me good at what I do. Nuff said.

For every blogger who hosted me during the summer, for every person who referred me to someone else, for Quail Ridge Books and Baker Books and Canio's Books, who said yes to stocking my novel, a thousand thank-yous! Independent bookstores need to keep breathing. Kindles are cool, but books are precious objects, and indy stores are run by people who love them so dearly. (And by the way, books make great gifts!)

Yes, you. You, the reader of Faking It and Ordinary World and "I'll Have What She's Having" and my undoubtedly stupid tweets or status updates. You, who leaves comments on my blog on a regular basis. You, who listens to me spout on and on about Aaron Sorkin and Duran Duran and Chris Noth and Gilmore Girls and pop tarts and my twin brother and chocolate chip cookies and the Yankees and coffeeshops and vanilla chai at Mirasol's Cafe and all the other things that exist in my own little playhouse in my brain. And you, who agrees to play along. I couldn't have come this far without you. I couldn't have had a reason to keep writing were it not for you. If I didn't believe you were out there to begin with, Faking It would probably still be sitting in a drawer. I may have originally written it for me, but I most definitely wanted to share it with you.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. But it's a start.
Thank you, friends. Thanks for everything.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

for what it's worth...

For what it's worth, Roberto Scarlato is a writer who is not only a witness to but a participant in life -- more specifically, the human condition.

Rob first contacted me about six months ago and invited me to appear on his blog, Tales and Troubled Times of a Hungry Writer. And believe it or not, I had been reluctant to accept his invitation. "I'm a chick lit writer," I quipped. "Your blog seems to appeal to a much different audience and genre."

Looking at Rob's blog and reading his posts, one could see that he had an affection for literary science fiction, the greats like Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury (my knowledge of Matheson extends only as far as the fantastic Twilight Zone epsiodes of the early 60s, and my twin brother fills me in on the rest). But I could also see something else: Rob Scarlato loves the craft of writing, and loves writers, too.

So, we gave each other a shot.
Since then, Rob has become one of the Faking It Fans, and always puts in a good word whenever he can. So it was without hesitation that I snagged a copy of For What It's Worth immediately after hearing of its release.

Ever thoughtful of my preferences, Rob directed me to particular stories in the collection. The first one I read was "The Subtle Teachings of Mr. Rifa."
Of course.
I connected with this character right away, but I don't think it was only because he was a teacher. There was something I understood about him, and I understood the construction of the story.

The next story I read was "Failing Upwards," a hilarious comedy of errors for a poor schmoe who, in the end, lives to see another day after a calamitous interaction with a staircase. Readers are also witnesses in Rob's story world, and one can't help but watch this guy without both feeling sorry for him and laughing at his expense.

But perhaps the most imaginative story for me was "Your Escape Plan Now" -- a set of directions for a corporate prisoner to make a break! Here, the reader is the traveling companion, even the participant, rather than the observer. Interestingly, Rob wrote the story in one sitting, and the reader certainly feels like he/she is on a rollercoaster. I couldn't help but wonder about this intended reader -- does he make it out (and it felt like it was written for a "he")? What if he is snagged somewhere? How do we know? It is up to our own imaginations to continue or end the story as we see it.

Don't like those? You have 16 more to choose from. The book even comes with author's notes at the very end, which I recommend saving for last, to give the reader an insight look to Rob's insights and inspirations. Overall, the collection is solid, and the mark of a writer who is well on his way.

Give For What It's Worth a try, especially if you are a fan of the short story genre, science fiction, or the human condition.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a conversation with Roberto Scarlato, author of FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH

Roberto Scarlato is a writer's writer. He loves being around writers, loves talking to writers, and loves talking about writing. He's also a reader's writer. He understands the relationship between a writer and a reader, or a reader and a character, and more often than not he is one of those readers.

Rob is currently promoting his latest collection of short stories, For What It's Worth. Please enjoy the following interview.

Tell us a little about yourself and where you're from.

Originally I'm from Dolton, Illinois. After a fire that took our house, which my family and I managed to escape unscathed, we moved to a small town. When I mean small I mean small town. It's a place where rumors are considered testament. Everyone knows, or thinks they know everyone else's buisness. I don't feel comfortable in saying the name of my hometown but I will tell you that it wouldn't be a place you would want to visit.

At what point in your life did you know you were going to be a writer? Was it something inherent, or did it hit you over the head?

I wanted to be a filmmaker at first. I had all these crazy cool ideas for movies and short films but I would run into problems along the way. No budget and not enough actors. Instead, the ideas fizzled out or never got made. I started writing in high school. My freshman year. Four different ideas hit me over the head. I figured, hell, if I can't make the movies that I want I might as well write them how I picture them in my head. Then see if everyone else sees the same picture as I do.

What do you like most about being a writer? What do you like least?

There are so many things I love about writing. I like threading stories together, getting struck by an interesting Idea, experimenting with characters, using real life dialogue and situations within my story, leaving clues for the reader to figure out. I can go on forever. I love being able to get lost in a story from a writer's standpoint. The thing I like the least is I have too many ideas and not enough time to write when I want to. Plus the paperwork. The paperwork always piles up.

I'm sure you get writer's block like most writers. How do you overcome it?

Whenever I used to get stuck on a story, I'd just quit and let the story percolate for a while. No need to shove when the door's not gonna open, right? I'd take walks, hang out with friends. Anything to get my mind off of the story. Now I've come up with different strategies. Music. Music is key. listen to one good song that represents the theme of your story, close your eyes and picture what the movie trailer of your idea would look like. Imagine the highlights, the best scenes and you'll come up with something. Or you can work on something else, go to the next idea in your stockpile. Also, pick up a copy of The Ultimate Book of Top Ten Lists. My girlfriend got me that book to help me with the block. It works! I don't know why, but it does!

Tell us about your writing process -- do you revise a lot? get feedback in the early stages or later stages? write during a particular time of day? Etc.

I revise as I write. It works better that way. When a story of mine is 90 percent to where I want it to be, I'll show my girlfriend. I'm glad to say she's been my muse from the very first moment I started writing. She likes it when I'm clever in a story. That gives me a high. Then I know my story has an edge. I used to write from the hours of 11pm to 6am. Those were the best hours. I'd write pages upon pages without stopping. Now I just write whenever I have time.

Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write?

My audience is a theatre of two. Just my girlfriend and I. I write a story to experiment, but I always keep in mind ways of surprising her when she reads something of mine. From the very first novel I started writing, she was encouraging me to write more. I only had nine chapters to start with when I was writing. She would ask almost every day what happens next? It just took off from there.

Who are your favorite authors and/or books, and why?

Richard Matheson, Brad Melzer, Jospeh Heller, Richard Bach, Ron Base and Stephen King. These guys are at the top of their game and I've been heavily influenced by their work. I love I am Legend from Matheson. He was so realistic with that story, it gave me chills. Matheson is also a master of short stories. Read "Button, Button" and "The Holiday Man." Those were very different. Brad melzer has snappy dialogue. Joseph Heller has remarkable wit. With Richard Bach, I just feel like his writing is very fluid. Ron Base, as far as I know, only wrote one book. But his book Magic Man was one I simply could not put down.

What are you currently reading?

My reading list is very large and always growing. But right now I'm in the middle of
13 Bullets by David Wellington
Schemers by Bill Pronzini
S is for Silence by Sue Grafton
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

Tell us about FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH.

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH revolves around the theme of human survival and the struggle that we all face when trying to figure out who we are and what our place in life might be. I wrote these 19 different stories to experiment with different genres and different life stories. I wanted to know what would happen if fire became invisible. Or what would happen if a supernatural invention wound up in the real world where two misfits toy around with it. Mostly, this collection was a way for me to understand my characters better and to give everyone little tastes of what I want to bring to the writer's table. I'm always trying to make the experience different.

Do you have a favorite story in your collection (or would that be like asking a parent to pick a favorite child)?

I'd say the one I hold near to my heart would be Failing Upwards. That one was really fun to write. I just wanted everything in that story to be chaotic but at the same time laughable. Second to that would be Graveyard Shifters. I had to do some research for that one and liked how it turned out. I also learned a lot more about Edgar Allen Poe and the oddity of his death. Those are my babies.

Can you tell us about "Your Escape Plan" -- where did you get the idea for it? (It felt like something Ray Bradbury might have thought of -- very imaginative!)

If you are able to hear a thud, that would be me hitting the floor. I'm humbled that you would put me and Ray Bradbury in the same category. I got the idea by forcing myself to write a Sci-Fi story in one sitting. I wanted to make it different than everything I've read so I thought, why not make it a personal document? Why not instructions? But at the same time I wanted the reader to decide whether Allen Quixote made it out of that facility. It was thrilling to write but it played hell with my back. I wrote that story on my laptop, on the floor, laying on my stomach. I thought, I'm not getting up until this story is finished. I like to make writing challenging.

Tell us about the character Mr. Rifa from "The Subtle Teachings of Mr. Rifa." What goes into creating a character?

That character was a combination of all the teachers who inspired me throughout high school and college. One day I thought I'd write a story to pay tribute to them. What came out was a teacher who went a little too far while trying to kill a fly but, over the course of five chapters, while recovering in the hospital with a broken leg, learns some valuable lessons about life. I've already shown the story to one of my teachers and he loved it. Even went as far as saying, "I am very impressed. What gives you the right- at your age- to write so well about subjects about which you can not possibly have any experience?" I laughed my ass off. I guess it just goes to show that if your teacher is really interesting, you'll pay attention.

"The Nature of a SecondHand" was intriguing. I found it interesting that you wrote it in twelve parts. Tell us about that one. What is happening to the protagonist in that story? Who, or what, is the antagonist?

That one is sort of my twilight zone story. I'd like to sit in crowded bookstore with the lights dimmed reading this to people on Halloween. It's just bizarre. Don't know what I was thinking when I wrote it. But I knew it had to be in twelve parts. This may be different from other interpretations but I think that Cecil Weet is being haunted by an entity called Chronos. This particular apparition has the power to manipulate time. I wanted to toy with that concept, being haunted by time. Like I said, something different. When he gets up close to the clock he finds that Chronos is really two miniature men hiding in the clock. They are the specters of time. They wanted him to join him and he does. My girlfriend thinks that Cecil was going mad and having hallucinations echoing that his time was coming to an end.

What's next for you?

Glad you asked. Right now I'm preparing another book for release which will be a supernatural thriller. As soon as I get that one all polished up, I will put up the release date. It follows the life a writer who just moved to Wisconsin and is being haunted by a deceased serial killer.

As far as writing goes, I'm still writing short stories. I think there will be two more collections. Soon, I'll start posting them to my blog to see what people think. I'm also in the middle of writing a novel that has to do with the power of reading itself. It's code name is Epic Tale until I can figure out a title for it. But it is sure to be a lengthy book. It's sort of my love letter to self-publishing.

Finally, can you tell us about your blog, and where we can purchase a copy of FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH?

I started the blog to try and break my writer's block but now it has become something more for me. I like sharing my stories with others and encouraging people to be writers. I figure, writers go through some pretty troubled times. Why not give them a boost? Lord knows we all need one. Technically we're not starving artists. We have jobs, we have hobbies, we have support. We're just hungry writers. Hungry to get our stories told.

These were all really great questions. I appreciate you taking the time to read my book. You can purchase a copy on or you can order a digital copy for your Amazon Kindle

Thanks for having me here, Elisa. Keep writing, everyone.
P.S. Buy Faking It. Good book. Lots of snappy dialogue. :)

Why thank you, Rob!)
Tune in tomorrow for more about Roberto Scarlato and FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the world within

My good friend Elspeth wrote an excellent post on her blog, It's A Mystery, yesterday in which she presented the irony that many writers face.
"I find it amusing that many introverts spend their days (or nights) writing about extroverts with lives crowded with incident," she says.
Writing can be paradoxically a solitary act and a frenzy of social activity, only the activity is going on inside our minds or on the page. a writer's service can also be simultaneously selfish and selfless. (I write for you, but first I write for me. I can't persuade you if I don't persuade me.)

Here is the response I posted in her Comments section:
When I'm not writing, I want to be writing. When I have nothing to do but write, I want to be elsewhere, with other people. And yet, when the writing is working and I'm in the zone, I'm not alone. I'm immersed in the world of my novel.

Sometimes I want to be living my characters' lives (I agree with you, though -- not their problems!). Career-wise, Andi was/is much further along than me, and at one time I aspired to have her career. I also think Sam was the husband I had wished for.

In our current manuscript, the protag owns a cafe, and there's a part of me that always fantasizes having a place like that, almost like a home. But, in reality, I could never take the work ethic or schedule required to run such a business!

It's fun to live vicariously, but it's also important to have that alone time. I live a lot in my head, but I also live in the world. Sometimes I'm just not sure which is which.

Coincidentally, following my nanowrimo post, a novel started unfolding in front of my mind's eye. Characters are speaking, introducing themselves to me and each other, plots are slowly forming. What am I supposed to do with this? Should I start writing it on the page? Should I keep mentally composing? I'm already behind in my day job (my 24-hr day job, it sometimes feels like), trying to salvage the rest of the semester, trying to keep my students on track, serve them first, trying to get Ordinary World published in paperback before Christmas. Can I commit to beginning a new novel when the third one isn't finished?

I crave my summer vacation already. I crave the alone time, days like today, when it's gray and rainy, days when there are no papers staring me down, awaiting a grade, no lessons to be planned, no emails in my inbox to be answered.

When I'm not writing, I want to write. When I'm not alone, I want to be. When I'm alone, I go to the world within.

Writers, I'm going to steal Elspeth's questions and pose them to you: Do you cherish your time alone and wish you had more? Would you want the lives of your characters? Or is just the price we have to pay for being writers?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

ORDINARY WORLD debuts on the Kindle!

Need I say more?

I am so excited about this. Click here to get your Kindle copy of Ordinary World for only 99 cents! (Don't forget that you can also download it onto your iPod Touch or iPhone, 'cause there's an app for that...)

Here's the description:
Six years after leaving New York, Andi has everything she wants: a tenured proferssorship at Northampton University in Massachusetts, a published collection of essays, good friends, and a blissful relationship with her husband. But what happens when tragedy strikes and the world as she knows it changes in an instant?

Author Elisa Lorello reunites us with Andi and has created a story of love and loss, joy and sorrow, heartbreak and hope, all the while keeping us hooked through the laughter and tears.

Not sure you want to commit? Then go to and download a free sample! (There's a free sample of Faking It as well!) I am looking forward to the paperback debut in the coming weeks.

Thank you so much for all your support!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Will's wisdom"

So, I didn't win the Best of the Best Ebook contest (see winners here). But, not to worry. A loved one passed this on to me via Facebook the other day. Whatever you're working on -- a new project (nanowrimo, perhaps?), an old project, the same project, or a blank screen -- this video comprised of clips of Will Smith interviews is inspiring. Allow yourself this ten minutes. Enjoy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

nanowrimo? not for me!

Nanowrimo is upon us again.

For those who have never heard of it, nanowrimo stands for National Novel-Writing Month. It takes place every November, and the objective is to write 50,000 words of a novel (starting from scratch and not one in progress) during the month of November. (If I recall correctly, it calculates to something like 2666 words per day.) All those who make the goal by November 30th "win".

Confession: Ordinary World was a nanowrimo novel. I made my goal of 50,000 words and a few to spare, and the result was the first draft. That was 2006. The year before, I had made a less successful attempt and made it to approximately 35,000 words of a novel that may never be finished, and not because I don't like the idea or the characters -- quite the contrary, actually.

I have my reasons why I'll not be doing nanowrimo again. Or at least not for awhile.

Too busy. With Ordinary World just begging to be released, I've got too much to do with that, and I'm way behind schedule. There's also the matter of being two weeks behind schedule w/ my classes and cramming a lot into the next month to make sure they finish everything in a timely and effective manner.

Commitment issues. It's not that I don't have another novel in me. I'm counting down the days until my co-writer and I meet in NY to work on our manuscript (and probably after that we'll be ready to share the title), and I've already got ideas for two more novels sketched out. But I'd like to finish one before I officially start another. I have a bad habit of leaving too many things unfinished, like reading books, house-decorating projects, etc.

Crappy writing. I fall prey to the same thing I admonish my students for: getting so caught up in the word count that that becomes the priority of writing. I've seen it too many times. Students write a lot of BS (and they know it is, even confess it is) in order to make the page requirement. And no matter how many times I stress that for me, the number of pages is a guideline rather than a requirement, I get a few who keep their focus there rather than on what they have to say, and what their audience needs to know.

Ordinary World turned out to be a pretty good novel, but I can't tell you how much extra time I had to spend getting rid of all the wordiness, the passive voice, the ill-constructed sentences -- right up to the very final edit -- because all I cared about back in November '06 was making the damn word count. Sure, I cared about the story. But the writing came second, and it (and I) paid dearly for it. It's the same reason why the unfinished manuscript remains unfinished (or, at least, one of the reasons). Good story, bad writing.

Nanowrimo can be tons of fun, especially if you're doing it with friends and get involved with the online community at the nanowrimo website (I'm sure there are Twitter and Facebook pages as well, both of which I'm too lazy to look up and link at the moment). And, I'm grateful for the novel I produced. Maybe someday I'll do it again for the hell of it. But for all those who are looking for a challenge, looking for a little excitement and adventure and fun, and who have had that novel in them for ages and never got it on the page, then I say Go for it! Nanowrimo all the way!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

one chord at a time, one word at a time: dispelling fear of failure

Recently a student came to me, practically in tears. He had no draft, nothing to show for the last four weeks, and confessed that every time he tries to write something, he becomes so terrified of failing that he simply can't do it. Unfortunately, his past teachers instilled a false perception of "perfect writing" (ha! and there's really an Easter Bunny too, right?), and he's been paralyzed by it ever since.

"Welcome to my world," I replied.

Ok, I wasn't that blunt, but I was certainly empathetic and confessed my own writers block and fears of failure. I told him that I've been there, many times. That most writers I know experience this. And then I proceeded to tell him some of my tricks:

  • When I'm feeling particularly fearful, the first thing I type is This does not have to be perfect. In fact, it can be the crappiest piece of writing ever, and no one ever has to know.
  • The second thing I type is This is what I want to say. And then I proceed to say it in words. Or, I type I want to write about... and don't worry about how clunky it is. After a couple of sentences or paragraphs, the words come easier, the thoughts become clearer, and before I know it, I'm writing something, sometimes even halfway decent. One word at a time.
  • I watch or read something inspiring.
  • I talk it out with someone I trust. Not just the fear, but the subject about which I am blocked.
  • I seek support and encouragement from my peers.

There's the old saying "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." (Yeah. Tell me that when I'm heartbroken and see if you don't walk away with a bloody nose.) Is writing the same way? Is it better to have produced a piece of problematic writing than to have written nothing out of fear?

It took me almost 20 years to pick up the guitar from the last time I had played it because I had struggled so hard the last time -- I figured that I was never going to be good at it, and I would never be as good as my siblings. And then I realized that I'd never really know if I didn't try. Moreover, my brother (a virtuoso with whom I'd match John Mayer and Eric Clapton any day of the week and twice on Sunday) encouraged me that I'd never have to play for anyone but me. It's true--I'm nowhere near as good as my sibs, and there's still a lot I can't do, but dammit, I surprised myself with what I could do, especially on my own. One chord at a time.

It took Faking It five years from its conception to get written because I thought I wasn't a fiction writer. And since then I've panicked that there's no life after Andi, that I only got one good idea and used up my ration. But then a line, a story, a character comes to mind while I'm in the shower or driving to work or at the coffeeshop staring out the window, and I realize that all is not lost.

The sucky thing is that I have no choice but to issue a failing grade if this student produces nothing by the end of the semester. But my heart will be with him if it comes to that. I sure hope it doesn't. I'll keep doing everything I can.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Have you ever imagined the conversation you would have with your favorite writer (or movie star, or musician, or president, or anyone else who doesn't know you exist at the moment)? Someone living, perhaps at a cocktail party or a lunch or hanging out at a coffeeshop? In my mind, I imagine many such scenes, all in which I am witty, I am intelligent and interesting, and most importantly, I am coherent.

For example, a conversation with Martin Sheen:

Me: Mr. Sheen, it's an honor to meet you.
MS: Call me Martin.
Me: Call me Elisa
MS: Elisa?
Me: Yes?
MS: That's a pretty name.
Me: Thank you, Sir. (laughs) After watching so many West Wing episodes, I feel the need to call you Sir.
MS (laughs) I'm fine with that.
Me: Martin, thanks for raising awareness about The School of the Americas.
MS: You know about the School?
Me: I do.
MS: I'm impressed. What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a teacher of freshman writing.
MS: I love teachers.
Me: Thank you. My favorite part is when the students "get it". I don't want it to be just about them learning what they're supposed to learn. I want them to go beyond that. I want them to come out of my class as better thinkers.
MS: They're lucky to have someone with such dedication and passion.

And that's just the beginning of the conversation. It would only get better from there.
I do realize, of course, that I've made myself look very favorable, almost goddess-like in his eyes. I have to do that, make myself look so fabulous in my fantasy dialogue, because what would really happen would probably be more something like this:

Me: Oh my God, it's President Bartlet!
MS: How's it goin'.
Me: I thought that Visa Check Card commercial you did with your son Charlie was hilarious.
MS: Ummmm...
Me: (sheepishly backs away) Nice to meet you.

With whom would your conversation take place, and about what would you discuss?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

from book to film: adaptations

People often ask me when the movie version of Faking It will be released. Some are joking, while others are dead serious. I confess that there's a rough draft of a screenplay (very rough) sitting in a drawer in my apartment. It was the first collaboration between my writing partner and me, almost four years ago (four years? geez, how the hell did that happen?). In addition to my aspirations of getting an agent and reaching a wider audience with my novels, having my books turned into films would be pretty neat.

My fear, however (and yes, I do think of these things) would be that it wouldn't be done well. That the characters would be miscast, or the jokes would be delivered poorly, or that they'd film in Wilmington and pass it off as Long Island to save money (take that, Dawson's Creek!). I wonder what novelists think of film interpretations of their work? What did Stephen King think of Carrie, or The Green Mile, or Shawshank Redemption (which was actually a short story), or any of his other novels-turned-movies? What did Jennifer Weiner think of In her Shoes?

Then there's the issue of preference. My experience is that whichever you encounter first is the one you prefer. I much prefer the movie version of Chocolat to the book (which I read years after seeing the film, one of my favorites), and not just because Johnny Depp was much sweeter to look at than the novel description of Roux. I preferred Redford's The Natural. And it was the film All the President's Men that sparked my ongoing fascination with Watergate.

The Social Network is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires. Apollo 13 was based on Jim Lovell's book Lost Moon. I enjoyed the former to the later in the second example, and chances are that even if I read The Accidental Billionaires first, I'll still enjoy the film more.

Didn't care for the Harry Potter films as much as the books (and I refused to see them until I read the books). Haven't even seen Twilight. No desire to see Lord of the Rings. Prefer Bridget Jones books to the films (although how can you not fall in love with Colin Firth?)

So, here's my question (more than one, actually): What are your favorite film adaptations of books? Are there any film adaptations that completely ruined the book experience for you? Are there any you would refuse to see? Are there any films that you prefer to the book? Which did you see first? Are there any favorite books that you would love to see made into a film or even a tv series? If so, why? And who would you want to see cast in those films? Are there any films you would love to see made into novels (for example, would I love When Harry Met Sally as a novel)?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I missed family relationships blogging day. I had wanted to participate in it, but then I completely forgot about it. When Tuesday rolled around, I wrote about swine flu instead. You can blame my absentmindedness on said swine flu, if it makes you feel better. It does me.

I cribbed the following from Writers Inspired:
WOW! Women On Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We’re celebrating the release of Therese Walsh’s debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy , (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost when they were teenagers. Visit The Muffin ( to read what Therese has to say about family relationships

So, here's my post anyway, even though the moment is over.

Last night my twin brother called me just as I was falling asleep, around 10:45.

Him: I'm sorry, did I wake you?
Me: Well, um, kind of. What's up?
Him: What's the name of that soap, the blue and white one, with the commercials where the people were all bright-eyed after taking a shower?
Me: (after a couple of seconds) Coast.
(Yes, I'm ashamed to say I knew exactly what he was talking about. No, it's not a twin thing, it's my sad attention to soap commercials.)
Him: (yelling to his girlfriend) It's Coast!!
Me: You woke me up for that?
Him: It was an emergency.

This is the way our phone conversations usually go. This, or some West Wing trivia (I'm sorry to say he's better than me), or a debate over the best Pop Tart flavor, or some other recital of something requiring cartoonish voices. Regardless, we end up in laughter. I end up in tears, grabbing my side, sometimes literally falling over.

But my twin brother also often asks me what I'm reading. He's always reading something impressive. Something on a recommendation from Ray Bradbury or Dan Simmons. Those conversations are much more serious, more passionate. I always learn something from him when we talk about reading. And I learn something about him, too.

We always called ourselves the yin and yang twins: He's tall, I'm short. He's right-handed, I'm left-handed. He's straight hair, I'm curly hair. He's got brown eyes, I've got blue eyes. He's smart, I'm beautiful (ok, so I'm smart too...). And so on. We're both writers. He writes literary science fiction, the likes of Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon and Jorge Luis Borges, guys way over my head. I'm more commercial, a completely different prosaic style. He's downright elegant, poetic in his prose. Mine just is. He learned to write by reading. He absorbs what he reads, and he reads voraciously. I was much more academic in my learning. But we even complement each other there. I think rhetorcially. He thinks literary.

He taught himself to play Keith Emerson solos by ear. By ear, the rat-bastard. I can draw portraits by copying from photographs.

Stephen King talks about the writer's Intended Reader (for him, it's his wife, Tabitha). Aside from my writing partner, the reader whose opinion I value most is my wombmate's. I have learned just as much (if not more) about writing from him as from King or Aaron Sorkin or Andre Dubus III or Nora Ephron or anyone else.

I love each of my siblings, each one for special reasons. But my twin brother is probably my most favorite person in the world. I cannot imagine a day, an hour, a minute without him in my life. I can't even begin to conceptualize life as a non-twin. Nor do I want to. It doesn't matter that we're both readers and writers, or that we're as different as can be. We don't believe in twin telepathy, and we don't live down the street from each other. But when it comes down to the real important things -- soap, pop tarts, Toby Zeigler impersonations, cats -- we're right there. We get it.

I've already written a protagonist w/ a twin brother. I doubt the manuscript will ever get finished, much less published, but it's one of my favorite character relationships. I'm drawn to characters w/ chemistry. But I love those two because I understand them so well. And I love that they understand each other.

So, this post is for you, dear wombmate. You fill me w/ joy.
And check out Therese Walsh when you can.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

oink oink

Readers, you may have thought I escaped to the beach, or went pumpkin picking and got caught in a vine; or, perhaps you thought I succumbed to the insanity known as mid semester. Or, perhaps you thought I was going deep and quiet before launching the Ordinary World missle.

Sadly, it was none of the above. I had the swine flu.

Yes, that awfully named H1N1 virus that has nothing to do with swine but everything to do with the flu. I am now a statistic.

It was spreading around campus faster than gossip (a recent memo from my university approximated 900 reported student cases, "presumably" H1N1, since the beginning of the fall semester), and several of my students had already missed class as a result of it. Faculty had also been issued a memo that students with swine flu were to be given special consideration regarding attendance, catching up, etc. I frowned, thinking that they were simply riding on the paranoia bandwagon.

And then I got a tickle in my throat.

I'd dismissed it because it was at night, after a day in which I lectured for three hours straight (which I normally don't do). When I woke up the next morning with a cough and feeling a little bit woozy, however, I thought that maybe it wasn't from all the talking.

I went into school anyway, but by the time I got there I was pretty certain that I should probably turn around and go home (feeling more woozy and throat sore), that maybe I should take advantage of the bandwagon, especially given that in 24 hours I would be on fall break, a break I was looking forward to so I could start planning the Ordinary World launch, line up some readings, etc. (not to mention just relaxing).

Besides, the department secretary said I didn't look too good.

By the time I got home, I was running a slight temperature. Very slight. I made a doctor's appointment for the next day. Even apologized for jumping on the H1N1 bandwagon.

I'll spare you the details of the H1N1 test (other than to say "snout test" might coincide well w/ "swine flu"), but 10 minutes later, my results came back: positive.

That's not what upset me, however. What upset me was the doctor reminding me that I hadn't been there for a physical in quite some time, and now that I'm almost 40, these things have to become regular.

Damn, I'm almost 40??

It turned out that I was too late for Tamiflu, and the doctor told me to stay home for one week exactly and take OTC meds, which I did. No contact with others.

For the next three days, I was sicker than I've been in a long time. The fever was the worst. At some point I finally lost it and burst into tears when my mom called. It was also the first in a long time that I felt lonely. I wondered if this was payback for my criticism of the "special consideration" memo. Had I not already been on vacation (and a sucky vacation it was), I would have had to cancel even more classes. This is not a curl-up-under-the-blanket-and-catch-up-on-soap-operas-or-reality-shows kind of flu. You start to think of ways to put yourself out of your misery: drop an anvil on your head, drink the entire bottle of Dimetapp, suck on the exhaust pipe of a bus, you name it. I had very little appetite for anything other than toast or soup. (I did, however, have the foresight to buy a bag of peanut M&Ms on my way home from school earlier in the week.)

By Saturday, my fever finally broke, but was still 99. On Sunday, I relapsed just a little, but my appetite returned (as did my single-serving instant cake recipe). Yesterday was my first full day w/ a normal temp and w/out needing meds of any kind. Today was my last day off from school. I even got some work done today.

So even though my vacation was shot to hell and the Ordinary World release has been delayed, there are more things for which to be grateful: having a job in which to call in sick; having health insurance to cover my doctor visits; having family close by to deliver orange juice to me; having a mom to call me each day and make sure I'm ok, and a wombmate who made me laugh until I couldn't stop coughing; and lots and lots of dear friends and colleagues and loved ones via Facebook who let me know they were thinking of me, sending me love and healing energy, and simply wishing me well. Besides, better sick now than at Christmastime, when I'm back in Sag Harbor with my writing partner working on our manuscript.

Not only that, but this past week, Faking It climbed very high in the Kindle Store rankings yet again (and, last I checked, is still in the Top 100 for special categories), got its first UK paperback sale (woohoo!), and is a semifinalist in the Best of the Best ebook contest (its Kindle status qualified it).

I have a lot to catch up on, and am looking forward to getting my energy levels up. I'll say this: don't take this flu lightly. I still think there's a lot of hoopla about it; but, it's not something I wish on anyone. I certainly have more empathy for my students now (not that I had none before), and perhaps that's another good thing to come out of this as well. And I'm bringing a can of Lysol to my office on Thursday. That and some Halloween candy. I would've baked cookies for my students, but I don't think they'd really want anything that my hands touched this week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

readers before royalties

I just had a great month of Kindle sales for Faking It; setting the price at 99 cents has attracted more readers and occasionally put me into the Top 100 special categories rankings (makes for good bragging rights for my parents and strangers, but Amazon rankings are a little tricky; still, it's nothing to frown at, either...).

When it comes to Kindle and e-book sales, however, I kind of feel like I'm both biting the hand that feeds me and selling myself short. I've discussed on this blog how I feel about tactile books and how much I love and support independent booksellers. I know they lose business to the Kindle, and I don't want to see them go away. But as a self-published author, I'm not only a writer, I'm a businessperson, and the bottom line is that I sell books on Kindle and am building a following. Am I underselling my talent by charging so little? Many might say yes. But I look at the bigger picture; I think from the end. Guys like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King used to sell stories to magazines that paid a penny per word, and that was after numerous rejections. Heck, the Beatles weren't exactly staying at Hamburg's version of The Plaza when they first started out.

The money will come -- it already is coming. So are the readers, and the reviews. So far, so good. Most important, I'm having fun.

There's a saying: "Do what you love; the money will follow." Don't listen to those that say there's no money to be made as an author, and don't ever sell yourself short, literally and metaphorically. Know what you want, make a plan, and visualize your plan manifesting itself. Most of all, love what you do, and do it as if it's already raking in the bucks. Do it for your readers, and remember: you're one of 'em.

One more thing: more than any other time, self-published authors have several channels of distribution and communication to get their books into the hands of readers. Take advantage of as many as possible, but be patient.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

is this what's known as a "pregnant pause"?

A week? It's been a week since I posted? Sheesh...

We're at the time of the semester where things are getting really hectic. Mid-term is fast approaching; papers are coming in left and right, and one-on-one conferences will soon occupy my every waking moment.

We're also at that point in the pregnancy of Ordinary World where we're just waiting for the moment to come. There still needs to be one or two details to smooth over. Hard to find the time, but it's gotta be done, and I can hardly wait.

All this leaves me at a loss for something to write about, however. I've not done much physical composing other than personal, private writing. I've not made any appearances or had any wild stories to tell (truth be told, my character lead far more exciting lives than I). I haven't even heard any good jokes lately.

So I'll divert the attention away from me and on to you, dear readers: What do you write when there's seemingly nothing to write about?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

are you giving what you're getting?

Recently I've been reading in various comment sections of blogs and on forums that writers are very competitive and don't wish to see other writers gain success. I've also read things about writers getting burned by more successful professionals in the business, be it television/film or publishing.

I gotta tell ya, I'm confused.

My experience of writers and potential mentors is completely different. I find writers--at any stage of success--to be nothing but supportive, encouraging, and complimentary. They will buy your book just to give you your royalty (even when it's practically pennies); they'll plug your book even when they're too poor to buy it themselves; they'll refer you to a store or a website or a person that could possibly benefit you and your pursuit of publication and/or sales. They'll offer honest, critical feedback, and help you find your talent when it disappears in the middle of the night. And they'll praise you when you've found it and you're in the zone.

Professionals in the business, the ones who have achieved the success you're striving for, are not much different. They want to help you be the best writer you can be. They want your success as much as you do, whether they have a stake in it or not.

I once got my book into the hands of a big-time editor at a major publishing company. In the end, he decided that the book wasn't a right match. But he gave me excellent feedback and assured me that it had nothing to do w/ the quality of the writing. Wished me well.

I know of another highly successful writer who offers help to his fans -- he's no pushover, mind you. But he freely dispenses advice, and I have no doubt that he'd pick up the phone and use his influence if the writer was really talented and those other factors were clicked into place.

I'm sure there are exceptions to these fabulous people -- there always are -- but my point is this: What is your attitude towards writers, towards success, towards yourself?

I concede that it is a tough business (and we published authors have to remind ourselves about the business part constantly), but if all you ever focus on is the tough part, how do you expect to be break through? How do you expect to be received? Rejections happen, and some of them are so disappointing they downright suck, but there's always something to be gained by them (a reminder that you can't please everyone, for starters; and many agents say that they turn down good writing all the time). The really golden ones are the ones that come with feedback.

The "show me the money" days are over. Of course I want to sell books and make money. But I'll never do it if I maintain the attitude that I deserve it, dammit, after all, I'm a professional, and who the hell do those people think they are... Entitlement is not becoming.

This may seem to contradict what I've said in previous posts about writing being a rather selfish act. In that context, I'm talking about the process and even the purpose. But I don't think it should be in this context. Don't buy into the lie that writers are pitted against each other, and that when it comes to agents and publishing, it's them against us. If that's your experience, then I suggest you need to do some serious introspection before you point the finger outward. What goes around comes around.

You can't support every single author out there. You can't buy every book and plug every single one of 'em. But wish 'em well. Write down their name -- maybe down the line things will change. Congratulate them when they get a win, big or small (writing 1000 words is a win). Pay forward the kindness a fellow writer has bestowed on you. We're all in this together, after all.

Monday, September 21, 2009

a little lovin'

I got my proof copy of Ordinary World last week and have been busy reading it looking for typos, etc. I'm not sick of it yet, which is a good thing. Quite the contrary, actually. I love this book. I love it for entirely different reasons than why I love Faking It. Even though it's a sequel, it has so much more depth and complexity than Faking It. These characters have grown. Andi has a lot more to worry about than what she's wearing or what people think of her. And while it's not as lighthearted as Faking It, it's got its funny moments. I hate to be so cliche, but it's an "I laughed, I cried" novel.

It's a great thing to be pleased w/ one's writing. Mind you, there are parts of Faking It that I read and think I could've done better, but it was my first novel, and given that I think it still came out great. But dare I say, Ordinary World is better.

Be proud of the work you do, writers. The awards and accolades may not come your way as quickly as you'd like, but your biggest fan needs to be you. If you don't like what you write or why you write, you can't ask anyone else to.

I can't wait for you all to read Ordinary World. I hope you'll like it as much as I do.

P.S. Check out my good friend Roberto Scarlato's new book For What It's Worth!

Friday, September 18, 2009

beauty and the business of being you

"Beauty is what happens when you're busy being yourself."
I've been living with this quote all week. I cut it out from a print ad years ago -- not even sure which one -- and tacked it to my vision board. What does it mean to us as writers? I wonder.

I think this follows up on my previous post about audience. If we're not writing what we like, what we think our friends would like, then for whom are we writing? Are we writing to follow a formula? Do we want to be the next Dan Brown or Stephen King? Not that either of them are formulaic (although both get a lot of flack), but certainly they have mass market appeal. Are we writing to be best sellers? Not that this is not a goal to aspire to. But to be a best seller, you not only need to write, but you also need to sell.

Is being yourself writing about what you know? And is writing about what you know autobiographical? Or is it about going beyond what you know?

Many aspiring writers -- novelists, playwrites, screenwriters, you name it -- write to Aaron Sorkin and ask how they can learn to write like him. He always responds, "I think you should learn to write like YOU."

What does it mean to be me?

I guess for me, as a writer, being myself means writing about things that interest and please me, borrowing from the things and people and places I know and love; writing for a select few who love the same things I do and love me; writing to explore some kind of truth; writing in a style that doesn't have to conform to any one genre but somehow manages to find its place; writing when I'm thinking, writing when I'm not thinking, and writing when I'm typing; writing things that make others laugh; and writing without constraint of time or length or formula.

And I take things with me: I take my Long Island accent and my big family and my love of Duran Duran and my Judy Blume books from when I was a kid and my chocolate chip cookies baked from scratch and my When Harry Met Sally DVD and my guitar and my friends and my students and my teachers and my religion and everything else in between.

It's a mess, really. One big beautiful mess.

So I ask you: as a writer, what does "being yourself" mean to you? Whatever the answer, I hope you find it beautiful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Q&A with Aaron Sorkin

Elisa asks:
Do you write for yourself, or do you have a specific audience in mind, even if it's just one reader?

Aaron Sorkin answers:
That's a good question. First, what I don't do is try to guess what the most amount of people will like and then give it to them. I don't think I'd guess right and I don't think I'd be able to give it to them but mostly I think it's a bad recipe for writing.

I write what I like and what I think my friends would like and then hope that enough other people like it that I can earn a living.

Also, and I don't mean this at all in the snooty way, I write for the least passive members of the audience. I write for people who love movies and love television and love plays. I write for the people who watch the DVDs over and over and notice that the coffee cup isn't full.

So now, I ask you: Do you write for yourself, or do you have a specific audience in mind, even if it's just one reader?

Monday, September 14, 2009

guest blogger: Anthony S. Policastro

Please welcome guest blogger Anthony S. Policastro. I first met Anthony through the Raleigh Write2Publish group, and he's been one of the leading supporters of Faking It. Anthony is an author of two novels, Dark End of the Spectrum and Absence of Faith, both published with the Outer Banks Publishing Group. Welcome Anthony!

Elisa, thank you so much for helping me with this blog tour and your support.

Both of my novels,DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM and ABSENCE OF FAITH, both mystery/thrillers, were written out of fear, universal fears that I believe all of us consider at one time or another.

DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM is about Dan Riker, a computer security expert whose family is kidnapped by digital terrorists who take over the power grid and cell phone network and hold the United States hostage. Dan is the only one with the know-how to stop them, but the hackers have his family and he must decide to save his family or save millions of people.

While I wrote this book the fear of losing my own family pervaded my thoughts and I wrapped a plot around this fear using the latest wireless technologies and a lot of imagination. I still have my family and the thought of losing them is unimaginable.

This was the fuel for DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM.

Dan's life is well planned, predicted and uneventful like most of our lives and I wanted to see how Dan would react when all of that is shattered in an instant when his family disappears.

Does Dan have the courage to save his family or will he just give up because he never had to face such insurmountable odds? Will he save millions of people whose lives are threatened by the terrorists or will he save his family? The book is not just about technology.

These are some of the questions I addressed in the book and when or if you read the book you may ask yourself these same questions and maybe better understand your own capabilities.

ABSENCE OF FAITH also addresses universal fears when residents in a highly-religious small town have horrible near-death experiences and wake up with burnt skin.  They believe they went to hell and that God has abandoned them. Matters get worse when a local Satanic cult emerges and wins over many residents.

My fears of losing all hope and all faith in the face of a downturn in life is what spawned ABSENCE OF FAITH. Again, I was interested in how people would react if you stripped them of all hope and faith. Would they pick themselves up and continue their lives? What would they do when this great fear overtakes them.

These are the questions I address in ABSENCE OF FAITH.

Bestselling author and psychic Sylvia Browne writes in her book, Prophecy, that, "...our beliefs are the driving force behind our behavior, our opinions, our actions. Without faith, without our beliefs, we're lost."

I have always been interested in religion and why and how it has such a powerful hold on all of us and what would happen if it were taken away.

I not only wanted my books to entertain, but I also wanted them to inspire, educate and leave readers with something to think about after they put the book down for the last time. I wanted the books to be relevant to people's lives today and some of the problems we all face in the journey of life. I hope my books are that and more.

Both DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM and ABSENCE OF FAITH are available as paperbacks from Outer Banks Publishing Group, and as ebooks from and the Amazon Kindle.
Both books will soon appear on Barnes and Noble's new ebook site.
Visit my blogs for tips on writing, publishing, and books, WRITING IS ABOUT PUTTING YOURSELF TO WORDS and THE WRITER'S EDGE.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

what's in my bookcase

I'll start by saying this: it's not the books you see in this photo. Believe it or not, I try to organize the books in my bookcase according to Ba-Gua map of feng shui. The uppermost left-hand corner hold the books on motivation and leadership (including the ever-popular The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which most find to be laughable in this day and age now), my favorites from the my middle twenties, when I wanted to become a motivational speaker (who knew I could have my moments as a teacher)? This represents the Money and Prosperity Gua.

The upper right-hand corner hold all my books about love and relationships (aptly suited for the Love and Relationship Gua); I outgrew and gave away many of the ones I had worn out in my early twenties, but there are a few that have stayed with me, Deepak Chopra's The Path to Love being one of them.

The upper middle consists of romantic comedy and chick lit books (by Jennifer Weiner, Helen Fielding, Marian Keyes, to name a few), to signify Fame and Recognition or Reputation(my own book is there as well).

The center left part of my bookcase contains my coffeetable books and books one healing, optimum health, and mind-body connections. This represents the Health and Family Gua (coffeetable books don't necessrily fit that desciption, but they fit nicely on that part of the shelf). My coffeetable books are mostly pop culture-oriented (Patrick Nagel, Absolut ads, Sesame Street Unpaved, to name a few).

On the center right, more coffeetable books, and a collection of books (eight) of collections of the comic strip Mutts, one of the best comics ever. My twin brother bought me every single one, and I'm sorely missing Book Nine and counting. This section represents the Gua of Creativity and/or Children. I figure that nurturing my inner child fits this description.

The lower left corner houses photo albums -- of course, it would seem that those would be more appropriate in the family section, but they fit better in this corner, which represents knowledge and self-cultivation. I used to keep textbooks from college that I believed to be worth saving, but I've since moved them to a different bookcase. The photo albums qualify, however. Know Thyself.

The lower right corner is a bit of a hodge-podge right now. It's supposed to be for Helpful People and Travel (you'd think Bill Bryson would do well there), but right now it houses the Twilight series that my friend Susan loaned me, and the books of independent authors I've supported since I've become an indy author myself.

The lower-middle part of my bookcase represents Career. Oddly enough, I've got all my Duran Duran books from when I was a teenager there. Might have to change that.

And in the center, I keep books on religion and spirituality, memoirs (Alan Alda, Tony Hendra's Father Joe, and Michael J. Fox, to name a few), religious-themed novels (My Name is Asher Lev, The Red Tent) and my Bible, for that part of the bookcase represents the Center Gua. Know Thy Self.

Of course, I've conveniently left out the books that sit on my end tables (Richard Russo's novel is just begging me to pick it up), writing desk, dining table, and anywhere else I have a free space. And the second bookshelf, the smaller one that houses textbooks left over from grad school and desk copies of composition books, not to mention my thesis, has no such order.

You might think me crazy to organize one's bookcase in such a manner (and you might be right), but I rather like it. There's something fun about it. Feng Shui literally means Wind and Water, but it's really all about balancing -- namely, balancing the energy of your home, and your home is a metaphor of your life.

For me, "Books" equal "Home".

What's in your bookcase?

Friday, September 11, 2009

my annual peace message

I can still remember the color of the sky that morning: a blue so clear and vibrant, with an occasional fluffy cloud that added serenity to the sunshine rather than dullness. I remember sitting in the reading chair next to the window in my second-floor New England apartment, a house that was over 100 years old and just five miles from the water and sand. I was up uncharacteristically early, reading a set of papers from my class, and I was excited.

More than excited. I was full of hope.

I was still new to teaching, full of ideals and energy and promise. Full of love. Full of hope. I loved my work, loved my studies, loved my little New England apartment and the nearby sand and sea.

And then I turned on the television. It was about 10:00.

Of course, what followed is what so many of you can relate to: first confusion, then shock, then horror, then morbid fear, then profound grief. I had spent most of the day desperately trying to get a hold of my family on Long Island, making sure my brother wasn't working in the city that day, and my cousins (volunteer firefighters and rescue workers) were safe. I wasn't able to reach my mother until 10:30 that night.

I also spent the day preparing myself for the news that my best friend -- the one with whom I used to stay up until 2 in the morning watching Duran Duran videos, and with whom I'd make chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, the one with whom I'd dream about escaping my unpopular life and my house recently torn apart by marital separation -- was dead. She and her husband worked in the Merrill Lynch building next door to the towers (I thought she had worked in one of the towers. But still. The ML building was destroyed.) How could anyone survive, I had thought.

Her email came around 6:30 that evening: "We're ok" was the subject heading.
I burst into tears, exhaling for the first time all day, grieving for those who wouldn't get such an email.

Everyone has a vivid memory of where they were, what happened, how they felt, and everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. One of my dear friends in Massachusetts lost her best friend, who was on one of the planes that flew out of Logan. Another friend is from Shanksville, PA, and lived very near the crash site. Everyone sat still that day, mouths open, eyes watered, and watched.

All in that bright blue sky, in the stillness of the morning.

I want this day to be a National Day of Peace. I want it to be a day of Remembrance, but I want to remember strangers who hugged each other on the street, men and women who helped each other out of buildings, who gave them a safe place to go. I want to remember the outpouring of love and support, donations of bottled water and candy bars. I want to remember the concert for the victims' families, when music made the world come together once again. I want to remember the Yankees and Mets coming out onto the field in NYPD and PAFD caps. I want to remember a young boy who said it would take a truly civilized society to respond to this in peaceful ways rather than with violence.

I want this to be a day when we close stores and schools, stop work, turn off the screens, and go to the people and places we love most. I want this to be a day when we put down our arms and realize that peace is possible. That violence doesn't have to be the answer to violence. That we have more similarities than differences.

All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance.

To my readers,
Peace be with you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

make 'em laugh

I sometimes wonder why I'm not a screenwriter, since so many of my influences for novel-writing come from films and TV. I suppose it'll be just a matter of time (since I can already envision the novel I'm co-writing as a TV series), but for now, novel-writing is my love, and I'll take my muses wherever they come.

Here are four of my favorite film comedies (in no particular order), and what makes them so great for a novel-writer like me.

Animal Crackers
Many of the Marx Brothers movies started out as plays, not surprising since the Marx Bros. were vaudeville stars. It's hard to say which Marx Bros movie is the best (although I'm sure you'll have no trouble choosing the worst), but I love Animal Crackers because it's pure silliness (but it's smart silliness, if that makes any sense) mixed with brilliant timing and delivery. What's more, it's a linguistic tennis match of puns and metaphor and one-liners and exchanges that make you fall over laughing, perfectly complimented by Harpo, who nonverbally manages to speak the loudest and get the biggest laughs.

Besides, who doesn't love to see Groucho confound Margaret Dumont on a regular basis?

The story is secondary to the shtick, and the ending really isn't much of an ending, but that's fine by us. Because the shtick is so good, so delicious, you'll appreciate the seeming effortlessness of the banter that is so finely honed.

Of course, it's possible that I'm just nostalgic for Animal Crackers because it reminds me of spending quality time with my older brother, but that's just bonus.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)
I know. A given.
If you want to learn how to write great dialogue, start by putting two people in a room together (preferably a small room) and have them disagree on something. Aaron Sorkin has this down to a science. Nora Ephron did it fabulously in WHMS from the opening ten minutes of the film when Harry and Sally have to drive from Chicago to New York together. Dare I say fabulous yet again. Those ten minutes set the tone for the entire film -- and the relationship -- and keep us rooting for these two all the way.

I have said in many interviews that I am drawn to relationships with chemistry. The Marx Bros had chemistry. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan had chemistry. Chemistry plus dialogue equals fire (the good kind, life-affirming and sustaining rather than destructive and ravaging). Add characters with depth, characters who are put someplace where they don't want to be, and you've got gold. (hmmm... am I mixing alchemical metaphors here? Fire? Gold? What can I say, I failed these courses in high school.)

The Odd Couple
See my explanation for When Harry Met Sally. Two people who have nothing in common put into a room together. Add to that Neil Simon's unique ability to make pain funny. The Odd Couple also encompasses a lot of physical comedy that is way more subtle than the Marx Bros' antics yet just as funny. The TV series had a life of its own, and the Tony Randall/Jack Klugman duo really shined. But see the classic Jack Lemmon on Walter Matthau, if for no other reason than Matthau's deadpan look at no one in particular as he says "Murray, I'll give you two hundred dollars for your gun" and you just know he's at his wit's end.

Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks loves what he calls "juxtaposition of texture". A hideous creature, donning a top hat and tails and breaking into "Puttin' on the Ritz" is an example of juxtaposition of texture. I try to replicate that juxtaposition of texture wherever I can. Whether it's Andi reading a poorly written eulogy in a cocktail dress, or a typically cool-cat character having a meltdown over something as insignificant as a traffic light taking too long to turn.

This film is one of my favorites for so many reasons. The stellar cast of characters, the reverance the original Frankenstein films (yes, in order to produce a parody that good, there need to be reverance), and the sight gags, one-liners, and vaudevillian-like sketches throughout.

Good parody is a tribute to the original work of art. What makes this one truly great is that its own infamy will keep the originals alive.

Why I like writing comedy.

Comedy is regenerative. It lives on. Homer Simpson can get his ass kicked and then live another day for another beer at Moe's. Comedy is also the fountain of youth. Groucho Marx will forever be that guy with bushy hair, thick black mustache, and round glasses in coattails. Sally Alright will forever be that woman in Katz's deli, pounding the table in feigned ecstacy. Besides all that, it just feels so damn good to laugh until you cry. Especially when you're with others.

Each of these films have contributed to my craft, be it timing, style, delivery, invention, improvisation, or just a good ol' sight gag. The well of great prose will never run dry. But inpsiration is everywhere. Find it wherever you can.

What are your favorite comedies, either in film, television, or literature?