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.

Interviews can be found at
The Lulu Blog
Ask Wendy - The Query Queen


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?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

it's not just about food

Last night I saw the movie Julie and Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron. Normally, when a movie comes out that I really want to see, I refuse to watch any promotional interviews and ads because I want to be surprised. This was one of those movies. Of course, now I want to go back and find any Nora Ephron interviews, so if anyone knows of any, send 'em on. And if you're like me and need to shut out the world until you've seen the film, and haven't seen Julie and Julia yet, then for the first time I'll tell you to skip today's blogpost!

Four reasons why I loved this movie:

1. Written and directed by Nora Ephron.
Need I say more? Ephron has successfully interwoven two stories of two very different women living different lives in different times, and yet manages to create parallels and that so wonderfully connect the two. Brilliant. Plus, Ephron includes her signature charm and grace in terms of costume, style, language, music, and, of course, food. Ephron herself is a renowned cook and food lover, having tackled many recipes in the Julia Child cookbook and writing about it.

2. Starring Meryl Streep.
Again, need I say more? Streep puts on another Oscar-worthy performance. Unlike the caricature portrayals of George Bush and company in W, Streep brings Julia Child to life as a lover of pleasurable things, one who fully embraces life and love (and, of course, food -- that phrase will undoubtedly be repeated at least one more time). She is strong-willed, self-sufficient, disciplined, yet also vulnerable. You can see an extraordinary woman, one who lived behind the icon that we all came to know and love.

3. Delicious.
Everything about this movie was delicious: the writing, the story, and (wait for it), of course, the food. I love films where food becomes a supporting character (Chocolat comes to mind), and this was one of them. Better still, it didn't dominate the film like one might expect. This film is clearly about the story. Which leads me to my final reason.

4. A love story.

Love stories abound in this film, and Ephron tells them all brilliantly. Julia and Paul. Julie and Eric. Julie and Julia. Julia and her sister. Julia and Paris. Julia and food. Julie and food. Us and Julie and Julia and food. And so on. Everywhere we turn, love abounds. True love. Simple love. Magical love. Transformative love.

Yesterday I posted about the love for my manuscript. My co-writer and I knew we were writing a love story with the same kind of multi-levels as this film has. I can only hope that we do our novel the same justice that Ephron did for Julie and Julia. And if she wants to make a movie out of our novel, so be it.

Nora Ephron rocks. Meryl Streep rocks. Go see Julie and Julia today. And Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 7, 2009

why I love my manuscript

This weekend I took out the manuscript that's been neglected for months, mainly due to busy schedules. I had intended to do some writing for it, but here's what happened instead.

I read from page one. Laughed at jokes I'd forgotten about, cried at a certain scene, and found myself wanting to keep going, even as my eyes got heavy. Couldn't remember who wrote what most of the time-- the style was flawless and uninterrupted.

I tweaked a comma or a word change here and there, but nothing major (we've already done so much revision to what's already on the page). Didn't do any new writing until about chapter 16. Wrote a rough draft, 3-page backstory. Read up to about chapter 20 with at least 100 pages to go. And I want to read more.

The verdict? This book is gonna rock.

Seriously, I love this novel. I love its stories and its characters, and I've already written a post about wanting to live in its world. I love that it's a collaboration between my friend and me.

We both know we're at the point that any additional writing is really going to happen when we're both in the room together. That day is coming soon. (Yay!) Of course, I wish it was done now, all perfect and polished and published and on the shelves. We even know what we want the cover to look like. Patience, I have to tell myself. This is the manuscript we intend to query. This is worth waiting for.

At some point the conversation about self-publishing being so time-consuming (when do we have time to write what we intend to publish?) is likely going to resume on this blog. But for now, I'm savoring the moment. A good weekend of reading good writing.

Deep breath: Inhale. Exhale.

Meanwhile, the FREE Ordinary World special preview ebook has gotten 130 hits, the blog interview has gotten over 75 viewings, and I've sold a half-dozen copies of Faking It, all since Thursday. (Not to mention the sales of the Kindle version since reducing the price to 99 cents.) Thank you to everyone who tweeted about it, posted something on Facebook, and downloaded a copy. Please post something about it on your blogs or elsewhere, if you can. I would be so grateful!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lulu blog interview is up!

CLICK HERE to watch my interview with AJ McDonald about Ordinary World. You can download the excerpt right here on my blog (remember the spoiler alert!), and find out how to win a signed copy of FAKING IT via Twitter.

Thanks again to Carol, AJ, and everyone at Lulu. I think the interview is great (although why do I always look like I'm slouching in a chair?).


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

always put your characters somewhere they don't want to be

When we're not discussing Pop Tarts or trying to stump each other with lines from The West Wing, my twin brother and I talk writing. He's the one who always gives me the best advice, all of which he learned from other writers. For example, he told me to "always start as close to the middle of the story as possible". This came to him via Kurt Vonnegut. Like Stephen King, he admonishes me when I litter my manuscript with adverbs. And then there's the advice he gave me from Larry Gelbart: always put your characters somewhere they don't want to be.

Gelbart was likely thinking in terms of comedic effect when he dispensed this advice (and that's how I often use it), but I find it works well for any story that warrants conflict. And really, if there's no conflict, then what kind of story is it?

Think about it: On Northern Exposure, Joel Fleischman is stuck in Cicily, Alaska, away from his beloved New York. On M*A*S*H, Hawkeye is stuck in Korea. On Gilmore Girls, some of the best scenes are "Friday night dinner" at Lorelai's parents' house, a condition of the elder Gilmores paying for granddaughter Rory's tuition. And how can I not include Josh Lyman's disasterous press conference while CJ is forced to sit and watch it in her office, her mouth swollen after emergency dental surgery ("I had woot canow") on The West Wing.

In FAKING IT, there were a number of places Andi didn't want to be, whether it was in Devin's apartment stripped down to her underwear in broad daylight, or a freezing cold movie theatre, or a bad first date. More so, Andi began the novel not even wanting to be in her own skin, not wanting to be Andi. Hence, that someplace doesn't necessarily have to be physical in nature, but situational. Someplace could be a state of mind.

Characters need conflict. They need to have their back against the wall, be put in a position where either fight or flight is required. The funniest characters succumb to fits of temporary insanity, the wrong choice at the wrong moment with a series of consequences that fall like dominos.

Your characters will tell you where they want to go, and if you listen closely, you'll find out exactly where they don't want to be, which is exactly where they belong.