Thursday, December 23, 2010

final post of 2010, and it's a yummy one

Hi friends-

I have one more post in me -- a top ten list of Sarah's and my favorite cookies in honor of Why I Love Singlehood. We had written them for the Kindle Daily Post, but due to space constraints, the post had to be shortened to the essentials (a rather yummy pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe, found here).

We didn't want all that good writing to go to waste, however, so here's our top ten list. May you be inspired to make one or all, and may you all have a wonderful Christmas.

‘Tis the season…the cookie season, that is. And this season, we dare you to skip the sugar cookies, forget the gingerbreads, and pass on the butter spritzes as we re-think the Christmas cookie.

Eva Perino, the protagonist in our new novel Why I Love Singlehood, loves to bake. And so, in honor of her (and the launch of our book), we’ve put together a list of our Top 10 favorite holiday cookies, hopefully securing ourselves a permanent spot on Santa’s “Nice” list by making an extra batch just for him.

10. Cranberry White Chocolate Chip cookies. There’s no need for cranberries to go out of season so quickly. That’s why we love to feature them throughout the entire holiday season. Pair them with a smooth white hot cocoa, revel in the bite of bitter and splash of color cranberries bring, and enjoy!

9. Almond Biscotti is Eva’s favorite comfort food for days that call for a steaming cup of vanilla chai and family stories. Trust us, she’s on to something.

8. Anything with marzipan. Really. Anything. Especially if it involves a thick layer of dark chocolate ganache and comes with hot buttered rum. You just can’t go wrong.

7. What Italian Rainbow cookies require in extra preparation time, they make up for in tradition. Want the true Italian experience? Enjoy your rainbow cookies with a fresh cappuccino. (And then take holiday cheer to a whole new level when you partner your cappuccino with an aperitif like frangelico, strega or amaretto.) Andiamo!

6. Norman’s 7 Layer Bars. Although the Originals at The Grounds might debate whether these belong in the cookie category, we side with Eva’s manager, Norman, when he says these bars are so good there’s no need to make anything else! Just be careful, these puppies pack a decadent punch, so pair them with a calm tea (herbal, green, black, or white) or an equally bold dark roast or hazelnut coffee.

5. Anisette snowflakes. Chic and tasty—what more can you ask for? Embrace the chill and balance anisette’s heady flavor with the smooth, sweet tones of an Irish cream on the rocks.

4. Nut-based cookies like Pfeffernusse (German) or Kourabiedes (Greek) are a nice change from the norm. The combination of nutty undertones with licorice (in the case of pfeffernusse) or orange (as with kourabiedes) is far more interesting than a flour-and-sugar based cookie, and will go perfectly with a hazelnut latte or cinnamon-spiced mocha.

3. Chai shortbread. At one point during our writing process, we actually had to count the number of times Eva made shortbread in Why I Love Singlehood—we’re that crazy about them in all their buttery goodness. And what could possibly make a good thing better? Add a bit of vanilla chai mix and pair with a spicy mulled cider. They’ll practically create their own holiday cheer.

2. What’s a holiday (or any day) without chocolate? And this season, Chocolate Peppermint Crunch cookies are our favorites for both comfort and kick. There’s only one way that adding crushed candy canes to your favorite, gooey chocolate-chocolate chip cookie can be improved: serving them warm with a scoop of vanilla (or better yet, peppermint) ice cream and a mug of hot cocoa.

1. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies. Our favorite thing about these cakey cookies is that pumpkin is in style from October through January…which gives us plenty of time to make a few batches of these super easy, not-too-sweet treats (check out the recipe below!). Give Santa something to look forward to: pair these pumpkin cookies with eggnog to really embrace the season. (And if you’re feeling daring, try mixing in some rum—the darker the better—and some extra nutmeg for an eggnog experience that Minerva’s husband Jay would be proud of.)

Make a few, or institute your own Cookie of the Week and try ‘em all. And try to give some away…if you can.

Monday, December 13, 2010

end-of-year message

"I'll Have What She's Having" will be on Winter Break for the remainder of this year. In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone, from top to bottom of my heart, for all the love and support you've given me this year. I don't think I've ever had a year as magical as this one, with so many dreams coming to fruition and so many diary entries beginning with "You'll never guess what happened today..."

May 2011 exceed my intentions, and yours.

And now, for some shameless self-promotion: Why I Love Singlehood had a wonderful debut on December 1st ('twas so fab to see so many Facebook friends change their profile photo to the WILS cover for the day!) and is doing well in the Amazon Kindle Store rankings. 'Tis the season of giving, and you can now give Kindle books as gifts! Perhaps you know a friend or relative (male or female) who loves hanging out in coffeeshops, or cookies, or enjoys smart romantic comedies. Makes a great virtual stocking stuffer!

I bid each of you a Joyful Hanukkah, Blessed Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Hopeful Winter Solstice, and any other means of ritual or celebration that takes place during this time. Pray for a soldier. Pay forward a kindness. Give a little bit of time. Express gratitude and appreciation. Forgive someone for a wrongdoing. Remember those you've lost. Practice peace. Read a book.

Thank you. See you next year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wearing Donnie Torr: guest post by Roberto Scarlato.

Readers, I've been busy with the end-of-the-semester grading, finishing up proofreading edit checks for the AmazonEncore version of Faking It, and spreading the word about the launch of Why I Love Singlehood (that's right, it's here!).

Fortunately, when it comes to updating my blog, I have help.

Roberto Scarlato is like me--he loves to talk about the writing process, how an idea moves from conception to fruition, and all the love, blood, sweat, and tears that go into that process. So, here is Rob to tell you all about his latest book, Wearing Donnie Torr. Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the post--his books are available on both Kindle and Nook for the bargain price of 99 cents!

When I first sat down to write this book, I had a prepared outline for fifteen chapters. But the original idea came out like a shot in the dark. It's been over a decade since I came up with the idea of Mr. Dead Eyes, a supernatural medical thriller of sorts. In that story, a character just barged into the pages. That man is Thomas Wilker, an unconventional detective with somewhat questionable methods. But, by one degree or another, he always links one clue to the next and eventually tracks down serial killers. He's a gruff, hairy, Italian, over the hill detective who, and I didn't know this at the time, was spawned from my father. Like my father, this new character interested me and I ended up finding out more about him while writing the story. In one scene, on a plane headed for California, Thomas has an impromptu chat with a nosy passenger to his left. The man observes a ghastly scar on the detective's hand. Thomas, noticing this, tells the man the horrid tale of how he got the scar: from trapping a serial killer in Wisconsin.

That got the ball rolling. In 2002 I started mapping out details of the plot and began writing it. Sometimes I stayed up all night just to write. It went smoother and filled in the down times while I was still working on Mr. Dead Eyes. I've always enjoyed the idea of cross overs. Now I was toying around with the idea of a newer boogieman, something wicked in the woods.

The idea also spawned from the fact that I had an unhealthy bond with my own black leather jacket. I wore that thing for the look, sometimes overdoing it by wearing it in the winter or in eighty degree weather. Some of my friends questioned if they would ever see me without it. They called it my Second Skin and in a way it was. That got me to thinking those explosive What If's...

What if an ordinary guy had a leather jacket with the killer's spirit still in it?

What would happen if he put it on?

What would he do if he couldn't take it off?

What would you do if the killer was you?

Even typing it brings back that old chill. I'm happy to say that the book is now finished, up on Amazon and, thanks to the Search Inside feature, you can now read the first 20 pages of this supernatural thriller. It's 336 pages long, has an author's note, and a special sneak preview of what I'm working on right now. It'll be an action/adventure/mystery in the same vein as National Treasure but on a much smaller scale. I'm also well into my second short story collection which I should be wrapping up soon.

Be sure to check out my process on my own blog

Wearing Donnie Torr - Back Cover Summary:
Deep in the Wisconsin woods, a killer waited patiently. On a cold night in 1999, the notorious Donnie Torr went down in a hail of gunfire. The threat to the town was supposedly eliminated. Now, in 2002, local writer James Dorrell has just purchased a leather jacket at the thrift store. He knows its getting colder, bleaker as the weather grows gray. But what he doesn't know is that the killer lived on, connected to the very vessel of the jacket that James now owns. With the leather fusing to his skin, his thoughts being perpetrated with malicious fantasies, and his sudden habit of sleep walking, James must discover how the killer accomplished such a curse and why he chose James to do his bidding. Better yet, James will have to figure out an ending for this horrifying tale...that might be his own.

For now, that's all I got, folks.

Mr. Dead Eyes, For What It's Worth and Wearing Donnie Torr are available on Amazon Kindle as well as The Barnes and Noble Nook for the low price of 99 cents.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a writer gives thanks

A writer gives thanks...

...when the writing is going well. Those days usually come in spurts, and are sporadic.

...when the writing is not going well. That's when we get all our housework done, catch up on correspondence, clean out the closets, and take long walks. And then, in the middle of all that, an idea, an image, or a voice appears.

...when the voices in our heads get louder. It's not a sign of insanity, but rather that it's time to begin a new novel, or story, or play, or film, or essay, or poem.

...when the voices quiet down. That means it's time to sleep. Or revise.

...when we call the work "finished" (even though, in our minds, it's never really finished). Mentally, we may feel like we've just given birth. But we also celebrate as if we've just given birth.

...when our writing goes not into a drawer, but into the hands of a real live reader.

...when a reader lets us know that s/he loves what we've written. Our hour, day, week, month, year is made.

...when a reader lets us know that s/he hates what we've written. We now have the inspiration to write a story about a character who gets a piano dropped on him/her. Or has to sit through a marathon of the worst sitcom episodes ever. Or has to drink that cherry 7-Up. Flat.

And, on a personal note, this writer (yours truly) gives thanks to (and for) all of you who made this year so fantastic. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

coming soon to a Kindle near you...

I am thrilled to announce that Sarah Girrell's and my novel, Why I Love Singlehood, is available on Amazon for pre-order. The Kindle version is launching December 1st. The paperback version, however, won't debut until May 2011.

Here's how awesome AmazonEncore is: When they first expressed interest in signing WILS, we told them about our intentions to self-publish in time for Christmas. Not only did we want to take advantage of all the people getting shiny new e-readers for Christmas (this year's "Tickle-me-Elmo" for adults, or is that too scary an analogy?), but we also wanted to ride the wave of Faking It and Ordinary World's successful 2010. AE compromised by offering to release the Kindle version in December and the print version in the spring of 2011. And both they (and we) have worked tirelessly to make that happen: copywriting and proofreading edits, design mockups for the cover and interior, promotional text, author pages, etc. Awesome.

I'm a broken record by now, but I can't help it: We're so excited about this book and can't wait for everyone to read it. We love the cover, love its content, and love that it's so close to being born to all of you. We hope you'll download a Kindle copy (if you don't already know, you don't need a Kindle device to do so -- you can download Kindle software to your computer, phone, iPod Touch, iPad, etc.) now and buy print copies for all your friends in May. Or pre-order your print copy now-- that way it'll be like Christmas in May!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Congratulations to Elizabeth Brown, who wins the signed copy of Rob Kroese's Mercury Falls! A round of thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment--I hope you'll return!

For those who didn't win, I hope you'll buy a copy of Mercury Falls within the next couple of days. Your purchase can help fight Spinal Muscular Atrophy and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. See details here.

Thanks again to Rob for an awesome guest post!

And now, back to your regularly scheduled writing. Or not.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Write the Novel You Want to Read: guest post by AmazonEncore author Rob Kroese

Readers, if you hear some strange mumbling akin to "Word count, word count, how many words to make word count?" then do not slowly back away... it's just me, busily typing away for NaNoWriMo. The good news is that I'm a quarter of the way through my new novel, and I'm confident I'll make it to 50,000 words by November 30. The bad news is that most of those words are pretty crappy. But that's what makes revision such fun, I suppose. That, and I'm writing the novel I want to read. Not a crappy one, but... oh, you know what I mean.

So, because I haven't had time for much else, my good friend and fellow AmazonEncore author, Rob Kroese, has graciously offered to step in and post something here for you. Rob is having a pretty good November himself so far. Although he's not mumbling things to himself (that is, no more than usual), he's busy promoting the AmazonEncore re-release of his fabulously funny book Mercury Falls, currently shooting up the Kindle Store rankings in both the US and the UK. If you haven't had a chance to sample his work, I highly recommend you do so, be it Mercury Falls or The Force is Middling in this One, a best-of collection of blog posts from his equally funny Mattress Police blog. Rob's books are available both in electronic and print form.

Or, just follow him on Twitter.

Aside from Rob's humor and his infatuation with Huey Lewis and the News, Rob and I share a similar philosophy about writing. Here's his post about how important it is to Write the Novel You Want to Read. Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Mercury Falls!

If you're like me, when you finish readin a novel you usually think one of two things -- either:

1) Wow, that was really good. Some day I’d like to write a novel that good.


2) Wow, that was really bad. I could write a better novel than that.

Again, if you’re like me, #2 happens quite a bit more often than #1. I sometimes say that good writing inspires me to write and bad writing provokes me to write. Yet while the amount of lousy writing that finds its way to the shelves of bookstores can be a source of encouragement, it’s a mistake to think that if you write a novel that’s better than 90% of the crap out there, it will be a surefire success. The fact is, while quality is certainly an important factor in determining a book’s success, it’s far from the most important factor. There’s only one surefire way to write a bestseller, and that’s to be famous before you write it. Stephen King could put together a book of stories about his visits to the supermarket and it would sell ten million copies. Sarah Palin’s book is outselling the Bible because she’s pretty and she’s been on TV, not because she has anything interesting to say. Yes, Stephen King was once an unknown too, but the point is that as an aspiring author it’s a mistake for you to compare your work to Stephen King’s and think, “My book is as good as that, so a publisher will snap it up and readers will buy millions of copies.” First, it probably isn’t. Second, your book is going to be missing the one element that has been critical to the success of every Stephen King book since Carrie: the name “Stephen King” on the cover.

The good and bad news about marketing fiction is that beyond being a celebrity (or at least a known author), no one really knows what goes into making a successful novel. Look at J.K. Rowling, who is one of the bestselling authors of all time (and the twelfth richest woman in Britain). The first of her phenomenally successful Harry Potter books was rejected by twelve publishers – and that’s after she had gotten a reputable literary agent to represent her. If any of those publishers had had the slightest inkling that the Harry Potter books would be even a tenth as successful as they turned out to be, they would have snapped it up in a second, but they hadabsolutely no idea.

Imagine if you were to take the Hope Diamond to twelve of the most reputable jewelers in New York and not a single one of them would give you a dollar for it. It would make you start to think that the whole profession of jewelry appraisal is a lot of bollocks, wouldn’t it? Now imagine that someone in the know about the jewelry business informed you that most jewelers lose money on most of their sales and only manage to stay in business thanks to a handful of fluke successes. At the very least, you would think twice about trusting one of those jewelers with the success of your own gem. You’d be well advised, in fact, to eschew the guidance of professional jewelers altogether and take matters into your own hands. Replace “jewelry” with “manuscripts” and “jewelers” with “publishers” and you’ll have a pretty good sense of how the publishing industry works (or doesn’t work).

A moment ago I stated that no one knows what causes a novel to be a success, which isn’t entirely true. The one characteristic shared by all successful novels (other than those written by known authors) is that they are books that people tell their friends about. The rub, of course, is that no one knows what exactly causes someone to be filled with the urge to tell another person about a book. Quality helps, sure, but when’s the last time a co-worker brought in a copy of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House or Voltaire’s Candide and said “You have to read this”? What makes people do this with the Harry Potter books and The Da Vinci Code and Twilight? Like most people, I have no idea. But I do know this: for someone to want to recommend a book to other people, they have to be excited about it. And how do you know what people are going to be excited about? The best way to answer that question, in my opinion, is to ask yourself what you are excited about – and then write about that.

This is a critical point. Writers are often told to “keep your audience in mind,” which is good advice – unless, when you think of your audience, you imagine some amorphous crowd of people who fit some particular demographic. If you target your book at 30something college-educated male science fiction fans or 20something white single mothers, you’re going to fail. No one wants to read a book targeted at a demographic. You want your reader to think, as they are reading your novel, “Wow, this author knows me.” How do you do accomplish this? Again, write what you are excited about. No matter how eclectic your interests, there are other people out there like you – and they have friends. Did J.K. Rowling know that there was an untapped market of tens of millions dying to read about British children attending a school of wizardry? Probably not. But she was excited by the idea, and that excitement is infectious.

Don’t write for a demographic. Don’t write for publishers, reviewers or agents. Write for yourself and maybe for that handful of people who really “get” you. Don’t worry about the appeal of your book being too narrow. My novel, Mercury Falls, certainly isn’t for everybody. To be honest, I’m surprised that its appeal has turned out to be as broad as it is, considering that it’s filled with obscure references to everything from Occam’s Razor to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Wargames. What I’ve learned is that, ironically, by intentionally refusing to pander to my audience, I actually made Mercury Falls more interesting for readers outside of what I originally thought was my target demographic. Readers respond to authenticity, originality and excitement, even if it’s not packaged in a way they expect.

I’m convinced that these days being “published” by a traditional publisher is a meaningless detour on the road to being a successful author. The only real advantage to going with a traditional publisher is that you’ll have an editor to help make your book as good (or at least as marketable) as possible. That was the main reason I attempted to go the traditional route before finally self-publishing Mercury Falls. Unfortunately, while I got some positive feedback from literary agents, I just couldn’t get any bites. So I started to float the idea of self-publishing it.

The fascinating thing to me was that the people who screamed “NO! DON’T DO IT!” were themselves aspiring authors who had not yet been published. All of the published authors I knew said, “That’s a great idea. Go for it. Get your work in front of readers and show publishers that you can sell a few thousand books.” Published authors already know that being published ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges associated with self-publishing, but compared with the challenges facing any unknown author, the challenges of self-publishing are nothing.

It’s true that the odds of a self-published book being successful are extremely small. But to say that self-publishing generally results in failure is to confuse cause and effect. The odds of any book being successful are extremely small. Books published by traditional publishers are more likely to succeed because publishers have the luxury of cherry-picking the one book out of a thousand that they think will sell (and they are still wrong most of the time!). Saying that publishers create bestsellers is like saying the NFL creates great football players. The NFL doesn’t create great players; all they do is try to predict which players will be great. Similarly, if a publisher decides to publish your book, it’s because your book has a good chance at success. The difference between writing and playing football is that writing is a solitary endeavor. While a professional football player would have a hard time succeeding outside the NFL, you don’t need the approval of a Big Publisher any more than a marathon runner needs the approval of the National Marathon Runners Association. If you have a book in you, write it.

So, to the question “How do I write a bestselling novel?” I can only answer that I have no more of an idea than anyone else. What I do know is that writing a novel that you’re excited about is a very good first step. If you’re excited about it, there’s a good chance other people will get excited about it – and if one of those people is a literary agent or an editor at a big publishing house, that’s a nice bonus. But don’t write for that faceless agent or editor. Write for yourself.

Monday, October 25, 2010

never say never

About a year ago, I wrote a post about why I wasn't going to do NaNoWriMo anymore. But two days ago, I went to the NaNoWriMo website and registered for this year.

Yep, I'm doin' it.

What changed my mind: My complaints haven't changed. I still think the obsessive attention to word count gives way to passive, wordy, and sloppy writing that makes the revision and editing process a pain. But I have not one, but two new novel ideas competing for my attention and my pen. I'm already close to 10,000 words into one of them, so I figured the other one would be worthy of the 50K marathon in 30 days. It's the one that's been consuming my thoughts during my two- and three-mile walks lately, the one that whispers character names and words in my ears while I'm teaching. I want to get it out on the page. And now that WILS is done, the time seems right.

Besides, it might even be fun.

Goin' solo again. Sort of. I'm on my own again, and although I'm happy about that, I confess that it'll feel strange to meet my daily word goals and not automatically send my pages to Sarah. I'll miss the instant feedback, the confidence (and reliance?) in her fixing my suckage, the mutual praise, constructive criticism, and mutual feedback. But NaNoWriMo is a group effort in some ways. The marathon metaphor is appropriate. For as we wend our way along the word-count road, fellow writers and friends stand on the sidelines and support us, clapping and offering us encouragement. Writing is a solitary act, but NaNoWriMo is a community event.

So, in one week, you'll like me find me at my laptop -- be it in my room or at the coffeeshop -- and you'll hear me mutter things like "2000 words behind, I gotta do 4000 today... oy, how am I gonna do it?" (or, in a more positive light, "woohoo--2000 words ahead!") You may hear occasional cursing, you may see a ragged expression on my face. Then again, you may see euphoria, and mistake it for mania.

At any rate, I'll be writing.

I encourage you to do the same. Or just stand on the sidelines and cheer me on.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

more good news

If you follow me on Twitter, or Faking It Fans on Facebook (and if you don't, you should), then you know that after three years of writing, reading, revising, editing, patchworking, re-reading, re-writing, re-editing, bunnyhopping (our term for peer review, coined by my good friend and Professor Keith Duffy); after three years of google-chatting, phone calls (sometimes three-four times a week), emailing, and one week in Sag Harbor last December, my writing partner, Sarah Girrell, and I completed our novel Why I Love Singlehood.


Our deadline was pushed up when our editor at AmazonEncore informed us that in order to release the book on Kindle (as was our intention), he needed the novel "like, yesterday." (My words, not his.) We were already so close to being finished; but there were still key chapters that needed tweaking. More than tweaking, actually. They needed an intervention. An exorcism. A miracle. (Ok, so maybe it wasn't all that bad. But they we rough.) So we got to work.

I've posted on this blog about the joy that this collaboration has been. Let me tell you, the hardest work came in the final hours, when it was down to the nitty gritty of what to keep and what to cut. After three years, we had our attachments, and one could bet on who wrote what based on how much we were fighting to keep our precious words from suffering the fate of the deletables. (Although there was one line in question in which I argued, "You wrote that one! And you wanna get rid of it?")

We had checklists. We had a system (well, sort of). And in the end, we got it done. 12 hours ahead of schedule, even.

We said "Holy crap" a lot once the documents were sent. We got a little verklempt. We did a happy dance. She made a roast. I made eggs. We announced it to our social networks. All was well.

Thing is, we're going through a little WILS withdrawal now.

Sarah is wandering from room to room, as if she's lost something and looking for it ("Like a purpose," she suggested). I'm feeling the need to email her something--anything--with an attachment. We're out of checklists, outlines, assignments, notes, drafts, and comments. We're DONE.

I don't know if we'll ever collaborate again, or if I could ever collaborate with anyone else. But I am so grateful for the writing experience I've had these last three years -- unorthodox, fun, arduous -- are some of the adjectives that come to mind. I'll miss our bunnyhopping process ("Stephen [King] says to lose the adverbs"; "Holy suckage, Batman!"; "smileys all around"; and so on...). I'll miss us each giving the other credit when the writing was good, and each taking sole responsibility when the writing was bad. I'll miss having her insight, her ideas, her ways of putting words together that I try to steal as my own. I'll miss communicating with her on a regular basis. I'll miss her. I'll miss these characters too, and the world we lived in with them for the last three years.

But it's time to move on. We have new ideas, new characters clamouring for our respective attention, new times and places to explore.

We're looking forward to what's next. We're looking forward to seeing our book on Kindle in December, and in print come April 2011. We're looking forward to others reading it. We're so proud of this novel, and what we've accomplished.

We hope you'll like it as much as we do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the announcement

About a week ago, in Jon Stewart-style, I announced on my Faking It Fans site on Facebook that I'd be making an announcement soon.

Well, here it is:
Today AmazonEncore released its spring additions to their publishing list, and I'm on it! That's right-- Faking It and Ordinary World will be re-released in March 2011 (complete with spiffy new cover art) as AmazonEncore books.

I'm thrilled amd super excited. :)

From the get-go, AE has been such a pleasure to work with. From day one, they've showed enthusiasm for my writing, and invited me through every step of the process of bringing my books to the public come March, from cover design to copyediting to marketing and promotion. I am pleased with my decision, and looking forward to working with them for a long time.

In the meantime, be sure to check out AE's current list (available in both print and ebook), including my friend Rob Kroese's Mercury Falls, and Karen McQuestion's Kindle Top Ten bestseller A Scattered Life.

Happy reading, everyone!

Monday, September 20, 2010

heart with joy

For the past week I've been trying to compose a post that encompasses the depth of awesome that is my life right now. I'm using that word in its true meaning. As I said the other night during a Q&A, "I'm having a fantastic year." Just in the last week, I've met three people who have inspired me throughout my life: Patrick McDonnell (creator of the award-winning comic strip Mutts), David Newall (aka "Speedy Delivery" Mr. McFeely, from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood), and, perhaps most notably, Aaron Sorkin.

I could've blogged about every single one. And I wanted to, but the words didn't seem to come.

Instead, I wanted to blog about what was behind the manifestation of these fortunes: the intention. The things that have come to me this year have all been the result of an intention I set. I visualized (not fantasized--that's a completely different action) my book on bookshelves, being read and enjoyed by people not related to or friendly with me. I visualized shaking hands with Aaron Sorkin, exchanging pleasantries, seeing him not as a star or a hero, but as a writer who is every bit as terrified of the blank page as I am. And meeting Mr. McFeely was the closest I could ever come to meeting Fred Rogers--he was definitely present--and there wasn't an adult there who wasn't as giddy as I was (especially when he brought out the puppets!). Our inner children had been tapped, and we were reminded of how special we are because we are each unique.

This past Saturday, I filled in for Stacey Cochran as MC for the latest Write2Publish event at Quail Ridge Books & Music. I intereviewed award-winning author Steve Cushman, whose latest novel, Heart With Joy, is an endearing tale about connecting to our authentic selves through the things (and people) we love. I ended the event on a cheesy but seemingly appropriate question: "What fills your heart with joy?"

If someone had asked me that question, I would've told them about my friend Larry, who'd called me an hour before the event to tell me about a woman he'd met who lost her spouse, that he told her all about my novel Ordinary World. And he thanked me again for creating Andi.

I would've told them about sitting in It's a Grind or Crema Coffee, breaking off pieces of a chocolate chip muffin or sipping vanilla chai, sometimes hanging out with my friend Susan, working on my latest manuscript.

I would've told them about the 2-hr phone conversation with my sister that passed like 10 minutes. Or the texts from my twin brother that had me in stitches.

I would've told them about driving in my Volkswagon Beetle with the windows down, on a great hair day, Duran Duran blasting away.

I would've told them about seeing Daniel Striped Tiger up close, and waving to him.

I would've told them stories about my grandmother, about my siblings, about their music.

I would've told them about walking on the beach off season on the east end of Long Island, or down Main Street in Sag Harbor.

I would've told them to get The West Wing from Netflix. Or The Big Bang Theory. Or the old Marx Bros. movies.

I would've told them about my writing partner and our discussions about our novel.

I would've told them about the "friends I've never met" (you know who you are!).

I would've told them two words: pop tarts.

I would've told them, quite simply, writing. Even on the days when it's sucking.

I have my bad days, my struggles and insecurities, my wasted time and procrastination, my fears and lost opportunities like everyone else. But I also have gratitude for the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's a blessed life.

What intentions will you set for yourself today? I'm not talking word or calorie counts, to-do lists or goal-setting. I'm talking intention -- the vision of your life in its highest form. And what fills your heart with joy? How can or do you fill it on a daily basis?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

my annual peace message

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."

More than ever, we need this day to be observed as one of peace than protest. We need this to be a national day (better yet, an international one) of forgiveness than vengeance. And yes, we need to be mindful of our freedom--not just of religion and speech, or from the tyranny and terrorism of others, but freedom from our own violence and hate, discrimination and bullyism. Because we are so much more than that, and we know it.

If we are the Christian nation that a few insist we are, then the way of the cross is to forgive those who persecute us. The way of the cross is to put down our weapons and help those who are victims of flood, victims of famine, of gender persecution, human trafficking, poverty, disease. The way of the cross is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

But we are so much more than that, too, and we know it.

This is a day of remembrance. I remember the day so well. I remember the black smoke against blue sky. I remember hugging colleagues. I remember the fear in my dear Egyptian, Muslim friend's eyes as she feared her American-born child would be taken away from her. I remember praying for the safety of my best friend who worked in the building next door to the towers, and the cry of relief when I found out she and her husband survived and were safe. I remember being humbled to be a New Yorker, to be an American. I remember what being united felt like. I remember a 13-year-old boy who said, on camera, "This would be a truly civilized society if we responded without violence."

We still can.

I've never said it's easy. Often I struggle myself. But then I remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who knew what terrorism felt like. I remember Gandhi, who knew what oppression from an occupying nation was. They understood nonviolent resistance, and we never give it the credit it deserves. It worked, after all. It's a viable option.

More than ever, we need this to be a day of peace and remembrance. So let's remember when strangers carried a woman in a wheelchair down countless flights in a building ready to crumble. Let's remember the outpouring of love from those who donated bottles of water, sandwiches, Hershey bars, and words of encouragement to rescue workers. Let's remember those people we called to say, "I'm sorry," "I forgive you," "Please forgive me," and "I love you." This is the greatest way to honor those who died that day, and those who have sacrificed their lives since.

If you want to end terrorism, practice peace.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

today's writing forecast: cloudy, with a chance of suckage

Last night my writing partner and I spoke on the phone after what was (for both of us, agreeably) a too-long hiatus. (Hey, sometimes life gets in the way.) Besides catching up, we discussed the recently updated To-do list for Why I Love Singlehood (thankfully, the list seems to be getting smaller).

"Did you happen to read the draft I sent of the final chapter?" I asked.
"I think so," she replied.
"You would know," I said. "It sucked big time."
"Oh, that one," she said with a laugh. "It was rough, yes. But I wouldn't say it sucked."
"I would. There's a fine line between 'rough' and 'suckage', and I crossed it."

I had considered posting that as my Facebook status, but decided it could be horribly misinterpreted. We decided instead that it would make a good forecast, only I made a slight edit, from "rough" to "cloudy". The latter is less accurate as far as I'm concerned; but it's also less, er... suggestive.

"Is it me, or have we been editing and revising this thing for a really long time?" my writing partner asked.
"Yes, we have," I answered. But, I assured her, this was not a bad thing.

Sure, the long distance communication, the patchwork fashion in which this novel was put together, the interruptions of life and other jobs along the way has made this a rather unorthodox process in every aspect, not just time. But I also reminded her that the blood, sweat, tears, and time have always been in the revision process. Sooner or later (preferably sooner), we'll call the draft "finished". But we'll do it only when we feel confident that we've put out a product worthy of our readers, something that will give them pleasure, make 'em laugh, make 'em think, make 'em crave a cookie to go along with their next latte. Something we would love to read.

We're almost there. We're so close. And we can't wait for you to read it.

In the meantime, we've got work to do. We've got rough edges that need smoothing. We've got poorly constructed sentences that need refinement. We've got loose ends that need tying. We've got suckage that needs... well, we've got to make it not suck.

I'm confident we're gonna get it done. In fact, don't look now, but here comes the sun.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

for Sylvie

Holy cow, it's been almost a month since I've posted? Whoa. Let's just chalk it up to enjoying the rest of summer break, working hard on the new novel, prepping for a new semester of teaching, and a bit of blogger's block.

Oh, and I've gotten completely hooked on The Big Bang Theory. I'm almost done watching Season 2 (thank you, Netflix!)

The first time I sold a book to someone I didn't know, I remember the bizarre feeling, almost like letting strangers walk through your bedroom when it's at its messiest. My hand shook as I signed it for her. When Faking It and Ordinary World took off on Kindle this year, the feeling was multiplied several times over. Not only were people I'd never met reading my books, but readers all across the country (and eventually Canada and the UK) were too!

Despite the weird feeling, this eventually pleased me, of course, and I was especially touched by those who had taken the time to write and tell me what the books had meant to them. Some had shared personal feelings and stories, especially of their own loss, and I never could have known six years ago that Andi was going to mean anything to anyone other than myself.

A few months ago one of my rhet-comp mentors called me out of the blue. She had been driving with a good friend of hers named Sylvie, who happened to mention this terrific book she'd just read on her Kindle that she just had to recommend. It just so happened to be Faking It.

"Oh, I know that book," said my friend to Sylvie. "In fact, I know the author. I'm listed in her acknowledgements."

Sylvie was beside herself. My friend put her on the phone to speak to me, where she complimented my work and was so pleased to be speaking to an author in person. The conversation had made my day as well -- how cool was it for someone I didn't know to recommend my book to one of my good friends!

Sadly, last week I found out that Sylvie was killed in a car accident on Staten Island. When I offered condolences to my friend for her loss, she told me that Sylvie had loved Ordinary World just as much as Faking It. This touched me deeply.

I'm not sure what I'm getting at here, except to say that most of us never know how we make a difference in another's life, especially someone we don't know or have never met. One doesn't need to write a book in order to touch another person's life. It can be as simple as a smile on the subway, holding the door open for a woman with a stroller, paying for a customer's cup of coffee just because. Little, random acts of kindness are contagious, and in some cases can actually be life-changing. Try it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

when the most important reader is you

My writing partner and I have spent the last two months working diligently on Why I Love Singlehood. Although I wish we could be working in the same room (and not just because it would speed up the process, but because it would be even more fun), I've enjoyed the conversations that have come out of it just as much as the revisions and improvements. We talk, among other things, about the writing process.

Every so often we run into a piece of text that we're not sure works, and we try to put ourselves into the shoes of the reader. How would they respond to or interpret it? As my former student, my partner-in-crime remembers how I used to seemingly contradict myself on a regular basis when teaching audience awareness: "There are times when you have to put your readers first," I'd say, "and there are times when you need to ignore your audience altogether, when the only reader that matters is you, the writer."

The trick is knowing when to to do either. And sometimes, it can indeed be tricky.

In one particular instance, my partner was concerned about a joke I had inserted, a question that comes out of the protagonist's mouth st a pivotal point. Although she found it funny, she questioned whether readers would find the joke uncomfortable, or whether the PC police might find it inappropriate.

If there's anything I've learned from my reader reviews, is that as a writer, you can't please everyone, and you never will. Readers complained about Andi's swearing. They complained that she grieved for too long. They complained that she treated David poorly. They complained that she was too pretentious (actually, I think that one was about me). And so on.

So, regarding the joke, I asked her a simple question:
"Did it make you uncomfortable?"

"If it bothers you or me," I said, "even the slightest bit, we lose it. Otherwise, if we laugh, and we like it, we keep it."

We decided to keep it for the time being, and to try it out on test readers. If they don't like it, then we'll reconsider. See what I mean? It's a tricky thing, a balancing act.

I've read books by authors who seem to be trying way too hard to please their audience, to deliver what they think their readers want, to write what they (or their publishers, perhaps) think will sell. But my mantra (and it's not original) still holds true: I write the books I want to read.

What would keep me turning the pages? In what direction do I want to see the characters go? Who do I want to see them with? (And even then, my characters have more control than I do regarding their fate, their truths.) What makes me laugh? What makes me cry? I have to write what I like and like what I write, otherwise I can't ask anyone else to.

Of course I care about my audience. Of course I want them to like what I write. But Fred Rogers had it right when he taped his television show Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. When he looked at the camera, he imagined talking to only one child, not thousands. And that's how he so successfully achieved that special connection between himself and each and every viewer. Even today, at 40 years old, when I watch re-runs of Neighborhood, I can still feel that connection. I still believe he's talking to me, to my inner child.

One reader at a time. And it starts with you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

don't fight it

I'm about 5000 words into a new novel.

It's not the one I was planning to start after we finished WILS (and we're still not finished with WILS). It's not even one I'd considered. But over the weekend, I awoke at 3 in the morning, and couldn't get back to sleep. I'm often composing in my head-- in the car, the shower, even sometimes while reading another book-- but sometimes I need to get the words out of my head and on to the page/screen, even if that means pulling over, drying hastily, or closing the book. And so, by 3:30 in the morning, I was scribbling into a journal. I didn't stop until about 5:15, figuring it was in my best interest to get some sleep (I didn't knock off until 6). When I awoke again at 10, I went right back to the journal and scribbled another 10 pages.

Later that day, when I'd transcribed everything onto my laptop, I'd written about 3500 words total. I've added another 1500 since. More, I think.

I can give you several reasons why it's not a good time to start a new novel--the fall semester is right around the corner (man, did that creep up fast!); a self-imposed deadline for WILS also quickly creeping up; I still really want to write this other novel that I've been thinking about for a couple of years now; and so on.

But here's the thing: you can't fight what wants/needs to be born.

So, for what it's worth. I'll keep working on WILS. I'll plan my fall course. I'll continue to sketch ideas for the other novel. But I'll work on this new first draft. I'll just get it on to the page. Go with the flow. Who knows where it'll take me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

why it's almost like being in love...

(I can hear Nat King Cole's wonderfully soothing, crooning voice as I write this post: What a day this has been/What a rare mood I'm in/Why it's almost like being in love...)

I've been shouting this from the social networking rooftops all day today: I'm so friggin' in love with our supporting character. Seriously, I wanna make out with him.

There are several reasons why this feeling is so, er, stimulating.

For one, it's a sign that the writing is working. The idea for the scene was my writing partner's. It's relatively simple in that it's not a love scene or crucial to a story arc or climactic in any way. It's two characters who see each other at an unexpected time and place and circumstance. She (my writing partner) called me yesterday morning with the idea, excited, and I could practically hear the percolating sounds her brain was making as she explained it to me. "Go write it!" I commanded. She sent me the draft this morning, and the more I read, the more I fell in love with him (our character) and the moment he was immersed in.

For another, it's a sign that the character is alive. He takes deep breaths, wipes the sweat and mist from his face. She smells the salt in the air. They have a casual conversation. No pretense, no flirting, not even the slightest physical contact. And yet, we can see just a hint of vulnerability in both of them. Just enough to make them real, to make us care.

Third, it's a sign that our collaboration is working. Actually, this has never been an issue. It's worked from day one. And while it's not a permanent partnership--I'm already sketching my next couple of novels and planning to write them solo, and I'm sure she'll move on to her next project w/out me, it's a once-in-a-lifetime alliance that has made writing this novel such a blast. We have had to make concessions, argue to keep things in or take things out. We've had to shift the balance of the workload, but we've almost always managed to share the vision. We've managed to stay on the same page, even when we're working on different scenes and chapters, or not working at all. A match made in heaven, I suppose.

So many times, the writer is immersed in the laborious part. The constant re-seeing, re-reading, re-thinking, and re-writing. I think the average reader doesn't see how much doubt goes into the process. A good writing day is essential to the process. A good writing day makes all the difference in the world.

So today I am in love. I'm in love with our character, I'm in love with our novel, and I'm in love with our process. I'm in love with writing.

Now, if we could just figure out how to bottle these days...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

growing pains

Not surprising, there's much hulabaloo going on about how ebook sales have surpassed hardcover sales on Amazon. What annoys me is the bashing of traditional publishing from those authors who have had great success with Kindle, and those in the traditional publishing industry who are bashing Amazon as the great Corporate Monster (along with Steve Jobs) out to kill publishing (and literature) as we know it. (And am I the only one that finds it problematic that the major publishers are reduced to the "Big 6"?) And then you've got some uninformed (and quite frankly, idiotic) consumers giving 1-star ratings to Kindle books simply because they're priced over $9.99, others trashing books priced under $1.99, and some who refuse to buy indie books priced over $1.99.

How's a writer supposed to make sense out of all of this?

The truth is this: There are some things that traditional publishing still does very well, and there are things that e-publishing does very well. The market is going through a price upheaval, however, as the result of low-priced ebooks. Of course a Kindle version of a book priced at $9.99 is going to sell more than a hardcover priced at $25.00. But that book is still selling. Isn't that a good thing? And isn't it possible that, thanks to that lower price, more readers are going to buy that book sooner than waiting for it to come out on paperback? Can't that be a good thing?

Then again, what do I know?

I'm not naive to think that Amazon hasn't been cut-throat with their competition--they're hated for a reason--but lamenting how things used to be and lambasting what is now isn't going to bring those times back. Call me idealistic, but I think the industry needs to come up with win-win scenarios for everyone involved. Not publishers-win, Amazon loses; or Amazon wins, publishers lose; or consumers win, author loses; etc. Everyone can benefit from new models of pricing, of distribution, of promotion, of royalty rates, of consumer and professional reviews, etc. The challenge is to come up with those all inclusive models.

Perhaps the biggest pill to swallow in all of this is that thanks to e-publishing, writing is no longer exclusive. Anyone can publish a book. That is perhaps the best and worst part of this new paradigm. What once got lost in the agents' slush pile has risen to the top of the Kindle Best-seller list (in some cases). The cream rises to the top, but that's a lot of muck the reader has to wade through in the meantime.

Perhaps what is most lamentable (is that a word?) from the writer's point of view is that the writer can no longer just write. They need to be competitive with fancy websites, appealing blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, fancy gimmicks, contests, and giveaways. They need to have all this established before they send in their first query letter. It's the Catch-22 of the aspiring hairdresser, who can't get work without a clientele following, and can't get a following if s/he has nowhere to work. I spend more time maintaining my brand than writing my novels. What happens to the gifted writer who also happens to be shy? What happens to the introverted writer who only wants to write? I know some of them. And I feel badly. They deserve as much attention as I do, w/out being required to jump through extroverted hoops.

My idealistic hope? This wave will ride itself out. I don't mean to suggest that e-publishing is a fad. But hopefully, a new model will prevail, a win-win model (yes, I am an eternal optimist), and agents, editors, small presses and large corporations, indies, PODs, bookstores owners, and even writers will be able to keep doing the work they love and want to do.

Because isn't that what this bashing is really all about? Doesn't it always come down to the fear of becoming obsolete?

Think about it. The indie author has become empowered by e-publishing, and doesn't want to lose that power. The agent has, conversely, lost some of their power and doesn't want to lose any more. The traditional author is complaining that s/he worked really hard to be noticed, only to be shown up by the indie who sells thousands of downloads at 99 cents. Likewise, the dollar amount of author advances are going down. Amazon, Apple, and the Big-6 are in their own power struggles. Indie bookstores don't want to close for good. Neither do Borders or Barnes&Noble.

No one wants to disappear.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

the bridge

I can almost see it: my seventeen-year-old self. Brown, frizzy hair. Black leggings and a painted black t-shirt of David Sylvian. Red Chuck Taylors (that I still own, so how pathetic am I?). I am listening to the radio in the car (Wang Chung, most likely), and my mother asks politely for me to turn it down, if not turn it off completely.

"You always liked The Beatles," I note, inferring that she preferred her older children's musical preferences, especially since they rehearsed day and night in the garage. "How come you don't like my music?"
"I like some of your music," she confesses. "Not all of it."

And here is where I make my declaration: I am never going to let the generation gap get in the way. I am going to like all of the music of the future.

Yeah. That expired in 1995, I think, with the exception of John Mayer. I stopped listening to the radio. I stopped paying attention. And somewhere along the way, I not only stopped liking the new music, but lost interest in it. I don't know why. Maybe because I'm a creature of habit. I read the same books, watch the same movies and TV shows. I surround myself with what I like, what I know. Always have. I do the same when I write, too. I write about coffeeshops and books and beaches and guys who look like former teen idols.

I've been hanging out in various coffeeshops, as is my summer custom (or rather, my year-round custom). One in particular has been playing music from the 70s and 80s, and it's like coming home for a homecooked meal. It struck me the other day that they're called "oldies". In my day, "oldies" included songs like "Rock Around the Clock" and basically any band with a member that played an upright bass. But now I belong to that generation. One that used phones with cords, record players, and computers when the floppy disks were really floppy. Mine is the generation who memorized Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech from Wall Street, which we now watch with sadness every time we see the Twin Towers standing tall and so seemingly untouchable. My incoming college freshman students, on the other hand, will be the first generation that has never known (or can't remember) a world without cellphones, without CDs, without email, without an MTV that actually featured music.

My students and I tease each other -- I chide them on "that stuff" they listen to, while they laugh in disgrace when I confess that I'd start dancing right there in the classroom if someone started playing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". Little do they know that the real reason I'm laughing is because somewhere, in the back of my memory, there is a seventeen-year-old girl shaking her head saying, "What happened to you? You promised!"

Yes. I failed my seventeen-year-old self. But those oldies I listen to are the fountain of youth without all the emotional upheaval that came with it. It's the way I get to go home even though my childhood house belongs to someone else now. It's a part of novel-writing I love--whether they are the inspiration, or the splashes of color that I include just for me, they are the bridge to a life of contentment.

I should really get rid of those Chuck Taylors, though. Especially since they have holes in them.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

the "less is more" price argument from two perspectives

We're a week into Amazon's new author royalty rate program, and some interesting threads have popped up on the Kindle discussion boards. On one hand, you've got readers insisting they'll not be spending "so much money" (when did $2.99 become "so much" for a book? that alone tells you what the ebook revolution has done to the market) on an unknown author. (Incidentally, you've also got readers who insist that if a book is priced at 99 cents, the writing's got to be just as cheap. Which just goes to show you that you'll never be able to please everyone.) On the other hand, you've got readers and authors alike who think the raised price will also raise the credibility of these same unknown authors.

In other words, less is more.

This argument can be made from two points of view. In the first case, you've got "a lower price leads to more sales." Yes. Absolutely. This was my experience late last year and earlier this year. It certainly got my book into the hands (er, Kindles) of those who otherwise wouldn't have given me a chance. What's more, Amazon has been discounting certain 99-cent titles even further (I picked one up for 79 cents the other day!), and those authors have been seeing significant spikes in their sales.

And who wouldn't want to spend 99 cents or less on a book, especially when you've shelled out 250 bucks (or, more recently, 190) on your Kindle device to begin with? You want to use your Kindle. I certainly do. I'm a bargain-hunter for sure.

Ever since I raised my price, my sales and rankings have dropped a bit. However, my numbers were already steadily decreasing at the 99-cent price, and if I maintain my current numbers for the remainder of the month, I'll still make twice as much as I did last month. Hence, the second case of less is more. Less sales, more residuals.

This tells me that a) people are willing to pay more for my product, and b) as indie authors, we may be selling ourselves short.

It all comes down to intent. What do you want? Do you want readers, rankings, or royalties? Do you want all three? Which is most important to you at what stage of your publishing career?

My experience is that these three things varies. I debuted Faking It on Kindle at 1.99 a year ago, and while it had a decent start, sales dropped so drastically that I barely made $25 in royalties in 2 months. Following Stacey Cochran's lead, I lowered the price to 99 cents (and debuted Ordinary World at that price), and lo and behold, sales picked up.

You know the rest. Six months and some 40,000 downloads later, I got what I wanted: readers. And, subsequently, the royalties and rankings followed. And, as you know, I briefly returned the price to $1.99, but hastily changed back to 99 cents because my intent shifted from readers to rankings. I had a following. I had favorable reviews. But I wanted to stay high in the rankings, and the low price was doing that.

But, as sales (and rankings) started to decrease, the 99-cent price seemed to have lost its luster on me. I decided I wanted to put royalties first. The time was right. My work spoke for itself, and everyone else spoke on behalf of my work.

If you're reading this blog and you've written a novel, congratulations! From here on in, it's all about intent: Which publishing route will you take, and why? Will you seek an agent? Why or why not? If you self-publish, will you do so in print, electronically, or both? Why? How will you price your books, and why? Do you know your audience? If you've honed your craft and written/revised/edited the best book you could, if can answer those questions clearly, then the road map will appear before you. No one said the journey is a straight line, but at least you'll know which direction you're headed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

guest blogger: Stacey Cochran, author of CLAWS 2

Stacey Cochran was one of the very first people I met when I moved to North Carolina four years ago. Little did I know back then how instrumental he would be in getting my career as a published novelist off the ground. Whether it was instructing me on the process of querying agents, or providing feedback on a draft of Faking It, or inviting me to be a guest on his show The Artist's Craft, Stacey is not only my friend, but a friend to aspiring authors everywhere. What's more, Stacey has seen the power of digital media when it comes to crafting, marketing, and distributing books, and has embraced technology to yield some impressive results.

Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University.

Please enjoy his post on the social life of a writer.

I never did do very well during high school prom season.

My junior year, I managed to muster up enough courage to ask the girl I had the biggest crush on and though she said “Yes” I generally freaked her out by having the worst possible hair week of my life (my older brother raked an electric razor over my head three days before prom).

My senior year, I asked four different girls who all said “No” for various reasons (lingering haircut anxieties, I think. They’d all seen what happened the previous year).

By my freshman year of college, my confidence was shaken, but I actually entertained asking a senior at my former high school to give the prom one last shot. She said “No” but (to make me feel better) it was because she’d already accepted a date.

Prom seemed like it could have been a lot of fun. I knew other people who had a good time.

I was not one of them. I was socially awkward. Never fit in.

To this day, I still feel the same way. I suppose it’s why I chose the life of being a writer. Not necessarily a smart move on my part, it seems. Sixteen years in, I still feel as socially awkward as I did back in high school. Only now, it’s with regard to my books… which are awkward, ill-conceived, poorly written, and (according to some reviewers) a personal waste of time on par with sitting at a series of stoplights when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

So why do I do it?

Why have I written close to two million words of fiction, eleven novels in sixteen years, and received somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 rejection letters?

“Self-improvement” feels like a half-truth to me. But couple it with an “undying hope” that one day I’ll get it right and hammer out a fine novel and maybe that’s the sum total. I do feel like writing and its lessons of character development have made me a better communicator and a more compassionate human being.

Still, I’m just a socially awkward human being. I’m the guy people love to stick it to.

Sometimes this hurts me deeply to realize. Other times it washes right off my shoulder.

For the next four weeks or so, I will be on a Blog Tour to promote my new thriller CLAWS 2. As Elisa can tell you, this is no easy task. What I really need are positive reviews of the book on and Also, other blogs to host me or at least spread the word about what you’re reading.

If you’d like to help, drop me a line at

And please do leave a comment. What was your worst dating experience? How was your prom? How did you find Mr. or Ms. Right?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy 4th, everyone

Be safe, be smart, and be well this weekend.

Stay tuned next week for a guest blog post from my good friend Stacey Cochran, author of such thrillers as The Colorado Sequence and Claws. Stacey launched his latest book, Claws 2, exclusively for the Kindle yesterday and is on a 30-day blog tour. His tour stops here on Tuesday. Check out his website for his remaining schedule.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Amazon's new royalty rate means to me

Amazon's 70% royalty rate for indie authors is kicking in w/in the next couple of days (provided the book is priced no lower than $2.99), and after much hemming and hawing, I've decided to opt in on it.

You may recall earlier in March, when I changed my price from 99 cents to a buck-99, my rankings especially took a hit (and kept falling, albeit gradually). In hindsight, I was either too hasty in raising the price, or too hasty changing it back to 99 cents after less than a week (because the sales units weren't that bad once I saw them on the spreadsheet)--I can't tell. I suppose the more accurate, technical description of my response is that I freaked out a little. But in the last couple of months, I've grown disenchanted w/ the 99-cent price-point; and yet, I was still reluctant to change, fearful of another plummet in the rankings. As of an hour ago, I was hovering around #450 for Faking It and #1200 for Ordinary World-- not bad, considering there are currently over a half-million books in the Kindle Store. Kindle Store rankings seem to be the equivalent of location, location, location in a brick-&-mortar store.

Prices usually go down, not up, after a product has been on the shelf for some time. Certainly this new strategy does not conform to the norm. How will customers respond? Besides, Kindle readers typically don't want to invest more than 1.99 on an indie/unknown author. Will a reader who's not heard of me be willing to take spend the extra two bucks? Would I?

On the other hand, I've read discussion threads in which readers automatically assume that the writing (i.e. content) of 99-cent books is just as cheap as the price, and won't go near them for that very reason. I have no doubt that I wouldn't have sold as many units as I did had it not been for the 99-cent price-point, but I'm sure I lost sales as well.

Which leads me to the deciding factor: value.

I ultimately chose to raise the price because I believe my book is worth more. When I originally set my price, I put readers before royalties, and I achieved my goal of establishing a readership and good reviews. 65% of reader reviews for Faking It are 5-star. To date, I've sold approx 50,000 Kindle units of Faking It and Ordinary World combined. Faking It peaked at #6 on the best-seller list, Ordinary World at #35. All phenomenal accomplishments. The market has spoken: these books have value.

Of course, all books have value. I don't mean to imply that my book is worth more than another indie author's simply because it ranked higher or sold more. But, as I said, I achieved my goal. 99 cents no longer works for me. I'm now willing to take the risk and lose my place in the rankings in exchange for perceived credibility. Note the word choice. Indie authors who price their books so low are already credible. I was already credible. But the 2.99 minimum is a good thing for indie authors, I believe. And while I think Kindle owners will be reluctant to jump on board at first, they'll come around when it becomes the norm. I'm already noticing that many traditionally published Kindle books (including best-sellers) are priced higher than $9.99, and I remember how many Kindle owners were refusing to pay more than that for an ebook.

And, as for the royalty increase, I won't know how that pans out until I get my July statement. Maybe I'll make more by selling less. Maybe the past two months I made less while selling more. Maybe I'll break even. We'll see.

One thing is for sure: this is one more incentive for authors to seriously consider self-publishing. If they've got a book that is well written and edited, with a professional cover, then they have a chance at making more than they ever could w/ a traditional publisher or literary agent. And it's one more shift in the publishing paradigm that I suspect the Big 5 publishers (are there even that many?) have yet to negotiate for themselves.

(P.S. As of the time of this writing, the price change hasn't gone through, and my books are still 99-cents--get 'em while you can!)

Monday, June 28, 2010

can it be done?

I was all set to write a post about the six-month check-in regarding my "40 things to do while I'm 40 list", until I realized that I've only been 40 for five months, so that one will have to wait until next month. So instead I'll talk about something else: Twitter.

I'm toying with the idea of tweeting a novel. And while I'm sure I'm not the first to think of this, and someone's doing it as we speak, I'm curious as to whether I could pull something like this off were I to actually give it a shot. First of all, how consistent do I have to be? In other words, if I'm in the middle of a scene ("Carmella crept out of bed & into the hall, only to trip over the tabby cat, who howled & hissed & took a swipe at her ankle with his claw."), can I interject w/ one of my more usual tweets? (Hey, Pandora Radio: in what universe are Depeche Mode and The Eagles part of the same musical genre?) Second of all, how do I protect against plagiarism, not to mention basically giving my readers a free book? Third of all, how do I not write crap? After all, this is presumably a first draft. Timelines are going to get screwed up, characters are going to be changed, tweaked, second-guessed. Plots will be subjected to inconsistencies, no doubt.

Worse still, what if I get writer's block, or bored?

Why do it at all? you ask. I suppose the lazy answer is, Why not? One of the best-selling books in Japan was reportedly written on a cellphone. There's a challenge in brevity, not to mention the arduous task of keeping the reader interested in real time, on the spot. And there's something to be said for the rhetorical situation, using a media typically reserved for randomness and banality (and the occasional promotion) to achieve something more substantive.

I don't know if I could pull it off. What's more, I don't know if I'd be able to sustain my own interest if one of my favorite authors were to do it. I mean, I don't even follow Jennifer Weiner's live-tweeting of The Bachelorette. (Then again, that has more to do w/ me preferring to poke myself w/ a stick repeatedly than watch The Bachelorette.)

So, readers, I'll ask you: what would you think of reading a novel, 140 characters at a time, on Twitter? Would you Follow an author you love just to see it unfold? Would you join Twitter for that sole purpose?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

down the retro road

Most of the Walt Whitman High School Class of 1988 is turning 40 this year. Having a January birthday, I got the head start, but I've been observing (via Facebook) the behaviors of my former classmates and fellow Gen-Xers, and they're all retreating to the 80s. They're posting You Tube videos of the music we listened to back then. They're joining adult soccer leagues. They're having 80s-themed birthday parties. And all I can think is, "Well at least it's not just me."

Not that I'm joining soccer leagues (although dammit, I would've been good), but I get this retro-journey we're on. For example, my apartment walls are sorely crying out for art, and I was thinking about framing more album covers (I've already got four Duran albums hanging in the hall) and making my own art, painting Warhol-esque still-lifes of New Coke, Atari joysticks, and Rubick's Cubes. Or maybe I'd find some vintage Patrick Nagel re-prints (I have two of those in my hallway too).

And the other day while channel-surfing (and I don't have many channels to surf, so I suppose it was more like wading), I stumbled upon a Christian Slater movie. Imdb just now informed me that it was called "Pump Up the Volume" and claims that it was made in 1990, but I could've sworn it was at least three years earlier. I was not really interested in this movie-- it seemed to be filled w/ a lot of John-Hughes-wannabe, cheesy teenage angst (how John Hughes managed to get away w/ cheesy teenage angst, I don't know -- and yet, there I am, lapping it up). Kinda dumb plot too. Christian Slater is dork by day, radio shock-jock by night. The voice of his generation railing against high school oppression. Ok, so high school really is oppressive, but it's so hard to take that oppression seriously when one of the teachers is wearing a bolo tie.

I kept watching the movie not out of boredom, but observation. I was studying the clothes. And scarier still, liking them.

Ok, maybe not the acid-washed jeans -- those clearly were a mistake -- but the big t-shirts and denim skirts over the spandex leggings (which are back in style), the frosted bangs (see my previous blog post about that), guys wearing colorful checkered shirts (I wore those more than I wore girls' shirts in those days), the big round glasses, and all that mousse... I watched all of it with a strange fascination and coming to the conclusion that a) teens had much cooler clothes than adults in the 80s, and b) Christian Slater was quite the young hottie back then.

It's not that I want to wear any of that stuff again (although my friends will testify that earlier this year I bought the same kind of captain-style hat that Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes used to wear because I always wanted one, and I bought a straw summer fedora -- so un-John Taylor, but age-appropriate), and I would NEVER -- I repeat, NEVER want to return to my teenage years, or high school. But there was something oddly comforting about seeing something that was once the norm captured in a film that had little else to offer other than canned messages of free speech and rebellion.

I'm not sure what makes us go back to those days. It sure as hell wasn't a simpler time -- not for me, anyway. Whatever it is, it's calling to the writer in me. I'm jotting down notes for another novel, coming up with names, hearing little bits and pieces of backstory. And I think I know where it's going. That's all I'm willing to say for now, and I can't promise that I'll keep the acid-washed denim out of it (although lord knows I'll try). But maybe Christian Slater will get a part in the movie adaptation.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

a birthday message for John Taylor

That's him.

I fell in love with John Taylor in 1983. He was 23 years old, and I was 13. He went through various reinventions of image. He went from blood-red hair and lipstick (yes, lipstick) and frilly shirts to suave, colorful Anthony Price suits. He popularized the fedora (which has made a comeback) and Capezio's for men. He inspired men and women to dye their bangs blond. Michael Jackson may have had the glittered glove, but JT had sleeker, sexier, red leather gloves.

John Taylor was always the Duran Duran band member who got the most screams, who sold more posters, more pin-ups, more buttons for our denim jackets and pocketbook straps. I had a lot of competition when it came to winning John's heart, but I had always believed myself to have an advantage: I got the music. After all, I was the youngest in a family of musicians. My first words were likely Beatles lyrics. I could sing harmonies, figure them out by myself. I knew what reverb was, what a drum fill was. knew the difference between a demo and a master. I knew how long it took to mix a single song (and that the meal of choice after an all-night recording or mixing session was beer and eggs). I knew that John played an Aria Pro II bass. Surely, at 15, I was going to wow him with this knowledge. Alas, I never got the chance.

At that time, the age gap seemed so wide, so impossibly hard to close. My best friend and I used to imagine ourselves magically aged seven years, magically in the right place at the right time (aka, meeting the band), our hair and faces and bodies magically transformed to irresistible. Of course, they would all fall in love with me, but John would be the lucky one.

Not surprising. We were looking for an escape hatch. At least I was.

There have always been two constants in my life: writing, and Duran Duran. The videos, the pinups, the teenybop crush feeds my sense of nostalgia (and lord knows it's really the only thing I want to remember about my adolescence, or remember with fondness, along with John Hughes movies and those CHOOSE LIFE shirts), but the music has been the real constant. There is a Duran song to suit any mood. (And of course, I don't have to tell you how the song "Ordinary World" inspired me.) The guys grew from pop stars to musicians. And one has to read John's blog posts to know that he's at a place in his life where he's sober, drug-free, happily married, a loving father, and a musician, writer, and artist. He's gone back to his roots. He's a vinyl enthusiast, still a clothes horse, and a reader. And he's good at what he does.

John Taylor is 50 today. And while I may still harbor the teenage fantasy of marrying him someday (hey, a girl can always dream -- and that's why I love novel-writing), I'm more happy that the gap is closed. The adult me doesn't dream marriage as much as of sitting back and having a conversation with him, talking about the things that matter: love, family, writing, and, of course--always--music. The gap has finally closed, and we have more in common than ever before, I think.

Happy 50th Birthday, John. You've given me 27 years of happiness and inspiration, and I am eternally grateful to you.