Hugh Jackman, My Daughter & Me

Today, I took the day off from writing (which — for me — can be SO hard to do!) to spend the entire day with my daughter in New York City. In the morning, we attended a terrific Mamarazzi® event where we saw a preview of the new Hugh Jackman movie, THE WOLVERINE (it’s amazing!), followed by a Q&A with Hugh Jackman himself conducted by The Moms (Denise Albert and Melissa Musen Gerstein). After that, we visited Madame Tussauds and then grabbed a bite to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. It was a lovely day spent in midtown Manhattan with one of my favorite people, and a nice reminder that sometimes it’s a good idea to put the laptops and the computers and the writing away and just be. :) Here’s a snippet of the Hugh Jackman chat. He seems like such a nice guy, doesn’t he?


Hurricane Sandy: Life Lessons in the Dark

My 15-year-old son said to me—as he, his brother, his sister and I were huddled under blankets last week during Hurricane Sandy and her aftermath which ravaged much of Long Island, New York City and New Jersey: “People do crazy things because of the blackout.”

Our power had gone out, and we had been listening to a battery-powered radio which—amid news reports of devastation, of flooding New York City tunnels and homes burning in Queens, New York—was warning of people who, desperate for gasoline, were cutting gas lines and starting fistfights, of local looting, and of men posing as utility workers and burglarizing homes when electricity-starved residents let them in with open arms.

“I think crises bring out the best or worst in people,” I said, stunned a bit by his statement, and many others that have come from my oldest son over the years. “If you’re a good person at heart, a crisis will bring out the best in you. If you’re not, I guess it can bring out the worst.” (A magnifier, as my husband calls it.)

For four nights, I sat in the dark with my three children—who, without the circular glow of one of our two camping lanterns, were not discernible at all sitting only inches away from me—wondering if every snap of a branch or creak of a gate outside was a potential threat to our safety. I had forgotten how dark darkness really was until the lights went out and how much of our lives relied upon a current through a wire or a signal in the air. During that time, my children and I clung to our smart phones and tablets, our only lifelines to the outside world, our connection to our neighbors and our old life.

That first morning after the hurricane, after the winds had died down and the sun peeked out from behind low-lying gray clouds, I awoke, happy to see my children asleep around me in the lower-level den, where we had all spent the night in order to be safe from falling trees. I slipped on my shoes, a baseball cap and a jacket and ventured outside to survey the damage to the neighborhood. It was a strange feeling not knowing what to expect when I opened the front door, kind of like Dorothy opening the door to Oz: What would I see outside? How much damage would there be? Was our home intact?

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Meet Author C.B. Knadle

I met today’s featured debut author Charlene Knadle at the book signing of a mutual friend, Jeb Ladouceur, at the wonderful independent bookstore, Book Revue, in Huntington, New York. I’ll be back at Book Revue this coming Monday, October 15—this time for my own book signing! I’ll be speaking, Q&Aing and signing copies of my debut novel, Baby Grand. Yippee!

Name: C.B. (Charlene) Knadle

Name of book: Paper Lovers

Book genre: Suspense/Mystery/Romance

Date published: June 2005

Publisher: PublishAmerica

What is your day job? I teach at Suffolk County Community College.

What is your book about? Dana Ritz, a.k.a. Charlotte Ruth, who writes romance novels, attends a banquet where writers exchange books. She meets a man who writes romances under a female pseudonym, Roberta Rhodes; she’s been curious about him and has read his earlier books. She goes with him to his car where he has copies of his latest. He throws her into the car and takes off. At his residence are four other women—some of whom she recognizes. Unlike herself, they are happy to be under his domination. Her presence inadvertently disrupts the peace; troubles ensue. With difficulty, she devises a means for escape. There is a trial, at which surprising events and revelations occur.

Why did you want to write this book? I liked the idea of combining the genres of suspense, mystery, and romance, but the trigger for the book was a dream that gripped me.In the book, it is only a half-page scene, but it was the seed for the whole drama.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? That’s really hard to say; there are so many challenges. For one thing, there’s the old cliché that “life interferes.” But once you begin writing and know in a general sense what your story is and who the characters are, it isn’t hard at all. Each bit of writing suggests the next. Then you have to stop to deal with other responsibilities. It’s important to find on-going time to write.

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Real vs. Fictional Locations

Last week, at a meeting of the Long Island Writers Group, I spoke about my experiences as a self-published author for my debut novel Baby Grand, and one of my writer-friends asked how I go about describing places that actually exist. Do I feel like I have to stay true to what is real and visitable? How can I make things up about places people know well?

All good questions.

And I would think the answer is different for every fiction writer.

For me, and I wonder if my journalism background has influenced me, I like to depict a “real” location, such as Bryant Park in New York City or the Executive Mansion in Albany, New York, as accurately as possible (keep in mind, however, that this means as accurately as possible from my viewpoint). I like to provide an authentic flavor to the place so that anyone who has been there may recognize it or anyone who has yet to go there will one day recognize it. That’s why I drove up to Albany in May 2010 and took a tour of the Executive Mansion — an important setting for Baby Grand. I wanted to get a feel for what the place looked and felt like. And some of those details, I think, help to tell the story visually.

However, keep in mind, I also throw in all sorts of fictitious details about those “real” places, just for fun. Plus, I have absolutely no qualms about creating totally fictitious locations or settings as well, such as an Albany diner/dessert place named Taryn’s, in order to suit the needs of my novel. Could I have used a real diner in Albany? Sure, I guess I could have. But I didn’t feel the need to. Or want to. I don’t feel any pressure to be accurate. I mean, the governor of New York in Baby Grand, after all, is named Phillip Grand, not Andrew Cuomo (although I do mention Mario Cuomo — that’s the fun of writing fiction!).

It’s the mixing of fact and fiction that makes writing and reading fiction exciting to me, which probably explains why I’m drawn to books like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and authors like Michael Crichton (recreating dinosaurs from the sucked-blood of ancient mosquitoes? sounds good to me!) and why The Da Vinci Code is one of my all-time favorite books — a book that may read like careful, accurate research, but really is chock full of fallacies.

But isn’t that part of the fun? The very notion of “artistic license” is allowing writers of fiction to take all sorts of liberties with fact. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, my author-friend Jeb Ladouceur doesn’t visit any of the places he describes in his thrillers. He just makes stuff up. He doesn’t want the realities of those places to stifle his creativity in any way.

Good for him.

However, my inner journalist won’t let me play that way. At least, not all the time.

How do you go about writing “real” places? Do you feel comfortable taking some artistic license?

All Set for Book Expo America & ThrillerFest

There are lots of conferences and events held throughout the year for writers. This year, I will be covering Book Expo America and ThrillerFest, both being held in New York City, for this blog and hope to bring back some interesting and useful writing tidbits and tips. For anyone who has attended BEA, which takes place this week at the Javits Center, it’s books, authors and publishing professionals galore! For readers and writers, it’s a veritable Candyland. What I probably enjoy most  are the “Author Stages,” an interview format during which authors discuss their books and share their back stories. Author Stages are held throughout the day, as are autograph sessions featuring an all-star lineup (major celebrity alert), that usually have lines as many as fifty people long.

And if you’re a thriller reader/writer, well… ThrillerFest, which takes place July 11 to 14 at the Grand Hyatt, is pretty much BEA for thriller lovers. Lots of terrific panel discussions and featured speakers on all aspects of thriller writing. Now that Baby Grand is out there, maybe I’ll find some good marketing tips to pass on.

Two amazingly cool events. And I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences there with you.

Meet Author Sidney Bristol

Is it hot in here or is it just my interview with Sidney Bristol? :) Please help me welcome today’s featured debut author and self-described “smut writer” who enters the erotica genre at a time of great excitement and an explosion in sales led most notably by ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

Name: Sidney Bristol

Name of book: Flirting with Rescue

Book genre: Contemporary romance of the very hot kind

Date published: January 18, 2012

Publisher: Ellora’s Cave

What is your day job? IT Education Administrator

What is your book about? Two people, brought together by their passion for animals, fall madly in love.

Why did you want to write this book? I wrote this book on a dare. I kid you not. I wanted to be a swords and sorcery and horses kind of writer. The idea that I would write romance, contemporary romance at that, was hysterical. But, I put pen to paper and roughly thirty-six hours later I had the bare bones of what would be this book, and I had to write it. “They” always say to write what you know, and one of the things I know is horses, rodeo and what can happen when a person doesn’t want the best for an animal. I decided that if I was going to write a contemporary romance, I wanted to poke my finger at a dark secret. In this instance, I talk about horses, and their role in drug trafficking.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Sex. I’d only written vague sex scenes before, and a big chunk of the story happens between the sheets. I wound up reading a lot of How To Write Erotica books to get a handle on how to approach it for the genre. I also did a lot of reading above my “comfort zone” to figure out what I would write. Writing sex and sexual tension is hard, because not everyone finds the same things alluring.

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Meet Juliette Sobanet

Today’s featured debut author is Juliette Sobanet, a French professor who writes fun, sassy women’s fiction with (you guessed it!) a French twist. Thanks, Juliette, for a terrific chat — and, by the way, I just LOVE the book cover!

Name: Juliette Sobanet

Name of book: Sleeping with Paris

Book genre: Chick lit/Humorous women’s fiction

Date published: October 8, 2011

Publisher: Self-published (though Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

What is your day job?  French professor

What is your book about? Charlotte Summers is a sassy, young French teacher who is two days away from moving to Paris with the love of her life and from fulfilling her dream of studying at the prestigious Sorbonne University in France. But when she discovers her fiancé’s online dating profile and has a little chat with the busty redhead he’s been sleeping with on the side, she gives up on committed relationships altogether and decides to navigate Paris on her own.

Determined to stop other women from finding themselves in her shoes, Charlotte creates an anonymous blog on how to date like a man in the City of Love—that is, how to jump from bed to bed without ever falling in love. But, with a slew of Parisian men beating down her door, a hot new neighbor who feeds her chocolate in bed, and an appearance by her sleazy ex-fiancé, she isn’t so sure she can keep her promise to remain commitment-free.

Why did you want to write this book? I spent a year in Paris completing my Master’s degree and accumulating all sorts of fun, exciting, and sometimes bizarre experiences that I knew I’d want to write about one day. I’ve also been an avid reader and writer since I was young, and after I completed my Master’s in France and returned back to the States, I knew it was time to write the story that had been swimming around in my head and was dying to come to life on the page.

So, using some of my own life experiences and my time in France as inspiration (and then exaggerating it all, of course!), I came up with the concept for Sleeping with Paris. My goal in sending this story out into the world is that readers will find a book that they can relax with at the end of a long day, laugh out loud, fall in love with a sexy French hero, romp around France, crave a little chocolate, and fall asleep with nothing too heavy on their minds.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Editing and rewriting. It is so difficult to swipe whole scenes, whole sections of your draft and start over again. But to have a solid final product, it simply must be done. Still though, acknowledging what isn’t working in your story and being willing to scrap it is no easy task.

Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write Sleeping with Paris? I studied abroad in Lyon for six months during undergrad and then completed my Master’s in Paris. My time in France helped me to create an authentic view of the setting and the characters from the viewpoint of a young, newly single, sassy heroine. Also, in this novel, I explore issues that all women have dealt with from time to time: love, broken hearts, infidelity, the importance of friendships, family relationships, and career aspirations. Drawing from some of my own personal experiences and from those of my friends as “research,” I hope that women (or men) who read this novel will be able to identify with some of the characters and their problems, while still having a ball romping through Paris!

What motivates you to write? I guess it goes without saying, but I love writing. It’s something I’ve always felt drawn to, ever since I was a little girl. I have stacks of journals saved up underneath the bed, and I’ve been creating stories whether on the page or in my head since as long as I can remember. I love that each writer has a unique story to tell, and with Sleeping with Paris, I was able to tell mine. Well, the first of mine, that is. There are many, many more stories in me. This is only the beginning! So, to properly answer your question, I’m motivated to write because with the exception of drinking wine on a cobblestone street in France, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing!

Did you experience writer’s block? I don’t think I’ve ever experienced full-on writer’s block. Of course, I’ve had those moments where I’ve stared at the screen and wondered, “What next?” But thankfully, for me, that is only temporary. I figure it’s better to at least get some words down on the page (even if they’re not the greatest) than to write nothing at all. That’s what editing is for!

How long did it take you to write this book? I began the first few chapters in December of 2006, but I really got down to business and wrote the whole first draft in spring of 2008. Two years of editing, revising and rewriting later, in the summer of 2010, I had a finished product. And just before publication, I went in for another round of edits. You see? The editing never ends until publication!

Why did you decide to self-publish? Last year, after Sleeping with Paris won first place in the Washington, D.C. Romance Writer’s Marlene Awards, I signed with my agent, polished up the manuscript and got it ready to send to New York. We went on submission with this novel last fall, but because of the trend away from this type of light women’s fiction/chick-lit, the book didn’t sell. Thankfully, even though we didn’t find a place for this story going the traditional route, I did receive positive editorial feedback, so I didn’t give up hope in finding a home for my first book. I recently began paying attention to the massive rise in self-publishing and saw it as a fantastic opportunity to get my work out there and gain a readership. And so I took the plunge and am so happy that I did! It took a lot of courage to get to this point, but I wouldn’t do it any differently.

Was the self-publishing process easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? Some aspects were easy breezy, while others definitely had me reaching for the wine bottle… J  Overall, though, it was quicker and more fun than I could’ve anticipated. The positive reader feedback I’ve been getting since publication has made it all worth it.

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That after you finish your first draft, you are almost finished. Writing the words “The End” is really just a sign that now the real work must begin. That’s when you find out that everything you wrote (or at least some of it) isn’t as fabulous as you thought . . . and then it’s time to revise and rewrite!

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I loved the very beginning, before I had a clue what I was doing! Transferring those raw ideas to the page in any way I wanted, without worrying about “the rules.” Letting the creative juices flow, so to speak. There’s nothing more fun than that!

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I’ve been blogging and using Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis as a means of promotion. I’ve also been doing interviews (like this one), have created an author profile on Goodreads, and have posted a bit on the Kindle Boards Forum. There is an endless amount of things that can be done for promotion, so the trick is to prioritize and not allow all of the promotion to steal too much time away from your writing!

How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? At first, I was so excited, busy and tired that I thought my head was going to spin off! Things are calming down a bit now, but the best and most rewarding change has been having new readers come across my book, read it, and tell me that they enjoyed it. I can’t even describe how happy that has made me.

Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? Guilty as charged. Amazon updates them almost hourly, which is both helpful and a time-sucker!

You mentioned you have lots of books in you. When do you plan on writing the next? I’ve already completed a second book, called Kissed in Paris, and I am currently at work on edits for my third novel, a magical women’s fiction with a hint of mystery, called Dancing with Paris. And when this one is finished, I plan to keep on writing!

My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I completely agree. We all have dreams and aspirations, but I do believe that we must do our best to work toward them, to prepare in any way that we can. With writing, that means spending a ton of time . . . writing! Then rewriting. Then asking others to read and critique our work. Then editing and revising again! The process never ends. It can be long, exhausting and time-consuming, but you won’t become a solid writer without putting in the time and effort. And then, like Oprah said, there will come a moment of opportunity, and if you’ve been working hard, hopefully you’ll be ready to jump in and take it.