Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dreamwood -- a Great Read for Kids and Adults


When people tell me that they don't "do" Facebook, I smile politely and think of friends from college with whom I would have lost contact had it not been for Facebook. Heather Mackey is one of those friends.  When we found each other years after we both graduated from Smith College, we were delighted to discover that we were both writers. Heather has a job in the high tech world, two children and somehow has managed to write a lovely book for middle grade readers although this middle aged reader loved it.

Here's my review:

From the first scene on a train when we meet Lucy Darrington, we can tell she’s made of stern stuff, determined to find her missing father in the deeps woods of Sadaarthe. At every step of the way Lucy encounters great obstacles — giant sea snakes, native people who zealously guard the land, animals with dangerous magical powers. The closer Lucy gets to her goal the more dangerous and complicated her world gets. Will she find her father? Will she survive even as grown men are dying on this expedition? What exactly happened to the settlement of people on Devil’s Thumb, the haunted outcropping of land where Lucy seeks her father? As the story expands, so do the plot twists and mysteries. This is a rollicking adventure with a lovable heroine who is both prickly and serious, not afraid to push for what she wants. Both boys and girls will enjoy this adventure story as will the parents lucky enough to spend their time reading this story aloud. I loved it and recommend it for all ages.

Heather Mackey is a writer and editor with two kids, a lot of household disorder, many books, a mischievous dog, lovely husband, and a sinking feeling that the word that best describes me right now is “harried.” I am so so thrilled that my first book, DREAMWOOD, a middle-grade fantasy, was published by Putnam’s in June of 2014.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Hi, GBC Friends~

I'm so thrilled to finally announce the release of my latest romantic comedy, Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, which is the follow up to Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match.

*Throwing confetti in the air!!*

About the story:

The course of true love doesn’t always run smooth…

Everyone thought Beth Ann Bennet and Dr. Will Darcy had an unexpected romance in Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match (Perfect #1, January 2013). Now, Beth’s best friend, Jane Henderson, and Will’s first cousin, Bingley McNamara, begin their own unlikely love story in Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet (Perfect #2), which starts at the Darcy/Bennet wedding when they find themselves in the roles of maid of honor and best man for the newlyweds.

Jane is an interning school psychologist and a woman who wears an angelic mask in public, but she’s not as sweet tempered as she’d like everyone to believe. Turns out, she may have just crossed paths with the one person who’ll unnerve her enough to get her to reveal her true self.

As for Bingley, he’s a wealthy, flirtatious and compulsively social guru of finance, who likes to wager on stocks and, let’s face it, on just about anything that strikes his fancy. But this dedicated ladies’ man may have finally met the woman who’ll challenge his bachelor ways!

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet…where life’s biggest gamble is the game of love.

It's available worldwide and at most e-tailer sites right now!!
Perfect Bet:

ALSO, in honor of the release, Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match is on sale for a limited time for just 99 cents (75% off)! If you haven't read that novel and would like to check it out, here are those links, too.
Perfect Match: 

Thanks for celebrating with me this weekend!! Best wishes to you all!

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

Visit her website: www.marilynbrant.com

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Change Direction, You'll End Up Where You're Headed

By Laura Spinella

There is a subplot in my first novel, Beautiful Disaster, that, once upon a time, caused quite a stir. A character, a woman who lived a Mata Hari life was murdered years ago. Throughout the novel the reader is never quite sure if the hero, Flynn, is responsible for her death.  Because she was Flynn’s lover, we are certain that Alena’s demise contributes to his PTSD. We know that while he’s running from the authorities, Flynn is also running from the memory of her murder. Readers are left to ponder and vacillate until the very last pages: Could Flynn have killed her? There are numerous mitigating factors, various clues that lead the reader down this exact path.
        From the original draft through hot-potato passes to publishers, I must confess: He did it. Flynn killed Alena, his ex-lover. Now, I won’t get into the whys or Saul Goodman defense I devised to assuage any anger. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I was so “in love” with my own character, I couldn’t imagine why any reader wouldn’t absolve Flynn of the crime and feel empathy for his guilt. I felt strongly about this particular point. It was my story, and this was the way I wanted to tell it.  When taking into consideration the array of circumstances surrounding the heinous act, well geez, it made perfect sense to me.  
        No surprise (years later) that the book did not sell while in the hands of the big houses, or even smaller publishers. Oh sure, there was interest and compliments. But ultimately, there was rejection. I cried, I cursed; I blamed everything from bad timing to a bad hair day. Then it was over. From there I moved on to another book and a shiny new agent. An agent that came with a very different way of going about her business. That’s when things started to change direction for me, and for my writing. I came on board at Writers House with a fresh manuscript, something more women’s fiction than romantic fiction, which certainly described Beautiful Disaster. Through a series of small accidents that I could not have invented on my best writing day, the book with the indefensible hero ended up in my agent’s hands. She read it. She loved it. Loved it except for that one pesky little point… You got it. I’ll paraphrase the advice: “Laura, circumstance is the villain in this book, not your hero. Don’t do that to him. Don’t ask that of your reader.”
        It clicked. It made sense. The light bulb came… well, a light bulb with correct wattage was finally installed in my writer’s brain. Not every point in every story could be what I wanted, even if was my story. The direction was not solely mine to plot. Not if that book or the next one was going to find an audience in the real world of readers. Well, as you might have guessed, the only place you still find Flynn guilty of Alena’s murder is an original draft, buried somewhere here on my desktop computer. I got lucky with that first book. My editor at Berkley remembered the manuscript. She recalled loving it, but… She went against tradition and gave the revised novel a second read with fresh pair of eyes. Clearly, the advice was spot-on and I was a little less green when making future life or death decisions for my characters.
        That seems like such a long time ago. Nowadays, I couldn’t fathom sticking so close to an original draft—nor would I want to.  I’m fortunate to have an agent whose hidden passion is editing. Her suggestions don’t come in “Here’s a thought…” phrases. They come in bulleted paragraphs that drill so deep into my story they make me wonder if I understand my books as well as she does. The answer to that is sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes she sees things I’ve yet to imagine, directions I’m flirting with but haven’t really explored.
       Drafts are linear; they’re about getting the bare bones of a story down on paper. From there, whether it’s an agent, editor, first reader, critique partner or the depth of your own imagination, you’re off to parts unknown.                                                                                     

  Laura Spinella is the author of the award-winning novel Beautiful Disaster and newly released Perfect Timing, visit her at lauraspinella.net

You Can Go Home Again

by Sylvie Fox

Thanks to Thomas Wolfe, the phrase, ‘you can’t go home again,’ is as ubiquitous as any number of other clichés.

For years, my husband and I have been searching for a place where we felt at home. We’ve debated going back to New York (where we both originate) several times over, but finally decided it wasn’t an option. We tried Cleveland, but it wasn’t for us.

Palo Alto and San Francisco were even serious contenders for a long time, until we gave up on them a dozen years ago. I live in Los Angeles, and though the weather is perfect. The driving is going to kill me slowly.

My mother-in-law always thought Boston suited my husband. My mother thought I should give Washington, D.C. greater consideration.

About ten years ago, after considering places as far flung as Sacramento and Denver, we decided to broaden our journey outside the United States. London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland were neck and neck for a while. Then my husband was in love with Portugal. Seoul was even in the running for a few months. We considered Paris for as long as it took to figure out we’d have to sell all of our kidneys to afford an apartment there.

Every place had it’s great points, but none gave us that elusive feeling we were looking for. Fast forward five years, and one child later. My husband had a work meeting in Prague. Looking at the map, we searched for somewhere else to go. With our plane tickets paid for, we wanted to get the most for sixteen hours of travel (with a two year old). The debate was between extending our trip to either Vienna or Budapest.

photo by Sylvie Fox
We chose Budapest because I wanted to see the Danube in person and we figured we’d never be there again. Five minutes outside of the train station, we looked at each other and knew, we’d found it. Home again.

I’m writing this post from our Budapest apartment. Every day I walk outside and it’s like taking a step back into my childhood. In so many ways, it’s all that I remember loving about growing up in New York City with the added beauty of Europe.

photo by Sylvie Fox
Yesterday, I was on my way to pick up my son from summer camp and walking down the street shaded by Plane and Chestnut trees transported me back for a long moment to similar walks in Brooklyn with my parents. Whenever I come to New York and drive over the bridge, I nearly cry with relief about being home. (Then I get out of the car, and I find that New York has moved on).

I get that feeling nearly every day I’m here. The streets smell like home. The people remind me of New Yorkers with gruff exteriors and warm hearts. And the food? Someone could have told me that what I considered New York diner and deli food was really central and eastern European food transported six thousand miles. Every time I go to the market, everything is so familiar I want to squeal with delight.

Despite Wolfe’s admonition, I think you can go home again as long as you look in the right place.

Sylvie Fox is the author of The Good Enough Husband. She’s also the author ofUnlikely and Impasse, the first two books in the sexy, contemporary L.A. Nights series. Don't Judge Me, the first book in the Judgment series, releases this autumn. When she’s not battling traffic on the freeways of Los Angeles, she’s eating her way through Budapest.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

And the story changed again....
by Brenda Janowitz

One summer, when I was single, Grandma Dorothy informed me that she would be renting a house in the Hamptons. No more of these silly share houses I was doing with my friends each summer. They were getting me nowhere (read: still single and over thirty). Instead, I was to stay with her and she would help me meet someone. The only problem with this scenario was that I was sure she’d meet a man before I did. She had sparkling crystal blue eyes and a killer figure. My own hazel eyes and good birthing hips were no match for her easy glamour and style.

When she found out that a Hamptons summer rental costs more than the gross national product of some countries, the idea sort of fell apart. But it gave me an idea—what if a young woman spent the summer out in the glamorous Hamptons with her even more glamorous grandmother?

The idea for my third novel was born.  It would be called RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, and it would feature an impossibly glamorous grandmother and her not-as-glamorous granddaughter.

Both of my own grandmothers really inspired me to come up with the character of Vivienne, the glamorous widow six times over. Neither was a widow six times over, but both of my grandmothers were very glamorous ladies. When I think of my childhood memories, I’m not likely to picture them in aprons baking cookies. I picture them in evening gowns.

I began to write.  My first two novels would be classified as “chick lit,” which is to say they’re smart, funny novels with heart about a single girl living in the city. And that’s exactly what I was at the time. But just as I’ve grown up, my writing has grown up, too.

RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is different from my first two novels in so many ways. In my first two books, I was really focused on writing a funny story. The sort of book that would make you embarrass yourself in the subway from laughing (I’ve gotten that email from numerous readers and it makes me smile each time someone tells me that!). The sort of book that could make you forget your problems for an afternoon (two different people read my second novel while getting chemo and told me that it helped them to keep a smile on their faces through an awful situation). The sort of book that’s just meant to be read on a plane, or a bus, or a beach (you could also read them on a subway, on a train, or by a lake. I don’t discriminate.).

With RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, I was looking to do something different. Something more grown up. Something deeper. The idea for the book—a granddaughter and her grandmother out in the Hamptons for the summer—was originally played for laughs. Much was made of the fact that the grandmother meets a man before her granddaughter does.  But the book changed.

I did the first major overhaul of the novel while I was pregnant with my first son. Everything was different for me—I was changing as a person, my voice was changing, and so, too, did this novel. I began thinking more deeply about the ties that bind mothers and children, grandmothers and grandchildren. How we hurt each other. How we can forgive. What that means.

When I was six months pregnant and almost finished writing the book, my mother was rushed to the hospital for emergency open-heart surgery. It was the most harrowing 24 hour period of my life (until I had kids, but that’s another story entirely), and even though my mother made a full recovery, it took me a long time to recover myself. It was the same time that I was writing a death scene for RECIPE and it was impossible to write. I was still so scared from almost losing my mother. I wrote it quickly, tried to get through it quickly, and one of my first readers, author Lynda Curnyn, called me out on it. She told me that this wasn’t the time to write a death scene. I needed time away from it. I needed to heal. I needed to process.

She was right. It took me another year until I was able to get the scene right. And the book changed again.

RECIPE became another book entirely, and I’m happy about that.  I’m always happy to follow the story, see where characters lead me, get lost in the craft of writing.

I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKSJACK WITH A TWISTRECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, and THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB.  My short story, HOLLYWOOD PUNCH, will be released on September 2nd.

My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me at brendajanowitz.com or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I recently finished writing my debut novel for girls. Again. It only took four years, six versions, eight titles and enough coffee to keep Dunkin Donuts in the black, so to speak.

One would think that a book requiring this much time and effort would have been written by a beginner. But THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM is my fifth novel. Which is why my dear father would say, “Confidence is that feeling you have right before you understand the problem.”

What took so long? 

When I began I was sure that between my experience and the shorter word count, I could wrap this project in six months. I was also sure that it would be easy to razzle-dazzle girls with my “high spirited” humor. They would laugh the whole way through and never see the preachy stuff coming.

Ha! My first attempt was a witty tale, but my beta readers were a group of seventh graders who turned out to be mini New York Times critics. They were not in love. For starters, they told me that I sounded like an adult trying to sound like a kid. Ouch. They also said that although they weren't boy crazy, most girls they knew were, and the story was boring without any guy characters. Double ouch.

In the next version, my main character was more authentic, her plight more dramatic and now there was a boy. A cute boy. Ahh, but apparently now there were too many adults. I was urged to ditch the grown-ups. Think Charlie Brown and the Muppets editors said. They should be seen, but never heard. Gotcha.

In the novel that followed (referred to as the anniversary edition) I created a plucky, indomitable main character who occasionally passed tall people in her house, but didn’t have much to do with them as she was too busy being in love. Editors urged me to keep going but to ditch, well, everything. Clearly I could entertain, but my character’s journey wasn’t compelling, captivating or full of complexities.

Wait. You mean it had to read like an adult novel? Why didn’t anyone say so? My next step was to re-read my four novels. Then I had an ah ha moment. I didn’t need to abandon my voice and style to appeal to a younger reader. I just had to tell a story that mattered.

I started over and now hopefully the jury rests. THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM is funny, touching, and an honest exploration of family, fate and friendship. Mostly it’s a heartfelt tale of a lonely thirteen-year old girl who is accused of practicing witchcraft after a TV medium helps her connect with her dead mother. And if you remember middle school, you do not want to be accused of anything.

And yes, there is this boy...

I never imagined it would take me this long to connect with Stella Jacoby, my heroine, but I don’t regret the journey. I so enjoyed being immersed in her world and rediscovering how challenging it is to transition from an innocent girl to strong-willed teen. And my hope? That when published, readers will hold this novel to their chests and think, wow. That was a great ride!

Or as Stella so aptly says, “Sometimes when you think your life is falling apart, it’s really falling into place.”

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of  A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avon/HarperCollins). Visit her website. www.saraleerosenberg.com

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How to Summon the Writing Gods

By Karin Gillespie 

 Post originally appeared  at South Journal 85

I once ran into a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist in a ladies’ room at a writer’s conference. She slipped into a stall and I could hear her peeing. The whole time I was thinking, “Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists have to pee?”

Obviously they do. They also probably burp and sneeze and maybe even snore but their writing is so impressive sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine it comes from mere mortals.

In fact, when I was a beginning writer I used to assume that certain authors had a direct pipeline to the writing gods who sent them down a steady supply of flawless prose anytime they sat down at a computer. I also thought that these gods were exceedingly elitist, and only showered special writers with their gifts. 

When I put my fingers on the keyboard, I imagined the gods rolling their eyes and saying, “Her again? Toss down a few clichés and some stilted sentences. That’s all that hack deserves.”

But then one night, many years ago, I was writing a freelance theater review on “Richard III” for my local newspaper; it was a rush job and had to be completed in two hours. I was in panic because I’ve never written anything decent in that period of time, and I was still pretty new to the writing game.
I threw myself into the review and the next day when I read it in the paper, I was afraid it was going to be terrible, but, to my surprise, it was fresh and invigorating. In fact, it was so good I couldn’t believe I’d actually written it.

Getting Out of Your Way

Artists at all levels of mastery have had similar experiences. I once read that the actor Lawrence Olivier came off the stage after his most brilliant performance of his life. Supposedly he said, “I know it was my best work ever, but I have no idea how I can replicate it.”

I can relate to his bewilderment. How can we repeat those moments in writing when we are just not at our best, but better than our best? How can we more consistently unearth gems and gold doubloons instead of old shoes and rusty nails?

The obvious advice applies: learn your craft, keep butt in chair. But I would also add some additional advice: Get the hell out of your way.

I think the reason my theater review was so good was because I didn’t have time for my usual writing mind-crap, i.e., the need to impress, the near constant belittling, and the occasional delusions of grandeur. My mind was clear and focused on my purpose, making me an excellent conduit for the writing gods’ gifts.

Tricking Yourself 

Of course getting out of your way is easier said than done. For me, meditation helps enormously. Twenty minutes every day I sit and listen to the voices in my head. The more I observe those voices in action, the more I understand how frequently they undermine my creative work. They are like kindergarteners in need of a nap. They always seize onto first idea because they want to get the writing over with or they’re attracted to derivation because, “it made that other kid famous and I want to be famous too.” Or they resist a needed revision because, “It’s good enough. I’m so sick of this.”

It’s seems ludicrous that we would actually listen to these wrongheaded voices, but the truth is, many of us not only listen to them but are ruled by them. Meditation doesn’t completely quiet them, but we are also less likely to give into their wily demands.

Sometimes I’m tempted to yell at these voices, “Quit being such brats!” but I think it’s a better strategy to be kind and patient with them and say, “You kids play nice for a while. I have to work right now.”
Then I sit down and write my head off before the voices get restless. Does this make me write like a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist? Nope. I still write like Karin Gillespie but sometimes, with the help of the writings gods, I write even better than she does.

Karin Gillespie is the author of five novels and has MFA in creative writing from Converse. Dig this post? There's more where that came from:  Sign up for my mailing list here