Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Not Making the Book Club Finish Line

I have a confession to make: I’m not going to finish my book club book this month. It’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last. The worst part is that I’m the facilitator and should finish the book since I’m the leader and all that. I feel like I’m letting the group down but even if I stayed up all night, I know I still couldn’t finish it. Yes, my fellow Wonderland Book Clubbers, Alice did the best she could, but I didn't make it.

I long for the days six years ago when I’d finish my book club selections months ahead of schedule. Back then when my son was a baby I had more time since I wasn’t working and I wasn’t in grad school. Even while I was in grad school, I still finished my books of the month. That was because I’d have a whole day to read these books – a whole chunk of hours devoted to digesting the plot, theme, symbols and character motivations. I could experience the plot turns and twists and not have any random spoilers hit me on book club day.

Ahh, it was lovely.

Nowadays, I don’t have a whole day to read unless I cram on a Sunday like I did a week ago when I was invited to my friend’s book club as a guest facilitator. I had to finish the book, or it would have been embarrassment all around. Because I had to finish that book, I lost time on finishing my book club book this week. I also had four editing projects the week before. Yes, I know. Excuses, excuses.

Not only do I need to read for book club, I have to read for my book reviews, too. I also read in the car and always have my “to read” book in my tote bag so I can consume a few pages while waiting in the carpool line or at the bank. Since I’m not given any time to read, I have to take my reading time by force. If you happen upon me at the Y, you’ll probably me find me working out on the Stairmaster or the stationary bike with my book.

Because of all the books I’ve had to read efficiently, I’ve learned that I can read about 100 pages in two hours, depending upon the font size and reading difficulty, of course. I’ve learned not to read in bed or on the couch at night – too easy to fall asleep. Instead, I sit at the dining room or in my husband’s office in a straight-backed chair. I’ve sacrificed many nights of sleep to finish books, getting a few hours of sleep from 1-3 am and then witnessing the dawn. It’s a good clue that it’s time to lie down when the words jumble up and I start dreaming the words and sentences.

But you have to know that I do envy the folks who have finished their book club books way before the discussion. Good for them! I don’t like to be defeated by a book, but sometimes I know I must concede defeat. I know that I’m only human and that there’s only so much I can get done in a given day. And I want you to know that I’ll finish that darn book, even if it’s a few days after book club.
OK, so what about you? Have you ever shown up at book club without having finished the whole book? Did you admit it to the others?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Widows of Eastwick

The Widows of Eastwick The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike

My review

rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
The Widows of Eastwick is John Updike's last published book (he died January 27th, 2009 of lung cancer)and just because it was his last book, that in itself is worth the read. I love Updike's short story, "A&P" but haven't had the pleaure of reading any of his novels -- "Widows" was my first foray into Updikeland. I enjoyed his tangents about aging, loss and decreptitude. These are all surely issues that were on his mind as he was sick with lung cancer. The book, however, is mostly a self-indulgent mess without any real plot or point. But, because it's Updike, there are memorable lines such as this one, "We all are swaying on the makeshift rope bridge that society suspends above the crevasse."

Updike spends a unnecessary amount of time detailing two of the witches (now widows) worldwide travels in the Canadian Rockies, China and in Egypt -- when are we going to get on with the story? The plot then reunites the three: Alexandra, the oldest and fattest, Jane, the meanest, and Sukie the sweetest. They decide to spend the summer in their old haunts of Eastwick and share a condo at Darryl Van Horne's old residence (I was very disappointed that Darryl didn't make an appearance in this sequel). They try to start up their old tricks without their age slowing them down -- Sukie meets her old lover, Tommy, and Alexandra makes contact with her almost estranged daughter, Marcy. Their age does slow them down and they know that their powers may be gone soon as well (the youngest, Sukie, is in her late 60s and Alexandra is 74). The antagonist in this book is not so much the town or society, but rather death and how the witches fear it because they know they haven't made peace with what they've done. Alexandra is the most likeable and emotional center of the novel and she knows what she has to do to make the wrongs right, although she may die before she sees anything good happen.

To me this novel was merely OK - 2.5 out of 5. May Updike be remembered for his many other creative works.

View all my reviews.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Elisa Lorello, FAKING IT, My Guest Author

Today I'm featuring Elisa Lorello, the author of FAKING IT as my guest author.

FAKING IT is Elisa's first novel and after reading the first couple of chapters, I'm hooked! (book review coming soon). Check out the cool cover, too! The premise: What happens when an uptight composition professor and an escort become friends? This is what happens to 34-year-old Andi Cutrone who meets Devin, a handsome escort after breaking up with her fiance. Trouble ensues when Andi begins a long distance relationship with Sam as she grows closer to Devin.

FAKING IT is now available at, Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, NC, and Baker Books in N. Dartmouth, MA. It is also available on Amazon Kindle for under two dollars.

For more information, go to Elisa's website, or contact Elisa directly.

I asked Elisa several questions and here's what she offered me and my readers:

How did you get started with your writing career?Before I answer your question, I want to thank you for hosting me on your blog today, Alice, and for all the work you do in and for the writing community—we’re so lucky to have you!

So, to answer your question: Do you mean my career as a fiction writer? I’ve been writing for a long time, but there was a time when I didn’t believe myself to be a novelist. I don’t think I got organized in terms of a career until I moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina in 2006. I had written FAKING IT from ’04-05, but wasn’t sure what to do with the manuscript once it was done, or what the process was in terms of getting it published.

When I relocated, however, Stacey Cochran (author of *Claws* and *The Colorado Sequence*) was one of the first people I met. We shared an office at NC State, got to talking about publishing, and he mentored me through the process of querying agents and getting feedback. Then, when he started hosting the panel events for the Write2Publish Meetup group, I attended every single one on publishing, getting an agent, etc., as well as self-publishing. Then I met more and more writers, and started to really get clear on my intentions as an author.

What did you do before you launched your writing career? I was teaching first-year writing (typically known as freshman composition) full time at the university level. Still do, but the course has gotten much more rigorous and academic in nature. I’d eventually like to teach part time. I love being in the classroom, though.

What are some key successful traits of authors?The authors I admire have integrity about their work. They also have quite a bit of discipline. They seem to be focused and have very clear intentions about their goals. They’re also humble about their work and their commercial successes.

When did you know you wanted to write? What made you want to be a writer?I don’t think I ever wanted to *be* a writer – I simply *was* a writer. I just knew that this was something I was good at very early on when I was a child, something that came easier to me than other things such as drawing or music. It was the one constant in my life, no matter what was going on or where I wound up. Writing has always been my friend.

Many things got in the way of making it a career earlier in life, however; namely, fears of not being able to make a living or not knowing how to get published, among other life circumstances/events. I don’t regret the path I took, however.

Going to grad school in 2000 was a major turning point. That’s when I really learned the craft of writing and learned rhetoric and composition theory. I had also fallen in love with teaching and pursued that career path. I already had the idea for FAKING IT, but had put off writing it for almost five years because I didn’t believe myself to be a fiction writer. But the desire for it to be born was just so great that I had to do it, and that’s when the floodgates broke. Ever since then, my desire to write and publish novels has been alive and intense.

What tips can you give authors for getting their work out there and getting published?First of all, maintain integrity about your work, regardless of whether you self-publish or go the traditional route. Get critical feedback. Make sure it’s well-edited. There are a lot of factors involved in getting your foot in the door, but what’s going to determine how far you get is the quality of the work.

But your work doesn’t stop after you’ve written your book. There’s more competition than ever, and even if you get a traditional publisher, you can’t just sit around and expect them to pay and promote you. You’ve got to put in the effort. That means booking appearances to do readings/signings, blog tours, using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, participating in discussion forums, etc. Attend conferences if you can afford to. Know something about the market and about the agents you’re querying. Don’t just send out a form letter—querying an agent is like writing a cover letter for a job. Each has a specific audience and purpose.

Don’t make it all about you. Attend other authors’ readings. Follow other blog tours. Or, if you have your own blog, offer to host them on their tour. So many writers are extremely generous when it comes to helping other writers. I do everything I can to be a part of this generosity. When querying an agent, it’s not about what that agent can do for you; it’s about what you can do for that agent. You want to persuade an agent that you’ll make them money, and that you’re going to help make your book a success.

Finally, be persistent, and be clear about your goals. Just because one agent or publisher says your book isn’t for them, it doesn’t mean there’s not another one. It doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience. I knew without a doubt that there was an audience for FAKING IT once I finished it, and ultimately I decided not to wait for the publisher to come to me. But I will query agents for my next novel when it’s ready.

What tips can you give authors for staying motivated since in this business rejection is the name of the game?I was lucky in that I learned a lot about rejection from growing up with three brothers in the music business. They’re mega-talented, but got a lot of rejections from record companies. And these were the days before CDs and digital media, when there weren’t any other options beside sending demos to record companies and playing at colleges and bars. Thus, I have a really good attitude about it as far as the business goes.

For one thing, I learned that rejection doesn’t automatically signify a lack of talent. I’ve gotten some terrific rejection letters from agents and even an executive editor from a major publishing company who told me that my writing was very good, but the novel wasn’t for them for one reason or another. And those reasons can be very helpful. For example, early on, one agent told me that FAKING IT was very good, but not long enough and thus she would have a hard time selling it to a publisher. As a result, I revised and nearly doubled its word count, which then resulted in a much better book content- and story-wise, let alone length-wise.

Bottom line: rejections can sting, but move on and don’t take them personally. This is a subjective field. What one person doesn’t care for, another person may love. You’ve just got to find that person. It’s a lot like dating, actually (wish I had made that connection sooner—could’ve saved me a lot of heartache…). Each rejection is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to get better at your craft.

(And by the way, my brothers went on to successful, satisfying music careers even though they never got the record deal.)

What does your typical day look like for you?Depends on what time of the year it is. When school is in session, I have my schedule of classes, office hours, grading papers, meeting with students, and then I come home and decompress from all that, usually with an hour or two of television. Teaching takes up a lot of energy, so even though I try to write or work on whatever manuscript is currently in progress, I don’t get much done. I’m a lousy multi-tasker (I blame this on being Italian). But just because I’m not physically typing doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m constantly composing mentally in the shower, the car, the grocery store, etc.

During the summer, however, I typically get into a routine of reading in the morning, writing in the afternoon, some breaks in between, then television, then writing in my journal or reading before bed. Some days the writing is happening mentally (see above).

This summer, however, has been anything but typical because I’m published for the first time. Promoting and selling a book is very time-consuming. I also have this pesky little Facebook addiction, so I spend more time there than I should. I justify this, however, because Facebook has been a huge part of my success in terms of promoting and selling FAKING IT.

I’ve not had a typical day yet since the semester ended; however, I’ve been pretty productive, for the most part. Very, very busy, but in a good way. I love it.

Describe your desk/workspace. I don’t really have one! It’s wherever I want to be, which is usually my apartment or my regular coffeeshop. I have an office on campus, but it’s windowless and I share it with five other people. Not at all conducive to writing. I need a window to stare out of when I’m writing.

I typically start the day at my dining table with my laptop, but eventually I wind up taking it to the couch, the bedroom, or the aforementioned coffeeshop. I would love to have an extra room devoted solely for writing and reading, but I haven’t sold enough books yet. Operative word being *yet*.

Tell me your three favorite books

*Straight Man* by Richard Russo
*Met Talk Pretty One Day* by David Sedaris
*A Walk in the Woods* by Bill Bryson. But I especially love this one on audio, read by Bryson himself. He’s got the best reading voice ever, especially for his own work. I also need to mention that I’m highly influenced by Nora Ephron and Aaron Sorkin as well.

What advice can you give to other writers?That I haven’t already said? READ. Read read read read read.What’s the best and worst part of being a writer?Best part: The ocean of possibilities! There are so many what-ifs waiting to be born. There’s so much inspiration and experience to draw from. That, and the language. I just love the words, the sounds and rhythm of words and sentences, the construction of them, etc. I love the act of creating.

I also love when my writing touches someone else, be it through a character or a storyline. I especially love when my writing makes people laugh.

Worst part: Writers block is no fun. And in terms of being an independent author, it’s sometimes exhausting and overwhelming to wear so many hats. I’m my own agent, editor, publisher, publicity and marketing director, graphic artist, bookseller, you name it. And, like I said earlier, I’m not a good multi-tasker, nor am I well-organized. The Italian thing again.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing and/or working?
Very ordinary things. I’m a creature of habit. For instance, I enjoy watching certain TV shows religiously, but nothing currently running (with the exception of *The Daily Show* and *The Colbert Report*). I’m only now getting into *Boston Legal*, so I’ve been renting the DVDs and watching the episodes in order – fabulous. Before that, it was *Gilmore Girls*. I’ve also watched everything Aaron Sorkin has been attached to, especially *The West Wing*. I watched *The West Wing* constantly when I wrote FAKING IT, and I learned so much about the rhythm of dialogue thanks to Aaron Sorkin.

I enjoy driving home to Long Island to be with family or southeastern Massachusetts to be with friends whenever I can (not as much as I like to). I also play the acoustic guitar (only for myself—never in front of others!), and I know this is so stereotypical of writers, but I really enjoy reading and hanging out in coffeeshops and bookstores!

And I really like to bake. My colleagues at school love when I join their committee not because of my expertise, but because I show up to meetings with an assortment of biscotti, muffins, and brownies. (Yummm!)

Well, thank you, Elisa - you've given us a lot of great advice and insight and I appreciate the time you took with my questions! I wish you the best success with FAKING IT!

Again, FAKING IT is available FAKING IT is now available at, Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, NC, and Baker Books in N. Dartmouth, MA. It is also available on Amazon Kindle for under two dollars.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Family Tree Book Review

Family Tree Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars
I first learned about this book while reading a "Reading Group Guide" and I thought to myself that this was an intriguing story: a white couple have an African American baby. The husband is a Boston blue blood (Hugh) and his wife (Dana) doesn't know anything about her father. Well, you all know that I rarely give anything below a "3" for a book rating, but this novel (if you can call it a novel) by Barbara Delinsky was not ready for prime time. In fact, my clients' manuscripts that I'm currently editing are head over heals better. Why was this book so bad? It was almost all expository dialogue, there was too much repetition (this is called chewing the food for the reader), the characters were cardboard cut-outs, the plot skirted deep-seated issues of race and family in favor of taking the easy way out: our couple get together at the end and the wife finds her father and everyone loves the baby and themselves even more with the big "discovery" at the end.

Almost everyone in my book club hated this book and one member said, "It was the Nancy Drew for moms!" Meaning that Dana hustled her newborn baby with her everywhere and was full of energy and zip. However, all of us agreed that Delinsky captured the world of the knitter very well, thus showing what it means to build emotional ties with women. Of course, knitting is a metaphor for mixed blood. Here's a ham-fisted example of Delinsky's dialogue (p. 302):

Saundra fingered the hem of the shawl. "You do a beautiful job. This is perfect wool."

"It's part alpaca, part silk." (Dana said)

"Alpaca for warmth, silk for strength and sheen -- it takes the best from both. There's something to be said about blends, you know?"

ARRGHHH -- give me a break!

Many of the book club members also wondered why Delinsky was pushing so hard to get into the book club market -- who was she really writing for? I want to believe that most readers in book clubs wouldn't like this book, but I could be wrong. It's not literary fiction and it's not a romance. In fact, if it hadn't been our book club selection for May, Family Tree would stil be on my shelf with a bookmark stuck on page 25.

If you've read this book, please share your opinion with me!

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

12 Tips for a Successful Business Expo

I’ve been to my share of job fairs, trade shows and vendor expos and figured it was time to have my own booth! Last Thursday, June 4th I represented my writing and editing business (“Write from the Inside Out”) at the Women Helping Women Business Expo held at the Wake County Shrine Club. This event was entirely volunteer-run by my women’s networking organization Coffee and Contacts and it was the largest event that Coffee and Contacts had ever organized in the two years that C&C has been in existence.

In the months leading up to the Expo I attended a few vendor fairs/business expos and asked the vendors questions about what makes a booth successful.

Here are a few tips I learned:

Stay at your booth because if you don’t you might miss a perspective customer/client. I know there’ll be times when you do have to leave, but make it as quick as possible! Or you can have a helper (see next).

Have a helper. Having someone help you carry your booth stuff (which may take you 2-3 trips from your car to your spot on the expo floor) and be there when you need to leave for a short break makes all of the different. Next time, I’ll definitely have a helper who knows about what I do and can promote me well if I’m not on hand.

Don’t dump all of your promotional items on the table, just have a few out. I bought “Write from the Inside Out” pens and letter openers from Jonas and Simone Sobral of Victory Trophies and Gifts in Wake Forest. Simone told me to have just a few of my products out so that visitors won’t “grab-bag” my stuff in quantities of 20 or more. Also, having a few things out will make the display less cluttered and more appealing.

Display your wares using different heights by using boxes (such as carry-on file boxes) that you cover with colored fabric (pick some up at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics). In order to give your display height and drama, consider taking boxes from around the house and draping them with bright fabrics. I didn’t have draped boxes this time at the Expo, but if I did, I would have displayed my laptop on top of a box. It’s also a good idea to have a tri-panel to give height and contrast to your table.

Have a fish bowl with registration slips for an “Enter to Win” contest. Everyone loves a contest and with the fish bowl you can collect names for your newsletter or upcoming workshops. I gave away consulting, but a basket of soaps, candles and/or cosmetics would have been more attractive, but that’s not my business.

Display a colorful banner. Bring your own tablecloths and drapes along with a bold banner. I used a whiteboard easel as my banner.

Run a video clip. I figured that showing folks via a video clip of what an Open Mic actually looks like would invite questions and would get people more interested in my booth. It worked! My 3:14 minute video of my last Open Mic was a winner with the song “Say” by John Mayer featured prominently in the background. However next time I’ll figure out how to loop the video so that I won’t be standing there with my mouse punching the start button every three minutes.

Bring snacks and water. Simone also told me to bring snacks and water. This is especially important for a daylong expo. Ours was only three hours, but I still glad I had enough water and a tuna fish sandwich for energy.

Bring your camera. Before the Expo I took several shots of my neighboring tables and had a few friends take some of me with my booth, so I could post them later on my blog and on Facebook.

Chocolate! What would a Women’s Expo be without chocolate! I had plenty of dark chocolate on hand as well as homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Have plenty of handouts/flyers. My most popular items on my table were my Summer Workshop flyers and my upcoming Open Mic flyers. Folks love to grab a colored flyer that has handy information.

And above all, wear comfortable shoes! Since the Expo was only three hours, I figured I could make it in my high heels. I did, since they’re quite broken in, but for a longer expo, I’d definitely wear my clunky, squared-heeled shoes or boots.

I’d also advise aspiring booth vendors to set aside enough time to prepare all of your displays and wares. I kid you not; it took me two working days and nights to pull everything together. I didn’t do anything else for two days except Expo stuff, which included printing, cutting, shopping, stenciling, gluing, and sorting. I’d also advise that you give yourself plenty of time to set everything up so you don’t feel rushed like I did.

And all of this prep work is well worth it when you have folks comment on how nice your booth looks or stop by and linger to learn more about what you do.