The Review Quandary

Many book bloggers have made the switch to becoming an author. Here three authors – past and present Chicklit Club team members – explain how they have dealt with writing book reviews and judging their peers after making the transition.

Shirley Benton

shirley benton

Anyone who’s written a book will not only know the precise time of dawn at any given time of year, but also about the chocolate and caffeine addictions you have to break after you finish the book, the process of weaning yourself off wondering about what such-and-such a character would do in any given situation, and the fear that the rest of the world might not like your little munchkin book as much as you do.

Anyone who’s written a book knows how all-consuming it is, and how much that book means to the writer. How easy is it then for a writer to review books, going into the review process with the weight of that knowledge?

I was a reviewer with www.chicklitclub.com before my first book, Looking for Leon, was published. After I completed the editing process and all the other components that go into the publication of a book, I noticed I was looking at every book I read in a different light. Before, I read books and I either enjoyed them or I didn’t (the “didn’t” aspect was rare).

Obviously I analysed why I felt the way I did about any given book, and the results of my analysis formed the backbone of my reviews, but after I was published I definitely evaluated books in a different way. For example, I thought a lot about the type of genre (and sometimes sub-genre) the book was in. I’d ask myself if this book was written to suit a particular publishing trend that was popular at the time of release, which would lead me to ask myself if the author REALLY wanted to write THIS book, or if they were possibly influenced by outside forces in the creation of their latest offering. Before, I would have taken the book at face value and not considered the ‘What’s hot right now?’ element. As a reviewer, I enjoyed the process more before my newfound knowledge of the industry came into play.

Then there’s the fact that as an author reviewer, books by your author friends may well end up on your ‘To be reviewed’ reading pile. This poses something of a dilemma. Do you read them yourself or pass them on to a colleague for review? Is it possible to remain detached if you really like the writer of the book? Are you already positively predisposed to the book and it will therefore receive a better review from you? You have to very consciously put aside the writer when reading a book by someone you know for the purposes of reviewing it, which again is something that can detract from the enjoyment of the book if you have to work too hard at it.

I also know now that sometimes things happen to your book that are entirely out of your control. There may be a typo on your blurb, for example, but you never got to proofread the final version of it. Reviewing post-publication, there were a lot of things that I wouldn’t point out in a review even if they’d annoyed me because I know that such issues would probably reflect badly on the author even though it was more than likely the responsibility of someone else in the process to have sorted that out. Does that make my review incomplete? Would someone read my review and wonder why I didn’t point out that Sam suddenly became Sue in the middle of the book? Would the readers of my review wonder if I’d even read the book at all?

Nowadays, when I read a review of a book that I’ve read myself and I wonder why the reviewer hasn’t pointed out things that were critical factors for me, I remind myself that we all see the world through our own prisms. As with everything else in life, we bring our own experiences to any given situation – including book reviews. All a reviewer can do is to try to be as fair as possible when reviewing, and give THEIR truly honest thoughts on the book. And from a writer’s perspective, if someone doesn’t like your munchkin, that’s okay. The next reviewer might see something completely different in it.

shirleybenton.ie

Bree Darcy

breedarcy

Reviewing books is always a minefield. For book bloggers who have gone on to publish their own novel, it is especially fraught. There can be the perception that they may be currying favours with other authors, promoting books from their own publisher, dissing the opposition and no longer sharing their honest, unbiased opinions.

Some find they can’t review books publicly anymore now they have joined “the club”. It’s not just because they are too busy writing, it’s also because they don’t feel comfortable critiquing their peers, especially if the read has not been a positive experience. Some will only share their recommendations for books they love, and never mention the ones they loathe.

As a reviewer, what do you do when you don’t like a book, especially when the writer is someone you know or an online acquaintance? The last thing you want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings or have them unfriend you on Facebook or bash your book in return. But as a reviewer, you have a duty to your blog readers to not let these sort of considerations cloud your judgment.

I’ve seen this comment many times from authors after a negative review: Why didn’t the reader consider how much time and effort have gone into writing the book? A fellow author certainly should understand the struggle and couch everything in positive terms.

Yes, yes, I agree that all authors know only too well how hard the writing gig is, and how much of an accomplishment it is to just get to publication stage. But I disagree that this means you can’t be critical about a fellow author’s work.

When someone asks me what I think about the latest blockbuster movie, I don’t consider the time the leading man spent at acting school or how many years of experience the director has, or how much effort it took for the hair and makeup and wardrobe teams to transform the cast. My response is based on the overall movie experience – how it entertained and touched me. The same thing when asked if I’d recommend that new restaurant. If the meal wasn’t enjoyable, I don’t give extra marks just because it’s bloody tough being a chef.

So it’s hard work writing a book – that’s a given. But the question is: has the author produced one that I rate highly? How has their effort played out in terms of hooking in the reader?

The most important thing about writing a book review is you can’t consider the author or her feelings. You are not sharing your opinion for their benefit and providing a personal critique service. You are letting other readers know what you thought of the book and if it is something they should pick up.

As a reviewer I never, ever go into reading a book hoping I’ll find fault with it. Trust me, it disappoints me too when I don’t enjoy your book. But when I write the review, I can’t be worried about what you’ll think. I am not part of your publishing or promotional team. I am a reviewer with a responsibility to my readers to show what I think of books – both the good and the bad. Being an author means I can empathise with you about what it feels like to receive a negative review, but it doesn’t mean I won’t write one ever again.

After publishing Don’t Mention the Rock Star, I thought, like so many before me, that I’d find it difficult to pen unfavourable reviews. In fact I’ve found the opposite.

If your book has been through your publisher’s processes, then it shouldn’t be littered with grammatical errors and continuity problems. If you pressed publish after banging out your first draft in six weeks, then there’s every chance I’ll find your book underdeveloped and lacking polish. If you’ve truly worked your butt off, then your story shouldn’t be dull, predictable and full of plot holes and stilted dialogue.

So, I am sorry to say, I’ve probably become even more critical than ever!

breedarcy.com

Chelsey Krause

chelsey krause

Okay. So, I’ll admit that I’ve written some scathing reviews in my time. Mostly on Goodreads, where I’d rant and rave about annoying heroines, giant plot holes, missing quotation marks, or recycled plots.

I admit that sometimes I was mean. I admit that sometimes I was careless. And most of all, I admit that I never thought about the author personally reading my review.

That is, until I became an author.

That is, until I started reading my own book reviews. And let me tell ya, they aren’t always nice.

Oh my God. The first scathing review I got shocked me! I couldn’t believe someone could have such an intense, angry reaction to something I wrote. And what’s worse, sometimes reviewers feel the need to review me, rather than my writing.

It’s taken some work, but I’m really trying to not take it personally. I don’t like every book I read. Why should anyone else?

I’ve heard numerous times that there’s no such thing as a bad review. That even if someone rates your book poorly, even if they write 15 pages of how angry they are at your heroine/plot device/word choice/POV, it’s still a good review because you made them FEEL something.

So did becoming an author change the way I review books?

Yes. Absolutely. While I still come across books I don’t like, I try to keep in mind that a PERSON wrote it, and that same PERSON might read my review. So, I’ve made the following agreement with myself.

When I write a book review, I will:
1) Be honest.
2) Be kind.
3) Review the story, not the author.

I don’t always like every book I read. Just because I’m an author, it doesn’t mean that I’ll be dishonest and say that I liked something when I didn’t. But I’ve come to learn that I can say, “I wasn’t a fan of this scene or this character” or whatever in a way that doesn’t demean the person behind the story. We need to keep in mind that we’re reviewing a story, not a writer.

chelseykrause.com

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Girls Who Want Boys

Lisa1By Lisa Dickenson

I want to talk to you about boys.

Or more specifically, I want to talk to you about how I don’t want to always talk to you about boys.  Have you guys heard of The Bechdel Test?  The Bechdel Test “asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man” [1].  How often do you watch a movie and all the women talk about is something to do with the men in their lives?  Quite often, actually, if you think about it, right?  And how often do you watch a movie and the men are only ever discussing women?  Often, yes, but not as often.  But when two or more women get together in real life, over coffee at the office or on the phone to friends, it’s quite literally a different story.

Because really, girls don’t talk about boys that much.  Sure, we talk a lot about our lives, which include our love lives: people we’re seeing, the horror of the grown-up decisions you’re facing with your partner, funny words for willies, etc.  But we also spend a vast amount of time talking about jobs, venting about how colleagues don’t see things our way, gossiping about our friends, making plans to reach our dream aspirations, for example where my friend Emma and I should live while we write our twentieth novels, but that’s also within commuting distance to a part-time career as Beyoncé’s backing dancers.

So a ‘women’s fiction’ novel in which all the women talk about is the men [2] in their lives seems unrealistic.  BUT, and this is the big, hairy, difficult BUT, a cardinal rule when writing a novel is that every scene, sentence and word should drive the story forward – should matter.  So if your novel is about romance, and the storyline is about falling in love, a four-page conversation about how your protagonist and her best friend feel about the Amanda Knox trial is, unfortunately, irrelevant.

Which brings me back to the Bechdel Test and how we can make sure we’re passing it, ensuring we have rounded and realistic characters, and that’s it’s important that it’s okay for chick lit characters to have more visibly going on than love hearts.  Don’t get me wrong – if the story is about love, pour it out onto the page like a big jug of melted chocolate.  Open up the emotions of your characters, let us see them raw, and falling, and embracing love and all its fabulousness.  But let them forge their own ways as well, let them have goals, let them love a bit of Netflix and a bit of politics and a bit of whatever else they want to love.  In short, let them be Real Women.

And if you’re a reader, I hope you’re in love with whatever book you’re reading just as much as the characters within it may be with each other, regardless of whether it would pass the Bechdel Test.  All I’m saying is that whether you’re reading or writing, let’s have fun and let’s keep it real, because who run the world?  Girls.

[1] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test

[2] As a side-note, I also feel strongly that ‘boy-girl’ relationships should stop being seen as ‘the norm’, and actually we should be discussing how love is represented in our romantic fiction books, and not necessarily heterosexual love alone.  Frankly, I’m well bored of inequality.  Grow some balls, world, and live in the real world.  But that’s another blog post…

Lisa Dickenson was born in the wrong body. She was definitely meant to be Beyonce. Despite this hardship, she grew up in Devon attempting to write her own, completely copyright-infringing versions of Sweet Valley High, before giving Wales a go for university, and then London a go for the celeb-spotting potential. She’s now back in Devon, living beside the seaside with her husband and forcing cream teas down the mouths of anyone who’ll visit. She is sadly still not Beyonce.

Lisa’s first novel, ‘The Twelve Dates of Christmas’, won the Novelicious Debut of the Year award. Her second novel, ‘You Had Me at Merlot’, was also an instant hit with readers who were won over by her wit, charm and naughty sense of humour. Follow her on Twitter for all her book news and Beyonce-related chatter: @LisaWritesStuff.

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Nicola May: My Books are My Babies

Nicola MayHow wonderful that International Chick Lit month is in May! Summer is on its way and loads of new chick lit releases are ready to slip on those shelves ready for holiday enjoyment.

Sitting here with a blank page I am undecided what to write. I like to be upbeat and fun, but I also want to be real. Being an author of fiction, I find writing blog posts a challenge, because they have to deal with reality. No characters to hide behind, just me, being me.

I have had the most exciting few months. After nineteen years of writing and of trying to get in the spotlight, I got myself an agent and then, to put the icing on the cake, signed a 7-book deal with Accent Press at Christmas. Lots of dancing and drinking of champagne ensued and I really feel now that my first major writing ambition has been achieved.

Don’t get me wrong, the sense of achievement I felt when I saw my first self published book, Working it Out, on the shelves of Waterstones in 2011 was immense. In fact, it made me cry, but I feel now that, at last, my books are going to reach a wider audience.

The SW19 ClubI have cried quite a lot since 2011 to be honest. I had IVF twice, I got pregnant twice. I lost my first baby at 6 weeks, then my beloved twins at 16 weeks. One of them had even danced and waved at me during the scan, but sadly it was not to be. And, sadly, it is never to be naturally, as I had to have a hysterectomy soon after.

However, rather than scream and shout ‘why me?’, I decided to put my experiences and grief to good use and The SW19 Club was born.

It was cathartic to write and I did let go a lot of my sadness. Many chapters were written with tears streaming down my face. But I persevered and I am very proud of the end product.

I am also happy to say that, despite dealing with very poignant and real issues, The SW19 Club is – in the end – a laugh-out-loud romance.

Faced with the realisation that she can never have children, Gracie Davies, thirty-eight, is initially at an all time low. Finding the subject almost taboo, she sets up a club on Wimbledon Common, where women can chat openly about the issues of fertility in a fun environment. Gracie also has a passionate fling with Ed, a sexy landscaper, a fairytale encounter with a Hollywood film star and deals with a very persistent ex.

So… now my books are my babies. They cause me frustration at times but ultimately the pleasure they give me outweighs that – without a dirty nappy in sight!

Nicola May is the author of The School Gates, Working it Out, Let Love Win, Better Together, Star Fish and Christmas Evie (published by Accent Press). The SW19 Club will be published on July 23. 

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How I Acquired the Shopping Gene

by Nic Tatano

Men can’t shop.

NTI know, major newsflash.

Hey, I’ll admit it, most of us are clueless when it comes to shopping. I know a guy whose wife was doing some interior decorating and sent him out to buy sconces. He went to the bakery and came home with a bag of scones.

It was so bad that when I was single and needed to shop I asked this many times of my married buddies: “Can I borrow your wife?” They understood, being on the same page with me, their wives eager to help knowing I might mix stripes and plaids together if left to my own devices.

Still, I never understood the appeal until my wife came home one day and handed me a very nice shirt. Since I’ve worked in TV news most of my life I really don’t need any clothes, but then she added the piece of information that intrigued me. “I got it for thirty cents.”

Wha-wha-what?

She had hit one of her favorite places, a salvage joint, a place that buys stuff from insurance companies or stores going out of business for pennies on the dollar. It always looks as though looters (politically correct term: “undocumented shoppers”) have raided the place. Nothing organized, stuff all over the floor. As for why this place was so appealing she explained it in terms simple enough for any man to understand. “It’s not just the bargain, it’s the hunt.”

Being a reporter, I had to investigate the allure of the bargain quest, so one day when I was in the neighborhood I visited the salvage shop. As soon as I opened the door the smell of smoke hit me in the face. Apparently they had a ton of smoke and water damaged clothing after a fire broke out in a department store. And then I noticed a sign on a table that caught my eye.

“Men’s suits. Two dollars.”

Seriously? This seemed so ridiculous I had to check it out. I assumed I’d find a bunch of seer sucker suits (sold at Sears, bought by a sucker) in the pile of clothing all tangled up on top of the table. Instead, it was covered with good stuff. I poked through and found a grey windowpane suit with a water damaged tag on it. My size. I pulled the thing out and looked at the label.

Halston.

You gotta be kidding me.

I took the suit to a trying room and had to hold my breath as I put the thing on, it smelled so bad. So wrinkled it looked as though I’d slept in it.

But it fit perfectly.

And then it happened. My smile went wide and my heart rate spiked. I had found an incredible bargain.

Just like that, I understood the appeal of shopping.

I bought the suit, paid a dry cleaner ten bucks to get the smoke and wrinkles out, got the slacks hemmed, and ended up with a very nice addition to my wardrobe.

So now shopping is fun. The “clearance” sign has become a magnet. Bargains are a natural high, the hunt makes me feel like a kid digging for treasure in the backyard. They are WGliterally “cheap thrills.”

Just part of my education to help me understand how women think. But now I must go, because as I write this it’s Tuesday, and that’s ten-percent-off day at the salvage shop. Hey, I’m a male romance writer and need to get inside a woman’s head. It’s research.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Nic Tatano is published by HarperImpulse, the digital imprint of HarperCollins UK. He is the author of several romantic comedies and a young adult series with sassy redheads as heroines.

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What Inspires Me?

JennyHale

By Jenny Hale

I wish I had this wonderful formula for how I create stories, but my mind doesn’t work that way. If my brain was a closet, and my ideas were the things in that closet, it would look like this: everything hanging neatly, perfectly folded items in their places, shoes lined on the bottom… Then, I’d get that one new piece, and hang it up, only to have the entire bar fall, lumping everything askew at the bottom, in a giant heap.

I might meet someone who smiles in a unique way, or a person may laugh with a little huff, and I grin every time I think of it—these are nuggets of inspiration that send my neatly organized closet of ideas into a heap. If I’ve created a character in my head, something as simple as a huff of laughter might completely change the way that character looks and feels to me.

When I need emotion, I turn to music for inspiration. Sometimes, a song will create the emotion in me that I can then feed into my character. By experiencing emotions first hand, I can then write how the body, brain, and then character react to that emotion.

I’m inspired by locations. I typically choose settings that I’ve actually visited. I feel that a certain setting draws a particular type of person to live there, and knowing the setting inside and out helps me to create believable characters. For example, someone who chooses to live in an apartment in Manhattan may be different than someone who lives in a rural town in coastal Virginia. Settings, to me, bring perspectives, and characters are born originally out of those perspectives.

I’m inspired all the time. The click of heels on pavement, the wind on my face, the glance of a stranger on the street—it all gets stored away for later.

My upcoming novel, Summer by the Sea is set along the coast of North Carolina on a strip of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, where I’ve spent many summers. I hope readers will enjoy reading about the place that inspired the story about two sisters, falling in love, and not always getting what we want but, instead, ending up with exactly what we need. It will be released Summer, 2015.

When Jenny graduated college, one of her friends said, “Look out for this one; she’s going to be an author one day.” Despite being an avid reader and a natural storyteller, it wasn’t until that very moment that the idea of writing novels occurred to her. Sometimes our friends can see the things that we can’t. While she didn’t start straight away, that comment sowed a seed and several years, two children, and hundreds of thousands of words later, she completed a novel that she felt was worthy of publication. The result was ‘Coming Home for Christmas’. She’s now releasing her fourth book, ‘Summer By the Sea’, this summer, and she’s never looked back.

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Weddings and Chick Lit

SophieHartBy Sophie Hart

Weddings are a massively popular topic in chick lit, so when my editor and I were brainstorming ideas for my next novel, the subject inevitably came up. Thus, A Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched was born, and will be published by Bookouture this summer…

To be absolutely honest, when I began writing my novel, weddings were far from my specialist subject. Obviously I’d attended the nuptials of various friends and relatives over the years, but I was never one of those women who’d had their dream day planned since they were a little girl, able to spot the difference at twenty paces between A-line and mermaid, fishtail and trumpet (they’re wedding dress styles, fyi).

And then something happened. About halfway through the writing of Hitched, my boyfriend proposed!

Overnight, my interest in weddings went from mild diversion to borderline obsession. My professional and personal worlds collided with perfect timing, and I’ve spent the last few months happily immersed in bridal magazines, Pinterest boards and online wedding forums. My TiVo was suddenly chock-full with endless episodes of Four Weddings, Don’t Tell the Bride and Say Yes to the Dress, as I found myself essentially planning four weddings – one for each of the brides-to-be in my new book and, of course, one for me!

I’ve had so much fun writing A Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched, whiling away the days in a blissful wedding bubble. I’ve spent countless hours looking at dresses, venues, colour schemes, menus and honeymoon destinations – and the best part is I can tell myself I’m working while I do it!

Naturally, I’ve been reading lots of wedding novels too. Here are a few of my favourites:

SophieKinsella1Wedding Night – Sophie Kinsella
I’m a huge Sophie Kinsella fan, and this standalone novel is just as funny and farcical as the Shopaholic series. When Lottie’s long-term boyfriend doesn’t propose, she rashly rekindles her romance with her first love, and the pair decide to get married asap. But Lottie’s sister, Fliss, is determined to stop the wedding…

MillyJohnsonWhite Wedding – Milly Johnson
Three brides meet in the White Wedding bridal shop, run by the mysterious Freya. All of the women are destined to find their happy ever after – but not necessarily in the way that you expect! A warm and funny read, full of female friendships.

PandPPride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
So this book might not be directly about weddings, but the overarching theme is that Mrs Bennett is eager to marry off her five daughters, and have them make the best (and richest) match possible. After all, ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife’!

KarenSmithWedding Games – Karen S Smith
When my novel The Naughty Girl’s Book Club was released, I ran a real-life online naughty book club, reading and discussing erotic novels. Wedding Games is properly filthy, so be warned! When Emma and Kit meet at a wedding, their day is brightened by a hot and steamy encounter – which leads to many more increasingly hot and increasingly steamy trysts.

JennyColganAmanda’s Wedding – Jenny Colgan
Jenny Colgan’s first novel, from all the way back in the year 2000, is classic chick lit! Social climber Amanda has managed to get engaged to a Scottish laird, but his brother and her old school ‘friends’ join forces to sabotage Amanda’s plans. There are twists and turns, and nostalgic “Noughties” characters, all culminating in the wedding from hell!

Sophie Hart lives in London with her boyfriend and her collection of naughty books. Her first novel, ‘The Naughty Girls Book Club’, reached number one on the Bookseller Heatseeker’s Chart, and was also published in Italy, Spain, Turkey and Germany. ‘A Girl’s Guide to the Birds and the Bees’ was published by Bookouture in 2014 and ‘A Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched’ will be released in the summer of 2015. Sophie likes to spend her time going on nice holidays, making half-hearted attempts at exercise, and lusting after Daniel Craig.

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This or That?

Celebrate The Differences
by Ellie Campbell

elliecampbell

We are two sisters (Lorraine Campbell and Pam Burks) who write together under one name, Ellie Campbell. So for the sake of our sanity – and the book in progress – we’ve got to agree on a lot of things. Who’s going to write what, which way the plot should go, whether the character we’re particularly fond of should be cut completely. Something must be working – we’ve just published our fifth novel, Million Dollar Question. But perhaps it’s the differences that add that extra spark…

What’s on your writing desk – coffee or tea?

Lorraine: Coffee. I was, am and always will be a tea drinker. Mum used to bring it to us in bed, loaded with milk and sugar. But since I moved to America I can’t start the day without a cup of coffee. I take it with me when I go to feed the horses and I have an endless pot brewing when I’m writing. Might also have something to do with the horrible weak teabags and microwaved lukewarm water that they serve up in restaurants over here – that’s enough to convert anyone.

Pam: Tea – I find it more refreshing and you don’t get that aftertaste. I take my mug into my attic office and settle down to work. I do drink coffee, but it’s more of a treat. Stopping in at Starbucks when I’m done for the day. And worst thing is I always need a biscuit with coffee, which is not good for my waistline ☺

Kindle or paperback book?

Lorraine: Kindle because I can read it in bed without my husband ordering me to switch off the light – even a book-light bothers his beauty sleep. Also it’s a great way to catch up on other authors’ works or support fellow indie authors with their free or 99 cent promotions. Although I might then order a book I’ve read in paperback if it’s a keeper. I do miss being able to flip through pages. And I’m always afraid of dropping my Kindle in the bath.

Pam: Paperbacks. I love flicking forward and back rather than doing a Kindle search. I like being able to hold them in my hand, leave them on the side of the bed to remind me. Also I like bookmarking pages, underlining great lines. I guess you can do in that in Kindle too but it’s easier with a pen and honestly, how often do you go back to reread a Kindle book, let alone check for bookmarks.

Favorite viewpoint – First Person or Third Person?

Lorraine: Third person. I love writing first person stories but as a writing duo I find third person works so much better. Three of our books have multi-character POVs and it’s easy for Pam and I to decide which ones we want to take on and get started on developing them – at least in the initial writing stages, although everything quickly gets blended as chapters go back and forth. Also first person can find me wallowing in introspection and reflection and I’m always looking to get out of the character’s head and into the action as much as possible. Third person adds that extra emotional distance and allows more objectivity.

Pam: First person. Because it’s so personal and when it’s done right, the reader really feels she gets to know the narrator in an intimate way – or better yet that she is the narrator. Besides which we had so much fun writing our madcap narrator, Cathy, the lead character in Looking For La La and To Catch A Creeper, that we are now working on a third novel featuring her attempts at sleuthing and her crazy bunch of friends.

million-dollar-question

Favorite writing time – early bird or night owl?

Lorraine: Early bird – now. I was always a night owl until I married an early bird. In my single London days I used to love to write till 1 or 2 in the morning with a glass of whisky, imagining myself some inspired artist, like Ernest Hemingway. Now I have my best energy in the morning. I pop out of bed at dawn, just as the sun comes up over nearby Haystack Mountain, knowing the horses are waiting at the gate for breakfast. At night I barely have just enough spit left to check Facebook while I’m half-watching TV.

Pam: I’m still a night owl. With all the demands on my time – job, husband, family, email, book promotions – it’s often the only chance I get to do some actual writing done. Although lately I’ve been going to bed early and waking up late, what does that call me? A night bird?

Favorite Genre – Comedy or Mystery?

Lorraine: Tough choice. I love both. However when I think of my favorite novels or movies, the ones that makes me feel good are often funny, like Bridget Jones’s Diary or anything by Sophie Kinsella. And I don’t like things too dark and scary. If I’m watching a really suspenseful film I’ll often have to leave the room or stick my sweater over my head because I can’t stand the dread and anticipation when the music turns eerie and ominous. I’ve got more squeamish over the years – I absolutely hate watching people getting bludgeoned or women getting chased.

Pam: I’ll go for mystery, comedy mystery preferred. I love novels with twists and turns and although we’re writing chicklit, some kind of mystery always seems to sneak into our books. Like Lorraine though I’m not keen on too much graphic detail. I have a vivid imagination and I don’t want to end up locking my doors and listening out for noises in the night.

What inspires you most – books or movies?

Lorraine: Books. I get totally addicted when I’ve found a good book. I can’t put it down, become totally anti-social, can’t focus on anything but finishing it. Also when I read a book I wish I’d written, it really motivates me to get to my computer and work. I enjoy movies too but half the time when I go to the cinema I’m disappointed and when I watch them at home, unless it’s truly gripping, I get distracted by checking Facebook or folding laundry and realize I’ve missed half the plot.

Pam: I’m going to go for movies especially when I’m writing a first draft. When I’m deep in writing, it’s too distracting to get caught up in someone else’s style and story. Whereas watching a good movie gets me thinking afterwards and might spark a new idea. Not that books don’t inspire me too and I devour them whenever I get the chance or in the later stages of editing.

Favorite computer – PC or Mac?

Lorraine: Mac all the way. I can’t remember ever being as excited over a PC as I was over my first Macbook. They’re so easy to use. They have all these clever little tricks (not that I know most of them). And Apple have their own cunning ways of keeping you loyal. I never did figure out how to get my iTunes music onto my Droid X so of course I have an iPhone now. And I listen to all my Audible books on it.

Pam: PC – only because I’ve never used a Mac. I find it hard enough getting round all the new programs on my PC. I’m too long in the tooth to change.

Ellie Campbell is the author name for two sisters, Lorraine Campbell and Pam Burks, who write together collaborating by phone and email from Surrey, UK and Colorado, USA. Their latest novel, Million Dollar Question, is out now.

chicklitsisters.com

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Ideas That Light That Spark

Life Is Funny! Write It Down
by Stacey Wiedower

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Stories are everywhere.

That’s an obvious statement for a writer to make, right? But before the urge to write fiction hit me, I managed to wander through most days without examining every person I met or everything I saw for a story or book idea. Now, though, it’s as if ideas are floating around in the air, just waiting for me to notice them, pluck them out of the blue clear sky and shape them into something compelling.

That moment when an idea takes hold is super exciting. I know it’s different for every writer, but for me it’s usually something small – some little kernel of something I witnessed or heard – that lights a spark that might explode instantly or might smolder for days or weeks before it grows into a flame I can’t put out. That’s when I move the idea to my official “books yet to be written” list (which is actually just in my head). I think about these ideas all the time. I also have a journal – a good, old-fashioned, spiral-bound notebook – that serves as my idea catch-all. Little snippets of a scene here, thoughts on a character there. They’re all jumbled up in this one book that’d probably be the first thing I’d grab if my house were on fire (yes, I know … there’s a cloud out there that can’t catch on fire. I use that, too).

Almost always, my ideas are driven by people. For me, the character is the story, and when I try to work from a detailed plot it’s usually derailed by unexpected decisions my characters make. People are totally, ridiculously fascinating, and one reason is because we so often say (or even believe) the opposite of what we’re thinking or feeling. It’s like constant self-preservation – or self-sabotage – and it’s just so human. It’s also what creates the miscommunication, internal conflict and humor that underlies a good story. It’s so serious that we have to laugh at it to stay sane! That’s why I write romantic comedy.

I’ve spent years telling people’s stories as a features writer for newspapers and magazines. With fiction, though, I get to make the stories up – and that’s a fascinating concept for a journalist who’s used to substantiating or attributing every single fact. It’s also where the fun lies in plucking these ideas out of the air and shaping them into something new. And a side effect of this phenomenon for me is creating stories in my head around people I meet in real life.

Like, I’ll spot someone who looks interesting in the grocery store and wonder, “What’s his story?” Then I’ll walk around tossing items in my cart and working it out in my head. “He’s the type of guy who lives _____, drives _____, probably does/doesn’t/doesn’t want to have kids, cheats/doesn’t cheat on his wife, only eats meat, doesn’t eat meat, yada, yada, yada.”

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I’m probably completely wrong, but that’s the beauty of it – it doesn’t matter. That person gave an impression, instigated an idea, and that idea was the launch pad for a story. And some of those stories stick. They’re the ones that spark a flame that lights up my mental list. Others get fleeting play in my head, then forgotten. Or lost in translation … sometimes an idea that seems amazing in the moment loses its impact on the page. And sometimes it’s the littlest things that trigger an idea – not a person or a situation, but a phrase that jumps out at me, a song. I have a few random book titles scribbled in my journal, no plotlines or characters attached, just titles.

For future use.

I often wonder, now that this writing bug has stung me, how it stings other people. If you’re a writer, did you always know you wanted to write? Is it something you decided, like, as a career choice? Did you have an idea first and chew on it for a while before you started putting words on the page? Or did you sit and stare at a screen and brainstorm ideas for the Next Great Novel? Is it people who inspire you? Situations? What-if questions?

This topic is kind of a dangerous one, right? I’ve read lots of blog posts and tweets from writers complaining about the fact that their neighbors/friends/relatives fear they might someday, somehow turn up as a character in a book. So is it true? Is anyone with the fortune or misfortune of living with or around a writer at risk of being fictionalized and put on public display? Of. Course. Not.

And yeah, maybe. Not that they’d ever know it.

The truth of the matter is, real life is strange, but fiction is stranger. And making stuff up is way more fun than telling the truth.

Stacey Wiedower is an author, freelance writer and interior designer based in Memphis, Tennessee. Her second novel, Now a Major Motion Picture, is out next month.

staceywiedower.com

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Why I Love Writing Chick Lit

Sam Tonge Carina UK author Sam Tonge explains why she loves writing chick-lit novels…

I started writing about ten years ago and whilst I found success with short stories, it took longer to get that novel deal. Then, September 2013, I finally signed with digital-first CarinaUK, Harlequin and they published my debut, Doubting Abbey. My fourth novel is called Game of Scones and is out this spring. Of course, before I signed on the dotted line, I had accrued several unpublished novels under the proverbial bed. What an exciting journey to write the first one! And what a shock it was, to receive my first rejection letter! I soon realised it would take longer to achieve my dream of becoming a published novelist, than I’d originally thought.

I think the most important step, in my journey, was finding that elusive writing “voice” that people talk about. The first book I wrote wasn’t a comedy. However slowly, during the next few years, I realised that my writing felt most natural and fluid when I added in laughs, because in real life I am quite a jokey sort of person. I had an editorial report done on one novel, and the reader felt I was “almost there” with my voice, that I just needed to let go. Eventually I understood that my writing was, indeed, at its best when I relaxed, stopped worrying about grammar, and wrote as I spoke – something which very much suits the versatile chick lit genre.

And then I read that an author should think about exactly who they are speaking to when they write, as that contributes towards voice as well. I think a lot of chick lit writers pen their stories as if they are speaking to a best friend, telling a tale over a bottle of wine – it’s casual, confessional and at times intimate…

All of this explains why I love writing chick lit. Starting a new story is like meeting a friend for coffee with a juicy bit of gossip I want to share. It’s full of laughs. At times sad, perhaps. And reflects real-life and the problems we all face whilst, hopefully tying things up on a cheerful note. My main aim is to entertain readers and make them laugh. Nothing pleases me more than a review which says I’ve made someone laugh.

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Jillianne Hamilton: Action-Comedy Meets Chick Lit

Jillianne HamiltonThe heroine of my novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, is a bad girl.

She swears. She is sarcastic. She sleeps with a guy she shouldn’t—and then kisses another. But it’s her unique career that gets her into the most trouble.

Molly Miranda is a professional thief. She makes a living by breaking into museums, galleries and the homes of the rich. She pilfers art, jewelry and historical artifacts and delivers them to paying clients via a contractor. She has to live a secretive life and that’s not always easy.

I was trying to find something to read when the idea for Molly Miranda came into my head. I wanted a funny chick lit novel with some adventure thrown in, especially if the adventure focused on a heroine that broke the law. I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to write it myself.

Molly Miranda ICLMMeg Cabot’s Heather Wells series was hugely important for me. I’ve been a fan of Cabot’s novels since I was a teenager, so when I finally read Size 12 is Not Fat a couple years ago, I knew what I wanted to write could be done successfully: action, adventure and a funny heroine can make a great book. I basically inhaled the rest of the series.

My love for funny female characters started in junior high with one very special book: Angus, Thongs & Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. I even gave Molly the middle name of ‘Georgia’ (after Georgia Nicolson, the heroine of Rennison’s books) to honor the series. It is laugh out loud funny, silly and touching.

My inspiration for Molly Miranda didn’t just come in books. Sandra Bullock’s characters in Miss Congeniality and The Heat are great examples of a career-focused woman who is a little awkward when it comes to relationships and Molly definitely has trouble there.

I’ve always loved action-comedies featuring kick-ass female leads and co-stars like Charlie’s Angels, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and the Austin Powers movies. Heck, even Shrek.

For those who didn’t see it—just admit it, you saw it—Mr. & Mrs. Smith, starring Brangelina before Brangelina was a thing, is about an assassin who marries a man to keep her secret. Little does she know, her husband is also undercover special ops. They have to work together and play to one another’s strengths to survive when their identities are revealed. I love the dynamic—working together for a common goal while the two characters have buckets of chemistry and there’s sexy, witty banter to be had.

I used a similar dynamic in Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire when Molly has to work with another thief that specializes in computer hacking on an assignment. There’s some flirtatious banter, back-stabbing and death threats and… well, I won’t spoil it for you!

But I can promise you one thing: Molly Miranda is nobody’s damsel in need of rescuing.

Jillianne Hamilton is an author and graphic designer based on Canada’s beautiful east coast. Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire recently reached #3 on Amazon’s bestseller list (Women’s Adventure Fiction) and is available on Kindle and paperback. Learn more at her website: http://jillianne-hamilton.com.

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