What to Expect When You’re Writing

The Glamorous Life of a Foodie Writer on Deadline
by Stacey Ballis

staceyballis

One of the things I get asked all the time is what my days are like as a writer. This is always a tough question to answer, since I am not one of those writers with a lot of discipline, so I don’t necessarily have a structured schedule. Most weeks I write only two or three days, and it is pretty basic, get up, eat breakfast, write till lunch, eat lunch, write a few hours after lunch, stop for the day.

Unless, of course, I’m on deadline. Because as the great Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Getting the words on the page is the last thing I want to do when I get up, but once they are there, I’m awfully pleased with myself. On deadline, the last two months before a new book is due is always a little bit panicked. Because I have naturally procrastinated writing about half of the book that is due, and so I have to spend 3-4 days a week abandoning my poor hubby to head for my family’s weekend place, to eliminate as many distractions as possible, and to give myself permission to stay up till all hours knocking it out.

Adding in being a writer of “foodie fiction” with my novels filled with descriptions of great food and recipes in the back, most of the people who don’t know me very well seem to imagine that my days are full of amazing Pinterest-worthy meals that I “throw together” like I’m a combo chef/food stylist breaking up the stretches of meaningful writing hours. And I wish that were true, since all I really want to do is to reimagine myself as a heroine in a Nancy Meyer movie. But sadly, it is not reality. So I thought I would share with you a peek behind the curtain of a foodie writer on deadline, as compared to the perception:

Here is what people imagine the days are like:

7am- Awaken rested to the sounds of chirping birds outside the window, energized and ready to tackle a hard day at the computer
7:15- 15-minute meditation and deep breathing to center and focus
7:30- Take a bath with essential oils in grapefruit and mint
8:00- Get into a set of cashmere lounging pajamas and a warm pair of slippers
8:15- Make a large pot of organic decaffeinated tea to last the morning, and create a lovely parfait of vanilla Greek yogurt, homemade granola, and fresh berries
8:30- Turn on classical music or jazz to provide soft background music, and settle into your office, which contains an antique library table used as a desk, wraparound bookshelves, and a fainting couch.
9:00- Having skimmed over the outline of what is to be written today, turn on the computer and get to work
11:00- Feeling good about progress, break for tea and homemade biscotti
11:15- Return to writing
12:30- Break for lunch: Seared Tuna Nicoise Salad made with baby greens, tomatoes, and green beans from the garden, baby new potatoes from the Farmer’s Market, and a homemade shallot Dijon vinaigrette using a technique picked up last visit to Provence. Quickly post picture of lunch to Facebook.
1:30- Skim over morning writing and pronounce it lovely, continue writing
3:30- Break for tea and a snack of homemade hummus and flax crackers with crudités
3:45- Continue writing
6:30- Break for dinner: Grilled baby lamb chops with black garlic miso butter, mint and parsley carrot couscous, steamed asparagus. Peaches with honeyed mascarpone and candied sage for dessert. Plate everything on vintage china and eat with grandmother’s wedding silver and a half carafe of perfectly chilled Cote de Provence rosé. Take pictures of everything for files.
7:30- Quickly jot down recipe notes on dinner for use in blog post tomorrow
8:00- Return to office with small glass of Madeira and settle on fainting couch to read over today’s writing and make notes on outline for tomorrow
9:30- Indulge – watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi while editing
11:00- Take hot bath with essential oils in lavender and thyme, eating a single square of artisanal 85% dark chocolate while reading MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating for the eleventh time
11:45- Put on crisp white cotton nightdress
12:00- Sleep

Actual:

recipefordisaster

6am- Awaken briefly to pee. Return to sleep. Have bizarre dreams.
9- Awaken for real. Debate going back to sleep. Lose debate due to need to take a dump.
9:10- Slip bra on underneath holey old t-shirt you have slept in, and put on leggings and a pair of ratty socks with a hole in the heel
9:15- Drink a diet ginger ale, and eat a Think Thin peanut butter chocolate bar, marveling that chocolate and peanut butter can actually taste like chalk and old socks. Attach Fitbit to bra.
9:30- Settle o nto the living room couch with laptop on the ottoman and turn on HGTV to provide background noise
9:45: Check email and Feedly blogs
10:30- Grab iPad and use up all of your available lives in Candy Crush, Diamond Dig, Pet Rescue Saga, Bubble Witch 1 & 2, and Juice Cubes
11:30- Feeling good about progress, break for tea and chocolate chip toffee cookies from the freezer that you were saving to bring to a friend next week. Vow to make fresh cookies instead. Nearly pull out a filling on frozen cookies.
11:45- Get sucked into the end of a particularly compelling Love it or List it. They love it. Despite still being one bedroom and two bathrooms short for their family of 11, and the other house being three times the size and in their beloved neighborhood for under their budget and never having had black mold in the kitchen. Wonder about the general intelligence of Canadians.
12:00- Realize it is nearly lunchtime and therefore there is no reason to begin writing quite yet
12:30- Survey lunch options. There are makings for sandwiches, quick pastas, or salads in your overstuffed fridge. Eat the tuna salad you picked up at the deli yesterday right out of the tub with a plastic fork to eliminate washing.
12:45- Eat a fistful of cornichons and three Kraft singles
12:55- Eat three more frozen cookies since you’ve been really good about your lunch being carb-free
1:15- Skim over yesterday’s writing and cringe at your use of the word ‘frankly’ no less than six times in 1500 words
1:30- iPad tells you all your lives are back
2:30- Hildy has discovered that the foundation of the house she is working on is completely unsafe and that the house could collapse into a hellmouth any second. She gets Fergus right on fixing it up to make the family safe. They are enormously pissed at her, as it is clearly her fault they bought this house with no inspection off an ad on the internet, and now they won’t be able to afford their open-concept main floor with gourmet kitchen and dining room.
2:59- They love it. Where do they find these people? I’ve met many lovely and insanely smart Canadians in my life. None of them ever seem to appear on Love it or List it.
3:00- Feeling sleepy. Maybe blood sugar is low. Look in fridge. There is fresh fruit, hummus, crudités, yogurt. Put electric kettle on for tea.
3:10- Decide against tea and use boiling water for Cup O Noodles instead
3:12- Scald the ever-loving crap out of your hand on overflowing Cup O Noodles
3:15- Burn tongue on lava-like Cup O Noodles
3:30- Still sleepy, decide on Power Nap
5:30- Awaken groggy and barely able to open eyes
5:45- Get off couch due to need to pee
6:00- Drink diet ginger ale and eat last two frozen cookies
6:15- All your lives are back
6:59- They love it. Yell at television and switch to Bravo
7:15- Almost dinnertime, better not start writing yet
7:30- Survey fridge for dinner options. There is a rotisserie chicken, pork chops, six grain salad, plus all of the options you ignored at lunchtime.
7:35- Make large bowl of popcorn for dinner. Eat three more Kraft singles while waiting for it to pop. And for protein. Source online picture of summer pasta with burrata and heirloom tomatoes for tomorrow’s blog post.
7:59- Feel awfully good about yourself since you are a much better person than any of these housewives
8:00- Switch to Law and Order marathon
8:15- Start writing
10:15- Break to pee. Eat fistful of mini gummi bears that you bought because they are a third the size of regular gummi bears and therefore impossible to resist, as is all adorable food. Plus they come in 12 flavors. Which all taste identical unless you are really paying close attention to the color before you eat them. Decide to test your palate and pick out one of every flavor and close eyes and try to identify blind.
10:30- Realize that once you have eaten the gummi bear blind you have no idea if you were right. Pick out two of every flavor so that you can start over and use process of elimination to determine if you were correct.
10:45- 10 out of 12. You are clearly a superior palate.
11:00- All your lives are back.
11:45- Go back to writing
2:50- Realize that you have actually done some good work and wonder why you waited all day to get to it.
3:00- Check FitBit, you have walked 1213 steps, all of them between couch, kitchen and bathroom.
3:15- Go to sleep and vow to do better tomorrow.
Repeat.

The opposite of glamorous, and more than a wee bit embarrassing, but I hope if nothing else it gives an honest perspective of what the days look like!

And for whatever reason, as dysfunctional as it is, it works for me. I hope you will pick up a copy of Recipe for Disaster and see if you agree!

Big love,
Stacey

Stacey Ballis is a Chicago-based novelist and blogger, whose books include Inappropriate Men, The Spinster Sisters and Out to Lunch. She is also a compulsive home projecter and passionate cook. Her latest novel, Recipe for Disaster, is out now.

staceyballis.com

Advertisements
Posted in Chicklit Authors | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Locations, locations, locations

Victoria1By Victoria Connelly

When I begin a new novel, I often start with the location. I’m very inspired by places whether it’s a beautiful Georgian manor house like Purley Hall in my Austen Addicts series or the gently rolling hills of the Cotswolds in The Secret of You. I never go anywhere without my camera and notebook as it’s always important to me to capture the detail of a place.

I’d known for a while that I was going to write about roses. I’m passionate about this beautiful flower and my poor husband has dug over forty holes in our cottage garden so that I can plant just a few of my favourite species. So, it wasn’t surprising when inspiration struck and the idea for a story about three sisters struggling to save their family’s rose business began to form.

I knew instantly where The Rose Girls would be set and where the Hamilton sisters would live. Their family home is a medieval moated manor house surrounded by a garden full of roses, set deep in the heart of Suffolk’s Stour Valley. It’s about as romantic a setting as you can get, but not all is well at Little Eleigh Manor. From the troublesome north wing full of damp and where the ceiling crashes down onto the floor in the middle of the night, to the mounting debt that’s resulted since the death of the sisters’ mother, there’s a lot to cope with.

There are plenty of romantic complications too and one of the sisters throws a volume of love poems into the moat after having her heart broken. Well, there’s got to be some benefits to living in a moated manor, hasn’t there?

The house is a place full of secrets, of fears and insecurities, but it’s also one of hopes and dreams and it’s somewhere that Celeste, Gertie and Evie learn about the healing power of family.

I moved to Suffolk three years ago and I’m totally in love with the landscape of the Stour Valley with its lush green hills, its wooded valleys full of bluebells and the beautiful river which wends its way through it all. It’s a landscape which inspired Gainsborough and Constable and it’s very English, and I do hope that I’ve done it justice in The Rose Girls.

TheRoseGirlsVictoria Connelly lives in rural Suffolk with her artist husband and family of rescued animals. Her first novel, ‘Flights of Angels’, was published in Germany and made into a film. Victoria and her husband flew out to Berlin to see it being filmed and got to be extras in it. She is the author of many bestselling titles including ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘A Summer to Remember’ and the Austen Addicts series. She is now working on a brand new series called ‘The Book Lovers’ which will launch in September 2015. Her latest release, ‘The Rose Girls’, will be available from the 1st of June 2015.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

10 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer

by Beth Thomas

BT10:       Don’t give up! It’s hard, time-intensive work, writing, and it can be lonely and frustrating and upsetting. But the rewards – the pride and the sense of achievement – are gigantic and magnificent, so stick with it!

9:         If you’re not giving up, you need time. You have to make time to do it. We all have the same amount of time, we just do different things with it. So allow time for writing. This is going to mean not doing something else, so allow for that.

8:         To be inspired, you will need to seek inspiration. It rarely simply strikes. If you want to write about interesting things, go and do interesting things! Say yes to opportunities, meet people and try things.

7          Pay attention to how people really speak. We all listen to conversations and voices all day, every so it should be easy to replicate. But it isn’t. Do people say each other’s names repeatedly when talking to each other, for example? No, they don’t. And yet that appears in novels consistently. Badly written dialogue is easy to spot – it’s generally over-dramatic and gushy. And the characters’ names tend to feature a lot!

6          Take a break! I know I said Don’t give up; but at the same time, you will need to have a break from it now and then to recharge. Let your brain lie fallow now and then – it’ll be the richer for it.

5          Make notes or recordings of ideas as they come to you. Even a simple overhead snatch of conversation could be the start of your next story!

4          Write a character profile for each one of your characters before you start, so you have a clear idea of how they will act and react. Their individual behaviour is what makes them real people to your readers.

3          You need to make sure you carry on reading, as often as possible. If you do this, you will have an innate understanding of what a professional piece of writing should ‘sound’ like.

HOL2          Don’t describe someone’s feelings in a situation – ‘She was on hold for so long she got angry.’ It’s much more sophisticated to demonstrate what that would look like instead – ‘She threw the pen across the room and banged the phone down onto the table.’

1          My number one tip for an aspiring writer is always WRITE! Writing is like everything – the more you do, the better you get. So do some every. Single. Day. Even if it’s terrible nonsense, it’s better than nothing.  And you never know what might come out of it!

Beth Thomas is the author of Carry You and His Other Life, which are both out now. She is currently working on her third book which is “a little bit supernatural, a little bit surreal, and a little bit romantic”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Interview with Cathy Bramley

Cathy1Hi Cathy! Thanks so much for agreeing to this Q&A and for being a part of this year’s International Chick Lit Month! Let’s start with a few questions about our main topic: chick lit. What does the term ‘chick lit’ mean to you?
For me, chick lit is about fun feisty females who readers can cheer for from the very first page. They will face challenges in their lives and whilst there will inevitably be a man somewhere along the line, they will find the strength from inside themselves to overcome their own problems.

How do you think about the negative connotations people often link to the term ‘chick lit’?
I don’t really worry about negativity. In fact I don’t really worry about genres either. I just try and write the most entertaining book that I can and hope it resonates with some people.

What are some of your personal favourite chick lit novels and why?
You cannot go wrong with Lucy Diamond novels. I have loved every single one. Lucy creates fantastic characters and wonderful plots. I love Me and Mr Jones, Sweet Temptations and I have just ordered A Year of Taking Chances to read next month.

What is the last chick lit novel you’ve read that you’d like to recommend to others?
I’m reading Angels by Marian Keyes at the moment. I thought I’d read all the books about the Walsh sisters but somehow this one slipped through the net. It’s about Maggie, the sensible one, who split up with her husband and ran away to LA and now she’s spending her time going to film star’s parties and leading an entirely surreal life in Hollywood. As usual with Marian Keyes novels, I’m totally hooked.

Do you have a favourite chick lit heroine?
I do! I fell in love with Izzy Randall on the very first page of Meet Me at the Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan when she was sitting with her granddad in his room at the old people’s home. I loved her heart-breaking mix of resilience and vulnerability and I have read that book several times.

Which upcoming book releases are you looking forward to? Any books you definitely plan on reading?
Coming Up Roses by Rachael Lucas, The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwood and Summer at Shell Cottage by Lucy Diamond.

As an author yourself, what message do you hope readers take from your books?
Great question! I think my message is to be brave, take the occasional risk, plan rather than dream and don’t be afraid to let love into your heart. By the way, this is also the message I hope my daughters take from me.

Do you have certain writing rituals or habits?
I’ve learned the hard way to write everything down immediately; as soon as I get a thought, or phrase or even a single word in my head I write it down. The number of really good ideas I’ve forgotten by not writing it down is huge! I like to be at my desk early and check social media before I being working. I write every day, usually from nine until two and then I will have a think about the section I plan on writing the following day. I tend to plan out my novels in a lot of detail, even down to the rough content of each chapter and this rarely changes.

What do you know now you wish you had known when you started writing?
The first critique I ever had really knocked my confidence and I thought about quitting. Now I realise that a first draft is just that and everyone, even really experienced writers, have to invest quite a bit of time in editing. It’s all part of the process and it’s what turns an OK story into something special.

What book do you wish you had written?
The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. To keep the story of Becky Bloomwood growing and developing like Sophie has in an incredible accomplishment.

What are you working on right now? Any exciting news to share with us?
At the moment I am working on a new serial, Wickham Hall which will be published in four parts from this Summer. It is about a girl called Holly Swift who gets her dream job as an events organiser at an Elizabethan stately home but she soon finds that the future of the hall is in jeopardy and sets out to do something about it. As she gets drawn into the lives of Lord and Lady Fortescue, Wickham Hall’s owners, she discovers secrets about her own family that her mother has kept hidden away for thirty years. I’ve done the first round of edits and I’m now working on the cover design with the team at Transworld. Covers are my favourite part of the process!

Cathy Bramley is the author of the best-selling romantic comedies ‘Ivy Lane’, ‘Appleby Farm’ and ‘Conditional Love’. She lives in a small Nottinghamshire village with her husband, two teenage daughters and Pearl, the Cockerpoo. The last part of her 4-part light-hearted and feel-good e-book series ‘Appleby Farm’ was released on the 7th of May.

ApplebyFarm

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s Research, Darling!

by Karen Swan

KSMy husband is quite convinced that I deliberately set my books in wide-ranging and far-flung locations, just so that I can legitimately claim to have to go there for research – an expensive way to work, he mutters. And given that my books aren’t set in grimy backwaters or grim conurbations, but rather super-glam, iconic destinations like the ski resorts of Verbier and Zermatt, the summer escapes of America’s Hamptons or Europe’s Portofino and of course, the international shopping cities of London, New York, Paris…well, we can probably agree he has a point.

But you see, I do too. Truly I do. Bear with…

Location isn’t just a backdrop to people’s lives, it informs the very tone and colour and flavour of their lifestyles – a 28-year old gallerist living in Venice is, by definition, living a completely different version of the same life of a 28-year old gallerist in SoHo. It’s an issue I explored in Christmas at Tiffanys when my heroine tested out the theory that she could change who she was by changing her address. Yes, New York has yellow cabs and London has black, yes East Hampton is a grid of pretty grey weatherboarded giant dolls houses and Rome is a warren of umber-coloured crumbling apartments and palazzos, but to understand what it actually feels like to live in any of those places, you have to look further than anything Google Images can show you. You have to go there and feel it for yourself.

When I visited Portofino for my book Christmas at Claridges, I had the locals looking at me, suspicious as hell, as I ran around photographing the rooftops and drain covers, the menus, the plants growing in the walls, the door knockers… I didn’t once step foot in Gucci or Pucci because let’s face it, once inside I could have been on Sloane Street or Madison Avenue, instead off-roading into the olive and lemon groves, finding overgrown paths to the beach and generally exploring like a child. In the Hamptons for last summer’s book The Summer Without You, I went to yoga classes in East Hampton, drove myself round to the tiny private airport and finally learnt what a flagel was. And in Zermatt in Christmas In The Snow, I skied the runs I then wrote about, peered through the windows of the curiously tiny, old, blackened grain stores and wondered why they were all perched on SATwooden stilts which were topped with giant granite discs.

So I will continue to drive my husband to despair – and penury – as I travel for my books, because location is the jam in the sandwich of character and plot. It provides a cultural framework, insinuates an inherent pace of life, and can serve as a catalyst for reinvention. After all, whenever we go somewhere new, we have the opportunity to become someone new ourselves and it’s a question I always have my characters address in every story: does she want to change? Does she dare to?

More than that – do I dare to tell my husband the next book’s set in Antibes?

Karen Swan is the author of summer reads that will leave you pining for a good, sunny holiday, whether it’s the Swiss Alps or the fabulous Hamptons. Her upcoming book, Summer at Tiffany’s is out in July.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Posted in bloggers, Chicklit Authors | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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. 

Posted in Chicklit Authors | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment