Friday, December 20, 2013

RIP YA Author Ned Vizzini

I haven't written for a very long time because I've been busy with my jewelry business, as well as Novel No. 2. However, I had to say something when I heard the devastating news about author Ned Vizzini's death.

A few months ago, I wrote about how much Mr. Vizzini inspired me. I never met him personally, but he was the friend of a friend and I love his work -- especially his books BE MORE CHILL and IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY. Mr. Vizzini's writing was funny but poignant, and at 32 he died way, way, too young.

I wish he knew how much his writing meant to his reader, and how much he was respected in the literary and entertainment world. My heart goes out to his family, friends and loved ones. I'll always consider him to be one of my favorite authors.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Publishing A Novel: Don't Believe Your Own Press?

Sorry for the slow blogging, but I've been putting the time into actually writing my latest novel. I received some great feedback from my cousin Rachael and have added yet another person to my editing team: my friend Brian. I'm trying to not make the same mistakes that I have with BAND GEEK and having so many people read over my work is definitely helping. I'm happy with my novel's progress and so far, everyone seems to be enjoying it.

I've gone for several weeks now without reading reviews. Yesterday, I had lunch with my cousin Tom and he told me that when it comes to his movies or TV appearances, he doesn't read any reviews at all. He just takes on roles that he likes and enjoys the work ... and doesn't care what others have to say. His argument is that if he's going to believe the good reviews then he also has to believe the bad reviews... and he doesn't want to be brought down by them. He also noted that if people like a certain thing that you do, you might end up doing it in excess to please them and then it's no longer authentic.

I can understand what he means, especially since I've gotten some very good and very bad reviews -- and I've been both elated and angered by them. They really can mess with your mind. But I still think that reviews can be valuable and it's a bit different when it comes to writing. When he's acting, he's taking on one aspect of a production that someone else wrote and directed. With my books, I'm in charge of the whole thing so I have a little more creative control -- and any praise or criticism is directed at me.

Perhaps I need to find a happy medium and only read certain types of reviews, i.e. reviews written by "professional" book critics? I don't know. I do like getting feedback and I believe that it's important for readers to share their thoughts. Then again, when do you draw the line between pleasing readers and writing for yourself -- and really, how do you cater to everyone's tastes, anyway?

For now, I'm going to continue writing and will stay away from reviews until the book is finished. Still, I hope you'll check out REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD and will at least let others know what you think.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Reviews: V Is For Virgin And Serial Hottie By Kelly Oram

I've discovered a Young Adult author whose work I enjoy very much: Kelly Oram, author of V Is For Virgin and Serial Hottie. It took me less than two days to plow through both novels because I just couldn't put them down! Her writing is easy and conversational, and reminds me a bit of Meg Cabot's -- which I mean as a compliment.

V Is For Virgin is narrated by a young woman named Valerie, a high school senior who -- gasp! -- has decided to not have sex until marriage. *SPOILERS AHEAD* After she's dumped by her boyfriend for not putting out, their confrontation in the cafeteria goes viral -- and Val takes a very strong stand by turning her decision to wait into a movement for other teens. Meantime, she captures the attention of a rock star and her movement becomes an even bigger deal than she'd anticipated.

Okay, so many parts of this story were pretty fantastic and slightly unrealistic, but who cares? This is why I read fiction and Oram made all of her book's events perfectly believable. I loved Val, who was strong, outspoken and determined to stick to her beliefs. I also liked the fact that her virginity really wasn't the main concern; the book's true theme was about choices and the idea of standing behind one's own decisions.

Though the book deals with the ideas of virginity and abstinence, it is not preachy at all. Val (and the author) never claim that being a virgin is the right choice; it's more about it being the right choice for VAL and she has a very specific and important reason for why she wants to wait.

Of course, with this being a YA novel, there is a love triangle and both guys involved are compelling. You can understand why Val would be attracted to either one. However, the relationships between her best girl friend and a couple of new girl friends are also very well drawn, so it isn't just about Val and the guys.

The one downside for me is that I wasn't crazy about Val's rock star suitor. I found him to be a bit too pushy and disrespectful of Val's personal space. He wasn't a bad guy, but he seemed to think that he could win her over by constantly getting in her face -- and I just didn't find that to be very attractive.

Almost immediately after finishing V Is For Virgin, I began Serial Hottie. In this novel, the narrator is 16-year-old tomboy, Ellie. *SPOILERS AHEAD* She's very attracted to Seth, the new boy in town who's just moved in across the street, but when a serial killer murders several girls who look like her, she suspects that her new suitor could be the culprit. *Gulp.*

And boy does she have good reasons to suspect him: Seth is skilled in karate and knife throwing, and seems to be a little too interested in the murders. He also has a bad temper and "kidnaps" Ellie to prove that he won't hurt her. Um... what?

I didn't like this book as much as Virgin, but I still enjoyed reading it. Again, Oram pulled me right into the story and I couldn't wait to find out who was the real serial killer. Ellie was a decent narrator, but was a bit violent for my taste (she breaks a guy's nose and punches a girl in the face, among other things). However, I LOVED her relationship with her "girly-girl" sister, Angela. At the start of the book, she and Ang don't seem to have much in common, but as the summer progresses, they bond and become friends. Once again, Oram invests a lot of time in crafting a female friendship, which I must appreciated.

My issue with this book is the same as the other: I was not crazy about the "hero," Seth. *MAJOR SPOILER BELOW*

Though Seth obviously wasn't the killer, he had major, major issues! He also had a violent streak and was jealous of Ellie's many friendships with boys. He also kept telling Ellie that he'd "make" her be his, which wasn't romantic; it was creepy. He did have a sweet side, but like the rock star in VIRGIN, was also very pushy and disrespectful of Ellie's personal space. I guess the author thinks that pushy guys are romantic? See, I don't. And I really never liked it when a guy would insist that I had feeling for him before I was ready to say that I did.

Even so, I was entertained by both stories and enjoyed Oram's writing. I'm going to check out her supernatural YA book Being Jamie Baker and will let you know what I think of it. As for the other two, I give Virgin 4.5 stars and Hottie 3.5. Both are quick reads that I recommend to anyone who loves YA!

Please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Publishing A Novel: Measure Of Success

There is a woman in my enameling class who is an amazing artist. I'm a decent intermediate enamelist, but she is incredible, a true artist. When I come up with a design idea, I make a rough sketch in my notebook and then get to work on my creation. However, her notebook is filled with detailed, colorful sketches of her pieces that are so beautiful, they're works of art in of themselves.

This week, we were discussing our jewelry pieces and I asked if she ever sells her stuff. "Actually, I don't," she said. "My pieces are too time-consuming to make and besides, I don't really like to part with them."

She went on to say that she sometimes makes jewelry for her friends, but other than that, she mainly keeps her work for herself.

This surprised me because she could probably get a few hundred bucks for each of her necklaces. She could even submit them to a gallery, if she so desired. If she put her name out there, she could easily become a well-known artist/jewelry designer. But she just has no desire to do this. She's happy making jewelry for herself and doesn't care if she isn't known around the world.

I'm writing about this woman because I truly admire her and wish that I could be more like her when it comes to making my own things. While I do write because I enjoy it and make jewelry because it's fun, I also want the "success" that comes with sharing my work. But what exactly is success? Does it mean that my novel is a best-seller or that I sell a certain number of jewelry pieces in a certain amount of time?

The truth is, I haven't quite figured this out yet because I always want more. I'm not raking it in when it comes to selling my work online, but my book and jewelry are selling fairly steadily. Most people seem to enjoy my work? Shouldn't I be satisfied, especially since I'm getting to do things that I like to do? I'm not always as I always hunger for something bigger, but I'm trying to take a step back. I'm trying to live more in the moment and concentrate on how much I love making jewelry or how much I like writing my latest novel. I can't worry too much about reviews or how many units are being sold because it's taking some of the joy out of my work. I wish I could be more like my classmate who wears her pieces with pride -- and doesn't give a damn what the rest of us think.

I don't know if I'll ever fully share her mindset, but I can try to find a happy medium. So I'm going to continue creating and sharing, and will appreciate any feedback that I receive. I'm just not going to let my moods be governed by other people's thoughts -- and will try to keep in mind that I'm ultimately doing these activities for my own enjoyment.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Writing A Novel: It's All In The Details

It's been about three days since I've last looked at any reviews for BAND GEEK. I'm sticking with my plan to avoid reviews until my new novel is complete ... though it isn't easy! I'm very tempted to log onto Goodreads and Amazon to see how things are going and it's taking all of my resolve to stay away from the critiques for now.

I am moving forward with my latest work. March 23 marks a year since I was laid off from Soap Opera Digest and I would love to have my draft finished by that date. Plus, I work better with deadlines, so it's forcing me to get going.

I haven't written any new chapters this week, but I've done a lot of work and editing on the first 15. Since my main male character, Griffin, is a runner and is training my narrator, Sadie, I've had to research what goes into running on a track team and running marathons. It's been interesting to learn about different training techniques, etc. Honestly, I'm no athlete so I couldn't just write what I know in this case. I did complete a 20-mile walk a few years ago, but that's not quite the same as running a marathon. I want my information to be as accurate as possible, even if the book is fiction.

There's been a little debate going on between my husband and cousin Tom regarding my book's details. Tom has warned me not to include too many details about running and marathons because he fears that it will drag down my story and make it dull. However, Jon likes the details and feels that they add to the realism of the story. His argument is that if Griffin is training Sadie to complete a marathon, she'd be interested in learning what goes into this -- and in this case, having some details of her training would make sense.

My solution is to go middle of the road. I'm including some notes about her training, but am not writing scene after scene of running stats. Most of the focus is on the characters' friendship and how her training ties into that. I hope that the parts that do center on her workouts are exciting and show how the character is gaining self esteem. I want readers to root for her and in order to do that, they have to see and understand how hard she's working.

Adding details to a story helps make it more realistic, in my opinion. In BAND GEEK, I included a lot of information on playing the flute and flute music so that readers could understand Melinda's passion. And in this book, I want them to be able to place themselves in Sadie's world.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writing A Novel: Meet My Team

When I wrote BAND GEEK, it was mainly a solo experience. I did show my husband a few of my chapters along the way, but really didn't have anyone take a look at my work until my draft was completed. I then went back and edited (and edited and edited) my story until I came up with my final creation.

This time around, I'm doing things a little differently and am having people read and comment on my work chapter by chapter. This way, I can fix problems that come up early on and improve upon the entire story structure.

I have to say, I really like this approach! It helps to get feedback and it's been interesting because everyone on my "team" has had different ideas. Ultimately, I get the final say, but I'm really listening to my friends' suggestions and am incorporating the ones that work for my story.

I'll probably ask a few other friends to read my final product, but as of now, my team members are:

My longtime friend, Scott, on whom I based the lead male character, Griffin. He's giving me very general critiques, mainly on whether the sections involving Griffin's coming out story are realistic.

My fellow writer friend, Amy. Amy and I have had some great discussions about my work and she's come up with some great ways to shape my characters. She's alo very understanding when I vent to her about bad reviews and whatnot!

My cousin Tom. He' 85 and an accomplished actor, so he reads plenty of scripts. He has a very visual sense of my story, so his suggestions have added another dimension to my book.

My cousin Rachael. I've yet to hear her thoughts on my story (don't worry, no rush!!!), but she gave me wonderful feedback on BAND GEEK and has graciously offered to edit this book, as well. I can't wait to hear what she has to say because I know that it will be very insightful.

My friend, Elaine. She's a professional editor whom I know from my magazine days. I'm turning to her to help me catch all of those typos!

My husband, Jon. YA/chick lit isn't really his thing, but he's always on hand to help me work through difficult passages. Sometimes it helps just to talk about a problem with a chapter and he often helps me see things in a new light.

So this is my writing crew. It feels good to have the support and I appreciate the fact that so many people want to help out. I definitely wouldn't have gotten this far without them.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Publishing A Novel: Avoiding Reviews

I'm about halfway done with my latest novel. I'm pretty happy with how it's turning out so far and have decided to avoiding reading reviews, both good and bad, for the time being. We'll see how well I can stick with this!

Obviously, I'm still promoting BAND GEEK, but my mind is attached to my new book. I don't want the reviews to influence my writing too much. I find that my confidence drops whenever I read a bad review of my work, while I tend to get a little cocky when I read a good one. I think that reviews are important and can be helpful, but I need to stay focused on my latest project.

I've definitely learned from reading my book's reviews, as well as from taking a look at critiques of other novels. For this second book, I plan to A) Make sure it's completely typo-free. I've hired a professional editor to do this. After I finish, I might even have her go back through BAND GEEK. B) Not use dialect. This is a small thing, but apparently some readers didn't like reading the way that I wrote out slurred drunk talk. Readers have also complained about dialect annoying them in other novels. I dunno, it doesn't bother me too much, but if I use it, I'll make sure it's easy to understand. C) Get a cover that better illustrates the genre. Though this one is also a toss-up because many have complimented the cover for BAND GEEK.

A few readers complained that my story is too cliche and predictable, and I imagine that they will with this story, too. I'm not really writing suspenseful tales, though; I'm writing realistic fiction and like to think of them as "slice of life" stories. I want them to be more about the characters and their interactions; even if you can tell early on that characters will become enemies or friends, my novels are more about all of that in between stuff. I hope that readers will come away liking and relating to my characters, even if they weren't taken on a wild, adventurous ride.

On the other hand, most of my readers have said that they really liked my characters and felt that BAND GEEK moved quickly, so I seem to be doing something right! I hope that my new novel is as easy and fun to go through. I'm working on it, anyway.

I'm not trying to write the Great American Novel. I'm just trying to create some cute, YA fiction that goes a bit deeper than the average romantic comedy. Just as there's a market for different types of movies, there's one for different type of books. My main goal is to entertain and give my readers some enjoyment, while putting out books that I loved to write. So far, I'm doing just that.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Publishing A Novel: Bad Review Recovery

It's been about a week since BAND GEEK received that not-so-great review from a reader. And you know what? It still stings.

One of my friends asked how I can be so calm about getting negative reviews. "I'd probably burst into tears anytime someone said something bad about my work," she admitted. I can stay (relatively) calm because I'm somewhat used to getting feedback on my work. When I was searching for an agent, I received plenty of rejection notices and some were pretty nasty. The first couple of times rejections came my way, I DID break down in tears but I couldn't fall apart every time I received any criticism. So I've tried to take rejections and negative reviews in stride. If I didn't, I'd be a complete basket case.

That's not to say that I'm indifferent to bad reviews. THEY SUCK! This one in particular really hurt because the reader just didn't like my story. I've had other reviewers comment on particular aspects of my novel that they disliked, but my entire book seemed to rub this person the wrong way. Truthfully, there was a moment there where I doubted myself, but I read through all of my positive reviews and was reminded of how many people liked my book. I then went and read a bunch of one-star reviews that best sellers and classic books have received. I find it hard to believe that someone could give Catcher In The Rye only one star, but there are over 300 readers on Amazon who have done just that! One even called the narrator, Holden, "whiny and creepy." Yikes! We're talking about one of the great American novels here.

Every author has to deal with bad reviews and bad press, and I'm trying to develop a thick skin. It's never pleasant when someone says that he or she just doesn't care for your work, but what ultimately matters is that you like what you've written. All I can do is my best and if I do that, then I've succeeded.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Writing A Novel: Some Great Advice!

Though I've hired a professional editor to go through the final draft of my latest novel, I'm having a few friends do reads in the meantime. With BAND GEEK, I didn't show it to friends until I'd finished my draft, but this time, I've been having people take a look as I go along. This way, I can edit it chapter by chapter and fix problems in my story as I write it.

In particular, I've received some great advice from my cousin Tom, who's an actor. At 85, he's wayyy out of my target readership, but he reads scripts for a living and knows how to create interesting characters. I wasn't sure that he'd enjoy reading about college kids, but he really got into the editing process and provided me with some very helpful feedback. His main critique was that my narrator was too whiny and my lead male character was a little too perfect.

This brought me back to my discussion with my writer friend Amy, who'd instructed me to find the conflict between characters. Her argument was that a story is more interesting when characters have to overcome an obstacle. That said, I added in some back story between the two mains, Sadie and Griffin, that adds a lot more color to their relationship. I also tried to flesh out their relationships with their friends and families so I could deepen my tale all around.

The good news is that so far, Tom really likes my story and ended up breezing through the first 10 chapters. So I at least seem to be on the right track! I'm trying to learn from the mistakes I made with BAND GEEK and am determined to make this book as tight and professional as possible. Getting such an honest assessment from a friend is a great start.

Meantime, please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, 99 cents through February!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Publishing A Novel: Hiring A Professional Editor

This morning, I got a three-star review for BAND GEEK. That isn't too bad, but the reader did have some hurtful things to say about my work. She felt that my basic story -- bad boy grows close to misfit girl -- was "stereotypical" (as Josh would say, it's not a cliche, it's a classic).

She went on to say that she didn't think that my story is memorable and that a week from now, she'd mainly remember the cover (hey, at least she liked something, right?). But what I find interesting is that this woman, who says that she wasn't moved by my work, wrote the longest review I've ever seen! Seriously, it goes on and on for about eight paragraphs and is easily 1000 words. She wrote a freakin' thesis explaining why my book is mediocre ... so obviously, it did mean something to her, right?

Anyway, I don't agree with most of her criticisms, but one thing she does nail me for is typos. I've had a few readers complain about this (though most have not), so I've decided to hire a professional editor to help me put together my next book. I'm willing to own up to my mistakes and clearly I need an extra professional eye to catch typos and help me with formatting. I really worked hard to make BAND GEEK as clean as possible and had several people read it over for me, but I obviously need more help. I'm not embarassed to admit this; writers who are published by big houses have editors go through their books, so why shouldn't I? If all goes well and she does a good job, I may hire her to fix up BAND GEEK, too. Then I can promote both books at once.

I'm still proud of BAND GEEK, especially since it's my first novel. I love my story, even if it doesn't appeal to everyone's tastes and am using this experience to make my second novel even better. I don't see mistakes as a bad thing; I'm just keeping track so I can learn from them. Meantime, I'm glad that so many people are enjoying BAND GEEK.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD. Every critique helps!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Underneath The Flesh: My life as a Morbid Obesity Sufferer and a Compulsive Overeater

We've been snowed in for the past couple of days, which has given me plenty of time to write and read some new books. I just finished reading Alexandra Gallagher-Mearns' very compelling memoir Underneath The Flesh: My life as a Morbid Obesity Sufferer and a Compulsive Overeater.

Though I usually review Young Adult and Middle Grade stories on this blog, I decided to review this particular book simply because I've written so much about plus-sized heroines. I love my fictional characters Melinda and Sadie, but the Scottish Gallagher-Mearns is a real-life inspiration, who's survived abuse and tragedy, and lost half her body weight with surgery.

I'm going to be very honest: this is not a particularly well-written book. It's coherent and easy enough to read, but her voice is very matter-of-fact and she often repeats herself. She simply lays out her story, "This happened, this happened and I felt this," but doesn't really set the scene. It reads very much like someone telling you about her life at a bar. In other words, the author gets her story across, but isn't much of a story teller; her words don't have that extra "oomph" that makes a book -- and yes, even a memoir, special.

Gallagher-Mearns also has an annoying habit of "bleeping" out the swear words, i.e. writing "a**e" instead of "arse" or "s***e" instead of "shite." I sometimes censor my swear words on this blog because I never know if a kid may stumble across it, but she had dozens of these bleeped-out words on every page. If you're going to curse, just do it! Covering half the word doesn't make you any more polite because we know what the word is.

Anyway, though I didn't think that the book was a great read, I still think that Gallagher-Mearns is an amazing woman and has quite a story to share. She and her sister lost their mother when they were very young and grew up in a home with their abusive, alcoholic father. The author had to endure this for years until she was able to get out on her own, but by then, was so beaten down (literally and figuratively) that she suffered multiple mental breaks. Meanwhile, she'd turned to food for comfort -- and had ballooned up to 28 stone (about 392 pounds).

After spending years in therapy, the author got a gastric bypass -- but this was only the beginning of her recovery. She still had to deal with her addiction to food and her issues with self-esteem, and quickly learned that being thin wouldn't solve her problems. She slowly figured out how to be an adult and how to love, and eventually created a loving family of her own.

To me, the author is a hero, not because she lost weight (some people think that getting a gastric bypass is "cheating"; I think it's up to the individual to decide what's best for herself) but because she's such a survivor. There were numerous times when she considered giving up, but she kept pushing forward and was determined to make a life for herself. She didn't let her weight prevent her from fighting and ultimately became a stronger person.

Though the book doesn't really end on a happy note, it's at least hopeful -- and I really do hope that she's doing well. Her tale inspired me and reminded me that it's never too late to improve your life.

Overall, I rate it 3 1/2 stars. It's definitely worth checking out, especially if you're going through a tough time and want some positive inspiration.

Meantime, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Young Adult Fiction: Age Appropriate?

Since I write young adult fiction, I read a lot of YA and middle grade novels. I also check out reviews from readers to see what types of things my target audience likes and dislikes. I was recently shocked when I read a review on Goodreads in which a woman complained that the MG book, Alice In Blunderland, is too mature for readers younger than 13.

Alice In Blunderland is about a 9-year-old girl and her adventures in the 4th grade. Her activities throughout the book (and there are some minor spoilers here, if you consider them such) include her getting stuck in a snow cave and playing an innocent game of Tarzan with the boy next door (Alice wants him to give her a little kiss, but is too shy to let him actually do anything). If this book were a movie, it would be rated G. Actually, it's so wholesome, it would probably be rated "W."

I thought for a while about what could possibly have put this reader on alert and it finally occured to me: the word "penis" is used a couple of times. But it's not like she and her guy friend were playing doctor or anything like that; "Penis" is mentioned in a scene where Alice's 4th grade teacher tells the class that he and his wife are expecting a baby boy -- and then shows them a scan of the Ultrasound.

Really, a 10-12-year-old shouldn't be allowed to read about or know the name of a male body part? I do think that many of the Alice books are a bit mature for tweens because there are very frank discussions of sex and sexual bodily functions, but in this instance the discussion was about a fetus! I'm sorry, but I just think that banning this book from tween readers is ridiculously alarmist.

I do think that parents should be aware of what their kids are reading and I do think that what's appropriate for a certain kid at a certain age may not be for another. Some 13-year-olds are mature enough to handle something like Twilight or The Hunger Games, but others are still reading Ramona books. Parents should be comfortable with their children's reading material and it's really up to them to decide what this is.

Still, I don't think that YA and MG authors should have to water down their stories to make them 100 percent wholesome, either. I've seen negative reviews of certain Judy Blume books, including Just As Long As We're Together, which again, is about as innocent as you can get. The reason for the negativity? Because the teens in the book talk about getting their periods and sex. These are TEENS. Of course, they're going to talk about sex. Do I think that including a lurid sex scene in a MG novel is appropriate? No way. If I had to give a movie grade to say, the GOSSIP GIRL series, I'd tell moms that it's PG-13/R, definitely intended for older teens/young adults. But I don't see the harm in a 12 or 13-year-old girl reading a story about 12/13-year-old girls who worry about the same things that she probably does -- like when she's going to get her period. For the record, I learned about periods from Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me Margaret... which I first read when I was nine. My parents didn't freak out; my mom simply used my questions about the story to give me some female information. For the record, I'd say that BAND GEEK is PG-13 because my characters say some swear words and there is a heavy makeout scene. This is why I list it as YA and not middle grade.

Like I said, I do think that there are certain discussions that are appropriate for certain ages, and I strongly encourage parents to keep track of their kids' reading/TV and movie viewing, etc. But I do think that some people are a little overly sensitive about what belongs or doesn't belong in MG/YA literature. We may want to keep our kids young -- if I had my way, my 5-year-old niece would stay little and innocent forever! -- but they're going to grow up and learn about life, no matter how much you try to prevent it. Wouldn't you prefer to have a good book prompt a talk than for them to get their information on the street?

Please read and review my YA novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Writing A Novel: The Offense Defense

As a writer of young adult fiction, I have no delusions that I'm crafting the Great American Novel. I don't think that my stories are going to change lives or history; I'm no Harriet Beecher Stowe. However, I do pride myself on telling well-written, entertaining and realistic stories -- which means that I sometimes have to cover controversial topics like bullying, homosexuality, weight and body image issues and teen sexuality.

In my latest novel, I cover religion, specifically Judaism, and the different degrees in which one can observe this particular faith. In real life, I'm more of a "cultural Jew" and am not especially observant. My narrator also has only a slight interest in her faith, but my main male character, Griffin, comes from a family that's much more strict about practicing Judaism. Throughout the book, he has to make some choices about various things in his life, including just how observant a Jew he wants to be.

To be honest, I have some fears that this topic, as well as some of the other issues in this work-in-progress novel, will offend some readers. I had a serious discussion about it with my friend/writing muse, Amy, who is a more observant Jew than I am. She calmed my nerves and assured me that many people question their ties to their religions and that this would be a realistic thing to come up for a college freshman. She also advised me, "You can't worry too much about what will offend people. Chances are that no matter what you write, SOMEONE will take offense -- but if you try to please everyone, your writing will just be bland."

She makes some good points and I've been thinking about her words. There are some books that are very offensive. If I read something that was full of hateful words and stereotypical descriptions against a particular group, for instance, I wouldn't enjoy the story. Unless something offensive were said in context. For instance, if I were reading a story about American slavery or the Holocaust, I imagine that some characters would use strong words against Blacks or Jews; but there's a big difference between an author's portrayal of a time period and an author expressing his or her views. Then again, there's the whole question of free speech, so you can see why the issue is so complicated.

As for me, I'm just trying to tell a tale in the most thoughtful way possible. I hope that readers take something positive from my book and perhaps change their views on certain ideas. If not, I hope they at least enjoy the story. Either way, I'm proud of the work that I'm doing and am glad that I live in a country where we can address topics that aren't always easy to discuss.

Meantime, please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, 99 cents through February.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book/Movie Review: Warm Bodies

This weekend, Jon and I went to see Warm Bodies, which some newspaper (I forget which) had described as being "the perfect date movie." I was curious to see how a zombie film could be romantic, but ... it really was. This "ZomRomCom," as Jon called it was sweet, funny and surprisingly moving. The theater wasn't very crowded as it was Superbowl Sunday, but the audience members who were there really got into it. We even applauded at the end and over dinner Jon admitted that it had been better than he'd expected.

After seeing the movie, I decided to read the Isaac Marion book, WARM BODIES, that it had been based on. In some ways, the movie and book were alike, but the movie went for more funny and cute moments over the darker ones. Plus, the two main characters came off a younger. Warm Bodies the movie was a teen romcom with a hint or horror, where WARM BODIES the book was more like a horror/dystopian tale with a hint of romance.

In both the book and movie, a young zombie -- simly called "R" -- serves as the narrator. As a zombie, he can't say very much, but his thoughts are active and he's actually quite introspective. He wishes that he could somehow connect with others and find a purpose to his existence.

This happens when SPOILER...... he eats the brain of a young man named Perry, who served on the living human's security force. R takes on Perry's memories and falls for Perry's girlfriend, Julie. As R and Julie's relationship develops, R gradually comes back to life.

The movie concentrated mainly on R and Julie's friendship/romance. Both actors were amazing and really made you root for them to find a way to be with each other. We got a nice glimpse of the zombie/end of the world universe, but the kids were the main focus.

In the book, R and Julie still get plenty of "screentime," for lack of a better word, but the story itself is darker and you get a much better sense of the world. And there are actually two narrators, in a way, because we hear a lot from Perry through R's thoughts. Perry was in the movie, but only in a minor role, whereas in the book, he and R have an ongoing dialogue. Through the narration(s) we see how there isn't much difference between the Dead and the living who are so distraught and beaten down that they are practically zombies themselves. It was an interesting take on life and death -- and how they're always going to be linked.

I enjoyed the movie, but I liked the book much better. This is usually the case for me because let's face it: some things that work in a book just don't translate on screen. I think that the movie did a great job of following the book's gist, and it was definitely an original premise. I'm not usually a fan of zombies; I prefer vampires. But I really felt for the zombies in this story and the tale itself has stayed in my mind. I highly recommend the movie, but if you like it, make sure that you read the book, as well.

And please read my book REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, 99 cents through February!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Writing A Novel: Happy Birthday To Me!

Stop whatever you're doing and get ready to celebrate! It's my birthday today, which means I'm now 39. It's the last year of my 30s and I officially feel old. Then again, my grandfather lived to be 98 1/2 and my grandmother was 96 when she died last year. So in my family, at least, I'm not even middle aged.

I'm all for growing old gracefully, but I do have mixed feelings about being 39. On the one hand, I'm still pretty young and have plenty to look forward to. So far, I've done most of the things that I've wanted to do: I've traveled, I married a great guy, I put out an album, I started my own business, I published a book. On paper it sounds great, but I do sometimes feel that I haven't accomplished enough. Yes, I reached all of these goals, but my jewelry isn't being sold at Tiffany's, nor is my book a best seller. I have really high expectations for myself and I haven't yet reached them. As I push toward 40, should I get more into the mindset of being satisfied with what I have -- or am I still young enough to be an idealist and to keep hoping for big dreams? I had a vision of where I'd be at 40 in terms of my achievements and I don't think I'm there yet. I know, this probably sounds like a silly problem, but there are days when I'm very down on myself because business is slow or I feel like I haven't written enough. I think that I'm my own worst critic; maybe this is what I REALLY need to work on as I finish out this age decade.

Since this is a blog about writing, I do have to say that being older does make a difference. When I started BAND GEEK, back in 2002, I was 28 and thought I knew it all. I didn't; I was still just a kid. That decade makes a difference. The best parts of that book came to me when I rewrote sections and was in my late 30s. I just knew the world better and had more insight as to how people interact. I could look back on my teens with both a teen and adult perspective, whereas when I was 28, I was still too young.

I think I have a lot more to learn and hope that my life -- writing and otherwise -- continues to get better. The 30s were much happier than my 20s, and my 20s bested my teens. Maybe the 40s will be my best decade yet!

Please give me THE BEST birthday gift you can give and read my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, just 99 cents this month!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: Reasons I Fell For The Funny Fat Friend

I've been writing a lot lately about plus-sized heroines in books, especially since my latest novel deals with a main character who's not just plus-sized, but morbidly obese. I'm writing about an extreme example, but most women are NOT a Size 2; having dealt with a lifetime of weight issues myself, I appreciate when a story features a curvy character who's portrayed as being beautiful, smart and loveable.

Author Becca Ann does a wonderful job in creating such a heroine in her YA novel REASONS I FELL FOR THE FUNNY FAT FRIEND. Hayley is described as being "not fat, not thin," but has many insecurities about her weight, thanks to her belief that she's just the "Funny Fat Friend" (or FFF). Interestingly, the story is told from the guy's POV; through a smitten Brody, we learn how terrific and gorgeous Hayley really is.

I really enjoyed getting the guy's side of the story because girls tend to be harder on themselves -- and each other -- than boys. When I was in high school, I was SKINNY, dangerously so at times, but I seriously thought that I was fat. I remember my guy friends telling me that I was too thin and was very surprised by this; but most of them agreed that they liked girls to have curves.

I was also drawn into Hayley's very toxic relationship with her mother, who has rather unrealistic expectations for her daughter. For anyone who thought the mom is critical in BAND GEEK, this one is far worse! I do wish that we'd seen more of this relationship because the mother came off as being one-dimensional and I feel as if we got only a glimpse into a serious issue. But again, this was told from Brody's POV, so he'd only have so much access to the mother and Hayley's home life.

I also would have liked to have had some more detailed scenes. We never get much information about characters' appearances or even what the town looked like. I had to fill in most of those blanks on my own. But, in a way, the limited descriptions made sense for a male narrator because most of the guys whom I know, including my husband, tend to be less visual than females. If Jon needs directions, for instance, he can just look at coordinates on a map and figure out where he's going. I, on the other hand, prefer directions like, "Turn left by the gas station and blue house." I'm not saying that ALL men think in a more linear than visual way, but a lot do so this felt realistic to me.

What I really loved, though, was the meat of the story which was Brody and Hayley's relationship. They go from being friends to more over the course of the book and Becca Ann did a geat job in showing this progression. Both mains are extrmely fun and likeable, and you can't help but root for them to get together.

Overall, I give this sweet read four stars and highly recommend!

Meantime, please read my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, now only 99 cents!

Writing A Novel: Role Call

One of the concerns that I have with my work-in-progress novel is that it has too many characters. There are the two main characters; their family members ... and then everyone they deal with at college, including Sadie's suitemates, Griffin's teammates and their various new friends/romantic interests. So a lot of people are involved in this story!

BAND GEEK had many characters, too, since it took place in a high school, but the challenge with this novel is that it takes place in two environments: college and the characters' hometown (which, by the way, is also the fictional 'burb of Sequoia, NY where BAND GEEK is set). I suppose that I could have this book set only at college and just skip over school breaks and such, but I feel like I wouldn't be giving an accurate portrayal of someone's freshman year if I did that. When you attend a school that's away from home, as I did, it can be very jarring to go back and forth from one place to the other. Part of me was always glad to return home, back to my old room, homecooked food and old friends. But as time went on and i grew used to college life, those breaks at home became more difficult to deal with. All of a sudden, I was back under my parents' roof and had to follow their rules. In college, I was 18 going on 19 and got to be independent and act like an adult, but at home, I was still treated like a teenager. Many of my high school friends had changed, as well, so our reunions were a little awkward. And it was kind of lonely being back in my parents' big house when I'd grown used to having other students all around. Overall, it was a very confusing feeling and I felt as if I were torn between these two worlds. I want to show what that's like for my characters, as well.

This is why I have so many side characters. College just wouldn't be college without the other students. When you live in a dorm, they become your family -- even if you hate them -- and you're constantly meeting new people, even in senior year. Some of my best memories are when almost everyone from our floor (at least 20 of us, anyway) would go to the dining hall en masse, push a few large tables together and enjoy a huge family-style dinner. On my 20th birthday, we took our dinner party to TGIFridays, where everyone tied balloons to my chair -- and to me. Was I best buddies with all of these people? No, of course not. But even the acquaintances had an impact on my life.

I'm trying to edit down the number of characters and only keep the ones who are important to the story. But I'd still like to give as realistic a picture of college as possible.

Please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing A Novel: College Band Memories

Before I started work at Soap Opera Digest I had dreams of becoming a music critic. I got my start writing for the Arts section of my college's newspaper.

Our paper's Editor-In-Chief had this idea that there could be no such thing as a completely positive review. His argument was that everything has flaws and that it was up to us as reporters to reveal those imperfections. He had a point, but I think he just enjoyed reading and writing negative reviews. The meaner a write-up was, the more he liked it.

In order to assure that I'd give him bad reviews, he'd have me cover uh, eccentric, events. There was the one-woman show about drowned prostitutes where the performer lifted up her skirt and shouted "Whore" at the audience. There was the art gallery exhibit where the painter specialized in creating portraits of smashed-up cars. And then there was the band, Superaction C--- Modified.

Yep, you read that correctly. That was their name, which I "bleeped" for the sake of this blog because I really don't want to say or write the whole word. They did not bleep it. In fact, they called themselves "The C---" in casual settings.

I didn't want to attend this concert alone so I brought my now sister-in-law, Debbie, with me as my plus-one. She and I are more into classical or jazz so we weren't sure what to expect from this alternative band. Still, we figured that it would be an interesting evening.

We were right. The C--- indeed gave a memorable performance, mainly because they were loud. Seriously, all these guys did was scream. I can appreciate good punk music like The Sex Pistols, but I don't think this band hit an actual note during the entire performance. They just screamed and shouted, "We're Superaction! Modified! We're Superaction! C--- Modified!" over and over again. At one point, two of the "singers" -- and I use that word reluctantly -- sang together, one in a low-pitched voice and the other in a high-pitched wail. "What on earth are they doing?" asked Debbie. "I think they're harmonizing," I told her.

By the end of the night, we'd moved to the second story of the student union so we could listen to them from a distance and not get headaches. Plus, we were laughing so hard that we were crying. No, we didn't like the music AT ALL, but we did have a good time. And though I didn't entirely agree with my editor's review policy, I did appreciate the fact that I was getting some new experiences on campus.

When I'm writing, I often borrow from my real-life experiences and create new ones for my characters. In the case of my latest book, though, I just pulled right from this memory when my main characters, Sadie and Griffin, attend a concert for a group named Superaction Dick Modified. I had a blast writing this chapter because it took me right back to that night with Debbie during our sophomore year.

I'll have to ask my SIL if she remembers seeing Superaction C--- Modified with me. If she doesn't, maybe this chapter will jog her memories of this fun time in our lives.

Please read and review my current book REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Writing A Novel: Remembering College Life And Psycho Roommates

One of the best parts about writing a novel that's set in college is that I get to recall my own college experience which began -- gulp -- 20 years ago. Overall, I had a blast at school and am still close with almost all of my college pals (one friend is now my sister-in-law!). However, my freshman year sucked. It was so terrible, in fact, that I considered transferring out of schools. I'm really glad that I stuck things out and stayed because I would've missed out on meeting some wonderful people, not to mention my husband.

My freshman roommate was not one of these people. She wasn't a bad person at all; she could actually be very sweet at times, but she was extremely immature and inconsiderate. She'd graduated from high school early so she began college at 16; though she was three months younger than I was, she was already a junior by the time I began. She didn't want to bother moving and had been in the same room for three years, so when I moved in, she viewed me as merely being a guest. In her mind, this was her room and she was going to do whatever she wanted.

In general, she was a decent, clean kid. She rarely drank, never did drugs, didn't smoke and was pretty religious, so she didn't date. I never had to worry about coming home to find a sock on my door (the universal signal to get lost because your roomie is gettin' busy). But she was loud. Extremely loud. At all hours of the night.

She had a very specific method for studying, which I guess worked for her because she had a 4.0 GPA. Basically, she'd do an all-nighter right before an exam and cram all the information into her brain at the very last minute. This was a problem for me, though, because she insisted on studying in our room with the lights and radio on. Our dorm had a very nice study basement just for this purpose, but no, she didn't like the basement; she liked her bed. So the nights that she stayed up meant I had to stay up, too.

She was annoying even when she wasn't studying. Sometimes she left the radio on all night because it helped her sleep. The good news is, she liked R.E.M. The bad news is, she especially this novelty song (I forget who sang it) called "Fuck You." When she was in the mood for that, I got to listen to a CD playing "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck over," over and over again. Sometimes she'd bring friends over at weird hours, like 3 a.m., and then be upset with me for being asleep. FYI, we lived in a suite so we were fortunate enough to have a private common area for the six of us, which she could've used. But again, this was HER room and she wanted it RIGHT THEN. Sometimes she'd just sort of huff and close the door leaving me be, but other times she'd march right in and flip on the light as if I weren't there. I wanted to kill her. My sleep was so fragmented during the first semester that I ended up getting sick. I actually had to show her a note from the school medical center saying that I needed to have a steadier sleep schedule.

Now you're probably wondering why I didn't do something about her, like go to our R.A., sit her down for a talk or even call her parents. The answer's simple: I was a big, ole wuss. I've never been very confrontational, anyway, but I was even less so at 18. I was an only child who'd never dealt with siblings or roommates (whereas my roomie had five brothers and sisters), was extremely shy and honestly, I'm not sure that I was really ready for college. It was such an overwhelming experience for me and really was a baptism by fire sort of situation. That said, I didn't know how to approach and deal with her. Since she'd lived in our dorm for three years, she knew everyone and kind of ruled the building. I feared that if I dared to tell her off, I'd be persona non grata. And so, I stayed mostly silent.

Anyway, I wanted to present a realistic view of a college freshman's life in my book and having a psycho or inconsiderate roommate is a common ordeal. Only my narrator, Sadie, deals with her roomie (who is way more psycho than mine ever was) in a much different way than I did. One of the great things about writing is that you get to "relive" certain life experiences and give them a different outcome. I certainly wish I'd been more like Sadie because I could've had a better freshman year.

When I think about college, I rarely think about my first year or even my classes. I mainly remember the good times I had, the nights that friends and I stayed up talking over pizza, the parties, the lifelong relationships that I forged. It's these things that shaped me as a person and I'm trying to show this in my book, as well.

I may be 39 in a few days, but writing my latest novel makes me feel as if I'm taking a trip back in time -- and is keeping me young at heart.

Please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Writing A Novel: "Innocent" Characters

One of the most surprising and frequent praises I've seen of BAND GEEK is that it's "wholesome" and "not too racy." I certainly don't mind the praise and am glad that parents feel comfortable letting their kids read my work. Truthfully, though, I had fears that my novel would be written off by the YA audience -- no pun intended -- for being too mature in certain parts.

For one thing, my characters talk like teens. And by that, I mean they swear. Josh, in particular, has a bit of a potty mouth and often uses the F-word. He even uses it to address his school's principal at one point. Meanwhile, Melinda curses at her mom during a major argument. Mind you, I don't have them cursing all that much; I felt that if every other word was a swear word, my dialogue would get pretty boring. Still, I didn't want to whitewash my kids' speech. Having them say, "Oh, golly gee, what the heck?" in 2012 just didn't feel realistic in my opinion.

On that note, there is also a big scene that features underage drinking. I don't paint it in a great light, but I don't condemn it, either. Let's just say that some characters handle their liquor better than others. In real life, I'm not a big drinker myself and wouldn't encourage my friends' teenagers to do it. But teens do drink and I wasn't going to pretend that they don't.

As for those other things that teens do, there are no actual sex scenes in BAND GEEK, but there's plenty of talk about it, some graphic makeout scenes and some very naughy band locker room behavior. My characters also say some pretty bawdy things, especially Mel's friend Lana. There is also bullying (both in person and cyber) and some minor violent acts beween students. I mean, my title is REVENGE of a band geek gone bad...

I guess my book is being called "wholesome" because compared to a lot of other YA stories out there, like the GOSSIP GIRL series or the BRENNA BLIXEN trilogy, it is pretty tame. But compared to some of the books that I grew up with, I think it's kind of edgy. Besides, I'm always surprised to see which books get knocked for having "inappropriate" content; the ALICE books, for instance, are often maligned because Alice and her friends have very frank discussions about sex. Yet Alice herself rarely cusses or does anything that out of line. Judy Blume's JUST AS LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER also has some reviews with complaints about its "racy" content, which I find ridiculous. I LOVE that book, but the 13-year-old girls in that story from 1987 are BABIES compared to today's 13-year-old's who have exposure to so many more things.

I think what perhaps people are reacting to in my story is that there are consequences for the bad behavior and that ultimately, BAND GEEK is a tale of redemption. I don't know if I'd call my work wholesome, but I do think that there are some lessons to be learned from it.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing A Novel: When Characters Come To Life

When outlining a story, I put a lot of thought into my main characters so that I can make them seem as realistic as possible. However, sometimes a secondary character will surprise by taking on a life of its own.

In BAND GEEK, this happened with the characters Ken and Lenny. Ken was originally meant to just be mentioned in passing and did something very bad to Lana, but ended up becoming a pivotal part of the story. He also turned out to be very likeable as time went on. Lenny was written as a comedic character, but he ended up having a lot of heart ... and he has one serious scene, which gives him a bit more depth.

In my latest novel, I'm really starting to like the character Rachael, who's one of Griffin's sisters. He has three younger sisters -- Rachael, Deborah and Judith, named for my cousin and two sisters-in-law, respectively -- and I originally intended for them to have very small roles in the book. As I wrote for Rachael, though, she developed more and more of a personality -- as is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

What I like about her is that she's strong, outspoken and opinionated, even though she's only 14. She's not the oldest sibling in her family, but she is the oldest girl and is extremely protective of her loved ones. She's a bit of an idealistic and will stand up for what she believes in.

Though I'm an only child, I have plenty of friends with siblings and in most cases, the oldest girl has a certain role in the family. The sister of my childhood friend, Lani, is seven years older than her and seemed like an adult to me when we were growing up. Now that I'm 38, a seven-year difference isn't that big of a deal, but at 15, she'd babysit for us and was so maternal. She was almost like a second mother to Lani and readily accepted the responsibility of looking out for her little sister.

One of my other friends has three sisters and though she's technically not the oldest in terms of age, she's the "oldest" in regards to attiude. My friend is the one who helps organize family dealings, handles family crises and has the shoulders that everyone cries on. Again, she's very maternal and take-charge, and is deeply protective of her siblings.

I guess I was thinking of these women as I wrote Rachael since she has some of their traits. I know that it may seem strange to say that a character "takes on a life" of her own; after all, she's my creation. But even your own writing can surprise you and go in a different direction than what you'd planned. Most writers have experienced this at some point and if you spend a lot of time writing, you probably will, as well.

I'm really pleased with how my recent chapter turned out because it covers a significant event in my novel. I just hope that I can find more motivation in the coming days so that I can continue!

Please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Publishing A Novel: Cover Model?

It's been a little over three months since BAND GEEK came out on Amazon and I'm thinking of doing something very drastic: I'm debating whether I should change my book's cover.

I'm very, very torn about this because I spent a lot of money to have my cover professionally designed. Moreover, I absolutely LOVE the cover. The designer, Damonza, did an amazing job and came up with something that's fun, mysterious, cool and interesting. It's received many compliments from readers and is definitely different than many of the young adult book covers that are out there:

The problem is, I don't think that this cover is attracting the audience I really want to get: teen/20-something girls.

While browsing online and on Kindle, I realized that most of the best-selling YA books have something important in common: they have people on the cover. There will either be a close-up of a girl, a shot of a cute guy or a shot of a couple. I doubt that this is what makes these books best sellers; a great story and writing is, of course, necessary, but I do think that the packaging helps. For instance, a really cute book that I recently read is Lacey Weatherford's Crush. As you can see, there is a smokin' hot guy on that cover; he really does get your attention! And based on many reviewers' comments, this is what made them purchase the book. Don't get me wrong; it's a great story and many readers agree with me, but many also admit that it was the cute guy who drew them in. Weatherford must be aware of this, too, because her soon-to-be-released sequel, Smitten, has yet another close-up of the same hottie.

I shouldn't be too surprised by this because now that I think about it, most of the teen books that I've read do have people on the cover. Judy Blume always had a pensive or happy girl (or boy in some cases) on the front of her books. The Sweet Valley High series featured shots of the twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, or their friends. The Alice series always has Alice the character front and center. Even the Harry Potter books have kids on the covers. In fact, the only seriously popular YA books that I can think of off the top of my head that DON'T have cover people are The Hunger Games and Twilight. But they cross over into other genres. BAND GEEK falls right into the contemporary fiction/romance slot where cover people dominate.

People seem to be enjoying BAND GEEK; it's getting great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and most of the bloggers who reviewed it during my last book tour gave it positive write-ups. Right now, it's at 4.5 stars on Amazon and 4.09 stars on Goodreads, for which I'm very proud. But despite the good press, it's not selling as well as I'd like and I suspect that I chose the wrong type of cover for my coveted audience.

As of now, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. If I switch up my cover, I'll have to once again plunk down a hefty chunk of change and I can't guarantee that a new cover will indeed boost sales. On the other hand, if a change DOES work, it could be worth it. I don't know. But I do know that with my next book, there will definitely be a face on the front.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A AND GEEK GONE BAD.

Writing A Novel: Deciding Your Novel's Theme

Yesterday I wrote about my friend Amy's advice: that a writer needs to find the conflict in a story. Another thing we discussed during our time together was our novel's themes.

In BAND GEEK, the main theme was revenge: what can drive a person to want to seek vengeance, just how far will a person go, do the ends justify the means? Most of my characters were seeking revenge on some level so that theme repeated throughout my story.

But there were other themes present, as well. One was redemption. Josh starts out as a typical "bad boy" but realizes that he has to eventually grow up. Melinda learns some lessons, too, when it comes to taking on the role of "bad girl." Lana's ex-boyfriend, Ken, betrays her in a major way, but becomes more likeable as the book goes on. Melinda's parents have issues, but they, too, attempt to redeem themselves when it comes to dealing with their daughter. Even the novel's villains, Kathy and Mr. Francis, show different sides of themselves over time.

When it comes to my latest novel, I'd say that the main theme is identity. Griffin has only recently begun telling people that he's gay and has to figure out what this means for him: where does he fit in with his friends? In the dating world? At school? On his sports team? With his family? With his religion? He has a lot of decisions to make, all which center on him deciding who he is. The same goes for Sadie, who for years, has merely identified herself as "The Fat Girl." She's let her weight imprison her, physically and mentally; once she begins to come out of her shell, she realizes that she's been trapped in this version of herself for so long, she has no idea who she is. So both characters have to go through a lot of self-exploration and maturing. This is why I set the story to take place during their freshman year of college. It's a time when most new college students go through many changes and explore their identities; they're living away from home for the first time and are exposed to different types of people and experiences. That theme of identity is there on a micro and macro level.

Of course, as I continue with my story and flesh it out, more themes will come up. I want my book to be as detailed and complex as possible and am still in the process of putting it together. Having an overriding theme, though, at least gives my tale a direction. I plan to use this "map" as I forge on ahead in my writing.

Please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Writing A Novel: Finding The Conflict

One of the great things about having writer friends is that they'll help you view your own work in another way. Take my good friend, Amy. She's a really talented middle grade novelist and always have something constructive to tell me about my books.

We met earlier this week and shared some issues and concerns that we're having with our latest works in progress. One of her characters plays flute so she had a lot of music questions for me. I then read aloud the beginning of my most recent chapter.

"That sounds like a lot of information, a lot of exposition," she noted as soon as I'd finished reading. "I think that it would work better if you wove that information into a conversation between the main character and her mom."

At the time I wasn't so sure that I agreed, but decided to try it. And you know what? She was absolutely right! The section flows a lot better, plus I added in a really nice scene that highlights the close relationship between Sadie and her mother. In this case, Amy was right on the money.

Amy also had some general advice for me that's really made me think. She explained that whenever she comes up with a plot or situation, she tries to deepen the conflict; she doesn't want an easy answer. In other words, she doesn't want stuff to happen without examining how each character is affected; she really gets into the personal aspects of each situation and keeps from making things plot-driven.

I think that I do this in my writing, as well, but I liked the way that she put it. I also liked that she asked me all of these nitty-gritty questions about my characters, such as why I decided to call the male lead "Griffin" -- and I was able to answer everything! We're similar in that we put a lot of thought into our characters and their backstory and motivation. That's probably why she and I have been such close friends for so many years; because we think alike.

It's one thing to get an opinion from a friend, but I so appreciate having someone who can dissect my writing and force me to examine the details. I'm looking forward to our next brainstorming session!

Meantime, please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Love At First Sight? Bah, Humbug!

True confession: I'm not a big believer in love at first sight. I enjoy stories about love and romance, and especially like a good RomCom ... but I'm just not into "epic loves" that take place over the course of one meeting. West Side Story is one of my favorite musicals because I love the songs and dancing, but Tony and Maria kind of bore me. Titanic was a great movie and beautiful to look at, but Jack and Rose barely knew each other. Call me a cynic. But I'm more into a When Harry Meets Sally-type love -- one that changes and matures, and endures over time.

I was thinking about this today because I saw the movie version of Les Miserables with some friends. I thought that it was a wonderful film: it was beautifully shot, the acting and singing were fantastic and the I adore the music. But I just couldn't get into Cosette and Marius' "great" romance. I mean, they briefly saw each other across a crowd and then had ONE little conversation before declaring the other the love of his/her life. Huh? I just don't understand it.

I guess I feel this way in my real life, too. I believe in lust at first sight -- I certainly think that you can be attracted to someone whom you've first met -- but wanting to see someone again is very different from wanting to die for that person. I first saw my husband in a photo that my now sister-in-law had with her in college. I thought that Jon was cute and asked if I could meet him, but I wasn't ready to race across continents to find him. He and I were then friends for several years before we decided to date. Come to think of it, I've always been friends first with a guy before dating him. So I'm consistent.

I know that some people really do fall in love at first sight and I say, good for them! If your love is true and it works out, that's rare and wonderful. Enjoy it. But for the sake of entertainment, I prefer TV, movie and book couples who take their time. For me, the romance is in the build up of the relationship. I love when a couple whom I'm rooting for finally goes on a date and then finally kisses and then finally sys the L word. Where is there to go storywise if the couple is instantly bound together for life? I want to savor those milestones and feel that when a fictional couple hooks up too quickly, it's robbing me of one of my favorite parts of a storyline. Granted, it can be difficult to take the time with a couple in a 90-minute movie, but you can still move things along a little bit more slowly.

When writing my own novels, I try to take my time in building up my characters' friendships/romances. In BAND GEEK, most of the story centers around Melinda and Josh's friendship; it takes them a very long time to reach the next stage. But readers are treated to all sorts of fun situations between them and I hope that they're cheering by the time my characters move to the next level. My work in progress follows the platonic relationship between a straight girl and gay guy, but it's still a love story of sorts ... and I'm still taking my time with them. They don't become close friends right away. While they do share a connection, their closeness comes later on.

Of course, for me the most romantic couples are those who've beaten great odds and have stayed together for years and years. Love at first sight may seem like a romantic ideal, but those couples will have a long road ahead of them -- and that's when things get interesting.

Please read and review my young adult romance REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Writing A Novel: More Excerpts From My New Manuscript

This is my 100th blog post at Naomi Rabinowitz Author! In honor of this milestone, I present to you two more excerpts from my latest manuscript. It's still a work in progress, but I'm pleased with how it's turning out.

In this first excerpt, the narrator, Sadie, is describing her rather colorful suitemates in her college dorm:

I lived in a dorm community called The Montgomery Cluster, which is made up of five three-story brick buildings: McGovern, Hastings, Dorchester, Adams and Montclair. McGovern is particularly popular with upper classmen because the dorms have suites. While most of the campus dorms consist of long hallways that have rooms on either side and one communal bathroom, McGovern's suites each have a small common area, a bathroom and three double rooms. The six suitemates share the kitchen and shower, and it's practically like living in an apartment.

If you and your suitemates are close, this is a great arrangement. You get a lot of privacy and have the chance to hang out in the common area as if you were a family. But if you don't like your suitemates, the set-up sucks because you're always in close quarters. In my case, I had to deal with the second scenario as most of my suitemates were well... eccentric.

Danica and Lori lived in the A room. At first, Danica seemed as if she were sweet; she always smiled and has big, brown eyes that twinkle with mischief. But the reason why she looks like this is because she was always laughing. Like a hyenna. I'm not exaggerating when I say that she cackled at everything. If you told her that you had a ton of homework, she'd crack up, her loud giggles echoing off the walls. Invite her to go to dinner and she'd let out a chuckle. Ask her if she can please keep quiet because it's 1 a.m. and you'd like to get some sleep and she'd launch into a full-out fit. I don't know what the deal is, but she laughed and laughed and laughed. I figured that she was permanently stoned, but her constant braying bored through my brain like an earwig on acid.

Lori looked like your typical beauty queen with big, brown curls and deep blue eyes. I think that she and Danica shared a stash, though, because while Danica was always laughing, Lori was constantly staring into space. Ask her if you can change the TV channel and she'd reply, "Whaaaa...?" Tell her that her phone is ringing and she'd say, "Huhhhhhh.....?" She was also a collector of clowns. Yes, clowns. One or two clown dolls wouldn't be a big deal since we all decorated our rooms with silly knickknacks. But she had about 50 clown puppets, clown figurines and a series of circus postcards. No one ever said anything to her about her, uh, colorful collection, but I can only imagine how much it messed with Danica's mind when she was under the influence. Maybe this is why she laughed so damn much, because she thought that she was at the Big Top watching a show.

Inez and Jill lived in the B room. Inez was a junior and was actually normal. She chose to live in a freshman suite because she was gearing up to become a residential advisor and thought that she could help out the rest of us. Unfortunately, she was hardly ever around. She knew pretty much everyone in the building and belonged to about a zillion clubs, so we only saw each other in passing. When she was home, she was like an oasis of calm among the rest of us.

Jill, on the other hand, liked to sleep all day. I don't know when she went to classes because she was always in bed. Surprisingly, she often had guys in said bed, though I'm not sure when she met them since she never left her room, at least during daylight hours. At night she came alive ... and paced our suite, back and forth, back and forth, for hours. I suppose that she was just a night owl or suffered from insomnia; then again, she might've been a vampire.

And then here, Sadie describes her eating binge:

Later I hid out in the back of the dorm's all-night cafe, a plate of cheese fries sitting in front of me and a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey faithfully cradled in my hand like a delicate vase. I sat facing the wall so that no one else could look at me or scrutinize what I was eating. Once I was sure that I was as alone as possible, I quickly scooped up spoonful after spoonful of the sweet, creamy treat, sighing as the ice cream melted on my tongue and numbed my throat. When I tired of the sugar, I grabbed a fry, letting the saltiness of the cheese warm my stomach. The more I ate, the more my brain shut down and I was able to forget about Veronica and her bloody artwork, or the fact that I hadn't connected with any of my other suitemates. For a few blissful moments, I could shut away my loneliness and concentrate on nothing but the ice cream's taste and texture. I slowly closed my eyes and licked my spoon, relishing the way the nuts crunched against my teeth and calmed my nerves. My suitemates were banished to the back of my mind.

For the past few days, most of my work has involved going through the first few chapters and rewriting certain parts. I keep meaning to move on to the next chapter and write that, but I'm not yet satisfied with my book's beginning. I'm getting there, though. I feel as if my characters are beginning to come alive and that their backstories are interesting. Once I have an appropriate build-up, I'll feel a lot more secure about getting to the next section. So I haven't progressed with my writing in a linear sense, but I've definitely improved upon my original draft.

I can't believe that I've already written 100 entries in this blog! A lot has happened in the past three months, most of it good. Hopefully by my 200th entry, I'll have much more of this manuscript completed.

Meantime, please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Last Day Of My Blog Tour!

It's the final day of my blog tour and it's ending with a nice review of BAND GEEK up at Sweet Southern Home. Thank you, Carrie, for hosting me! Readers, be sure to comment on her post so you can have a chance to win a prize of a CD and earrings!

To be honest, this all-review book tour has had mixed results for me. On the one hand, it's been GREAT because BAND GEEK has gotten so many wonderful reviews and I've enjoyed getting that feedback. I now have more reviews up on Amazon and Goodreads, which will only help me in the longrun, and the positive comments have bolstered my confidence in my writing. I truly, truly appreciate these bloggers for taking the time to read and then write about my book (some even posted reviews on multiple sites for me). Indie authors need all the help they can get when it comes to marketing and I think it's great that these bloggers are doing so much to help writers. At the end of this post I'll again link to all of the sites that hosted me; I encourage all of my readers to check out these blogs because they're written by some very thoughtful and intelligent people. A BIG THANKS once again to Goddess Fish and everyone involved!!!

Unfortunately, sales of my book are still slow. I've blogged about it, posted links on Twitter and Facebook, and have even included links on sites like Stumbleupon. And yet it's been kind of dead this month and I'm not sure why. I'm wondering if perhaps I needed to offer a different kind of prize in my blog tour, maybe something other than a CD and earrings? I thought that my gift is cool -- something handmade and different, but I see that a lot of other authors on blog tours are offering things like Amazon gift cards. Perhaps the next time I should follow the pack a bit more and do something that will encourage more people to check in and comment on the blog posts -- even if I am using some bribery, LOL. Oh well, live and learn, I guess. What do you guys think? What sort of author "prize" makes you want to participate in a tour?

The good news is that these bloggers' reviews will be up on their sites and Amazon for the longhaul so this can only help my book. It's helping me as a writer, too, because I've gotten many different perspectives on BAND GEEK. It sort of felt as if we were part of a round-table discussion! So while an all-review blog tour may not guarantee sales for an author, it certainly offers many other positives.

Once again, here's a list of the blogs who participated in my tour:

YA Book Addict

Unabridged Andra

Andi's Young Adult Books

My Neurotic Book Affair

Buried In Books

Musings From An Addicted Reader

Sweet Southern Home

Long And Short Reviews

Rogue's Angels

The Life (and lies) Of An Inanimate Flying Object

Paranormal Book Club

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, 4.6 stars on Amazon!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Literary Lessons I've Learned From The Kardashians

I'm not a huge fan of reality TV, but I have a shameful secret to share: I really do keep up with the Kardashians. It's a guilty pleasure and yes, I watch all of the spinoffs and specials, too. Their shows are like trainwrecks and I just can't turn away.

I think that there are some good reasons, though, WHY the Kardashians have stayed in the limelight (beyond being famewhores, I mean) and have such a following. Since I've been sucked into their orbit and obviously don't have the best taste, I figured that I may as well study them like a sociologist would and determine just what makes them watchable. I've even found some ways to relate this to my writing! (Okay, it's a sttreeeetttch, but work with me here. I really do have some points).

1. The Kardashians are an ensemble TV show. One reason why viewers keep tuning in is simply because there are so many of them! It's difficult to escape the K-clan because everywhere you look, there's Kim or Khloe or Kris, or... you get the picture. Moreover, more people means more storylines. For me, many "reality shows" about families or couples get boring pretty quickly because those two or three people can only generate so many plot points. But the Kardashians can mix things up. Some episodes center around Kim, sometimes poor Rob gets to be the center of attention... and, of course, you get everyone else's reactions to the drama. LITERARY LESSON: Make ALL of your characters engaging and well-rounded, even the side players. Our real lives are filled with plenty of people who shape us. Make every character have as much depth as possible.

2. The relationships between the Ks are organic. Yes, I know that the show is 99 percent scripted, but the "characters" really are family members. They all share a history so when Kim and Khloe scream at each other, or at their mom, there's a story behind it. They're not just a bunch of randoms thrown together for the sake of a reality show. The fact that they really are family adds some weight to the storylines, scripted or not. LITERARY LESSON: Don't just throw characters together for the sake of doing so. SHOW -- don't tell -- how your characters know each other, or are getting to know each other. That backstory is important.

3. The Kardashians have all different types of "characters" in the family and appeal to many age groups. There's Kris, the famewhore mom, who tends to be painted as the villain; Kim, the "glamorous" one; Rob, the "slacker"; Khloe, the "truth teller." Each family member has a certain persona and the show features parents, grandparents and kids. If you don't like one person, you can relate to and root for another. LITERARY LESSON: Have some variety in your characters. Don't make everyone unlikeable or too nice, etc. Have some villains, some heroes ... mix things up.

4. There's some humor in the program. Kourtney's babydaddy, Scott, used to be more of a bad guy, but in recent shows, he gets the funny storylines. Scott obviously gets how scripted this show is and fully understands his role -- and he just goes for it when it comes to his stories, even if he has to do silly things like pretend to be an English Lord or go gaga over a walking stick. He adds some comedy to the show and breaks things up. LITERARY LESSON: Don't make your story 100 percent serious or funny. Even in drama, there are some funny moments, and vice versa. Make your story well-rounded in that regard.

5. Everyone is at least somewhat relatable. In real life, I probably wouldn't be friends with any of these people. They're fame hungry, shallow, super materialistic and a little too caught up in that Hollywood lifestyle. But -- and this is a big but, like Kim's -- no one really seems to be particularly evil to me. Some other reality show folks come off as being absolutely violent, racist, homophobic and horrible, but the Ks are at most, kind of dim. I often wonder WHY they're famous and WHY I watch them, but I don't actively hate anyone. They don't make me want to smash in my TV screen. LITERARY LESSON (and yes, this is really pushing for a connection): Give all of your characters, even the villains, some redeeming qualities. Most people are good and bad; show both sides in your writing.

6. The Kardashians go big! Yes, Kim and Kris h's wedding was a sham, but boy, what a sham wedding it was! The Ks know how to put on a show. Many episodes will follow them as they do mundane things like go to a photoshoot, but then they'll have some "event" like a sister's wedding or a baby's birth, or a family vacation. LITERARY LESSONS: Have a few memorable moments in your story -- and make sure that you build up to those moments so that the payoff is worth it.

7. Though Keeping Up With The Kardashians is mainly scripted, there are some very real moments caught on screen -- and it's hard not to get caught up in them. Since 100 percent of their life is recorded, there is bound to be SOME reality in the program and you get that with scenes like Mason and Penelope's births, or Rob's breakdown at the therapist's office. Plus, we've gotten to see the family expand in almost real-time and have witnessed the girls, Kylie and Kendall, grow up. Some things can't be faked and I like the show best when we get these small glimpses of reality. LITERARY LESSON: Even if you're writing a work of fiction, inject some reality into your story. You may write about aliens or vampires, but at least try to make your characters' feelings and reactions feel real. This will draw in readers when they can understand and relate to what your characters are going through.

So there you have it! This is my way of justifying my interest in the Kardashians. And yes, I will be tuning in to Kim & Kourtney on Sunday, ready and waiting!

If I haven't scared you off with this post, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

More Reviews Of BAND GEEK -- And A Defense Of A Character

Got two more great reviews of BAND GEEK from bloggers! You can read YA Book Addict's take and the one written by Unabridged Audra. Thanks again, ladies, for your support -- it's much appreciated. And readers, again, make sure you check out their posts and comment on them so that you can have a chance to win my special giveaway package.

It really means a lot to me to know that so many people are enjoying my writing and characters. I try to have faith in myself as a writer and to not put too much stock in reviews because I don't want the negative ones to bring me down, and I don't want to get too caught up in "believing my own press." But let's face it, I think I can speak for most authors when I say that we definitely care what others think, good or bad. Getting a really positive review makes my day and boosts my confidence in my abilities.

But it seems as if even the readers who adore BAND GEEK still dislike Mel's mom, Lydia. Poor Lydia; that character is misunderstood, I guess, LOL. It's funny, because when I wrote Mel's nemesis, Kathy, I wrote her with the INTENT for her to be the villain. She's the leader of the "mean girls" who taunt my narrator and has many unlikeable moments. However, some have commented that they actually came to hate and like Kathy in some scenes; she's turned out to be that girl whom you "love to hate." Lydia hasn't quite garnered that respect, maybe because she's a mother and should know better? I don't know. Truth be told, though, I didn't write her to be the bad guy. I wrote her to be a very stressed and hypercritical parent who wants what's best for her daughter and goes about dealing with Mel in the absolute wrong way. She does try ... and seems to have failed, even if she does get redeemed. I suppose that it's good that I created a character who's geting such a strong reaction! The good news is that the mom in my latest novel is the complete opposite; she's very laid back and sweet -- to a fault, actually -- and dotes on her daughter. Like I said in my last post, there is no right or wrong way to react to my book, but I wanted to share my perspective and the thoughts that went behind creating this woman.

I'm not a parent, but I do have a niece and a honorary nephew, and have many friends who are new parents. It's interesting to see different parenting styles. Not all adults handle their children in the same way. Some are awful and abusive (I'm not referring to any of my friends here; just parents in general). Some are firm and loving. Some, like Lydia, love their kids but let their own issues affect their relationships. I wrote this story with my teen years in mind, but now that I'm an adult, I can understand the parents' side a little, too. Just because you're a grownup and have children doesn't mean that you have all of the answers. In BAND GEEK, the adults are as a flawed as the teens, if not more.

One of the things that I like the best about writing is exploring the idea of different types of real-life relationships -- for better or for worse. I hope that the characters in my next book make as much as an impression as Lydia, Mel and Josh are for readers of BAND GEEK.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, currently 4.6 stars on Amazon and 4.09 stars on Goodreads!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing A Novel: Making Characters Different And Interesting

Woo hoo, BAND GEEK got another great review today! This one is from Shari at My Neurotic Book Affair. Make sure you comment on her post so that you can get a chance to win my CD and handmade wire wrapped music earrings.

So far, almost every reviewer -- even the ones who haven't cared for my book so much -- have mentioned how much they like and relate to my narrator, Melinda. This makes me so happy because while writing her, I came to love her (and Josh) almost as if they were real people and put a lot of work into making them come alive. I'm pleased that others are enjoying them as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

Now that I'm working on my next book, I'm still trying to get to know these two main characters, Sadie and Griffin. One of my biggest challenges is writing a narrator who's interesting and relatable -- but has a different voice from Melinda. It's taking some work because the girls have some similarites: like Mel, Sadie is overweight (though much more so), is reserved and a bit of a loner, hasn't had much experience with dating, and has musical talents (in Sadie's case, she sings). I put a bit of myself into my characters so it's not surprising that all will pick up some of my real-life traits. But being a writer means you have to "write what you know" and then expand upon that. Sadie's background and homelife isn't at all like Mel's; plus, Sadie is experiencing her first year of college, so the setting is shaping this newer character. I'm still finding her voice, but it'll happen soon enough.

I think it's common for an author's characters to take on certain similarities because they're all coming from the same place: from that author's imagination. My favorite writers have managed to share their voices through their creations -- and mix things up just enough to keep me guessing and wanting more.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Writer's Dreams (And Nightmares)

My blog tour continues today with an awesome review of BAND GEEK at Andi's Young Adult Books. Thanks again, Andi, for saying such wonderful things about my novel! Make sure you check in and comment on her post so that you can have a chance at winning a copy of my CD and my handmade music earrings, which are silver wire wrapped earrings with Swarovski crystal hearts:

Most of these reviews have been posted very early in the morning, so I've been feeling a little anxious as I've gone to bed. Needless to say, I've been having some odd dreams about writing. I had one the other night where someone left a one-star review on Amazon complaining that my portrayal of a flute player was offensive to all of the flute players of the world. I then had another dream where I was trying to write, but my fingers refused to type the actual words. It felt as if my hands were stuck to the keys ... and of course, I was on deadline. I was very relieved when I awoke and realized that my fingers and typing skills are fine!

Obviously, this book is the big thing on my mind right now. I'm trying to relax and enjoy the ride, but I still worry about getting my work out there, finishing my second book ... and then I worry if I can really make it as a novelist. Then again, how does one decide if she's "made it?" Is it when I'm a best selling author? When I reach a certain number of four and five-star reviews on Amazon? I'm not sure. This is something that I'm still working out.

I'm supposed to have TWO blogs review BAND GEEK tomorrow, so that's twice the anxiety! But for today, I'm pleased that the blogger enjoyed my book ... and I'll hopefully get a good night's sleep tonight.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.