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!