Friday, December 19, 2014

All I Want for Christmas is...

A book.  Or two.  Or ten.  Seriously, what’s better than getting a book for Christmas?

I thought I’d make a list of book suggestions for Christmas gifts.  Books written by friends.  (In addition to suggesting my own book, Expecting, a sometimes sad, sometimes funny look at infertility.  Makes a perfect stocking stuffer.  Available on Amazon or at other fine retailers near you.)

Also available on Amazon:

City of Whores – Mark B. Perry.  If you like the film Sunset Boulevard, grab this one.  Intrigue, romance, sex, manipulation.  Life in Hollywood in the ‘50s. 

Jonny Bails Floatin and the Luck of the Bioluminescence – J. Lee Glassman.  A struggling musician in the Florida Keys... with a touch of sci-fi.  How can you resist a book with “bioluminescence” in the title?

No Such Thing as a Cherokee Princess – Barrie Miller Kirby.  Two characters fall in love - with complications along the way.  Set in North Carolina. 

The Big Hoot – R. L. McDaniel.  A YA novel (although grown-ups will like it too) about a high school boy and basketball and music and parenting. 

Crown of Ice – Vicki L. Weavil.  A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

(Did I mention my book, Expecting?  I probably did already.)

Hollywood Digs – Ken LaZebnik.  Lesser known true stories from the film industry and tales of Ken’s own adventures in the business.  (Order from

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Stephen King of Pop Fiction

I think Stephen King is a genius.  When people put him down – “Oh, he can only write pop fiction, he’s a hack,” I want to go after them like Annie Wilkes (well, maybe not quite that far).  Sure, some popular fiction is dreck and feels written by a committee instead of a writer (no names please, except I’m thinking of someone whose name rhymes with Hatterson).  I’ve never understood the beating up on Stephen King.  Is it because he’s rich?  Writes “genre” books?  He’s a wonderful storyteller.  He loves writing – you can feel that coming at you through the pages.  He’s delighted to scare the crap out of people, get readers invested in his characters and then - boom - kill them off.   The way he writes about childhood is real and honest.
Right now I’m halfway through Revival.  I got it for my Kindle the day it came out.  It’s terrific.  And scary.
Sometimes I curse Stephen King for being so prolific.  But how can you curse someone who wrote On Writing?  If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t read On Writing, go buy it.  King talks about his life as a writer and how to write – not from a “rising action” or “what is the character flaw” sort of way, but more common sense advice.  Like read a lot.  Have a writing schedule.  When people ask me the best books for beginning writers, On Writing is one of them.  (Another is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.)
My favorite Stephen King novel?  There are so many.  I like It very much.  If you have a fear of clowns – probably not the book for you.  


Sunday, October 26, 2014

That Book Sitting on Your Shelf

You keep meaning to read that book.  You've had it for years.  But crazy prolific Ruth Rendell has written another thriller so naturally you decide to read her book first.  And surprise - who knew there was an early Henning Mankell novella?  Jump An Event in Autumn to the top of the list.

So A Prayer for Owen Meany remains on the shelf.  Remains on the shelf so long that by the time you finally decide to read it, it's gone missing.  Annoyed, you order a new copy.  The day it arrives you vow no other books will distract you.  A Prayer for Owen Meany is written by John Irving.  You adore John Irving.  The Cider House Rules is one of your favorite novels.  So why haven't you read Owen Meany yet?  What's wrong with you?

The book appears, you begin to read and it's good, not quite Cider House Rules good, not at first.  But then you get sucked in.  You find yourself talking about the book at dinner to your husband.  You email a friend who has read the book and compare notes. When you wake up in the morning on the weekend, you'd like to shoo away your family, find a cozy spot and devour Owen Meany.  You're obsessed.  

Why did it take such a long time?  I'm sure I have dozens of books like Owen Meany on my shelf.  I bet we all do.  So here's a challenge - go to your bookshelf right now and pull out that book you know you want to read.  

Do it now.  Don't wait.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I Didn't Love Gone Girl

I wanted to like the book.  The reviews were good, it sounded like the perfect read.

I hated the husband character.  Immediately.  And I guessed the plot almost as quickly - it felt like a leftover episode of Law and Order.  The wife appeared.  I hated her, too.  Spoiler alert - husband and wife turn out to be unreliable narrators.  Not one of my favorite literary devices.  And the ending - no spoiler alert here - let's just say I loathed it.  Threw-the-book-across-the-room loathed it.  Talked to a friend about the book and he said, "Yeah, it was okay.  But the ending sucked."

Another friend told me she didn't like Gone Girl either, but I should read Gillian Flynn's first novel, Sharp Objects.  I was dubious, but gave Sharp Objects a try.  And to my surprise, I enjoyed it.  A lot.  Camille Preaker, the main character, is flawed and fascinating.  There's darkness and edginess and unpredictability throughout the book and I couldn't wait to finish it.

Will I see the movie version of Gone Girl?  No.  Sharp Objects is being done as a TV series.  I'll wait for that, thanks.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Book I Never Heard of? That's Unpossible

So there was recently a post on Facebook that asked you to list ten books that have affected you in some way.  I started my list with Great Expectations and The House of Mirth, two books I adore, but didn’t read until I was in my 30s.  I had to add A Night to Remember by Walter Lord because that started my fascination (obsession) with the Titanic.  Gone with the Wind is there too because growing up in the south, every girl I knew read it and – it makes me a little sick to say this - we all wanted to be more like Scarlett. 

On Facebook you’d tag people and get to see their lists and they were fascinating (Gone with the Wind turned up on several lists, by the way).  I realized I’d forgotten A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte’s Web.  Another book that appeared on several lists was Time and Again by Jack Finney.  What?  I’d never heard of Time and Again.  Jack Finney’s name sounded familiar (he wrote the novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) but people on Facebook kept going on about Time and Again (“Time and Again is one of the best time travel novels EVER.”).  So, duh, I had to get it.

How did I not read this book?  Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.  Seriously, it stuck to my fingers.  I told my family they were on their own until I was done reading.  (Well, not quite that bad, but almost.)  The plot - as part of a government program, Si Morley goes back in time to New York City in 1882.  Yeah, sounds good, right?

So how many other great books are out there in the world we’ve missed?  Someone needs to start a list. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Great Literary Blog Hop

A fellow writer (the fabulously talented Mark Perry) asked me if I’d be interested in doing a “blog hop.”  Sure, I said, not even sure what a blog hop meant.  But turns out it’s pretty simple.  I answer 4 questions and provide links to writers I know and admire.

1. What am I working on now? 

My first novel Expecting came out in July.  I was totally unprepared for how much work would be involved in promoting it – it’s almost as hard as writing the novel. 

No, not really.  But I’ve never been especially good at self-promotion.  Hey, look at me and look at my great book!  Buy it!  Buy it now, dammit!  I get shivers just typing that.  (Of course if you buy my book that would be amazing and thank you very much.)

Because I also work in TV, I’m in the process of getting ready to go out and try to sell two pilots.  One is a dark comedy spec I wrote in the spring and another based on a terrific book written by a good friend. 

In terms of fiction, I’m trying to decide what to do next.  I’ve got a rough first draft of a novel set in my hometown of Staunton, Virginia about a murder that happened in 1906 when the circus was in town.  Another part of the story is loosely based on my parents – how they met in the 1950s when my father moved from Pittsburgh to Staunton to work on the local paper and fell in love with the boss’s daughter.  Right after they were married, there was a horrible murder and my father covered the story.  He would talk about this when I was young and I always thought it would make a good book.  Sadly, he passed away years ago so I can’t pick his brain for details.  It’s more literary fiction than female fiction (like Expecting) and requires a great amount of research and that makes me tired just thinking about it. 

So I might write something else that's easier.  A woman with a talking cat?

2. How does my writing differ from others in its genre? 

I don’t like the phrase “chick lit” because it sounds condescending.  I like the terms female fiction or book club fiction better.  Or what’s wrong with literary female fiction? 

I love a mixture of humor and heart.  I’d like to think Expecting has both of those.  It’s the “pull the rug out from under you” effect.  You’re reading along and everything is great and you’re laughing out loud and then – wham – something totally wild happens and you’re knocked out by it.  You never know what’s coming next.  (A great example of that – read Hunger Point by Jillian Medoff.)

3. Why do you write what you do? 

I write about what I’m interested in (which is pretty much everything).  I was very lucky to be on the show thirtysomething at the time I had a miscarriage and I was able to write about the experience – that might sound sad, but it was liberating to take something so awful and explore it through writing.  Expecting came about from my experiences with infertility and pregnancy loss. 

I like to watch people.  Imagine their lives.  I’m intrigued with writing about my parents and about imagining their lives in the 1950s. 

4. How does your writing process work? 

I try to write every day, even though some days I write crap.  I usually have more than one thing going at a time – a TV pilot, a novel, a short story, a non-fiction piece.  That way it’s great when you say to yourself, “Wow, I hate that novel,” and you can move to the short story.  Another writer friend told me years ago that writing is a 9–5 job like any other.  You don’t wait for divine inspiration.  Some days you write swill.  Some days you’re surprised at how good your writing is.  (I enjoy days like that.)

I want to get words on paper as quickly as possible, even though they might be terrible.  The key to good writing is editing.  Just because you see something typed out doesn’t mean it’s done.  I love editing.  I could go back and edit Expecting right now.  Seriously.
The fabulous (yes, I used that word again) Mark Perry has written a wonderful book about old Hollywood called City of Whores.  If you like the film Sunset Boulevard, check out City of Whores.  Once you start it, you won’t be able to put it down.

I’ve known Barrie Miller Kirby since high school.  She’s written a lovely, gentle novel called No Such Thing as a Cherokee Princess.

Dan Pyne has been a successful TV and film writer and has written two novels – a third will be out soon.  Talk about writing about things that are unexpected... you won't know what hit you.