Birthdays and Celebrations– Or: Reasons to Open the Wine Before Noon

While the Google Doodle is blowing up balloons, celebrating being old enough to vote, we’ve got some announcements and shenanigans happening here, too.

First, ALL DARLING CHILDREN has an official (e-book) release date of October 20th. Mark it on your calendars, tell your friends, cuddle your Pooh Bear in nervous anticipation. For now, here’s a cover and blurb:

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Ain’t she GORGEOUS?

All boys grow up, except one.

On the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death, fourteen-year-old Madge Darling’s grandmother suffers a heart attack. With the overbearing Grandma Wendy in the hospital, Madge runs away to Chicago, intent on tracking down a woman she believes is actually her mother.

On her way to the Windy City, a boy named Peter Pan lures Madge to Neverland, a magical place where children can remain young forever. While Pan plays puppet master in a twisted game only he understands, Madge discovers the disturbing price of Peter Pan’s eternal youth.

If that don’t tickle your fairy tale bone, I don’t know WHAT will.

 

Second, I’m getting MARRIED. To celebrate, I’ll be making A TALE DU MORT free on Amazon from Saturday to Sunday. So, you can read (and review! please!) while I’m betting half my stuff that this will all work out just fine.

 

Finally, I want you all to wish Kate Moretti a huge HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY on the release of THE VANISHING YEAR, which Mary Kubica called “a stunner!” I’ll be picking it up today to take with me on my honeymoon. Here’s a cover and a blurb:

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Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

Pick up your copy today and don’t forget to leave her a review. Happy Tuesday!

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Moar Prompts to Get You Writing

It’s Monday again, dolls. There’s a chill in the air, apples in my fruit bowl, pumpkin in my coffee, and an itch in my head to do some writing. I can feel you resisting, so here are some prompts to get you going. As always, check back here EVERY MONDAY for more prompts.

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  1. Think of two unlikely heroes and pit them against one another.
  2. Write a poem about a dirty sock.
  3. What would the most popular spell in your spell book be?
  4. Watch a movie without the sound. Write your own dialogue.
  5. Write about a wicked stepmother.
  6. Now write a redemption story for her.
  7. Write the first like of a story titled: MR. LAWSON’S ANGER PIE.
  8. Describe the perfect day for apple picking.
  9. What would a candle made of earwax smell like?
  10. Describe the pet of a woman who owns three restaurants, all named after venereal diseases.

PLEASE share in the comments any of your favorite prompts or the fruits of your labor. Have a great week!

How the F*** Do I Plot?

I recently finished reading STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, on the advice of a writer friend.

It was awesome.

It was always debilitatingly depressing. Never before had I read a writing advice manual and walked away realizing that I published four novels having known jack shit about what makes a good story.

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Notice I said story there, and not book.

STORY GENIUS spends a lot of time decoding what makes a person’s brain crave story, and what writers need to do to harness that power over the reader. (We will use this for world domination, eventually. Don’t say you weren’t warned).

I FULLY recommend getting your hands on a copy to get the full extent of Cron’s amazing tips and exercises. But I will tell you the part that resonated most with me.

WHY?

As a parent, it’s the question of doom. It spirals into realms terrifying and unknown and the only way to get out alive is to keep throwing out answers until there are none left. Amazingly, being a parent makes you uniquely adept at answering this question when it comes to plotting.

Most writers already know that something has to happen because something else happened. There’s a general understanding of cause and effect that most of us already adhere to when plotting the external forces that will propel our protagonist through the story and out the other side. What most of us forget is that this question of WHY has to answer questions internally of the protagonist, too. Each event has to have a POINT, and not just, “Well, she has to get from A to B so I’ll put her in a car and then I’ll get a chance to throw some setting in there.” (Real example of my former thought process, no lie).

Here’s an example from a WIP I’m working on now.

I have a scene planned where Gretchen (my protagonist) is picked up from the airport by her awful step-mother.

Enter the ‘why.’

Because her sister (who asked her to come in the first place) is at home with her kid.

Why?

Because he has pink eye.

Why?

Because the little shit can’t be bothered to wash his hands more than once a month.

Okay, so, we’ve got a perfectly logical reason for someone Gretchen hates to be picking her up from the airport. But what does that have to do with her story? Her character arc?

In this WIP’s case, Gretchen’s story arc begins with her desire to cut her family out of her life completely and ends with her realizing that she can’t establish any kind of meaningful relationship with other people unless she forgives her family their transgressions and lets go of the idea that People Will Betray You.

So. The step-mom.

She picks Gretchen up from the airport.

Why?

Because even as Gretchen gets off the plane, she feeds the delusion that she can deal with being back in her family’s orbit from a distance. Having step-mom, the person she hates most, gather her from the airport dispels that misbelief.

Since the reason pushes Gretchen toward her final goal (even only a little) the scene gets to stay. If, when you’re plotting, you can’t think of an internal reason why the scene should stay, it’s time to get out the axe.

Don’t feel bad. It’s easy to forget that a story isn’t just a collection of things happening to a person. They’re events that force the protagonist to change internally, which is where the real story happens.

So don’t write a book; write a story. Ask why.  

THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB – A Review

In trying to broaden my reading horizons, I conducted an experiment in which I chose books from the library based ONLY on the cover. I didn’t read the back and I tried not to pay attention to the name or gender of the author.

Like most experiments, the results were mixed. However, one of the bunch stood out, and that was THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB by Genevieve Valentine.

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From the cover:

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s Manhattan townhouse and into the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

 The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they’ve come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must balance not only the needs of her father and eleven sisters, but her own as well.

 

At the moment, there are two kinds of books I’m obsessing over: really thought out, well-written thrillers with mostly-female casts and creative fairy-tale retellings. Though THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB has none of the magical realism elements I’ve come to expect from retellings, this book sits near the top of my list of favorites.

Valentine’s inspirations are pretty clear: Hans Christian Anderson’s Twelve Dancing Princesses (a tale that deserves more retellings than I can find) and Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN. Eldest sister, Jo, shares not only Jo March’s name, but also her determination and fierce protective instincts over her sisters. She’s a character that is easy to rally behind.

Another note on character, it’s pretty typical in novels with large casts to lose characters in the hustle of the plot. They either fall to the wayside or become nondescripts alongside the other, more shining characters. Valentine was able to give life to each of the twelve sisters in a way that made them real in the reader’s eyes. Jo may have been the MC, but younger sisters Rose and Doris were the most relatable to me and I felt their plight as more fervently that Jo’s.

If I have one criticism of THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, it’s that everything seems to come a little too easily for most of the book. Each time the sisters sneak down the back stair, the tension is diminished when time and again, they aren’t caught. In fact, aside from a light-sleeping maid, there aren’t even any close calls. Considering most of the fear the sisters bear comes from what their father would do or think should he catch them, the fear becomes less pressing. SPOILER…… When they are inevitably caught (not in the act, but accused after the fact), what should have been a knife to the chest is more like needle prick.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book despite its lack of traditionally magical elements and, possibly, because of it as well. I recommend it highly.

#MondayMotivation – MOAR PROMPTS

It’s Monday, again, which means it’s time to put away the corset and feather fan, sober up, and get to work.

Thanks to writer friend, Kate Moretti, I’m nose deep in STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron in preparation for writing a new novel that, in my head at least, is something like THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU meets SWAMPLANDIA meets The Brothers Grimm. But OF COURSE I’m having trouble getting started.

Let’s warm up together, shall we? Here are some prompts to get you moving. As always, I’d love to see what you all come up with.

  1. What does a child’s scream sound like?
  2. Begin with, “Mother didn’t like her very much.”
  3. Write about a radio host who’s lost his voice.
  4. Write a scene in which two characters argue without really saying anything.
  5. What does fear smell like?
  6. Describe your favorite painting.
  7. Write a story that centers around a chipped teacup.
  8. Write a six-line poem about cake.
  9. Describe the backyard of a widower.
  10. Rewrite a classic horror tale as a romance.

There you go. No excuses. Get writing.

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Guest Post – READER MEMORIES

It’s FRIDAY, BITCHES!

You know what that means… booze and books until we can’t open our eyes anymore. 

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It also means GUEST POST day. Today’s post is from Barbara Khan, founder of the Baer Books Facebook group where readers come together to chat all things WORDY.

Enjoy!

I don’t remember my mom reading to me. I know she did, every night, in fact. I just don’t have any memories of that. My earliest memory is from 1970. I was three and we were in our little house on Lee Lane. My sister and brother were 13 and 11 respectively, they were in school. I was home with my mom. I imagine she spent many hours teaching me to read. She was the reason I was reading on my own at three. She’s the reason I’m the reader I am today.  Later that same year we moved next door. I know it seems odd to just move next door, but I guess we needed a bigger house, so I think my memories started in that “new” house.

In the new house I  had a play room. I kept all my toys, dolls, games, and books in there. I had a little record player and I used to listen to books on LP. Way before audio books existed! The album covers doubled as a book. I don’t recall any of the titles, but I would put the record on the turn table, sit on the floor and follow along with the story, placing my finger under the words, reading along with the audio.

My mom was a avid reader. I realize that now, but at that time I just knew in the morning when I woke, Mom would be reading, drinking coffee, and smoking her cigarettes. It was the 70’s, everyone smoked! On cold days or in winter, she’d be inside on the couch, summer and pleasant days she’d be outside in her chaise lounge under the ever-reaching arms of the maple tree. That was reassuring, to know exactly where your mom would be.

We went to the library weekly, because Mom had to replenish her supply. Nowadays, I wonder how she picked which books she’d check out. There were no Goodreads or Amazon algorithms. We didn’t get the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to know what books those illustrious newspapers put on their best seller lists. I guess she just took a chance on a book or an author. She would leave me in the Children’s Room, I’d grab a book and sit on the little seat in the alcove, safely watched over by the librarian. Later, we’d fill a paper sack from Big Bear Grocery with our books and head home.

In summer our library run was simple, cross the street to the elementary school where every Thursday the bookmobile would be parked. The big, blue bus had steps at the front and back and where there would be seats on a school bus, there were book shelves. The same people worked there, year after year. Mom greeted them all by name, like they were old friends. I guess they were, old book friends. The check out lady always had her red hair styled in a bee-hive and wore black rimmed, cat’s eye glasses.

The libraries of my life are like old friends to me. The main library with the alcove, the adjoining chapter book section, that building is gone now, replaced by a brand new library with all the bells and whistles. The big,blue bookmobile has been replaced by a small branch library shaded by maples, still within walking distance of my old house.

When I married and we lived in Boston, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be able to walk to the main branch of the Boston Public Library on my lunch break. I would lose myself in the stacks, finding new authors just by wandering the aisles. Visiting the old section with the reading room was like going back in time. The branch near my house was cozy and convenient.

During my time living in Key Biscayne, an island 7 miles from downtown Miami, I became friends with all the people that worked at my local branch. In that way, I guess I’m like my mom. Martha, one of the librarians there, knew my reading tastes so well, she’d reserve new books for me by my favorite authors, without my asking. It was like a face-to-face Goodreads! My daughter and I spent many Saturdays in the Children’s room, reading books at the miniature tables and chairs, carting home stacks of books in the basket on my bicycle.

Now I enjoy interacting on my social media book groups. It’s a place where we all feel a kinship. Nobody judges our ever growing TBR. Chatting about our favorite books and authors is like chatting about old friends. I’ll close with a favorite quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

Review: GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn

I found GEEK LOVE on a list from Book Riot—they have great lists, don’t they?—of weird books. When it comes to adjectives, weird is definitely a favorite, so I went to my local library and relieved them of as many of the listed books as possible.

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Doesn’t look like much on the outside. Inside is beautiful chaos.

GEEK LOVE was my favorite.

At first glance, it’s a book about carnies. There’s Aqua Boy, a hunchback, Siamese twins, a gaggle of red heads that run the games and rides… but it’s also a book about family and the darknesses that exist between these relationships. The deeper I climbed into the story, the more it reminded me of American Horror Story: Freak Show.

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There are no heroes in this book. None of them are wholly redeemable and all of them crawl beneath your skin like parasites. Even narrator, Oly, the albino dwarf hunchback, with all her good intentions, reveals herself to be something less than. But even with all these faults, we find something to admire about each character, even if from a distance. Aqua Boy (or Arty as his family calls him) may be sadistic and hateful, but he’s resourceful and certainly not weak. Reading about Arty split my opinion; one half hated the way he treated his siblings, the other half yearned to be a fraction as self-assured.

The most compelling thing you’ll find when reading GEEK LOVE is that the author held nothing back. There are no such things as taboos. There are no subjects left to innuendo. Incest and murder and dismemberment are commonplace. The world that exists inside the carnival exists only for the sake of the family, which was born of equally nefarious means.

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He bit the heads off chickens. For FUN.

Tragic, intriguing, and like a train wreck I couldn’t look away.

GEEK LOVE will leave you reeling, but masterful storytelling and impossible to ignore characters will plant themselves in your mind for a long time after the final page has turned.