Thursday, July 29, 2010

Deception Review and Giveaway

Deception is the first in the Haunting Emma series by novelist Lee Nichols. It’s Nichols’ first foray into the young adult (YA) market after a number of chick-lit fiction novels. Right from the beginning, Nichols creates a fast-moving plot as main protagonist Emma Vaile’s parents depart—and ultimately disappear—on a mysterious business trip.

It isn’t, however, until Emma packs up her life in San Francisco and moves to a museum-like mansion in New England with rich, gorgeous, and unattainable guardian Bennett Stern that the action really gets underway for it is in this Boston suburb that Emma uncovers a truly ghostly secret. The more answers Emma is able to attain, the more questions it seems she has…not only about herself and the strange visions she’s begun to have but also about her parents and a troubling piece of her past.

Emma’s character is tough, inquisitive, and bright. She’s immediately likeable throughout the novel and feels refreshingly genuine. There’s a love triangle brimming with sexual tension and, at times, Emma and her potential suitors find themselves in danger, yet Emma has none of the qualities of a flighty damsel in distress. In fact, there are several points where she has to save the men in her life.

There was one narrative action that, had this book been a stand-alone novel, would have left me completely aghast. In fact, I had to put it down and take several deep breathes and even then, I was certain it was a hoax. I was wrong. The teaser chapter in the sequel at the back of the novel, however, explained for me why, exactly, Nichols had chosen a particular scene to unfold the way it had. My strong emotional reaction, however, are simply testament of what a compelling job Nichols has done in creating these truly vivid characters. On the whole, this book is a satisfying read by itself and the first installment of what will likely be a highly anticipated series.

To learn more about Nichols, see here and to watch a video of Nichols discussing Deception, visit here.

One of the reasons I’ve been doing so many contests is because I LOVE to read and I believe there’s no better gift than a free book that comes recommended by someone how’s read it. So you guessed it, I'm doing another contest.

To win Deception, the rules are pretty much the same:

1. Be a follower of my blog.

2. Click on my picture under “followers” and send me a message that says, “Deception contest entry.”

3. Extra entries are given for each time you refer a friend who becomes a follower or post a Facebook or Twitter blurb about the contest or my blog. (Note: friends must mention you by name in their email and you must include the FB or Twitter link so I can keep track.)

4. An extra entry is given if you include a request in your email of a post topic you'd like to see me do.

5. Contest closes at midnight EST on August 6. The winner will be posted on this blog and notified by email on August 9.

Good luck and happy reading!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art Imitates Life

I recently saw the advertisement for a new pilot coming out this fall called My Generation. I was immediately intrigued by the premise; namely a scripted television show shot like a documentary. We’re not talking The Hills here that markets itself as reality but, rather, a show of art truly imitating life. It’s a unique premise that feels both gritty and intimately real--a delicate balance also achieved by one of my favorite shows: My So Called Life.

Some shows or books or movies are intriguing because they transport us elsewhere just for a moment and we love that sense of voyeurism and escapism. This isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, this is snapshot of the lives of a disparate group of high school seniors (Class of 2000) as they anxiously prepare for graduation, certain of what they want out of the future and desperate for that first taste of freedom. The “documentary” crew then revisits the students 10 years later to unveil where they are now and how, exactly, their lives match up to that oh so promising “plan” of theirs.

I’m a little impartial as this dramedy could very well be about individuals I know. Heck, it could be me at graduation from my high school in Upstate New York anxious to break out of my small town and finally see the world, go make something of my life, go reinvent myself or find myself or become more myself out “there.” Sure I was sad to see high school end as it meant farewell to everything I had known and all the people who knew me for as long as I’d known myself and yet it didn’t feel bittersweet to leave. It felt like I was finally going to go live out my real life, as if all the years prior had just been rehearsal.

…ahhhh to be na├»ve. No one tells you about the quarterlife crisis or what happens if you don’t meet the love of your life in college or if you’re defined by that first job out of school—the one you loath and fetch coffee like a glorified intern. It happens to all of us or, rather, most of us. And then there you are, standing on the precipice of your late 20s and the dreaded 30, reminded of the long list of things you were going to accomplish. Because 10 years ago you thought you had it all figured out and now? The only thing you’re certain of is that you can’t be certain of anything.

As for me, in retrospect I realize that life has a way of happening and all those carefully laid future plans are usually left right there—in that undefined place in the “future.” Yet the show doesn’t seem like a depressing reflection on how no one gets what they want but, rather, an honest portrait of all the ways life seems to have a way of happening whether we like it or not and how our true character is often tested—and defined—not in those moments when we get what we want but in all the times we don’t. There’s also that welcomed realization that dreams don’t have an expiration date so that list of things to accomplish? There’s still time.

Am I where I thought I would be 10 years ago? Not at all. But where I am is better. The road to get here has been so much more emotional and bumpy and unexpected but not all of those emotions and surprises have been bad. In fact, some of those experiences have been life-altering for the better and some of those surprises have been instances where I pleasantly surprised myself and rose to an occasion or confronted a fear. And here I am today, having made it out on the other side.

Sure sometimes there are those people who end up exactly where they thought they’d be but I’m willing to guess there were at least some detours as to how they got there. I mean think about it, a lot has changed in the world in the last 10 years. There was September 11, the advent of social media, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, the election of the first black president, and on and on. In fact, the 2000s is currently the only time in history without one accepted nickname for the decade. Perhaps that sums up the rapid change, unexpected events, and general impression of the time. We’ve lived through it but how has it defined us or how have we helped define it? And what, exactly, has this time meant to Generation Y?

But enough about me, what about you? Are you where you thought you’d be? If not, what advice would you give to your 18-year-old self about life and plans and the unexpected?

As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I think that’s sage advice no matter what age we are.

Friday, July 23, 2010

...And We Have a Winner!

Sorry for posting this a little late this morning. I'm on vacation time. We do, however, have a winner for the Sex and the City prequel by Candace Bushnell, the Carrie Diaries.

Drum roll, please. The winner is...

Kylie Anschutz!!!

Kylie, I will also send you an email to inform you that you've won. Thanks to everyone for participating in the contest! Check back often as there will be many more giveaways to come. For example, I'm considering moving the signed Jennifer Weiner book and a couple other potential surprises as part of my September 3rd super contest giveaway.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gleeks, Music, and Writing Motivation

Gleek (n): super fan of the FOX hit television show Glee.

My husband doesn't watch Glee which means I'm catching up on about 10 episodes (or virtually all of the second season) of the show. I missed much of the first so I'm a relatively new convert or gleek. I found after I watched the amazing sing-off between Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Morrison that I was singing Aerosmith's Dream On for about three straight days. If you saw the episode, I think you'll agree that nothing beats a good sing-off except, perhaps, a good dance-off (but that's another blog post for another day).

As I whistled away while walking my dogs, commuting to work, getting a cup of coffee, I got to thinking how much music affects our moods.

When I write non-fiction, I prefer to work in absolute silence but when I was embarking on my fiction manuscript, I found that music played a major part in my writing process. I may have had a great day at work but my character was really struggling. How do I turn off my personal emotions and tap into theirs? My answer was music. If my character was feeling nostalgic then I listened to Dream by Priscilla Ahn; if they were feeling lovelorn then I listened to Make You Feel My Love by Adele and Gravity by Sara Bareilles.

When I reached a writing block and couldn't figure out how another character might respond to my main protagonist I turned to music yet again. If my male character was feeling emboldened then maybe some Tom Petty, Won't Back Down would work...and you know what? It did.

I later discovered that playlists among writers isn't uncommon. Stephenie Meyer cites music as integral to her writing process. To view her playlists, see here. In fact, several artists who influenced her writing are now on the the Twilight Saga movie soundtracks. Susane Colasanti credits music as writing inspiration as evidenced here. Colasanti fans will probably recognize several of the playlist songs actually make their way into the book.

And one of my favorite blogs for writers, Literary Rambles, had an article recently about how to tap into music to break out of a rut.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. We all probably have a kind of playlist for our lives. For me, I can't hear American Pie without being transported back to my high school prom after-party or Fast Car without thinking of driving around town with my friends, windows down, singing at the top of our lungs. Those songs come on the radio and I'm 17 again. Come Away with Me brings me back to my wedding night in my flowing, white dress. Memory (from Cats) is the music box my mother gave me when I was 10. I'd come home from a tough day, turn the dial, and the stresses would just...wash away. Even now, I hear that song and I think of the beautiful porcelain horse turning around slowly in sync with the music and how I swore gifts didn't come more magical than that.

But what about you? What music brings you back to a certain place in time or changes your mood in just a few notes or motivates you to sit down at the keyboard and finally give voice to the characters in your head?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Books + Jennifer Weiner + Cupcakes = Heaven

Growing up around Saratoga Springs, New York I had the benefit of attending the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College. Now a D.C.-area resident I've had the opportunity to frequent the National Book Festival. I've heard everyone from Joyce Carol Oates to Ann Beattie, from John Irving to Nicholas Sparks.

There's just something so magical about hearing an author read their work, discuss their inspirations, and explain their writing habits/schedules/exercises. So to say the bar has been set high is probably an understatement...but I LOVE Jennifer Weiner's books so she must be fabulous, right? I mean this is. THE. JENNIFER. WEINER. But on the three-State drive* over I got to thinking, just who is Jennifer Weiner?

My insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip means I often have predisposed ideas of everyone from the Hilton sisters to Ali the Bachelorette and know random information like everyone who got married over the last week (ahem, Carrie Underwood, Emily Blunt, Pennelope Cruz, Martin Lawrence, Megan get the idea). Authors, however, are completely different. I mean this is fiction, people! So while I was a bit like the paparazzi trying to take photographs of Jennifer Weiner, I didn't know much about her going in. I suspected she was funny, witty, wonderful but I knew nothing for certain except that I admired her work.

Let me tell you that I was NOT disappointed in the least. She was, or rather, is AMAZING. She's hilarious and humble and has that quality about her where you just want to be friends with her because she seems so genuine, fun, and completely honest. Her advice to writers (some of which can be found here) was refreshing and encouraging. And I left with a sense that some of the real Jennifer Weiner comes out in her novels and it's all the good stuff that I love so much about them.

If you have the opportunity to check out Jennifer on her book tour, you must RUN not walk there and grab a seat early. When I arrived, the room was already packed full with fans and lots of estrogen. The experience on the whole was great fun. While I waited for my number to be called to get some books signed, I overheard discussions from other enthusiasts regarding their favorite characters that Jennifer has created and what specifically has spoken to them. It's the kind of thing I hope, and I think most writers hope, people will some day discuss about our work.

For a play-by-play the evening went a little something like this:

Jennifer Weiner answering questions from fans.

While I was a little more something like this...

On the whole, I managed to play it cool and not projectile fan-girl myself across the room at Jennifer. I do, of course, have the goofy look of someone who's just met their favorite rock star because, to me, I just had.

Obviously this calls for a celebration so I'm offering another contest! This one is a little different. It's effective now until I hit 50 followers. (That's right; I dream big, LOL.) Here's what you'll win:

Rules are as follows:
1. Be a follower of my blog.
2. Send me an email by clicking on my photo (under followers) and write "Jennifer Weiner contest" in the subject line to enter.
3. Extra points (ie. your name is entered again) for every friend you refer. To ensure I know when this happens, they must include your name in the body of their email entry.
4. Extra point if you post the contest on Facebook or Twitter. (So I know, include the link to your post feed in your email to me.)
5. Extra point if in your email you tell me something you wish I'd cover in a blog post.
6. Once I hit 50 followers I'll draw a winner. The winner will be announced on this blog and emailed a notice as well as mailed a copy of the brand new, hardcover, signed copy of Jennifer Weiner's must-read book!

Good luck!

*No, that's not a typo. I work in downtown D.C. and commuted back home to Southern MD to let my dogs out before then braving more rush hour traffic to drive to Northern VA where THE JENNIFER WEINER would be. Yeah, I got it bad but is was sooooo worth it!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This is Awesome

As the high of the World Cup wears off I had to do one last blog post on soccer. There's been so much discussion over the years as to the place of sport in our public consciousness, our understanding of the world, and even the way we communicate with one another.

Many articles since Spain's win have examined whether a sport can unite a country.

My friend Katie is working on her dissertation focusing on how, as a culture, we've adopted the language of sport. In fact, today the discourse of sport has seeped into everything from health care issues to politics. Even globalization isn't left untouched as evidenced in the book, How Soccer Explains the World.

NPR took another direction and examined the relationship of sport and literature in an story last month. This proposed the idea of sport as a muse in and of itself. Graceful, fluid motions of sheer athleticism have been called poetry and, in fact, NPR claims as much.

In the new film Pelada, two soccer players embark on a journey to 25 countries to see what place soccer has in connecting people. Over the course of the World Cup the attention has been on communicating about soccer but watching this trailer I would argue that soccer is also a way of communicating...even among people who have little else in common. The release of this movie--and the purpose--seems poignant especially since this film isn't about the competitive, professional world but the pickup soccer found in school yards and back allies, in prisons and farm fields. It's not about the consumption of sport as spectator but, rather, as active participant and once you watch this trailer I'm sure you'll agree it's beautifully done. Variety, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times all agree.

My favorite line is "When the ball is kicked towards me, I consider it the game beckoning me." Enjoy:

NEW Pelada Trailer from Rebekah Fergusson on Vimeo.

To learn more or to purchase tickets, click here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Carrie Diaries Contest

Okay, so here’s another reminder of what I’m giving away...
The Carrie Diaries is the coming-of-age story of one of the most iconic characters of our generation. Before Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw was a small-town girl who knew she wanted more. She's ready for real life to start, but first she must navigate her senior year of high school. Up until now, Carrie and her friends have been inseparable. Then Sebastian Kydd comes into the picture, and a friend's betrayal makes her question everything.

With an unforgettable cast of characters, The Carrie Diaries is the story of how a regular girl learns to think for herself and evolves into a sharp, insightful writer. Readers will learn about her family background, how she found her writing voice, and the indelible impression her early friendships and relationships left on her. Through adventures both audacious and poignant, we'll see what brings Carrie to her beloved New York City, where her new life begins.

Booklist had this to say about the novel:

Before Manhattan and Manolos, who was Carrie Bradshaw? In her first novel for teens, Bushnell fills in her Sex and the City star's growing-up years with this chronicle of Carrie's senior year of high school in a small New England town. Bushnell maintains believable continuity of character in this teen version of her cultural icon, and fans will enjoy watching Carrie develop her familiar adult traits: her love of fashion, her wit, her writing ambitions, and her own brand of feminism. Once again, Carrie has three best friends, the alcohol flows freely, and sex is always on the conversation agenda, but here there’s a lot more talk than action (Carrie is a virgin). There are love interests, of course: a gorgeous heartbreaker and a clean-cut college guy who kisses like a man who thinks in straight lines. As with the TV show, though, it's the book's friendships that teens may relate to most. Fans will love this (and only insiders will get the ending), but smart, vulnerable, questioning Carrie emerges as a likable, stand-alone character. Expect plenty of adult interest, too.

Here are the official rules.

1. Be a follower of my blog.

2. To enter, click on my photo in the follower list and send me an email. Write “contest entry” in the subject line.

3. To increase your chances of winning, refer a friend. Each friend that joins as a follower and includes your name in the body of their email entry counts as an additional entry for you.

4. Contest ends on Thursday, July 22 at 5 pm. The winner will be announced on the Friday, July 23 blog.

Good luck!

Friday, July 9, 2010

What I've Learned This Week

1. Doing a synopsis is the easiest and hardest thing I'll ever write. Synopses are tricky little biotches. I know what happens in my story (I wrote it!) but somehow a 500-word summary of a 75,000 word novel feels cheap, which brings me to my next lesson learned.

2. Publishing and pimping have a lot in common.
I'm all over "town" pimping out my story to see if there are any takers. I'm willing to make modifications, negotiations, you name it. do we become better pimps? Let's turn to the source itself, Hung:

3. Just because someone wants to take your picture doesn't mean it's a good idea. Last week Kate brought us the cautionary tale of Botox gone bad but now a fashion show for the paparazzi?! This is just "tacktastic."

4. Emma is awesome. I'm devouring Deception right now with female protagonist and ghostkeeper Emma Vaile and can't wait to do a review of it on my blog and, you guessed it, do another free giveaway!!! Be sure to check that out next week!

5. A puma isn't just a cat anymore. A puma is a woman in her late 20s or early 30s who dates younger men. It's when you're too young to be a cougar but still older than your prey. So if you're reading this and you're in your 20s or 30s and you think Liam Hemsworth, Taylor Lautner, Zac Efron, and any of the classmates from Glee are hot then the verdict're a certified puma.

So what have you learned this week?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guidelines for Writing

The blogosphere and writing chat rooms are bursting with questions about genre, manuscript length, and audience. Instead of reinventing the wheel I thought I'd link to some helpful articles that help break down these confusing issues.

From MiG Writers, here we have a comparison of MG versus YA.

From Suzie Townsend's Confessions of a Wandering Heart, here's some background on YA (and after what age you're technically reaching into the adult lit market).

Michelle McLean helps explain here the difference between paranormal, fantasy, and urban fantasy.

Guide to Literary Agents details what, exactly, is steampunk.

And on Query Tracker, agent Colleen Lindsay breaks down average word counts by genre.

I hope this helps!

Monday, July 5, 2010


Will this blog post be about this...

or this...


If you guessed number two you would be correct. I saw Eclipse this an IMAX...and *crazy fangirl squee* I really liked it.

Let me begin by saying that I'm always skeptical of movies based on books. Don't get me wrong, there have been some truly great adaptations: Harry Potter, The Notebook, and Lord of the Rings just to name a few. Let's also not forget how many awards Precious picked up at the Oscars this year. A great book, however, is hard to live up to and the cast list in my head is not always the cast of actors on the screen.

Even if an actor fits my expections, the true test is not in their looks but their ability at capturing the balanced emotion of a scene. In short, can the actor's performance live up to the prose?

I have to say, I'm more apt to watch a movie based on a book I read than read a book based on a movie I watched. Perhaps I'm impartial. Regardless of the genre or the medium, however, I just love a great story.

But what about you? What movies do you think have been great adaptations of books or what books have you read after watching an interesting movie?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Character Development

When we create characters we need to consider who they are in their entirety. What do they look like; how do they dress; what are their relationships with other people; and what do they want? Every decision we make is calculated.

The same might be said about individuals with a public persona. I mean publicists, PR specialists, and campaign managers all carefully craft the information flow and the appearance of those in the limelight.

That's why we're always shocked when a person behaves "out of character" (e.g. Tiger Woods, John Mayer). In writing, inauthentic dialogue and actions by a character can be downright devastating; it can make someone stop reading altogether. We know these people, don't we?

That's what's so interesting about multiple points of view: We get to know what characters are thinking and what others think about them. We understand them more fully... but what if characters just came out and said everything they were thinking? What if they explained all of their motivations? Would it be refreshing or frustrating, intimate or intimidating? I suppose it depends on who's talking.

In the case of this spoof video (once you get past the 30 second intro), it's just funny as hell: