Monday, August 30, 2010

The Luxe

I've picked up three books recently all for very different reasons. The first was Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because I just had to know what all the buzz was about. The second was Handle With Care, which I'm reading for my book club as it's classic Jodi Picoult with moral dilemmas that will surely produce much group discussion and debate. Lastly, there was Anna Godbersen's The Luxe which I selected for a getaway beach weekend. It's the first installment in a series and the one I plan to review today.

Here's the description from Publishers Weekly:
With a quote from The Age of Innocence as an epigraph and an enthusiastic blurb from the creator of Gossip Girl on its back cover, this lavishly produced debut makes no secret of its twin influences. The story opens in 1899 with the funeral of Elizabeth Holland, a well-bred beauty said to have plunged to her death in the Hudson River. The narrative then travels back several weeks, tracing the relationships and events that have led to the somber assembly. This tangled web includes not one but two sets of star-crossed lovers; an upstairs/downstairs romance; a scheming social climber; a bitter servant girl; and oodles of money, all set in a Edith Wharton via Hollywood vision of Old New York. The dialogue has its clunky moments, and the plot twist that drives the tale is telegraphed from the very start, but readers caught up in the fancy dress intrigue are unlikely to mind much: it’s all part of the dishy fun.

This description seems spot-on. The opulence of this society, the adult-like behaviors and obligations of the characters, a New York City setting, and the obsession with the society pages all seem to tap into the kind of glamour and drama of Gossip Girl. I also saw some parallels to Pride and Prejudice with the family in fiscal constraints with a mother eager to marry off her "perfect" daughter (e.g. Jane Bennet or in this case Elizabeth Holland). The fanciful, carefree sister who does as she pleases (Lydia Bennet or in The Luxe, Diana Holland) and how one of the sisters immediate distaste for uber bachelor Henry Schoonmaker undergoes a complete makeover by the book's end.

There are a few cliche story lines to help setup the plot but they're forgivable. The prose is well written, the descriptions of characters and setting are very thorough, and the historical accuracy of this time period make it on the whole a winning piece. I plowed through it on the beach, desperate to learn how--if at all--the several pairs of star-crossed lovers were going to make amends or be wed into loveless marriages. The society excerpts from 1899 Manhattan provided a unique stamp and legitimacy to the book and had all the addictive pleasure of flipping through US Weekly. What's delicious about this novel is that in a world where there are so many rules to dictate how one should look and act and with whom and how, the characters find ways to sneak around the rules in the dark of night or through secret correspondences and rendezvous that will leave you wanting to pick up the next juicy installment for a fun weekend read.

I couldn't unearth an authentic book trailer but I found this very well done fan trailer which I thought I'd share. It accurately taps into many of the books themes and, accompanied with the music, illustrates the occasional bursts of suspense. Enjoy!

How Much Fact Do We Need in Our Fiction?

I drove to Upstate New York this past weekend and over the 7-hour drive I had ample time to listen to the radio. One of the recurrent discussions was the new Taylor Swift song and, in fact, I heard a brief interview with her about the inspiration for the piece.

She mentioned that while so many romances don't work and a lot of people may not have the exact models of a healthy relationship that they would like, many people--like her--are hopeless romantics and daydream about the rare exception.

It seemed, however, over the course of my drive that for every song about a cheating partner, there were several more about a fabulous love story--the hopeless romantics won out. Even in The Luxe, which I'll review tomorrow, despite all the scheming and betrayal, pressures and politics, true love seems to find a detour through all of that.

So as I drove out of the congestion of Washington, D.C., through the long, winding hills of rural Pennsylvania, and finally crossed over into the Empire State I got to wondering, in literature, what's the right balance between reality and "fantasy"? Do we want all make-believe for a beach read but something with more "meat on the bones" for every day? Does the idealistic relationship work better in first person because it's more voyeuristic? Does the "idealistic" relationship look different from a male protagonist point of view versus a female point of view and if so, how? And how much reality does there need to be for it to be believable and how much true fiction for it to be fun?

I don't have the answers but maybe you do...or at least some thoughts on the topic?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WTF Wednesday

I'd like to say that this post is going to be all about the invaluable lessons we can learn from celebs but that would be a lie unless, of course, we're talking about avoiding strange fashion faux pas.

So without further ado, the inspiration for todays' WTF Wednesday installment.

Exhibit A: Kesha, rocking her frostbite-inspired blue lipstick.

Exhibit B: Brody Jenner shaving his girlfriend's initial onto his head.

Exhibit C: Emma Thompson drinking a pint of lager with a pig during her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony.

Exhibit D: The usually well-dressed Gwen Stefani in a shredded Obesity and Speed T-shirt (and, yes, that's the name of the company).

And Exhibit E: While not a celebrity, this Urban Outfitters shirt has been dissed by Sophia Bush, The Huffington Post, and others because, really, who's pro-anorexic models wearing shirts about starvation?!


I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to. In fact, perhaps that is the take-away for all the writers out there: Look no further than real life for inspiration and insight into wacky character development.

Anyone else have recent WTF moments?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Morning's Moment of Zen

This scene always makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch the movie Hitch and if you're anything like me then sometimes, especially on Monday morning, you need a little more than coffee to get ready for the work week. I hope this helps. Enjoy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Trailers

Book trailers are becoming increasingly popular. In short, they're a digital advertisement like a movie trailer but for books.

They're just one more medium used to market books and to complement the other online marketing platforms (e.g. blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). I've seen a number of trailers posted on the Internet but what I'm noticing more and more is the implementation of trailers onto online book purchasing Websites like Amazon. For example, when I was ordering Stieg Larson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, under "Check Out Related Media" was the novel's book trailer. For this particular novel, it will be interesting to compare the book trailer to the movie trailer and which aspects they chose to hone in on. (The second movie adaptation of the book is in the works so this is a future blog post.)

Today I wanted to share a few new favorite book trailers of mine.

1. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I loved the juxtaposition of fast paced videography against slow motion and the rewind/fast forward effect of this trailer and which is, of course, also very reflective of the novel's premise.

2. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I found this trailer intriguing when I first watched it but have come to appreciate it even more since reading the novel. Music and poetry written on scraps, trees, benches, virtually anything are important forms of expression for a confused girl who is both mourning her sister and feeling the exhilaration of being in love--and the guilt because of it.

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I thought this trailer really portayed the suspense in this dystopia novel.

4. Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala. I have to confess upfront that I have not yet read this book although now, after having just watched this trailer, I want to. This was a late addition but a friend said I had to check it out as the animation coupled with original music and voice-over was truly unique--and they were right!

5. The Switch by Jeffrey Eugenides. This is today's wild card entry as I'm well aware this isn't a book trailer; however, it was adapted from a short story so I'm adding it here. There are also several other reasons why I couldn't resist including it. a) The short story the movie is based on is hilariously entitled "The Baster;" b) it opens in theaters today so it's inclusion seemed fitting; c) it has the adorable Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman; and d) there's a cute little kid (or a mini-me Jason Bateman)!

Interestingly, for the book trailers I didn't go in search of all YA novels to feature in today's post but I found more trailers for books targeting teens and these several really stood out. Perhaps publishers are investing more in their development as teens have a greater online presence. What's interesting in terms of trends, however, is that fan-made trailers are hitting the Web too (many of which can be found on YouTube along with the originals), furthering the reach of this medium and the contagious excitement about upcoming books!

Do any of you have favorite trailers that peaked your interest or accurately captured the essence of a storyline? Books or movies are welcome. I'd also love to hear from anyone who's seen a book trailer and then a movie trailer of the book adaptation although I suspect since book trailers are such a new trend that there may not be many to choose from.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So Many Titles to Love

Earlier this week I did a post on covers so today I tackle the yin to that yang--titles.

Some of these covers are good too but it's the titles that have really stuck with me because they're quirky, full of character, or laugh out loud funny.

1. The Love Goddess' Cooking School

2. Not Ready for Mom Jeans

3. How to Sleep alone in a King-Size Bed

4. The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

5. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor

6. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

7. The Imperfectionists

8. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

9. God Don't Like Ugly

Do you have any favorite titles that have sparked your interest or convinced you to pick up a book?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cover Wars

Confession: As much as I love a good title (and I'll share some new favs later this week), I'm a total pushover when it comes to a great book cover.

Sometimes I'll meander into the bookstore just to browse; other times I'll go in with a very clear idea of what book or books I want to purchase. Regardless of how I got in there, I immediately become putty in the book marketers hands. All those displays of shiny covers gets me every time and I leave with many more books than I planned on.

It's a little like dating, I suppose. Sure it needs substance but it's that immediate attraction that sparks my interest. If it's pretty, I'll pick it up, read the jacket, and decide whether to commit. I've seen some really fabulous covers lately so I thought I'd share a few. Call me vain but I dare you to resist these.

Allison Winn Scotch's beautifully done The One That I Want and Time of My Life:

The Map of True Places seems to set a mood for the novel before I even crack a page:

I found I See You Everywhere to be haunting and so completely unique:

Simply From Scratch looks cute and quirky and thanks to the heart-shaped food, we know there's romance brewing:

Although I keep seeing slash marks instead of the title XVI as if Wolverine from X-Men makes an appearance (he doesn't), this cover is just so bad a**, what's not to love?

Bad Taste in Boys
looks delicious and dangerous all at the same time:

The Early Years is true art. I look at this and I think Cezanne:

And I don't even know how they create a partial blurred look in The Mind's Eye but I think it's really freakin' cool:

So tell me, what are some of your all-time favorite book covers?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Elusive “Dream Agent”

Like many writers, when I first completed my manuscript I had a few ideas about who my dream agent was. What I wish someone had told me is that the dream agent doesn’t exist. Correction: they do exist but they may not be who you first imagined.
At the cusp of querying I assumed I wanted the Ari Gold of agents. The uber-agent at the largest agency.

For those of you who watch Entourage, you’ve seen that outside of Ari’s biggest names, his other clients often receive very little personal attention. So why stay with someone like Ari? Because he has connections to EVERYONE.

Once you have an agent and they’re marketing your book around to publishers, having someone like Ari pushing for you is like striking gold. But what about all the other agents? I wondered.

When I was at the Jennifer Weiner reading she discussed how she became an agented author. At the time, she had interest by a more experienced agent who thought her work could sell and a new agent who LOVED LOVED LOVED her book. Jennifer explained how important it was that she went with the later. The newer agent had more time to work with her on editing her novel to get it in shape to send around and, as one of the first writers this agent represented, Jennifer got in on the ground floor. The two had a lot invested in the success of the other.

More than anything, however, the agent just “got” Jennifer and “got” Cannie, the main character in Good in Bed. And this is the takeaway, I believe. There are benefits to a larger agency as well as a boutique agency, benefits to a veteran agent and benefits to a newer agent, hungry to make a name for themselves. But the “dream agent,” in my opinion, isn’t specifically agent X or agent Y but the agent that falls in love at first read.

A few weeks ago I received a rejection on my full manuscript from an agent that I thought would totally get my book. It was a very kind rejection about loving my premise and liking the writing but finding the market so tough to take on new writers especially as my story competed with other client work. I was heartbroken. I mean I followed them on Twitter and read their blog posts and previously thought, “if only I could get my work in their hands.” And I got my work in their hands…and they passed.

I’ve heard over and over again that finding an agent is like finding a spouse. I never fully understood the analogy so I scrolled back through my dating history for some insight.

1. The unrequited love. You think agent will fall off their chair they’re so excited at your query; you receive a form rejection letter.

2. "It's not you, it's me." or "It's not me, it's you." You have an agent who likes your work, thinks it can sell, but doesn’t seem blown away.

3. True love. The agent believes in you, your work, and in building your career. PERIOD. You want them to feel like this.

So while I wait to hear on some more partials a couple full manuscript requests, I’ve realized that as writers all we can do is create the best work possible, research agents, and hope the best match will step forward. Once they do, they’ll be your biggest advocate and that, I believe, is the real dream.

If you're still in the research phase, some great places to look-up agents are Query Tracker, Literary Rambles, and Publishers Marketplace.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WriteOnCon is Here!!!

To all the writers, if you're not signed up for WriteOnCon get your little butts over there. NOW. It's a FREE, "online children's writers conference created by writers for writers." Everyone and I mean everyone is invited. Domestic, abroad, it doesn't matter. If you have an Internet connection, you're in! It runs today through Thursday, August 12.

To learn more and to sign-up, see here. Here's a copy of the schedule. I know...amazing, huh?! And for those of us that have to work all day long, there will be transcripts available online and most of the live chat forums are conveniently scheduled around after work or lunch hours.

You can submit questions for the live forums and they'll be answered by various literary agents. You can also post a query for critique by uber-agents Joanna Stample-Volpe or Natalie Fischer.

It's going to be epic and soooo much fun! It will have industry experts dropping knowledge and for no cost at all. Think pay-it-forward but for writers.

See you there (in Cyberspace that is).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Manic Monday

...ohhh wee ohhh. I wish it were Sunday...

I chose this as today's post title because this song is stuck in my head.

But it's also fitting as I have a lot to accomplish. Being Type A, I've created a list:

1. Improvements. Welcome to my newly-designed blog! I'm always looking to make this a better, more informative, and more fun experience so let me know how you like it or what else you'd like to see.

2. We have a winner. Katie Kennedy is the lucky winner of my Deception contest. Katie, I will be notifying you by email and mailing you the book. Enjoy!

3. Review. I promised a review today on The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

I heard so many amazing things about this book that by the time I picked it up to read, I was certain I was going to be disappointed. It seemed all the positive adjectives in the English language had already been used to describe it. In short, I was preparing myself to be disappointed because I thought for certain it had been built up too much.

Heck, Sarah Wylie wrote that this book was so good it made her feel like giving up writing because her work couldn't compare. Similarly, Lisa and Laura Roecker said the book made them feel like hacks. Susane Colasanti recommended it as a summer read; it's rocking nearly 4.5/5 stars on Goodreads; and Indie Booksellers selected it for their "Spring 2010 Kids' Next List."

Here's the description by Booklist who, by the way, nominated it as a "Best Fiction for Young Adults" award:

Lennie has always been the companion pony to her sister Bailey’s race horse. When Bailey dies suddenly while rehearsing the lead in Romeo and Juliet, Lennie is thrust into the spotlight. A normally reserved band geek who reads Wuthering Heights like a manifesto, Lennie is not prepared to deal with her grief. Nor is she equipped to confront the affection she feels for her dead sister’s fiancĂ©. Adding to her emotional roller coaster is the gorgeous, musically gifted new boy in town who is clearly in love with her. Lennie is sympathetic, believable, and complex. Readers will identify with her and root for her to finally make the first steps toward healing. Nelson incorporates poems, written by Lennie and left for the wind to carry away, that help readers delve deeper into her heart. Bonus: teens unfamiliar with Wuthering Heights will likely want to find out what all the fuss is about. A story of love, loss, and healing that will resonate with readers long after they have finished reading.

And you know what? It really was as good as everyone said. Nelson's background in poetry is all over this book, not just in the various poems scattered in the piece and written by Lennie, the main protagonist, but it shines through in all of the prose. There is heavy attention to the crackle of a twig underfoot or the feel of a dress like water against one's skin. It doesn't read overdone but effortless and that's why I felt this book was such a success. It taps into the emotions of the characters so truly. Lennie is struggling to get over her sister's death and her sense of confusion at how the world can keep moving forward as if this massive event didn't take place is bewildering to her. I've recognized that feeling, especially when I lost a friend at a very young age. When that happens it seems to contradict your understanding of the world and leaves you numb and raw, confused and conflicted.

Nelson carefully balances these emotions and juxtaposes them against moments of insanity and humor. You'll laugh through the tears, find the emotions to ring true, and be pleased you picked up this book. Her novel brings quirky and imaginative characters to life while implementing many of the elements of other successful YA storylines all the while feeling refreshingly unique. GO PICK UP THIS BOOK. You'll fall in love with everyone in this novel and they'll stay with you long after the story is complete.

And if you still don't believe me, here's photographic evidence that Annie and I left all the chores undone because we simply couldn't put it down.

Are there been any books you thought were overrated, underrated, or just as good as everyone says?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Gimme More"

Sequels seem to be really big these days and not just sequels but series. It's as though every time I turn on the television there's a movie trailer for the next installment of (fill in the blank) or read Publishers Marketplace to learn an author has sold the rights to not one book but an entire compilation.

But this is, I would argue, a good thing. We get pulled into another world and by the time we're really attached to the characters, it's over--the end coming too soon. It's like getting broken up with. Sure we can play out the moments over and over again but we can't move forward...not with them...not any more.

It doesn't have to be this way. We want, we need, we demand to know what And I suspect it's not just the readers who feel this way but often the writers themselves. They've lived in that world, in those minds more fully than any reader can. It's this demand that keeps the Bellas and Harrys, Stefans and Serenas* of the world alive that much longer and, of course, the longer they live, the deeper our relationship becomes with them. Now it's not just a craving for more but an insatiable appetite.

I suppose my love of series goes all the way back to Frog and Toad and perhaps even before then. My mother, an elementary school reading teacher, would always bring home the best books but sometimes--usually by the time the bindings were frayed and ragged--I'd demand she tell me a story of her own creation. "Just make it up," I'd urge, "but make it good!"

She'd begin with an elaborate setting, a pair of mischievous kids, and a mystery...and then she'd fall asleep. She was working full-time and raising three kids so who could blame her but what was I to do? I couldn't very well leave the characters at the gates of the castle or in their boat slowing tipping over the edge of the waterfall, and so I'd finish the story.

There in my room, dimly lit by a Rainbow Bright nightlight, I'd resurrect the characters and continue their story and every so often, when my mother would fall asleep again, I'd coax them out of hiding and extend their escapades a little more. They weren't done having adventures and I wasn't done tagging along.

I think we all have these kinds of stories where we tear through a novel at world record-setting speed despite not ever wanting it to end, or anxiously await the next installment in a series because we're not just enamored anymore but in love.

And there are, of course, those stories we wish we'd written or feel like we almost have because they ring so entirely true. It can feel like the author has been listening to our thoughts and giving voice to our emotions and then there they are, staring back at us from the page.

Candace Bushnell wrote that authors must know their characters more than they know their real-life friends. This is because writers know what motivates a characters and all the nuances of their every relationship. And often as readers this information is shared with us. Perhaps it's this closeness that's spurred fan-fiction and midnight parties to camp out not for concert tickets or sporting events but the next released book.

I knew when I finished writing a scene for my novel, tears streaming down my cheeks, that this wasn't just fiction anymore. These characters seemed as real to me as any one I've ever met so if they were struggling or dishonored or betrayed, it felt like I was too. When they were jovial, laughter would escape my lips at their funny banter.

For me, nothing beats a good book except perhaps a good book with my favorite character friends. What about you? What books or characters, series or sequels have come so vividly alive on the page and made you long to read more?

*If you didn't know, the names reference the Twilight Saga, Harry Potter series, Vampire Diaries, and Gossip Girl. The blog's not long enough to list all my loves so I wrote the first that came to mind.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Do Writers Write?

National Public Radio did a great piece the other day about what motivates writers to write--whether they're drafting a blog post or embarking on the next great American novel. It's definitely worth checking out. You can listen to it or read a summary here.