Friday, October 21, 2011

App for A Hot Guy to Feel You Up

A very dear friend of mine sent me this link to give me a laugh. I hate to say it had a very different affect. My phone now sends me daily reminders to check my tots. They put the fun back in fun-bags! Love this!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Outside Boy

To be truly free, you have to know who you are.

I don’t review or chat about every book I read. The ones I chose to discuss here mean something to me, have changed me in someway, and have allowed me to become a better writer.

Such a novel is The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins.  I savored every word and cradled them in my heart. I sat in awe of Cummins’ ability to weave words so delicately, so gracefully and yet the strength in them holds you fast, like an anchor at sea.

I met the lovely lass at a book reading a while back. Her debut novel tells the tale of an Irish gypsy boy's childhood in the 1950's and his struggle to find himself in a changing world.  

Ireland, 1959: Young Christy Hurley is a Pavee gypsy, traveling with his father and extended family from town to town, carrying all their worldly possessions in their wagons. Christy carries with him a burden of guilt as well, haunted by the story of his mother's death in childbirth. The peripatetic life is the only one Christy has ever known, but when his grandfather dies, everything changes. His father decides to settle down temporarily in a town where Christy and his cousin can attend mass and receive proper schooling. But they are still treated as outsiders.

As Christy's exposure to a different life causes him to question who he is and where he belongs, the answer may lie with an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried family secret that could change his life forever...

Malachy McCourt’s lovely review of The Outside Boy made my heart smile:

"In Hibernian society, there’s hardly a creature lower than the Irish tinker, a nomadic group ‘tis said was driven into the barren country by the fundamentalist Cromwell to starve. Regardless, the modern diminutive hero Christy, in Jeanine Cummins’s gloriously poetic novel, will burrow his way into your heart. It’s not often I hug a book, but with moist eyes and beginnings of a song in my heart, I followed Christy’s journey from a death to hopeful life. Read this lovely book and you will hug yourself."- Malachy McCourt, New York Times bestselling author of A Monk Swimming.

Here is a short excerpt from chapter one. Here, Christy’s Grandmother stirs them all from sleep, wailing in the night. His father and uncle stand outside his grandparents wagon, waiting to face the inevitable…

My dad hesitated, put his hand on his brother's shoulder for a long moment, like he was gathering strength for what he knew he'd find. Then he nodded and turned toward Granny's wagon door. It was hanging open, too, and she howled again as he went. I shivered under our blanket, to hear the sound of that wordless pain, unleashed and raw, galloping around the camp. Granny was like a toothless wolf. We watched without blinking while my dad disappeared into the wagon. Martin squirmed in even closer beside me, and I could feel his elbow stuck between two of my shivering ribs, like we was twins for a minute, instead of cousins. We was joined at the eyes and ears, joined at the dread. Everything was silent and stretched—only the tidal rhythm of our shared breath pushed the seconds forward. I wished for my mother.

Dad came out again, shaking his head.

"He's gone," he said.

His face was pale in the moonlight. Gone. I knew what he meant. He meant my grandda.

This tragedy spurs events that will change Christy’s life forever. Like Malachy McCourt said, I hugged this book on the very last page. Christy's tale is forever embedded in my heart and soul.

Below is an interview that Jeanine was so nice to do for our little blog and she let me gush over her like a little school girl…

The reading for The Outside Boy was my first reading ever. You were so gracious and lovely to chat with. As you read the excerpt, your emotion, slight brogue, and love for your story burst through. I sat, captivated, wanting you to read more. When it was over, it was all I could do to be polite and not rush home and continue reading. Do you often get audience members drooling? Or was it just me?

I often get audience members drooling, but usually only when I read to my daughter's preschool class. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Writing can be a lonely job, and there's nothing more gratifying than those times when I do get to share my work, and I find a strong connection with readers. That makes it all worthwhile!

Before you even read, and had me utterly mesmerized, I read the front and back cover along with the inside acknowledgements on the display table. I knew then I needed to read Christy’s story. But, behind The Outside Boy was your first book, a memoir entitled, A Rip In Heaven, A Memoir Of Murder And Its Aftermath. You mentioned that the emotional drain writing it is what created this need to write fiction. Was it difficult to switch gears going from something so profoundly personal to a fictional narrative?

For me, that wasn't difficult. I always wanted to write fiction, but I sort of had to write that memoir first. I had to get that out of me before anything else would come. I always knew I would make the switch. What was surprising to me was how similar the process was, between writing fiction and non-fiction. In the end, both stories come from the same place in my emotional landscape.

Your background is so diverse and worldly. Can you share with us where you’ve been and where you are now?

My background isn't as worldly as it might seem. My dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot when we were kids. I was born in Spain, and lived all over the states. But I grew up mostly in Maryland. After college, I spent a couple of years in Ireland, and then I moved to New York, where I've been ever since. Okay, maybe it is worldly. I'm very sophisticated. AHEM. I'm also half Irish and half Puerto Rican. And in case you're curious, it's definitely the BACK half that's Puerto Rican.

You have quite a few impressive endorsements for The Outside Boy, but Malachy McCourt’s took my breath away. How did it feel to have an Iconic Irishman give you such poetic praise?

Imagine it’s a cold day outside, and your house is pretty chilly. You lay down on your couch, but you don’t have a blanket handy, so you’re cold. Then all of a sudden two hundred kittens – two hundred ZOMG SQUEEEEE kittens – come climb on top of you. Then they all curl up into those impossibly compact little kitten balls, and some of them are laid out on top of others, and it’s just a mass of fuzziness and cuteness and whiskers that go on forever. And then they all start singing. Not your run-of-the mill-kittenpurr singing. Actual angelic furball singing from the heavens. It felt like that. I wept.

The Outside Boy is about a group of Travellers/Pavees in 1959 Ireland. Where did the idea from this story come from? What inspired you to write it? Is there a little boy named Christy roaming the Irish countryside?

After my memoir, I knew I had to get out of the true story business. Writing about personal trauma was too painful. But I also knew that I always wanted to write about injustice. So I went looking for a story about injustice that was as far away from my personal realm of experience as possible. I landed on the Irish travellers. They were foreign enough to me that I felt I might have some emotional distance in the story (HA!), and I felt that they had been treated unfairly, that Christy's was a story that needed telling, from the inside out. I fell in love with them.
 A cable show has recently gained some notoriety exploiting travelers/gypsies from Europe, especially England and Ireland. Is this a real depiction of true travelers in Ireland, the ones who you grew close to while researching your story?

My Big, Fat, Gypsy Wedding portrays the travellers about as accurately as some other cable show we know and love portrays housewives in New York City. As a housewife in New York City, I can tell you with certainty: It's not that accurate. Which isn't to say there's no element of truth therein. But there's a lot more depth to these people than we can see in thirty minutes of trashy television. (Note: Real Housewife Kelly Bensimon is exempt from the above statement. I'm convinced she is entirely devoid of depth).

What do you want the general public, especially readers, to understand about the Pavee culture?

Well just that, really - that it's a culture. These people are not disposable, and they're not homeless. Their way of life is ancient and valid, and they deserve our respect. Their culture is worth preserving.

You mentioned in the reading how you were lucky to get a glimpse of Pavee life, that a few gave you a peek inside their world. Can you share with us one of those experiences?

My favorite experience was going to visit Winnie and her family in Dunsink, outside of Dublin. I was astonished by the interiors of the caravans- I'm claustrophobic, and I couldn't imagine living inside such a small space. It still hadn't dawned on me then, that the travellers don't really live inside the caravans. They live outside them. The caravan is just a retreat from the weather, for sleep, for comfort. But their real lives go on outside, in the camps.
 The banter between the family members is so true to life. The scene which had me laughing out loud was the one where Christy sat up in his tree, razzing his Uncle Finty. I felt like I sat in the tree with him, causing mischief, laughing till my belly hurt. Then the chats between Martin and Christy, the fights, and the play; they reminded me and me and my wee sister. (See, you have me typing in brogue! LOL.) Where any of the scenes inspired by real life family moments?

Hmmm, let me think. There were a couple of moments in the book that were inspired by true stories. The one where Beano yells "fair fucks!" to his sister in the middle of the classroom was stolen from an ex-boyfriend of mine – a kid in his school back in Ireland actually did that. Poor bastard. But beyond that, I'd say just the general psychology (and the resulting banter) of the characters comes largely from people I know, and I know a lot of Irish people. They tend to be rather witty. Or at least they think they are.

The nicknames Christy gives to the people he comes across is so true to children of that age. (Ah-hem, I even give nicknames to people as an adult). Did you know any Sister Hedgehogs, Beanos, or Finnaula Whippets growing up?

I did not. Many of the nicknames in the book came from people that my Irish husband talks about from his childhood. He had a teacher called The Blob, and knew a kid called Beano. We're big on nicknames. I'm called Tink, and have been since the day I was born. My dog's name is Seamus, but we call him Comanchero. Yeah, I donno.
 This heartwarming story is, as the book cover states, about finding out who you really are. Did this theme come first or evolve as you created Christy’s story?

I always wanted the book to be about this kid's struggle to find out where he fits into this shifting landscape. His world is beginning to crumble around him, and he doesn't know who he is or where he belongs. That kid was me - maybe because of my diverse background, I always had certain questions about identity. I never felt like I fully belonged anywhere, so I wanted to explore what it would be like for a kid like Christy, trying to figure that stuff out.
 Did you cry while writing, as much as I did reading? (FYI, I was a blubbering idiot!)

Why, how much did you cry? If the novel made you cry, perhaps you should not read my memoir, which is a TEAR-JERKER, for reals. But yes, I cried when I wrote about Jack. I'd have to be a heartless bitch not to cry for poor Jack.

Fun stuff: If you could have a superpower what would it be and what would you call yourself?

I would be fluent in every language existent (which power comes with an appropriate level of cultural knowledge and empathy) and have my own zero-carbon-footprint jet which runs on water, so I could go visiting at my leisure. I would call myself Dan.

If you could be any fictional character from a novel, television show, or movie who would it be and why?

Oooh, all of my heroes die tragically, and I don't want to do that. I want to die old, eating doughnuts, and surrounded by my progeny. So I'll go with Bilbo. He got to have the same sort of adventures as Frodo, but without quite as much responsibility. And in the end, he lived out his days in comfort and joy.

What was the first book you ever read that made you say, “I want to do this; I want to be a writer”?

I was so moved by so many books as a child; I think most of them made me think: I could never do this. I remember reading Yeats for the first time, and feeling entirely defeated by the beauty of his language. He disemboweled me. To be honest, I still don't think I can do this. I worry that people will discover I'm a fraud. DON'T TELL ANYONE.

What can readers expect next from Jeanine Cummins? Will Christy ever be heard from again? Will we find ourselves reading about Spain or NYC, your other homes?

My mom wants me to write a sequel called Jack is Back! But right now I'm working on another novel, half-set in contemporary New York City, and half-set in Ireland during the famine times. And I'm also writing my first children's novel, which is FUN. It's about an Irish girl-pirate, set in the 16th century, and based on the legends of real-life awesome chick, Grace O'Malley. But I'm already looking ahead to the next project after that... I want to write about immigration issues in America, and the fallout for Irish and Latino subcultures here. There's so much that interests me. I don't think I'll ever run out of material.

Thanks Jeanine for taking the time to answer all my questions and most of all, bringing Christy into my life.

I hope you all run and buy this book! Below is a lovely interview from Jeanine's Website.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NYC, RWA, ATM, WTF!

You're wondering why A.J. & I have yet to post about RWA Nationals in NYC.


Well, let's just say we're still recovering from the sticker shock of the 18 dollar not so Chocolate Martini, the walking from the left overs hotel to the conference hotel, the copious pints of Yeungling Lager, the near financial collapse of my visa card- Liz Lemon Style, the cheetah like stealth in which A.J. found a Coach store and snuck away from our picnic in the park, MASTERCARD in hand. Mission Impossible maneuvers on the NY Mass Transit System, and the best damn pizza ever made on the planet-truly.

My Liz Lemon shadow definitely followed me on this trip. The morning of, my laptop crashed. Lovely. Stubborn Hubby kept trying to fix it, making me leave later than I'd wanted for my first ever train ride to NYC from Philly. We got stuck behind a funeral procession as the minutes ticked by. I got there with seconds to spare. Whew. Train ride was lovely really. Until I got shushed. Apparently I picked the "quiet" car. A.J. was calling and I had to answer, my bad Mr. Cranky Pants. I resort back to texting as a link to the outside world I learn my teenage daughter has a secret Facebook Page. Lovely. Oh, and it's a basically "I hate my Mom" Homage to me. Again. Lovely. Let the other parental unit deal with it. I am outta here.

My cabbie didn't help me put my bags in and they ended up sitting on my lap. I get to said Left-Overs Hotel and go to check in. *Insert record player skurt sound effects here.* My credit card was declined. What-the-what is right. When I call the bank apparently fraudulent charges were made from NYC for other customers so they flagged all purchases coming New York and Ohio. It's a small local Philly bank, not national. Whoa is me!


Great. Awesome. I say, but I AM here in NYC, and I NEED money! (This nightmare takes all weekend to iron out, BTW) Right on cue, A.J. comes running in behind me. Thank Gawds the Canadian was packing some serious plastic or we would've been on the street people.



And street people, or rather people in streets, there were many. RWA Conference, in NYC on the 4th of July weekend ... need I say more?
A.J. saves the day. Canada rocks! Yet, here I am thinking the universe is colliding to royally screw with us. Not a good omen. But, I have my clown nose and a dream. I trudge on. Charli style, with JAWS, a.k.a A.J., her razor sharp teeth ready to take a bite out of anyone in our way. (very suspicious of everyone and everything)



We forge ahead and meet up with the fabulous peeps from Heroes & Heartbreakers at the fabulously delicious, Juniors Cheesecake. In true, A.J & Charli style we are a tad bit late. But the cake rocked and so did the company. It was so awesome to meet peeps you only know through the internets. A.J. is not a cheesecake fan, I know, weirdo Canadian. But she got this kick-ass slab of strawberry shortcake. OBJECT IS BIGGER THAN IS APPEARS!


After our great conversation and a caloric induced coma we decide we need more than a wee bit o' cake and find Ray's Pizza. Wow. Awesome. Really. Great. Pizza. And Canada kind of got excited seeing beer in a take out fridge. Beer always gets me excited. BTW, A.J. wore these fabulous heels but, um, they were heels. Yeah, walking around in Times Square in heels is not recommended. A couple of slices later we trudge back to our hotel. A.J. limps and I undo the top button in my pants. *Burp*


Now its time for the First Timers Orientation! Yay! And we went. And that's all we really have to say about that.


Moving along ...


We meet up at the Hotel Bar and schmooze with G. Jillian Stone! It was so awesome to finally meet her in person. We chat and A.J. orders that overpriced Chocolate Martini. Blech she says!


So, I , Charli, get up in time for the breakfast and meet up with the super awesome G. Jillian Stone. A.J. dragged her arse out a wee bit later.


A.J. met up with us and we have a little time to kill before our RWA PRO Retreat. We take in the sights and realize, as nice the Conference Hotel is, it is a terrible place to hang out and meet people. The main floor has no lobby. The 8th floor has space to grab a quick bite or drink and its a hodge podge of places to sit. It's not at all what I expected. But sitting next to G. Jillian Stone and recalling her Cinderella story from the year before at Nationals, I guess I had high hopes.


As did I (A.J.) The Chocolate Martini, a cloudy confection, claimed to be Grey Goose Vodka, a splash of crème de cacao, ringed with powdered chocolate …

The murk in the martini is an omen, dear readers. Not all was as we thought it would be. Hyped does not even begin to describe how excited we were to attend Nationals!

The problem was, and I say this with Charli’s blessing, RWA was not all it was cracked up to be. At least, not for us. What we expected and what we got were two very different things. Firstly, we’ve both been writing seriously for two years, and in those years we’ve consumed every morsel of information we could in order to hone our craft, improve our understanding of the publishing business and understand the market.

Armed with an arsenal of information, I jumped on a plane, Charli hailed a train and we rendezvoused at the Manhattan @ Times Square, otherwise known as the Left Over Hotel. We tossed our luggage in the room and headed to the Marriott; excited to learn MORE.



But sadly, what we got was a whole lot of knowledge we’d already attained. The conference itself, minus schmoozing with the Super fantastic Jill Stone, and Team Awesome Sauce from H&H, we strongly feel was for newbies; that is, writers in the beginning stage of their career, who know little, and would, at Nationals, learn a lot.

Most of the “workshops” were more or less panels, and had little interaction between, author/editor/agent and writer. So hyped were we for the PRO retreat, speechless is all we could be. One would normally expect a retreat to have some small group interactions. Perhaps a group of 6-10 people, all say, perhaps who write in the same genre, who could really benefit from chatting with an author/editor/agent who represents or writes what the author does.

Instead, general questions were written on pieces of scrap paper, and possibly – not even half were answered – answered by one of the several, informative panelists. Oh, and the Powers That Be in the RWA – sounds like some sort of mob, IRA, CIA, etc. – made sure everyone stayed until the very end by offering up door prizes, ranging from free crits from editors and agents, to synopsis reviews from published authors. And who wouldn’t want that?

Huh, hand up over here in Canada? You, Charli?



Present, with clown nose on!

I (Charli), too felt that this Conference was definitely geared toward newbies to writing, especially Romance. If you write Paranormal or Western you would have been in great company. We, um, don't. Actually the biggest Ah-ha moment for us clowns was that we don't write Romance. 'Twas clear. We write stories with Romantic Elements.Which in itself was a boon indeed! But worth the near fortune we paid to attend? Mmm, not so much.


Sherrilyn Kenyon's Awards Luncheon Speech was a major highlight for me. There was not a dry eye in the house. When she spoke of how her brother's passing inspired her to keep going, I nearly lost it. Amazing. If you can get your hands on a recording of it, jump on it. I guarantee you will be inspired.


One of the morning panels featured authors Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen. Together they offered great insight into what its like to be a bestselling author. And since I LOVE LOVE LOVE The Outlander is was very thought provoking to hear about Diana's experiences as a writer.

I did attend a few workshops that helped me a little. The Buy This Book! panel was worth its weight in gold. It really opened my eyes to what goes on when editors get your manuscript. Plus Jill was in the audience and she gave me much needed confidence as I flailed my way through presenting my book. Yes, I volunteered and made a fool of myself, Lemon style. But, 'twas worth it.



BTW, there were several author signings and the books were all FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What writer wouldn't want FREE books? Count that as another highlight! We got so many, A.J. had to ship two, VERY FULL boxes back to Canada! And amidst the crowds, we had the pleasure of meeting two very talented, and awe inspiring authors; Sherrilyn Kenyon and Julia London. SQUEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Oh, and in traditional we always feck things up style, Jill roamed the streets of NYC, in search of the House of Brews, only to realize they're were two within the vicinity! Oops! where's a GPS when ye need it? Drinks are on us! Poor lass was so tired by the time she found us we forgot to get a pic with her. So, the photos below are in honor of, Jill.


Agents requested our work, we schmoozed as best we could in the maze like wren of mismatched chairs in the hotel bar, and attended the GH & Rita Dinner. Huh, oops, our bad, the dessert and coffee, dinner? That doesn't sound right! Grr. Plus, like the tools we are, we paid extra for the event thinking we had to. Again. Liz Lemon. We were so annoyed at this point we jumped ship and headed to a little french cafe for some, your guessed it, brews. And it was called La Brassiere. Saucy!



After many more brews, we hit the sheets. Ah, Saturday, freedom. Conference over, we headed out for a wee bit o' retail therapy, a tour of NYC's mass transit and a walk about. After eating the best pizza EVER (photo below) we headed for Central Park and a delightful lunch with Savvy Authors and a Mighty Agent I am friendly with. She made all kinds of delectable treats. And this is where A.J. said she had to use the facilities, and ended up in the Coach store, caught red-handed, lassie!

Anywho, did we have fun? Hells yes. Would we do it again? Hells no. RWA Nationals is not for us. But that's not to say its not for YOU! 

We're stalking the internets as you read this for Writing Conferences that encompass all genres of fiction. Conferences that give the writer one on one time with agents and editors in workshops, not panels, set in smaller numbers than the estimated 2,200 authors at Nationals. Do your research, we did, and we are amazed at what is out there. That, will be yet another tale to tell.

RWA Conference: 525.00

Awards Dinner Ticket: 65.00

Airfare: 350.00

Coach Purse: 350.00

Having a MasterCard accepted at the Left Over Hotel?

Priceless ...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fireworks Over Toccoa

Sometimes you pick a book and sometimes a book picks you. This has been happening to me a lot lately.

I mean, just look at this cover. A beautiful starlit sky. A beautiful couple dancing. The slight smile on the man's face, the gentleness in which he seems to hold her hand, how his palm presses against her back- keeping her close. Can't you feel rustle of their hair, the heat of their cheeks touching... I can.

And that's just the cover. Jeffrey Stepakoff's words reached out from the page and held me fast, each passage captured my heart, and left me profoundly changed. This love story, and the true story that inspired it all, will remind you that everything does happen for a reason. That who we are today is the culmination of all the paths we've embarked upon and those who journeyed along with us.

Every so often a story comes along that reminds us of what it’s like to experience love for the first time – against the odds, when you least expect it, and with such passion that it completely changes you forever.

Lily Davis Woodward was married for just days before her husband was sent abroad to fight in WWII. Now, he and the other soldiers are returning, and the small town of Toccoa, Georgia plans a big celebration. Jake Russo, a handsome Italian immigrant, also back from the war, is responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned. After a chance encounter on a starlit field, he steals Lily’s heart and soul- and fulfills her in ways her socially minded, uper class family cannot.  Torn between duty to society and her husband- and the poor, passionate man who might be her only true love- Lily must choose between a love she never knew and a commitment she'd already made.

Poignant and elegant, Fireworks Over Toccoa is a mosaic of all the emotions that only love can make possible...

Jeffrey had me at World War II and a love story. Throw in fireworks and 4th of July and I was sold. See, me and the hubby's anniversary is the 4th of July so the holiday and the thought of brightly colored skies makes my heart go pitter-patter.

Emily Giffin, Bestselling Author of Love The One You’re With, even praised this heartfelt story, “A luminous love story that readers won’t soon forget, Fireworks Over Toccoa transports you to another time and place. It is at once heartbreaking and triumphant—an affirmation of love in all its forms.”

The book opens with a couple of boys playing near a resovoir. They find something in the murky waters that has not seen the light of day for decades. When the historical society displays the artifact in the local paper, the original owner cannot believe its resurfaced after all these years. It brings forth a rush of memories that cannot be contained. An elderly Lily sets off with her granddaughter Colleen, to reclaim what is rightfully hers. A granddaughter she believes is about to marry the wrong man. Along the way she can only hope to show Colleen that there is no such thing as the perfect man or perfect life. Lily hopes that by sharing her past Colleen will make the right choice for her future.

The passage below is after Lily meets Jake in the field where he is setting up the fireworks display. Lily sees a burst of color in the sky and gets out of her car to investigate. She walks, unknowingly, to where Jake is testing the fireworks. He rushes to her, pushes her to the ground and covers her from an explosion. After he helps clean a wound on her knee he realizes he doesn't want her to go.

Jake realized that Lily was shaking her head. "You okay?" he said.

"I'm just remembering, I've got a trunk full of ice cream and butter."

"In this heat?"

Lily realized her groceries were probably ruined. "I'm not usually like this. Really. I don't know what's wrong with me today."

Jake laughed. Incerasingly certain that he was seeing a part of this young woman that very few ever saw. A part she kept carefully hidden, maybe even from herself. And he liked it. He liked it a lot.

Jake had learned during his time at war that there are moments in one's life, critical moments, small moments, passing flutters of a second, in which decisions are made and actions taken, perhaps the slightest of offers extended, that the time on the surface seems simple and transparent but upon consideration or reflection are proven to be instants that can change the course of everything.

As she stood there in her sandals in that field, smiling comfortably at him, an evening breeze kicking up, tossing her hair, rippling her dress, the feel of  the skin of her leg rooted in his mind like a lovely haunting melody, growing louder and more resolute each time he tried to forget it, on a level that he was not wholly aware of at the time, this was one of those moments. It could have ended there, Jake knew. There was nothing else between them, and the last thing he needed was a complication. He was decidedly avoiding such things in his life. That was one of the main reasons he was here after all. Say goodbye, wish her well, do the show, and move on to the next town, he told his conscious self.

But after several years living by his gut, literally surviving on what it directed him to do, he once again found himself acting on that core instinct. "Would you like to stay for dinner?" he asked. "I don't have much. But there's some risotto, and I'm not entirely bad with my little camp stove. And I suppose we could have ice cream soup for dessert."

Lily was a little taken back by the offer. But she continued standing there. "You saved my life, you bandage my knee, I can't have you feed me, too. The Ladies Auxiliary will throw me out of Toccoa for being such a poor southern hostess."

"So, we won't tell them."

How long had it been since she'd been invited to dinner, to anything, by someone besides her parents or someone who was connected to her parents? Dinner. More time with this man. Yes. That was exactly what she wanted. Was it okay? Was it proper? Was it right? She didn't know. But she was in the middle of a grassy field and the sun was going down and Jake Russo had been nothing but nice and kind and interesting, and all she knew for sure was that she wanted more. And that, that certainly felt right.

"I can stay."

Later, Jake opens up to Lily about his experience over seas and in battle.

For the first time, Lily got a glimpse into what Jake Russo had been through, what hurt him so deeply and caused him to wander cross-country without home or community. More than anything she wanted to soothe that pain, kiss away the anguish, but she dare not approach that place. She dare not battle an apparition she could not see or touch or know. So she remained silent and let instinct take over once again, running her hands through his hair. He liked that. His body was so responsive to her touch, so sensual. Could you love someone you'd known for barely one day? What if you felt that you'd known that person your whole life, even though you just met him?

"You can share anything with me, Jake. Even, that," she said as gently as a person could.

Jake inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. What could he say to her? I am sharing everything with you, he thought. Every time my chest expands with breath against yours, every time my heart beats in tempo with yours, I am sharing everything. How could he make her understand? He opened his eyes. "You asked me when we had dinner in the field if I had changed," he said. "What I've come to believe is that you have to cherish...this, the present. Life and death...it's a matter of breath, a heartbeat...a single footstep." He thought about Lorena, who had stepped on a mine in her vineyard, and he held Lily even tighter thinking about the simple timing of things. He had seen so much that was arbitrary- things you couldn't make sense of, let alone try to explain with words. He held her even tighter and tried to convey these thoughts with the stroke of his hands, the pound of his pulse, tried to pass them through his touch. "This, the here and the now, Lily, this is what you count on."

Oh sigh and super duper knee jerking sigh. Want to know how it ends? You'll need to buy the book for that. I've already read Jeffrey's second novel, The Orchard, and am reviewing it over at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Another must read love story by this amazing author.

Here's a little background on this master of words. His bio had me worshipping at the altars of literature, screaming, "I'm not worthy..

Jeffrey Stepakoff was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received a BA in Journalism. In 1988, the day after getting his MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie Mellon, he drove to Hollywood where he began writing for film and television.

Jeffrey has “written by” or “story by” credits on thirty-six television episodes, has written for fourteen different series and has worked on seven primetime staffs, producing hundreds of hours of internationally-recognized television, including the Emmy-winning THE WONDER YEARS, SISTERS, WILD CARD, HYPERION BAY, THE MAGIC SCHOOL, C16: FBI, ROBIN’S HOODS, LAND’S END, FLIPPER, SONS & DAUGHTERS, MAJOR DAD, THE YAKOV SMIRNOFF SHOW, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, HAVE FAITH, SIMON& SIMON, and DAWSON’S CREEK where he was Co-Executive Producer.

Stepakoff has also created and developed pilots for many of the major studios and networks, including 20th Century, Paramount, MTM, Fox and ABC. And he has developed and written major motion pictures, including Disney’s TARZAN and BROTHER BEAR, and EM Entertainment’s LAPITCH, THE LITTLE SHOEMAKER, Croatia’s selection for the 1998 Academy Awards.

A few years ago, Stepakoff returned to Atlanta, where he lives with his wife and three young children, and began writing fiction. FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA is his first novel. Presently, he speaks around the country, teaches dramatic writing at Kennesaw State University, and is hard at work on his second novel for St. Martin’s Press. In his spare time, he builds forts in living room with sofa cushions.

You can read excerpts of both Fireworks Over Toccoa and The Orchard at http://jeffreystepakoff.com/

Happy Birthday Jeff!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Beautiful Disaster is a Beautiful Must Read!

Laura Spinella's BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, haunted me as I perused the bookshelves. The cover pulled me in and I wanted to read it, no, needed to read it. But my hands were full and I couldn't spend a penny more. Sigh, I hate when that happens. The solitary man on a that road surrounded by lush greenery kept staring at me, and it kept me there for a few beats. I finally put it down and resigned to come back the following week for it. Well, I was back looking for a gift two days later. Low and behold the book was staring at me again, not in its right place, just randomly in a spot where I'd be. 'Twas a sign. I bought said book and started reading on the train ride home from work.

I COULD NOT STOP READING! I devoured this amazing story in two days. Flynn and Mia will capture your heart. You will need to know what happens, how did they get to this place and how it will all end. I sensed every move Flynn made, his persona, how he saw the world. Mia's vulnerabilities, her weaknesses, and the eventual strength she gained mirrored much of what many young women go through during those years of self exploration, years of loving only one man. The sacrifices Flynn made touched my heart and have stayed with me, coming back to my mind when I least expect it. When I finally finished it, I crushed it to my chest with a weighty SIGH, and so did not want it to end.

Here is a blurb from Laura's website:

Mia Wells is poised to finalize the deal that will make her eco-friendly career goals a reality. The moment is interrupted when an unexpected phone call ushers in a tremulous past. The man she’s always loved, the one who abandoned her years before, has mysteriously resurfaced.  

Set in the Deep South amid magnolia leaves and the innocence of college life, Beautiful Disaster begins with Flynn’s arrival. He’s a man with a doubtful past, half a name, and no ties to anything earthbound, except Mia. For a year they have the kind of love affair a man like him inspires. Mia trusts him with her life. It’s a precarious leap of faith when she learns that he’s a fugitive on the run. For the next twelve years she keeps his secrets, long after Flynn vanishes, devastating her. Succumbing to the common sense she once defied, Mia eventually marries. Michael Wells is a wonderful man: patient, successful, driven. She does love him; who wouldn’t? Never anticipating Flynn’s return, Mia does her best to put the past behind her. It’s a bittersweet truth as she must admit to a love and a passion that has never died. Yet, the future is grim as a gravely injured Flynn lingers, his dark past hovering like a storm. When he finally recovers, the puzzle unfolds. Flynn’s recollections are sketchy, piecing together the years and moments leading up to his accident. A smart man for whom honor has been a nemesis, Flynn unravels the truth: one well meaning lie has altered three lives, creating futures that should have never been. As the past and present reconcile, Mia’s what ifs are endless. Filled with sweetness and suspense, Beautiful Disaster is an achingly powerful tale—the kind of love story each of us wishes was ours to tell.

They way Spinella immerses you into Mia and Flynn's world is seamless. There were moments where I could feel the stubble on Flynn's face, the sweat dripping down his back or the wind combing its fingers through Mia's hair.

This passage here, simply made the air freeze in my lungs. Mia and Flynn have just met and Mia is re-thinking her decision to ride on a motorcycle alone with a stranger back to his hotel room.

"Would you like to search it?" he asked, making contact with her stark eyes, tipping the bag in her direction.

"Search it?"

"Yeah, are we having a language problem again?"

"Language...Oh, I...No, I don't want to search it." Yes, I do, but that would be rude. "Besides, you were a Marine, right? You can probably hurt somebody just as easily with your bare hands."

The remark was intended to ease the tension, but his face went dark and distant. With a glare of agitation, far different from the one he'd used with the desk clerk, Flynn came toward her. Mia's breath halted halfway between in and out, making it impossible to speak...or scream. His hands hit with a thud against the knotty paneling on  either side of her head. Escaping through a solid wall seemed more likely than getting past him. She was trapped. It appeared the train wreck was imminent. Soft blue eyes turned steely as they met with hers, and she blinked hard at him. But the sound of his voice was quiet and sure. 

"I would never ever hurt another human being like that. Know this much." His hands dropped from the wall, and he sulked across the room, picking up his drink. He stood with his back to her, finally speaking over his shoulder. "If you're ready, which I'm sure you are, I'll take you  home now."

Mia peeled herself from the wall and tried to speak, but nothing would come. Instead she walked over and lightly pressed her palm to his broad back. His body grew rigid as her hand made contact and his head snapped to attention. "Flynn...I'm sorry about whatever happened to...Well, I'm sorry."

This time the shaky breath was his. As he turned, his fingers reached up and traced the outline of her cheekbone. His hands, they were the opposite of her skin, uncared for and rough. But his touch was gentle, like butterfly wings, and oddly Mia found herself at ease. What is that? In his face, his eyes, something I can see...but don't understand. Something completely removed from her average existence. Mia fought a rush of involuntary tears- relief evidently he wasn't going to kill her, compassion for what she saw in his face. He started to say something. Mia leaned in, poised to listen, but instead found herself drawn into a long, sensuous kiss, and her average existence was over.
***

Soul crushing sigh! Now, can you see why I had to go back and relive this moment again?

I had the distinct pleasure of having Laura Spinella answer some questions for our little blog. I hope you enjoy her reflections and I hope you rush out and pick up a copy of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER.

Author Interview with Laura Spinella:
This is your debut novel. Diane Chamberlain gives an amazing endorsement of Beautiful Disaster on the book’s cover, “Can this really be a debut novel? Laura Spinella weaves the past into the present with a sure hand as she tests the boundary between love and obsession.” I must agree, the transitions are seamless and the prose is a heart pounding, edge of your seat ride that left me with a chest crushing sigh when finished. So, it’s not really a question, just a shameless gush of praise.

Well, that was easy enough! It’s an absolute thrill to have the awesome, incredible, fabulous Diane Chamberlain’s stamp of approval on BEAUTIFUL DISASTER’S cover.  It’s an honor.

Did you have any other completed novels before BD or is this not only your debut novel but your first novel ever written. (Be warned, if this is the first book you ever wrote I will Grrr with jealousy at your frawesomeness.)

No Grring necessary! Technically, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is the second of five novels I’ve written. I wrote the rough draft in six weeks, but it took six years to see it on bookstore shelves.  In between revisions, it spent a lot of time in a desk drawer, contemplating the error of its pages! There was nothing easy or quick about it, and it’s far from perfect. (Though I will say that I think it’s an entertaining read!)

Yes, it is certainly entertaining, and IMO, perfect!

What was the journey like for you from first drafts, to the query stage, to the big sale, to the final edits, and to publication at last? (How long did it take you to write, how many queries did you send, how long did it take your agent to sell, yada.)

I answered a little of that in question two, so I’ll start from BD’s resurrection from desk drawer hell. I’d queried Susan Ginsburg at Writers House regarding a different manuscript. She rejected the book, but did write me a lovely letter complimenting my writing. It was enough to make me say, “Well, if you kind of liked that, maybe you’ll really like this.” That was BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. She did, but she also rejected it. I took one more chance and asked what she might change if she was representing the novel. She was very gracious and offered me a roadmap to what the ms lacked. The roadmap led to a treasure trove of ideas. A year later, I sent her a revised version. A few months after that, she sold it.

Wow, persistence, hard work, and a little patience really paid off. You're someone many aspiring authors, like myself, can look up to.

Laura, the cover of Beautiful Disaster is what drew my attention. Did you have any input on it? And what did it feel like to hold it in your hands? (I am living vicariously through you with these questions, btw.)

LOL, I hope I don’t disappoint. Sometimes I think I’m a writer b/c my characters are so much better at living life than I am! My only input was that I didn’t want stock art, the close up images of people and body parts that often depict the cover of women’s fiction novels. That didn’t seem right for BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. Berkley contracted an outside artist, Richard Tuschman, to design the cover.  After reading one chapter and a suggestion from Berkley’s art director, Rita Frangie Batour, that a romantic rural Southern road might be the way to go, he came up with what you see.  I think he did a phenomenal job!  As for the, “hold it your hands,” part, it’s probably not the answer you’d expect.  The physical book didn’t have that much impact, which, I realize, is an odd response.  I didn’t see it as a giving birth moment, like when they hand you that baby in the hospital. To be honest, this took way longer and required a great deal more effort.  It’s more like when I look at my smart, accomplished, vivacious 22-year old daughter and think, “Oh, I had a big hand in that.”  Does that make sense? 

Yes, it does. But this girl will be squeeing from the rooftops if her work ever sees print. But, I digress.

Did someone or something from your past spark the initial idea for this story? Was it the bad boy from your college days? A roommate’s personal experience? A local news story? Do tell. I need to know the inspiration for Flynn.

You mean, was there a Flynn?  I probably get that question more than any other.  It does make me feel like a job well done, that he’s had that much effect on readers. So, I guess he’s as real as he needs to be! Athens, Georgia, however, was a huge hands-on inspiration. It’s such a muse-like place, anything can happen there. It was a terrific canvas for a character like Flynn. When I visit Athens now (my other daughter goes to school there) I find myself glancing down the street, half expecting to see him. Funny you should ask about the roommate. My still BFF and roommate from UGA did go to medical school… not unlike Mia’s BFF, Roxanne!  That said, you couldn’t find a similarity between her and Roxanne under a microscope, pure coincidence.  People comment on it sometimes, and we laugh about it a lot.

Funny, I see Flynn every time I see a motorcycle....

The love scenes are so sexy, loving, tender and far from cliché. Was it hard to put yourself in the mind set of a young college girl head over heels in love?

Thank you and no. My opinion about love scenes: conversation (dialogue) is a desperately overlooked component when writing one. Sure, the sex is… there in BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, but it’s the conversation, the verbalized emotion, between Mia and Flynn that draws you in.  Body parts are just the mechanics.

How true.

Did you ever go for a motorcycle ride with a sexy stranger? If yes, details please.

My Uncle Billy took me for a motorcycle ride when I was eight. See, I told you I’d disappoint. Actually, my brother-in-law is a bike enthusiast and I drained his brain for insight. But I never did go for a ride. Honestly, there are days when I regret the biker aspect of the book. Flynn is so much more than that, and the motorcycle was literally meant to be a vehicle. But I get it. Flynn turning up in Athens in a Volkswagen doesn’t have the same impact.

A little disappointed. Uncle Billy doesn't sound as sexy as Flynn. (Sorry Uncle Billy.) And you're right. Flynn pulling up in a VW is definitely not the same!

Did you have to do much research on motorcycle accidents, ICUs, or the military for certain aspects of the book? Did you have first hand experiences with any of these topics?

Actually, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER required a lot of research. I interviewed an ICU nurse who answered all my medical questions. The day I visited, there just happened to be a patient in a coma, the result of a motorcycle accident. Observing him was powerful insight. I also interviewed an ex-special ops marine. I learned enough to piece together Flynn’s background and make it realistic. Even the fight scene at the concert was choreographed. My son’s Taekwondo instructor and his partner worked it all out for me; I sat on the floor and took notes.  Some readers have commented that I must be into eco-friendly design, like Mia. That makes me chuckle. I didn’t know the first thing about holistic design. I found an expert via the internet and she provided all the necessary details. It’s been my experience that people are happy to share their area of expertise. I’m very grateful for all the people who advised me; each one is thanked on the acknowledgement page.

I can just see you on a the floor taking notes, while watching guys duke it out. Pretty cool.

As a writer, what motivated you while writing? Certain songs, a room, time of day, etc.

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER definitely has its own playlist, but I’d never listen to it while writing. I’m a dead silence writer. If the neighbor’s dog barks, it drives me nuts. I do like to write in my sunroom, which can also be problematic if it’s too sunny.  I’d probably write just fine in cement walled solitary confinement. Writing for me tends to be more of a compulsion, therein lies the motivation. 

Continue using the same method from when writing BD, worked wonders! LOL.

Any advice on aspiring authors like myself with the passion to tell a story?

If you have a passion to tell a story then I think you’re halfway there.  But to answer your question, I think Anne Lamott said it best, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it probably won’t make you any richer.” Unless you’re incredibly successful, the rewards do not outweigh the effort and risk—at least not in my small experience. If you’re willing to accept that and do it anyway—well, that might be the other half.  Also, if you happen to come across someone who knows what they’re talking about and loves your writing, politely sink your teeth in.

My critique partner, AJ, her nickname is JAWS. She'll love that last bit about sinking her teeth into someone. I'll need to remind her not to literally bite anyone, though.

Fun stuff: If you could have a superpower what would it be and what would you call yourself?

As a kid, I was a huge Bewitched fan.  I loved how everything could be solved with the twitch of a nose.  It seems like a streamline solution to so many things!  As for the power, I’d have to say the ability to teleport one’s self. I could have breakfast in Bali, stop in Athens for lunch with my daughter, and pop over to Paris for dinner. What would I call myself?  Clearly, I’d call myself to my next meal.

I am the Time-Stopper. Who wouldn't want to his snooze, freeze time, wake whenever they wanted, and still be punctual.

If you could be any fictional character from a novel, television show, or movie who would it be and why?

Oh my, these are getting harder!  I’m such an observational reader, I don’t know that I envision myself anybody’s book—including my own! I really enjoy the sideline view. The only television show I’ve watched in recent years is Gilmore Girls.  My daughters and I, we’re completely obsessed.  At five o’clock everything stops, and we watch the nightly rerun on the Family Channel. (I know, it’s a far cry from Flynn and Mia’s more sultry moments) I don’t know that I’d want to be in it, but I would have loved to be on the writing staff—such snappy, witty, brilliant dialogue!  

I'd be Bridget Jones. That girl has all the fun! Or, thinking, I'd be Mia to get me some Flynn. Yup, definitely Mia. ;)

What was the first book you ever read that made you say, “I want to do this, I want to be a writer”

Hmm, for that you have to go all the way back to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House series.  I completely loved them as a kid.  They were probably more influential than I realize. But I don’t think any one book or author gave me that, “I want to be a writer,” moment. I think it’s just who I am—like being left handed or having the ability to sing.  That and if you’d seen my math SAT score, you’d understand why I had to find an alternate occupation. 

I loved those books and remembered reading the first one! I took idiot Math in college. Yes, I agree, if you are a writer its in your blood.

What’s next for Laura Spinella, what tales can we expect to submerge ourselves in?

THE IT FACTOR: Aidan Royce, rock icon, has it all, money, fame, and an incredible life. The one thing he doesn’t have is Isabel Lang, the girl who left him on their wedding night in Las Vegas. Fate brought together a spitfire Jersey Girl and Catswallow, Alabama’s own Conrad Birdie. Circumstance drove them apart. Seven years later, Isabel works at 98.6—The Normal FM for Easy Listening. It’s a classic AM format with a touch of irony; it’s a world away from Aidan’s rock-n-roll life. When the station is bought out, demanding a huge promotional event, the always independent Isabel has no choice but to contact Aidan.  He’s the boy she loved, the one she left to keep him out of jail and to secure his amazing future. The book lends itself to the same past/present rhythm as BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, still very passionate, but very a different story and characters.

Can I read that now, please??

Thank you Laura for taking the time to be with us. I look forward to reading THE IT FACTOR and until then, going back and hanging out with Mia and Flynn. :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cruelty To Innocents Blog Tour

Powered by BannerFans.com
I used to be a James Patterson fanatic. I devoured his books.  I inhaled Dan Brown, Stieg Larson, Elizabeth Kostova, and any other adrenaline rushed reads I could get my hands on. You can say I went through this Thriller/Killer phase. Then somehow I got to reading those mushy love stories and I haven't really picked up a thriller since.

A while back CK Webb chatted about her and DJ Weaver's new release, Cruelty To Innocents. We are FB buddies and you know how those cyber-author-friend relationships go. You chat about the writing life and strangers on the interwebz become comrades in arms. I believe in supporting fellow authors and I agreed to join this blog tour as soon as CK asked.

I won't lie-I was a bit nervous about it. It had been so long since a read the genre. But, who doesn't love a free read. The blurb alone gave me chills:

What if you were in your car alone with your small child and you came upon an emergency scene? Would you stop to help? What if, while you are trying to assist a victim of an accident or mugging, you left your young child alone in the car, thinking he or she would be safe. What if, instead of help, the call to 911 brought a terrifying, sinister result?

Someone’s abducting children from 911 emergency scenes in Aberdeen Maryland, while their parents call for help and lend aid to accident victims. Someone who’s also listening in, is a monster and vicious child abductor. In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the scene, that monster slips in and steals the innocent children leaving behind no trace for authorities.

Sloanne Kelly is unprepared for what awaits in her hometown as she travels back to Maryland. Her goddaughter is one of the victims and the clock is ticking. Together with her best friend and a local fireman, Shawn Tyler, Sloanne will face the most insidious of criminals and fight to recover the children before there is anymore, Cruelty to Innocents.

The opening scene will leave you breathless, jaw dropped, and turning the page in a flash. They had me at psycho! I love when thrillers open with the bad guy. This creep is taking little kids at the scenes of 911 emergencies. The horror! *Shakes fist*

As the story progresses you not only have to know who the killer is and if his victims will live, but you become invested in the characters as a whole. This is not seen in many thrillers. As a former Patterson junkie I loved this approach. For me, this was a story about the characters, their lives, and how these unspeakable crimes have affected them-brought them together. I am a character driven writer so I relished every detail about Sloanne, Shawn, Skip, Chloe, Patty, Dani, and the others. As the mother of a teenage daughter I actually teared up in places, the emotion in this story is that good.

In Thrillers/Mysteries and in real life the act of the crime itself becomes the focus, the subject, the plot.The victims are treated as secondary characters. In Cruelty To Innocents it was about the victims and their loved ones. I fell in love with them all. As an aspiring writer and a detailed critique partner I could've noted the telling and passive bits but, for me, it didn't matter in the least. The story was that good. It's a fairly quick read at 162 pages and there is a major WTF moment at the end where your heart races and head shakes at the same time. I love when that happens.

You are also left hanging, I know I was. Now, I'm awaiting the next book in the 911 Abduction Series.

I have a free copy to give away. The 9th person to email me at charli555 at comcast dot net will be the winner! Thanks for stopping by and check out CK Webb and DJ Weaver on facebook, their blog, the Cruelty To Innocent's Website, CK Webb's Book Review site, and on amazon.