Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Everybody Better Move Over, That's All"

"'Cause I'm runnin' on the bad side and I got my back to the wall..." I believe Mr. Springsteen may have been simply writing of overly crowded sidewalks, but those words certainly conjure up powerful images of OBSTACLES in my mind, and OBSTACLES are the subject of today's blog post.

Specifically, obstacles to writing. I have posted in the past about The Swamp, aka writer's block, which is the biggest and baddest obstacle. Environmental factors can also be obstacles, like, oh, for example, say THE SCREAMING BABY IN THE APARTMENT DOWNSTAIRS!!!

Who, when seen, is an otherwise delightful tousle-headed perfect little Gerber baby.

But when heard and not seen (which is 50% of my preferred way of interacting with this nano-neighbor), she becomes Screamer McHelltot. Worse, she seems to follow me from room to room. If I'm trying to write in the spare bedroom, she's directly below me in their spare bedroom. If I move to the back room, she's there, too, underneath the floorboards, howling like a banshee who's lost her banshee pacifier. Living room? Yep, there, too, apparently clinging to the ceiling underneath like some kind of Japanese horror movie stop-action devil baby.

Dear Santy Claus: Please bring Screamer McHelltot a pacifier for Christmas. And her parents the full DVD collection of Super Nanny. And/or, move the entire family to Bora Bora ASAP. Or Arkansas. Your call.

Oh, well, the point is there will always be obstacles to writing. And they must be overcome! Via ear plugs, a vigorous singing along with "Tenth Avenue Freezeout" or whatever works.

Another obstacle to writing is, well, oddly enough, editing. Editing is, of course, a crucial part of the writing process, but it is a very different act than the writing itself. Not too long ago, I finished the first draft of my third novel, ROMEO FAILS. Rewriting then ensued, then the fierce focus of editing my own manuscript.

Having finished that, I'm now faced with a (delightful) decision: Start writing the next novel, which has been patiently waiting its turn in the back of my mind, or return to my very first book, HEAVENLY MOVES, which I know needs some serious editing - especially from the vantage point of now having completed two other novels and learning a lot along the way.

Well, sorry, super awesome post-apocalyptic YA novel! You'll have to wait a little bit longer. Since I'm in editing mode already, the time seems right to revisit HEAVENLY MOVES and do some weeding and trimming.

But first, I'm off to the store to get some earplugs!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"The things you think are useless I can't understand."

Steely Dan

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Giddiness! The Euphoria! The Self-Googling!

My deep and all-consuming joy at being a published author continues! As does my occasional habit of Googling myself and I do mean myself, not that Pilates instructor Amy Briant or the Welsh singer/songwriter Amy Briant. (hi, girls!)

Google has revealed to me a website that (apparently) tracks sales and rankings of all the books on Amazon.com. No, that website is not called amazon.com. And no, I have no idea why someone would put their energy into creating such a website. Except for my appallingly self-centered enjoyment, of course! For you statistics lovers out there, my December sales have more than doubled the numbers from my November sales! Woo hoo! And for you reality lovers, that was, well, ahem, 17 in November and already 36 in December. STILL WOO HOO!

It certainly is a wonderful feeling to think that all over the world, somebody somewhere might be reading SHADOW POINT right now. I do realize we're talking about maybe eleven people worldwide, not like 161,079. Which, coincidentally, is my Amazon sales rank at the moment per that (accurate?) website.

In your face, Number 161,080! :-)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Today's The Big Day!

December 14th, 2010 is finally here, which means SHADOW POINT is now officially out and about in the world. Woo hoo! Only 4 years and 8 months from inspiration to publication - not bad, I think. My thanks again to Bella Books for publishing my first novel. And to the readers I hope will enjoy it!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The WHERE Of Writing

I've talked a lot about WHAT I write and some about HOW I write. Today, the WHERE.

I'll write just about anywhere as long as I have a laptop or my trusty netbook with me. When desperate, I will scribble notes on paper, but it's rare that I'll try to write anything longer than a note with an actual pen or pencil. It just doesn't flow for me when I do that. This is what happens when you learn to type at age 8. In 2009, I lived for a month in the woods in Michigan, sans laptop, and it was torture trying to get words down on paper. I think I left the woods with about 12 more words than when I entered. 3 of which were "Buy netbook. Soon!"

I once spent a weekend holed up in a bed and breakfast (alone) on Martha's Vineyard as a violent spring storm, just shy of a hurricane, howled outside. I couldn't go outside, so I wrote inside - completely unaware of the storm, the fact that I was on an island off Massachusetts very far from home and that James Taylor's brother had just unclogged the toilet. (He looks just like James, FYI.)

SHADOW POINT began with some notes scribbled on a plane. (well, scribbled on a piece of paper while seated inside a plane - they get really mad when you write ON the plane) I used to travel a lot for my job and spent much time in airports and on planes. I've gotten a lot of writing done over the years at 30,000 feet on a laptop. Once, late at night, I was crammed into coach on a flight from Dallas to San Antonio, Texas. I don't remember what scene it was, but I was On Fire, typing lickety split as some SHADOW POINT chapter leaped from my fingertips to the keyboard. For the brief flight, I was entirely unaware of being on a plane in general, and, in specific, of the stranger sitting entirely too close to me. As our descent began, I closed the lid on the laptop and heaved a happy sigh. "Hi," said the stranger next to me, a pudgy middle-aged white guy, extending his hand. "My name's Larry."

"Oh, *&^%$#@!," I thought, but I gave him a (very) small, neutral smile, shook his hand and said, "Hi, Larry, I'm Amy." (NOTE TO THE REST OF THE COUNTRY: I am not a Texan, but Texans do this kind of stuff all the time, so I learned to semi-adapt to that alien culture while living there.)

"Are you a professional writer?" Larry said enthusiastically.

"Nope," I told him. "Just a hobby." (I was far from published at the time. Now I'm two days away!)

"Well, you sure looked like you know what you're doing," Larry said admiringly.

Well... thanks, Random Stranger Larry! I guess you were right.

Other places I've written: A great deal of the first half of SHADOW POINT was written in a large empty room with high ceilings which looked out onto this gorgeous backyard:
The second half of SHADOW POINT was written in the dining room of a tiny, but adorable, house nicknamed Storybook Lane. On the downside, it was freezing there in the winter. Adorable does not guarantee warm.

ROMEO FAILS has mostly been written on a netbook (a little bitty laptop smaller than an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper) in a small bedroom which is primarily used for storage. So, I'm surrounded by boxes, a file cabinet, a loveseat that didn't fit anywhere else... The one window looks out on a parking lot. Not scenic. Not adorable. But it really doesn't matter, because when I'm writing, wherever I'm writing, I'm now in the small Midwestern town of Romeo Falls, population 3,557. You'll have to trust me on this one, I know, but it's an exciting place! There's a LOT going on in Romeo Falls...

It's great to have a wonderful and roomy space set aside for just writing, with a view to refresh one's soul and heat(!) and a dearth of Larrys. Some day, I hope to have such a space again. But it's the writing that's important, not the location where the writing takes place.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Write On!

In previous posts, I've talked about writer's block and being stuck in The Swamp, as I call it - the place where the words don't come, nothing makes sense, your characters aren't cooperating and doom and gloom rule.

Fortunately, you can make your way out of The Swamp by sheer grit and perseverance. If you're lucky, you may even find yourself in The Magical Forest of Bliss! This lovely place is where everything, I mean EVERYTHING works, you're having an amazing amount of fun and your novel is clicking on all cylinders. So wonderful...

I've been happily gamboling (wait - is that a word? whew, yes it is according to Webster) in The Forest with lavender unicorns and dangling participles for a few weeks now. As I edit and rewrite the now finished first draft of my third novel, ROMEO FAILS, I have often thought of some words written by one of my favorite authors, Dick Francis. He was describing the giddy glee of a character temporarily promoted to his dream job, but it sounds like being in The Magical Forest of Bliss to me: "...great feelings of vigor and good health...running up stairs and singing in the bath and showing all the symptoms of a love affair..." (from BANKER by Dick Francis)

I know it won't last, but that's OK. I have learned that the ups and downs are all part of the process. Perhaps even necessary parts... But you'll have to excuse me now. One of the unicorns has inadvertently poked a participle and now a gerund's getting involved in the fray. Not to mention both the toves and the borogroves are especially slithy today... If you're a writer, I hope you're in the forest, too! And if you're not a writer, hope your Saturday is equally blissful.

"Gerund! Put down that unicorn! Don't make me come over there..."

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"It's here, it's here!"


Me, last night, upon receiving a box of books - a box of SHADOW POINT - from the publisher


(photo taken by my left hand, which wrote [well, typed] the other 50%)

Monday, November 29, 2010

One Potato...

As a child, when I was first set the task of peeling a potato, I developed a technique which I still employ to this day. (it is neither spectacular nor original, I’m sure) Step One is to peel a path around the potato until I have an imperfect 1-2” circle of peeled potato running the short way around the midsection of the spud. That was harder to describe than it is to do. Perhaps a visual? I always feel a small thrill of victory as I complete this step. It’s just nice sometimes to feel like you’ve finished something! (It also always make me think of the Panama Canal. The Panama Potato Canal... I can’t explain these weird links and leaps in my brain, but at least they amuse me.) (I should totally make a note of this stuff in case I ever decide to seek therapy.) (Potato-related therapy.)

As I finished the first draft of ROMEO FAILS yesterday, I thought of that partially peeled spud. Yes, Step One aka The First Draft is now done (woo hoo!) and it is a dramatic change from the 100% Unpeeled Potato and/or the blank page. But there’s so much work still to be accomplished! Lots more peeling, not to mention gouging out the odd eye. So now the second draft is in progress.

ROMEO FAILS is the third novel for which I’ve completed a first draft. It’s still quite a thrill for me to cross that finish line which is also a starting line. (and a huge relief! WHEW.) There were many times when I thought I never would finish that first novel - but I did! And then another. And now another. I hope I’m getting better. I know I’m getting faster!

So here’s to my literary spud. Still 75% peel, looking a little crazy and nowhere near ready for the table, but a spud I am proud of and looking forward to improving.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Open Invitation To Robin Williams

Is there anything more fun than going to see and hear an author read her work? I hope not. And I hope one of these days I will be reading my work somewhere (out loud and on purpose) and that people will be there (of their own free will) to listen.

Many years ago I went to hear John Irving read from his then about-to-be-published book A Prayer For Owen Meany. I certainly enjoyed hearing the author speak that night and I did buy his book which I’ve read several times, but (sorry, John) this ends Mr. Irving’s involvement in this particular story. At the end of the reading that night - I believe it was at the San Francisco Opera House, a very large and grand venue - I was the first to leave the upper seating section and step out into the hall. As I opened the door, I saw a man leaning against the wall not five feet away. Our eyes met. It was Robin Williams. I was surprised and failed to say, “Well, hello there, Robin Williams!” (Let the record show he also failed to say “Hey, Amy!”) As soon as he realized people were coming out, he immediately turned and walked down the hall and around a corner. My friend was right behind me. I said, “Look, that’s Robin Williams!” She looked, but all she saw was the back of a guy in a trench coat and a beret heading down an empty hallway. As we watched, he opened a door at the very end, went in and disappeared. My friend looked at me with disillusion. “Yeah, right,” she said or some such words.

(In case you’re wondering why he was there, you may recall that he starred in the movie version of The World According To Garp. In which the author had a bit part as a wrestling referee.)

(Hmmm, I wonder what bit part I could play in the hypothetical movie adaptation of SHADOW POINT? How about the waitress at the Mexican restaurant? I knew those long-lost waitressing skills would come in handy someday!)

(And it seems like a line from another Irving book, The Cider House Rules, would be a good segue into the next bit here: “Many people who drink at all drink too much.”)

(I sometimes get lost in my own parenthetical mazes...)

Anyway, about a month later, that same friend and two others were back in town and we went to a comedy club. I told the other two about our, well, my encounter with Robin, but they, too, seemed skeptical. But It’s True! I righteously declared. Yeah, right, Amy.

After a beverage or five at the comedy club, I visited the restroom. At the back of the club, talking on the pay phone was Robin Williams. Zowie! I went back to the table and excitedly told my friends I had seen him AGAIN! But AGAIN with the skepticism. They finally (and only) believed me when he jumped on stage to do an unannounced set.

A few weeks later, I was back in San Francisco with another acquaintance. We were walking along on a Saturday night on our way to a nightclub. There, on the sidewalk in front of us, talking to the bouncer, was Robin Williams. My acquaintance, recently arrived from out of state, freaked out.

“I know,” I said. “He’s everywhere.”

Well, I actually haven’t seen him since. (Did you miss me, Robin?) But if and when I’m doing a book reading sometime soon, you are certainly invited, Mr. Robin Williams! Heck, everyone’s invited - bring Pam Dawber, too! And you too, Dear Reader - I especially hope you’ll be there!

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"The clock is laughing in my face."

Billie Joe Armstrong

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bullfrog.

Lest you think SHADOW POINT is my only contribution to society, let me share with you another proud creation - an alternative (and highly useful) meaning for the word bullfrog.

So, you're talking with your friend. Or enemy or coworker or some stranger on the street. The other person is babbling on and something he or she says suddenly reminds you of SOMETHING INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT YOU TOTALLY WANT TO TALK ABOUT RIGHT THEN AND THERE!!! But you can't, because FrenemyWorkStranger won't shut up. And it would be rude to interrupt, right? Right. But if you don't say something, you'll forget about the INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT THINGY THAT WILL IN ALL LIKELIHOOD CHANGE THE WORLD IF THEY WOULD JUST SHUT UP FOR A SEC. (IITTWIALCTWITWJSUFAS)

But you can't get in a word edgewise! What you need is a Verbal Bookmark, a Conversational Placeholder, so to speak. Some key word that will (a) alert the other person to your IITTWIALCTWITWJSUFAS and (b) serve as a mnemonic for you to then retrieve your brilliance once the other person pauses for breath.

Here's what you say, Gentle Reader: "Bullfrog."

Now, admittedly, this works best when both you and the other person know about the key word and its alternative meaning. If both of you do, then a quick gleam of understanding will pass between you while the other individual finishes his or her story. Then, it's your turn!

Of course, if the other person doesn't know about The Bullfrog Manifesto, then - at best - you will appear odd and socially awkward. At worst, you will realize that the other person apparently suffers from some sort of amphibian phobia and he or she will leap into the air, shrieking "Bullfrog?! Where? Where?"

Which is as good a way as any to terminate a boring conversation.

Now, go forth and spread The Bullfrogginess, good people! It may sound stupid, but try it - it works! You'll love it. You'll wonder how you ever held a conversation without it. I guarantee it.

And if you were here to argue the point with me now, I would say: Bullfrog.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"One forgotten birthday, I'm all but cooked."

Alanis Morissette

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat

Since it's Halloween and since SHADOW POINT is a ghost story, it seems fitting that I post another short excerpt from the novel. (no trick, all treat here at Amy's Blog-o-rama!) Here's the setup: Protagonist Madison McPeake has just spent her first night on Shadow Point in her dead brother's isolated and less than luxurious beach cabin. She awakens before dawn to get ready for a day that will include (a) her first meeting with her 5 year old niece, Katie, (b) some pretty decent huevos rancheros, (c) Mysterious Happenings, and (d) her first encounter with the intriguing marine biologist in the cabin across the way. What a day! But, first: The Shower Scene...

I again woke with a horrible start, this time due to the lunatic clamor of the alarm clock in James's room. Loud enough to wake the--never mind, I thought, jamming back there to turn it off. It was still dark outside. Shutting my mind to everything but the need to get going and pick up Katie, I focused myself on my next goal: taking a shower in that bathroom.

It wasn't that bad, I told myself. Especially if I kept my eyes tightly shut. I got through teeth brushing and the other preparatory stuff, then reached in to turn on the hot water in the shower. With a couple of clanks and a groan, the plumbing reluctantly responded. I noted the daddy longlegs up in the corner had been joined by a friend overnight. Great. At least he had one.

I hadn't bothered to shut the door to the bathroom, since I was there by myself. Besides, with no fan, I wanted the door open so the mirror wouldn't steam up too much. I waited for a while for the water to get up past mildly lukewarm, but it never did and I finally decided I couldn't wait anymore. I had places to go and people to see, so I braved the temperate water.

At least the tub was clean. The shower curtain, however, once expanded, revealed a wealth of mildew in its folds. Lovely. Good thing my favorite color is green.

Its remaining once white opaqueness enveloped me in a dreary, dreamy, milky light inside the shower. The rest of the bathroom could be seen only in vague, shadowy outlines through the curtain. I washed my hair as quickly as possible, being careful to not make eye contact with the spiders lest they viciously leap upon me. I was still plenty jumpy from the night before and felt ultra vulnerable in the shower. The less-than-hot water was not conducive to relaxation either. I kept thinking maybe I heard something. But, no, of course I didn't.

Head under the tepid flow as I rinsed, I then thought I really heard something. A thud or a bang or...something. I jerked my head out of the stream, frantically wiping suds out of my eyes so I could open them. Blinking away, I strained tensely to hear, but there was nothing but the rush of the water and the gurgle of the drain. What could I have possibly heard with my ears full of water anyhow? You dumb butt, I chastised myself. I took a breath. And realized with an agonizing spurt of adrenaline that a tall dark shape was visible through the curtain that hadn't been there before.

The worst and longest thirty seconds of my life followed as I stood, immobile with fear, with the now cold water cascading down upon me. And the shape unmoving outside.

After thirty seconds of chicken, however, I suddenly couldn't take it anymore. With a shriek, I threw open the curtain and threw up my fists, ready to take on my attacker.

Who, I realized with a gasp, was James's navy blue bathrobe, hanging on a hook on the back of the bathroom door, which had slowly swung shut while I showered. So, I'm standing there with the shower shooting water out on the floor, buck naked, fists up, ready to take on a terry cloth bathrobe, and whup its ass! Ay yi yi. How humiliating.

After all that, I was so shook up I couldn't even do conditioner.

copyright Amy Briant 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"...so her social position was not very high. She was a member of I Felta Thigh..."

Unknown

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama! (on a Wednesday!)

"It's Friday the 13th on a Wednesday!"

The Most Quotable Person I've Ever Known

Sunday, October 3, 2010

OctoWriMo?

If you’re a writer, you may have heard of NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. (www.nanowrimo.org) From the first time I heard of it, I loved (a) how NaNoWriMo rolls off the tongue and (b) the idea of writing a novel in one month! It’s a completely crazy idea, of course, but that just makes it more lovable in my world. Once past the original excitement, you find out that the real idea - more or less - is to write a serviceable first draft of at least 50,000 words in a month.

That’s a little more do-able. Still totally crazy, though. For that pace, you’d need to crank out close to 1,700 words a day, every day, during the course of a month. Got a job? Too bad, you still need your 1,700! Need to sleep? Not an option unless you’ve already offered up your 1,700 (or even better, 2,000 to get ahead of the curve) to the NaNoWriMo Muse. The “official” NaNoWriMo month is November. I’ve never actually participated, because every November since I first heard of NaNoWriMo, I’ve been deep in the thrall of working on one of my two completed novels, SHADOW POINT and HEAVENLY MOVES. This November could be my chance, though, if I could just finish up that pesky third manuscript, ROMEO FAILS.

One of the “rules” (and I use that term loosely - please see www.nanowrimo.org for their highly entertaining info) of NaNoWriMo is that you start the month with a brand new novel. You don’t use the month to finish an existing project. That’s a good rule, I think. So I apparently must finish ROMEO FAILS in October if I want to jump into NaNoWriMo this year. And I’d love to try it, at least once! I’ve even got my story idea all picked out...

So... OctoWriMo? I WILL finish ROMEO FAILS, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. It’s actually kinda sort of close to finished, in that it’s around the 70% mark. Unfortunately for me (and, I hear, for many other writers), the dreaded 70% mark can all too often signal the entrance to the doldrums, or, as I like to call it, The Swamp.

At the 70% mark, I know exactly where I am in the story. And I know exactly how the story ends. I even have a pretty good idea how I’m going to get there. But somehow, I have wandered into The Swamp - a horrible morass where my plot bogs down, my dialogue dries up, and my brain keeps fruitlessly reviewing what I’ve previously written, over and over again. The mosquitoes are pretty bad in there, too.

It’s a horrible place, that Swamp. But I always get out in the end and I will this time, too! This is when one of the most important writer’s tools must be used. Creativity and a way with words have gotten me this far - now it’s up to my perseverance to get me out of the swamp. If you want to be a writer, you must write. Every day, pretty much. You may have written your way right into that swamp, but you will write your way out of it as well. And then you can take a day off and go to the beach.

Which is not to say you can’t use a few tricks, as well. Whatever works to get you out of The Swamp! For me (this week), that includes writing in a different physical place than I usually do. Maybe a change of scenery will kick start my brain. Also, I’m setting some very tight time goals for certain scenes. The scene I’m currently deep in the quicksand with is a Saturday morning breakfast scene. (criminy, I am SO sick of that breakfast scene!) I’m literally setting the kitchen timer (hmmm, coincidence?) and giving myself ten minutes to finish that one, then I’m moving on to the next scene, NO MATTER WHAT. Take That, Swamp!

And then I’ll come back later and rewrite, since I’m a perfectionist, but for now, Time Marshes On. I mean marches. OctoWriMo Rules!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book Trailer Director's Cut

OK, not really, but here are a few fun insider glimpses at the book trailer and at SHADOW POINT itself:

1) The letters C, B, and F are important in this story and pop up in more than one place. A leitmotif, if you will... (once a music major, always a music major!) Those three dissonant, insistent notes you hear repeated at the end of the trailer? You guessed it - they are C, B, and F. Probably nobody other than me cares about this level of detail, but, hey, I have to amuse myself, right? Right.

2) There is a quick picture of me in the trailer. (HINT: It's NOT the one with the bikini. :-))

3) There is also one photo of the "real" Shadow Point, aka Point Loma in San Diego, California. It's the hillside shot taken from Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery of a very large Navy ship heading out to sea from San Diego bay.

It's tough to get everything that's needed in a less-than-two-minute book trailer, especially when the book doesn't fit in one easy box. SHADOW POINT is a ghost story, but it's also a romance and a mystery and (I think) laugh-out-loud funny! I hope readers will find it entertaining on a multitude of levels.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"Some say she's from Mars... or one of the seven stars that shine after 3:30 in the morning... WELL, SHE ISN'T!"

The B-52s

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel."

Pee Wee Herman

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shmad Libs

Here are the winning entries from the Last Annual SHADOW POINT Facebook Shmad Lib Contest! Participants were asked to provide a person, a body part and a location. Those three things were then plugged into a sentence to create the bizarre, whimsical, and anatomically challenging masterpieces below. Unbeknownst to the contestants, the Mystery Sentence just happened to be the opening line from SHADOW POINT:

They found my brother’s body by the tide pools.

Here are the “Shmad Lib” versions of that line:

• They found Eleanor Roosevelt’s left nostril by the basement of the Alamo. (Madison M.)
• They found Batgirl’s uvula by Madison’s belfry. (Karin K.)
• They found Regina Phalange’s pinky toe by the zoo. Clearly, she had taken the bus to get there. (Susan S.)
• They found Captain Kirk’s pecs by Shadow Point. (Bridget L.)
• They found Josephenetta Shmosly’s eyebrow by the lake. (Mary F.)
• They found Pee Wee Herman’s pinky toe by the tilt-a-whirl at a sad county fair. (Suzanne C.)

I wonder if they first thought Josephenetta’s eyebrow was a caterpillar on that faraway lake shore... Oh, well, never mind. Congratulations to all the entrants, I mean winners! For your efforts, you have won the admiration of your peers and the glory of being mentioned in this blog. I'm toasting you with a Coca-Cola right now - huzzah!

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"Everybody's got their problems - at least, they think they do."

Edna Scafe

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

On a Sunday, but it's a three day weekend, so...

"You were brought into this world with a head full of good ideas."

Matthew Sweet

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

SHADOW POINT is a ghost story. Do you believe in ghosts? I don’t. Or do I...

For about five heart-stopping seconds one dark night, I did believe in ghosts. This was back in college, when I was attending a tiny private women’s college in a tiny Midwestern town. For reasons I no longer remember, our mission that evening was to break into the music building and do something on the third floor without turning on any of the lights. Or maybe the power was out - that happened a lot. Why we were focused on hijinks rather than homework also escapes me, except that we often were. (Let the record show I did graduate, though!) Anyhow, this college was established in 1885, and the music building, as I recall, was the oldest surviving structure on campus. It was said that it had originally been a dorm. It was also said that, long ago, a girl had died in a fire in her dorm room there and that her ghost still haunted the building. She, the college ghost, was called Vera.

I saw a lot of strange things at that women’s college, but I had never seen Vera, despite the fact that I was a music major and spent a lot of late nights practicing in the haunted (?) music building. It was an old and creaky building - eminently suitable for a ghost. Without the lights on, it was pitch black in there the night we broke in and more than a little creepy. (I think we actually crawled in through a slightly open first floor window, so there was no property damage) (that night)

Anyhoo, we were blundering about on the third floor, having made our way up the pitch black stairs and down the pitch black hall. We turned into a pitch black parlor, with me leading the way due to my familiarity with the layout. I sensed, rather than saw, that we had reached the parlor, more by a change in the air than by any ambient light from the windows.

I was leading my cohorts towards my favorite practice room - one of the old dormitory bedrooms which surrounded the parlor - when I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. My heart stopped. I gasped. I froze. A pale, moon-faced figure slowly rose out of the darkness of the open doorway of one of the other rooms. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, yet I knew it was her. Vera.

Then she spoke. “Oh, hi, Amy!” she said.

It wasn’t Vera. It was Rhonda Lou Flugelmeyer, one of the freshmen and a fellow music major. What the hell she was doing up there, I’m not sure, but she just about gave me a heart attack.

So no, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a ghost. Strange things do happen, though... SHADOW POINT may not make you believe in ghosts, but it might make you think about the power of family. And how that power can be used for good or evil. Which is a whole lot scarier than ghosts, come to think of it. Or even Rhonda Lou Flugelmeyer.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The End! The Beginning! And The Story Knows How Long It Should Be.

I recently sent off the FINAL final draft of SHADOW POINT to the production department at the publisher after working with the editor to make several improvements. Which got me to thinking about the first time I thought I’d finished the book. (ha!) It was October 2008 and after two and a half years, I had finally finished the story. That version came in around 66,000 words.

I then did a little research on the publishing industry and decided that the manuscript should be more like 80,000 words. Hmmph. How to make that math happen, when I’d already finished the story, beginning, middle and end? Well, it wasn’t easy, but I added a scene here, a new character there, threw in a couple more adjectives and voila, 80,000 words.

More tinkering continued (I’m an inveterate tinkerer when it comes to writing) as I searched for a publisher, but the word count stayed around 80,000 words.

Time passed.

In December 2009, I submitted SHADOW POINT to Bella Books. The editing process was complete in August 2010 and I think (I think!) I’m really, really done now. Yahoo!

It was great, but also a bit strange, to revisit the manuscript I had (kinda sorta pretty much) finished back in 2008. Almost two years ago! My mind has been so enmeshed in the novel I’m currently writing that it was a challenge to step out of that world and back into SHADOW POINT.

So now I can get back to the tiny Midwestern town of Romeo Falls, the setting for my new book, ROMEO FAILS. No ghosts in this one, but I’m pretty sure a storm - not to mention romance - is brewing out there on the lone prairie... I’m at about the 43,000 word mark on this one, for those of you keeping score at home.


But who cares about word count anyhow? I think the story knows how long it should be. SHADOW POINT felt good at 80K, I'm shooting for 60Kish on ROMEO FAILS, and the first novel I started (but the second I finished) came in at 116K. I know it's probably a little top heavy, but I love that dang book so much I can't bring myself to pare it down yet. Maybe I'll work on losing another ten pounds myself, then work on revising the hefty HEAVENLY MOVES. (it's a mystery set in 1982 in a Northern California beach town curiously similar to Santa Cruz) And maybe I'll decide that its slower pace and broader canvas really do deserve all 116,000 of those palabras. After all, the story knows how long it should be, right? Right.

Word Up

Due to a series of unfortunate events, SHADOW POINT was mostly written in WordPad, not Word. WordPad, while vastly superior to NotePad, is distinctly inferior to Word. But thanks, WordPad, for getting me through SHADOW POINT! Having recently returned to the Land O’ Word, I heave a big sigh of relief to be back where I belong.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"I'll never say... I'll never love... but I don't say a lot of things..."

Ingrid Michaelson

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Regarding Henry

One of my favorite characters in SHADOW POINT is not a person. (or even a ghost!) He's an English bulldog named Henry the Eighth. Just to avoid any confusion between my Henry and the king of the same name, I thought a brief comparison would be in order:
To learn more about my Henry the Eighth, you'll have to read SHADOW POINT, coming to a bookstore near you in December 2010! Or order directly from the publisher at http://www.bellabooks.com/ when we're a little closer to December. In the meantime, Henry says "hi" and he thinks your dog would like to go for a walk now.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, And Typos

Most people who know me probably think I'm pretty good when it comes to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Or maybe I'm using the word "good" when they're using the word "picky." (note to self: save "My Skewed Self Image" as a possible future blog topic) I do believe that words have power and should be correctly used. But I also agree with James Taylor that sometimes the sound of a word is what's most important: "To me, the words are nice the way they sound."

That's weird. I hardly ever think about James Taylor (sorry, James Taylor!) but I just realized he's also slated to appear in a future blog post. Well, his brother, actually, who looks exactly like him and some dicey plumbing, but that's another story.

Despite what my friends and enemies might think, I freely acknowledge my grammar, punctuation, and spelling are not always perfect. I mean, come on - what is so wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition? That's just a dumb rule. A common bit of bad grammar inspired this post, however. I Hate This One! It's everywhere. Like toxic mold. It's the insidious Let's Continue On. For crying out loud, people, we can Go On or we can Continue, but we cannot Continue On!

Grrrrrr.

My punctuation falls short of perfection as well. It hurt me, for instance, to insert that serial comma after the word "Spelling" in the title of this post, but they tell me that's the way it's supposed to be, so I'm trying to do it right. And there's no doubt I am overly fond of semicolons; meet me behind the bleachers after school, semicolon. What else? Well, it's only due to blogger.com that you're seeing just one space after my periods. Blogger insists on automatically correcting this for me (thank you?), but I have an excuse, I think. See, I learned to type when I was eight years old. It was a summer school class - must have been quite a sight, those 20-30 eight year olds seated in neat rows, pounding away on manual typewriters. (yes, the year started with a 19 - we don't have to go further than that, do we? didn't think so) And in that long forgotten time, the rule was you put two spaces after a period, not just one. I'm unable to break that habit to this day, which means I must find and replace period-space-space with period-space when I submit a manuscript for publication. My rebellious nature aside, though, I do believe in proper punctuation - there's a Facebook page devoted to the difference between "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat Grandma!" Big difference. For Grandma.

Speaking of Facebook, you'll have to trust me on this, but that's a good segue into the topic of spelling. (the segue is coming - be patient, Reader Friends) I am a crackerjack speller, if I do say so myself. Why, I even won the junior high school spelling bee back in 19... well, it was a year, I was in a school, and I won the spelling bee as a 7th grader. In your face, 8th graders! I then went on to the county spelling bee, where I failed miserably when asked to spell daguerreotype. *&^%$#@! daguerreotype, you still haunt me, you miserable bastard. Why even inflict that on a child? It's not like I've ever needed to use that word in a sentence in my adult life - except to answer the question "Why were you 86'd from the county spelling bee, Amy?"

Ah, childhood memories. Speaking of which, growing up San Diego means you get to go to the Zoo A LOT. (I know, I know, you're thinking I'm off on another tangent here and where's the frickin' segue, but hang in there...) I'm sure I've been to the San Diego Zoo at least 50 times in my life, if not more. Thus, I learned early on about some of your more exotic animals, like okapis and marmosets and springboks. A springbok is a medium-sized (and springy!) African gazelle:


So... SEGUE ALERT... I'm still a pretty darn good speller, but even the best speller can sometimes find herself typing too fast and spit out a typo now and then. Lately, for example, when I try to type facebook.com, it comes out facebok.com. Facebok?



Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"That'll do, pig. That'll do."

Farmer Hoggett in the movie Babe

P. S. In these times (and probably any times), I think it's worth noting the very first words spoken in Babe, which come from the narrator: "This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Amy Interviews Madison

I recently sat down with the main character of SHADOW POINT, protagonist Madison McPeake, to do a brief 3-question interview. Here you go:

Amy: You have been described as "having more vices than graces" - how do you feel about that?

Madison: I have?! What the f-

Amy: (warningly) Madison!

Madison: I mean, wow. Hmmm... Well, I think I have about the same ratio of vices to graces as most people do. Maybe they're better at hiding their stuff? I'm just honest and up front. I know a lot of people don't like that. People like their reality sugar-coated - I do understand that. I prefer an unfiltered approach myself. A lot of times people think I'm joking or being sarcastic when I'm actually just stating my honest opinion... (laughs softly) Hey, I'm just trying to do my best to raise my five year old niece, deal with my personal issues, and fight off a malevolent phantom - you know what I mean?

Amy: (nods) So, If SHADOW POINT is ever made into a movie, who would you like to play you?

Madison: Can I play myself?

Amy: No. You're imaginary.

Madison: Crap. All right. (thinks it over) Well, in that case, I nominate the actress Taylor Schilling, who is simply terrific on NBC's Mercy. She's got the perfect blend of intelligence, wit, courage, attitude, work ethic, and vulnerability. Plus, she's smokin' hot.

Amy: Great choice! I concur.

Madison: I know! That picture doesn't even do her justice. You have to see her in action. So, do you think SHADOW POINT will ever be a movie?

Amy: Probably only if I win the lottery and finance it myself.

Madison: Well, get crackin'! Did you buy a lottery ticket today?

Amy: (mumbles) Uh, not yet. (clears throat) But anyhow, back to the interview. One last question - despite being imaginary, you have your own Facebook account. Is that challenging?

Madison: No, I've often suspected that most of the people on Facebook are imaginary.

Amy: Well, that's all the time we have for today! Thanks for the interview.

Madison: You're quite welcome. I'm always here if you need me.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"...I don't pretend to make the world feel better..."

Jackie Greene

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cover Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Whoa, check out the new cover art for SHADOW POINT! My thanks to the artist and Bella Books for a fantastic job!
Ooh, scary! Cool! Intriguing! Brooding!
(I somehow sense it's also romantic, charming, & funny!)
Mysterious! Compelling! Suspenseful!
Not to mention totally worth $14.95!

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Simply Remember My Favorite Lines

In lieu of a longer excerpt from SHADOW POINT, I thought today I would share a few of my favorite lines from the book.

Quick recap of the plot: When her brother dies, Madison McPeake faces instant motherhood, unexpected romance, a menacing Church and a malevolent phantom. Not necessarily in that order.

So, my favorite lines... actually, pretty much EVERY line is my favorite line, but that's just me. For this blog post, let me pick a theme and narrow it down to lines regarding a child's poem, a child's toy and a child's game. Perhaps in future posts, I can pick some Scary Lines - this is a ghost story, after all! Or Lines About Some Of My Favorite Minor Characters - they need love, too. Or how about Lines About Bulldogs? Those are always good.

Anyhow... #1 comes from a scene wherein Madison - who's worried about her newfound parenting responsibilities - is checking out her dead brother's kitchen, which is seriously lacking in food and beverages: "Surely, the only parent who’d be supportive of this would be Ole Mother Hubbard."

From Madison's first description of the living room of her brother's isolated beach cabin: "A small grubby stuffed elephant sprawled across one arm of the couch, looking like Babar after a 3-day binge."

Madison describes her five-year old niece playing tea party at the beach cabin: "Finally, she was set and pouring “tea” for her pachyderm pal into an abalone cup while daintily proffering a scrumptious selection of petit fours. Also known as dirt clods. (I sincerely hope they were dirt clods.)"

I hope you enjoyed these few lines from the book. Hey, only 80,058 more words to go and you'll have read the whole thing! Which is a nice segue into my next blog post "Words Vs. Pages." Look for that here soon, Reader Friends!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Writers' Conferences

A writer who aspires to be published (or an aspiring writer) may wonder if attending a writers' conference is a good idea. My vote is YES, based on having attended just one of those conferences.

Writers' conferences come in all shapes, sizes, locations, you name it. Some are customized to particular audiences and/or genres. Some are focused on the craft of writing, some are more about the business of publishing. It can cost a little or a lot of money to attend one, so doing your research ahead of time to find the one that suits you best is a good idea. In 2009, I chose the San Diego State University (SDSU) Writers' Conference. I wanted a medium to large-sized conference that would attract good quality (so to speak) agents and editors. I wanted a general conference, not one specific to a certain genre. I could have chosen a conference closer to home, but any excuse to travel to my home town of San Diego is always welcome. Also, this was my first trip back to San Diego since I finished SHADOW POINT, so I was curious to return to many of the locations described in the book and see them again through that filter.

The conference was held in a large hotel and I elected to stay there. This turned out to be a good idea -
  • Early morning session? No problem, I was already in the building.
  • Parking? No problem, as I was a guest.
  • Too much Coca-Cola, if you know what I mean? No problem, I could just whiz up to my room (pun intended) and not have to stand in line with 40 other women for the restroom near the conference rooms. Not to mention having a stash of Co-Cola in the little refrigerator in my room! (I know, I know, the first step is admitting I have a problem...)
  • Need a moment of privacy when the 600+ other attendees started getting on my nerves? No problem.
  • Having a room in the hotel was also great after that late night Saturday session ran until 1:30 a.m.!

Meeting other unpublished writers was interesting. Well, semi-interesting. I'm not much of a people person, to tell the truth. I was amazed at the number of people there who were hoping to get their memoirs published. Most people - like me - lead Really Boring Lives. Nevertheless, those earnest autobiographers were undaunted. In general, if you're looking to meet large numbers of Truly Dreadful Writers of both fiction and non-fiction, a writers' conference is the place for you. Not trying to be mean - just keepin' it real, people.

I didn't go there to meet writers, however. I went there to meet editors, agents, and writing teachers who were invited there by the conference. There were panel discussions where one would hear them speak on publishing industry topics. There were breakout sessions where query letters, opening paragraphs, and the first three pages of manuscripts were read and (usually) (and justifiably) eviscerated. There were an awful lot of oysters and only an occasional pearl, but it was all very educational.

There was also the opportunity (for a modest additional fee) to meet one-on-one with an agent or an editor. The former would evaluate your query letter or answer questions, while the latter would review your first ten pages (submitted ahead of time) and offer constructive criticism.

There was also a luncheon for all the attendees where they attempted to group people - writers, agents, editors, everybody - at tables by genre. Would you believe there was NOT a lesbian ghost story table? I know, I was bummed. I was really glad I didn't ask to be seated at the horror table, because that was a bunch of creepy-looking older dudes with a lot of facial hair. (I'm sure they were fine folks, just not my group, you know what I mean?) Unfortunately, I did, however, make the tactical error of checking the "chick lit" box on the lunch card. Oops! Apparently, I do not know what "chick lit" means. I ended up sitting with a bunch of (hetero) romance editors and agents. (again, fine folks - again, not my group!) Live and learn.

Was it a worthwhile experience for me? Absolutely! I learned a lot that weekend. I highly recommend attending a writers' conference if you are an author who aspires to be published. You need a thick skin to be a writer, but getting that feedback is invaluable. And the chance to talk with industry insiders - priceless! Do read the books and surf the net, but actually talking with someone who does the work every day - and talking about YOUR manuscript - is fabulous.

Do I need to attend another writers' conference? Uh, no. Now that I've come out the other side (so to speak) and have had my novel accepted for publication, the information I gained from the conference continues to serve me well, but I don't feel the need to attend another one. Unless, of course, maybe someday they want to invite me to be the keynote speaker! Preferably the speaker during the luncheon, so I avoid the whole table debacle. I'll even bring my own Coca-Cola.

Seriously. I will.

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"Humanity must perforce prey on itself, like monsters of the deep."

Shakespeare

(full disclosure: I came across this quote while reading Lemony Snicket, not King Lear)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

“I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O'Keeffe

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There Are Only 3 Stories In The World

I once read or heard that there are only three stories in the world, and every novel uses at least one of them. Those three stories are:
  • Road Trip
  • Stranger In Town
  • Boy Meets Girl (obviously, whoever came up with that one was WAY off and it's actually Girl Meets Girl)
Clearly.

Well, let's think about that. I shall once again refer to my handy-dandy list o' Top 10 Favorite Books (see previous post below):
  • Jane Eyre? Definitely a road trip, Jane herself is the Stranger In Town and she does meet a boy. (Has anyone ever referred to Mr. Rochester as a "boy"? Probably not even his own fictional mother.)
  • To Kill A Mockingbird? No road trip - pretty much all the action takes place in Maycomb... I'm not sure Dill counts as Scout meeting a boy... much less Boo Radley! No stranger in town, either. I won't try to get all esoteric and say that RACISM is the Stranger In Town, because obviously it's no stranger to that town - it's just that Scout hasn't realized it before the trial. This one appears to be the exception to the rule and with a Pulitzer to boot! Go, Harper Lee.
  • How about Fingersmith? Road trip - check. Stranger in town - check. Girl meets girl - check. Incredibly awesome plot twists that make me LOVE this book - check. If you haven't read it, please do.

So let me apply this Only 3 Stories test to SHADOW POINT. (you knew I'd get there sooner or later) Road trip? Most definitely, from Boston to San Diego to Shadow Point. Stranger in town? You betcha and her name is Madison McPeake! Girl meets girl - absolutely.

I'm not sure if the Only 3 Stories theory holds water, but it's intriguing. Try it out on the next book you read and see if it applies.

In Praise Of Shopping In The Men's Department At Target

Oh, wait - is this supposed to be a blog about writing, reading and my novel?

Yes, it is.

Okay. I really wanted to talk about buying cheap guy's pants, but I will resist. 'Til we meet again, Wrangler...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Name That... Name

I put a lot of time into finding Just The Right Name for my characters. I keep a running list of "good" ones. There are some names I just don't like - you know what I mean? I keep those for my villains or for characters I don't care that much about except for the purpose they serve in the story. They might be names of real people I've known and disliked. (did that come out bad?) Or maybe I just don't like the sound of the name. It doesn't resonate with me.

Actually, maybe I don't always use the "bad" names for the villains, come to think of it. Conrad Bly is the ghost of SHADOW POINT. His last name is a tip o' the word processor to Henry James, whose Turn of the Screw provided me with some inspiration. The house in that story is called Bly. Conrad sounded appropriate to the ghost's time period, I thought. Plus, it sounded solid to me. Weighty. And threatening somehow. And although a ghost, by nature, is the opposite of solid and weighty, this specter makes his presence known in no uncertain terms. And he's definitely threatening.

Of course, you may have an entirely different view of the name Conrad. Maybe that name conjures up rainbows, sunsets and butterflies for you.

For the protagonist, I chose McPeake because there's a Whole Hill Thing going on in the subtext of the story and the "peak" in her name reflects that. The Madison part I just liked and it had some personal good vibes for me. Plus, who does not love alliteration? Amy absolutely adores alliteration!

Names I strive to avoid are the first, middle and last names of my family and close friends. Which is not that large a circle, but still, that's a lot of names that are unavailable! Criminy. Sometimes, I'll think I've found the perfect name for a character when I suddenly remember, dang! That's Whosit's middle name. It's entirely possible Whosit wouldn't even notice or care or draw any parallels (!) between the character and him or herself, but I'm trying to abide by my rule nevertheless.

When I run out of ideas, I check my list. I've heard of writers randomly picking a name out of the phone book, but that never seems to work out for me. One of my favorite ways to "shop" for names is by watching the credits at the end of movies and television shows. There are, of course, various baby name websites out there, but oddly enough, Uncle Sam is one of the best sources for first names. Check out http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/
to find lists of names broken down by popularity, year, and state.

The best thing about choosing a name for a character is - it's fun! So much fun to create a little world, populate it with characters and have total control over everything from their names to their destinies. The fact that there's a story behind each and every name makes it even more fun.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Years Before The Mast

I recently read TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST by Richard Henry Dana Jr. Having attended a school named after Mr. Dana, I always felt vaguely guilty for not having read his book. Well, now I can move on to feeling guilty about other things! Although he spent some time in Point Loma before California was a state, I still don't understand why they named the school after him - he wasn't that complimentary about the experience. ("...Californians are an idle, thriftless people, and can make nothing for themselves.") His book, however, was quite popular and educated folks as to the beautiful California climate. (along with the seafaring stuff)

The publisher offered the young author either (a) $250 & several copies or (b) a 10% share of the royalties after the first thousand copies sold. He went for the $250 in cash. Oops! The publisher made $50,000 during the 18 years they held the copyright. Don't worry, though - Mr. Dana went on to lead a long, successful & celebrated life.

I tend to dog ear pages in books I like. Dog ears for this book included -
  • a reference to Dana finding a good book to read on board ship (Bulwer-Lytton's PAUL CLIFFORD, which starts with the famous words "It was a dark and stormy night...")
  • a line I particularly liked: "His is one of those cases which are more numerous than those suppose, who have never lived anywhere but in their own homes, and never walked but in one line from their cradles to their graves." Being a bit of a nomad myself, I'm always confounded by those folks who never walk but in one line from their cradles to their graves. Great line!
  • a reference to Point Loma (aka the real Shadow Point): "As we made the high point off San Diego, Point Loma, we were greeted by the cheering presence of a light-house." (hmmm, that must have been the OLD old lighthouse, because the current old lighthouse was built in 1855, about 20 years after Dana's visits)

So, thumbs up for TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST. And thank goodness none of the other schools I've attended have literary obligations attached to them. I'm back to writing now, instead of reading, and working on my third novel. It's set in a small (and imaginary) Midwestern town called Romeo Falls. The working title is ROMEO FAILS. Perhaps an excerpt will make its way into the blogosphere some day soon!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Amy Interviews Amy (#1)

In the absence of other people asking to interview me - wait! was that a knock on the door? Oh. Nope, just another pinecone bouncing off the roof. So, as I was saying, in the absence of other folks wanting to interview me (so far, at least!), I thought I'd go ahead and interview myself. The following is the first in a series of 3-question interviews, starring me. And me.

Amy: SHADOW POINT is a ghost story. Are you a fan of ghost stories and horror in general?

Amy: Nope! They scare me too much. I have read some horror over the years, but I am much more of a mystery fan. I am such a scaredy cat, in fact, that I had nightmares while writing the frightening bits in SHADOW POINT. Remember that "Friends" episode where Joey revealed he kept "The Shining" in the freezer? I can relate!

Amy: How hard is it to come up with story ideas?

Amy: Well, it took me a long time to come up with my first workable novel idea. I knew I wanted to write a novel long before I knew what novel I wanted to write, if that makes any sense.

But to answer your question - coming up with story ideas these days is easy for me. My brain bombards me with them all the time! It's my fingers that can't keep up. I sometimes feel I have to actively STOP my brain from coming up with new ideas, since I have so many on the list for future projects already. I should probably cut back on the caffeine.

Amy: How much of your writing is autobiographical?

Amy: A lot. But not so much. (laughs) I'm a novelist - I make stuff up. But let me leave you with that Fellini quote: "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."

Amy: Hmmm. Deep. Well, thanks so much for your time! It's been a great interview.

Amy: You're welcome - my time is your time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Importance of the First Line

You can't call me Ishmael, but I do believe in a story having a great first line. Some can knock your socks off, some can grab you by the throat, some are almost shocking in their stark simplicity, and some just work. Certainly some of my top 10 favorite books listed below have those great first lines:
  • "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." (Jane Eyre)
  • "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow." (To Kill A Mockingbird)
Neither one of those is exactly "It was a dark and stormy night", but both quietly, calmly, conversationally draw the reader in and make her want to read some more.

SHADOW POINT opens with the line "They found my brother's body by the tide pools." Which I hope will be intriguing to fans of murder mysteries and/or shellfish. After rereading that sentence, I should clarify that I meant "fans of shellfish", but I suppose if any actual crustaceans want to buy the book, that will be all right, too. It will cost about 15 clams...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Top 10 Favorite Books


I thought an easy blog entry would be to list my Top 10 Favorite Books. Wrong! Wow, this was hard. (So. Many. Books.) I suspect those of you who love books as much as I do would find it equally daunting. To narrow it down to ten was difficult, so I decided I needed some rules.

The first rule was I Must Name A Specific Title - no series or everything-by-this-author. Criminy! That was a tough rule. If I like a book, I will read it again. If I love a book, I will read it over and over and over. Many of my most-beloved books are from certain authors or certain series - but my rule said if I couldn't single out a specific title, they wouldn't make the list. Ouch! This meant Dick Francis didn't make the list - because I love him so much! Same for Zenna Henderson (LOVE), the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton's alphabet series, and some other much-adored authors.

Pause to wipe tear from eye.

Moving on. The second and final rule was that I had to narrow it down to just ten. So, after MUCH deliberation (probably TOO much deliberation), here is my list of Amy's Top 10 Favorite Books (in no particular order):

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
A Son Of The Circus by John Irving
Leave It To Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse
Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
War For The Oaks by Emma Bull
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Any of the following five might have made the cut if it had been another day. (again, in no particular order) It was awfully close!

The Picnic And Other Stories by Gerald Durrell
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
When The Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Let's not forget those beloved authors and series, though! If you saw my bookcases, you would note their dominating presence:

Anything by Zenna Henderson
Anything by Dick Francis
Anything else by Josephine Tey
Spenser series by Robert B. Parker
Alphabet series by Sue Grafton
Charles Dickens
James Thurber

And I would be remiss if I did not also mention J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and a whole bunch of books by John Grisham. I have genuinely enjoyed their works, but also have been intrigued by their personal stories - more or less ordinary folks who sat down to write one day and became Huge Successes. That's no doubt true of some of the other authors mentioned above, but Rowling and Grisham have achieved this since I identified my own desire to write, so I have watched their careers with an interested and admiring eye.

As I review my Top 10, three thoughts come to mind:
a) The only obvious common thread I see in the content of these books is the presence of wit. Now there are many best-sellers out there that are completely devoid of wit - I don't get that. If I am reading or writing for my own pleasure, there must be some humor! Even if it's a very serious book. I think this is why I don't read a lot of what they call "literary fiction." Or I'm just too dumb to appreciate the high-falutin' stuff.
b) Is it possible I was English in a previous life?
c) Many of these authors and books were first brought to my attention by Middle Brother, who (sometimes) patiently allowed me to read his library books and otherwise tag along behind him. These early introductions have had a great impact on my literary life. ("great" meaning both large and positive!) Thanks, MB!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hey, Good Lookin'...

This will be a rare event - a culinary post from me. Sure, I may mention food from time to time, but this one involves Actual Cooking. First, let me give you the set-up, then a brief excerpt from (wait for it) SHADOW POINT and finally a cherished family recipe for brownies! (which do NOT come out of a box, people!)

For the 99.9% of the world who have not yet read the book, let me set up the excerpt. Madison McPeake (aka Mad) is my protagonist. Katie is her five year old niece. Mad is falling for Alice "Pipe" Piper, who hails from Austin, Texas. In this scene, they have just been sharing a care package of cookies Pipe's mother sent. Here's the excerpt:

Katie came running across to me with a brownie nestled in a bit of pink tissue paper.

"Pipe says this brownie is specially for you, Mad," she said as she handed it over like an ambassador giving me a medal. I looked over her head at Pipe, who was smiling at me so devilishly I actually had to put my hand on Katie's head to steady myself. Ducking out from underneath, she went off to saddle up her trike again and work off some of her sugar high. I took a bite of the homemade brownie - oh my gosh, Sheer Heaven! So good I had to consider dumping Pipe for a second and moving to Austin to pursue her mother instead.

Here's the recipe:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 oz bitter chocolate
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
a pinch of salt

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and beat. Melt chocolate and add to mix. Add flour and salt . (plus the nuts, if you so desire) Spread mixture in a buttered 8" square pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Now, drop and give me twenty!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blog Roll

It's Sunday, so it's time to post something about writing. Let's talk about some blogs that help me write. (sort of) I've established the Blog Roll in the right hand column of this page. First and foremost and alphabetical is Bella Books, the publisher of my forthcoming novel, SHADOW POINT. Go, Bella! And Go, You, if you like, to their site to check out their other fine books. You can click on the link in the blog roll to go there.

Sometimes when you're writing, you get stuck and you just need to take a break. If you need a laugh, I recommend icanhascheezburger and ihasahotdog, aka loldogs. If you don't like funny pictures of cats and dogs, then, uh... ihazaheartofstone.com?

The next four blogs listed on the roll are all related to the business of publishing, specifically the world of literary agents. There are a zillion blogs out there about writing and some of them are even good. These four just happen to be my particular favorites as of this moment.
  • Miss Snark is simply a classic. This anonymous agent no longer posts to her blog, but the archived material is priceless if you are an aspiring writer. (or enjoy pails of gin)
  • Nathan Bransford is (a) possibly the nicest guy on the planet and (b) the author of a fantastic blog for new writers who want to learn about querying agents and much, much more. His blog is a serious storehouse of great info for writers.
  • Query Shark is a blog where writers can submit their query letters to a real live agent, who will then rip them to pieces for our edification and amusement. As educational as it is funny!
  • Speaking of funny, The Rejectionist routinely makes me laugh so hard that tears come to my eyes. She is an assistant at an unnamed literary agent in New York City (where else?) and her salty, NSFW, insightful posts on writing, books, publishing, heavy metal and her personal life just crack me up.

So, that's it for the blog roll for now. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Woo hoo! Website is up!

Yay - it looks like my new website is up and running! I'll have my crack team of cyber experts check it out and make sure all is in order, though. Here's the link: http://amybriant.com/

I hope you like it. Let me know what you think!

Schedule Schmedule II

I'm already off My Blogging Schedule. That didn't take long at all! I hope to be back on it soon. My excuse (and I think it's a pretty good one) is that I've been hard at work building my new website. Upon its release, I will announce it here. This blog, the website, and my Facebook page will each have some exclusive content, just to keep things interesting. For now, I leave you with this quote, which is from me in a recent e-mail to my brother: "If we could only get everyone to read Dick Francis, the world would be a better place."

Top 5 Ways My Protagonist & I Are NOT Alike

This time, I'll share things that I don't have in common with the protagonist of SHADOW POINT, Ms. Madison McPeake:

1) She's a smoker, I'm not and never have been.
2) She's a drinker - I used to be until I started counting up all those calories!
3) She's a curser. (all right, damnit, that one's actually true of me, too)
Revised #3) She's 28. I... am not 28.
4) She's not crazy about dogs. I love dogs!
5) She grew up in San Francisco. I grew up in San Diego.

(I would say she's imaginary and I'm not, but (a) I've already got five things and (b) she might read this and I don't want to tick her off, you know what I mean?)

They say you should write what you know and, well, I know me. So I guess it's no surprise that Madison and I are a lot alike. I hope you will love her as much as I do! Despite her flaws, bad habits and smart mouth, she's really a good person. If I ever have to battle an evil phantom, I know I'd want her on my side!

Top 5 Ways My Protagonist & I Are Alike

The caveat "This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental" applies to SHADOW POINT. However, I must admit the protagonist, Madison McPeake, bears more than a passing similarity to me in some areas. (although her life is much more exciting than mine!) (so far) Here are the Top 5 Ways Amy & Madison Are Alike:

1) We both like Coca-Cola. A Lot.
2) Madison is a corporate trainer. I used to have that job.
3) Like Mad, I am often accused of being a bit of a smartypants.
4) Neither one of us is mechanically-minded. Madison is challenged by the mechanics of a child's car seat and by putting the top back up on a Jeep. I would be, too - I currently have a partially assembled BBQ on my balcony that is likely to remain in that state until someone more talented than I comes over. She should bring some steaks, too.
5) Mad is green-eyed, so am I. She's 5'7", I'm 3/4" taller. Her hair is blonde and that's my color, too. Because I bought it at the store - that's my color.

Next up - the Top 5 Ways Amy & Madison Are NOT Alike!

Writing SHADOW POINT: The Chronology

Pre-Spring 2006: I had been working on another novel for many years, but got stuck. Arrrgh.

Spring 2006: Went on vacation in my hometown of San Diego, where I (among other things) rented a condo at the beach, hung out with a friend and her five year old daughter, and drove out to the old lighthouse on the end of Point Loma, passing along the way the top secret Navy labs and Fort Rosecrans national cemetery. On the plane ride home, I read Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. (which is a ghost story in case you're not familiar with it) (and not about a hardware store, although coincidentally (?) the new novel I am working on now does feature a hardware store... hmmm...) Anyhow, all of these things were burbling away in my subconscious and not long afterwards, I found myself absolutely compelled to write a story about a ghost, a little girl, a lighthouse, and a place very much like Point Loma. I called it Shadow Point. I was still committed to finishing my first novel, but still stuck as to how to proceed with that one. So, I decided I would set aside One Month to work on the ghost story which had me in its grip and then determinedly return to the first novel.

Fall 2008: Two and a half years later, I finished SHADOW POINT. That was late 2008. (I have since finished the first novel, too, for any Fans O' Perseverance out there!)

2009: Searched (in vain) for a literary agent and learned A LOT about the publishing industry. (an ongoing process)

Late 2009: Finally (!) got a clue, bagged the whole agent thing, and submitted SHADOW POINT myself directly to Bella Books.

Early 2010: Accepted by Bella. Thank you, Bella!!!

December 2010: SHADOW POINT is now scheduled to be released in December of this year. Woo hoo! This chronology is not necessarily typical, as I think every book will have its own "life story." But it's the best one I've got so far!

SHADOW POINT: The Opening Paragraphs

They found my brother's body by the tide pools. Some small, probably squishy, sea creature had stung him with a virulence that could not be denied. The resulting anaphylactic shock was the end of James. With no one else around, he had no chance of making it back to a phone before his cold little heart stopped for the last time.

They said it was sunset when they found him. The tide was trying to take him out, but his shirt snagged on a rock.

They told me all this later, of course. I wasn't there. I was in Boston, getting fired.

All in all, it was really inconsiderate of James to go and die on us like that, leaving his only child an orphan and turning my life upside down. Served me right, he would have said.

copyright Amy Briant 2010 all rights reserved

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Shadow Point Artifact

C... B... F... Hmmm. Not much of a tune, if you ask me.
NOTE: This scrap of paper was found in James' piano bench.

Schedule Schmedule

After thinking about what I'd like to post on this blog, I've come up with the following schedule:
  • SUNDAY - something about writing
  • TUESDAY - something SHADOW POINT-specific
  • THURSDAY - something about reading (or maybe a quiz or a quote)
  • SATURDAY - excerpts on 1st Saturday of month, interviews on 3rd, random stuff the other Saturdays

Of course, I reserve the right to do something entirely different when inspiration strikes!

The "Real" Shadow Point

I grew up in a part of San Diego, California called Point Loma. "The Point" (as locals call it) greatly resembles the imaginary Shadow Point, except for the malevolent phantom. Point Loma is a beautiful place. It's a peninsula - a long finger of land that juts out into the water, with the Pacific ocean on one side and San Diego Bay on the other. There are spectacular views of the city and the sea. Like its fictional counterpart, the Point is indeed home to top secret Navy labs, an old lighthouse, a new(er) lighthouse, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and a long and storied history featuring Native Americans, European explorers, WWII gun emplacements and much, much more. Here is a picture I took of the old Point Loma lighthouse on a wet and stormy day:

SHADOW POINT

Perhaps you're wondering what my novel, SHADOW POINT, is all about. So glad you asked! Here's a brief description:

The worst thing that could happen changes every day.

For Madison McPeake - young, beautiful, gay, acerbically witty, and with just a wee drinking problem - getting "not totally fired" from her job as a corporate trainer and being ordered to take three weeks off starting immediately seems like the worst thing that could happen.

Then the phone rings.

Her estranged brother has been found dead by the tide pools at a top secret Navy lab on Shadow Point, a rugged and remote San Diego peninsula. Madison has no choice but to go there and take custody of five year old Katie, the niece she's never met. But even her complete lack of parenting skills is not the worst of Madison's new troubles:

- First, there's the malevolent phantom from Shadow Point's disturbing past haunting her isolated beach cabin.
- Second, her dead brother's ties to the menacing Church of the Benevolent Fount, who have their own ideas about who should raise Katie.
- Last, but far from least, is the alluring marine biologist with the Texas twang in the cabin across the way - whose side is she on?

And Mad thought her inner demons were bad - what a week to stop smoking and drinking! Because Shadow Point is about to become a battleground for the possession of little Katie's soul. Good thing Madison has all that time off...

SHADOW POINT
spine-tingling suspense... sizzling romance... & an English bulldog
sexy, scary, and laugh out loud funny!
coming February 2011 from Bella Books

And So It Begins!

So now I'm blogging - woo hoo! First, the Facebook page, now the blog. Can a website be far behind? Time will tell. In the meantime, though, I encourage you to befriend me on Facebook if any of this sounds interesting to you.

As my profile says, I'm a novelist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area whose first book, SHADOW POINT, will be published by Bella Books in February 2011. I already have some fun and fabulous content on my Facebook page, but I look forward to adding to that with this companion blog. I'll try to have some unique content in both places, just to keep things interesting.

My first step will be to catch the blog up with Facebook. Then, I'll continue to use both sites to talk about SHADOW POINT, writing in general, reading and whatever else strikes my fancy! Stay tuned...