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...