Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Happenings

This title feels like one of those family newsletters that circulates around this time of year. Come to think of it, blogs are like year-round annoying family newsletters, but I must admit I enjoy dabbling in the nonfiction.

Host Terry and myself posing with required Christmas hats.

I've had a very active few days. December 24 was the annual Conway Xmas eve party, replete with tons of food, drink and PacMan playoffs. December 25 was a Very British Christmas dinner with the Marsh's.

We were instructed to pull paper firecrackers, wear hats, and we dined on tons of goodies including a veggie version of mince pie. My new favorite dessert might be simple vanilla ice cream capped with (drowned in) Tio Pepe sherry. The taste combo is pitch perfect and I guarantee that you'll never eat plain vanilla ice cream again. December 26 brought an ice skating
party that started at 10pm and that was hosted by an old friend from elementary school, Leslie. God love Leslie. She's an executive at a sex toy company and a very generous party hostess.

Meredith laces up for the ice.

She rented out Picwick Ice Skating rink in Burbank, provided pizza, churros, water, Red Bull, a coffee cart, cupcakes and a DJ who spun tunes as we spun around and around the rink.

Smiling because I didn't fall.

Miraculously I'm not in pain, and I think it's because I've been a bit of a gym addict on my vacation. My beloved Santa Monica College pool is under construction for the next month so I've had to find other outlets. Lovely friend Lizzie generously loaned out her gym membership as she is not on vacation and working harder than ever.

I am looking forward to spending a quiet (albeit rum soaked) New Year's Eve with good friends, and of course looking forward to 2010. 2010! Isn't that some far off sci-fi sounding date? Why no, it's just a few days away.

Here's a little exercise that I read in someone else's blog: In a journal or on a piece of paper write down all the ways you moved forward in your life. That's not the same thing as forward in your career. I mean forward in your LIFE. How have you expanded, connected, reached out? How are you not the same person you were last year? Create your list, read it and be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Something to Celebrate

If life is a novel, then last Saturday night was all about turning back the pages to reread the beginning. After months of planning, the Bellagio Road School 30 year reunion was a hit. How to describe the surreal feeling around seeing the little kids inside the grown-ups? The last time I saw most of the guests was at graduation in 1979. We were 11-years old and about to embark on life outside our little safety bubble that was Bellagio.

I'd attended that school since Kindergarten, with Mrs. McLean. I still remember spelling out my name in her class: "M-E-L-I-S-S-S-A" and Mrs. McLean telling me I'd added an extra 'S'. I was 5-years old and thought this was the funniest thing in the world. Ms. Lederfine was my 1st grade teacher and I remember being out of my mind excited when she actually came over to my parents house for a Brownie Troop event. I couldn't believe my favorite teacher was in my house. In Ms. Singer's 4th grade class I had a part in the school play "The Music Man." I played Raymond Pitesky's mother, I think because he was the only boy in the class who was shorter than me. I scolded him for not taking his violin lessons seriously. But the real show stealer was Scott Forst, who played Harold Hill with all the sass and savvy of a Broadway performer. We were merely nine years old. In 5th grade I was lucky enough to have Mr. Levin, the funniest teacher on the planet. He taught through humor and I learned through laughing for the entire year.

Ms. Lederfine.

And then there were the fabulous friends - too many to name individually. We participated in seven years of slumber parties, Brownie and Girl Scout events, school trips, dances, and on and on and on.

Class photos from throughout the years

When I told people I was planning this reunion the majority of reactions was, "I barely remember that time in my life, let alone the people." I have a bit of a crazy memory, as do Meredith and Scott, so I thought it was just us, but at the reunion it was clear that most people who attended remembered teachers, friends, and events as clearly as I did. What was it about Bellagio that triggered such warm feelings? Perhaps it was the times - the mid-70's embodied a peaceful, hippiness. But a lot of my friends who didn't remember their elementary experience went to school at this time. Perhaps it was the location, nestled in the foothills of BelAir, or the strength of the the public school system at the time, the same LAUSD that is crumbling before our very eyes. Whatever it was, it was real, and everyone talked about 'it' on Saturday night. Hands down, Bellagio Road School was a special place and we were so lucky to have been part of it.

Leslie Olshen, Mindy Kirshner

As the night wound down around 11:30, Meredith came up to me and said, "Melissa, we made a lot of people happy tonight." And you can see that in the pictures - everyone is beaming. Ms. Lederfine, who remembered so much about us 35 years later, Raymond Pitesky, who reenacted our Music Man scene, Scott, who provided the 70's tunes for the evening, Sonya who flew in from Florida, and Mr. Levin's son Matt, who flew in from DC.

Melanie Butts, me, Raymond Pitesky, now taller than me.

We hope we can do it again with those who weren't able to make it, and who were very much missed.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to move forward in my 'novel'. I have papers to grade, a kitchen to clean and a blog to post.

Group photo: l-r: Rob Pasnau, Debi Schneider, Brad Jacobson, Shellee Roche, Kevin Kimball, Kristen Redd, Christine Greene, Meredith Robinson, Martina Jones, Melanie Butts, Bill Billington. Bottom row: me, Scott Forst, Rory Paster, Patreece Turner, Sonya Bhalla.

The hosts - Meredith, Scott, me - end of the night silliness.

Friday, December 4, 2009

We Meet Again

Much to my surprise, I find that I have spearheaded an elementary school reunion. I don't know if it's rose colored glasses or what, but I have always looked back on my K-6th grade days with a fondness one feels for, say, puppies and kittens. My time at Bellagio Road School back in the 70's most definitely molded who I am today, and teachers like Ms. Lederfine (1st grade) and Mr. Levin (5th grade) are etched so deeply into my brain that I know I will never forget them for as long as I live.

With the help of Meredith Robinson and Scott Forst and countless others who have extended their nets, the 30 year reunion will take place tomorrow. Some people are flying in for it while others have declined the invitation. We are going to miss a lot of people - those who are out of town, those with prior commitments and those who have passed, like our beloved Mr. Levin. Still, we are so looking forward to seeing a big group and catching up. Our paths have taken us all in different directions but the one thing we do have in common is our elementary school education, the one that nourished us and sent us on our ways.

More pictures and stories to come...

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Secret of Joy

Melissa Senate has a new book out. Please enjoy my interview with her, and support an author! Buy her book!

MC: Which came first, the title or the novel?

MS: They came together—but The Secret of Joy isn’t the original title. My main character, Rebecca, discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed, a separated mother who conducts weekend singles tours of Maine in her little orange mini-bus. The quirky members of the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset, who make up her female clients, dub the mini-bus the “love bus.” It fit the book on so many levels, but when it came to designing the cover, it got scrapped. The Secret of Joy is perfect for the novel on many levels also, but I’ll always think of this novel as “The Love Bus.”

What other art form inspires you as much as writing?

Music. I’ve written entire novels to a particular song. I wrote my first book to Sarah McLachlan’s “Hold On.” I wrote my last book to Gillian Welch’s “Miss Ohio.” Songs often make me stop dead in my tracks, make me pull over to the side of the road so that I can really listen, make me smile, make me cry, make me remember, make me feel. My favorite song is Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits.

Which comes easier for you - beginnings or endings?

Endings, definitely. I write to endings, to a last line already in my head, so by the time I get there, I know what I’m doing. The beginning takes forever. It can take me months to write the first page.

How many drafts until the final draft?

I revise and polish as a I go, a slooooow process, so I usually only have three drafts: the first gets a solid revision, the second an edit, the third a polish. Then it’s off to my agent and editor.

What are you reading right now?

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg. I’m always so amazed at how she manages to write so honestly and elegantly at the same time. She’ll call someone a shit in the loveliest way.

What's next for you?

My second novel for teens, The Mosts, will be published by Random House in June 2010. And my next women’s fiction novel, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, which I’m staring down the deadline on right this minute, will come out November 2010. It’s about five people taking an Italian cooking course with recipes containing a few magical ingredients.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Love Under Cover

1GCC member Jessica Brody has a novel out today and by the looks of her early reviews, it's sure to be a winner.

"With a complicated, sympathetic protagonist, worthy stakes and a clever twist on the standard chick lit narrative, Brody will pull readers in from the first page."

– Publisher’s Weekly

Below is my interview with Jessica:

WWhich came first, the title or the novel?

For this book it was definitely the novel. We had the hardest time titling this book. At first it was, “The Untitled Fidelity Files Sequel” (not so catchy) then I tried to start calling it, “High Infidelity” which I thought was kind of fun, but my publisher nixed it. And then it was just “The Hawthorne Agency” for a while which is the name of the fidelity inspection agency that my main character runs but that was thrown out very fast. And finally we settled on LOVE UNDER COVER which I think is perfect!

2) What other art form inspires you as much as writing?

I love dance. I can’t dance to save my life. But I love watching it. I’m a big fan of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Not the reality TV aspect of it but just watching all those people work so hard to fulfill their dreams. It’s inspiring.
I once heard someone say, “Dancers dance because they have to.” I really loved that and I think it’s the same for writers. I definitely have to write. Like I have to breathe. If I don’t, I get very stir crazy. All of that energy has to come out somehow and for me, it comes out in words. Lots and lots of words. Some of them are actually worth publishing.

3) Which comes easier for you - beginnings or endings?

Beginnings. Definitely. The first 50 pages are my absolute favorite. They fly by. They’re brilliant and fresh and exciting and full of promise. I feel like I could do anything. I feel like I write an entire novel in two weeks. My least favorite part is everything that comes after that.

4) How many drafts until the final draft?

This book had many. Or rather, it had many first chapters. Probably around 20 if I actually counted. I’m dead serious. I could just NOT nail down the tone of this book. I started it so many times. From different character’s perspectives, different tenses, different starting points in the story. It was extremely frustrating and there were many tears. But ultimately I love the result so clearly all those versions had to come out first. I always say, “sometimes you have to write the crap to get to the good stuff.”

5) What are you reading right now?

The short answer to that is many. I usually have a partially read book in every room of the house. And now that I have a Kindle, I have even MORE partially read books on hand at all times. I’m definitely a multi-tasking reader. Here’s the current selection: Harry Potter Book 5 (Yes, I realize how behind I am), New Moon (for the second time…in preparation for the movie release!), and Deepak Chopra’s Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul.

6) What's next for you?

Although I strive to live in the moment, I can’t help but be excited about the future! I’ve got three young adult books scheduled to come out in the next three years from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. The first, THE KARMA CLUB
, releases on April 27 and I simply can’t wait! It’s about three teen girls who are tired of waiting for Karma to get off its butt and do its job, so they decide to give Karma a helping hand by getting revenge on their evil ex-boyfriends. But they soon discover that when you mess with Karma, Karma messes back. It’s a story I wanted to tell for years and I’m so glad it’s finally going to be put out to the world. The teen voice feels very natural to me (not sure what that says about my inherent maturity level, but whatever!) and the YA novels are such a blast to write. I think the teenage years resonate with everyone in some way. For me, my teen years were very painful so it’s somewhat therapeutic to be able to “go back” and relive them with all the knowledge and wisdom that I have now!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fall in New York

Just returned from a wonderful, whirlwind trip to Manhattan, with side trips to Cos Cob, Connecticut and Andes in the Catskills

Instead of rambling on about the food, the friends, the fun, I'll just post some photos that capture the essence of the trip.

To the left: Self portrait of boots in Fall leaves.

Carved pumpkin totem pole in Connecticut:

Move over Sinatra, there's a new Frank in town. (Frank Webster belting out the standards at Friday night karaoke)

To the left: Jen Kagan dressed up for Halloween. Notice her sweet dog Mika holding the fake bloody hand. Her sign reads, "Yes, my dog bites."

Bunky, my back seat companion up to Andes in the Catskills. She was very Reba-esque (my sister's dog) but she drooled like a motherf*cker. Still, how can you resist that face?
John and Daryl's amazingly adorable blue house in the country.

Lisa and Jim's Halloween party at their fabulous country house. Jim had many costume changes during the night. Here he is some sort of swamp thing in a track suit sipping beer from a straw.
Daryl took me for a spin on his motorcycle. I squealed like a baby when he went over 40mph.

John and I preparing to pose for a picture.

Thank you to all my hosts and hostesses for such a wonderful vacation!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Behind the Curve

When a fad has passed, that's when I'm sure to discover it. It's not that I'm unaware of said fad, I just seemingly never get around to experiencing it. I was late to the MacBook, the iPod and I certainly don't have an iPhone...yet. And remember the Pinkberry craze? Yeah, you probably don't because it was so long ago. I'd tasted the frozen yogurt back in the day, but the taste didn't catch for me. But a few weeks ago I had one again with my friend Michelle, and now I guarantee there is nothing better than a plain with granola, strawberries and honey drizzled on top. It is so delicious that twice last week I had a craving and pulled over to my nearest Pinkberry's to indulge.

And the beauty of being behind the lines.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marilyn Brant is the author of According to Jane and a member of the GCC blog group. Here is my interview with her about her new book with the Jane Austen undertones!

Which came first, the title or the novel?

Definitely the novel!
I started out by calling the book “My Best Friend Jane” before finally, about a third of the way into it, thinking of the title According to Jane.

What other art form inspires you as much as writing?

Music, hands down.
Playing and listening to music remains one of my most enjoyable and inspirational pastimes. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Music is the favorite passion of my soul,” and I agree with him.

Which comes easier for you - beginnings or endings?

Endings, also hands down. I tend to struggle with those opening 2-3 chapters--there’s so much that needs to be set up early in every book--but once the story is rolling, it’s much easier for me to continue onward. And, by the time I’m ready to wrap up a novel, I’m usually racing toward the end.

How many drafts until the final draft?

Too many!
According to Jane took more drafts than I can remember. I think I lost count somewhere after the 7th or 8th. But, that book was unusual in that it needed to be completely restructured before selling--all the same parts, but the chronology had to be scrambled! So, it took an extraordinary amount of revision. My second novel required much less. I wrote it, revised some scenes after a couple of CPs read it, tweaked a bit more after my agent read it and made the final few changes my editor requested. I greatly prefer that process.

What are you reading right now?

Some fun Austen-inspired fiction, like Beth Pattillo’s
Jane Austen Ruined My Life, and the amazing Shaffer/Barrows novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

What's next for you?

I’m getting to promote my debut novel
According to Jane--the last leg of a very long publishing journey--while also starting the process all over again for my next women’s fiction project. The book is done, but we’re still working on finding the right title. It’s a modern fairytale about three suburban moms who shake up their marriages and their lives when one woman asks her friends a somewhat shocking question.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

If The Suit Fits...

After the breakdown of red Target striped bikini '09, I was stuck with a mish mash of ghosts of bathing suits past. I had brown polka dot bottoms but that top had disintigrated so I was wearing a saggy top from blue Target bikini '05. I had loaned my 1-piece to a friend and then actually recommended she keep it, since that particular bathing suit was none too flattering in the belly area on me. Finally, after a day or two of running around LA looking for suitable suits, I got online and ordered three bikinis from the Target website. As it is technically end of season, the bathing suits were beyond reasonable and I ordered three for under 60 bucks.

Yes, I know, it's risky buying bathing suits in the store, let alone online, but after perusing over 100 suits, I narrowed my choices and settled on the final three. They arrived by UPS this morning (free shipping for orders over 50!) and I ripped the bag open. Each part was individually wrapped in plastic so I dumped them out and started unwrapping. First I tried on the rainbow stripes... didn't notice the metallic tinge to this suit online, but happily it fit. Next I tried on the coral colored one - again, not having noticed the black beading in the top online - but it, too fit.
And finally, the most expensive one - at 30 dollars, the black and white striped bikini... it fit! And the person who put the package together? Well he/she threw in an extra bottom of that one!
I should probably return it, but perhaps it was just the universe looking out for me, knowing that I'm swimming at the pool three times a week and that any bathing suit I wear consistently is going to take a beating.

I've been swimming laps regularly since May and I have no intention of stopping. If I can fit into three bikinis at age fortysomething better than I could at age thirtysomething then I know the pool, despite the crowds, the splashers, the chlorine, is doing me good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Red Light, Green Light

Yesterday I had a very frustrating, yet very L.A. experience. On my way to a doctor's appointment I hit every red light in the city. I'd drive thirty seconds and boom - a red light. Another minute and - bam - a red light. Clearly, the timing was just off on my route so I negotiated off that street and headed toward a parallel street, and wouldn't you know it... a red light! This wouldn't have felt so strange if the exact same thing hadn't happened on my way back home. I was driving down Wilshire and hit every single red light. I finally made my way over to Olympic. Same thing. It took me forever to get back home - red light, red light, red light.

I am all too familiar with red lights - and I don't only mean the literal traffic lights. I have hit many in my life - projects that have stalled, relationships that have ended, a house hunt during the rising housing market, flashing red lights greeting me at every outbid offer. But the beauty of the red light is that it's going to turn green, eventually. Lately I've been seeing glimpses of that green - the recent completion of my new novel, a foreign sale of "Swimming Upstream, Slowly," some potential possibilities in the animated television world, and a teaching gig in 2010 at Esalen.

Some days are just like that, red, red, red.

And other days are full of green.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Air Time

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.

“Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. First-class entertainment.”

**Sue Grafton

“I love this series!”

**Suzanne Brockmann

“AIR TIME is a fun, fast read with a heroine who's sexy, stylish, and smart. I loved it."

**Nancy Pickard

Q: Charlotte (Charlie) McNally is an investigative TV reporter, and so are you! What qualities do you share with Charlie, and how are you different?

A: When my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in—when “you” are held at gunpoint, when you track down the bad guys, when you solve the mystery . . . and I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction. It didn’t really happen.”

But a couple of things: I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years. (Yes, really.) And so it would be silly, in writing a mystery about TV, not to use my own experiences. Think about it—as a TV reporter, you can never be wrong! Never be one minute late. Never choose the wrong word or miscalculate. You can never have a bad hair day, because it’ll be seen by millions of people! It’s high-stakes and high-stress—literally, people’s lives at stake—and I really wanted to convey that in the books.

And everything that TV people do and say in the books is authentic and genuine. (Of course, Charlie can say things I can’t say, and reveal things I can’t reveal.) We’re both devoted journalists, and over-focused on our jobs.

But Charlotte McNally is different, too. She’s single—I’m happily married. She’s ten years younger than I am, and so is facing different choices and dilemmas. She’s braver than I am, certainly. Funnier. And a much better driver.

Q: Your job sounds very demanding. How (and when) do you find the time to write? Do you ever take a vacation, and, if so, what do you do with your time off?

Short answer—no. I don’t take vacations anymore. We used to! We love Nevis, a tiny island n the Caribbean with empty white beaches and nothing to do. We love to go to western Massachusetts, to Tanglewood, to go to plays and the symphony and museums. We love to go to Cape Cod, to Truro, to sit on the beach with pals and read, then go out to wonderful dinners. All in the past. Now, I write. And Jonathan lounges in the back yard. Luckily, we have a lovely yard, with a pool and beautiful gardens.

Q: Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, or do you wing it when writing? Do you work on one book at a time or more?

A: Such a great question. In PRIME TIME, I totally winged it. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, so I just blithely typed away. I typed The End, and then took it to be printed. It was 723 pages long! I had to cut half of it. Yikes.

It was a real editing education but also taught me I needed to be a bit more organized. And a lot tougher as a self-editor. (Now, I outline. Like crazy. My outlines are 60 pages long. I loathe writing them, but I adore it when I’m finished.)

I must say, though, that in writing PRIME TIME with no plan, I surprised even myself. I got about half-way through the book, and realized I’d chosen the wrong bad guy! I literally (as I remember it) sat up in bed, and thought—wait! The person who I thought did it—didn’t!—and it just dawned on me who the real culprit was. It as all I could do not to run downstairs to the computer and see if I was right. The next morning, as I read over my 40,000 words—I barely had to make a change.

The real killer had been lurking in my very own pages—I just hadn’t realized it! Talk about a surprise ending.

And yes, I only work on one book at a time. Well, no, not really. The next book is always forming in my head and just pushing to come out. Sometimes I have to hold it back!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crossing Washington Square

I am so excited about Joanne Rendell's new novel! Joanne was instrumental in helping me pick books and movies for my Literature of Madness course this semester, and with her new novel's Sylvia Plath subplot, now I know why. Here is my little interview with her:

MC: Which came first, the title or the novel?

JR: Definitely the novel. The title was really, really hard and we – me, my editor, my agent, my husband, and anyone else who cared to take part in discussions - went through hundreds of suggestions. My husband actually came up with the final title and when he said it, I just knew it was perfect (and so, thankfully, did my editor). The two professors in the novel live on either side of WashingtonSquare Park in New York. They’re also very different women. Professor Rachel Grey is an enthusiastic young scholar of popular women’s fiction (think Bridget Jones’ Diary), while Professor Diana Monroe is an esteemed and rigorous Sylvia Plath scholar who thinks that popular fiction is an easy ride for students. They have big disagreements at the beginning of the novel and really don’t like each other much. But through the novel they have to learn to overcome these differences and thus, in metaphorical and literal ways, they must cross the Square to meet each other!

What other art form inspires you as much as writing?

Hollywood is a great storyteller and I’ve learnt some great plot tricks and character arcs from watching movies.

Which comes easier for you - beginnings or endings?

Endings, without a doubt. Although sometimes it is a little harder to let go of the characters you’ve lived with for so long.

How many drafts until the final draft?

Maybe 3 or 4. I always start with a pretty worked out plot, although it often changes as I go along. Then I work from chapter one and go chapter by chapter. I’m not the kind of writer who writes a scenes here and then one there. I’m very systematic, although I do love editing and happily go back into the manuscript and change things once I’m done.

What are you reading right now?

The Elegance of a Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery and also Simone de Beauvoir’s, A Very Easy Death. It’s a coincidence that they are both books by French philosophers. I’m reading both as research for a new book idea (the book isn’t about France or philosophy though!?)

What's next for you?

I’m currently working on final edits for my third novel (which was bought by Penguin last fall). The novel tells the story of a woman who thinks she might be related to the nineteenth century writer, Mary Shelley. On her journey to seek the truth and to discover if there really is a link between her own family and the creator of Frankenstein, Clara unearths surprising facts about people much closer to home – including some shocking secrets about the ambitious scientist she is engaged to. The book is told in alternating points of view between Clara and the young Mary Shelley who is preparing to write Frankenstein.