Monthly Archives: November 2012

I am not crafty

This is why I don’t do crafts.

I had this idea to gather the various recipes I’ve jammed in cookbooks on notebook paper over the years and to organize them. So I have this black plastic binder, left over from who knows what, and I punch holes in the recipe papers to insert in said binder. So far, so good. I’m using up something old, I’m doing the organizing. I’m very proud of myself.

But then I think: this binder looks so blah, and I have some material left over from a time I tried to make a slip cover for a wing chair cushion (“tried” is the key word – do you detect a pattern?)….  And wouldn’t this binder be so sweet and homey and cute every time I pull it out to use a recipe if it looks like something other than leftover office supplies?

So I cut out a rectangle of fabric for the cover for this binder, but the fabric was wrinkled-looking. Back in the day, I might have been okay with that, but now, I’ve decided I’m going to do this right. Ironing! That’s the solution!

Turns out it’s one of those “Goldilocks” fabrics, though, where the temperature on the iron has to be just right in order for the wrinkles to come out and the fabric-like qualities to stay in. Ahem.

Okay, so one piece of the fabric now has a slight imprint on it  that looks like the bow of a ship. That’s okay. Since this project is all about not wasting materials, it will do. It’s just a light image, after all. The kind of thing where you look at it and think, is something off there or is it my eyes?

Moving on, I apply glue to the front of the binder and smooth the fabric over that section. I then set a big, heavy pot on top of it to make sure the fabric stays stuck to the binder.

The picture tells the tale. First of all, the glue isn’t really drying. Maybe it’s not the kind of glue you use with plastic binders and cloth with odd plastic-like qualities? Second of all, you can see the pattern of the glue through this fabric! And it’s heavy stuff. It feels like a double burlap bag. It’s like woven steel. You could probably build a house with it! (Especially if you iron it first, bringing out its stiffer aspects.) Yet it’s transparent enough to show the glue lines? What the what the…. Maybe the military should learn about this fabric…

Notice the glue swirls. How is this possible?

End of craft experiment for me. Next time I’m at the mall, I’m buying a nice recipe book I can throw my papers in, something already manufactured by people who know how to work with fabric and irons and glue, who have the skill set I was obviously not born with. I’ll step away from the glue gun…before another innocent binder gets hurt.


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A twelve-year writer’s journey

About a dozen years ago, I made two amazing friends. We met on the internet through Romance Writers of America. RWA had set up some email discussion groups that proved to be a trove of information, shared by the writers on the groups– on what editors were looking for, how to format manuscripts, contests open to unpublished authors, conferences that were coming up, general encouragement for those of us still struggling to get our books into print and cheerleading for those who got “the call” from agent and/or editor.

Out of the multitude of voices on those lists, two writers and I seemed to click. We started emailing each other privately, off the various lists. It was pure happenstance that of the three of us, two lived in Kansas. (I lived in Vermont at the time, then eventually moved to Pennsylvania.) A spine-tingling discovery, however, was this: when sharing our various addresses, Writer A learned that Writer B was living in a house Writer A had lived in years ago! If any of us had written that into a story, we envisioned an editor red-penciling it with a note: “Too coincidental and not necessary to advance the story. Change.”

Together, we went through the nail-biting waits to hear back from agents and editors, the celebrations when agents offered representation and contracts appeared. Writer B sold first, to a Penguin imprint, Writer A not long after to another Penguin imprint. And, although I’d sold a YA mystery to a small press, I didn’t join my friends in Big Publisher Land until a year or so after them, when I, too, got a call,  from Harlequin offering a contract on a “chick lit” novel.

After we’d all sold, our conversations turned to other topics, but our worries didn’t end. We discussed book marketing, we anguished over the nail-biting wait for sales numbers and reviews, we commiserated when agents and editors were sometimes unresponsive, and we analyzed why some writers were realizing great success and how we could try to emulate them. Or not.

While our correspondence began focused on writing and the publishing business, it moved on to more personal news–deaths in our families, serious illness, our hopes and fears for our children (two of us have kids), job changes, divorce and remarriage for one in the group, a move to another state for me, and the deployment of two sons among us to Afghanistan at roughly the same time. We never stopped talking about writing, but it seemed to consume less and less of our friendly chatter, with more and more attention spent on what really mattered in our lives–our families.

Writers A and B were able to meet during this time, of course, both being in the Sunflower State. But I, hundreds of miles away, never got to see these wonderful women face-to-face. I did talk to them on the phone occasionally–usually conversations when the publishing business was throwing challenges our way. I remember very well being on the phone with Writer B anguishing over whether to drop a prestigious agent whom I believed wasn’t really representing my best interests when said agent interrupted the call for our ultimate break-up talk.

We’ve laughed, too, until we’ve cried, usually over the lunacy we sometimes observe in the book business, getting into ever-more-ridiculous Round Robin emails with each other filled with fantastical scenarios about…well, I won’t tell. 🙂

As much as I wanted to meet them, a big obstacle stood in my way. I’m excruciatingly afraid of flying, a fear I developed later in life for no reason I can figure. It’s such a painful experience that my husband drove us all the way from PA to Mississippi last year to attend our son’s graduation from pilot training at a U.S. Air Force base rather than ask me to get on a plane myself. We enjoyed that journey, but I didn’t want to put him through that kind of long drive again.

But then, our Air Force son got posted to….Kansas. Wichita, to be exact. And he and his wife invited us out for Thanksgiving. My husband started mulling our route, being careful to include a stop to see my writer friends. But I just couldn’t make him give up so much time on the road behind the wheel, simply because I couldn’t bring myself to fly.

The solution: better living through chemistry! I asked a doctor about my problem, and she suggested Valium. It helped tremendously, allowing me to control my nerves.

So, last week, we flew to Kansas City, and at long last–after twelve years of sharing stories with each other (real stories and fictional stories), we finally met! My writer friends and me! They are, from left to right, below: me, Jerri Corgiat and Karen Brichoux. Look them up on Amazon to see what wonderful writers they are.

Me, Jerri Corgiat, Karen Brichoux
Together at last!

I thought the meeting would feel strange, but it felt as if we’d been getting together regularly all these years. Maybe that’s a testament to their writer voices–“hearing” them through their notes for so long, it was as if I’d been seeing them all along. It’s an evening I will treasure, along with the rest of a phenomenal holiday, seeing the wonderful state of Kansas and being lovingly hosted by my son and daughter-in-law in their cozy Wichita home.

I can’t say enough, in fact, about how exciting and fantastic this trip was, from start to finish. Since I focus on many writerly things here, I won’t go into detail about the Wichita visit, but it will be a gilded memory for me–seeing my son and daughter-in-law so happy, and enjoying their company.

Now that this trip is finished, I look forward to future ones–and seeing my friends more often.

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Tip for YA writers: learn about graduated licenses

I received my driver’s license mumble-mumble years ago in Maryland, back in the day when teen driving regulations were pretty light–no restrictions on number and age of passengers or driving at night.

Since that time, however, many states have adopted “graduated license” regulations that place specific limitations on drivers under the age of 18, who are driving on “learner’s permits” or “provisional licenses.” For example, in Pennsylvania, the state where I now reside, this relatively new restriction exists:

As of Dec. 27, 2011, for the first six months after receiving their junior  driver’s license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger  under age 18 who is not an immediate family member (brother, sister,
stepbrother, stepsister of the junior driver and adopted or foster children  living in the same household as the junior driver) in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If they have not been convicted  of a driving violation or been partially or fully responsible for a reportable  crash after six months, they may have up to three passengers under age 18 who  are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present. If  they have any convictions or are partially or fully responsible for a reportable  crash while a junior driver, they are once again restricted to one passenger.

Other restrictions–such as not being able to drive late at night or not being able to drive late at night without a licensed driver over the age of 21 in the car–are part of some states’ graduated license provisions.

So, what does this mean to an author?

Beware when crafting contemporary stories involving young drivers. Make sure you know the restrictions on young drivers in the state where your story is set. Don’t have your underage driver tootling around the countryside with a car packed full of underage passengers after midnight unless you note he or she is flaunting the law.

Authors who learned to drive “back in the day” before graduated licenses and don’t have any teen drivers in their households might not be aware of these licensing laws. As a copy editor who’s flagged this issue a few times now, my helpful hint to writers of YA (or adult fiction featuring a young driver) is this: save yourself rewrites later and go to the transportation department website to look up the law on young drivers in the state where your story is set. You’ll be glad you did!

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When a Bad Review Isn’t Bad

Some time ago, I vented about a careless review of one of my books. But that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with all bad reviews. Reading tastes vary. It’s highly unlikely that there will be unanimous praise for or criticism of an author’s offerings. Authors know that and accept it. But sometimes a bad review still conveys to the reader enough about the book to alert readers with different tastes to what they might find enjoyable–even as the critic pans those parts.  As an example, I’m going to reprint here a review that dinged my romantic comedy, My Own Personal Soap Opera (written as Libby Malin). This appeared in Publishers Weekly:

Malin’s latest is heavy on humor, but disappoints with plot. Frankie McNally is the head writer for Lust for Life , the longest-running (and currently lowest-rated) television soap opera, and while she can’t shake the sense that she should be writing the Great American Novel, Frankie’s use of the show to “work out her innermost frustrations” through the characters has therapeutic value. But when management calls in “marketing guru” Victor Pendergrast to save the show, Frankie’s suddenly a little less comfortable. Victor immediately clashes with Frankie on the show’s biggest problem: how to address the fact that a real-life jewel thief has adopted a modus operandi similar to one used by a thief on the show. Meanwhile, Frankie’s predictable attraction to Victor is at odds with the sparks she feels with the show’s leading man. Malin (Fire Me ) coaxes plenty of laughs, but the multitude of misunderstandings and contrivances needed to resolve the mystery and concoct a happily-ever-after are painfully melodramatic, even by daytime TV standards. (Apr.) Reviewed on: 02/15/2010

When I read this review, I did cringe at first at the “disappoints with plot.” But then when I got to the end, the final “painfully melodramatic, even by daytime TV standards” actually lifted my spirits. That’s because this was my goal in writing the book. Oh, not to be “painful” — who wants to do that?–but to be “melodramatic,” even over-the-top compared to “daytime TV standards.” I wanted the denouement to be head-spinningly-outrageous. Obviously, I succeeded. 🙂 And anyone who likes that kind of madcap storytelling might have thought, “Hmm, I might enjoy this book.”

I’ve read comments about bad reviews from readers that talk about that precise effect–that is, details in a bad review that alert them to aspects of a story they would find appealing, even if the reviewer wasn’t in love with the tale. This Publishers Weekly review falls into that category. The reviewer did a terrific summary of the book’s main plot points, and the criticisms, while unvarnished, are not gratuitous. They are specific. And that makes all the difference in whether a bad review is really “bad.”

When a reviewer takes the time and care to craft a critique that gives the reader a)  a fair and dispassionate summary of what’s in the book; and b) the specific aspects of the book that didn’t work for the reviewer, that’s not necessarily a bad review, even if it contains criticism.

So, this writer is grateful for the attention from Publishers Weekly for this goofy story of mine, My Own Personal Soap Opera.

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Inspirationals: Where faith isn’t preachy; it’s just not hidden

by Libby Sternberg

I have to admit that I cringe a bit when I see/hear the word “Inspirational,” the name given to a specific genre of fiction. These books include faith elements but leave out any cursing or sex or anything else that might offend a faith-filled reader.

And for this, they’re put in a special category, often shelved away from regular fiction, sometimes with religious nonfiction books.

What a shame if readers miss out on finding these novels because of this categorization! And what a shame if readers skip over this category if they think inspirationals are preachy, filled with evangelizing and proselytizing. They’re not. They’re usually just good stories whose characters don’t keep their spiritual sides under wraps. They might talk about their belief in God. They might even quote scriptures or pray. What they don’t do is offer up a “Believe or you’re going to hell” kind of message. They don’t even suggest that their characters’ way is the only way.

In fact, I think characters in these books are much closer to the reality of most Americans’ lives. Gallup, the well-known polling organization, regularly measures how important religion is in our lives. Its 2010 survey found these numbers holding steady throughout the years, with 54 percent expressing the view that religion was very important in their lives, and 26 percent saying it was “fairly important.” While the same poll shows that many Americans see religion losing influence in the country, it still clearly plays a large role in individual lives.

Despite the importance of religion in Americans’ lives, faith issues are usually not front and center in most fiction. In fact, if you’ve ever written a book with faith issues in it, you might find it difficult at times to convince an editor it’s not necessarily an “inspirational”–as that genre is understood today– and you might also find your book reviewed as an “inspirational” when it’s not. Both experiences have happened to me.

That said, I am the happy author of two bona fide inspirational novels, books that fall within the genre’s parameters. Both are historicals and both deal with the same family. Kit Austen’s Journey, the tale of a woman on the Oregon trail running away from secrets and toward a new life, was released through Istoria several years ago, hitting Amazon best seller lists for a time. Mending Ruth’s Heart,just released, tells the tale of Kit’s granddaughter, on the mend after a tragedy in which her fiance was lost, and finding herself in San Francisco right before the fateful earthquake hits the city in 1906.

In both books, the heroines go to church (or church services, in the case of Kit) and both wrestle with their own behavior and outlook on life in the context of what God expects of them. Kit has to learn to forgive herself for past decisions. Ruth has to learn to set aside a judgmental attitude if she wants others not to unfairly judge her.

In Mending Ruth’s Heart, the faith elements are whispers on a breeze, not a dominant part of the story but not hidden. And I think that’s what I enjoy about writing inspirationals. You don’t need to hide the fact that ordinary people do think about God and their relationships with God. In that way, characters in inspirationals are much more like ordinarily Americans than characters in other books where scant–if any–notice of God or prayer or church is mentioned.

Here’s hoping more readers discover the world of inspirationals. No matter what your personal faith level is, these are good stories, well-told about real people confronting moral and spiritual issues in their lives.

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