Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year Joy

First things first: HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you and may you get to enjoy in 2007 the fruits of all your hard work, your passions and your dreams. I happen to know one such person, who, just on the eve of the holiday season, received the best news a writer could hope for, but I'm going to wait to tell you guys until I have her permission to post. All I can say is, you totally deserve this and I couldn't be happier!!!(you know who you are...)

I have to say on this eve of the New Year that there's been quite some excitement in our household as well. I went home for the holidays for the first time in five years and was greeted with a deceptive plus six degree Celsius (which is pretty warm for December 22nd) only to wake up to 25 cm of snow (that's about a foot... I think... let's just saw "a whole lotta") on the morning of December 26th. So I didn't have a white Christmas, but I had a lovely, chilly, slushy, but white Boxing Day (that's the peculiar name we citizens of the Commonwealth have for December 26th).

Ok, the excitement... my lovey editor Paul had a bunch of copies of the Fashionably Late ARC sent to my parents' address in Montreal, so I got to come home to this:


My friend and I even took a copy to our local bookstore and put it on a shelf next to the new releases just to see what it would look like (yes, very dorky, I know). But it was definitely a huge thrill. Even more thrilling was watching my parents' eyes light up when they saw the novel was dedicated to them. I'm not one of those types to believe in "positive visualization" or whatever picturing yourself achieving something as a means of actually achieving it is called, but that moment was one I had played over and over in my head, those years I had been working on FL. Next step... visualize myself finishing novel #2...

And that's not all... check this out.

How crazy is that??? I had no idea it would be up on Amazon (and for you Canucks out there) so soon!!! It was my mother-in-law who discovered this and is now, officially, the first person to have ordered Fashionably Late! (Merci, J!!)

I also did a lot of catching up on my reading these past few days as nothing beats staying in with a cup of hot tea white it's drizzling frozen rain outside... there was also a lot of airport time which most people dread, but you know what? I LOVE airport time (provided you're not running around from counter to counter because you were bumped off your flight, and/or your luggage has gone AWOL, and/or your flight's been delayed five hours, or, better yet, indefinitely) No, my friends, this Christmas flying experience was all-around fabulous. It started with a certain someone in my traveling party (who knows who he is and should be ashamed) dragging me to the "US Citizens Only" line with an air of confidence and implacability which I mistook for knowing what the hell he was doing. I was wrong. First question we were asked when we presented our Canadian passports to the Department of Homeland Security officer was "why are you in my line", and when the certain guilty party feigned not knowing what the customs officer was talking about, I began planning how I'd get word to my family that I'd be missing Christmas because I had been thrown in a Guantanamo Bay jail cell indefinitely. After some "it wasn't my idea! It wasn't my idea!"'s from yours truly, the kindly officer let us go without throwing us back into the sorry hordes of the International Visitors line-ups with a "hey, it's Christmas" (God bless that wonderful man).

After that we were free to enjoy all the consumerist joys of America that are denied to us in the Cayman Islands, like Borders and Starbucks. And I got hours of guilt-free, maybe-I-should-be-doing-something-more-productive reading.

So here's what I read these past few days:

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende. This is supposedly not one of her best, but I adored it. You will too if you're into historical fiction that's more historical than fiction (or at least, it reads that way) and if you like swashbuckling adventure. There's a lot of romance here (just like in Zorro) but unlike historical romances, it's not the point. The point is the adventure, and in this case, the adventure is the conquest of Chile and Peru to a lesser extent). I think Allende was trying to be as fair as possible to both sides by getting into the minds of both the native peoples and the conquistadors, but as with stories of great injustices and suffering, like say slavery or the colonialism, "bad guys" do emerge, and their motivations: gold, greed, glory, evangelizing, just aren't enough to make them human. At least not to me, and I've always been a sucker for novels like Roots (which this was NOT - it was from the POV of Ines, a conquistadora). All in all, it was a page-turner most of the time, and it made me want to read Allende's backlist.

The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman. Maybe it's the geeky business grad in me, but multinationals that shape our lives fascinate me (I told you I was on a non-ficion kick...). This particular Wal-Mart critique (and there have been many) is that it really doesn't have an agenda beyond explaining, as scientifically as possible, how Wal-Mart has changed commerce in out times. When I say 'our times' we're talking so recently that many things I learned at business school are woefully outdated now that Wal-Mart's on the scene. It's not Wal-Mart bashing, nor praising really, but it's a great study of the phenomenon.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Frank Rich. This one's about the Iraq war. Now, I know that the biggie out there on this subject is Bob Woodward's State of Denial, but forgive me if he's not my go-to guy on matters of the Bush administration since he's published two Bush suck-up books (Plan of Attack, Bush at War) previous to this one where it would seem he finally saw the light (and now, apparently, Bush won't talk to him anymore...) Frank Rich has been critical of the Iraq war from day one, so no "flip-flopping" here to borrow a page from Bush propaganda tactics. I won't say I loved it: it was dry reading at times (but hey, it's politics, not chick lit), and to me personally, I didn't really learn anything new. What I wanted the most, I didn't get, which was a deep look into the WHY of this whole ordeal, when this book was 250 pages of HOW. he author skims over possible motivations in two pages which wasn't good enough for me, but I guess this was outside the scope of the book (just look at the title). He does however string all the milestones of the war from 9/11 to the present day so you can clearly see how the American people were made to think the Iraq War was a good idea. So good reading if you're confused about the whole thing and want some clearing up of the facts, without too much opinion thrown in.

... I think I've overdue for some good ol'chick lit, what do you think??? I just got my hands on the fabulous Shannon McKeldon's Venus Envy and can't wait to dig in!

Have a great New Year everybody!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

IT'S HERE!!!!!!

Well... what do you guys think?

Definitely a move away from the 'chick' covers we're warned are taking a nosedive, but I do love that blue water so... very vacation-y, wouldn't you say? Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope Barnes & Noble, Borders, Chapters, Indigo et al. like it too...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Exciting Times in Hi-Tech Beauty

The Cayman Islands are many things, but one thing they most definitely are not is avant-garde. So imagine my surprise, when one fine day as I lay on my esthetician’s worktable, slick wax paper crackling under my back, I happen to look over to one side in an effort to get my mind off the mind-bending pain I was being subjected to, and what do I see? A sign for a brand-spanking new procedure I had just read about in Marie-Claire (the UK edition, no less) and had thought to myself when I read it: “man, wouldn’t I love to get this done if only I didn’t live on this rock”.

I won’t tell you what this procedure is quite yet as I'm thrilled to report I’ll be getting it done this Thursday, just in time for my Christmas party (so in case some people from the office are reading this... let’s see how perceptive you are!)

Hint: yes, the effects will be visible to the naked eye, but I highly doubt anyone will be able to pinpoint exactly what I’ve done to myself. More hints: it should actually be fun, unlike, say, laser treatments and chemical peels. It’s in the same fun-ness league as getting your hair dyed a drastic new color. It’s also very avant-gardiste indeed (and very, very frivolous, as in I-can’t-believe-this-is-what-you-spend-your-hard-earned-money-on, make no mistake about it), and I’m pretty sure most of you haven’t heard about it yet. Then again, I do live on a rock in the middle of the ocean, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you laughed me out of the blogosphere after I disclose the results this weekend (we’ve know about it for ages daahrling, do try and keep up!)

Any lucky guessers out there? And I do promise to give you a full report, this weekend after my office Christmas party.

On the book front, I’ve got a surprise coming up for you… I just have to get the green light from my editor, and it’ll be up on my blog asap!

PS: I do apologize for not being able to post a picture of my Jimmy Choo obsession in my last entry… I have a hate-hate relationship with Blogger right now

Friday, December 08, 2006

Unthrifty Kind of Mood

It is absolutely impossible to be thrifty around Christmas time, no matter how hard you try. Maybe it’s just me.

Every year I get burned with the January sales, and, since I’m all the way in the Cayman Islands, the Land Before Malls, and am not planning a no-holds-barred pre-Christmas shopping trip this year, I figure it’s the perfect time to try and save my pennies for the inevitable post-Holiday retail slump where I can stock up on useless-but-pretty things to my heart’s desire. I’ve been doing pretty well, though yesterday, I finally succumbed to temptation.

I walked into a bookstore, and walked away eighty bucks poorer. Sigh. Three hardcover books, two non-fiction, (I’ve been seriously neglecting my non-fiction of late, and I do love it so. It’s just not the kind of thing that’s relaxing to read after a long rough day at work but I blame my burst of enthusiasm on two documentary DVDs I rented last weekend), and one historical fact/fiction medley, Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende. I read her Zorro, and it kinda, sorta felt like a cross between Gabriel Garcia Marqués (but with less magic-realism weirdness) and Alexandre Dumas (with less can’t-put-it-down swash-buckliness) but all-together a superb novel. I hope Inés of My Soul will be in the same vein.

Did I stop at the bookstore? Nope. Proceeded to walk over to the ONE designer clothing store on the island, and fell in love (actually, it was more like ‘like’ but desperation and self-denial will do that to a girl) with a brownish-red (tag says ‘clay’) and white print BCBG wrap dress, reminiscent of the Diane von Furstenberg I put Ali (the main character in Fashionably Late) in in the novel (I would like to take the opportunity to point out that I am very jealous of Ali’s wardrobe, and have vowed to catch up with her by the time my launch party rolls around this June).

I did also try on a gorgeous little black silk/satin/sequins number which would have been PERFECT for my upcoming Christmas party but decided to leave my crimes at the BCBG dress, which didn’t quite break the bank (the LBD however, would have).

At least I still haven’t succumbed to the hypnotic retail power of these Jimmy Choos, though I have been lusting after them for five month now, and counting (ahem, friends, family….)

What do you think?

(I'd post an image but blogger won't let me : ( Any help would be appreciated...)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Muslim Elected to Congress... and the Ensuing Hoopla

I just couldn’t resist jumping all over this one.

DISCLAMER: I am Muslim. By birth. In practical terms, I’m probably what some might call an evangelical atheist, in that I have a passionate belief in science and logic as opposed to wild leaps of the imagination to explain the (as of yet) unexplainable. In the words of my newfound idol, Dr. Richard Dawkins, “God may very well exist, but would be vastly beyond what has ever been imagined by any theologian or prophet the world has ever known” (apologies for the paraphrasing).

I can assure you this is a genes/pre-ordained personality thing as I was not brought up by hippies. In fact, when I was around 6 or 7, having seen some footage of the sixties and early seventies and somehow having made the link that this was my parents’ era, I thought apt to ask: “Mommy, did you used to be a hippie?” to which I received a very dirty look and a “Shame on you!” [spit, spit].

So no, I was not brought up by Godless hippies. I was however raised in the uber-repressive Saudi Arabia, but lest you think my atheism is merely a personal conduit for rebellion against “the system”, it’s really not: my parents are both quite liberal and perfectly reasonable (despite not being hippies). My mother is “practicing” in the personal, compassionate sort of way that compels her to buy Jesus calendars from nuns because well, they’re nuns and who can say no to nuns?, while my father is extremely well-versed in the Qur’an having studied it at grammar school but has decided over the years that it’s pretty much all gobbledygook.

So there you have it.

Now, with that in mind, I’d like us to look at this article I read this morning. There have been several instances while living in Canada where I’ve had to swear on the bible. Like the time I was working in the States and was unable to get back to Canada in time to vote in our election, but wanted to vote anyway, so I had to do it ahead of the election and swear that on the particular date of the election, I could not be in Canada. I guess I could have made a big stink and refused to swear on anything but the Qur’an, but (please see disclaimer above) I went along because really don’t care. Really, REALLY don’t care. The respectful thing to do would have been to say that to have someone like me swear on the bible would be an insult not to me, but to Christianity, because when you make people who don’t believe in something swear by it just to humor you, their doing just that, humoring you. They are not respecting you. Respect would be having enough faith in you that they feel confident they can tell you that as far as they are concerned, religious book X is gobbledygook, and swearing by it would be an insult to both parties not to mention the integrity of the ritual. But really, they don’t have all that much respect for the ritual at all (or you) and they go along with it anyway. And so the charade continues.

So, when a newly elected official to a United States body of government respectfully declines to swear on the bible, you should take it not as s sign of disrespect for the bible or the traditions of the US, but as quite the opposite. It is in fact a sign of respect for the institutions and rituals of United States system of governance. And yes, I’ve heard the “this is America, and Americans are Christians and if you don’t like it leave” argument told to me (just substitute “Canada” for “America”) more times than I can count. I’m glad the author of the post chose to include this handy quote from the constitution: Article VI, section 3, " religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Darn those liberal Founders indeed!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How I Met Orlando Bloom... (I promise, I did)

I’ve been promising for ages to post my Orlando Bloom encounter story, but between proofreads, proposals, and month-end trading, it just hasn’t happened. Seeing as the proposal has now been handed in, the proofreads done (and the sheer amount of proofreading required before the publication of a novel should be the subject of its own post…) and with month-end (nearly) behind me, I should probably get to it, before the details of the story becoming blurry even to me…

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll have heard me say just how small this island is. Well, when the indie movie Haven was released not too long ago, directed by the Cayman Islands’ very own Frank E. Flowers, everyone here was very excited. After all, probably half of the inhabitants of Grand Cayman are, knowingly or not, extras in the movie (like, say, a bouncer at one of our nightclubs who figures as a drug dealer…). And of course, those of us who didn’t get a chance to bump into Orlando while he was down here filming (like moi, unfortunately) were hoping for a second chance if he decided to come down here to promote Haven, which he did, a few weeks ago…

Unlike most of our celebrity sightings news, this one was splashed all over the newspapers (well… the one newspaper) and word spread pretty quickly that Orlando would be at the Ritz on this given Friday night (the Ritz having obliterated any other see-and-be-seen locale since it opened last year).

So my sister, myself, and everyone I know who hasn’t retired from the party circuit yet, got decked out in our denim-and-fabulous-heels-and-tops best and dropped by the Ritz cocktail lounge in the hopes that the rumors were true.

The Ritz cocktail lounge was somewhat but not much more crowded than it usually is on a Friday night, but there was definitely something different in the air… I read a newspaper article once that described Julia Roberts’ presence in a Montreal restaurant where the patrons were stunned to be seated in the same eatery as the star, but had the class not to mob her – the only evidence that she was there was the almost palpable feeling that everyone was holding their collective breath. This is exactly how the Ritz lounge felt like that night, with Orlando Bloom, in jeans, a t-shirt and a fedora over his tied-back hair sitting on the same sofa I’d plopped into on other Fridays, with his small entourage.

Of course we all gawked while trying hard to pretend we weren’t doing just that. My brave friend asked if she could take a picture with him (the response: “if I said yes, luv, it’d never stop”) and me just thrilled to be in spitting distance from him.

The festivities continued at a local club which had just opened and where it’s important to note a certain bartender works, one who is very good friends with my sister.

Orlando and his party occupied the VIP lounge located on the second floor, the entrance of which was guarded by a pair of bouncers.

My sister, our friends and I were happy to boogie on the first floor, and not in any desperate state to try and sneak up to the second floor. My sister then slipped away to get a drink, and I didn’t see her for the next twenty minutes, at which point the words out of her mouth were: “do you wanna meet Orlando?”.

Turns out her bartender friend had asked her just the same question when she walked up to the bar, and then dragged her up the staff stairs to the VIP area, and thrust her in Orlando’s face. And then left. Orlando was a total gentleman, said hi, while my sister was momentarily star-struck and couldn’t think of anything better to say than ask him his opinion about the situation in the Middle East. This seemed to throw Orlando off, and he stumbled his way through a manufactured answer but the ice was broken. They chatted, and twenty minutes later, my sister remembered that she’d left us all downstairs.

She apologized and said she had to get back to her friends, to which Orlando graciously answered: “why don’t you bring them up here?”

“Because there are two bouncers at the VIP entrance.” She said.

“Just say you’re with me.”

To which my sister cocked an eyebrow and retorted, : “um… yes, I’ll just say I’m with Orlando…”

Turns out Mr. Bloom has a sense of humor and recognized the absurdity of his own words. He went downstairs with her and instructed the bouncers to let her, and anyone who came with her, back upstairs when she was ready.

And that’s when she came to get me. Had it been someone else, I would have been a bit skeptical at thought they had somehow cozied up with a celeb in the span of 20 minutes, but if you knew my sister, you would have believed her too when she dragged you past the bouncers, up the stairs, tapped Orlando on the shoulder and said: “this is my sister, Nadine.”

What’s the protocol in these situations? What do you say? He was very nice and normal, and instead of “I love your work” or “so nice to meet you” I asked him if he was planning to do any diving while he was in town to which he replied he would love to but wouldn’t have the chance. We shook hands, and I wished him a pleasant stay in the Cayman Islands.

And that’s how I met Mr. Orlando Bloom. Not very glam, but there you have it. It was exciting, but I’m more excited my proofreads are over.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Why I Should Try Really Really Hard not to Hate On Playboy

Because way too many people hate on fabulous publications like Marie-Claire that should in fact be lauded for making essential knowledge and hard-hitting journalism accessible to normal people. (I’m not suggesting that people who read, say, The Economist exclusively aren’t normal, but I wouldn’t want to go bar-hopping with them, would you?)

It’s important – nay, critical – to learn how to deliver a message to your target audience in such a way that said audience will give you the time of day. Lots of people like to complain about the garbage that Hollywood spews out on a regular basis, but when was the last time any of you sat through a whole episode on Meet the Press. Seriously? (Do you even know what I’m talking about?)

It’s not your fault. I can’t sit through that crap even though I care so much about politics I go into an epileptic seizure when an unsuspecting bystander makes the mistake of asking me my opinion on the subject. I’ve always thought that getting informed is crucial to civilized life, but man can it be boring and so damned dry sometimes!

Here’s the thing though: it really doesn’t have to be. Enter Marie-Claire (and yes, sigh, Playboy, which is known for serving respected journalism and literature as a side to its main offering of boobs and butts. Sorry)

Enter, also, authors. There’s a common thread I’ve identified among all the great books I can remember reading lately: Dirty Girls’ Social Club, Ishmael, A Short Story of Nearly Everything. They’ve taught me something. Painlessly.

The first book in this list is a popular women’s fiction novel that tells in very entertaining fashion, the story of six very different American Latinas. It sneaks Knowledge into your unsuspecting brain like Flinstones vitamins into kids’ welcoming mouths. You didn’t ask for knowledge. You asked for a sexy, raunchy, fashion-label-filled story about young(ish) contemporary women, dammit. Instead you learned that Latinas come in many more shades and economic backgrounds than you see on the evening news, that there is such a thing as a Cuban Jew, that Mexican politics are about as relevant to the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans of Boston as Manchester United’s latest victory over Arsenal is to you (i.e. not in the least). And you were completely unsuspecting of this learning until the next time you saw a Latina and caught yourself wondering if she was a Puerto Rican with citizenship rights, a Dominican with none, a Cuban who fled Cuba before Castro had a chance to nationalize her family’s sugar plantation or one whose family was poor and got a house and health care out of the Revolution.

In other words, you became sensitive to the world’s many textures, and it didn’t hurt one bit.

Now, I know that not every magazine needs to be a Marie-Claire. Sometimes you really just want to know what those eleven best-kept sex secrets are (even though you have a sneaky suspicion they highly resemble last month’s six best ways to keep your man happy, but whatever) instead of why women are being hunted and killed in Darfur. And sometimes the latest Kate Husdon blockbuster does more to sooth the soul than a debate about the rise of religious fundamentalism on BBC America.

So, dear readers, when you think to yourself you should really try to get a grasp on the campaign contributions reform bill but can’t get through the boring, jargon-riddled article in The Economist and then feel guilty, pick up a Marie-Claire instead, and be thankful that you can catch up on those pesky human-interest issues Fox News doesn’t like to talk about AND get your fashion fix at the same time.

Or, if you’re a guy, I guess you can pick up a Playboy. It’s better than giving up on the whole getting informed thing.

And for you authors, think about how immortality can be achieved through truth. You don’t have to be writing about Darfur to write true. Just pick up Alisa’s Dirty Girls’ Social Club and you’ll see.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

No More Excuses… Well, A Couple More, Actually

Has it really been a month since my last post? Oh, the shame...

I’m not sure if the expression “when it rains, it pours” was just one chronic procrastinator’s explanation as to why he suddenly went from rocking peacefully in a hammock with nothing much to do, to having his head spin with an army of unrelated, all equally urgent tasks suddenly landing in his hereto blissfully empty conscience. I feel like it poured on me, but then again, maybe I did this to myself...

Okay, excuses. Let's see if you forgive me, or if I'm utterly beyond redemption:

1) All Hell breaking loose at work. My uber-serious, responsible, upwardly-mobile DH warned me against making any kind of work-related reference in any of my posts lest I land myself on the opposite side of a defamation suit. (Not that you'd ever want to hear about my day job anyway, trust me). Suffice to say, some careers are not exactly conducive to oodles of writing time and/or the keeping of one's sanity. Then again, see musings on procrastination above.

2) Hard drive crashing. I own a Mac. I thought macs didn't crash. I never thought MY mac would crash. My friends liken me to Carrie Bradshaw because of my abilities to punctuate a sentence properly and identify the correct top to be wearing with this summer's short-shorts. I never thought I would be staring at a pair of blinking, bespectacled eyes before my beloved laptop screen went blank, taking every piece of software and pored-over Word files along with it. A la CB. And no, I did NOT go Ctl+Alt+Delete.

3) Frantic call from agent inquiring as to where the Hell (my expletive, not hers) are the chapters for my next book...

4) Politics. No I'm not American, but I've been following your elections as closely as though I were. The whole thing fascinates me, and I half-wish I could vote (I'm half glad I can't because I wouldn't wish the choice btw Democrats and Republicans on my worst enemy). Just the God issue alone makes me break out into a self-righteous seizure. Judging by this week's Newsweek and Time covers (or is it last weeks'? I live in Moo-moo-moo land, it takes a while for things like food and pertinent information to reach us), God is a hot topic outside of my head as well. Also, I had prepared a very impassioned post after watching Spike Lee's four hour long "When the Levees Broke" documentary but the DH decreed it was too strong for a blog about writing... I listened, though maybe I shouldn't have... our writing is a big part of who we are (which is why we take criticism so badly, right?). I think if you are very reluctant to talk about politics and religion in public, then that's who you are. I happen to think these are the only two topics really worth debating these days because they define the very core of our existence. Not that I value the discussion of the length of the season's hem lines any less (or, say, how far fashion has come in a mere decade than the topic of hemline length is oh-so-passe...), I just think that in today's political landscape, it's very pink-elephant-in-the-living-room-esque to willfully ignore these topics.

And that's where I've been, ladies and gentlemen. As for the lovely pics of Grand Cayman Dona and Wendy suggested I post: we're still in rainy season daa'hlinks! As I stare out the cafe windows right now, I see a large gray cloud pouring its contents over our downtown area (about three streets and a dock) and plodding its way over here.

But I’m here now, so let’s make the best of it!

I’m in that phase of writing a novel right now where you’re so in love with your characters and premise that you think you might just be the next Marian Keyes and you almost see little writing fairies a la Flora, Fauna and Merriweather whipping your laptop keys into a magical frenzy, and all you have to do is sit back and watch the happy little miracle happen.

I wonder how long that’s going to last.

I do credit some of this to a pretty long dry spell where I just sat back and let the story come to me. I don’t think this is advisable, but at least for this book, where the story in its entirety is conjured up from thin air (no handy Cuba memories to fall back on), I think the final work will be the stronger for it.

I'm feeling the vibe of this new book as much more women's fic than traditional chick lit. By that I mean the voice/tone are more subdued, serious, and I'm hoping it's because the themes are deeper, and the protag well-characterized. I'll be finding out soon enough what my editor thinks...

Before I go, I'll leave with with some movie/book recommendations (somehow, in spite of the world crashing down around me lately, I managed to squeeze in lots of reading and movie catching up time. No, I was NOT procrastinating...)


1) Water. That's the title. "Water". It's not a very recent one (2004, I think), but it's amazing. It takes place in India in 1938, right around the time Gandhi was making a name for himself, and when child marriages to yucky old perverted men were common practice (lest you think I'm being unfair to Indians, those things happened plenty in the Middle-East in the olden days, in Africa, and yes, in Europe not too too long ago. Samuel de Champlain, the explorer who "civilized" Quebec took a 12 year-old bride when he was in his fifties and brought her back gloves made of native-Americans' skin as a present from the New World... Can you say weirdo?)

Anyhoo, the heroine of this story is an 8 year-old girl who finds out the man she doesn't quite remember marrying died and left her a widow. This is very, very bad as strict Hindu scripture prescribes that widows either hurl themselves into the fire after their dead husbands, live out the rest of their miserable lives in penitence on the fringes of society for being the reason their poor men departed this Earth, or marry their dead husband's younger brother if he has one. Our young protagonist is sent away to an ashram (an institution where widows live secluded from the rest of the world) where she has to adapt to living on one meal a day, having her hair shorn, and begging every once in a while. It sounds like a miserable movie but it's quite uplifting in a strange way. It's also tragic, universal, beautiful and haunting. Favorite scene: after a particularly trying episode, one man asks a dedicated widow how she can keep her faith after so much suffering. Her reply: "I know we're here for a reason." His reply:"Yes. Because when you are sent here [the ashram], that's one less mouth to feed, four less saris a year, one more bed in the house. You're here as a result of an economic decision masquerading as religion."

2) Three Kings. This is another oldie, shot right after Operation Desertstorm, the first Iraqi escapade... (early 1990s) but chillingly relevant today. It follows three screwball soldiers (Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice-Cube) who find a map for treasure Saddam stole from Kuwait in a POW's butt. They want to get the treasure while the army is busy pulling out of Iraq (that's the funny part of the movie) but get caught up in a popular uprising in the process (the not-so-funny part). One of the better, more balanced and honest Hollywood movies about the Middle-East conflict I've seen. And there aren't many of those around, so you really shouldn't miss this one.


Something Blue - now I've read all the Emily Giffins and I've loved them all. I think this may have been my favorite. Darcy is so much more complex and interesting to follow than mopey Rachel. At least that's my opinion...

Blame It On Paris - just started this one, but it's hilarious so far. Down-home Georgia girl drools over French waiter and manages to ask him out despite quasi-crippling self-deprecating humor and cynicism. Semi-autobiographical (big whoop, so's most chick lit. The shock value here is that this author actually owns up to it...) Bonus: love the descriptions of the city. I miss Paris...

That's it for now chickkies. Will try to post though the priority right now is to get my proposal out for the sequel to FL. But, maybe if you ask me nicely, I'll tell you how I met Orlando Bloom a few weekend ago (yes, words were spoken between us beyond "aren't you Orlando Bloom, drool drool") ...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where Have All the Sex Jokes Gone? Oh, And On G.W. Bush, The Taliban, and Vogue

I remember a time when the most widely circulated e-mails among my friends and colleagues were of the raunchy joke variety, and perhaps the odd chain mail or two (usually forwarded with an apology and an explanation as to exactly why the sender just couldn’t resist sending us this one).

Nowadays, it seems like every time I open something with an attachment, said attachment contains pictures of someone’s newborn offspring. This used to be pretty exciting. But, (and I say this at the expense of coming off as a cold-hearted biatch with icicles for feelings) not a week goes by these days when one of these doesn’t pop up in my inbox, whether from an old friend I’d lost touch with, a colleague I barely know, and yes, often from close friends or family.

It makes me wonder if we don’t have a baby boom on our hands. Of maybe I’m just at that age when this happens to most people and I’m the stubborn odd gal holding out, or am I officially a withered ol’ curmudgeony childless shrew?


While we’re on the topic (again – at least I spared you my latest baby shower rant), I finished Emily Giffin’s Baby Proof last week, and it was the first book in a looong time that I managed to finish in a few sittings. I enjoyed it quite a bit more that Something Borrowed, probably because it felt very timely to me.

It’s also one of those books that’s hard to categorize… the pastel yellow cover with the booties say chick lit, so does the heroine’s honesty as a character, but the tone is quite literary, the writing sparse and unpretentious. I can also see why the Amazon reactions to Claudia Parr, the heroine, were extreme – she’s a complicated character, but isn’t that what real people are like? Is she selfish? A bit… but so is everyone around her. I won’t give away the ending, but this wasn’t a book that left me with the all’s-well-with-the-world feeling that you would expect from ‘fluff’. Again, it just gets me thinking about the whole chick lit debate, and I wonder if maybe it’s time we dropped the label and the kitschy covers. Unless, of course, if the literary world snubs its nose at the likes of above-par women’s fic writers like Emily because, well, who cares about women’s issues when there’s war, environmental disasters, subversion of political rights and so on to worry about, then why waste our breath and energies on ‘women’s issues’?

The cool thing about blogging is that I get to answer my own rhetorical questions (ha ha) and hop on my soapbox whenever I feel like it. Here goes.

Women’s issues are WORLD ISSUES. In addition to representing just over half of the world’s population, women control 80% of household spending (at least in Western countries, who, let’s face it, hold 80% of the world’s wealth anyway). My mind about George W. Bush was made up a long, long time ago, long before he had a chance to offend his first diplomat or tear up his first environmental treaty, when Vogue (yes, the fashion magazine) interviewed him during his first run for presidency. Vogue, being concerned with women’s issues, asked the now American president how, if elected, he was planning to deal with the Taliban’s atrocious treatment of women in Afghanistan, a type of abuse not even closely rivaled by ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia where women can only travel with written permission from the male relatives, and cannot drive automobiles.

The Vogue reporter was not kind in her description of Mr. Bush’s reaction, which pretty much amounted to “Taliban who?”

So yes, while women’s issues can sometimes seem domestic on the surface, they’re a pretty good indication of the inner functioning of a society and what’s wrong with it at a grassroots level.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

And The Winner of the Fashionably Late ARC Is...

Before I go any further, it's my great pleasure to announce that the first person to ever get a corrected, spelling-mistake-free and somewhat typeset version of Fashionably Late (one that I have not even seen yet) is... ZARA HEFLIN!!! Wooo hoooo!!!! That's right, neither Turkey nor Iran are Arab countries at their people speak Turkish and Farsi respectively, and the Turkish (via the Ottoman dynasty) rule dominated Arab (and Greek) societies for many, many centuries and Iranians ascribe to Persian culture. Take a bow Zara. I will also take this opportunity to say I was contemplating offering a get-your-name-in-my-next-book prize to go with the ARC, and as fate would have it, the name 'Zara' is ALREADY IN THE WIP!!! How freaky is that? (don't believe me? Check our Dona Sarkar's blog entry last week, and my comment)

I'd also like send out a massive THANK YOU to all the authors who let me interview them for blog week - thank you so much JoAnn, Wendy, Cathy, Shannon and Jane - I will be referring to your inspirational answers every time I get stuck in my own WIP or on the brink of giving up this writing thing altogether. And thanks to all the winners for sending me their mailing addresses (just need yours, Zara)... you'll be hearing from me soon.

And thanks to all the blog readers who took the time to learn a little bit about the cool things about Arabs, and send me their answers to the daily questions. My dream as a young Arab kid growing up in North America was to do something, even if it was the smallest little thing, was to show that facet of my culture that was good and pure, and that made me proud, in an environment that always made me question, or at least have to justify that pride.

There are as many ways of showing your cultural pride as there are people... some of my cousins have taken the activist route, some have assimilated so well into their adopted countries that they wear their Arab identity as some leaders of the Black community in America wish to wear theirs - not as a way to differentiate themselves from the whole, but as a way to explain that making ANY value judgment on the basis of race/ethnicity/culture is NOT ACCEPTABLE, whether that value judgment is good or bad (see the South Park episode about the 'lynching' flag as a fantastic example of this).

I think I'm somewhere in the middle - I want neither to watch from the outside or integrate into the innermost core. One of my favorite depictions of the Jewish culture was 'The Nanny'. No, not all Jews have big hair, nasal voices, and Uncle Marty's. But c'mon... It's funny, and is sorta, kinda true in an endearing, self-deprecating way. Not all Arab women are vain and wear too much make-up and are out to snag the rich Aran husband (in fact I can't say that any of my good Arab girlfriends fall under this category)... But I challenge anyone who thinks this a totally bogus statement to go to a big Arabic Wedding and say it ain't so...

It's funny, not racist to say that you too, are flawed (if you consider gold brocade and too much make-up to be a flaw, of course...) and to resist self-righteousness. It also allows you a margin of authority when you actually do come out and address something more substantial than poor make-up application skills... like an unjust war that has cost tens of thousands (have we made it to 100,000 yet???) of innocent lives. We live in a global village... it's time to think about the cost of conflict not just to our tiny sliver of the world, but how this conflict is going to affect this Earth that we all share.

And so while Fashionably Late is pretty irreverent about lots of topics (fashion, the Lebanese, Cuban-American relations, Communism, accounting...), I hope more than anything else, that you will find it honest, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit eye-opening.

That's all for today folks. Have a great rest of your weekend!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nadine's Website Promo Blitz Week - LAST DAY!

The end is now upon us (but certainly not the end of my blogging!) and boy do I have a treat for you today.

But first, the answer to yesterday's question... who knew this one would turn out to be the most controversial? One of you faithful blog readers pointed out to me that the name 'Mizrahi' can be traced back to Middle Eastern Jewish communities. How far back, and how much this makes Issac an Arab, I couldn't say... however, it's intersting to note that though there are some very, very old Jewish-Arab familes with roots that run very deep in Middle-Eastern (obviously, what with Jesus et al.). According to the bible, the ethnic division between Arabs and Jews goes back to Issac (Abraham's son with Sarah who went on to found the Jewish community) and Ishmael (Abraham's son with Hagar, who the considers is the first 'Arab'). So if we use the bible as our reference point, then it's pretty safe to say Mizrahi is NOT an Arab. However, seeing as I'm of the opionion that the Bible is the last place one should look to for historical accuracy or questions of ethnicity, I pronouce Mizrahi of some Middle Eastern ancestry (wonder what he would think about that...).

What this means to you, is that you were all entered in the draw, regardless of your answer, and the winner is.... Kristin Brunori! Woo hoo!!! You are the very lucky recipient of a book that will be hitting your local bookstore next January, as well as some nifty Cuban postcards.

Some background on the other designers mentioned: Norma Kamali and Reem Acra are both Arab-American (Reem is based in New York City), while Elie Saab is purely Lebanese... his atelier is actually in Beirut, despite the fact that his creations show up at vitually every red carpet event to come out of Hollywood (especially on Halle Berry).

Onto today's interview...

An author who truly needs no introduction, Jane Green has been regaling us with fish-out-of-water tales on both sides of the Atlantic since chick lit was but a twinkle in the publishing industry’s eye. Jemima J., Jane’s take on the timeless Cinderella tale made it onto my all-time favorite reads list, and her latest, Swapping Lives (Life Swap in the UK) hit the bookshelves in the US in June. Here, for your note-taking pleasure, is a glimpse into the mind of this women’s fiction novelist extraordinaire.

1. What inspires you to write?

Usually something going on in either my life or the lives of people around me. With Jemima I wanted to tackle women's unique relationship with food, which I had always struggled with, and in The Other Woman, I was fascinated by how many women seemed to have awful problems with their mothers-in-law. However, the novels, whilst inspired by real life, are very definitely fiction.

2. How long does it take you to write a novel?

Far longer than it used to. In the old days I could dedicate myself absolutely to writing, but now, with four small children and a busy life, I find that life gets in the way far more. Generally around nine months is about right.

3. Do you have a writing technique beyond getting yourself into your chair and getting it done, or is that pretty much the best way to do it?

Best way to do it. Discipline discipline discipline.

4. How do you deal with writer's block?

See above.

5. What's the biggest myth about being a writer?

I think people would be astonished by how ordinary the life of a bestselling author is. It sounds fantastically glamorous, but most of my days are spent ferrying children back and forth to activities, doing laundry, paying bills etc etc. Twice a year I go on book tour and then do morph into my more glamorous self, but it's not really who I am.

6. In Straight Talking you wrote a chick lit novel before the genre even had a name. The landscape has changed quite a bit since then. What advice would you give to would-be authors eager to break into the genre today?

I would give the same advice to someone wanting to write chick lit as I would to someone wanting to write anything: write what you know, and tell the story you want to tell. Never start a book wanting to please others, or because you think it will be commercially viable. In essence, be true to yourself. The critics of chick lit say it has reached saturation point and is about to die out, but they've been saying that for ten years, and there's still clearly an enormous market for it. Frankly I think there's room for everything in the publishing market today.
7. You've said of your earlier books (Straight Talking, Jemima J) that they mirrored the single-girl-in-London life you were living in your late twenties and early thirties. To have and to Hold, The Other Woman, and most recently Swapping Lives have chronicled (at least in part) the social landmines of privileged small town America, a topic you're well placed to write about since your move across the pond. How do you keep reinventing these themes and characters you know so well to keep your books fresh and engaging?

Thank you for the compliment! I always worry that I'm never going to find inspiration again, but there are always themes that crop up and events that happen around me that seem to inspire me.

8. What are you reading at the moment?

A stack of self-help books. Not like me at all, but have found myself going through an enormously stressful time recently, and they seem to help give me a sense of peace.

9. What was the most fabulously indulgent fashion purchase you ever made?

I have to say I do have a collection of Hermes Birkins which now feel horribly extravagant, but they are classics, and I'll never get rid of them.

10. What's next from Jane Green?

I'm writing something at the moment that has no title yet, but is the story of a group of friend reuniting after one of them dies, but I have to say I have a slight penchant for writing a mystery - not sure why, but I'd like to see if I could do it.

11. And just for the record, what's your upper limit on Fashionably Late-ness? Is two and a half hours pushing it?

Just ever so slightly. I think half an hour would do it. (Really?? Whoopsie...)

12. What was your most memorable fashion faux pas?

Oh God. Do I really have to answer this? (Ha ha, yes you do Jane. I'll go first... acid-washed jeans and peach rhinestone-studded sweatshirt circa fifth grade. Your turn). Going to a day wedding last year, I think in New Jersey, wearing a fabulous and enormous hat. In England we all wear hats to weddings, and a day wedding calls for a suit, but at this one everyone was in sparkly black evening dresses, and these women spent the evening looking at me as if I was completely bonkers. Also, I couldn't take the bloody thing off because I had the most disastrous case of hat-hair underneath. Mortifying!

Thanks Jane!

I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of Nadine’s Website Promo Blitz Week… and I’ve saved my most treasured prize for last. An advance reading copy of Fashionably Late, which are being printed as we speak (sniff, sniff).

And for your final question (a seriously easy one at that...):

Which of the following countries are NOT Arab countries?
a) Iran & Turkey
b) Morocco & Tunisia
c) Egypt & Syria

d)Bahrain & Oman

Best of luck!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nadine's Website Promo Blitz - Day 4

The end is almost upon us! Wow - it passed so fast... maybe because promo week also coincides with an especially busy period at work for me, but I've managed so far, so maybe I'll treat myself to a mojito tonight... or two (who am I kidding... I'll take any excuse for a mojito, whether deserved or not! Speaking of mojitos, they can be very hit-or-miss, as my editor Paul, who recently tried his first and hated it, can attest. I've just discovered a place here in Cayman which does a fantastic job of them, and if I can twist the bartender's arm, I may just reward you faithful blog readers with a recipe one day...)

But I digress. Without further ado, I bring you the winner of Cathy Yardley's Chick Lit How-to book as well as a critique from your truly... Erin E!!!!! Erin, show thyself and you shall receive your prize.

Yesterday's question was a toughie that even I got wrong the when I did the quiz, so I am absolutely flabbergasted that you all got it right (could it be that I get the cyber equivalent of blasting the answer through a blow horn right into your ears??)

That's right, over 60% of Arab Americans are Christians of various denominations, the most important of which is Catholic. This is exemplified in my novel through Sophie and Jaz, the two major secondary characters, who are Christian. How can this be when most Arabs are Muslim, you ask? There is a very logical is somewhat unscientific explanation... (feel free to skip over the history lesson to straight to our featured author interview, I won't hold it against you, promise).

Well, just like the Puritans of yore escaped to discovered lands so they could establish a society where they wouldn't be the downtrodden minority, so did Christian Arabs (like the famous Khalil Gibran of 'The Prophet' fame) emigrate to North America in the 1800s, where their religion would no longer be an issue as it was in some Arab countries, depending on which way the wind blew (this is a bit of an exaggeration as Muslim Arabs were for the most part very tolerant of their Christian brethren, but I can see some Christians getting nervous every time religious fundamentalism makes a a comeback... which it is these days. This has not always been the case throughout history).

Nowadays, larger numbers of Muslim Arabs are emigrating to North America. When I was a growing up in Montreal, I was one of a handful of Arab Muslim kids in a predominantly Lebanese neighborhood. I counted many more 'Maroun's (a very typical Christian Maronite name) than Mohammeds among my acquaintances. If you went to my old neigborhood now, the picture would be quite different.

So, all this to say, unless the Arab you meet at work, at school, or in the street is wearing a head scarf or is called Mohammed, it's a safe bet they're Christian. Surprised? Thought so. In fact, unless they go out of their way to tell you, most Arab-American/Canadians, whether Muslim, Christian, Druze, or a passionate atheist, are in fact an invisible minority, and you'd never know you were speaking to one. So be nice. But you were going to be nice anyway, right ; )

The history/sociology lesson officially ends here, and we get down to the REAL businesses at hand... today's featured author, fellow Tor/Forge author, Shannon Mckeldon!!!

Shannon holds the honor of being the first humorous women's fiction writer bought by Tor/Forge's Natasha Panza. For those of you who don't know, Tor is an imprint known mostly for their Sci Fi and paranormals, while Forge delves into mainstream fiction. We, Shannon's writer friends, are very anxiously awaiting the release of her debut novel because Shannon is a lovely person and we adore her, and also because the title of her novel totally rocks: Venus Envy. (and it's out for pre-order on Amazon...)

1. What inspires you to write?

I'd have to say it's the love of reading, the love of good books. I've wanted to write since I was in 6th grade and began to see that the short stories I wrote got rave reviews from my teachers. I've sold a few short stories over the years to confessions mags, but my first love is books. Just seeing all the wonderful novels on the shelves and wanting to see my own up there is all the inspiration I need.

2. Do you have a writing routine, if so, what is it?

I really don't have much of a routine. I have arranged my hours at my job to give me three days a week where I'm available to write when my kids are in school. However, too often, I have to work extra and don't get that time in. I'm a bit of a binge-writer, too, I'd say. I can't write in little 5- to 10-minute increments like some writers can. It takes me longer to get into my work, so I write best in long stretches.

3. Have you developed any tricks or self-manipulation techniques to keep your butt in the chair and writing?

Does guilt count? When I go too long without writing--because I am an awful procrastinator--I begin to feel so guilty that I just have to write.

4. What are you reading at the moment?

I've been reading a lot of Harlequin NeXt books lately. I'm reading one now called SUBURBAN SECRETS by Donna Birdsell, and I'm loving it! It's really fun...and funny. I also read a lot of paranormal, which I didn't used to read at all. But, now that I've written what is basically a paranormal romance, I kind of had to figure out what's available in this genre.

5. What's the biggest myth about being a writer?

That it's easy. That you can just "whip out" a full-length book based on an idea you get. It just doesn't work that way. I don't know how many books I've started to write with an idea, and it doesn't pan out because there's not enough to the idea to carry it out. Doesn't mean I can't use the idea elsewhere someday, but it by no means "easy."

6. What advice would you give to budding authors?

Never, ever, ever give up. It might not happen today or tomorrow, or with your 5th or 10th book, but it can't happen at all if you give up. I look back at when I had written my 2nd or 3rd book and how much I wanted to be published back then...but you know, I really don't think I was as ready for it as I thought I was. I am in a much better place now for taking on this career than I was then. So don't give up no matter what. I guess you have to make the decision that you are either going to keep going until you sell because you want it that much and are willing to keep learning until you get it right, or you aren't meant to be a writer in the first place. Harsh, but true. I even had to go through that myself once...making the decision to either be willing to keep going until I sold or just give it up right then and move on to other things in my life. The fact that I couldn't imagine with what else I would fill the gaping whole left behind if I didn't write, was enough to tell me that I was willing to keep trying until I succeeded.

7. What can readers expect from you in the future?

Hopefully I will be working on the next Venus book very soon. Venus ENVY is part of a trilogy, so there will be at least two more books from that. I'd also love to write YA and contemporary romance genres.

8. How long does it take you to write a novel?

You know, that all depends on how well thought out the idea is. VENUS ENVY took me six months AFTER I finally had the idea down pat. I've written books in as short as four months, before, though. Or I've taken much, much longer. And I don't always think that the ones that take longer are necessarily better. :-)

9. Is it harder to start or finish a novel?

Hmmm...I don't know. Sometimes the momentum of beginning a novel propels me
forward. But other times I have a hard time getting started. I do know that a sticky part for me is usually long about the two-thirds to three-quarters point. I've realized after 5 completed novels that it is at that point that my brain is trying to root out what the book is REALLY about. I usually get stuck and feel like I can't move forward anymore, but I've come to trust the process and realize that if I just step back and let it sit a while, I can usually figure out what is trying to come to the surface. And then the end of the book usually comes pretty quickly after that.

10. How did you go about finding an agent and do you think it's necessary to have one?

I think having an agent is pretty important. Especially after seeing the contract I got and realizing that it was like reading Chinese for me. My agent is indispensable for stuff like that. Plus it leaves the writer with the ability to have a writing relationship with their editor and to not have to deal with the sometimes sticky business aspect of things. I found my agent, Deidre Knight, by querying various agents listed by Romance Writers
of America. She took me on based on my 3rd completed book (my first chicklit). We shopped that one and one other around before I finished VENUS ENVY, which is the one that finally sold.

11. How do you deal with writer's block?

I'm not really sure there IS such a thing as writer's block. I tend to think, in my case, that it is sheer laziness that prevents me from writing. And writing isn't always about putting the words on paper. Sometimes it's a mental thing, thinking out the problems, imagining the scenes. I find that when I'm stuck it's because I haven't been mentally going over the book as much as I should. I've been filling my mind with other things, busy work. I find that driving in the car with no radio on and no other distractions really helps me get past any "blocks" I may think I have.

12. We've all heard the adage "write what you know", but some of us have also heard "write what you can imagine". With a novel told from the perspective of a fashion-minded, millennia-old Greek goddess, you've clearly taken the latter nugget of wisdom and run with it. How did you manage to get into character when writing Venus, to figure out what she's like, what she would be thinking, and how she'd react? And how much fun was it write this character?

Venus was a BLAST to write! The whole book started with her and blossomed from there. Okay, really, it started with the title. I was sick of never having good titles and determined to find a great title for a book. Somehow VENUS ENVY popped into my head and I knew I had to write a book for it! So my next step was, "Who is Venus and why does someone envy her?" It wasn't until Venus told me she was really the goddess who had been banished here on Earth by her very unfair, irrational father that all the rest started to fall into place.

Venus was very easy to get into. Not sure why, as I am the most un-fashion-minded person alive. I wouldn't know Prada from Gucci if it was labeled clearly in front of me. But Venus did, so that was all that counted. I kept on my monitor a picture of Portia de Rossi, in a siren red dress, looking all pouty and misunderstood, as my vision of Venus. I really and truly can't explain why she was so easy. She was, by far, the easiest character in the book to hear. I can't wait to write the next book just to see what Venus comes up with next!

Thanks so much for being here Shannon! [insert load, obnoxious applause here]

Alright people, today's prize is really special - Shannon's novel hasn't even hit the shelves yet - I haven't even read it yet - and I'm giving it away. Sigh. Consider yourselves spoilt. To today's very lucky winner goes a copy of this collector's item and I'm also throwing in a set of postcards, direct from Cuba. To clean your palette from the spate of serious questions you've had lately, here's one on a subject near and dear to my heary... fashion! (And though that website will help somewhat, you'll have to google some names here, unless of course Instyle is your version of crack, is it is for me, then this'll be a piece of baclava...) Here's your question, drop me a line via the In Touch page on my website, and you're entered to win:

Which of the following fashion designers is NOT Arab or of Arab origin?

a) Reem Acra
b) Issac Mizrahi
c) Norma Kamali
d) Elie Saab

... on your marks, get set, pick up your Instyles!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nadine's Website Promo Blitz Week - Day 3

Hump day already... And I've got a MAJOR treat for you aspiring chick lit/humorous women's fictious writers out there... today's featured author, you see (and prizes...) will be of special interest to writers who are breaking into the genre. Back when I was a wide-eyed wannabe writer, armed with nothing but the Shopaholic trilogy as my guide into the world of pink covers and shameless designer name-dropping (yes, in 2002 most people thought chick lit was a brand of bubble gum, not a cutting-edge literary genre), I would have killed for today's featured book. But today's newbies are being spoiled… with not one but two Chick lit writing guides out in one month!

But first, the winners of yesterday's draw: Risha Parker, Chris Ganim, and Sanjay Sirinvas! Congratulations, you've earned yourselves signed copies of one of the following: sMothering, Goaing Coastal and After the Rice (you can e-mail me with your preference, as well as your address please), AND a mini Coco taxi direct from Havana's Calle Tacon.

And well done to all of you who guessed 3,000,000 (judging by the responses this question seemed to be easier than yesterday's...)

And now, onto our interview of the day.

A self-professed writing guide junkie, how could I miss Cathy Yardley’s Will Write For Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel? Like Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction, this volume is short on pages but long on useful information. It cuts to the chase of what chick lit is about, gives a little historical perspective on the genre, and has the most useful appendices I’ve ever seen (sample chick lit query letter, synopsis, chick lit friendly agent list, etc…). Just check out the table of contents for yourselves. Cathy is well-placed to be writing about, well, writing since she’s sold to RDI, Duets, Blaze, and has even penned a YA among other things. Here’s a Q&A with the accomplished author.

1. What inspires you to write?

Everything! Although I will say, I usually get a title first, then create the story around it. I love a good title! (Unfortunately, I don't often get to keep the title... but that's another story.)

2. Do you have a writing routine, if so, what is it?

I just had my first child, a son, in July, so my routine is now whenever he's sleeping or I can get my husband or the "Mom squad" (my mother, his mother) to watch the boy!

3. Are you a plotter or a pantster, or a little bit of both?

I am a hard core plotter. In fact, my book covers what I call "Cathy's Insane Plotting Guide." It really does help, though, especially if you're writing to deadline.

4. How long does it take you to write a novel?

It depends. If pressed, I can write a 75k word novel in a month, a 100k word chick lit novel in 3 months. It all comes down to the outline (hence my insane guide.)

5. How do you deal with writer's block?

A lot of meditating, reading books I really love, and reading new books seems to help.

6. What's the biggest myth about being a writer?

That it's fun. It's usually like yanking out your hair, slowly, over the course of hours. Having said that, however, it's a hell of a lot more fun than any other job!

7. Which of your many novels was the most difficult to write? Why?

Couch World was the hardest, I think, because it involved a lot of research into the world of DJ's and it was completely alien to me. Also, I wrote alternating first and third person, so it was a creative challenge as well.

8. What do you think is the biggest mistake new chick lit writers make?

They write something that's only a little bit different than what's out there. Like "It's Bridget Jones' Diary set in Detroit." Granted, that's different... but it's not enough to really set you apart.

9. What advice would you give to budding chick lit authors in this competitive environment?

Take risks, and write something that scares the hell out of you. When I say that, I mean be utterly truthful, to the point where you wonder if you'll scare the neighbors. That's the sort of writing that has juice. Right now, the market's too tight for knock-offs. You've got a much better chance with something daring. It's a perfect time to take advantage of it -- dust off your really "weird" ideas!

10. What kind of attributes do you think make a good chick lit writer? Are they different from those of other genres?

I think that chick lit writers need to have a good sense of humor and a lot of girlfriends to kvetch with. That's the best sort of tone, and the vibe (and support) will help with your writing.

11. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Jennifer Crusie, Mary Janice Davidson, Nancy Warren, Laurel K. Hamilton,
Stephen King, Dean Koontz.

12. What can readers expect from you in the future?

I've got an anthology out now, called COME SEPTEMBER, with a novella about a winemaker (Oooh… looks like wine’s going to be a hot topic in the literary world next year!); in January '07, I've got a Blaze called JACK & JILTED; and in June '07, I've got another Blaze, called ONE NIGHT STANDARDS. I hope you enjoy them!

Thanks Cathy!!!

Cathy has very graciously donated an autographed copy of her latest release Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel, so get those fingers ready to send me the answer to today's question!!!. And just like every fabulous pair of shoes needs a great bag to go along with it, I will be providing a free critique of the first three chapters of the lucky winner’s chick lit (or humorous women’s fiction) novel. I’ll be using the same critique guidelines as those of last year’s Stiletto contest. Here’s your question. As always, you can check out this site if you’re stumped, and then send me your answer via the In Touch page on my website. Good luck!

What percentage of Arab Americans are Christian? (and since you guys said you couldn't find the info on the site, here it is... can't get any easier now!)

a) 5%
b) 35%
c) 45%
d) 63%

Good luck!

Change to Comments Settings

I do apologize for this, but it seems my blog has been set up so that not everyone could comment... this has now been changed and all should work for everyone.

I'm soooo not a techie...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nadine's Website Promo Blitz Week - Day 2

Thanks to all of you who logged on to my website yesterday and sent me your guesses. I'm hoping you found the link to the Arab American Institute to be, well, fun and educational (did you know so many Arab Americans were into politics, entertainment and activistm? I didn't...)

And the answer to yesterday's daily question is... Demi Moore.

That's right - Selma Hayek is of mixed Mexican and Lebanese origin, Marisa Tomei is Lebanese, while Shannon Elizabeth is of Syrian, Lebanese, French, English, and Cherokee descent. Demi Moore is half Greek. Well done to those of you who guessed right... and there weren't many! Marisa Tomei was the no.1 answer.

Congratulations to Jennifer Collins and Dona Sarkar for winning the draw!!! They'll both be getting mini-paintings (one oil on canvas, one set of matching textured acrylic prints) along with autographed copies of Salsa Goddess.

Onto our author interview of the day...

Wendy French

One of the things I love best about crossing the 'pubbed' threshold is that I get to look back and snicker at my old, delusional, not to mention naïve unpubbed self. Of course, that may have more to do with the fact that I was trying to market the only manuscript I'd ever written and not something that was the product of years of honing my craft, acquiring market savvy, or learning the rules of publication: that there are in fact no rules.

What does this have to do with today's featured author? She's a Canadian (now living in Portland) who likes to set her novels in Canadian cities and pepper them with Canadian references... and some industry folks in their infinite wisdom, though impressed with her work, wondered if perhaps she could, you know, keep the witty banter and sharp observations but perhaps change the setting... to something more American.

Funny, I have a few rejection letters in my own filing cabinets saying something along those lines.

Now I don't know about you, but I like reading about other places, places I may not have been to and discovering them via literature. I also like reading about places I have been to and relishing sweet memories of those settings if only to say: Hey - I've been there!

Luckily for Wendy and her readers, an editor at Forge Books got this, bought her debut novel, sMothering, about a girl who has to contend with her mother moving in with her and the hilarity that ensues. Wendy's latest, After the Rice, deals with an issue we've been hearing lots about lately (one that I've also ranted about) - the pressure on a young, successful 'perfect' married couple to have children. It's a brave book that pokes a finger in gaping hole of our society's current (misguided?) obsession with fertility. Oh, and as if After the Rice weren't controversial enough, it's also set in Victoria, BC.

1. What inspires you to write?

I'm one of those annoying people who always wanted to write. As a little kid, I always wanted to find my own book in a library someday - it seemed terribly exotic. Now that I'm finishing up the fourth book, my inspiration comes from readers much of the time. It helps me write when I receive e-mails from people anxious for the next book.

2. Do you have a writing routine, if so, what is it?

My writing routine is to write when I feel like it. Take that! No, really, I have a day job, so that limits me to evenings and weekends, and I've never been one to force the writing. I produce light, hopefully humorous stuff (my goal is three out-loud laughs for the reader per book), so it's important that I be in the right frame of mind to work on it. If things aren't clicking, I go for a walk, or see a movie to distract myself for a bit, then I can usually get back into writing upon my return. This seems more effective than sitting at my desk, pounding staples into my forehead as penance.

3. Are you a plotter or a pantster?

A pantster? Does that require a belt, or maybe a sash? I'm not a plotter, though I probably should be. I prefer to just start writing and not restrict myself. I really like being surprised by what happens along the way, and I can always go back and make changes when I'm finished a draft.

4. How do you manage to balance writing and the day job?

I don't really know. I've just always had to do it. Lame answer, but there you have it!

5. How long does it take you to write a novel?

About a year to a year and a half. The one I'm finishing right now has taken quite a bit longer than I'd like, due to upheavals in the personal life, but I guess that's the way things go sometimes.

6. What's the biggest myth about being a writer?

This isn't so much a myth as a misconception, but I can't even tell you how many people have told me they want to write a book. Almost all of the time they mean that they would like to HAVE WRITTEN a book. Until you've done it, you can't appreciate the isolation of physically doing it, or the uncertainty of wondering whether anyone will ever publish it. My first book is stashed in a drawer, over 400 pages of "learning experience" that will never be published, but when I finished it, I moved on to the next one. Writing is fueled by a unique combination of optimism and delusion.

7. How do you deal with writer's block?

Beyond the brief walk or movie pause in writing, I don't think I've dealt with writer's block. I do little superstitious things, like whenever I start a newchapter, I type the word "when", because it seems like such a good starting point. I end up deleting it almost every time, but at least I'm not looking at a blank page right off the bat.

8. How receptive have you found American readership towards your choice of

Two out of three books have been set in the States, and the most recent was set in Victoria, BC. So far, so good on reactions to setting from both sides of the border.

9. Who are some of your favorite authors?

This will be pretty random, but I Like Amy Tan, David Sedaris, Carol Shields, Joe Meno, Patty Friedmann, Jack Hodgins. . .

10. What are you reading at the moment?

I am one of the lucky few who are reading an advance copy of YOUR book, Nadine. That's right, I'm reading Fashionably Late. (ha ha! Thanks Wendy!)

11. What advice would you give to budding authors?

If you really want it, don't give up. It took me 5 years, 3 novels and 137 rejections to get a book deal, but it happened. I'd also recommend Writer's Market as a resource. It was like a bible for me when it came to how to formatting a manuscript, writing a query letter, knowing who to approach, etc.

12. What can readers expect from you in the future?

They can expect a new novel, titled "Full of It" in 2007. Beyond that is top secret (okay, I don't actually know what they should expect beyond that. . .)

Thank you, Wendy, for the great interview, not to mention, giving away autographed copies of one of each of your books! That’s right folks – we’ll be giving away three books today, sMothering, Going Coastal, and After the Rice. And the surprise gift of the day? Mini coco taxis! (Don’t know what these are? Check out the ‘Cuba Si!’’ page on my website)

Now for our educational question of the day:

How many Americans have Arab ancestry?
a) 50,000
b) 750,000
c) 3,000,000
d) 11,000,000

Don’t forget – you can find the answer by browsing this site (this time the answer is pulled directly from the site, so no tricks!) . Good luck

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nadine's Website Promo Blitz Week - Day 1

Finally!!! It's here! The website I have been spending every moment of my spare time working on is now up and running! Yippeee!

In honor of this momentous event, I've been busy busy busy putting together a star-studded lineup of authors who will share with us their thoughts on life, fashion, and the writing process (mainly the writing process) over the next week. AND, every day of Website Promo Blitz Week I'll be giving away a signed copy of the author's latest release AND a surprise gift that's in some way related to my novel, Fashionably Late.

Just in case you think I'm kidding, here's our author lineup:

Monday - JoAnn Hornak, author of Adventures of a Salsa Goddess
Tuesday - Wendy French, author of After the Rice
Wednesday - Cathy Yardley, author of Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel
Thursday - Shannon McKelden, author of the upcoming Venus Envy
And, last but certainly not least... the fabulous Jane Green!!!

Them's the rules: There will be one or more prizes up for grabs every day over the next five days. Winner gets a copy of the featured author's book as well as one of the prizes seen in the picture above. To be eligible for the draw, you have to correctly answer the Daily Question which I will post at the end of the interview. The questions have been designed to be fun and educational (do I sound like a PBS announcer yet??!). No seriously, seeing as the main character in Fashionably Late is a Lebanese North American, I thought it would be fun (and yes, educational) to have a contest designed around this theme. If nothing else, you will come away from this experience with some quirky trivia you can impress friends and colleagues with at your next cocktail party. All the answers are very easily googleable, and, as though that weren't enough, I will tell you exactly which site you can go to to find them. You may have to do five minutes worth of digging when you get there, but it'll be (say it with me now) fun and educational, I promise. You enter the draw by going to the
In Touch page on my website and leaving me a message with your answer (and anything else you feel like communicating to me - I'm open). You have one day (ie until the next post goes up early the following morning) to leave me your comment. I'll anounce the winners of the previous draw at around lunchtime everyday. Ery'tin Ay'ry? Good.

Now, without further ado, our first featured author of the week, JoAnn Hornak.

First, the totally delicious cover of JoAnn's debut novel caught my eye (tall, dark & handsome, not to mention light-on-his-feet dude dipping a blonde in a sparkly pink dress). A salsa aficionado myself (caught the bug on my first trip to Cuba), the title sang to me: Adventures of a Salsa Goddess. I picked up the book, dove into the opening paragraph, and didn't come back up for air until my legs started to go numb from standing in the Borders aisle for too long. JoAnn's witty and well-paced novel would sit on the edge of my writing desk and inspire me to keep on writing on those days when I found myself wondering if my life wouldn't be better fulfilled with a full bag of BBQ Lays, my couch, and the full set of Sex and the City DVDs.

A teaser, if you will:

They say a never-married woman over forty has a better chance of winning a million-dollar lottery than getting married. Samantha Jacobs plans to beat the odds...

This New Year's Eve, Samantha Jacobs is finally getting married. Everything
for her fabulous wedding has already been arranged - except for one teensy
detail. She still has to get herself a groom. It's all part of her assignment
for Tres Chic magazine, inspired by her boss's determination to publish
a story proving those nasty statistics wrong. So Samantha is sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, statistically the worst city in the world in which to snag
a husband - to find herself someone smart, successful, and hunky.

Now this gorgeous 41-year-old Cinderella has just one summer to meet the man of her dreams and fall madly in love. That's fine with her, as long as it isn't with her too young, too poor, too sexy new salsa teacher. Even if he does have all the right moves...

So why did this novel, amongst many set against the magazine publishing world and dealing with marriage angst grab me so much? Besides the quality of the writing, a level of hilarity that had me rolling on the floor clutching my stomach, and hot Latin characters for which I am a huge sucker, it was when JoAnn began delving into the salsa scene in a random North American club that she really nailed it. It didn't matter that the book was set in Milwaukee, it could have been Cubanos in Montreal, or any city for that matter. Salsa has a peculiar kind of grip on some people, becoming a quasi-obsession, an obsession that brings you outside of yourself, makes you skilled at something most people would love to be able to do, infects you with romanticism and carries you to a world of where it's hot and sultry, where "the man is the frame and the woman the picture", if only for a couple of hours a week. And it's a world JoAnn knows very well, something that comes across strongly in her novel.

Though Salsa Goddess was penned a few years ago, it came to light this year that the 1980's Newsweek headline which became gospel to so many women (and perhaps nudged them into some less-than-ideal marriages?...) was in fact completely bogus. A marketing experiment gone horribly wrong. The statistic had misled women everywhere by drawing upon completely irrelevant assumptions (for example, that women would only marry men on average three years older than them, which meant that only a tiny sliver of bachelors out there were considered marriage material), and used a sample population that had an abnormally skewed men-to-women ratio.

Huh. Newsweek issued an apology. Too little, too late, I say. But I digress. Today the salsa goddess herself joins us to talk about writing, dance, and grinding wheat germ in Tanzania...

1. You have a background in law and a few years of globetrotting under your belt. What inspired you to write fiction?

In 1999 I took a one-year unpaid leave of absence from my job as an Assistant District Attorney to volunteer in Tanzania. (I volunteered through a great organization called Visions in Action. Volunteering in a developing country was something I'd wanted to do since college. I was getting burnt out with my job so the timing was right. Luckily, I brought my laptop with me and because there was so little to do at night - no TV, no shopping malls, movie theatres, etc., I started writing by keeping a detailed journal of my daily adventures in Africa. I sent excerpts from my journal to an e-mail list of about 50 people who started passing them on to other people. Soon I was overwhelmed with feedback about how funny my e-mails were and many people asking me if I'd ever thought about being a writer. By the end of the year, I was convinced it was something I needed to try. I went back to the D.A.'s office for one more year and then quit to try my hand at writing. I've never looked back.

2. Do you have a writing routine, if so, what is it?

For Adventures of a Salsa Goddess, I learned that what works for me is to write 1,000 words a day and I write 5 or 6 days a week. Sometimes that 1,000 words came quickly and other days it seemed to take forever. If I stopped at 800 words I would write 1,200 the next day. I was pretty disciplined about it.

3. How long does it take you to write a novel?

Adventures of a Salsa Goddess took a year. My second novel, which is much more complicated, is taking a lot longer. I am not a fast writer.

4. Are you a plotter, a pantster, or a little bit of both?

A little of both. I like to come up with an outline before I start writing but it is not very detailed - maybe a paragraph or two per chapter. I like to see where my imagination takes me while writing and I learn a lot about my characters as I write, not the other way around.

5. What has been the most rewarding aspect of publication for you?

Getting feedback from fellow salsa lovers like you Nadine! (aww, shucks...) It has been really been so rewarding to know that people enjoyed my book and felt they could relate to the salsa scenes. Also, I've been able to encourage many people to finally write that novel they've had stuck in their hearts and heads for years. I was one of those people who thought I could NEVER write a book.

6. What's the biggest myth about being a writer?

That it's glamorous. It's actually a lot of hard work and I've had to learn how to promote myself, something I'm not comfortable with.

7. What advice would you give to budding authors?

Believe in yourself and don't give up. Imagine the cover of your book and don't listen to the people who say you only have a one in a million chance of getting published. And, stick to your writing schedule, whatever that may be, especially on the days when you don't want to write. Get the first draft of your book down on paper and then revise, otherwise you may never get beyond the first chapter.

8. What can readers expect from you in the future?

My second novel is also a romance with a lot of humor but has several main characters, instead of one, and a serious theme running through it about not letting fear stop you from following your heart. And yes, there is some salsa dancing in it although not as much as Salsa Goddess. Also, I just took a wine immersion course in Napa Valley and am thinking of a mystery novel set in the wine world.

9. Who are some of the authors that inspired you when writing Salsa Goddess?

Definitely Jennifer Weiner and Helen Fielding. I especially loved Helen Fielding's spoof on the spy world, Olivia Joules and The Overactive Imagination.

10. In Salsa Goddess, Samantha's relationship with Javier is attacked by her mother and boss because they both view the young roofer-by-day/salsa-stud by night is not worthy of anything beyond a fling. Samantha herself thinks this at times. Do you think society conditions us, even in this day and age, to choose partners within our own social/financial spheres? Do you think this is universal, or something that could change?

I think this kind of social/economic snobbery exists in certain parts of the country. Luckily, in my own family, this couldn't be further than the truth. As for whether this needs to change, I believe that anytime someone limits who they will socialize with or have a romantic relationship with, they are only hurting themselves. There are a lot of very interesting, wonderful people out there who don't have blue blood or a trust fund.

12. How did your love of Latin dancing come about?

Right after I quit the District Attorney's office, a friend invited me to go Swing dancing. I was shocked to find 100 people there, about half men, half women, on a Tuesday night in Milwaukee. I started going every Tuesday until a few weeks later someone told me they were also taking Salsa lessons. I started salsa, instantly fell in love with it and gave up Swing dancing after a couple months.

13. Okay - you knew there would be a desert island question somewhere. Here it is: if you had to be stuck on a desert island with a laptop (one that magically never runs out of power), an iPod loaded with Latin music, or a younger, unmarried Antonio Banderas, which would you choose?

Antonio Banderas, por supuesto! A laptop could get very lonely and we could always hum our tunes as we salsa and tango on the beach under the moonlight and tell each other stories (okay, yes, a little unrealistic and sappy but what did you expect from a romance writer.)

JoAnn has very graciously donated TWO autographed copies of Adventures of a Salsa Goddess to be given away today. And the first set of surprise prizes going to the lucky winner of the draw is... authentic Cuban art!!! I'm giving away the painting of the Plaza de la Catedral as well the set of two mini prints. Both of these were purchased from the Calle Tacon market in Old Havana.

Now, to win one of today's two giveaways, you must correctly answer the following question (if you're stumped, you can find the answer by surfing this very educational - and sometimes surprising -

Which of the following actresses is NOT of Arab descent?

a. Shannon Elizabeth
b. Selma Hayek
c. Demi Moore
d. Marisa Tomei

I will be drawing two names amongst those who guess correctly and send me their answers via the In Touch page on my website. You have until the next time I sit at my computer to compose the next post, say 8 am Tuesday morning Cayman Islands (i.e. central) time. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chick Lit and 9/11: To Write or Not to Write?

No I have not dropped off the face of the planet... I'm just drowning a little, in copyedits, in promo, at work, in thinking very very hard about the sequel to Fashionably Late (which thankfully, I've at least started), in the website, and... in planning something VERY exciting for you guys. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, one of my favorite Latina authors, Mary Castillo, raised the question on her blog of: is it time for chick lit to deal with September 11? Or issues like war (which, let's face it, we're having to deal with whether we're political junkies or smother-my-head-in-the-sand types.

I'm going to be very lazy (I prefer to think of it as productive since I'm using this time to work on that VERY EXCITING STUFF I have planned for you...) and post my reply to Mary's question below:

I think what makes chick lit different from literary women's fiction (like, say, the stuff the authors of This Is Not Chick Lit write) is a combination of voice, an up-to-the-minute feel, and optimism.

A forgettable chick lit novel would take an underdeveloped character, give her a superficial issue to deal with, and lots of comedy or fashion angst. Entertaining, but not memorable. I could see people getting tired of too much of this kind of writing.

Then again, a book like some of the Oprah picks of the olden days (think Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone), has very serious, very deep issues, but with none of the chick lit comedy or quirky voice to take the edge off. So you could take an
issue like chronic depression and have Marian Keyes write about it and then
have Wally Lamb write about it, and you'd have two books that deal with a
serious issue, one that's very clearly chick lit and one that's very clearly
NOT. Most people are miserable enough in their own lives that they don't
need more misery. Which is why, methinks, optimistic books like chick lit do
better commercially.

I think it's a lot harder and riskier to write about a tragic theme in a comedic, light tone and make it work, than write about something difficult in a drpressing tone. Which is why Marian Keyes is so amazingly popular (or at least some of her books are). That being said, there are some readers who don't like their chick lit mixed in
with serious topics.... so what's a writer chick to do?

As with most important matters, I don't think there's one answer. I
think it depends. On the quality of the writing, on the readers themselves, on
the political landscape... But if a writer feels she could make it work, I
think she NEEDS to go for it, that readers are ready and waiting
for a 9/11 chick lit that works, not fluff with some 9/11 stuff in it, or a
truly depressing literary piece about 9/11 posing as chick lit.

Any thoughts?