Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Harriet Klausner Review for Cutting Loose

"…the key to this superb character study is (that) cast members all are fully developed and seem genuine as each seeks happiness although none appear to know how to obtain it… Readers will relish following the escapades of the women and the two brothers who chase them whether it is Canada, Florida or London. Nadine Dajani provides a wonderful contemporary tale."

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, September 25, 2008

GCC Presents...Roberta Isleib!


I am very excited to present to you the first mystery writer to be featured on Newbie Novelist. Like her main charachter, psychologist/advice columnist/sleuth Rebecca Butterman, Dr, Roberta Isleib is also a clinical psychologist. With that in mind, I think it's safe to assume that every member of the cast of Asking for Murder will be an excercise in some deep characterization...


What makes a book un-put-downable for you?

For me, it’s always the characters. I can excuse a lot of plot flaws if the characters are appealing and complex. This is probably why I loved being a therapist too: understanding what makes people tick and how they struggle, and then helping them find a happier way to live.

Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

People tell me that my books have a realistic feel—for good reason. The settings are modeled on the Connecticut towns nearby. Also my protagonist uses the therapy office I used to have, and she cooks meals that either I’ve made or I’ve watched friends prepare. (Spaghetti carbonara and red velvet cake in this book!)

Can you tell us the story behind meeting and signing with your agent?

I studied Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I contacted agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect. I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript-she directed me to several agents. I attended mystery conventions and talked with people there about the process. I attended the International Women's Writers Guild "Meet the Agents" forum in New York City. I groveled in front of everyone I even remotely knew connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour. Finally an agent I'd met at IWWG called: Another agent had visited her office, seen my manuscript, and fallen in love with it. We're still working together!

What typically sets off your thought process when beginning a new book?

Characters are easier for me--I can imagine their lives and their history and the arc their relationships will take. I'm always looking for the plot part of the story--in newspapers, conversations, other books. Really, I'll take it wherever I find it! And brainstorming with my writing friends is also very helpful.

What’s the most useful thing, in terms of promotion, that you’ve done?

In a word: networking. Working as a writer can be lonely and discouraging. By getting involved with Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and my own writers group, I’ve made so many writer friends. And from those friends have come tips, invitations, suggestions, questions, and unlimited support.

And Today's Lesson Is...

Don't piss off David Letterman, kids.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Candace Bushnell in Grand Cayman

The wonderful thing about living in a teeny, tiny place, as I might have mentioned previously on this blog, is that when a celebrity comes to town to promote something, you actually get a very good shot at meeting them. Such was the case two years ago with Orlando Bloom, and five years ago with Jessica Alba (back when I had no clue who she was - sorry, Jess).

And this time, it's CANDACE BUSHNELL.

THE Candace Bushnell.

She'll be reading from her latest release, One Fifth Avenue, at our local Books&Books.

The best part? An after party at a swanky resto-lounge around the corner from the bookstore.

I bought my copy of the book this morning, which came with a ticket to the signing/after party, and I started reading. I have to say, this one sounds like it's going to be different from the previous few efforts. It seems Bushnell gets more complex with every book, which I suppose is a trend that makes sense. She also seems to have branched out from the fashion/modeling/Hollywood backdrop into... you guessed it... Hedge Fund Accounting (well... insofar as you can for something that's supposed to be entertaining).

In a recent interview where I was asked to explain why I'd given up on fashion after such a brief stint in the industry, I did that, among many other reasons, I missed the "glamour" that came with international finance.

I guess I wasn't the only one who's made the unlikely connection...

Here's an interview with Ms Bushnell. Happy Monday.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Black Monday and Generation Me

I went to bed last night, my head spinning somewhat after a long day playing Frisbee on the beach, a party where a little too much wine had been had, and confusing internet headlines about Lehman Brothers, one of the oldest investment banks around, possibly going the way of the Dodo bird (and many other birds these days).

This morning the rumors and speculation turned into tragic fact. Not as tragic as, say, deadly hurricanes turning beleaguered cities and island nations into muddy swamps and war zone look-alikes, but tragedies nonetheless. The cliché of business being "just business" and totally divorced from its role in communities, identity, and just plain survival, is now being tried against a class of people not familiar with the idea that sometimes hard work, planning, and intense "wanting it" do not necessarily materialize into success. Sometimes they don't even materialize into a week's worth of groceries. Jane Green recently blogged about a phenomenon I'd noticed but hadn't really thought about until recently – the entitlement philosophy – which has led to a whole generation of people (dubbed "Generation Me") thinking they should be applauded and showered with all the material and psychological gifts associated with achievement just for showing up. There's even a popular saying – "80% of life is just showing up". A generation drunk on self-importance, disdainful of "lesser" people, and patting itself on the back because it did nothing more than win the "lucky birth" sweepstakes.

I wonder how this philosophy plays out in Brazilian shanty towns where armed gangs of children scavenge for food (anyone who has not yet seen City of God needs to RUN, not walk, to the video store), or pretty much anywhere in Africa, Latin America, huge swaths of Eastern Europe, the Middle and Far East, or indigenous Australia and the South Pacific Islands, where increases in food prices this year have meant absolute catastrophe for millions.

Or even in Middle America, where "middle" now means barely above the poverty line.

It is, in fact, a dog-eat-dog world out there folks, and no amount of reality TV, books, articles, or "vicarious luxury" products like designer perfumes, handbags, shoes and "bridge" lines trying to sell us an alternative universe of untold riches available to the average Joe and Jane will change that. It's not about "showing up". It was about consuming, at least as far as this continent was concerned, and now America is in the process of passing the baton of conspicuous consumption over to other ambitious nations that have clawed their way up to this privilege.

And yet, all I hear about is Bristol Palin's pregnancy, Palin as a pig with lipstick, pro-choice/anti-choice, drilling, drilling, and more drilling, and barely any acknowledgment at all from the people currently running the show that there's any problem at all, that the price you pay for having the freedom to buy the biggest car your line of credit will get you, the biggest house in the fanciest neighborhood your mortgage broker says you qualify for, and as many useless gadgets as you feel like, is that sometimes you will go broke. It's called a "market economy" and it's a tailor-made philosophy for Generation Me. It speaks to disinterest in people perceived as "lesser" and their problems, to the feeling that anyone who is good enough can be on the winning side, to the hope that you can one day be one of the thousands of millionaires (and even billionaires!) this wonderful country manufactures.

Now, that's all good and well when it's factory workers, mechanics, janitors, teachers, firemen, and Wal-mart greeters who are falling through the cracks of no-holds-barred capitalism. They didn't go to school. They didn't work hard enough. They didn't want it badly enough. They didn't earn their success.

I wonder if the (former) investment bankers, admin assistants, accountants, lawyers, and IT support technicians are giving each other the "you should have wanted it more" pep talk this morning. I wonder, as these people might currently be wondering if they'll get any severance pay at all, if laid-off accountants and IT administrators, and secretaries will continue to be hostile towards labor unions who guarantee things like severance pay.

Will white-collar workers' inflated sense of entitlement finally bring about the kind of grassroots change, righteous anger, and standing up to corporate interests that blue-collar workers failed to achieve? Because we're not talking about construction workers, nurses or janitors anymore – we're talking about US and this isn't supposed to happen to US!

The silver lining of this dark economic cloud is that we may see the end of Generation Me, and perhaps, if we're lucky, a Generation We, or at least, a Generation Aware. Maybe I'm living in some sort of fantasy land that exists only in my head, but perhaps when people like me and my friends start getting laid off from our well-paying jobs, when we see it won't be so easy to get back on our feet this time, when our home values (and retirement packages) begin to erode, we may no longer be as quick to blame the poor for their poverty, to be aghast at a welfare system that guarantees healthcare to everyone, even if it means having to wait our turn in line. Maybe we will endeavor to be less ignorant, to focus less on acquiring "market skills" now that we know how fickle the market is, and get ourselves some life skills instead, some humility, a sense of history, and our miniscule, insignificant place within it.

But, judging by how mesmerized the public remains by this magician's trick of a cute, hopelessly clueless (or pretending to be) hockey mom with a king crab for table-top knick-knack, and no ideas about how to steer the economy if not towards a recovery but at least away from certain doom, I think my fantasy will remain just that – a fantasy.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

GCC Presents… Joanne Rendell!


I loved this quote from Christina Baker Kline about The Professors' Wives Club: "…risk it all in pursuit of life, love, and green space in New York City…"

I've always thought Montreal was a smaller, "frenchier" version of New York City and I also attended one of those downtown University campuses where green space was coveted than prime balcony space during Mardi Gras in Rio. So I can see how a group of four very different women, each with her own secrets, can get their collective panties in a bunch when the ruthless Dean of Manhattan University tries to bring an end to the charming garden sanctuary where each woman comes to take refuge from the world. Also, like Rendall, I'm a sucker for stories that pit women with widely divergent points of view against each other.

Here's the author, in her own words:

Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

I'm a professor's wife and my husband teaches at NYU – which looks a lot like the fictitious Manhattan U. in The Professors' Wives' Club - so real-life sneaks into my book a lot! One particular scene, however, which is very true to my life, is when the character Sofia gives birth watching Terminator movies. It is what I did when I gave birth to my son. No kidding! You can read about it on Mothering.com: http://www.mothering.com/articles/pregnancy_birth/homebirth/terminator.html


Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you have a writing routine you stick to or a special writing space that brings out your creativity?

I write while my five year old son sleeps. Thankfully, he sleeps late every morning which gives me just about enough time to go the gym, come home, make my cup of Tetley tea, and then sit down to do some writing. It would be great to have my whole days free to write. But, in actual fact, I think I'm probably more productive being limited to just a few hours in the morning. It makes me get down to work, pronto! If I had whole days stretching out before me, I would spend way too much time emailing and nosing through people's photo albums on Facebook.

I always try and write at least 500 words a day. I started doing this in grad school when I was writing my PhD dissertation. 500 words might not seem a lot but it definitely adds up and keeps you moving forward.

Do you have an agent? Can you tell us the story behind meeting and signing with him/her?

I do have a wonderful agent! I was working on a writing project with a friend of mine - another professor's wife, in fact! This friend was already published and was kind enough to introduce me to her agent. The agent and I hit it off and I remember during one conversation, almost as an aide, I mentioned my idea about writing a book called The Professors' Wives' Club. My agent looked me dead in the eye and said "Write it, it will sell." So I did write it and my agent was kind enough to read drafts along the way and give me advice. When it was finally done and it sold to Penguin, we really saw the book as "our" baby!

What's the next book, fiction or non-fiction, you're dying to read next?

Yours! Seriously, it's true. You just sent me an advanced copy of Cutting Loose and I'm dying to get to the end of another book I'm reading so I can start it. It sounds like it has all the ingredients of the kind of women's fiction I love - a tale about a group of interesting women, some good love stories, plus insight into places and cultures I know little about. I can't wait! [wow…I'm blushing right now…]


There are so many wonderful books out there like yours – books by women, for women, and about women. I wish I had more time to read them all. I also wish the reviewing press weren't so dismissive and demeaning about women's fiction. It makes me so mad that women's fiction so often gets labeled "trash," "fluff," or "formulaic." Women do most of the buying and the reading of books these days and thus it seems ridiculous that "our" fiction is so routinely denigrated…..Okay, rant over.


What up next for you?

My second novel is also being published by Penguin and comes out next year. The novel tells the story of two women, professors this time, who work an English Department. One of the women, Diana, is older, very serious, and extremely established in the academic world. She's only interested in very serious literature and has written books about Sylvia Plath. The other professor, Rachel, is new to the department. She's young, bubbly, and enthusiastic and her scholarship looks at popular women's fiction. Her research ruffles a lot of feathers in the academy, in fact, because people see the books Rachel looks at as throwaway and trash. Diana is particularly adamant on this point and really doesn't like it when the young professor comes to the department.

The novel looks at the tensions between these two very different women and shows all the repercussions in their department and in their lives when they are pitted next to each other. A handsome visiting professor from Harvard and some high-profile misbehaving students only serves to make sparks fly even more between the two women! [Hmm… I'm liking the sound of this novel already… I'm also sensing a theme : ) ]

Thanks Joanne, for a very interesting interview. Looking forward to picking up The Professors' Wives Club very soon!


Monday, September 08, 2008

Superrich

I didn't know I had an obsession until I took a critical look at my recent entertainment choices, choices that at the time seemed positively random:

  • Deluxe by Dana Thomas
  • Richistan by Robert Frank
  • My Super Sweet Sixteen
  • Some MNBC show devoted to how the other half, or more accurately, the top 0.01% lives

This form of entertainment feels part voyeurism, part sheer envy, part research on how to infiltrate the world of the Superrich (answer: start a tech company, inflate its value, launch an IPO followed by a "liquidity event", and all within a year) and finally, part train-wreck-watching.

First, some jargon.

Richistan devides its population into 3 subsets: Lower Richistan ($1 million to 9 million in annual revenue), middle Richistan (10 to 99 million), and upper Richistan (100 million plus. In case you are wondering, John McCain is a member of Upper Richistan via his wealthy wife).

Do you know what the median household income in the United States is? It's $26,000 per household. If we assume the population of the US is 300 million, this means that 150 million Americans are living in households earning $26,000 or less.

Or less.

Politicians will usually talk about the "average" income – not median – because the average is a very top level figure that doesn't show you what's happening at the bottom, or how big the "bottom" is.

For example, if in Company X the CEO makes $1,000,000 a year, his VP $100,000, his secretary 25,000 and his two laborers $15,000 each, then the average income per employee of Company X is $231,000/year.

This is the figure usually quoted by politicians: $231,000 per year, per employee.

Makes those laborer's jobs sound great, right? I would LOVE to be working at a company where the average income was $231,000 a year!

The figure you won't hear about as often is the median. The median in this case is $25,000. Half the workers at this company earn less than $25,000, while half of them earn more.

Even though that figure gives us a slightly more realistic picture than the average, it still doesn't tell us that the CEO earns 10 times the salary of the next highest paid employee, and 67 times that of the lowest paid worker.

Of course, this is a totally fictional scenario.

In real life, the average CEO earns 821 times that of the lowest paid worker (2005 figures).

This was not so a mere two decades ago, but I digress. The point of this whole discussion is to provide an answer to the inevitable question that popped into my mind after reading these books and watching a couple of nauseating back-to-back My Super Sweet Sixteen episodes: WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE???

Richistan did a good job of answering this question, and also addressing the "how" of how these people came to be. Deluxe, however, though very entertaining especially to an avowed fashionista, devoted its 300+ pages to examining how the luxury industry (Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Coach….) had sold out the Superrich by slapping their coveted logos on more pedestrian, affordable items like the $50 bottle of perfume, the $32 lipstick, or the $700 "It" bag. The final question Deluxe sought to answer was: where do the Superrich go now?

Where, indeed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Romantice Times Review for Cutting Loose

"Dajani spins a tale of three women and their individual journeys to find happiness. Through strong writing and distinctive characters, readers are drawn into their lives, their loves, and their internal struggles. Dajani wraps it up nicely in the end, leaving us with a delectable tale that is hard to put down."

Yay!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Problem with Being Holier Than Thou

... it usually turns around to bite you in the ass.

Some people really are irreproachable (I always like to hold my mother up as a case study for the quietly faithful person, the kind of person the Republican party might be reaching out to if she were a Christian faithful rather than a Muslim faithful). And there's nothing wrong with that.

There is, however, something wrong with consistently rubbing your squeaky-clean persona in every body's face, and something positively shady when you use it as the basis for your platform when you're running for the second highest office in the world's reigning (though not for much longer) sole superpower.

It also doeasn't do you any favors to run on that platform.

Because it doesn't take much to bring you down when your governance philosophy consists of: I don't tolerate personal mistakes or gray areas, because there's nothing grey about my character of my prissy, married, church-going, heterosexual life. No ambivalence, no 'buts', no excuses.

So what's your excuse for your pregnant teenage daughter, Palin? Sorry... what was that?... You want us to respect your family's privacy in personal matters? Where have I heard that before?...

Oh yeah, the Democratic platform.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Time to...re-think??

I have to admit I didn't really feel the ending of the 1996 Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson courtroom drama hit, A Time to Kill. Probably because it was aimed at a an audience that put blacks just marginally above farm animals (or maybe not, as I don't think white farmers take too kindly to their animals being abused and slaughtered just for lack of something to do on a Sunday afternoon).

Or maybe we were supposed to somehow be able to see through the eyes of bigots. I'm referring to the final line of Matthiew's closing statement, where he asks the audience, their eyes closed, to imagine the victim was a young black girl instead of a young white girl.

I remember thinking - THAT'S your big ending??? Are you kidding me???

It's hard to imagine that for some people, in some places, they need to actually be instructed to treat certain classes of human beings as, well... human beings.

It was that scene in A Time to Kill that popped up in my mind when I happened upon this article today.

To summarize, we've now officially started using the "surplus" brown people of the developing world as human guinea pigs in the interest of "free trade" and globalization.

Before you slap a Communist sticker on my forehead, I believe in free trade as much as the next internationally-distributed author out there (I've lived and worked all over the place, I hold a Canadian citizenship, my readership is mainly American...) but I also hold dear the belief that free trade actually needs to be free, and not in the if-poor-people-don't-care-if-their-kids-get-killed-then-who-am-I-to-stop-them sense. We, as the holders of money (ie: power) in this transaction dictate the term of the trade.

And this is how we've chosen to conduct business. By saving little bunny rabbits from experimentation, but not little brown babies.

Let's dust off Matthew's line, shall we?

Imagine a bunch of little babies, crammed together in an orphanage. Imagine unspeakable, sci-fi like experiments done on them. Imagine these teeny tiny one-year-olds are being given adult doses of an experimental blood pressure medication. Imagine some die as a result, probably horrifically, but they're babies so they can't tell us anything, and free trade agreements only guarantee the free flow of money, not information, so we'll never know the reasons or circumstances of their deaths.

Now imagine these babies were American.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Loving Your Inner Demon


It's not every day we feature paranormal writers here on Confessions, so I am honored to present fellow GCC sister Jackie Kessler whose latest, Hotter Than Hell, is on bookshelves now. And check out the great press below...

In HELL’S BELLES and THE ROAD TO HELL, Jackie Kessler brought readers into an unforgettable Underworld populated by alluring demons and sexy devils. Now Daunuan, the most irresistible incubus of all, is facing one Hell of a challenge...

Praise for HOTTER THAN HELL:

"Jackie Kessler is firmly on my list of favorite authors. Hotter Than Hell is edgy and filled with hot temptation--in the form of an incubus so sexy, daring, and delicious that you'll be offering him your own soul. Fast paced and clever, Kessler's writing shines."
— Cheyenne McCray, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow Magic

"Kessler has outdone herself by giving readers a glorious book three of her deliciously sinful series, Hell on Earth. Daunuan's sexy supernatural antics make sparks fly, and if you're not careful you'll singe your fingers as the pages speed by. It's packed with quirky characters, a spicy, fast-paced plot and witty dialogue. Be prepared for a demonic treat that's hotter than hell."
— Romantic Times, 4.5 stars (top pick for August 2008)

"Sexy and bold"
—Publishers Weekly


Name three authors at the top of your “to watch” list:

I can’t count, so here are four. :)

Heather Brewer. Heather, my critique partner, is the fantabulous author of the YA series THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD, all about a teenage boy half-vampire, who has to deal with math tests, school bullies, and fang control. Oh, and avoiding vampire slayers, and curbing his ever-growing thirst for blood. And (shudder) girls. A terrific, funny, poignant series. Go buy EIGHTH GRADE BITES and NINTH GRADE SLAYS.

Richelle Mead. My fellow succubus diva, Richelle has not one, not two, but THREE series out now (I know, I have no idea when she sleeps, either): the Georgina Kincaid SUCCUBUS series; the YA series, VAMPIRE ACADEMY; and the new STORM BORN, first in the DARK SWAN series, which just launched on August 5. Richelle just keeps the hits coming — and she recently made the NY Times Bestseller list with FROSTBITE, the second in the VA series.

Caitlin Kittredge. My co-author for the upcoming BLACK & WHITE, a dystopian superhero novel to be published by Bantam Spectra in summer 2009. Caitlin, who is hugely talented (and smart, and funny, and pretty, and YOUNG, damn it! 23 and brilliant. It’s so unfair), is the author of the NOCTURN CITY series about a cop who’s also a werewolf, as well as of the upcoming Lovecraft/Gaiman evil lovechild of a book, STREET MAGIC (oh, I do so love this book. I (heart) Jack Winter!) in early 2009.

Toni McGee Causey. Author of the spectacularly funny and intricately plotted Southern caper comedy BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY and its follow-up, BOBBIE FAYE’S (kinda, sorta, not exactly) FAMILY JEWELS. These are two of the few books out there where I’ve laughed out loud. A lot. And how many authors have buttons that declare “Shuck Me, Suck Me, Eat Me Raw”? (It’s the motto of an oyster house in the first book. And it’s the shirt that Bobbie Faye wears, that s-l-o-w-l-y gets destroyed, a la Catwoman’s costume in BATMAN RETURNS.)


Name a book you’ve read over and over again, and you’d probably read again:

Right now, the two contenders are:
LORD OF THE RINGS
THE DRESDEN FILES

What typically sets off your thought process when beginning a new book?

I have to get into the character’s voice, if it’s a first-person novel. For HOTTER THAN HELL, it took me months to shed Jezebel from my voice and find Daun. But once I did get his voice, the story flowed like chocolate syrup. Mmm. Chocolate syrup...


Do you write full-time? How do you juggle the day job with your writing?

Nope, I have a full-time day job. I write first thing in the morning, but I do the bulk of my writing at night, after the kids are in bed. When I’m on a deadline, I don’t get to sleep until around 1:30 in the morning or so.

What up next for you?

In January, my erotic novella HELL IS WHERE THE HEART IS will appear in the RED HOT VALENTINE’S DAY anthology from Avon Red. And in the summer of 2009 will be BLACK & WHITE, from Bantam Spectra. Two superpowered women — once best friends, now on opposite sides of the law — must join forces to fight the Big Bad Evil. (Bwahahahahahaha!) I’m currently writing the fourth HELL book now, tentatively called HELL TO PAY.


What has being published changed about your life?

I sleep a lot less. :)
Actually, I’m a very shy person, but doing the conference circuit and signing at bookstores and speaking on panels has really helped me grow more confident about public speaking and just having a great time in general with tons of people.


...Thanks for the great interview Jackie!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Wild Wild San Francisco



Little known fact: I was addicted to comics as a child. I started with your standand English-language Archie comics, and eventually graduated onto Asterix and Lucky Luke. As the Super Shuttle zipped along the freeway towards what looked to me a desert mountain range, speckled with brownish shrubs along the horizon, I thought I'd somehow been teleported back a few hundred years and landed smack dab in the middle of Cowboy Land.

That, or an Isabel Allende novel.

Besides the traveling that the RWA Nationals bring, there's the creative stimulation. All those readers, writers, agents and editors all gathered in one place... I don't know why, but I always come back itching to write.

Here's me at the TOR sponsored signing of Cutting Loose ARCs:



(A little too much cleavage for a signing, eh?)

...And after the awards ceremony with fellow writers Aryn Kenney, Heather Davis, and Marley Gibson:




And a big ol' shout out to my ladies whom I didn't have a change to get on film since I really suck at remembering to bring my camera along: CPs and roomies Wendy Toliver and Kristin Wallace (who also threw a kick ass chick lit party, along with Amanda Brice), and cyber buddies Dona Sarkar, Marylin Brant, Kwana Jackson (who's waaaay better at remembering her camera than I am) and Kelli Estes & sis Carolyn.

As much as I love the internet and the virtual writing and chatting forums it provides, I can't help but wish writing was a proper 9 to 5 job with cubicles and water coolers and coffee machines where I can hang around with other writers instead of catching up just once a year. Then again... I get to work in my pyjamas and in cafes. Guess I can't really complain : ) Until next year...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer of Reading

So much of that has been done lately that I would be too embarrassed to post a comprehensive list up here lest it be apparent that I'm not doing enough writing (ahem).

But some of the books I've read lately really deserve comment, so here goes.

The first time I noticed Towelhead by Alicia Erian was many years ago when I saw a review of it in Vogue. It had actually been reviewed by everyone and their grandmother back then as it seems this little book about a shy, withdrawn 13-year-old sent by her not-all-there Irish mother to live with her cold, old-fashioned and borderline abusive Lebanese dad was subject to a lot of hoopla when it came out. I read the review, told myself I'd buy the book, and then promptly forgot about the whole business until I happened upon it a few years later in an adorable indie shop in Vegas (had a hilarious conversation with the lovely elderly owner of that shop...I think I was her only customer that day and even she seemed surprised that in a town where everyone comes for the slots and a dose of designer shopping, I was spending time in a bookstore). As with every other time I walk into a bookstore, I have a hard time walking out with just one or two books, and Towelhead lost the battle against an autographed hardcover of Isabel Allende's Zorro. Then, a few years after that, I noticed the paperback version of this book and finally bought it. It languished in my To Be Read pile until finally, last month, Marie Claire recommended the movie version of the book, coming out this August (watch the trailer here). I couldn't put the book down. It has the appeal of slowing down to stare at a train wreck, albeit a funny (at times) train wreck. But when it's not funny, it's heartbreaking and horrific and perverse, and you'd probably stop reading if not for the feeling that Erian's thin tome, although wrong in some details of authenticity, rings like something that might happen more often than we'd think in a world where adults are often more lost than their kids. Read it, but be prepared to be disturbed.

Then there was This Charming Man by Marian Keyes. Marian is one of the very few authors with massive commercial appeal who is allowed to meander for pages and pages of character and setting detail (and I don't mean description) with the aim of advancing the resonance of her novels rather than the plot. The plot always ties together in beautiful, intricate, and highly intelligent ways at the end, but in the hands of lesser writers, the readership might not have stuck around for 600+ pages rich with detail and character development. This one is her most ambitious yet - touches Irish politics but only insofar as they affect a very tangible, very real issue that's probably close to a lot of women's hearts (though if more men cared about it, maybe it wouldn't happen so much). Read it only if you have A LOT of spare time on your hands because you won't put it down until you've made it through all 680-odd pages.

The last book I devoured was Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez's Dirty Girls on Top. I've been waiting on this one for a few years now, so I obviously couldn't resist buying it hardcover even though I'm trying very hard to cut back on hardcovers (besides the price issue, they don't fit in half my handbags). As much as I liked it (and I did). I was sad to see that the author had poured all her character development into the original Dirty Girls and left the sequel a little thin. It was nonetheless as sexy as the title suggests, funny, fast-paced, and engrossing, so far better than a lot of fiction I've read in general, but I thought her first one was a masterpiece - difficult to surpass. Caution: if you've never read the first one, you might find the cast unsympathetic and hard to relate to, so you should really pick up Dirty Girls Social Club for the full experience.

Up next: DeNiro's Game by fellow Lebanese-Montreal-Canadian debut author Rawi Hage. I'm not sure how much of a splash this novel is making in the States right now but up here, it's HUGE. Won all kinds of awards, and recounts some of the worst days of the Lebanese civil war but in a supposedly fresh, original way. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Forgotten Isle

I don't know about you but all I ever associated with Puerto Rico were Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Marc Anthony. The thought of it did fleetingly enter my mind as a possible and very accessible alternative to Cuba.
After all, both Cubans and Puerto Ricans claim Salsa as their own, both islands have a somewhat similar geography and history(if you forget about all that Communist stuff...), even if Cuba is much bigger and closer to the United States.

I don't know a whole lot about US-Puerto Rican relations, but they seem a little strained to me, what with many Americans of Anglo/Germanic origin annoyed with the large Puerto Rican communities in their midst despite PR being practically another state, and with Puerto Ricans themselves not exactly sure what kind of relationship they'd like to have with the States.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me to be totally charmed off my feet by this little island even after I believed the Caribbean could no longer surprise me.

Take a look...



















So why don't we hear more about this place? Is it because Cuba sounds so much more alluring what with it's "forbidden" status? (which always cracks me up... its only "forbidden" to one group of people on the face of the entire planet folks. To they rest of us, it's, well... a place where they make great mojitos and everyone gets free health care).

I'll be telling you much more about it in the coming months seeing as lil'sis is moving there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hola from... Puerto Rico!

Long story... will make subject of a proper post one day soon, but am in beautiful San Juan, Puerto Rico with lil' sis on a very last minute, impromptu trip.

God I miss the Caribbean.

I had no idea what to expect coming here, but San Juan is certainly living up to my romantacized expectations... it's South Beach meets Havana, if Havana had McDonald's and toilet paper.

Took lots and lots of pics which I will post up on the blog as soon as I get home.

Tons of non-writing related news... bought a condo! Finally! Started reading "Kitchens & Baths" magazine! Picked out kitchen cabinets and door handles! Very fun stuff, even if quite suburbanized and bourgeois for my taste. In other news, the website redesign is coming along, can't wait to have that up and running for you guys.

Also, so many of my favorite authors came out with new books this summer I can barely keep up. Must blog about that soon...

And of course...can't wait for SAN FRANCISCO!

In the meantime, here's one of aforesaid favorite authors making voicing her opinion on one of my favorite news sites.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

GCC Presents... Amy Wallen!





I'd nearly forgotten how much Montreal slows down in this season of hot, long, lazy days and lively festivals, one after the other. Not a whole lot of work gets done by anyone (we only get two months of proper summer after all) and that includes me and blogging.

In case you were looking for some fresh new fiction for your holiday reading, next up on out GCC tour is Moonpies and Movie Stars by Amy Wallen, enjoying a paperback release this month.

Before I get into the novel itself, I'd like to give you a little glimpse of the writer who reminds me a little of novelist Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Prey, Love in the sense that Wallen is a bit of a nomadic globetrotter herself who just weeks ago returned from hiking to Macchu Picchu. A native of Texas, her father's job took her to places as near and far as Louisianna, Mississippi, Nevada, Nigeria, Peru, Bolivia, and Oklahoma (and I thought I'd travelled...). Still, it's those summers spent helping her grandmother run a convenience store on highway 90 in Brackettville, Texas that inspire this wanderlust-stricken writer's prose.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest allure of Southern themed novels? Why did you chose to set your novel in the South?

For me, my first novel just came to me innately. I didn’t have a choice of what I was going to write. I don’t necessarily call myself a Southerner, but on the other hand, I think of myself as second generation Texan because I was raised by Texans, just no in the state of Texas.

I think the allure of Southern novels comes from the crazy uninhibited personalities. Flannery O’Connor once commented that New York book reviewers would never understand southern writing because unless you’ve been to the south and seen firsthand that the people really do have a different joie de vivre, then you can’t grasp that the far out characters really do exist. I’m misquoting her, and wish I had time to look up exactly what she said, but that’s the gist of it. Southern novels are just rife with characters and crazy goings on. But it’s all real and true, even when it’s fiction.


What’s the next book, fiction or non-fiction, you’re dying to read next?

I have two. Both memoirs. The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon and The Bishop’s Daughter by Honor Moore. I’m dying to write the story of my father. He’s one of the funniest people I know, and a tremendous storyteller. His career took him and my family to many distant and exotic places. But I have a feeling he has a secret underneath it all. I may write a novel, instead of a memoir, but I only have snippets in my head right now. I’m working on a completely fictional other novel right now, so this is just a distant project I’m mulling over.


Name a book you’ve read over and over again, and you’d probably read again in the future.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I’ve read it probably 7 times and probably will read it 7 more. Every time I read it it’s a different experience. We evolve so much in our lives and the story of Holden Caulfield trying to find his place just always rings true, but in a different way as I move through my own life. He makes me laugh, cry and think. I love that in any story.

Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

My grandmother who lived in Brackettville, Texas and who owned several different businesses, including a beauty shop, a honky tonk (beer joint), and a convenience store/gas station, inspired and influenced several scenes, but without a doubt she was the reason I wrote the big Price is Right scene in MoonPies and Movie Stars. Whenever I visited, she would always ask me, “How come you live out in California and you ain’t never been on one of them game shows?” So, I put a game show in the book for her. There’s also a Willie Nelson sighting in the book and she inspired that.


What kind of research did you do for this novel?

I had to go to bowling alleys and not only try to bowl and eat fried cheese and drink bad beer, but I found tiny old out of the way bowling alleys that still had the old workings and asked the owners to tell me about the mechanics and about the way bowling was before everything became computerized. I met some really interesting characters and I found a great old six-lane bowling alley out in Pioneertown, CA near Palm Springs. It was an old movie set for Roy Rogers, I believe it was, and he wanted to have something to do between sets so he had this six-lane bowling alley built. It’s still there, still running and it has great café attached where supposedly the first Patty Melt was ever made. Patty herself used to own the bowling alley, the story goes. It’s a trip back to the past, Pioneertown. Out in the middle of the desert, just a ghost town really. But if you get a chance, find it on a map and check it out.


What up next for you?

I’m working on another novel. I have a contract with Hyperion. It’s a fun project that I’m about half way through. It’s the story of a senior artists colony in Burbank, CA. When their benefactor and guru dies, the bohemian retirees, Hollywood has-beens and wannabes, don’t know how to save themselves or their home.


What’s the most useful thing, in terms of promotion, that you’ve done?

I go to book clubs. A lot. All over. It’s been the most fun I could ever have. I love it much more than the book tour, which was also fun, but the book clubs environment is much more intimate and less inhibited. We always have a great time and I’ve made so many wonderful new friends. I have ton of funny family stories I like to tell and so I keep the reading to a minimum, but I tell all the inside scoop on where story inspiration came from.



Ruby Kincaid has her hands full these days. In addition to running the bowling alley after the death of her husband, Rascal, she has the daunting task of caring for her two boisterous grandchildren, since her daughter Violet disappeared without a trace four years earlier. It’s 1976 and Ruby and her nearest and dearest in Devine, Texas are watching their favorite soap opera at the bowling alley when they see Violet in a Buttermaid commercial. Expecting it will only take a little motherly guilt to rein in her wayward daughter, Ruby loads up the Winnebago and heads for Hollywood to try and bring Violet back to the Lone Star State.
Along for the ride are Imogene, Violet’s over-bearing and pretentious mother-in-law (who’s ready to assume the title of “celebrity-in-law”), and Loralva, Ruby’s wild sister who is itching to visit Tinsel Town because it’s where all the game shows are taped – and nothing’s going to stop her from making it to her favorite, The Price Is Right. Rounding out the group are Ruby’s grandchildren Bunny and Bubbie who are confused, sad, and excited at the prospect of finding their mother. They give Ruby the courage she needs to track Violet down and try to make things right.
While MOONPIES AND MOVIE STARS is great fun and a lot of laughs, it is also a poignant story of dreaming big, finding home, and coming to terms with family.


And if that doesn't get you running to the bookstore, here's a quote from the Los Angeles Times:

[S]pirited and honest… Wallen capably illustrates that it is not only possible but also compelling to be funny, captivating, and compassionate, all in the same book.


Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I Know Spain Won But...






Portugal still gets my vote for hottest team.

Meant to psot this last week but was consumed by aforementioned move. Enjoy the view, ladies!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day and Moving Is Brutal

I never understood why Canada Day is the unofficial moving day across Quebec, and possibly across the nation (actually – I hope this is a strictly Quebecois phenomenon, as would explain a lot… might turn out to be nefarious separatist plot to prevent Federalists from actually enjoying the day off).

This year I was a very reluctant participant in this annoying tradition, and luckily for me, because I have the luxury of my parents’ basement, I could actually prepare early for this move and let all my earthly belongings sit somewhere temporarily while I moved my stuff in waves.

I think that the worst aspect of moving is that the mere thought of it highjacks your brain, preventing you from doing anything other than dreading the torture to come.

At least that’s my excuse for not blogging : )

Stay tuned for an interview with Amy Wallen, author of Moonpies & Movie Stars, and a brief review of some fabulous fiction I’ve been reading (the latest Marian Keyes… yet another reason I couldn’t blog… could NOT put it down).

But for today... the plan is to enjoy this gorgeous day off.

Happy Canada Day!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

GCC Presents... Melissa Senate!


I am BEYOND honored to be hosting Melissa Senate on my blog today since I've looked up to her, along with fellow chick lit trailblazers Sarah Mlynowski, Jane Green, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Laura Caldwell and others, since a career in publishing was but a flicker in my imagination.

Melissa's debut novel, See Jane Date launched Harlequin's dedicated chick lit line, Red Dress Ink (I was an active member of the RDI chat boards, and back then RDI authors were God to me) and was turned into a TV movie. (How cool is that?) Since then Melissa's written five women's fiction novels, and has dipped her toes in YA waters as well with Theodora Twist, and a few other projects she discusses below.

You've been writing since chick lit first caught on in North America. Can you please tell us about the evolution of the genre since See Jane Date up until now - how have the plots changed, how has the readership changed, is chick lit ever-evolving or is it coming full-circle ?

The evolution of the genre is likely a result of the authors “growing up,” getting older and wiser, perhaps settling down into marriage and motherhood—or not. I wrote See Jane Date at age 34. I’m now 42 (she says proudly). Since See Jane Date I’ve gotten married and divorced, had a child, moved from Manhattan to Maine, gave up corporate life for the writing life, and have been through lots of little things in between. I’m such a different person, leading such a different life that I couldn't quite write See Jane Date in the same way again, but I do think the essence of chick lit, what makes it so lovable, so appealing to so many women, will never change: the female experience in the here and now, with its questions and concerns and issues, written with a certain sensibility, a certain tone. There are many books called chick lit that aren’t, and many that aren’t that are! I think there will be as many different types of chick lit novels as there are different types of women in different walks of life. The young writers who might write chick lit now very likely would steer clear of those elements now considered stereotypes, but they’re stereotypes for a reason. Killer bosses and harping moms and bad dates and thank-God-I- have-you-best-friends really and truly exist. I know for a fact!



Name a book that you wish you’d written

Good Grief by Lolly Winston. I love this book, love its poignancy, its humor, its heart. Lolly Winston’s sentences have the most delightful energy. I’d like to write as freely, as lushly, as funny as she does.



Name a book you’ve read over and over again, and you’d probably read again in the future.

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, a collection of amazing short stories. I’ve read it at least five times and will re-read this summer. There are sentences and paragraphs and ideas that zappers that get me every time with: Wow. Just wow. My favorite book on writing that I reread constantly is Making A Literary Life by Carolyn See. But I love Stephen King’s and Anne Lamott’s too. I’ve read each at least five times too!



What typically sets off your thought process when beginning a new book – a kernel of a character you’d like to get to know better, a flash scene, a gripping ending you need to trace back to the beginning…?

Questions To Ask Before Marrying started off with three very different ideas that had me gripped: The first was my love of the movie Sideways. Oh, how I wanted to write a road trip book after seeing that wonderful film. The idea of two very different people trapped together in a car, being on the road, really gripped me. Enter my estranged twin sisters, one a conservative school teacher from Maine, newly engaged but with serious feelings for another man, and the other a professional muse and face reader from NYC who is searching for the father of her unborn baby (would help if she knew his first name). These two hit the road with many questions and get to know each other—and themselves—very well three-thousand miles later. The second idea was divorce, something I was personally going through while writing this book. I wanted to go “back to the start” and explore what you know when he slips that ring on your finger. The third was a New York Times article, the most popular of 2006, a simple and practical list of questions couples should ask before marrying or (wish they had). The article gave me my title and honed the theme for me, which is that asking questions, even questions without answers or answers you don’t like, is the most important thing you can do.


Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

Ruby and Stella have a long-lost father they haven’t seen seen or heard from since childhood—and so do I. But mine didn’t run off with a casting agent and 10% of my earnings as a toddler models (not that I was baby model!) they way Ruby and Stella’s did. I often write about issues of parental abandonment, whether via death or choice. I’ve learned quite a bit about the way I feel about it all. One of the best things about writing!



What up next for you?

I just signed on with a new publishing house, Simon and Schuster’s Pocket Books, for my next two novels. The first is about an unmoored New Yorker who discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed in a small town in Maine. Off she goes. At this very moment, I’m finishing my second YA for Delacorte. It’s called: The Mosts and the Most Nots, about a Most (most popular) who is recruited by a Most Not to change her into someone who won’t make the Most Not list this year. Both girls go through a major emotional transformation. I was neither a most or most not in high school, but for some reason I love to write about girls on either end of the spectrum who change each other’s lives. This is pretty much the core of all my noves, YA or adult.


What’s the most useful thing, in terms of promotion, that you’ve done?

Honestly, I think blog tours, like the GCC, have been the most successful in getting the word out that I have a new book out, a shot of the cover, links to where to buy, etc. I read a bunch of blogs every morning and always discover new blogs via those blogs and always have a list of books I see noted or recommended. What’s particularly wonderful about the GCC is how varied the authors’ works are.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Education for Everyone? Not so Fast...

It's hard to make a case today, in 2008, that it's okay to discriminate based on race and ethnicity when it comes to access to education.

I'm not talking about money, the old: it-would-be-nice-if-everyone-who-wanted-to-could-go-to-Harvard-but-let's-be-realistic-here argument - I'm talking about turning down someone who'd qualified for a scholarship on the basis of his or her race.

No, this is not happening in Somalia, Iran, or North Vietnam.

It's happening in America, sort of. Under America's nose, even though America issued the scholarship.

If there's anyone out there who doesn't think Gaza is effectively (and not metaphorically) an open-air prison, here's some food for thought: 7 Palestinian students who had qualified for and been granted Fulbright scholarships have had their scholarships revoked. Why? Did they have suspicious records? Nope. Had someone, somewhere thought they may have ties to terrorism? Guess again.

Israel will not let them out of Gaza, so they can take up the studies they earned the privilege to undertake, because Gaza - the whole city, and everyone in it, is under siege. And what does America, whose tax dollars flow like wine at an ancient Roman orgy to Israel's treasury, have to say to its favorite ally in the Middle East? Right then, we'll just go ahead and cancel the scholarships, no worries... would you like us to get that bar of soap you dropped while we're at it?

Here is the New York Times article - feel free to read it for yourselves and enlighten me in case you come upon a "oh, right, that makes TOTAL sense!" moment I might have missed.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why Writing Rocks, Reason #981



... You get to read about all kinds of stuff just because it sounds interesting/off-beat/might-want-to-put-in-a-book-or-article-one-day, and it's called "research".

And then when you find yourself standing on a yacht deck one fine, starry evening, fizzy cocktail in hand and the sequins on your dress catching the moonlight, you get to inject otherwise boring cocktail party conversation with nuggets from this so-called "research (e.g: Did you know that The Palms Casino and Hotel is owned by the Maloof family, fifth-generation Lebanese dynasty founded by a common peddler? No? Well...)

Or, say, in someone's backyard in Winnipeg, a Molson Dry in hand, swatting mosquitoes with the other. It's all good.

I bring this up today because I've just returned from an adorable indie bookstore down the street with a book I'd flipped through before, wanted to buy, but told myself I own way too many books as it is, and so begrudgingly put it back.

Until today, when I proudly returned to the store, and bought it.

The book is entitled "The White Guy" and is a tongue-on-cheek look at your regular, beer-guzzling, football-watching, spending-too-much-time-at-the-office-to-have-a-normal-sex-life kinda guys. In other words, the kind of guys I know all too well, am considering writing about in considerably more depth in my current novel, but am afraid of venturing into cliche territory. You see, I've spent far too much time thinking about one of life's most mystifying unanswered questions: when you ask a man what he's thinking about and he says nothing, could he really mean... nothing? Would that not imply that men don't think of anything, ever? Or are they hiding something from us, which just might be the key to all the misunderstanding between the sexes?

In the course of all this heavy thinking, I did make this one important observation: white guys are a lot more likely to be thinking about "nothing" than non-white guys (and by "white" I strictly mean of the North American, Western European, non-Mediteranean variety). Ask a nineteen-year-old Latino guy what he's thinking about, and he is far more likely to say "how hot your boobs look in that top" than "nothing". Same goes for Arab guys. A French guy might recite you a poem, but the French are generally odd anyway, and a race unto themselves.

So, to rephrase, could the white guy be suffering from an acute inability to communicate, as compared to, say, his Latin brothers (in other words, is the white guy also busy thinking about your boobs in that top but cannot articulate that thought), or have beer, sports, long hours at the office, equating emotional IQ with gayness, taken their toll on the white guy through a slow process of cultural evolution, bringing us to a stage where the white guy thinks that thinking of "nothing" all the time is perfectly normal?

As I said, it's question for the ages.

And to my Winnipeger blog readers, married to quintessential White Guys (I know you're reading this even though you are too lazy-ass to comment), you might be interested to know that the author is a white guy from Winnipeg.

I'll be sure to share my findings with you once I've had a chance to review all the data and make an informed conclusion. Or, maybe you can read all about in my next novel ; )

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Not Your Regular Reality TV Drama

Disclaimer: Please ignore the snippet of commercial and Arabic introduction at the beginning of this video... it's the cleanest one I could find!

Since we’re on the topic of Middle-Eastern hotties and Arabic TV, here’s a little story about a certain Star Academy contestant (this show was adapted from a French version of American Idol) who underwent drama of a different sort than his American counterparts…

The way this show works is that once a certain number of finalists are chosen from countries all over the Arab world, they are then taken to a secluded villa in the Lebanese countryside where they get voice lessons, dancing and music lessons, to prepare for the weekly show, and for the four months leading up to the finale. After each performance, someone gets the boot, à la American Idol.

The purpose of this isolation was sorely tested during the latest bout of Lebanese infighting. The show’s directors contacted the parents and it was decided that the kids were in a safe place, and the less they knew about the political situation, the better especially since one of the contestants, Sa’ad, is Lebanese and comes from one of the affected areas.

One set of parents however, wanted to ask their kid, Abdullah, a Saudi Arabian, if he wanted to come home in light of the situation. So, he was the only one among the finalists who was made aware of the situation.

But then, Abdullah (that’s the skinny one in the yellow t-shirt), upset about all this secrecy, started sowing suspicion among the contestants, and forced the director (the redheaded angry lady) to come clean about the mess in Lebanon… in front of Sa’ad (the tearful hottie… tell me that doesn’t break your heart).

Now, you don’t get that kind of drama on American Idol, do you?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So This Blog is Supposed to be About Books...

...but every time I think of a great book-related topic to blog about, I read something which makes my blood boil and it trumps the book post. Sorry.

Last weekend I did something I don't do nearly enough, and that was to read the movie reviews in the paper, pick a movie, and actually go see it. I was very happily surprised to see lots of documentaries out, and one in particular caught my eye: The World According to Monsanto.

Its format is more PBS than blockbuster, but the message was chilling nonetheless. It was about genetically engineered (GE) crops, what's supposed to be so great about them, how, like a whole lot of those fancy schmancy nouveau weapons they keep making grand promises about, they turn out to be crap, and how no one can really do much about it right now. Here's what Monsanto did, in as few words as possible:

1) They invented a really groovy pesticide that killed JUST ABOUT ANYTHING you could think of! It's called "Roundup" (disclaimer: I don't have a green cell in my whole body, much less a green thumb, but apparently this Roundup thing was da bomb for the weed-battling masses).

2) Then, in a stroke of genius, they invented the only plants (well... Franken-plants) that could survive Roundup, called "Roundup Ready". (recap: everything gets coated in a lovely, glossy Roundup sheen, causing everything to die, except for the stuff destined for our plates)

3) Roundup turns out to be a carcinogen, which is a fancy word for "gives you cancer". Well... not so much of a carcinogen as a cancer-enabler. So, it's not so much like an abusive husband, as the mother who tells her daughter to go back to the abusive husband and give him another chance. Roundup messes up your cells enough that down the line, they are that much more vulnerable to cancer.

So far there isn't anything truly Franken-like about this tale. We all know pesticides are bad. But here's the hilarious thing - if you were to walk through a Roundup-sprayed field on a regular basis, your skin would start to fester very unbecomingly, almost like you'd dipped it in acid.

Yes, yes, but think about all the masses of poor who can at least eat! Well... and this was the part that did it for me, it seems that when you mess with nature, nature finds innovative (and deadly) ways to mess with you back. While the Franken-plants were not killed by Roundup, they were vulnerable to pretty much everything else that nature had previously equipped plants to withstand. I'm sure Monsanto isn't terribly bothered by this... it's license to keep coming up with pesticides to kill these old-new plant diseases, perpetuating an eternal circle of treat-kill-treat-kill-treat-kill until human beings start spontaneously com busting when they come into contact with anything sprouting from the Earth. And poor people don't seem that stupid either... Indian cotton farmers figured out, all on their own, that they were getting a better yield (and at far better prices) using non-genetically engineered seeds. So basically, the same stuff humans have been using for millennia. But, in one last shocking twist, when they started requesting the good old regular stuff back... there was none left on the market! Somehow, regular seeds are no longer readily available. I know this sounds kinda kooky, but think about how expensive "organic" food is compared to your run-of-the-mill, icky-yucky-mad-cow-disease-riddled stuff all over the supermarket.

You'd think something grown using old technology (ie: an ox on grandpa's ranch) versus new technology (ie: a humungous factory in Sri Lanka) would cost less. But no - it's all about volume baby, and Monsanto has got volume.

What impressed me the most about this movie was (partly) the sort-of sleuthing-around-for-Dummies approach it took, coupled with some uncomfortable interviews with some high-placed people (Ali-G-meets-mousy-librarian style).

The reporter would type questions into the Google search bar, and all kinds of golden information nuggets would pop up.

I decided to use this approach to try and figure out why oil was so damned expensive. I don't have a car, so I don't care all that much, but since it seems like people are starting to make food-vs-gas decisions, I think this is as good a question as any to pose. Here are my starting points:

1) Iraq is supposed to lie atop the world's second largest reserve of easily-extractable oil (after Saudi Arabia) - how come we mighty westerners can't seem to get a piece of that action and must resort to playing suck-up to the Saudis, who stopped caring what we say or how much we threaten? Don't they know we could pull an Iraq on them and bomb their country back to the Stone Age???

2) Why are we sucking up to Saudi Arabia and not bombing them back to the Stone Age? King Faisal was assassinated for being an oil-snob back in the 70s - what, are we suddenly above callous assassination, or something?

3) No one was making a fuss over this a mere three years ago. What changed? Not Iraq - that happened 5 years ago, and it was pretty clear from the get-go that no one was going to be greeted with any flowers or rice or whatever carb they were expecting. 9/11 happened more than 7 years ago. I remember learning about the notion of "peak oil" back when I was a wee high-school-attending lass, and yet, the idea of "peak oil" was just as popular as "global warming" was a few years ago. Again - what changed?

I Googled "Iraqi Oil" for fun. And then perused some articles about what's happening with oil this week. It was very enlightening.

My favorite was a 2004 USA Today article where the author is freaking out over the idea of "prices far above $50 a barrel, perhaps $60 or more".

Well, it's early 2008 and the current price of a barrel of oil is set to reach... "an average of $141 in the second half of 2008 and to $148 in 2009. OPEC no longer rules out $200".

Wow. That sure put things into perspective for me. You can have fun googling yourself, or check this, this, and this out and see a big picture emerge.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Turkey's Answer to Brad Pitt


I’ve been spending a lot of time at my parents’ place lately where I’ve been exposed to ungodly amounts of Arabic satellite tv. Besides learning that virtually every single American hit show has been purchased by Arabic stations and repackaged for an Arab audience giving us Arabic versions of American Idol (called “Superstar”), The Biggest Loser, Project Runway (sponsored by the Lebanese crown jewel Elie Saab), Friends, and yes, even The View, there’s a new soap opera that’s been causing quite the sensation in the Arab world right now, and this one isn’t of American origins…

It should be clarified that soap operas in the Arab world run more along the Mexican ‘telenovela’ model, with a run of about 3 to 4 months, than the American version which goes on forever and probably into the next world.

My mother introduced this soap to me like so: “It’s worse than those American soap operas, with this woman having a child from that man, and being separated from this one, and that one having a dubious past… it’s terrible. But the hero is quite an eyeful.”

See for yourselves…

PS: I can’t wait for the Arabic version of “The Bachelor”.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Guilty Pleasures and Maggie Marr


Okay, so let’s take a brief reprieve from politics (of course it’ll be brief… I won’t make promises I can’t keep!) and get on my guilty pleasure topic: Hollywood gossip.

I don’t have many guilty pleasures in life, mostly because I’ve come to think that if you’re going to feel guilty about doing something, it takes away half the fun, so do it wholeheartedly or don’t do it all. Or try not to anyway.

Not so Hollywood gossip. It’s certainly a pleasure, and yes, it is sinfully, double-Oreo-brownie-a-la-mode guilty.

Here’s a typical scenario: me, standing in the grocery store check out aisle, clutching a carton of milk and the latest Marie-Claire, trying to look away. But I can’t. I sneak a peak. Brittany has a bump. Jen has found true love – for real this time. Nicole has gained a pound. Suddenly it becomes too much to bear. I tell myself there are still two people ahead of me in line… if I pick one and speed read I’ll manage to take all the crucial info in, no need to waste my money on this brain crack. I know they are lying to me. I know it’s all padding. I know those headlines are exaggerated… but I can’t help it. I am weak. Just when it’s my turn to pay I grab the In Touch staring me in the face (does it snicker at me? Does it know it won?) and fork over three dollars I’ll never see again. Score: Hollywood gossip: one, me: zilch. And so it goes.

Meet Maggie Marr, an author who’s managed to take our obsession with juicy Hollywood insider info and turn it into a novel praised by chick lit royalty Sarah Mlynowski (“Move over Jackie Collins! Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club is a steamy page-turner bursting with insider Hollywood gossip. I loved it!") and Marian Keyes (“This is a juicy, delicious read! I just loved the insider secrets and the access to what really goes on in Hollywood—the stuff we suspect happens but is always denied by scary publicists").

Who is Maggie Marr, you ask? A bitter ex-assistant looking to do some damage in roman a clef mode? Not quite. Maggie has earned her Hollywood cred as an LA motion picture literary agent, where she’s worked with the likes of Owen Wilson, Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher (eek!), and Reese Witherspoon. And get this… she used to be a lawyer before become an agent and an author, so you just know this is going to be a smart read.

Secrets of the Hollywood Girls Club is the follow-up to Hollywood Girls Club where A-list friends Jessica, Celeste, Lydia and Mary-Anne attempt to beat the plastic-surgery/secret affaires/sex tapes rumor mill to keep hold on to the spot at the top.

Without further ado, here’ s the scoop from Maggie.

Who’s your favorite Hollywood heartthrob?

It's a three way tie...Brad Pit, George Clooney, and Daniel Craig...oh wait… did I mention Mark Wahlberg?

Name three authors at the top of your “to watch” list.

Okay so this list changes all the time! But I have to say..I love Carl Hiaasen. Adore him. I think he's a brilliant writer. His characters are quirky and fun and I always enjoy reading his books. Next...right now...I'd say Janet Evanovich. I just recently discovered the Plum series. I love the pace of Janet's books. How the stories keep moving. And I love the character Stephanie Plum. Jennifer Weiner. I just finished Certain Girls and although I'm a little up and down on this book, I think more because of my memories of Good In Bed than Jennifer's story choices, Jennifer's writing is brilliant and she continues to get better as a writer. So of course, I am always interested in the stories she's telling.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you have a writing routine you stick to or a special writing space that brings out your creativity?

Let’s see. I love the mornings. I love to be at my computer by 7:30 or 8 am to get started. I have a goal of one chapter a day which for me is about 10 pages. Some days I make it, other days I don’t. But when I’m working on the first draft, whizzing along, I try for ten pages. I work in the morning until noonish and then I take a break and have lunch with my girls. I put them down for nap and write another two hours, from two to four. Usually I’m pretty shot by four pm. I might read or edit in the evening once the girls are in bed, but I don’t usually get much writing accomplished.

Do you have an agent, if so, can you tell us the story behind meeting and signing with her?

Prior to becoming a full time writer, I was a motion picture agent for ICM. I worked full time repping writers and directors. So Hollywood is my home. I started hearing a character voice in my head and late at night when I couldn’t sleep or on the weekends, I would write down the story I was told. This story became the first draft of my first book Hollywood Girls Club. Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club is the second book in the series and a continuation of the lives of these four fabulous women who live and work in Hollywood.

So while I was agenting, I wrote for fun, in my spare time. It was my husband who convinced me to give four chapters to my friend and colleague (and now agent) at ICM. I gave her four chapters without my name on them, guessing she’d pass and then I could go on about my life repping my screenplay writer and directing clients. But instead she loved it. I finished the manuscript and when she took it out, there were two houses that wanted the book…so I ended up going with Crown. And suddenly, I was a writer.

So… What up next for you?


I just turned in a draft of a television pilot that I'm developing. I also finished the first draft of my third book, a stand alone women's fiction book, unrelated to the Hollywood Girls Club Series. Once I have the women's fiction book complete, I plan on finishing a screenplay I've been writing of and on for a while.

What has being published changed about your life?

I have a whole lot more work! There is the writing, plus the business of being a published writer. I'm always trying to get the word out about the books. Trying to let people know what a fun read they are. The promotion of the books, takes a ton of time. But I can't complain, my life, is truly blessed.


Thanks so much Maggie!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How Not to Write an Article

I was going to write a nice, tame post about a movie I saw last week and why it reminded me of plotting techniques, but then something appeared on the opinion page of the Montreal Gazette that nearly drove me out of my mind, as happens every single weekend with the Montreal Gazette. (A legitimate question might be: “why do you read the Montreal Gazette, Nadine, when it incenses you so?” and I don’t have a better answer than quoting the Gazette’s branding motto which is: “The Gazette – The English Language, daily”. In overwhelmingly French Quebec, it’s The Gazette or nothing, I’m afraid).

This is how the article, by David Brooks of the New York Times, begins:

“Hezbollah is one of the world’s most radical terrorist organizations. Over the last week or so, it has staged an armed assault on the democratic government of Lebanon.”


Contrast this with what Robert Fisk, award-winning British correspondent for The Independent, author of several excellent books (one in particular I’ve read and that made me cry with empathy, sadness and nostalgia all at once, Pity the Nation) and longtime Beirut resident had to say:

“That [the widely held perception that if Lebanon plunges into another civil war, it’s because of religious strife] is the problem. For the war in West Beirut is not about religion. It is about the political legitimacy of the Lebanese government and its "pro-American" support (the latter an essential adjective to any US news agency report), which Iran understandably challenges.”


David Brooks of the New York Times has also authored a hard-hitting, non-fiction book, so in the interest of full disclosure, I must give you the title: “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

I must say, it sounds pretty fascinating (plus, it’s on sale!) and I’d love to read it if I didn’t have better ways to send my time than supporting self-important nincompoops pontificating on subjects they know little about, but I digress.

For my problem with Mr. Brooks' article isn’t based merely on his lack of credentials, but it’s because he, and pundits like him, are the reason many people are stunned to learn that Hezbollah (should be written “Hezb’Allah, btw, since it literally translates to “Party of God”) currently holds seats in Lebanon’s parliament and enjoys support from a cross-cultural swath of Lebanese society, which is saying a lot in a tiny country gutted by clashes between its 16 religious sects, ravaged by Israeli military occupation, and destabilized by a large Palestinian refugee population (spilling over from Israel).

Out of the multitudes of guerillas the 15-year long Lebanese civil war spawned, Hezb’Allah was the only one allowed to hold on to its weapons after the war ended.

Why?

Because it is largely due to Hezb’Allah’s military campaign against Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, an occupation distasteful even to Israelis themselves, that the south of Lebanon was eventually liberated in May 2000.

So, while the US still considers Hezb’Allah as a terrorist organization, the Lebanese parliament crowned the group with “national resistance movement” status.

Mr. Brooks does not expend time and ink explaining to his readers why Hezb’Allah deserves to be listed among the “world’s most radical terrorist organizations”. Are they as bloodthirsty as say, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia? The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka? Why does Hezb’Allah, a guerilla movement consisting of Muslim Shia leadership more popular among Lebanese of different faiths than say, the Phalangist party (created to represent “Christian” interests) which has lost so much support, even among Christians, as to be virtually irrelevant? I doubt Mr. Brooks is using Hizb’Allah’s killing record as a basis for his conclusion, because until the summer 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hizb’Allah’s offensive was targeted at soldiers, and soldiers only. Never any civilians.

Of course, Mr. Brooks would not mention that. This is why Hezb’Allah is the only ex-Guerilla movement to hold seats the current Lebanese parliament. Because when everyone was busy killing each other, Hezb’Allah focused only on driving Israel (and US Marines) out of Lebanon.

David Brooks' opinion piece is not about Hezb’Allah. He is simply using Hezb’Allah to paint Barack Obama as someone who panders to “one of the world’s most radical terrorist organizations” and counting on reader laziness, misinformation and stereotype to advance a point without a shred of backup.

And that, dear readers, is exactly how a principled journalist should never write an article.

For a lucid, short, and easy-to-understand assessment of the current situation in Lebanon, you can read Robert Fisk’s latest piece here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tag Love

Wow - it's been a long time since I've been tagged. So long, in fact, that I think a pretty big segment of taggers from the olden days don't blog anymore, but it's a tag that's both fun and doesn't use up too many brain cells, so here goes. Here are the rules:

1) Pick up the nearest book - I happen to be blogging from my parents' place right now, so I had to get up and go to my sister's bedroom to find a selection of books I left behind. My eyes fells on a very bright pink cover I remembered from back when I first got into chick lit - Valerie Frankel's The Accidental Virgin.

It's probably worth telling the story behind this book. It was 2003, I'd just fallen in love with a new author I'd never heard of before called Sophie Kinsella, and I was desperately searching for similar books. Also, I'd just moved to the Cayman Islands where pretty much anything besides sand and sea water was scarce. I could order books from Amazon.com but then I'd have to wait a month to get them (who wants to do that??!) or I could order them from our one local bookstore. Wait time: one week. It was a no-brainer. Except that in retrospect, I should have probably ordered a book with a title like "The Accidental Virgin" over the anonymous net, month-long wait time and all. Because our local bookstore was run (and still is - though other book stores have popped up in the meantime)but a little old Caymanian lady with a Brooklyn accent (don't ask) and a hearing problem. I went to pick up the book on a Saturday afternoon when everyone and their grandmother was at the bookstore. The conversation went a little like this:

Me (a little bit embarassed): Hi, uh, you called me... you said my book was ready for pick up?

Little Old Lady: And what book was that, dear?

Me (leaning over the counter and whispering): Er, The Accidental Virgin, please.

LOL: What was that dear?

Me (leaning in closer and whispering and breaking out into a mild sweat): The Accidental Virgin.

LOL: The Accidental what? You'll have to excuse me dear, I'm a little hard of hearing.

Me (wanting to die): The Accidental Virgin

LOL (screaming at the top of her lungs, because she's a little deaf): The Accidental what? Virgin? Ed... do we have The Accidental Virgin back there? This young lady wants The Accidental... oh, uh, virgin (says last word a little more quietly this time).

Entire store turns to look, or at least that how it feels. I tuck my chin into my chest, pay, and run out of the store. I have since been back many, many times, and have a lovely friendship with the owners of the store, and even signed there once, so at least this story has a happy ending: )

Okay - back to the tag rules.

2) Turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence and post the next three:

The idea was to differentiate itself from the upscale lingerie retailers on the Internet. Hitching thongs.com with a porn site would send their cart careening down-market, downhill, down the toilet.

"I say this with the deepest respect for Stanley's business acumen," said Stacy, "but isn't smut.com kind of smutty?"


There you have it. If you're not intrigued, I don't know what else to tell you.

Now for the tough part... I'm going to go ahead and tag Mary Castillo of Chica Lit, Karin Gillespie of Southern Comfort, my friend and intrepid traveller Bride-to-Be, and Dona Sarkar who hasn't blogged in about 17 years (though I'm pretty sure she's still blogging over at Books, Boys & Buzz Girls).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Are You Ready?

...for some seriously exciting announcements?

After years and years of waiting (okay - maybe about a year and a half), I have finally made it on to the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit networking virtual group, which means you'll be seeing a lot more writing related blogging from me in the future. I pledge to try and make my interview questions as quirky and original as possible so that those of you who blog-hop (you know who you are...) don't feel like you're reading the same interview over and over again.

And that's not it.I've been waiting for the relaunch of my website to announce this but it's looking like that might take a little while, so here goes: I've got the galleys for Cutting Loose and I am absolutely smitten with my cover!!!

Take a look:



Getting your cover is one of those moments in the writing process that gets you through the rougher patches and reminds you of how totally cool it is to be a working author.

Well... what do you guys think? Effective? Pick-upable?