Guest Post – The Brazen Bookworm

As part of my blog tour with Samantha at Chick Lit Plus, I wrote a guest post for Sarah at The Brazen Bookworm about how I created the characters of Stephanie and her friends in Just Friends With Benefits:


I’d like to preface this blog by telling everyone how much I love my mother and dispelling any notions you might have, based on some of my previous posts, that she’s anything short of amazing.  She gave birth to me.  Kidding!  Well, she did give birth to me.  (Or at least that’s the story she stuck with all of those times my older sisters said I was adopted.)   Anyway, I often comment on my mother’s unflagging interest in my love life but I know it’s only because she loves me.  She’s no more/less annoying than any other Jewish mother and she’s also a strong, loyal, loving, witty, business savvy and beautiful woman in her own right.  So please take my blogs with a grain of salt where she’s concerned.

Ok, Mommy?  I hope you feel better now.  MUAH!

The topic of this blog is distraction: things that prevent you from accomplishing what you set out to accomplish.  I’ve read so many articles from writers urging other writers and aspiring writers to set aside time each and every day to write.  I’m telling you right now that I do not set aside time each and every day to write.  Sometimes I feel guilty about it.  Sometimes I even panic that I’m losing my writing mojo.  But mostly I don’t fret because I know when I’m not writing, my life is full of other activities that combined, make me a well-rounded and happy person.

Currently, I devote at least one night and a few lunch hours a week to write.  I’m writing this from my Wednesday evening writer’s group which I only skip if something special comes along.  (And happy hour with my friends is not special enough, no offense to my fun-loving friends.)  I also write on the rare occasions I take public transportation, when waiting for a manicure/pedicure, hair cut etc., on line at the grocery store and basically any other time I have a few minutes to spare.  I write either short snippets of whatever novel I’m working on or a blog.  Lately though, I’ve been distracted – by other people’s books.

 Ever since I received a Kindle as a birthday present, I’ve been addicted to downloading and reading books.  I feel like such a traitor to the physical book but I freakin love reading on a Kindle!  I love how light weight it is.  I love that I don’t need a bookmark to hold my place.  (Mostly because I usually neglect to use a bookmark and wind up folding over the page.) I love that I can turn the page with the slight tap of my finger.  I love that I can’t skip ahead and read the end.  I love seeing my progress in percentages rather than page numbers and I love that I can read a page or two while waiting on line at the ATM and feel like I actually accomplished something.  I love my Kindle!  I love it so much that rather than my usual two books a month, I am averaging a book a week.  (Not sure my credit card loves it that much.) And I’m obsessed with deciding what book I’ll read next since it’s delivered to my device instantly and I don’t have to wait for it to ship or go to the store and stand in line.

It’s so easy to buy and read books on a Kindle, but I’m afraid I’m turning into an addict.  And I don’t buy the .99 cent or even the $2.99 ebooks.  I carefully choose the books I want to purchase through reviews and word of mouth and don’t pay much attention to the cost.  As a result, I’ve spent up to $11 on a few of them. And if that’s not enough, the books I’ve read of late have been so engaging that I find myself wanting to read every chance I get.  Two of the books I’ve read recently were just SO good – Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanan and Save as Draft by Cavanaugh Lee.  I started the latter on Monday and I’m already 87% completed.  And I’ve worked full days and I had plans after work each night so you might wonder how I managed to read almost an entire book when I was clearly busy doing other things.  The answer is I’ve been reading while eating my lunch; I’ve been reading while waiting on line to buy my lunch; and I’ve been reading while waiting my turn at the beauty salon. I’ve been reading every moment I should have been writing and when, before my addiction to the Kindle, I would have been writing. 

Yes, I confess.,  I’ve been reading other people’s novels when I should be writing my own.  I think I need an intervention.  And I plan to call upon my family and closest friends to help me detox.

As soon as I finish the last 13% of Save as Draft.  And download Beth Kendrick’s Second Time Around.

unusual sources of inspiration

To date, I’ve written two novels, one published, one in revisions, both fiction.   While both stories are make-believe, some of the characters, events, conversations etc. were inspired by true life events.  For instance, my relationship with my mother, the dynamic between two or more friends, my own dating experiences and those of my friends, work environment etc.  In my mind’s eye while writing my first novel, I didn’t picture famous people as the characters, but rather real people I’ve known.  Except instead of reenacting true events through my writing, the words the characters spoke and the actions they took were created in my head.  I think in my own way, I wrote my first book to get resolution on a few of my own relationships.  While writing it, I had different experiences with dating that inspired the plot of my second book, but it took on a life of its own pretty quickly.  And then I was stumped.  No inspiration for a third book whatsoever.  Until last night.

I had a dream, rather a nightmare, that woke me from my sleep and in tears.  The kind of nightmare that kept me up for a good hour, afraid to lose consciousness and return to the alternate universe waiting for me in my REM sleep.  Part of me also had trouble letting go of what happened in the nightmare and truly believing it wasn’t real.  Unlike my recurring dream about forgetting to go to my college classes all semester before the final or being chased by monsters, the tragic event which took place in my dream could, God forbid, actually happen.  Except that a portion of the dream also dabbled in the paranormal and I was struck with an idea for a book.  I jumped out of bed and only half-awake, jotted down the dream on a piece of paper and went back to sleep, still somewhat sick over the nightmare, but also excited about what could possibly be the plot of my third novel.  When I woke up this morning, I read my notes and, even in the light of day with cup of a coffee in my system, I think I might be onto something. 

Inspiration often comes unexpectedly and under strange circumstances and while I pray I never have that particular dream again, or anything close to it, I’m grateful for the muse.  If you are a writer or creative type yourself and care to share some of your own sources of inspiration, I’d welcome a comment 🙂

Casting call – Just Friends With Benefits

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I had Good Morning America on in the background.  I was bummed about missing The Facts of Life reunion by mere minutes because I took extra time shaving my legs in the shower. Since I usually watch The Today Show, I went to change the channel but stopped in my tracks when I heard the “Cotton Song.”  You know the song, right?   ‘the touch.  the feel. of cotton. The fabric of our lives’.   Catchy jingle.  But it wasn’t the song that detained me from switching channels; it was who was singing it – Zooey Deschenal.  

I always stop when I see Zooey.  I don’t have a girl crush on her (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but Zooey Deschenal is who I cast as Stephanie Cohen in Just Friends With Benefits when it ultimately gets made into a movie. Or a television show.  I would actually prefer a television show because I would enjoy seeing Stephanie and her group of friends on a weekly sitcom.  And although Stephanie was the “star” of the book, the television show would be an ensemble cast with Stephanie, Paul, Jess, Hope, Eric and Hille having equal footing.  What fun!  I have spent many a session on the treadmill dreaming up different episodes.  There is even a musical episode but it would be WAY better than Grey’s Anatomy.  Not sure I could top Buffy the Vampire Slayer without the help of Josh Whedon and maybe Sarah Michelle Gellar.  (SMG was on the short list for the Stephanie role but I ultimately chose Zooey.)  Anyhow, ever since I designated Zooey to play Stephanie, even if she’s playing April in 500 Days of April or Allison in Yes, Man, I automatically associate her with Stephanie and feel somehow connected. 

You might wonder what it was about Zooey that made me choose her for the role of Stephanie.  There are several reasons.  For one thing, she’s in the right age bracket, maybe a few years younger.  Also, she’s pretty without being drop-dead-gorgeous or intimidating.  Although she’s more ‘waif-like’ than Stephanie (who was not overweight), let’s face it, most actresses are smaller than “real” people!  Zooey is quirky and fun to watch and I think Stephanie was quirky and fun to read. And I like that Zooey is famous but not “star of every romcom, cover of every magazine famous” yet.  Maybe Just Friends With Benefits can be her break-out role!!  Of the other actresses I considered, including the aforementioned Sarah Michelle Gellar (too sophisticated), Ellen Page (too young) and Anne Hathaway (too obvious), I thought Zooey was the best fit. 

If you’re still reading this, you might think I banged my head against the wall one too many times or that one of my older sisters dropped me on the cold tile kitchen floor when I was a baby. As if Zoooey Deschenal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the chick from The Princess Diaries would ever even audition for a role in Just Friends With Benefits.  As if Just Friends With Benefits will ever be made into a television show!  Or a movie.  Trust me, I’m not banking on it.  I still get excited when a new review is posted from a total stranger on Amazon or when someone adds the book as a “to-read” on Goodreads!  I’m not getting ahead of myself.  But it’s fun to dream.  I started casting the show before I even finished writing the book, certainly before it was published.  And the members of my family all have different ideas as to who would play the roles.  I’m pretty positive that even the most grounded of first-time authors has dreamed about her book being made into a movie even though it doesn’t happen for most of us.  And I’m sure Emily Giffin had her own ideas as to who would play Rachel and Darcy in Something Borrowed and had no idea that someday (next month!) the book would be made into a movie and that Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin would be cast in the starring roles.  For every book that has ever been written, there is probably a writer who dared to dream it would someday be made into a movie.  And now I have joined the ranks with my future Emmy winning cast: Zooey Deschenal (Stephanie), Oliver Hudson (Hille – he’ll have to quit Rules of Engagement), Rachelle Lefevre (Jess – the redhead girl from Off the Map – it will be cancelled by then anyway) and James Marsden (Ryan – maybe…).  The rest of the book remains uncast.  For now.   

If you’ve written a book and dared to dream about the actors/actresses who would bring the story to life (or even just wondered who would play ‘you’ in the movie of your life), leave a comment and let me know.  I know I’m not alone out there!

St. Patrick’s Day inspiration

I am behind on my blogging, but I like to think I have a decent excuse.  I’ve had a very eventful couple of days.  One of my very best friends came down from Boston and stayed with me from Wednesday night until Saturday morning.  My friend and I (along with our other comrades in drinking) spent many a St. Patrick’s Day past doing the parade circuit (Belmar, Pearl River, Hoboken and NYC) and bar hopping.  (Some of us were actually Irish; most of us weren’t.)  But good times were always had by all and I probably have enough memories from various St. Patrick’s Days to write a novel or at least a novella.  Actually, one of my experiences inspired a scene in my second novel!  Anyway, it’s been several years since I took off from work to join in the festivities, but I hadn’t seen my friend in almost a year and we were both itching for an opportunity to perhaps visit the ghosts from St. Patrick’s Days past.  It is not possible to re-create history, but I’m pleased to report that we managed a sufficient amount of debauchery this past Thursday and I think our younger selves would be proud! 

In other news, since my friend wasn’t arriving until later on Wednesday night, I did not have to miss my weekly writer’s group.  I’m so happy it worked out that way, because I finished the first draft of my second novel that night!  I think.  Unlike my experience writing Just Friends With Benefits, I am not entirely certain the ending of my second novel works, so I plan to read the book from start-to-finish over the next few days and see.  But if I’m pleased with the ending, I’ll start my first round of edits.  It feels like I’ve been writing this second novel forever.  Probably because I stopped writing it several times to edit Just Friends With Benefits, once to add more description and once when I received the publishing contract.  But even with the interruptions, it actually took only about a year and a half to write the first draft.  That’s not too shabby considering I work full time as a trademark paralegal, have an active social life and cherish my down time.

I’ll be busy revising my new book for a long time as well as continuing to promote Just Friends With Benefits, writing blogs, etc. but I’m already concerned because I do not have an idea for a third book yet.  (My premature worrying should come as no surprise to those people who know me well.)  It’s just that I came up with the premise of my second book while writing my first.  I wasn’t even thinking about it and so I sort of expected it to be that way with Book No. 3.  But so far – nuttin!  While a few ideas have popped into my head, I’m not excited about any of them and fear I only have two books in me.  Say it isn’t so!  I am truly inspired by those prolific authors who seemingly release a new book every six months!  

I sincerely love writing books.  It is so much fun for me to step outside of my own life and create a fictitious world and characters to inhabit it.  I’m actually fairly confident there is another story somewhere in my overactive noggin.  But if I have to take off more days from work and drink beer for further inspiration, I’m pretty certain my friend from Boston could be persuaded to tag along! 


happy endings (in books)

The reason I put “in books” in parenthesis, is because, having a dirty mind, my first thought when I hear the phrase “happy ending” is not of Cinderella-like fairytales.  And since I know many of you have dirty minds too, I wanted to clarify at the outset so you could get your minds out of the gutter.

Moving on….

The first draft of my second novel is almost complete and I am currently writing the conclusion and debating whether to give my main character the happy ending she so badly wants.  The thing is, we don’t always get what we want in real life.  And sometimes, getting what we want doesn’t make us happy.  Other times, what we want isn’t even healthy for us.  Take me for instance. I’ve wanted many things that weren’t good for me.  Back in college, I wanted to be 100 pounds at 5″5′ but I had to starve myself to get there.  In the late 90s, I wanted to impress my law firm by billing more hours than every other paralegal in my department, but I had to sacrifice my social life to get there. And through the years, I’ve had crushes on a couple of homosexual men.  None of them were openly gay but for obvious reasons, they didn’t return my affection.  

So why should my character get her happy ending when I haven’t always gotten mine and when, in ‘the real world’, she might not?

I guess the reason is that most people read books for escape, certainly those people in my target audience. Some readers like to live vicariously through the characters in a book and when the characters are happy, so is the reader.  For this reason, chick-lit novels, with some exceptions, always have happy endings.  Not necessarily predictable cookie-cutter endings and not necessarily what the reader is expecting but generally, conflicts are resolved in such a way that the reader feels warm and fuzzy when she’s finished.  And while suspending reality is often necessary to some degree, most readers recognize this and gladly oblige.   

While to a certain extent, I have no control over my own fate, as an author, the destiny of my characters rests in my hands.  While it’s pretty cool to invent a whole life for someone, there were moments when writing Just Friends With Benefits when one hand was trying to forcibly remove the other hand from the keyboard because I knew my main character was making a huge mistake. But for the better of the book and for the development of my character, I had to let her make errors in judgment and learn from her mistakes in order to better appreciate the good things she had coming to her.  When all was said and done, I wrote a happy ending for Stephanie Cohen.  It was not the one I had initially intended or the one I think my audience necessarily guessed, but there was definitely some warm-fuzziness in the house at the end.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve thought about writing a sequel but I don’t want to screw with Stephanie’s world when I think she wound up exactly where she was meant to be. 

Chances are the main character in my second novel will get her happy ending too.  Maybe not in the way she wants, but in the way she deserves.   

In closing, I wish all of you happy endings.  With or without “in books” in parenthesis.


my first interview!

Interviews are often held under scary/uncertain circumstances, most notably job interviews!  But I was not sweating my interview with Jen Daiker at all.  It was my first official interview as a published author and while I was not offered a job (or new publishing contract) at the end, I’m hoping it will lead to more sales of my book.  Even if one more person decides to buy the book as a result of this interview, I will consider it a success.  So, thanks to Goodreads for introducing me to Jen and a special thanks to Jen for asking me to appear on her blog!  I hope someday to return the favor 🙂

constructive(?) criticism

Back in the 8th grade, I made the consequential decision to cut my cute bob-style hairdo into a bi-level (read: female mullet).  I knew I’d made a mistake as soon as Donald (my hair stylist at the time) cut that first side of hair over my ear.  But my grandma (“Nanny Tessie”) drove the point home when I returned to my house that afternoon.  She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “it’s not very flattering.”  

My Nanny Tessie did not sugarcoat when it came to vanity and as soon as the words came out of her mouth, I flew up the stairs into my room, slammed the door, climbed into bed and cried (and cried and cried…)  If your Jewish grandmother doesn’t say you are a ‘shaineh maidel’ (pretty girl), you know you’re in trouble.

I share this story to illustrate my point that sometimes criticism serves no purpose.  By the time Nanny Tessie saw my new and severely worsened coif, the damage was already done and there was no need to tell me it didn’t look good.  She didn’t need to lie, but she could have remained silent. 

When I started writing Just Friends With Benefits, I asked my sister Marjorie (my biggest fan and most honest critic) to read the first sixty or so pages.  While she was vacationing in Key West, I was chewing my fingernails waiting for her thoughts since she promised to read the book on the plane and by the pool.  Eventually, she sent a text saying she LOVED it so far, BUT thought things seemed too perfect in my main character’s life. I was pleased that she LOVED it so far and shrugged off the criticism since I knew I’d be throwing my main character some serious curve balls later into the story.  

I had registered for a novel writing class at a writer’s workshop around the same time I asked for my sister’s comments.  The gist of the workshop was reading each other’s works in progress and providing feedback, both good and bad.  I was terrified to hear what my fellow classmates thought about my writing.  I was afraid all of the other students were writing the “Great American Novel” and would laugh at my attempt at romantic comedy/chick-lit.  And I was afraid they would tell me, in not so many words, that I had zero talent.  

On the bright side, they did neither of those things.  The students in my class were incredibly diverse and among us, we were writing literary fiction, science fiction, young adult, dark comedy and general fiction and there was no judgment or snobbery.  And the students had many nice things to say about my writing.  They thought I had an easy-breezy writing style, a strong voice and they really liked my main character.  

But not all of the news was good. 

In my first critique session, the general consensus was that my novel read too much like a memoir; there was not enough action.  And, like my sister, they thought I wrapped things up too nicely at the end of the chapter and were concerned that my story lacked sufficient conflict to keep readers turning the pages.   

I know from organizing a book-club that, in general, opinions tend to differ as to whether a book is great, horrible or just “meh”.  For instance, we read Beginner’s Greek by James Collins a couple of months ago and some members found it so boring, they could not get past the first 100 pages while others devoured it in one or two sittings.  In that case, there was no “right” or “wrong”; it was simply a matter of opinion.  However, when twelve out of twelve people, plus my sister, tell me I need to add more conflict and roadblocks throughout my story to keep it engaging, I cannot dismiss it as merely subjective.  And thankfully I didn’t. 

I started revising my book the following day to increase the tension.  I also took paragraphs of narrative and turned them into dialogue in order to increase the action and make it less memoir-like.  When I turned in my second submission, my teacher and classmates were blown away by the improvements I had made.  But there were still some issues.  For instance, I wrote a scene between my main character (Stephanie) and her love interest (Craig) and a subsequent scene where Stephanie dishes to her best friend (Suzanne) about Craig.  In the original version, Stephanie gave Suzanne a full account of what went down with Craig.  But my teacher and classmates had already read the scene between Stephanie and Craig and didn’t need to read about it twice.  I knew they were right and revised the scene.  I sent the next set of pages to my sister and my class at the same time.  My sister sent me a text “These were my favorite pages yet.  I LOVE IT!”  And my teacher and classmates had NO constructive criticism to offer.  One went as far as to say I must have had divine intervention because the pages were perfect.  We were only talking ten or so pages but I could not remove the smile from my face for about 24 hours. 

I share the above to illustrate that sometimes criticism does serve a purpose.  I don’t take every negative comment as seriously as others because I trust my own instincts and, as mentioned earlier, much of what works/doesn’t work in a book is subjective.  But accepting and learning from constructive criticism helped me write a better first book, is helping me write a better second book and is making me a better writer in general.  I still twirl my hair, chew my fingernails and bite my lower lip while waiting for someone else’s thoughts but I know how important they are.  I also know that if someone is honest with me about what she doesn’t love, it is likely she is also being honest when she tells me what she does love.