Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – January update

I’m going to keep the intro short this month, since there’s a lot of ground to cover. Wednesday saw another great meeting, with old hands and new faces, and many successes to report. And here’s what’s coming up in the writing world of Fairfield County and environs:

This Saturday, January 19, Brian Hoover will be leading his monthly memoir writing workshop from 10:30-12:00, in the Bridgeport History Center, located in the main branch of the Bridgeport Public Library. Free.

The Connecticut Press Club is wrapping up submissions for this year’s contest. Anyone who lives or works in Connecticut is eligible to enter work published in 2018. Fees: $25 for the first entry and $15 for each additional entry. Deadline: midnight EST, January 22.

The Moth Mainstage comes to the Westport Playhouse on Friday, January 25, at 7:30PM for a one-night-only performance. Five storytellers, including Westport Continue reading

Author interview: Marilyn Simon Rothstein

044-MarilynRothsteinAuthorPortrait_14x11crop-more-retouchedI met Marilyn Simon Rothstein at the Saugatuck StoryFest in Westport, CT, and bought her first book, Lift and Separate, because she made me laugh. That novel, by the way, hit the number 1 slot on Amazon’s list of Satirical Fiction last week!

Her novels are filled with humor, as well as romance, pathos and a host of other emotions. The first book made me want to read the sequel, Husbands and Other Sharp Objects, another satisfying read. Marilyn has had a career in advertising, and became a published author relatively late in the game, so naturally I had questions for her.

GC: When did you decide to write a novel, and what made you choose this genre?

MSR liftMSR: I realized that I wanted to write a novel as soon as I began reading novels. As a child, I would go to the library in Queens, New York, and haul home ten books at a time–that was the limit. I owned an advertising agency for over twenty-five years before I turned to writing fiction full time. I enjoy stories about families and friendships so I found a natural path to Lift and Separate.

GC: Your books are full of humor, but also include some sad events. How do you keep the balance between the two? It seemed to be effortless. Was it?

MSR: I was an overly emotional kid so it’s not difficult for me to work myself up into a tizzy.

GC: While you were writing, did you have a critique group, or a trusted reader to comment on the work?

MSR sharpMSR: I have been in the same writer’s workshop for over ten years. Going to that workshop is a highlight of each week. Before joining the workshop, I attended conferences for writers. I liked residential programs because I lived in a hotel and left my children at home with my husband. Conferences at colleges were nice because I salivate at the thought of endless cafeteria food.

GC: How long did it take from the day you signed with the agent to the date you held a copy of your book in your hand?

MSR: It was quick—and happy. I signed in June 2015. Lift and Separate was released in December 2016. Husbands And Other Sharp Objects was published in March 2018.

 GC: What surprised you most about working with a publisher?

MSR: My books are published by Lake Union, which is owned by Amazon. Because I had no experience with publishing a book, it was a tremendous learning experience, like learning a new business. I was delighted to find dedicated, talented and responsive editors who cared deeply about my novels.

GC: You have been doing a lot of author talks. What do you find to be universal?

MSR: Everywhere I go, I find women who enjoy friendships, love books, want to have a wonderful time and laugh.

GC: And, finally, what’s next?

MSR: Currently, I am writing a third novel with all new characters. Here are five things in my work in progress: a fat shaming mother, an overweight daughter, a Lyft driver, a vibrator and a plate of brownies. (GC: As I said, she makes me laugh…)

 

You can follow Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author interview: Leslie Connor

leslie cI’ve long been an admirer of Leslie Connor, an award-winning middle-grade author whose characters have always stayed with me after reading the last page of the book. Her latest, The Truth According to Mason Buttle, is no exception. It’s a finalist in the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and I think deserves to win. (I’m prejudiced because I loved it.) The results will be announced on Wednesday, November 14, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The character of Mason is unique in juvenile fiction, as far as I know, and yet he’s someone recognizable to all of us. Read on to find out more.

GC:  You’ve written many middle-grade novels. For this one, which came first – the character, Mason Buttle, or the plot idea?

LC: My stories generally start with a situation—an element of nonfiction, such as a news report, or an event I have observed or read about. My imagination does a lot of work on that seed idea, bending it this way and that. If it’s a story-worthy idea, a character shows up—usually in my ear—and I go from there. In truth, that character has often already been kicking around the attic of my brain for quite a while. I’ve heard it said that character is plot. I have to agree; I never know either plot or character completely until I bring them together.

indexGC: You’ve captured Mason’s voice in an extraordinary and highly readable way. Do you know someone with these kind of learning difficulties, and characteristics (honesty, emotional synesthesia) or did Mason appear fully-formed from your imagination?

LC: Thank you! Mason is definitely a composite. I’ve always been able to pick out the kid in a classroom who is having a different experience from their peers. I know about some learning disabilities firsthand, but synesthesia was new to me. When I saw Mason Buttle in my mind’s eye, I knew what he was experiencing but I had to do some research to diagnose him.

GC: How would you characterize the main themes of the book? What would you like young people to take away from it?

LC: This question is difficult for me to answer. I’m not thinking about themes when I’m writing. For me, the most prevalent character traits (always tied to theme, right?) that emerged here are: self-reliance and honesty. Takeaways from this read might include empathy, compassion, and an increased sense of self-worth.

GC:  For writers interested in writing for middle-grade – what makes an MG book different from a chapter book, YA novel, or an adult novel, for that matter?

LC: Writers are creative beings and lines are blurred, when it comes to formats. For instance, we see novels in verse and graphic novels for both the YA and MG audiences. So what separates them? For me, the single most important determinant of genre lies in the level of self and social awareness of the main character—no matter the age, no matter the topic.

GC: Your last two books have had a boy as the main protagonist. Are you planning anything with a girl as the featured character?

LC: Yes! I was surprised to be writing from a young male point of view, but the characters came to me an authentic way, and so far, I haven’t heard that they don’t work! (I chalk that up to having grown up between two brothers and having raised two sons.) My latest book (under contract) features a female protagonist, and in fact, there are very few males in this new story.

YOu can find Leslie on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Instagram.

Continue reading

Author interview: Lynne Constantine

Lynne Constantine and her sister Valerie together form a writing partnership, Liv Constantine, whose nail-biting psychological thriller, The Last Mrs Parrish, has become a breakout international best-seller. It’s now available in 22 countries/territories, including places like Brazil, Croatia and China. … Continue reading

Time traveling launch!

Oh the excitement! When to Now, the time travel anthology, is out tomorrow, October 1, and I have a story in it. But I’m not the only one, and the variety and quality of the other seventeen stories prompted me … Continue reading

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – April update

First things first: Several of our members will be at the Westport Library’s Makers’ Faire tomorrow, April 21, with their books. Among them are: Kristen Ball, Sheryl Kayne, Ann Lineberger, and yours truly. Come and talk to us, and check out the books. There’s no obligation to buy (though we always love that!).
To honor National Poetry Month, I’m starting with poets. Member Alison McBain has put together a list of poetry workshops and readings, open to everyone. She and member Ed Ahern have started the Poets Salon Meetup, which takes place once a month, and where you can take your poetry for critique. Sign up for monthly reminders of meetings, and to connect with fellow poets. Ed also offers helpful suggestions on where to submit, etc, on the Meetup site. th

The Writer’s Group meets on the first and second Saturday of the month from 2-4pm in Bridgeport.

And on April 26, Alison McBain will be reading her work at 7:30pm at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. The event marks the launch of the book: Aftermath: Explorations of Love and Grief, Check the happening out here.

The Westport Writers’ Workshop, which runs writing classes, is now offering a series of one-day classes, beginning this Saturday, April 21. They include Icing the Cake, The Power of ‘What If,’ Writing Through Motherhood, and Navigating the Publishing World. For a full list, see here.

 
The Nonfiction Writers Online Conference takes place from May 2-4 from 12pm-6pm. It looks as though it’s designed largely for those who’ve self -published, since a great deal of the focus is on how to market your book. The keynote speaker is Gretchen Rubin, talking about Habits, Happiness and Productivity for writers, and sessions include Effective Hybrid Publishing, Reach Millions with an Audiobook Presentation and Create Your Own Book Tour. You can check out the agenda online, and if you book by April 28, Sandra Beckwith of Build Book Buzz is offering a 35% discount off the fee of $125. Use her exclusive coupon code – BBB35

If you have a manuscript and you’re ready to take it to the next level, member Veronique Klemow suggests The Manuscript Academy. This online site offers various srvices for authors, ranging from a ten-minute phone meeting, with one page (your query or first page) read during the meeting, for $49, to critiques of your first 50/100 pages for $240/$480 respectively. They’ll critique your synopsis and proposal, too. Veronique felt the money was well spent.

Those of you looking for editors might want to take a look at Joanna Penn’s blog post on The Creative Penn. She lists a number of online resources from Winning Edits, to The Book Butchers. ‘We slaughter your writing, so it can rise in glory from the ashes.‘ There has to be someone on that list who’s right for you

A useful and free resource for finding places to submit is the weekly email from
Submittable. They list different types of publications and tell you whether they pay or not.

And finally, a quote via Alex McNab: You expect far too much of a first sentence. Think of it as analogous to a good country breakfast: what we want is something simple, but nourishing to the imagination. Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two.—LARRY McMURTRY

Keep writing!

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – March Update

We had another great meeting on Wednesday, which brought up a number of new ideas – some about publishing. Here’s a blog post about why it’s a good idea to publish via Amazon. This article includes links to others which … Continue reading

Author interview: Leslie Chess Feller

coverWith the rise of self-published books, it’s hard to know which books are worth buying. So when I find one I think is excellent in its class, I like to give them and their authors a shout-out. One such is Monster In My Lunchbox,  an illustrated book of family-focused rhyme. The poems are by Leslie Chess Feller and the illustrations by her late sister, Shelley. I asked Leslie how the book came about and her answers were quite unexpected. Read on to find out why.

GC: Can you tell us something about the book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox is a collection of light verse that celebrates family. It includes simpler poems for early readers and others for kids in elementary school and beyond. But it’s also for Moms, Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas. I like to say that anyone who has ever been a kid will get a laugh out of these poems. They are meant for the whole family to enjoy together. Here’s a sample:

SCHOOL DAYS, RULE DAYS …cartoon 1
Bells ring! Books slam!
Papers shuffle! Yes, Ma’am!
Raise your hand! Get in line!
Hurry up to be on time!
Quiet please! Do your work!
Don’t be idle! Do not shirk!
Reading, writing, number stuff …
Sometimes I’ve had quite enough.
Even when I’m pleased as punch,
I think my favorite subject’s lunch

GC: How long have you been a poet?
LCF: I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, the second of five siblings. My sister Shelley, older by 15 months, was the alpha sibling and with three younger brothers there was never a dull moment. Our father was a physician who loved the poet Ogden Nash. Whenever he had something to say to our mother, a psychologist, he would do it with a clever Ogden Nash-ian rhyme. And my mother would rhyme right back.

lcf kids

Leslie (L) and Shelley

You could tell anybody anything in my family, even our father, if you did it with a poem. Every occasion became a poetic roast. Like my siblings, I began to rhyme as soon as I could write. So when my daughter Dania brought home Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic in the fourth grade, I looked at it and said, “I can do that.”

GC: How did you get your first poems published?
LCF: In 1985, a few of my Kidstuff poems ran in a local newspaper and attracted the attention of editors at a Westport, CT, magazine, Profiles. As soon as I found out they wanted me to do a monthly column and were open to me bringing in an illustrator, I called Shelley. By then, she was the world’s best middle school science teacher. But as a student, she used to get in a lot of trouble for cartooning all over her schoolwork. “Hey, Shelley,” I said. “I’m getting these poems published! Maybe you could do some cartoons?”

GC: Did you continue to publish poetry?
LCF: I did two other light verse columns for Profiles. Both Rhyme or Reason and Poetic License won Connecticut Press Club awards, but ran without illustrations. Soon my editors started assigning me articles which put my writing career on a different track. I went from local articles to the New York Times to national magazines as a freelance journalist for almost thirty years. Writing in light verse became something I enjoyed doing for family events.

GC: What made you decide to publish your poems now?

lcf sis

Leslie (L) and Shelley

LCF: This book is also a celebration of a very special sisterhood. Over decades, my sister and I cheerfully perfected the art of never, ever agreeing with each other – except that we didn’t want to fight. Agreeing to disagree was our solution, the catalyst for what became an extraordinary friendship. Shelley died of leukemia two years ago. It was a terrible loss.
Six months afterwards, I was standing in my living room feeling very black. For no reason, I opened a cabinet door. Something fell on the floor in front of me. It was a xerox copy of fifty of my poems with fifty illustrations done by my sister. I had forgotten ever writing them. The fifteen Kidstuff poems in my writer’s portfolio were what I remembered. But at some point, decades ago, I had given more to Shelley and she had chosen to illustrate them.
I felt her right beside me. “Publish these,” Shelley said. The words were sweet. I threw everything out of that cabinet in a mad search for the pen and ink cartoons. Eventually I found 110 of my poems, each with the perfect cartoon. My sister and I disagreed about everything, but clearly we shared the same sense of humor. Monster In My Lunchbox is a collaboration that includes eighty of my favorites.

GC: How are you promoting your book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox was published in November, 2015.
The website is http://www.monsterinmylunchbox.com On the website, you can listen to me read the title poem. Then click links to videos of other poems in the collection.
And I’ve been giving talks and readings at libraries, and for parent groups among others.

You can see the promotional video here. And to connect with Leslie, follow her on Facebook or Google +, and Vimeo where you’ll find links to more videos.
The book is available from Blurb.

Author Interview: David Handler

3176GB6GKAL._UX250_David Handler’s writing career has taken him from journalist to writer for films and television to mystery novelist. This prolific author has produced several series of mystery novels, with different detectives in each. The first novel I happened to read was The Coal-Black Asphalt Tomb. It’s the tenth (and latest) in the Berger-Mitry series, which features a mismatched pair of detectives in a small coastal town in Connecticut. The eleventh book, The Lavender Lane Lothario, comes out in February. When David answered my questions, I was fascinated to learn how he develops his characters, and the number of tries it takes to get them right.

GC: You have one of the most unusual setups for a cozy mystery. Your two main characters are about as different as they could be: Desiree Mitry is a black policewoman and her life partner is Jewish New York City film critic, Mitch Berger. What makes the situation unusual, I think is the fact that they both live in a sweet little coastal town in Connecticut. How on earth did you come up with this mix?
DH: Strictly by accident, believe it or not. When I was writing the first book of the series, The Cold Blue Blood, my plan was that it would be about New York City film critic Mitch Berger and his landscape architect wife, Maisie, renting a cottage on Big Sister Island and finding their landlady’s estranged husband buried in the vegetable garden. The first 60 pages or so felt very blah to me so I set the project aside for several months, came back to it and decided to make Mitch a young widower who rents the cottage as a means of trying to heal himself after Maisie’s death. Right away, that gave it a lot more moral weight. When he finds the body a Major Crime Squad homicide investigator is sent to the scene. At first, I wrote him as a black male officer. The dialogue felt flat. So I tried making it a black female officer instead and, wham, sparks started flying and I suddenly realized I was writing a novel about an interracial romance.handler

GC: I like the town of Dorset, which seems like an amalgam of many little places in Connecticut (apart from its unusually high murder rate). Do you find it restricts your plot opportunities to be in one location?
DH: No, not at all, because what I’m mostly doing is studying people. If you study people then you never seem to run out of ideas. People are endlessly fascinating. My eleventh Berger-Mitry installment, “The Lavender Lane Lothario, will be coming out in February and I have many more ideas for stories to come.
GC: How do you ensure that your technical information is correct? Is it all on Google? And if so, is Google reliable?
DH: I began my career as a journalist so I’m always aiming to be as accurate as I can be. I’m grateful to friends in the profession who provide with me much of the technical detail that I use. Google can be a very valuable resource as well, but you have to be mindful of the reliability of the sites that you are choosing to use as sources. Some are less credible than others.
GC: Tell me honestly – are you a film buff like Mitch, or did you make him up out of thin air?
DH: I am totally Mitch, minus the excess blubber. Think Mitch, except sculpted, and you’ve got me. I spent my entire childhood watching old movies on late night TV and my college and young adult years haunting movie revival houses in Los Angeles and New York City. I began my career as New York cultural correspondent for the Scripps-Howard News Service, which meant I was their Broadway critic and book reviewer. I was also a syndicated television and film critic. In addition – and here’s where I depart a bit from Mitch — I actually wrote for television and films for 20 years before I gave it up to devote my time to being a full-time novelist.
I had been living in Old Lyme, which is the real life model for Dorset, for over ten years before I decided to take a crack at writing about it. I think it’s inevitable that if a writer lives in a place long enough he or she will end up wanting to write about it. That’s just how we’re wired. I had lived exclusively in big cities before I moved here, so this is foreign territory to me. In fact, I am still considered an outsider even though I’ve lived here for 30 years. That’s small town New England! Right now, I’m working on a new Stewart Hoag novel, my first in nearly 18 years. And it has been a genuine joy to write the first two Benji Golden novels, Runaway Man and Phantom Angel. I’d love to keep all three series going. That is certainly my hope.
You can connect with David via his website, Goodreads and Facebook

Author interview: Lucy Burdette

Picketfenceauthorsmaller copy Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) has published 14 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West food critic series, Fatal Reservations. As you’ll find out below, she’s written more than one mystery series, but she’s used her real name for some and Lucy Burdette for her latest. Like many crime writers, she’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.  Her next book, Killer Takeout will be released in April.

GC: First of all, why the pen name?

LB: As I was signing the contract with Signet/NAL, my new editor asked if I’d be willing to use a different name for this series. This would differentiate the Key West series from my previous advice column and golf lovers mysteries which were not as cozy. I was happy to do whatever would help sell books. And I was very happy to choose my grandmother’s name, Lucille aka Lucy Burdette. I get a kick out of carrying her name forward.

GC: Did you pick Key West as the location for the novels because you live there?Fatal Reservations-1

LB: About nine years ago, my husband and I drove down the string of islands and bridges that leads to Key West, agreeing that we’d never live in a place so fragile, so isolated, so exposed. But instead of listening to our practical voices, we fell in love and moved in.
The island is totally gorgeous, with its palm trees and turquoise water and eyebrow windows and gingerbread trim. And there’s a thriving artistic scene, and fabulous food, and an amazing literary history.
About this same time, I was planning to pitch a new cozy mystery series. Where should I set it but in Key West, with its delicately balanced development, and its conflicts between old-time Conchs and newcomers, between the richest of the rich, the homeless, and the millions of partying visitors. To find characters and plot ideas, all I have to do is step outside the door…

GC: You have a great website, with a lot of features like recipes (with photos) and blog updates. Do you have help with it, or do you do everything yourself? I’m asking because I know writers need a web site, and many are too frightened of it to even try.

LB: I had help setting this up on WordPress, which is fairly easy to learn. Now I can update things myself, which I’m woefully behind in doing. Look around for websites you admire, and then ask the writers who they used for design, etc. There are tons of resources out there, and many inexpensive designers who can make a website look professional.

GC: You previously wrote a mystery series based on a sleuth who was an advice columnist and another who was a golfer. Now there’s the restaurant critic. Are these all personal interests of yours or did you have to research these careers?

LB: Golf, psychology, and food are all great passions for me. If I love the subject, I find the book easier to write.

GC: Like most mystery readers, I love a series. Seeing the main character develop, and finding out about the people in their private life. Hayley Snow lives with an eccentric 80-something, Miss Gloria, and I love their relationship. Is it easier to write the crime-solving, or the personal life of your characters?

LB: I‘ve always been a huge reader. I tore through the Nancy Drew mysteries, then moved on to my brother’s Hardy boys adventures, gobbling lots of teenage romances in between. What stays with me even years after reading a book are the characters and their conflicts. So I shoot for that when writing my own series. I have lots of ideas of where the characters’ lives will go–and that is my favorite part of writing. But they can still surprise me, which makes it more fun!

You can also find Lucy blogging with the wonderful writers at Jungle Red Writers and Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.