Thursday, May 19, 2016


Very excited today to sign a contract with Audible for the audiobook rights to my next novel, Beast: A Love Story!

No idea who the narrator will be, yet — I don't think we're that far along in the process. (Hey, they just signed me, and I wrote it!)

Ralph Lister did a wonderful job reading the audiobook for Alias Hook (13 Hours! 11 CDs! Unabridged!). But, sadly, Beast requires a female narrator.

In other Beastly news, last week, the art department over at Candlewick sent me a very rough mock-up of the cover design for Beast in print. I like it a lot, but it's way too early to share it, yet.

For one thing, I'm told the title might change, which is sure to impact the cover design, somehow . . .

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this 1905 Beauty and the Beast illustration by Paul Woodroffe, one of many vintage B&B images collected on my Pinterest page.

All of which means that Beast is one more paw-print (make that hoof-print) closer to publication!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Primitive desktop . . .
Ampersand Literary, an online magazine for aspiring writers recently asked to interview me. The number one question on their list: When did you first become interested in writing?

Hmmm . . .  I don't remember the process of becoming interested. It's not like I had a plan. It's just something I've always done.

As an avid young reader, when I got really swept up in a book—like the Anne of Green Gables series so beloved by my mom—I'd amuse myself stealing, er, adapting my favorite moments from the book for characters I made up. That should have given me a clue.

When I read I Capture the Castle at about age 11, I was all afire to start a journal. At 12, I was corresponding with two European pen pals because I loved to write letters. At 15, I somehow qualified for a Press pass from Teen Set Magazine as a "campus reporter."

(Although nothing I submitted seems to have been accepted for publication —excellent training for my first couple of decades trying to get a book into print!)

But I had another passionate interest, as a child. I loved to draw.

Alias Hook, graphic novel-style.
For years, I kept an oversize, hardcover picture book, The Giant Book of Dogs, Cats, and Horses, under the sofa, with a bunch of blank sheets of typing paper and a pencil tucked inside. Whenever I was sitting there in front of the TV, I'd pull out the book and paper, and, using the book as a desktop, happily sketch away.

If I had any plan it all, it was probably to "be" an artist. Illustrated books were my favorites —the Alice in Wonderland books, the Oz books, Mary Poppins. But I never wanted to illustrate somebody else's stories; I always imagined writing and drawing my own.

I still have to draw all my characters—endlessly—before I can even begin to write about them. If graphic novels had been invented back in my misspent youth, maybe I would have started there.

Once in awhile, I diagram a scene from one of my books in comic book-style panels, so I can see it all laid out. It's fun for a couple of panels, but trying to construct an entire narrative in pictures would take way too much time away from writing the story.

For me, pictures are for illustrating the story. Actually telling the story takes words—glorious, aggravating, addictive words. And that's the part I still love most.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


What I tried not to learn from '60s TV

A few years ago, my friend and colleague Wallace Baine wrote a column in the Santa Cruz Sentinel called, "Jed Clampett, Molder Of Men," his ode to the male role models provided to impressionable youth on 1960s TV shows.

It's a funny piece. (I was especially delighted at his shout-out to Gomez Addams, the sexiest, most impassioned husband on TV. Even after two children, his ardor for wife, Morticia, was undimmed.

She had only to murmur "c'est la vie"—or even "hors d'oeuvres"— and Gomez came unglued. "Tish—that's French!" he'd cry, throw away his pipe, grasp her hand and commence rubber-stamping her arm with his kisses.)

"Tish—that's French!"
But even as my inner editor was smacking me upside the head, demanding "Why didn't YOU think of that for a column?," I knew the answer.

Female role models on '60s TV? There weren't any. Little boys like Wallace could aspire to the panache of Gomez Addams, the witty irreverence of Hawkeye Pierce, or the smart, rationalistic cool of Mr. Spock.

Little girls were taught something entirely different by TV heroines like Jeannie, in her flesh-baring harem costume, whose only desire was to please her "master," the compliant, tabula rasa robot that was My Living Doll, and the backwoods sisters on Petticoat Junction, in their skimpy Daisy Mae outfits.

Men on TV were doctors, lawyers, business execs, detectives, compassionate family men. Women were babes, ditzes, or moms. They had Father Knows Best. We had My Mother The Car.

Mona McCluskey: ego massage.

When I was little, all women on TV were housewives: Lucy, Harriet, Donna Reed, June Cleaver, in their a shirtwaist dresses and pearls, sorting out the problems of their husbands and kids. This was the norm well into the '60s; even Morticia Addams and Lily Munster were stay-at-home moms.

Samantha Stevens of Bewitched, wore the Barbie-style sheath dresses, but one wrinkle of her pert little nose could unleash magical powers undreamed of by mortal man. Which freaked her disapproving husband, Darrin.

Instead of harnessing her powers to oppose evil, ease the hardships of loved ones, or even enjoy a little private hedonism now and then, Darrin, the old killjoy, demanded that Sam keep her extraordinary gifts under wraps.

And consider Mona McClusky, that rare TV woman who actually had a job. She was a famous movie star who earned a ton of moolah in her own right. So, of course, the premise of the series was that she married a blue-collar guy whose tender ego could only be massaged if she agreed to move into his crummy, walk-up flat with the busted appliances and live on his salary. And she did, because, according to the Tao of '60s TV, it was the first duty of every woman to make her man more secure. (Just ask Samantha.) They never said in the show what Mona did with her own money, but I hope she spent it on assertiveness training.

Lt. Uhura: respect.

Laura Petrie, of The Dick Van Dyke Show, had once been a dancer on Broadway, but she gave it up for marriage and motherhood. That Girl Ann Marie was an aspiring actress who was allowed to go out for auditions because she wasn't yet married to her ever-present boyfriend.

And while Julia was justifiably hailed as the first sitcom to star a black woman, the reason she was allowed to work for a living (as a nurse) was that she was a widow—not divorced or single—with a child to support.

These women provided scant encouragement for little girls whose dreams stretched beyond the kitchen or maternity ward. Still, there were a few refreshing exceptions. Lt. Uhura was the only female officer stationed on the bridge in the original voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Even if her duties as Communications Officer amounted to little more than a glorified secretary, transferring incoming calls to the boss, hey, at least she wasn't the ship's cook. Plus, she got to wear that sexy outfit on the job without losing the respect of her co-workers.

Steed and Mrs. Peel: debonair.
And speaking of dressing for success, what about Emma Peel of The Avengers? Here was a woman to be reckoned with, in her skin-tight, cut-out catsuits, a secret agent who could karate-kick a miscreant into submission without mussing a hair of her perfect Mod flip, or losing an atom of her cool.

And she was always ready to pop a bottle of bubbles with her debonair partner, John Steed.

He always called her "Mrs. Peel," out of deference to a mysteriously vanished husband, but the very discretion with which they bantered onscreen while protecting the world from evil suggested intoxicating possibilities in their private encounters.

But my personal Numero Uno TV role model was Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. She may not have been as glamorous as Mrs. Peel or Uhura, she may have been a little too desperately obsessed with finding a husband, but she was a self-sufficient working woman with what sounded to me like a dream job: comedy writer on a weekly TV show.

Laura had to give up her career to keep the home fires burning, but Sally was right there in the office all day, trading wisecracks with the guys. If not for Sally's sterling example, I'd never have realized a woman can get paid to write.

Who knew?
Sally Rogers: one of the guys.

Monday, May 2, 2016


A funny thing happens when you become a published author. People start asking you for writing advice.

Personally, I don't presume to offer advice; if I was so smart, it wouldn't have taken me so long to get published!

But one useful thing that writers can do for each other is share experiences and strategies. One writer's process may not work for anybody else, but the act of sharing them lets us know that we're all facing the same challenges, and not just toiling away in wretched isolation. At the very least, it may be encouraging to know that someone else's methods are even more haphazard than your own!

Recently, I was asked two common questions:

1) Do you outline?

I never used to, which is probably why it took me 8 years to produce a book! But these last couple of years, I've been lucky enough to work with editors who ask for fiction proposals (that is: a lengthy synopsis of the plot as a means of getting an idea approved — as opposed to having to write the whole dang book first!) And having now written 3 of them, it makes SO much more sense to actually know where the story is going BEFORE you start writing it!

Still, my process is chaotic. I start with a doc of Notes, where I put random details that occur to me about storyline, characters, setting, backstory, whatever. Pretty soon, I start another doc called Outline, where I pick out the most important notes and file them in some sort of chronology, to give myself some idea of the shape of the plot.

In Outline, I also try to see where the gaps are that I need to fill to hold the plot together, and figure out what kinds of scenes need to be added. And then, when the Outline gets too wordy, I start a Proposal doc, where I extract the best stuff from the Outline, and put it in an order I hope will be coherent enough to show the editor.

Of course, I'm always working on all 3 docs at once, because I'm not yet organized enough to make a stately progress from one to the next! But the good thing is, once I've streamlined my ideas down this way, I have a pretty good idea of what my story's beginning, middle, and end will look like.

And it doesn't matter if it's not all there yet (the midsections in my proposals are notoriously weak). Because, here's the thing: it's all going to change during the writing process anyway, and everybody understands this. So what you're doing is writing a blueprint for a story you want to tell, and giving yourself a general road map to get there.

2) Do you follow any of the plot structure methods that exist out there?

The ones I've encountered seem like arcane voodoo rituals to me. I tried the 9-box plot thingy recommended by a couple of friends, but the only time I found it useful was to diagram a book I'd already written, to see how well it followed the structure. Attempting to apply it to an idea for a book, hoping to somehow manifest plot, just didn't work for me. 

But it might work for you; like I said, my approach is chaotic, and I don't recommend it. If a box, or a graph, or a diagram, or whispering the lyrics to "Paperback Writer" over a smoldering cauldron of chicken bones unleashes your creative juices, then go for it!

There isn't any right or wrong approach. All that matters is getting those words on the page — how they get there is up to you!