Thursday, April 26, 2007

Enchanted Fridays Journey of a Novelist

I’m thrilled to interview one of my favorite authors this enchanting morning—Barbara O’Connor!!!

Barbara and I have one of those "old-fashioned" friendships –like before the telephone was invented and visiting each other was pure fantasy for two buddies living on opposite sides of the country. We discovered each other on a writer’s chat group, started emailing and haven’t stopped—and it's been ten years!!!! Friendship through the written word—I’d say that’s perfect for two writers.

Barbara O'Connor


Frances Foster Books, FSG, 2007

Barb’s web site:

Visit her new blog, too!

Kimberley: How did you get the idea for HOW TO STEAL A DOG?

: This story started with a sign posted in a garden center near my home:

Still Searching for Willy.

No Questions Asked.

A hefty reward was being offered for the return of the little dog described as “very shy." I left that garden center with two pots of geraniums in the trunk of my car and Willy on my mind. He stayed there for a long time and wouldn’t go away. And then one day, as with most of my books, a title popped into my head: How to Steal a Dog

I tried and tried to think of a story to go with the title, but, as usual, that didn’t work. I always have to wait and let the story come to me. I had almost given up hope when the character of Georgina Hayes appeared in my imagination, along with the first sentence of the book:

“The day I decided to steal a dog as the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.”

And then I was off and running.

Kimberley: Do you have any personal experience with homelessness? How did you go about doing the research – or maybe you just have this brilliant imagination. Which I totally do not doubt!

Barbara: I just have a brilliant imagination. (Kidding, of course.) Thankfully, I have no personal experience with homelessness. And why Georgina presented herself to me as homeless is a mystery. As for research, I confess that I did the research after I wrote the story.

Flannery O’Connor once said, “We don’t need to be immersed in experience, we just need to contemplate it.”

So that’s what I did. As I wrote Georgina’s story, I transported myself into that car where she lived. I imagined how it looked, how it smelled, how she would sleep, where she would keep her stuff, what she would see outside her window.

But I knew that it would be important to portray her situation sensitively and realistically. I needed to research, to educate myself about the reality of homelessness, and, in particular, rural homelessness. So I read everything I could get my hands on about rural homelessness, primarily from government agencies, such as the National Coalition for the Homeless and the Rural Poverty Research Center.

Kimberley: Love Georgina’s notebook ( I have a love affair myself with the color purple.) Was the notebook part of the book’s initial conception, or did it come later? We see her entire character arc through that notebook.

Barbara: Glad you like the notebook! I love using those sorts of devices to portray the feelings of a character. I used postcards in MOONPIE AND IVY and drawings in TAKING CARE OF MOSES. Georgina’s notebook was an effective way to show her evolving feelings about what she had done.

Kimberley: What was the best/worst part of writing HOW TO STEAL A DOG?

Barbara: The best part was crawling into Georgina’s head and actually stealing a dog. That was fun! The worst part was trying to figure out how to get her out of her predicament and trying to be realistic about her homelessness, yet still sensitive to the issue.

Kimberley: Where did the characters of Carmella and Mookie come from? (For those who haven’t read the book yet, Carmella is the owner of the stolen dog and Mookie is a homeless man full of down to earth wisdom and wit.) They’re so brilliant and quirky, and yet very real. Do you have this secret stash of fabulous characters hidden in your basement?

Barbara: Oh how I wish I had that secret stash! Carmella came purely from my imagination, but Mookie was inspired by a real person. My mother lives in an assisted living facility down in South Carolina. There was a wonderful old man who lives there – named Mookie! He sits out front all day long so he can smoke. When he told me his name, I knew I had to use him in a book. (His real name is Green Hill, Junior. That’s a pretty cool name, too.)

Kimberley: Tell us about your journey to publication. Give us the low-down on the agent/editor hunt and where were you when you got THE CALL that somebody wanted to publish your book?

Barbara: I started my career with biographies for children, but since my heart is with fiction, I’ll tell you about that journey. I actually got pretty lucky. I was in a writers group with Leslie Guccione, an author who, at the time, was writing a series for Scholastic. She offered to send my manuscript to her editor, Ann Reit. Ann liked the manuscript (Beethoven in Paradise) and asked if I’d be willing to work with her on revisions. Of course I said yes! We worked together on it for several months and then Ann decided it just wasn’t right for her. Talk about disappointing! But she offered to connect me with an agent, which, as you know, was a big favor and one which I was extremely grateful for. The agent was Barbara Markowitz. Barbara and I were a perfect match and are still together. Barbara ultimately sold BEETHOVEN IN PARADISE to Frances Foster at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

I remember exactly the moment I got THE CALL. I was on vacation with my husband’s family in Florida. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited.

Kimberley: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Barbara: Two things come to mind first for me with regard to aspiring writers. First, focus on finding your unique writing voice and write something different and fresh. You’ve got to stand out from the pack in such a competitive business. Second, don’t give up. Publishing requires lots of perseverance.

Kimberley: What are you working on now? Any books coming down the pipeline?

Barbara: I just finished the copyedits for my next novel, due out in the spring of 2008. It’s called GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE. This was a fun book for me because I was ready to challenge myself and try a multiple viewpoint story. This one has four points of view and was much harder than I had anticipated. Hopefully, I pulled it off. Time will tell, I guess.

Kimberley: The most surprising or unexpected thing that has happened to you since getting published.

Barbara: I wasn’t prepared for how much marketing I would have to do. I always figured you just write a book and get it published and that’s it. Ha! Little did I know I’d have to do mailings and prepare brochures and speak at conferences and all those things that I’m not particularly good at and don’t particularly enjoy.

Kimberley: What is your own secret wish (goal) for your life or writing?

Barbara: I’d love to reach a level of success where I could earn enough from royalties to not be so dependent on school visits for income. That would be cool! (Although I do enjoy going to schools a lot.) And name recognition would be pretty groovy.

Kimberley: My own secret wish is to meet you someday, but I won’t, um, steal a dog to buy my airplane ticket, okay? Thank you so much for being with us today, Barbara – and please, don’t stop writing!!! You have more fans than you know.

Barbara’s web site:

Visit her new blog, too!

Shy No Longer

Man, I've been slammed this month. My WIP hasn't been touched in two weeks and I get very antsy when I only have a few chapters left to draft and I'm forced to put it aside. But it's also been a great month, too.

While in Arizona visiting my husband's mother for her 88th birthday (who still lives by herself and exercises on a treadmill no less!) we went to see Body Worlds in Phoenix. My oldest son is taking an anatomy/cadaver class and made a great tour guide. The displays/show of human bodies, embalmed in this plasticene process was stunning and mesmerizing - all these actual, REAL human bodies in various dramatic, athletic and *dance* poses to show how the human body works; the organs, the nervous system, digestion, lungs heart, the brain - everything. I thought I'd be more freaked out, but it was fascinating. Since my boys are older and have had so many biology classes they loved it, but my kids have had a lot of influence on me, like how I would never have gone to see all the action flicks over the years on my own, but how I adore those kinds of movies now because I experienced them through my boys' eyes and heard their excitement and talk about how cool and awesome the X-Men are or Spiderman. In fact, LOTR have become my all time favorite movies besides Gone With the Wind and Somewhere in Time. (Yes, I'm a romantic sap. And I watched all fifty hours of the "making of LOTR" on the extended DVD editions.) But I digress.

One thing I didn't expect at Body Worlds were all the very young kids in tow by their parents. I'm not sure I would have taken my children when they were that age. I kept thinking it was a little too much sensory stimulation and kind of scary to see the human body so exposed and gory even, although that's not the right word. For example, one of the plastinated cadavers was a woman on display upside down with all her reproductive organs open for inspection. There was also a room with embryos and fetuses from early conception to premature babies born at 32 weeks that did not survive. You get the picture. At the same time, the preservation is such that they almost seem *not* real, like store models or dummies except skinned and just muscles and bones. So you don't know what these people looked like when they were alive or how old they were when they died. I do highly recommend the show. Makes you look at your own life and body in a whole new way and I once again appreciated and admired the true miracle of life.

SCBWI Handsprings conference: The first page of my WIP was read/commented on by a First Pages editor's panel at the Friday evening reception and the visiting editors from Dutton, Random House and Holt did a fabulous job. I was so nervous listening to my work read out loud in front of a room full of people (the authors were kept anonymous) and then having it critiqued by Real Live Editors made me sweat. Later I knew I should have double dosed my deodorant. Anyway, I got GREAT comments and one of the editors gave me his card and asked to see the entire novel and even gave me the name of an agent to try! I was flying high with excitement, especially since I'd brought along my husband and youngest son who likes to write. We've had some great visiting editors before but these three dug into more details about their work, the process and what they are particularly publishing more than anybody else which is so nice because after a few conferences and couple dozen books on writing it's easy to tune out the basics of submission guidelines that you've heard a million times before.

Last week's Middle Eastern Belly Dance Show!!! Yes, I actually performed TWO dances (tribal cane dance and a more traditional veil/cabaret number) and did a presentation on the meaning and origin of the ancient dance and the women of the Bible at church for all the moms and teenage daughters. We created a Bedouin tent, sat on the floor on pillows, ate Middle Eastern food, enjoyed fabulous background music I compiled from my CDs and at the end I taught some basic belly dance moves. It was a blast and everybody loved it, even the skeptics in the group who thought belly dancing was like stripping or pole dancing (!). This has been in the works for about three months and I was so nervous I almost backed out. The next day I collapsed with the flu and then took off a day after that to pick up my son from college. Just got back yesterday and I think I'm done with laundry and shopping and errands and bills, although I'm still coughing.

I keep telling myself that the performance last week was good experience for when I sell my novel Secret Rites of the Goddess and go on tour doing belly dance/booksigning events. Ha, ha!

Tomorrow we do the wisdom teeth surgery and then please, after that can I write again?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Enchanted Fridays - Journey of a Novelist

Do you read Jane Austen over and over again?

Do you secretly wish you lived in the 19th century?

Do you invite friends over for high tea?

Do you wish Jane Austen was still publishing novels from "the other side"?

Wish No Longer—I have the book for YOU!

After you read my chat with this awesome new author, Polly Shulman, fly on over to your nearest bookstore or library and grab her very first YA novel, ENTHUSIASM!

Once you start, I swear you won’t be able to put it down.

Polly Shulman


G. P. Putnam’s

Contemporary Young Adult 2006

Kimberley: What was the seed of the idea for Enthusiasm? How long have you been a Jane Austen fan and how did your novel get its title?

Polly: I've been a Jane Austen fan since seventh grade, when I stayed up until dawn reading Pride & Prejudice. I remember trembling when I read Darcy's letter putting Elizabeth in her place. It was one of the most intense literary experiences of my life.
Oddly, I don't remember exactly how I got the idea for Enthusiasm. All my life I wanted to write novels for young readers, but I somehow could never get past the opening chapter. I had a bunch of beginnings squirreled away in my hard drive. In the early Aughts, I had a fantastic freelance job writing weekly book reviews for Newsday, then my column got cut from the paper's budget, so I said to myself, "All right, Polly. Time to either get a job in an office or finish one of those novels." I consulted my best friend, who said, "What about that book you started a while back, with the girl climbing in her friend's window?" I said, "Girl climbing in a window? What are you talking about?" She said, "You know, the one where she's dressed up as a Jane Austen character?" So I searched my hard drive and found it, but I didn't really remember anything about writing it.

Funny you should ask about the title—it does have a story. I thought of "ENTHUSIASM" pretty soon after I buckled down to work on the book, which is about two girls: the narrator, Julie, and her best friend, Ashleigh. Julie is bookish and a little shy; Ashleigh is wildly outgoing and given to crazes, for everything from King Arthur to candy making. When Julie lends Ashleigh a copy of Pride and Prejudice, Ashleigh decides they need Austenesque romances of their own, so she drags Julie off to crash a dance at the local boys' boarding school. I knew I wanted an Austenesque title, an abstract noun or noun pair—something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. Enthusiasm seemed like the natural choice.

In fact, it seemed so natural that I thought someone must have already used it, so I Googled and found that someone had: Jane Austen's niece Anna! I found a series of letters from Aunt Jane thanking Anna for sending her manuscript and giving her material advice about it. Apparently, Anna originally named her book Enthusiasm but changed the title to Aunt Jane's suggestion: WHICH IS THE HEROINE? Aunt Jane says she prefers ENTHUSIASM: "I like the name ‘Which is the Heroine’ very well, and I daresay shall grow to like it very much in time; but ‘Enthusiasm’ was something so very superior that my common title must appear to disadvantage."

I thought about using "Which is the Heroine" for a subtitle, but my editor wisely talked me out of it.

Kimberley: What a fascinating peek into history! That’s a great story, Polly. So I have to ask, what is your favorite Austen book?

Polly: Pride and Prejudice. No, Persuasion. No, Emma. No, Sense and Sensibility. Whichever one I happen to be rereading at the time. Austen's juvenilia is amazing, too. She was a comic genius as a teenager. It's a different style from the novels—broader, more overtly satiric—but just as funny.

Kimberley: What were some of the challenges in writing Enthusiasm, the hardest parts, the easiest—if there is such a thing as easy writing! (An oxymoron if I ever heard one.)

Polly: Actually, once I got going I found it astonishingly easy to write. I was doing what I thought of as "real work" at the same time—editing books and articles about science (which continues to be a big part of how I make my living). I found it pretty freaky to go back and forth between Julie's love life and particle physics, or Ashleigh's friendship and the latest news from Mars. I did have some trouble with the narrative voice in Enthusiasm. I wanted Julie to sound a little old fashioned and Austenish, but I also wanted Ashleigh to sound like an over-the-top Austen parody when she spoke. It was hard to strike a balance and get the contrast right.

The love scenes were a little embarrassing to write—as if I were reading Julie's diary over her shoulder.

Kimberley: Which character do you most identify with, Julie or Ashleigh?

Polly: Definitely Julie. But sometimes my friends laugh and say, "You're such an Ashleigh!" Oddly, the ones who say that tend to be Ashleighs themselves.

Kimberley: That’s hilarious! So I gotta ask: Did you dream about Parr? He’s like, the perfect guy; sweet, romantic, poetry writer, stands under windows pining after his true love, great kisser, totally yummy.

Polly: Of course! He's my hero! I'm lucky enough to be married to someone from the same universe; those adjectives of yours pretty much describe my husband. Andrew doesn't stand under our windows or write me sonnets—he’s a graphic designer, not a poet—but he does make me the world's most romantic works of computer art. Enthusiasm was published right around my birthday, and to celebrate, he had my favorite chocolate shop make a chocolate bust of Jane Austen holding a copy of Enthusiasm. They had to build a special mold for it, which he designed.

Kimberley: Wow, what a great husband! Sounds like he is your Parr. Tell us about your journey to publication. Give us the low-down on the agent/editor hunt and where were you when you got THE CALL that somebody wanted to publish your book?

Polly: After I wrote "The End" and finished jumping around the room shrieking, I called my friends in the publishing business and asked them to suggest agents. I compiled their suggestions, researched, and sent out the manuscript to three agents; after an agonizing wait, three rejections came back. I cried for a couple of weeks, then called some more friends and sent the manuscript to three more agents. This time two of them wanted it. I loved them both. I chose the more experienced one, Irene Skolnick. She's had her own agency for many years and I was impressed with her client list. And she represents two of my friends, who both adore her.

She sent out my book and got three offers for it. That part's something of a blur for me, because just when it was happening my stepfather had a bad accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital; I remember a lot more about that than about the sale of my book.

Once Irene got the offers, I talked to the editors and chose the one who I felt understood the book the best. One thought it was close to perfect the way it was, but I've been an editor all my working life, so I knew that it couldn't be perfect. Nothing ever is, let alone my writing! One thought it was too sweet and wanted me to make the story darker, which didn't feel right to me. The third one had a number of suggestions for improving it, which I thought were right on the money, so I picked her. I feel very lucky to have such a smart editor with such a good ear.

Kimberley: Any pitfalls? Advice for aspiring writers—or even us seasoned writers (meaning the ones that have already survived many bruises and brick walls?)

Polly: Hm... Don't give up. Don't throw out those first chapters, even if you think they're going nowhere. Don't let the inevitable rejections stop you. Take advice from readers, but be picky about whose. People might correctly identify problems with your book, but you might not like their suggestions for solving them. Or they might put their finger on the most interesting, vital part of your story and tell you to take it out because it makes them uncomfortable.

What helped me the most was my best friend, Anna Christina Buchmann[umlaut over the u], who's also writing a novel. We're each other's first readers, critics, cheerleaders. As soon as I finished a chapter, I would email it to her. She would read it and tell me "That's great, keep going." To a large extent, I wrote Enthusiasm for her: I wrote a book I knew she would want to read—a book she and I would both want to read. I'm glad other people turned out to want to read it too, but it would have been enough for me if it just pleased Anna Christina.

Kimberley: Yay for good friends! Any books coming down the pipeline?

Polly: I'm working on a fantasy novel about a pair of sisters who are witches. They live in Brooklyn with their mom, also a witch, who's trying to save the world from an evil magician. Unfortunately, she's trying too hard, so the girls have to save the world from their mom going overboard trying to save it.

It's much, much harder to write a fantasy than a romance. You have to invent a whole world and make it consistent. It's taking me a million years and every ounce of brain power I have. Not to mention all the mathematicians I've had to consult! I'm not kidding—so far I've had very generous help from a topologist at Brown, an applied mathematician at MIT, and a physicist at Harvard. I hope they don't get mad if my magic turns out to have contradictions in it.

Kimberley: The most surprising or unexpected thing that has happened to you since publishing your novel.

Polly: I'm thrilled at the email I get from readers. Some of them tell me about their friendships—there are a lot of Julies out there with Ashleighs for friends. Some of them tell me about the fiction or poetry they write, or ask for advice about their love lives. Every time I hear from one, it makes me happy all week. I especially like it when they say Enthusiasm made them read Jane Austen.

Kimberley: What is your own secret wish?

Polly: I've lived it—it came true. I always wanted to write a book that would give young readers at least a slight echo of what I felt when I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time. Now I wish and hope that I can do it again.

Kimberley: All your fans sure do – and that includes me!

Let’s hear it for Polly Shulman! Thank you so much for taking the time to let us peek into your world! You‘ve got lots of Enthusiasm and you're a doll!

Don’t miss Polly’s website for more delicious details and to play "Spot the Sonnet", the secret sonnet contained within the novel.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This is so cool!

I received some delightful news last night. A young man I know well who has been best friends with my son since they were five years old just got accepted to Columbia in New York for their three year Master's of Fine Arts program in Film. His dream is to have his own film company someday and at the tender age of 25 (with a wife and baby no less) Justin has already been involved in several movies, his biggest job last summer as a production assistant for a Christmas film being released this coming December nationwide; "Together Again for the First Time" starring David Ogden Stiers and Julia Duffy (Patty Duke was supposed to be in it, but that's a whole other story.)

The thing that totally tickles me is that six months ago Justin asked me if he could use the screenplay for my novel The Last Snake Runner for his application process for graduate school. About three years ago I thought it would be a kick to try a screenplay and I picked that novel because it's a very visual based war story/love story with a time travel twist. Two years ago Justin used my screenplay for analysis in a screenplay class while getting his undergraduate degree at BYU. (They had to bring in a screenplay based on a book). This time he used the treatment for his application - and it worked! He's accepted and starts this fall.

I'm so excited for him and to think my words helped him achieve this dream. One of those blessings the universe gives you - just when you wonder if anybody's noticing at all.

Friday, April 06, 2007

New Books!

Couple of announcements I'm sloooow in posting.

My good friend Cynthia Leitich Smith's new book TANTALIZE has blown out the gates with a delectable aroma of fine Italian dining--my favorite food, although Sanguini's got SCARY for the patrons (aka readers), and yet I find myself wanting to slip in the back door and snoop around despite the danger.

Just finished HOW TO STEAL A DOG by my dear friend Barbara O'Connor last night. Once again, she writes the PERFECT middle grade novel, full of all that southern talk and slang and wisdom that I adore. She just plunged into the Live Journal blogosphere, too as of yesterday.

So keep a lookout for their upcoming interviews with moi! Soon now, very soon. I promise.



Winner of The Southwest Book Award!

Time travel, war, love, rattlesnakes, magic . . .

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