A Slice of Orange


(Mis)Adventures in Writing

May 1, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

How a Nutritionist (Nearly) Wrecked My Writing Career

By Theresa Montana

“Sugar,” the young professional woman sitting across from me declared. She picked up an orange highlighter and uncapped it with a vengeance, and then she drew a neon orange line through the very first entry of my eating journal.

I shifted on the uncomfortable little exam table. “I didn’t put any sugar in that cappuccino, only Splenda.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Lactose,” she informed me. “Milk is at least half sugar.”

“But the South Beach diet…”

“Didn’t read it.”

“Don’t women my age need lots of calcium? I have a family history of osteoporosis.”

“There are other sources of calcium, you know.” She made a notation on the “Vitamin and Supplement Schedule” on the counter by the sink.

Theresa, I silently scolded myself, you paid $500 for this consultation. Don’t argue with the nutritionist; shut up and listen.

I watched in horror as the lady highlighted three-quarters of the entries in my food log, including fruit, milk and whole grains. She then went on to explain to me how men and women from the Paleolithic period ate. “Hunters and gathers ate lots of meat and vegetables, maybe some nuts and berries” She explained. “Only an occasional tuber and fruit only when it was in season. Certainly none of this tropical fruit we now get year round.”

Tropical cave people ate tropical fruit year round, I thought.

“And no grains! Grains came with the advent of the farming.”

She silenced my skepticism by putting me on a body fat scale. While I was still recovering from the trauma of learning how much of my body consisted of fat, she sold me $350 of high end vitamins and supplements.

Evidently she didn’t think that my gummy vitamins were doing the trick.

Later that week I met with my writing critique group at the Barnes and Noble Café. They managed not to comment when I showed up at our usual table with herbal tea, instead of my usual ice mocha with whipped cream. I put a baggie full of celery amidst the array of chocolates and pastries on the table, and then I reached into my little white shopping bag and poured out seven pills from various bottles onto a napkin.

“What the hell?” Jen, one of my writing partners, asked loudly. Suddenly every patron in the café was silent and looking in my direction.

“Don’t even go there,” I warned all three of my writing partners. “Let’s get to work.”

Char frowned over my manuscript. “Where’s your heroine’s usual wit and warmth? This dialogue makes her seem so…nasty.”

“Not all heroines are nice and compliant,” I informed her. “I decided she needed a little edge.”

The next week’s consult with the dietician went a little better, until she found the macaroni and cheese listed on my food journal.

“I used whole grain pasta and low fat cheese,” I told her. “It went over really big with my kids.”

Apparently she missed the sarcasm. “Theresa, Theresa, Theresa,” she shook her head sadly. “You just don’t get it.”

I tried to tell her how my kids were eating over at their friends more and more often, how my husband was working late every night at the office.

But she merely pointed at another entry. “Two glasses of wine?” she shrilled. “Tortilla chips? Haven’t you heard about trans fats?”

Somewhere I had read about them. “Once a week my husband and I have a couple of drinks with my next door neighbors. The wife’s from Guatemala. She’s a fantastic cook.”

I stared into the incredulous eyes of the nutritionist.

“They eat lots of black beans,” I offered weakly. “They’re healthy, aren’t they?”

“Your friend is sabotaging you. I don’t think you should go over there too often.”

“I won’t,” I promised. “Just don’t put me on that scale, please…”

I humbly bought another $250 in supplements, but I just had to ask her one thing. ‘Hunter and Gathers didn’t travel around with shopping bags full of pills and powders, did they?”

“Modern farming techniques have depleted the quantity and quality of nutrients in the food supply. And you’re nowhere near as active as a hunter-gatherer.”

“What? I go to Curves.”

Critique group of the same week didn’t go smoothly either. We went over Char’s synopsis. Like all novelists, Char hated writing a synopsis, and it showed. This one lacked her usual graceful style. It was downright choppy.

“Char,” I exclaimed. “What’s up with this sentence structure? These sentences are just horrible!”

Later in the evening I suggested to another critique partner that she give us her chapters in sequence so I could actually follow her plot. To top it all, I told Jen that she might stick to writing one novel at a time so that she could actually finish one of them.

“What is in those pills you’re taking?” Jen inquired.

“Not sugar or caffeine,” I lamented.

At the next meeting of my writing group, no one could follow my muddy prose. My plot wasn’t logical. My characters were not consistent. And I got confused trying to jot down so many comments.

The week after that, I didn’t bring any writing submission at all. “I haven’t written a word,” I confessed. “I’ve had this nagging headache all week.”

The next time I saw the dietician, I told her that I was feeling crappy and that I had “used” sugar once or twice during the past two weeks.

“Don’t lapse back into your sugar addiction!” she begged me.

“Look,” she continued. “You’re just serotonin-seeking.” She turned toward her locked cabinet of pricey vitamins and herbal concoction. “Maybe some amino acids or more B vitamins,” she murmured.

“You’re damn right I’m serotonin-seeking!” I answered.

My outburst caught her off guard. She pointed to the Janet Evanovich book in my hand. “What are you reading?” she asked me in an obvious ploy to distract me.

It worked. I never could resist talking about books. “This little gem is just hysterical. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. There’s even nutritional humor.”


“In one book the protagonist’s side kick tries out the Atkins diet. In another there’s a scene where a recently divorced women hijacks a Cheetohs delivery truck and by the time the authorities track her down she’s covered in yellow dust.”

The crisp young woman stared at me blankly. “I don’t read fiction.”

“What? What do you read for pleasure?”

“Professional journals.”

“I mean for leisure reading.”

“I really enjoy reading medical journals,” she insisted.

“You put medical journals in your beach bag? On your bedside table? Even in the bathroom?”

She looked at me askance. “I don’t read in the bathroom. Yuck.”

I never saw her again. We were just not on the same page. Heck we were not even reading the same books.

Furthermore, I decided that I didn’t really want to model my eating habits after Clan of the Cave Bear. True, most cave men didn’t develop chronic diseases, but that was because they didn’t live long enough. Many hunter-gathers died young from consuming parasites in their meat or munching on poisonous leaves and grasses. I can imagine that some cave dwellers might’ve died from eating hallucinogenic berries and mushrooms and throwing themselves off a nearby cliff or into the closest fire.

But I know of no Paleolithic human who wrote a novel or even a memoir–because coffee houses had yet to be invented.

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Author Interview with Suzanne Forster

April 28, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

The Climbing Career Path
Suzanne Forster

by Sandy Novy-Chvostal

Suzanne Forster, author of The Arrangement (Mira) released this month, advises writers who have hit a wall to talk to their characters. “Find out who they are, what they want, and most importantly, identify their wound,” says Suzanne. “Pain and pain avoidance are the prime motivators for almost everything we do in life, even our humor.”

And who would know that better than this best-selling author, who never intended to be a romance author, until a fateful accident changed her plans, and then her dreams, as well?

Q. You’ve said that for you, becoming a writer, was literally an accident. Can you explain in more detail?

I had a car accident. I was in a doctoral program in clinical psychology at the time, but the accident was serious enough that I had to drop out. My recovery was a long one, and I began writing to fill the hours. Being Type A, I wasn’t content with something non-taxing, like journal writing. I had to turn it into a novel. Unfortunately, it was a really dreadful novel, and as soon as I was physically able, I started taking classes at the local community college. Within a year I was in enrolled in a novel-writing workshop and involved in my second tome, which was only marginally better than the first. It was the third attempt that made the finals in the Golden Heart, and ultimately became my first published book, Undercover Angel.

Q. How does your background in psychology affect your writing? Characterization?

A: In more ways than I can possibly recount. I thought it might be a drawback because I hadn’t had the exposure to classic literature and story analysis that most English majors have, but once I’d filled in some of the basics with classes in novel, script and poetry writing, I realized that my studies in psychology were going to be a plus. Understanding the different personality types and what motivated them helped tremendously in developing characters and storylines. But it was my curiosity about some of the darker aspects of human behavior and why people do what they do that led me to major in psychology, so I was really fascinated with the unconscious conflicts that drive our defense mechanisms, our manipulations, and create our blind spots. The secrets we keep from each and from ourselves are the basis of many of my suspense plots, and I think my preference for characters with interesting flaws and psychological dilemmas may have been the result of all those hours immersed in Freudian and Jungian theory.

So, the psychology didn’t pay off in any expected way, but it did pay off. It even helped with the romantic comedies I’ve written. Understanding human foibles and frailties and being able to laugh at them has inspired many a quirky plot idea.

Q. What do you enjoy most about writing?

A: I love the idea stage of a story, which for me includes writing the story proposal and the first draft. The second and third drafts, not so much. Revisions, ugh!

Q. What do you find the most challenging about being a writer?

A: My first inclination was to say that revisions are the most challenging, and in a technical sense, I think that’s true. But the most challenging thing about the writing life for me is the isolation. I don’t know what I’d do without my writers’ loops and my Yahoo readers’ group. It used to be the phone that kept me connected, but now it’s the internet.

Q. If I’ve counted right, The Arrangement (Mira), will be your 30th release. You’ve hit the lists–New York Times, USA Today–and you’re one of the few authors to have received a 5 from Romantic Times. How did this impact your career?

A: Looking back over the entire twenty-plus years of my career, I think getting the 5 rating from RT had a major impact. I was writing series romance in relative obscurity until then, and no one was more stunned at RT’s announcement than I was, especially since I didn’t know they gave out 5s. It probably also helped that they hadn’t awarded one in the two years before I got mine. Plus, it just happened to be July, the month of the RWA national conference, so there was the advantage of lots of writers congregated in one place, and lots of buzz. Timing really is everything, but I had nothing to do with that, of course. It was just dumb luck, for which I am eternally grateful.

I suspect the 5 was also instrumental in my move from series to single title because of the agents and editors who might not have noticed or read my work otherwise. And again the timing was such that romance sales were strong, and several series authors were being encouraged to move into single title. Editors were actually looking for authors who might be able to make the move, and Again I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. I sometimes wonder what the probability is of the convergence of all those elements at one time. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were similar to winning the lottery. I was just very very lucky.

Another career event that made a big difference was having the interest of more than one publisher when I moved into single title. That created a small, but significant, bidding situation that made it possible for me to write a single title book for as much as I’d been making writing several series romances. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult financially. In general, single title books are longer and more complex, but the starting advances often don’t reflect that. It’s one of the reasons many series writers have elected not to make the move. Again, for me, it was timing, luck, and a bit of networking that made the difference.

Q. Besides your popularity, was there another factor that instigated the bidding war?

A: There were several. As I mentioned, some very popular series authors had moved into single title and were doing extraordinarily well. They blazed the trail for all of us who followed. The resurgence of interest in sexy romantic suspense helped too. My series romances had been evolving in that direction, and while my editor nurtured that interest, she also noticed that my stories were bursting at the seams. She was several steps ahead of me in thinking that I might be ready to make the move. Ironically, she moved before I did to another publisher.

She took an editing position at another publishing house, but remained interested in working with me. That’s how the bidding situation came about. I’d been writing series, so there was no option clause involved. Technically, I was free to submit my single title idea to both my current editor and the editor who’d moved, and both agreed to look at a detailed story proposal in lieu of a partial manuscript, which would have involved a short synopsis and chapters.

Talk about pressure. I knew I had to come up with the mother of all synopses, because that was essentially what I would be doing–writing a longer, more detailed synopsis with all the hooks and selling points of a story proposal. I opened with a two-paragraph teaser, similar to a back cover blurb, but my real goal was to make the ensuing pages read like a page-turning short story. In this case, it worked. That synopsis resulted in a two-book, six-figure deal and the story proposal became my single title debut novel, Shameless.

Q. Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

A: Oh, so many things. In retrospect, it seems as if I’ve made questionable choices several times along the way. I’d be in trouble if I were to go into detail, but generally speaking, things like staying with agents and publishers when I probably should have left, and leaving agents and publishers when I probably should have stayed, and every other possible combination of those variables. But I also know that I made the best decisions I could have at the time, given what I knew. So yes, there may be a couple things I would do differently if I could travel back in time, but I don’t regret anything. Regretting choices is a time and energy waster, very counterproductive. Whoever came up with keep your eye on the prize had the right idea.

Q. What advice do you have for new writers?

A: Nothing very exciting, I’m afraid. More than anything, I’d say a writing career takes discipline and perseverance and wanting it really bad. Most of those popular slogans are good advice, such as following your bliss and staying the course, and then there’s Nikes’ Just Do It, which is as profound as it is simple, if you think about it. But don’t think about it, just do it.

Q. Advice for writers that may have hit a wall?

A: If you’ve hit a wall while writing, talk to your characters. You’ve probably lost touch with them or perhaps didn’t know them well enough in the first place. Plumb the depths. Find out who they are, what they want, and most importantly, identify their wound. I think it was Joan Didion who said write from the wound. Pain and pain avoidance are the prime motivators for almost everything we do in life, even our humor.

(Don’t miss reading about Suzanne’s advice on sexual tension in this month’s issue of OCC’s Orange Blossom.)

Sandy Novy-Chvostal (aka Sandra Paul) has a degree in journalism, but prefers to write from the heart. She is married to her high school sweetheart and they have three children, three cats, and one overgrown “puppy.” Romantic Times has labeled Sandra Paul’s work as “outrageously funny and surprisingly perceptive” while Rendezvous stated “Sandra Paul is imagination with wings.”

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Teen Speak

April 25, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

By Alyson Noel

Last Saturday, I took part in an author panel where I was asked—How do you write in such an authentic teen voice? I expected you to be fourteen!

To which I replied—But I am fourteen.

I wasn’t lying, wasn’t trying to be coy about my age or revive a well-worn punch line, because the truth is, for better or worse, deep down inside I’m still stuck in adolescence. I mean, sure I can legally drive, vote, and drink (though not all at once). But just because I have a standing appointment at my hair salon where it takes two hours to recreate the color of my youth, just because, through some enormous fluke, I ended up with a house, a husband, and a handful of credit cards—the usual trappings of a grown up life—that doesn’t mean I’m an adult.

I never feel grown up. I’m not even sure what it means. Grown ups used to be my parents, teachers, and characters I watched on TV. A grown up was June Cleaver with her sweater sets and pearls tucked neatly beneath her apron, a grown up was Lauren Bacall exchanging witty, sophisticated banter with Humphrey Bogart in the old black and white movies my mom made us watch on rainy Sunday afternoons. A grown up always wore shoes that matched her handbag. A grown up was able to make her point without ever resorting to slang.

I don’t own an apron. I live in flip-flops or Frye boots depending on the season, and carry whichever purse holds all of my stuff. I blast my stereo when I drive, singing at the top of my lungs, like I did at sixteen. I over use words like totally and awesome, and when I’m especially enthusiastic am known to say, totally awesome! I still get rock star crushes. I still act immature and giddy when I’m with my friends. I still struggle with a problematic T-zone.

So you can see how getting inside a teenager’s head isn’t all that big of a stretch.

Though I do remember back when I was an authentic teen, back in the days when everyone over twenty-five seemed old, thirty tragically old, and forty downright ancient. And how my mom tried to explain it, telling me how despite the accumulation of birthday candles and wrinkles, deep down inside, she still felt like a kid. And how every time she caught her own reflection, she couldn’t help but think—who’s that old lady?

At the time, I just laughed, thinking she was, well, old.

But now I know she was right. Because depending on the day, I’m 14, 16, or at the very most—25. But rarely, if ever, do I feel grown up.

What about you? To quote my favorite birthday card—How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was? And how does it shape what you write?

Alyson Noel is the author of Faking 19, Art Geeks and Prom Queens, Laguna Cove, Fly Me to the Moon, and the upcoming Kiss & Blog (May 2007). You can visit her at: www.alysonnoel.com

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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

April 24, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

by Judy Duarte

It seems like only yesterday—or at least last year!—when I walked into my very first OCC meeting, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping and dreams soaring.

So when I was asked to take part in this blog, how could I say no? Still, I had to give it some thought. What advice would I give myself as a newbie author?

This is what I came up with—

If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’ll tell you why.

As an avid reader of romance, I began to harbor a growing compulsion to write a book of my own until it was impossible to ignore. Trouble was I had no idea what to do or where to start.

However, I’ve come to believe that God doesn’t put a dream on one’s heart without giving a person the power to make it come true.

Call it what you will—a divine gift or just plain serendipity—but some things are much more powerful than the muse.

In 1996, while scanning a schedule for the UC Irvine office of extended studies, I noticed a class titled “How to Write a Romance Novel” and jumped at the chance to learn everything I needed to know…in one single weekend. Imagine that!

Lesson #1 to self: There is something to learn every single day, and being published doesn’t change that.

Had I realized that it would take much longer than a weekend to learn all I needed to know—and I’m still learning, by the way—I might not have stuck around long enough to see my dream to fruition. But I was enthusiastic, driven and hopeful, which is the first thing I wouldn’t change.

At the class, I met several aspiring romance novelists who all shared the same dream I had. One of them, Sheri WhiteFeather, was writing a paranormal time travel. Now, I didn’t particularly read or like paranormals, but there was something that drew me to Sheri. She was the only one in the group who seemed to share the same burning desire to make our dreams come true. So I volunteered to read her work and agreed to send her mine. This, by the way, is the second thing I wouldn’t do differently.

Lesson # 2 to self: When it comes to finding the right critique partner, it’s not a matter of searching for someone who lives near you and has Thursday evenings free. Nor is it a matter of finding someone who writes in the same subgenre you do. It’s finding someone who shares the same drive and who is willing to become a teammate in your own dream to succeed.

Someone in our UC Irvine class mentioned an organization called Romance Writers of America. And can you believe it? There was a chapter in Orange County. After attending my first meeting, I went home in awe. I also blocked out every second Saturday on my calendar for the next year. I knew without a doubt that would be the secret to success.

Before long, I realized there was a wealth of knowledge available via RWA, a treasure trove of information and resources to tap into. So I attended every OCC meeting, signed up for every possible conference and workshop, and learned all I could cram into my brain. Soon the doors began to open up for me.

Lesson # 3 to self: Seize every opportunity to hone your craft and to network with other authors.

Several months later, I headed south to the San Diego State Writer’s Conference, wanting to absorb all I could about the craft of writing. I was also hoping to meet an editor or agent who would take on my work and see me through to publication.

Lesson # 4 to self: The journey will probably take longer than you think, so try to enjoy it. And expect to get discouraged at times—it’s often part of the trip. I suspect there are plenty of unpublished authors out there who are more talented than I am, but if they lack perseverance, they may never see their dreams come true.

At the SDSU Conference, I met Chris/Crystal Green, and she soon joined our critique group. I now had two of the best critique partners in the world. We all lived an hour away from each other, which meant meeting regularly wasn’t possible. But we shared that same burning desire to be published. And we wanted it as bad for each other as we wanted it for ourselves. We went so far as to make a commitment to read and critique each other’s work and get it back within a 24-hour period of time. Soon we thought of each other as the three musketeers: one for all, and all for one!

Once that first book was finished, I honestly believed it was just a matter of time before an agent or editor snatched up my masterpiece and placed me on the New York Times list.

Lesson # 5 to self: Just because God placed the dream to be published on your heart doesn’t mean He won’t require a great deal of work on your part.

Sheri was the first to sell, and it made Chris and I even more determined to follow in her footsteps. Then Chris sold. I was thrilled for them. But then the seeds of doubt began to sprout. Did I really have the talent they’d insisted I had? Would I ever get the call?

There were a few iffy moments, I have to admit.

Lesson # 6 to self: As Gary Provost said: You need three things for success…talent, good luck and persistence. If you have persistence, you only need one of the other two!

Four manuscripts, fifteen conferences, too many contests to remember, a scrapbook full of rejections, and scores of OCC meetings later, the rejection letters became more and more promising, the contest scores closer to the top. Then things really began to click. My third historical romance won the 2000 Orange Rose. And six months later, my first contemporary romance won the Emily contest. In 2001, I became a double Golden Heart finalist.

In May 7, 2001, while alone in the office at work and pumped full of vicodin because of a pending root canal, I finally got the call. Silhouette Special Edition wanted to buy my first book. And thanks to the meds, I had to wait two weeks before I could celebrate with champagne. But what a celebration it was!

Twenty-five sales later, the desire to write and sell is still strong, the wait on word from my editor about a proposal is still nerve wracking, and the call with an offer is still nearly as thrilling as the first. And so is the love of writing.

So if I had it all to do over again, there’s really nothing I would change. But I suspect it’s best that I didn’t know how long it would take. Had I known it wasn’t just around the corner, I might have lost the dream and the drive to succeed.

Lesson # 7 to self and to anyone else who will listen: Never quit dreaming, never quit trying, never quit honing your craft. Dreams come true—but not if you give up.

An avid reader who enjoys a happy ending, Judy Duarte couldn’t shake the dream of writing a book of her own. In March of 2002, her first Special Edition, COWBOY COURAGE, was released. Since then, she has sold twenty-four more books to Silhouette and two women’s fiction novels to Kensington, including DEAR GOD… which will be published in April of 2008.

Judy’s books have made the Waldenbooks Bestseller lists and have won her a National Reader’s Choice Award. When she’s not cooped up in her writing cave, she’s spending time with her somewhat enormous, but delightfully close family in Southern California. You can contact Judy through her website at: http://www.judyduarte.com/

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Reader Review

April 24, 2007 by in category Reading tagged as ,


by Marshall Karp

Carl Hiaasen (see my blog, “Twisted Male Humor”) may be looking over his shoulder wondering who is this new kid on the block.

He should.

James Patterson gave this cover quote for THE RABBIT FACTORY, “Marshall Karp could well be the Carl Hiaasen of Los Angeles — only I think he’s even funnier. THE RABBIT FACTORY will touch your funny bone, and your heart.”

Thanks once again to my friend and bookseller Michelle Thorne (“Bearly Used Books” in La Puente, CA), I found another terrific author. Michelle had given the hardcover to my dh as a gift last year. He loved it, but because it was HIS book and not mine, it ended up in his stash of books instead of my office shelves. He brought it to my attention after I finished another Hiaasen recently.

THE RABBIT FACTORY is centered around murders connected to an L.A. based entertainment mega-conglomerate a la Disney.

There are many reasons why I was drawn into this first novel by Karp–

First, James Patterson’s cover quote comparison to Hiaasen was a like a double endorsement! (Patterson’s WHEN THE WIND BLOWS is my favorite of his books!)

Second, I’ve been a fan of amusement parks since my first visit to Disneyland as a kid living in San Diego. Nowadays, not only can I hear the nightly fireworks from my bedroom window but I hold an annual pass so I can get my fix on a regular basis.

Third, LAPD detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. But it’s Lomax who gets to have center stage with chapters in his own first-person voice. (Another new trend I like: mixing first and third person.)

Mike Biggs has lost his wife to cancer only six months earlier, but the author handles this situation with just the right balance between grief and poignant memories. At the same time, Mike’s dad — Big Jim — is trying to help Mike move forward and into a new relationship, something Mike is loathe to do.

I know I’m reading a murder mystery. Anything could happen. Especially to the poor protagonist who may or may not fall in love with the wrong person. Or falls for the right one who gets blown up in the end. I hate when that happens.

I want happy endings. I think everyone does, despite the cynical sneer of too many people who turn their noses up at the romance genre. (I KNOW these literary elitists have not read a Meryl Sawyer or Karen Robards or they wouldn’t act that way!)

Without giving anything away (so you will buy this book!), I will say that Marshall Karp gave me every reason to keep coming back for more.

So I was absolutely thrilled to find out that Lomax and Biggs will be showing up again in Karp’s next book, BLOOD THIRSTY, which will be available May 1.

If you are in the Los Angeles area on May 15, Marshall will be doing a drive-by signing at noon at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood while he’s in town to research his next Lomax and Biggs novel.

Review by:
Gillian Doyle writes paranormal suspense. She invites you to drop by at her blog and say hello.

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