Thursday, January 31, 2013

Works in Progress

Congrats to Kelly and Jess on winning a signed copy of Karen McQuestion's most-excellent latest, Edgewood! And thanks again to Karen for participating, and for her generosity.

I am being sucked into a vortex at work, but I still have a fun surprise for y'all in the next week or two. I also sent the manuscript of the new novel off to my editor, and I feel a little pukey about it. I've been working on this sucker for fourteen YEARS, and I'm still not sure if I'm ready to release it. It's much darker than anything I've ever written before. A twisted, in-your-face mash-up of chick lit and lad lit. And have I mentioned it takes place in a prison? Am I nuts to even think about putting this out there?

People want books that take place in France and Bali and Nantucket ... don't they? And other than Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, I can't think of too many love stories featuring a male lead confined to a wheelchair.

Weirdly, it's become something of a security blanket for me, or an old friend I'll meet for happy hour after a rough day at work. I'll pull the manuscript up on the screen, tinker with some dialogue here, tighten some phrasing there ... Last night I axed three pages entirely and rewrote another small section, but I haven't given much thought to more massive changes, which could be coming down the pike.

If I do pull the trigger on this book, all I can pray is someone says this about it somewhere: "Fans of indie black comedy rejoice! Because I've found the slutty, snarky love child of Chuck Palahniuk and Laurie Notaro."

In the meantime, there is other writing to do, other books to read. AND: I'll be hosting another great author and giveaway this Sunday. More free books to win, kiddos!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Now Presenting: Karen McQuestion (and a giveaway!)

Karen McQuestion is a fabulous, bestselling Wisconsin author (Yaay Cheeseheads!); she's written three novels for adults, three for teens, and two for kids. You've probably heard of Karen, because she's sold mega-stacks of books and is amazing. If you haven't, here--let me help you out of that bomb shelter and tell you about something called the Internet.  I adore her, and am totally fan-girl that she actually talks to me; in fact, she graciously subjected herself to my interview questions below. AND, she's got signed paperbacks of her latest YA, Edgewood, to give away to TWO lucky readers! (Freebookfriday called it "What to read after The Hunger Games.")

1)      Tell us about Edgewood. Where did you get the idea?

In the beginning of Edgewood, the main character, Russ Becker, finds himself plagued by insomnia. And the only thing that seems to help is taking late night walks. On one of these walks he witnesses a strange astronomical event and eventually discovers that he’s acquired superpowers.

I can’t be sure, but I think the original idea stemmed from my own insomnia, the difference being that my sleepless nights did not result in superpowers of any kind. Disappointing.

2)      What’s one of the biggest differences between writing Young Adult vs. Women’s Fiction?

Since Edgewood is a paranormal, the storyline is far more fantastical than my traditional women’s fiction.

Besides that, I tend to think that the first time you experience something—love, a friend’s betrayal, driving, whatever—it tends to evoke some intense emotions. And since the teenage years have a lot of firsts, it’s a pretty emotionally-charged time. In my opinion, the people who unfairly characterize teenagers as dramatic have forgotten a lot.

Fiction mirrors life, so the intensity of emotion is something I try to keep in mind as I write.

3)      What do you find most challenging about the writing life, and how do you cope?

I have to admit that I’m living my dream—I earn a living writing fiction. Me of four years ago would have smacked myself in the head for complaining about anything at this point, so I have to say that my biggest challenge is writing fiction that’s worthy of the wonderful readers I’ve been lucky enough to reach so far.

4)      Tell us about one of your “most” moments: most humbling, humiliating, gratifying, life-affirming, hilarious … whatever first comes to mind.

Most humiliating:  I once met up with a woman I hadn't seen in over a year and she'd changed her hairstyle drastically--from very long beautiful hair, to an adorable chic short cut.

I spent about ten minutes raving about how cute her haircut was, and saying I'd often thought of doing the same, but never had the courage to go that short.

After babbling on like this for some time, I asked, "So what made you decide to cut it?"

And she said, "I had brain surgery."

Really and truly this did happen. Even now, my face gets red thinking about it. Talk about putting things in perspective...

The bright spot in the whole thing was that the surgery was successful in eliminating her epileptic seizures. (And her hair did look cute.)

5)      Name one book you read again and again.

I don’t usually reread books because there are so many books to read and so little time. As a writer I do sometimes flip through writing books for inspiration, notably Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.
Thanks, Karen! Loved your answers, love you...come back and visit another time! Also, that's not me on your front lawn holding a boombox over my head. Nope.

Don't forget to enter to win a signed copy! Just leave a comment below, along with your email address. Entries close Wednesday at midnight. I'm not nearly organized enough to start spamming you, and I don't even have an author newsletter (see: not organized enough), so don't worry about me bugging you now that I have your email.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Puppy Pile

If, like me, you are a frequent visitor to Cute Overload, you too know that talking porcupines and a magical sanctuary for baby sloths in onesies DO exist. Yesterday a new video was posted that nearly killed me dead. Or in cutespeak, DED.

Can you even believe this? There's obviously some sort of science at work, but who even cares. Puppies! Rotating like a pinwheel!

I'm convinced that there's a huge, unfilled demand for a business we could call Puppy Pile, in which you lie down on the floor and someone lets about ten puppies in at the other end of the room. They all scamper over to you and adorable hilarity ensues. It's like a trip to the spa, only you leave with hives on your face, tangled hair, and a heart brimming with love.

 I'd totally pay for an hour of that.

I don't know why, but I've been highly emotional lately. If it's not a cute puppy video making me tear up, it's simply seeing an extremely elderly woman at the grocery store. Just some random 90+ year-old lovely woman, earnestly shuffling along with her cart in her sensible boots and polyester slacks, with a head of hopeful, white curls and there I am, fighting the strong urge to introduce myself to her and ask if she'd like to be my adopted local grandma, if she needs anyone to drive her to her next doctor or hair appointments, if she'd please tell me stories about growing up without television or a car and what a treat it was to get an orange in her stocking at Christmas.

So clearly, the solution to all of this angst was to drink a tumbler of wine and watch The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, have a good, ugly cry, and wake up with a weird, swollen taste bud on the tip of my tongue and a cold sore on my upper lip, a video of which will be coming soon to Ugly Overload.  

Oh, great. I think I just got Abreva in my eye. Gotta run.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

And...We have a Winner!

Congrats to Janie Junebug! You win a copy of Suzy Soro's awesome memoir, Celebrity sTalker.

Wow, there were a lot of links in those two sentences. You should click them all! Live on the edge, I always say.

Attention patient bargain-hunters: Tomorrow is a big day for me. And you, maybe! The Kindle version of All the Lonely People will be only 99 cents on Amazon this Thursday and Friday. $0.99!!! But the post-holiday fire sale lasts for two days only. That's less than anything on the dollar menu at McDonald's, and much better for your heart! And thighs--especially if you read it while running on a treadmill.

(But don't do that if you're prone to motion sickness.)

I'm actually part of the "99 cent Post-Holiday Genre Potpourri Event," featuring 14 authors in total. You can check out a list of the participating books on Amazon here. And the official press release here. Load up your Kindle for a few bucks!

If you read this on Saturday and missed the sale, email me and we'll work something out. A consolation prize of sorts.

In other news, I'm putting the finishing touches on a novella, and my day job is heating up. And by "heating up" I mean "will leave me in a straightjacket by July."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Now Presenting: Suzy Soro (and a Giveaway!)

I've known Suzy almost since I started blogging, and she is truly one of the funniest, kindest, and most interesting people I know. To help celebrate the launch of her new book, Celebrity sTalker, Suzy was gracious enough to be interviewed AND offer a signed copy of her book to one lucky reader!

1) Tell us a bit about how you got started doing comedy. Is this what you always wanted to do "when you grew up?"

One day I watched Bob Hope host the Academy Awards, which he did nineteen times over the course of his career, more than any other host, and my Dad told me Bob also went overseas and performed for the troops. I told Dad I wanted to do that so he asked what my talent was. My talent? There were so many to choose from: sneaking out at night to meet boys, forging my parents’ signatures on report cards, stealing Mars bars from People’s Drugstore.  

I eventually wrote, starred in, directed, and produced my first sketch comedy show at the age of 14. It was about toilet paper. It was the beginning of my need to be funny in front of people.  Later I would revise that to “My need to be funny in front of people who paid me.”

2) Hecklers: assuming you've had at least one, how do you handle them?

Hecklers are part of a stand-up comic’s world. The worst ones are drunken fools who mistakenly think they’re funnier than the comedian.  I always let them yell out stupid stuff for a while and then say, “You sound funny; do you know a good joke?” (YES!) “Would you like to come up here and tell your joke?” (YES!)

The heckler makes their unwitting way to the stage. I ask their name, their occupation and hand over the mic. Then I walk to the back of the stage and stand behind them, where they can’t see me. As the audience silently stares at them, suddenly the heckler or hecklerette realizes how scary it is to face a room full of strangers. They tell their joke and I’ve never seen it fail, the audience doesn’t laugh. That’s when I walk up to them and say, “Looks easier than it is, doesn’t it?”

3) Tell us a comedy high and comedy low from your life.

I was performing in Macedonia during the Bosnian War. That morning, two flyboys had taken the comics up in a Blackhawk helicopter and flown us into no-fly zones over Serbia. At one point they deliberately dropped the helicopter straight down the side of a mountain and we were in freefall for about six seconds. When we eventually landed at one of the base camps I took the pilot aside and said I would murder him if he did it again, provided we survived, of course.

Later than night, during our show, I singled out the pilot and ripped him a new one. I tortured him for five minutes while the audience howled.  When I finally got back to the barracks I found a sticky note on my door. It read, “Thank you, you made my day” and was signed “A soldier.”

It’s my most prized possession.

The comedy low I blame on my business partner, Leslie Norris. We toured the US for eight years doing our standup show, Single, Married & Divorced. There were three of us but the third girl always varied, depending on who was available. In one town, the third girl missed her flight and wouldn’t arrive until the next day so Leslie and I had to do the show alone. The first five minutes we sang and did sketch comedy. I’m not a great singer. People hire me to sing but seriously, don’t. Leslie is a great singer. She came in second in Star Search and with her talent as a singer, was first runner-up in two Miss America state pageants.

So in the town with no third girl, we sang one of the opening songs, just the two of us. There was a complicated note at the end and when it came time for that note, Leslie stopped singing. On purpose. I was so off-key public schools removed their music programs and Broadway went dark for a week.

4) I can't ask the dinner party question, because you've already been at dinner parties attended by some of the most hilarious, fascinating people ever. So name four people you wouldn't mind being trapped in an elevator with.

Bill Clinton, Cher, the un-dead Elvis, and MacGyver, so we could get out of that elevator.

5) What's your favorite recipe?

My mom is a world class cook and baker. I grew up eating cheese soufflés, chocolate éclairs, artichoke hearts, Orzo, and her amazing Baked Alaska. I never had a hotdog until I went away to college.

For years I ordered Baked Alaska in every restaurant that offered it, only to be disappointed that they didn’t put ice cream in it. Then I would ask a waiter in the next restaurant if theirs had ice cream in it and he would reply, yes, theirs did. And it would show up like all the ones before it, with a side of ice cream. Eventually I stopped ordering it. I have no idea how to make it. And even if I did, I’m sure it would be a colossal failure and I’d have to serve it with a side of ice cream.  Sorry Mom.

Isn't she awesome? (Thanks, Suzy!) Before you go, you should visit Suzy's blog, follow Suzy on Twitter, and Like her Facebook fan page. And don't forget to leave a comment (your favorite recipe?) to enter to win an autographed copy of her book, which is fabulous!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Can Call Me Thor

Life is full of so many moments when I wish I'd have said something differently--more cleverly, more tenderly, with more insight or wit or empathy. And I have a horrid knack for inserting my foot in my mouth, for not fully completing a thought before it tumbles out of my mouth. Which is why I much prefer email and writing to phone calls and public speaking, but I digress.

Last weekend I played wing-woman for my friend Julie, who is the lead singer in a kick-ass band. In the course of the evening, entertaining things were said and observed. But when a guy who offered to buy us a drink introduced himself as "Thor," I WISH I'd said, "It's great to meet you, Thor! I'm Zena, but you can call me Warrior Princess."

I don't know if it's just my gullibility, but he seemed incredibly sincere about his name actually BEING Thor. He even said that everyone cracks an Adventures in Babysitting joke as soon as they learn his name. He seemed tired of being hassled about it.

Sidebar: remember that scene where Elizabeth Shue's blind-ish best friend is sitting at the bus terminal and they have those clunky little TVs bolted to some of the chairs? Do they still have those?

Moving on. Of course I didn't ask for proof, I just thought it would be fun to pretend I really met someone actually named after a hammer-wielding god from Norse mythology.

In other news, I am being featured on the most-excellent Chick Lit is Not Dead blog today, with five personally inscribed copies of All the Lonely People up for grabs to match my five ridiculous answers to their "5 Best Evers" blog category. If you hop over and enter to win, it will look like I have some friends, which is always awesome.

Other things: Last night I met with a fabulous book club at a place called Cheesecake Heaven. Tonight I'm having a drink with this amazing singer. Tomorrow I'm featuring an interview and book giveaway here on the blog with one of the funniest people I know (you won't want to miss it, trust me). And I have MORE giveaways and interviews on deck. How is it possible that January can be this fun without a tropical vacation?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Song Sung Blew

Housekeeping! First, congratulations to Dana Vittum on winning a copy of December Gephart’s debut novel, Undercover Professor! I’ll be hosting more authors in the weeks and months to come, with more chances to win great books, so stay tuned, kemosabes!

Official Blog Post Starts … NOW!

J and I are big-time Song Quoters. We’ll be moseying around the house, or chopping up a salad for dinner, and all of a sudden one of us will be struck with the urge to sing a random song lyric that’s vaguely related to the task at hand: “Put ‘em in your mouth and suck ‘em!” ... while unwrapping a Dove dark chocolate Promise, for example.

(Chef, from South Park, singing “Chocolate Salty Balls”)

Sometimes we make up our own songs. “Restin’ pants, restin’ pants, hot diggity dog, it’s restin’ pants!” A few nights ago we were marching around the living room singing this together: “Let’s go read! Let’s go read! Let’s go read!” Because one of our favorite pastimes lately is reading before bed. Me, all smug on my side with my light, sleek little Kindle, and him on his side, wrestling with a fifty-pound paperback that keeps falling on his face, in the delicate lady reading glasses he bought at Fleet Farm.

Speaking of Fleet Farm, did you know that this is where every AARP-eligible citizen in my city buys birdseed? We were there last weekend and I lost track of how many natty-looking older gentlemen had only this item in their cart. We bought a 25 pound bag of sunflower seeds as well, because we like fitting in with the crowd. They don’t taste the greatest, though.

There was also a run on mittens! There were seriously thirty people crammed into a short aisle devoted to gloves and winter hats marked down to 30% off. J looked at me at one point to dramatically sing a snatch of lyric from the Michael McDonald song playing on the loudspeakers above.

Sidebar: please revoke my speaking and/or writing privileges if I ever use the phrase “snatch of lyric” again.

Also, here’s a song: “I just finished my … novella!” (To the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You”) It’s a lot of firsts for me: first novella, for one thing. What’s a novella, you ask? It’s basically a “fun-size” novel. Perfect for a rainy afternoon or to pass the time while you wait for the oil to be changed in the mini-van.

It’s also the first work of fiction I’ve set in my current hometown (featuring lots of local landmarks), first story I’ve written entirely in the third person POV / past tense, first sweet, quirky love story with no heavy themes (“Hooray!” cheer all of you), AND the first to feature awesome bonuses. What awesome bonuses, you may be asking? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see! 

I’m hoping to release it on President’s Day, just so I can type, “In honor of everyone’s favorite holiday, I give you …"  and then I announce the title, which is still a secret because I’m not sure I want to keep it.

Next week I’ll be featured on Chick Lit is Not Dead. I think I answered the wrong interview questions, but as the Cornelius Brothers once sang, "It's too turn back now..."

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Now Presenting: December Gephart! (And a Giveaway)

Hello, Mr. Nipple...
Big welcome to my friend December (we call her 'D'), and congratulations on the recent release of her debut novel,  Undercover Professor! It's such a fun story--takes place in Milwaukee, features a fun "gaming" angle, smart, funny, and definitely made me blush. I'm not too familiar with the romance genre, but I loved this one! D was kind enough to subject herself to my interrogation, which we shall commence with now. (Leave a comment below, and you're entered to win an e-copy of her debut!)

1)      Where did you get the idea for Undercover Professor?   Oddly enough - it was a Cosmo or Glamor magazine.  A few years back I saw a list on the top 10 guys you should avoid.  And I thought it was rather silly, because why would anyone need a list written up?  On that list were many of Andy's problems.  Lives with his mom, in between jobs and doesn't seem too interested in searching for a new one, etc.   Then one of my pals, who I consider pretty smart, told me her boyfriend still lived with his parents, and had no intention of moving out.   And he's a pretty decent guy, but it seemed like a huge red flag.  They ended up breaking up, and don't worry, she found her happy ever after with another guy.  

It got my writerly wheels to turning on a book about a girl who had a personal list of guys to avoid, due to previous heartbreaks.  But what if ... what if the perfect guy has no ZING, and the guy who's all wrong is zingy all over the place? 

      I know as a parent, you’re not supposed to say if you have a favorite child. But as a writer, do you have a favorite character in the novel?  I really love cousin Becca.  I know, she rubs a lot of people the wrong way.  But I just adore how she throws her whole self into love, without any safety net.  Even though she gets her heart broken over and over, she keeps pushing forward and believing that her True Love is out there.  She never ever stops believing.  And I love how crazy she is, and manipulative, but it all came from this place of blind love.  Everyone knows someone just like her.  Writing her was so much fun.

I just finished writing a wildly fun little novella about a Type A girl, and a laid back guy.  All of their dates go haywire, and it was hilarious watching my controlling, manic bossy pants get her undies in a bundle, and then watch her realize that maybe her world wasn't going to fall apart after all.  She is probably my current favorite.  She has a good sense of humor, but she's just squirming the entire time.  It's great fun.

3)      I loved Andy! Was he loosely inspired by anyone real? How do you feel about writing from a male perspective?  Well, physically I based him on Bradley Cooper.  Yummy.  In real life, this might shock you, but I don't tend to attract the playboy one night stand type of fellas who love dumb girls. 

I actually Love love love writing in the male perspective.  It's quite natural for me.  If I let myself, I'd have the majority of the book written in his Point of View.  I just love putting guys through the emotional wringer, I guess.  It's so fun watching them realize too late that they've messed it all up, and Oh Crap!  How are they going to fix it?  They're just so ... easy.  In the best sort of way.  But I also don't write the AlphaHole males. 

4)      Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?  Probably you, because we end up together sooner or later!  And you don't seem to mind when I get exited and spittle red wine at you, or my purple tongue.  The important things...

      What keeps you awake at night?  HA - usually my 2 year old, hollering for a drink of water.  Or my dog snoring.  Or my husband, snoring.

      What’s next from you?  I have a few things in the cooker.  I have 2 books in with my editor now, (one of them is that fun novella.  I can't wait until that book gets picked up, it's so stinking cute and goofy,) and I just finished up a third.  Then I have a 4 book series I'm itchy to write. 

      Beets: love them or hate them?  Hate.  Them.  BLECH, I HATE BEETS.  I'm not even kidding.

Thanks D! I can't wait to read your next book.  If you'd like to win an e-copy of December's book, leave a comment telling us who YOU'D like to sit next to at a dinner party.