Hamden author Louise Rozett is making good in L.A. and has a new book!

 Louise Rozett is the author of Confessions of an Angry Girl and Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend. She lives in Los Angeles with her fierce protector, a giant Bernese mountain dog named Lester, and is a proud graduate of Hamden High School. Visit Louiserozett.com for more. Here’s her page for the new book:


Also, she will be participating in an online panel called “Humor Me!” with Paul Rudnick and Don Calame as part of the School Library Journal’s Summerteen 2013 program on 7/24 at 4:15 pm. (www.slj.com/summerteen/program/)

almost girlfriend

Tell us about your new book.

I’m so excited about Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend, which is the sequel to Confessions of an Angry Girl. The main character, Rose, is growing up—fast. She’s a sophomore now, and there’s a big difference between freshman and sophomore year of high school. The issues she has to deal with are even more intense this time around. As are her feelings for the mysterious and frustrating Jamie Forta.

Where did the germ of the story come from?

I was intrigued by the fact that a lot of the people around Rose seemed have a clearer idea of who they were and what they wanted to do than Rose did. I wanted to explore what it’s like to be lost in high school when it feels like everyone around you knows what they’re doing, and to see how Rose would dig her way out of that. And when she did dig her way out of that, how her newfound confidence affected her decisions—particularly with regard to Jamie.

Did this book come to you easily?

In some ways, the book did come easily to me, because it’s about the beginnings of Rose’s journey as a singer, which was something I could relate to based on my own experience. I remember what it felt like to realize that there was something I could do—something that other people thought I was good at it—and how that made me feel. So in some ways, I feel like my journey is really linked to Rose’s, which made the book easier to write than I expected. However, there are things that happen to the characters in this book that I really didn’t want to accept, and I fought against it, tooth and nail. But the voices in my head won out in the end—I had to let the story go the way it wanted to go.

What are the big issues that Rose had to deal with in this book?

 

There’s a lot going on for Rose. She’s coping with depression as a result of the loss of her dad, and feelings of inadequacy based on what she perceives as the successes that her friends are having. She’s also trying to figure out how to handle desire, and the havoc that that seems to be wreaking in her life. And there’s a new character in this installment of the series—a pissed-off gay student who is doing everything he can not to be a victim of the homophobic athlete culture in their school—who really challenges Rose in a number of ways. She is once again trying to figure out what it means to stand up for what is right, and she’s getting an education from a number of different sources, some of them not-so-pleasant.

How much of you is there in Rose?

Probably more than I would like to admit! I definitely had my share of crushes on the brooding, mysterious types at Hamden High, and I struggled to stay true to myself in the face of those intense feelings. The question Rose is trying to answer is, how do you hold on to yourself—your values, your beliefs, your boundaries—when you’re feeling desire and romantic love for the first time? And that was a question that I never quite found the answer to until I was much older. But in Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend, Rose starts to realize that the key is to have your own goals and passions that are separate from the person you’re crazy about, and to pursue them with the same ardor and devotion you use to pursue love. It’s a pretty major realization for her, as it was for me, once I finally had it!

Another thing that Rose and I have in common is that we were both in productions of Anything Goes in high school. Rose dips her toe in the musical theatre world in high school as an homage to what was probably the most important part of my high school experience—discovering my love of theatre, and learning the art of discipline within creativity from mentors like Joe Juliano and Julian Schlusberg.

What are you working on right now?

 

I’m currently in Los Angeles, writing the pilot for the Confessions series. It was originally a half-hour format, and now I’m working with my manager to change it to an hour-long format, to make it more suitable for places like ABC Family and the CW. It’s a really fun, strange process—it’s like writing the Confessions books all over again, but in a parallel universe, where everything is shifted by at least a few degrees, and some of the characters are completely different from who they were in the books. It’s weird, but good.

Will there be another installment of the Confessions series?

 

I certainly hope so. I’m if lucky, I’ll get to write both junior and senior year. I need to know what happens to Rose, and she won’t tell me until I start writing the next book. She keeps her cards pretty close, I have to say.

 

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When we last left Jan Melnik…she was an Amazon quarter-finalist

 
We’re catching up with Jan Melnik, who let us in on the backstage thoughts and fears of an author entering Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest. When we last saw her, she had made it (along with 99 others) into the quarter-finals, meaning that she had triumphed over 9,900 other would-be winners, and was awaiting (sadly, with the flu) the final results.
Click here for part one of her story.
Would she win?
Here she is, to wrap up the story:

The five weeks stretching from Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest quarter-finalists’ announcement to the much-anticipated release of those advancing to the semi-finals seemed far longer than just 35 days. As most quarter-finalists in the running admitted on the increasingly active discussion boards, the closer it got to the announcement date of April 16, the more difficult it was to concentrate on any meaningful work. Being a first-time participant in the process, I naively figured nothing would be known until Tuesday at noon. The two previous notifications from Amazon had occurred between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern. While I thought I might have a little difficulty sleeping Monday night, I wasn’t prepared to also lose sleep on Sunday night. 

But early into Sunday evening, the discussion board started popping with posts from writers: “PWs are in!” Most everyone remaining in the contest at this point (me and some 99 other happy campers who’d advanced this far) had pre-consoled ourselves with the idea that “no matter what the outcome of the contest is, we’re thrilled to be getting reviews from Publishers Weekly.” That was the prize offered by Amazon to all quarter-finalists.

So the refresh buttons on probably 100 laptops around the globe (many participants were from countries other than the United States) were nearly worn out as we eagerly watched for our individual Publishers Weekly reviews to be uploaded. And that exercise continued into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Thursday! Whether a glitch or just somewhat sloppy administration, Publishers Weekly reviews appeared without any logical pattern to populate writers’ accounts intermittently and incredibly slowly over the next four days. Meanwhile, Amazon promptly announced the five semi-finalists, as promised, on April 16. Disappointingly (for me), “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island” did not make this cut.

I wasn’t to receive my review, though, until Thursday, which–at that point–was certainly anticlimactic. The majority of the 95 authors not advancing in the semi-finals shared their misery on the discussion boards, many of us slightly jaundiced in our belief that the attention given to the writing of our individual reviews might, in some way, be lacking–given the absence of any incentive to make it glowing (we authors learned that PW had paid its ad hoc reviewers a total of $400 to read ten book-length manuscripts in less than 30 days… some of the skeptical among us questioned the impetus a reviewer might have to write a great review knowing that the manuscript being judged had already ‘lost’ the contest). 

That skepticism was rewarded for many of us. When my own review finally posted on Thursday, I’d prepared myself (I thought) not to hope for too much–“just a pull quote or two” I could use in agent-shopping and publisher-marketing. That was not to be (as one of my kids would write here: sad face). Unless I decide to take the novel in a really different direction, the only possibly language I could extract from the review that read remotely positively was: “The sex scenes are thoroughly and competently written and Nicole’s character comes to life.” As a fellow writer penned about her own negative review, “Ouch.”

Alas, this was an incredible journey for this fledgling novelist and all is certainly not lost. I did receive many positive reviews on Amazon’s site those five weeks my novel excerpt was posted for the world to see. Amazon’s own Vine critics gave my book outstanding reviews. And interspersed among some of the more painful PW feedback were actionable clauses that I’ll heed seriously as I bring out my red pen (and X-ACTO knife) in a pursuit to polish “Telling Tales” for its next journey.
There’s editing work to be done, networking activities to begin in a quest for an agent, and a new novel ready to spill forth on my laptop. And if next January finds me with “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island” still without a publishing berth, I’ll happily resubmit the by-then new-and-improved manuscript to the 2014 ABNAs, a wiser, more savvy contestant. Stay tuned…

Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib cooks up a mystery series to die for

topped-chef-185x300

We here at Books New Haven LOVE the work of Roberta Isleib, a mystery writer who’s given us several intriguing series–along with some midnights when we simply could not turn out the light and go to sleep, for fear of not knowing what was going to happen next.

And we’re delighted that she’s launching her new book, TOPPED CHEF, at R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8.

Isleib’s first mystery series included 5 books featuring Cassie Burdette, an aspiring golf professional. Then, her Advice Column series featured Rebecca Butterman, a fictional psychologist who lived in Guilford with a private practice in New Haven. And now, writing as Lucy Burdette, she’s writing the Key West food critic mystery series. (Being a food critic can be dangerous work, you know!)

Isleib’s books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is a past-president of Sisters in Crime, a national organization founded to support women crime fiction writers. The Florida Book Review has said “in a crowded cozy market, Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic series stands out among its peers.”

roberta isleib

Tell us about your new book:

TOPPED CHEF (written as Lucy Burdette) is the third installment in my Key West food critic mystery series. The books feature Hayley Snow, an aspiring food critic and amateur sleuth living in America’s southernmost island paradise.

In TOPPED CHEF, Hayley is tapped as a judge on a reality TV cooking show. Stakes are high because the winner is slated to become the next cooking superstar. When another judge turns up murdered, Hayley must figure out who’s taking the contest too seriously before she becomes the next victim.

What kinds of research do you have to do for this series?

I have to do a lot of eating, of course. 🙂

Besides that, writing without actually seeing the scene of the crime has gotten harder. An important part of my process is visiting the setting, either before or while developing the story. When I see what’s there, the ideas start to flood in.

For example, as I’m walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn’t see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, becomes a character. One cool night, after the crowds have thinned down at the Old Town Harbor, he notices two men arguing. When a man is found hung in a sailboat’s rigging later, he doesn’t connect the dots. Or maybe he does, but he would never voluntarily go to the police with this information. But Hayley might worm it out of him. Or a bad guy might realize he knows more than he should and bad things ensue.

And then there are names and characters given to me that I can’t refuse. For instance, last year I offered an auction item to benefit the Waterfront Playhouse–naming rights to a character in TOPPED CHEF. The man who won the auction sent me a photo and bio of the character he wanted me to include–Randy Thompson, an actual drag queen who performs at the Aqua bar on Duval Street as Victoria. I didn’t have the heart to explain that I’d offered naming rights, not character development rights. So I took the real Randy to lunch to chat about the psychology of drag queens and watched him (her) perform a few times, and expanded the character from those points. And then I decided what the heck, and threw Peter Shapiro, the man who’d bought the character, into the mix too.

What’s next for you and Lucy?
I’ve just signed a contract for the next two books in the Key West series; MURDER WITH GANACHE is scheduled for a February 2014 release. I’m delighted because I love writing these books!

Don’t forget: Isleib/Burdette will appear at RJ Julia’s Booksellers on May 8 at 7 pm to launch TOPPED CHEF. Call 203-245-3959 to reserve a seat.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest is happening now; will Jan Melnik make it to the Final Four?

jan melnik
Want to experience the real-life suspense of a closet novelist, who’s waiting for news of her novel?
In the ‘real’ world, Jan LaFountain Melnik of Durham is a career strategist, resume writer, and author of seven career/business books (you can find her at www.janmelnik.com or www.C-SuiteCareerCatalysts.com). She’s been in private practice for more than 20 years and is also a professor in the business school of a private college. But in addition to loving her work, she’s a closet novelist who has finally gotten around to writing one of the many stories that’s been milling around in her head. “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island” is her first work of fiction, and she has submitted it to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest, along with (we’re not exaggerating here) 10,000 other would-be novelists.
And so began a tale of real suspense.
Here is Jan, to tell her story, Part One:
Like the UConn Women, I’m Hoping to be in the Paint
 
It’s the NCAA basketball playoffs… for writers. And I’ve made it to the dance. When a good friend who has watched me painstakingly find time to write my first novel over the past few years told me about Amazon’s contest, I panicked. Suddenly it felt real to think of sharing my story with the world. Other than my creative writing partner from grad school, no one had read the novel and I had only finished final edits several weeks earlier.
 
Every January, Amazon, the behemoth of online bookstores, holds a Breakthrough Novel Award contest (who knew?). For a two-week window or until 10,000 entries have been received, the minions who toil at putting their stories to paper scurry to polish their manuscripts, tease out a provocative pitch, write a compelling description, and ensure that the first 3,000 or so words of their work make for a decent excerpt. I decided to be brave and enter the fray.
 
After the worries that accompany online submissions (did I remember to remove my name from the footer? am I sure that the pitch did not go over the 300-word limit? did I settle on the right tone for the description, also limited to 300 words?), I hit ‘enter’ two days before the deadline. Good thing: Amazon closed the contest early, as threatened, when the full complement of 10,000 entries was reached before midnight of the final day.
 
That was back on January 27th. A numeric acknowledgment did little to still the anxieties of competition, but within a few days, I was back to my busy life as a career strategist and resume writer penning stories that really matter for clients. The calendar ticked along slowly toward the first round of cuts, which would be announced February 11th. From Amazon’s discussion threads, I’d picked up that it would probably be noon Eastern when the names of those writers advancing in the contest would be published online. Amazon is based on the West Coast, so 9 a.m. their time made sense. I had a lengthy client consultation that morning, which helped to distract me. When we wrapped up, it was just after noon and I eagerly signed on to the site. Would my novel, “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island,” be deemed worthy by Amazon’s editors to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, solely on the basis of the pitch? Oh joy, it was! In a happy dance that rivaled the publication of my first nonfiction book some 20 years earlier, I rejoiced to see “Jan LaFountain Melnik” on the list with 399 other writers who’d made it into this round.
 
Amazon accepts only one entry per author and it is the writer who determines into which category their work will be placed: General Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Romance, Mystery-Thriller, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror. I struggled initially about Telling Tales best belonging in General Fiction or Romance. I ultimately succumbed to the latter on the basis of two key relationship threads that run through the storyline (alternating between present day and World War II) and the fact that there was a good sprinkling of erotica in some of the scenes.
 
To make it into the Sweet Sixteen, so to speak, Amazon selects the top 400 entries in each of the five categories, thus narrowing the field of 10,000 entries to 2,000. Big sigh of relief. My feeling that cold, snowy February day was literally, “Wow! My inaugural run at writing fiction—at least in putting together a 300-word pitch—was determined by an Amazon editor to be worthy of consideration in a group with 399 others. If I go no further in this contest, at least I can take some satisfaction in the fact that my story idea has some merit.”
 
The days advanced toward the next cut off, one month later, when, on March 12, those titles going on to the Elite Eight would be announced. Same drill: noon on the East Coast was the expected official posting. By lurking on Amazon’s discussion boards, though, I’d read postings from previous years’ candidates that the 100 novels moving ahead would see their excerpts published on the site and available for free download by everyone’s family members, neighbors, high school buddies, other authors, and readers-at-large early in the day. In order to upload the 100 excerpts per category (500 novel excerpts in all at this point), Amazon obviously couldn’t wait till 9 a.m. Pacific to flip a switch. So a savvy thread-writer said, “Start plugging your name into Amazon’s search field early in the day… if it comes up, you know you’ll be on the list that will be released at noon.”
 
Well, I had an initial false-positive alarm: all of my nonfiction titles are on Amazon, so my name was there many times. But my heart really did jump when, at 10 a.m., I reentered my name after refreshing the browser for the zillionth time and, lo and behold, there was the ubiquitous Amazon maize background for a book cover with the cursive lettering “Romance.” The familiar words of “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island” by Jan LaFountain Melnik was there on the site for all to see. Woo-hoo, I was officially a quarter-finalist! This felt like giving birth (and with three kids, I’ve had a little experience with that). For this phase of the contest, teams of two Amazon readers/editors each had read the 400 excerpts and selected the best 100. In addition to that, they’d written reviews that Amazon also posted on the site. From the discussion threads, I’d learned that authors could expect one or both reviews to be mediocre, critical, or possibly even confusing. Several quarter-finalists reported that the negative reviews posted “clearly demonstrated” that the two reviewers had not read their excerpts very carefully. Hmmm.
 
Prior to the reviews popping up, experienced contest participants advised newbies like me “not to expect much” from the reviewers, to just be grateful to make it to this round and know that you were strong enough to go to the next level, a step closer to the holy grail. I was relieved to have both of my reviews read positively. At this stage in the contest, readers—friends and those unknown to me—have the opportunity to read my first 3,500 words and enter their own reviews. Exciting, yes. Was I apprehensive? You bet. What if someone hated my premise? What if someone saw through to what I have felt all along was the weakest part of my whole novel (the first two chapters, obviously, not a good thing)?
 
So far, as of this blog writing, so good: I’ve earned 12 five-star reviews and 2 four-star reviews and some pretty darn gratifying feedback in commentary that includes at least six readers that are totally unknown to me but were somehow compelled to download, read, and offer praise for my fledgling work.
[Editor: Curious? Want to read an excerpt of the book on your Kindle? Click here.]
 
Now the real angst: counting the days to the next cut. Will I make it to the Final Four, to be announced April 16? Will I survive the cut from 100 top titles to just five semi-finalists? It feels more daunting, yet folks have assured me that getting from the pool of 10,000 to 400 to 100 was remarkable. I’ve comforted myself—trying not to get too anxious—with the knowledge that this round is being judged by Publishers Weekly—and it’s not just the excerpt. PW will read my entire manuscript and provide a detailed review. For better or worse. And that review will be posted on line as well. Yikes! I take additional solace in knowing that if Telling Tales doesn’t make it to the top five, I can use any encouraging words Publishers Weekly might offer plus the two positive Amazon reviews and the dozen additional online reviews to move ahead and either find an agent (the keys to the kingdom: securing a publisher) or self-publish or both.
 
If I do survive the April cut, my novel and four others in its category will be judged by “top Amazon editors” who will select just one to move to the championship game in May. At that point, one novel in each of the five categories will appear on Amazon and the public-at-large has a week in which to vote for the top contender, the year’s best breakthrough novel that will be announced in June based on highest number of votes received. Indeed, this four-month odyssey will end in a popularity contest.
 
What’s at stake? Well, besides the fingernail-biting excitement and momentum to see where this goes, the grand-prize winner receives a $50K advance and a publishing contract; the four first-prize winners each receive a $15K advance and they get publishing contracts, too. Winners all, in my opinion.
 
But honestly, if I don’t get any further along than where I am right now, I’ll be happy to have at least had this chance to know there’s something in what I’ve written that’s garnering some real interest. I’ll double-down in my efforts to rework the first few chapters, then seriously pursue publishing options. And if publication of Telling Tales isn’t in the works by next January? I’ll re-enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, this time as a sage who can offer encouragement to newbies testing their competitive writing mettle while, once again, pitching the merits of my protagonist Nicole and her Maine island girl’s story.
 
So back to the brackets, are we ready for the Final Four? Stay tuned. New Orleans would feel good right about now.

— Jan LaFountain Melnik

 




 

Matt Debenham writes short stories for people who think they hate short stories–and then fall in love with them

Matt DebenhamMatt Debenham of Westport is the author of the story collection The Book of Right and Wrong, published in 2010 by the Ohio State University Press, having won the 2009 OSU Press Prize for Fiction. In 2007 (nothing happened in 2008) he was awarded a fiction fellowship by the Connecticut Council on Culture and Tourism, and was Peter Taylor Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His stories have been published in The Battered Suitcase, Roanoke Review, The Pinch, Painted Bride Quarterly, Dogwood, and North Atlantic Review, and have been reprinted in Weston Magazine. He holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and a BA from Fitchburg State College. (Author photo by Lisa Jane Persky.)

The Book of Right and Wrong

His stories are said to be for people who think they don’t like short stories. At once heartbreaking and hilarious, the eleven stories in The Book of Right and Wrong capture their characters at the defining moments of their lives. A mother finds herself defending her son’s biggest bully from a tormentor of his own; a young man watches as his cape-wearing former high-school classmate proves himself more adept at making friends; a social worker gambles everything on expediting an adoption—and causes unforeseen consequences for every person in her life; a boy standing in for Jimmy Carter in his elementary school’s mock-election inadvertently starts a bloody playground war; an ex-con single father finds himself on the inside of his town’s social circle, with no clue as to how the game is played.

Matt will be reading from his book at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, at Best Video, 1842 Whitney Ave. in Hamden. He joins JoeAnn Hart, of Massachusetts, author of the novel Float.

Welcome, Matt. Tell us about your new collection.

My collection is called The Book of Right and Wrong. It won the 2009 Ohio State University Press Prize for Fiction*, and was published in 2010. It’s a nice, short book featuring eleven stories. The publishing tagline is “stories for people who think they hate short stories.” Five of them are related, so there’s also a little thread running through the book.

(*I usually have to tell people this was a national prize, because otherwise they think it’s some sort of alumni book award.)

Are there stories in there that called to you more strenuously than others?

“Called to you strenuously.” I like that phrase! Yes. The last piece, “Kate the Destroyer,” started out with me trying to write about an incident that I had when I was a kid. I was really stuck, and then I had the idea to write from the mother’s perspective. That just shook the whole thing loose, and I ended up writing a completely different story than what I’d intended, yet it also better encapsulated what I’d wanted to get across about the mother in the first place. That one, as soon as I made that little jump in perspective, really kind of flew out of me in one night. (The first draft did, anyway. There are always many other drafts!)

Oh the other hand, “Failure to Thrive” had started years earlier as a story about a woman with two sons, one a meth addict and one a cop, vying for control of their mother’s house. I could never get it right, so I left it alone. Then, when I was getting ready to send the book to OSU Press for consideration, I realized what I wanted to do with the story. So I rewrote it for what must’ve been the 12th time and added it to the collection the day before the deadline. And it’s the story that most seems to grab people. If someone emails me or tweets me about my book, that almost-lost story is the one they most reference.

As a novelist, I feel that years pass while I’m working on just one plot. It’s unimaginable to me to have so many plots to untangle and figure out. Do they come to you one at a time, or are you often working on different ones at once?

Yes! By which I mean yes to both, at one time or another. Sometimes I’ll have a few stories going, sometimes it’s only one. There’s a magical thing that happens where I forget, every damn time, what makes a really good story for me – which is, there’s a question I HAVE to find the answer to. For example, I get an image of a guy telling his son to do a terrible thing on a playground. Now I HAVE to know how that came about. Those are the stories that eventually see the light of day. There are other stories that I’ll spend weeks on (or far worse), only to realize too late that, um, there was no fascination or question for me, just a premise I thought was cool. I may never learn that premises, by themselves, are not my friends.

Also, I spent way too long writing a novel. By the end, it was impressively big, and I hated everything about it, especially the characters. It was, go figure, a very premise-heavy book. You really need to love your characters and find them endlessly entertaining and fascinating. One day soon I’ll go back to that novel and rewrite it, but I’m going to need to go in there with a sledgehammer and maybe some dynamite.

Any recurring characters or character types in your stories? Or specific themes you feel drawn to?

I keep going back to a character named Miles LaPine, along with members of his family. They’re in those five connected stories in the book, and I’ve since released an independent story called “Challenger” that also features Miles. He’s kind of a combo platter of my own most awkward/earnest aspects, along with a couple of troubled nerds I knew as a kid. Themewise, I like exploring the gulf between a misguided and/or ill-equipped person’s best intentions and whatever reality they’re just not capable of seeing. That gulf is big enough to accommodate a lot of tragedy and comedy, so it’s a good place to play.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? (Some authors say they write the first draft out in long-hand, on yellow legal pads, with a special, sacred pen, after throwing salt over their shoulders and repeating an incantation…while others say they write the first draft in a two-week-long fever and then spend the next two years revising. Others don’t even begin until they know the whole story).

Hoo boy. My process is one of fits and starts. I usually start really strong, writing out a first scene or two, just getting to know who and what I’m writing about. Then I back off for a bit, and I do some thinking. As in: Okay, you know who you’re writing about, now where’s it going? Which used to scare me – why am I just thinking?! — but now I understand this is writing, every bit as much as typing words on a screen. Then I usually start rewriting from scratch. Once I have a finished first draft, I put it aside for a while. When I go back to it, it no longer feels personal, so I have free license to go in and really mess with it. That’s where I’ll change genders, timelines, characters’ objectives, etc. This is usually a multi-draft process.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

I think something in-between? I usually have either an ending image or a climactic image, and I work toward that: How did we get here? Why are these people doing this? My stuff is pretty plot-oriented, so when I have my incident and my people figured out and I’ve done a bit of writing, then I do start sketching out a sequence of events and escalations. I like twists. The “gut-punch,” as my wife calls it.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

Coffee’s good for this. I follow the advice of Ron Carlson, who’s a writer everyone should read. In his book Ron Carlson Writes A Story, he tells you: Do not get up. Stay seated. Ignore the urge to get a drink or do some chore, and instead force yourself to sit there. A few minutes after that is usually when the words will start coming. It’s a little like breaking the will of a captive spy. Your brain finally goes, “Ugh, fine. HERE.” I feel that for a lot of writers, half the job is tricking yourself into doing things.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I came to it pretty late. I know a lot of writers say they knew when they were kids, but while I always liked to write and get reactions to my writing, I didn’t think seriously about fiction until I was in my twenties and well into a public relations career. So: 25? 26?

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I teach as well, in independent workshops as well as for the writing program at Western CT State. I love teaching and would gladly do only that for a living. (IF I could no longer write, that is.) Otherwise, I’d be a good man in a book or video store.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

I really do like all of it. I used to love first drafts, because I viewed that as the “creation” phase, and everything else was the dirty work. But it’s all creation, and it’s all editing. It’s not a linear process for me. Rather, it’s like a busy kitchen, where some people are prepping raw ingredients and others are grilling and plating. (I may have been hungry while answering these.)

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

I like a little messiness, a little weirdness in my stuff. So when I revise, I make sure my words are good – am I finding the one word to do the work of a paragraph? Do my sentences vary in length and intensity, creating a kind of musical flow, etc.? But what I most work on in revision is getting the moments right. Cutting out the extra crap, while leaving in some of those ragged edges. Oh, and I always read aloud. Every draft. This is crucial.

As far as outside readers go, I have two trusted readers. I show them my stuff either when I think I’m done and I know they’ll have smart suggestions, or when I’m stuck and I can’t see my way out of the hole. I’m actually interested in finding a good writers’ group near me. I think that’d be really helpful, both in terms of having careful eyes on my stuff and in terms of having a regular deadline.

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

Great question! I’m torn, because I’m driven to read interviews with authors who interest me, yet I’m disappointed when I find out a work I liked was drawn almost entirely from the author’s own experiences. Which is completely unfair and hypocritical of me! I think it’s human nature to want to know these things about authors. And I think there’s always something of the author in the work, whether it’s near-memoir or whether the work reflects some nagging fascination of theirs. When I do get those questions, I’m nice about it, because I completely understand where they’re coming from, and because I certainly can’t claim that there’s no “me” in the book.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I do! I read the AV Club way too much, or I’ll often find myself on AllMusic.com, reading reviews of a band’s entire discography. Or I’ll think, “Beverly Hills Buntz!” and then I’ll be on Wikipedia, looking up the production history of the failed show about a minor Hill Street Blues character. Then there’s Twitter….

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

A lot of writing for me is problem-solving. How do I get from point A to point D without it feeling contrived? Why WOULD she do that? How can I structure this so that when the big moment comes it feels like a gut-punch? I worked in marketing and communications for a long time, and that was always my favorite part of that job. So this act of realizing the implausible makes me happy. Feeling like I got at a feeling or moment that I haven’t seen done that way before makes me really happy. Externally, I love when someone tells me they were so shaken by a story they had to put the book down. I’ve been lucky enough to hear that a few times, and I think it’s a positive! And I hope I never stop getting a charge out of saying “my book.”

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

I tell them why not? I’m teaching a morning workshop in Westport right now for people who’ve never written before. And these six people have gotten to the point where they’re all producing genuinely good work. I’ve yet to meet the person who can’t write, even a little bit, with some direction and encouragement. And I don’t view this as some exclusive club. Can everyone be a Jennifer Egan or a Toni Morrison? Probably not, but I’m always shocked, pleasantly so, when I see what people are capable of doing.

How could two books be more different? Lisa Winkler’s success story

lisa author

Lisa Winkler has not one, but TWO books recently out on the market. And they couldn’t be more different. The first is a nonfiction story of one young man’s daring journey, and the second is a collection of essays from women bloggers who share their innermost thoughts and posts with the rest of us.

Here at Books New Haven, we’re always ready to celebrate books by local authors, and Lisa was born and raised in Killingworth, where her father was a poultry farmer and the entire family – Lisa’s mother, two sisters and brother – worked on the farm. After graduating from Vassar College, Lisa wanted to be a journalist. She worked as a reporter for the Hartford Courant and the Danbury News-Times, and then married and moved to London. She’s been a teacher and a writer, and is the mother of three children. And now that she’s also a grandmohter, she writes a blog at www.cyclingrandma.wordpress.com.

Welcome, Lisa, to Books New Haven.

tangerine tangocowboy book by lisa

Tell us about your new books.

Tangerine Tango: Women Writers Share Slices of Life is an anthology of short essays by women writers. Most of the writers I met through blogging and I invited them to submit essays, without giving them any theme. I received submissions that span the entire citrus spectrum, from sour to sweet. There are colorful slices of life: some sad, some nostalgic, and some humorous, about parents and parenting, childhood, food, farewell, jobs and journeys.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

After publishing my first book, On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America, people asked me what my next book was about. I didn’t have one! Though I was looking for ideas. When I hit my one-year anniversary for my blog, Cyclingrandma, in April 2012, I thought it would be fun to put my favorite posts into a book. But that didn’t seem enough. So I invited several writers, mostly other bloggers I’ve befriended through blogging, to join the project. Along the way, a couple other writers contributed too.

Was the subject matter of the book related somehow to your regular job? Or is it
something quite outside your field that called to you?

My first book, On the Trial of the Ancestors, tells the story of Miles Dean, a New Jersey teacher, who rode his horse from New York to California to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to US history.

I met Miles Dean while working as an educational consultant in Newark and
believed Dean’s mission and message would make a compelling story. It’s a story that speaks to animal lovers, horsemen and horsewomen, armchair travelers, and with educators, parents and young people who are part of the African American community or connected with it. It’s available via my website: www.lisakwinkler.com, on Amazon, and in other book stores.

What did you most want to get across to readers that they might not have known about before you wrote this book?

As a teacher, I’ve witnessed how young people know little of history. In urban areas,
youth learn about slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a few more facts
during Black History Month in February. Yet they have little if any connection with
these historical figures. When I began my own reading after meeting Miles, I became
fascinated with these people whose contributions to the development of the US are
largely unknown. Most adults haven’t heard of these people. American history needs to
include all races and genders to truly demonstrate who built this nation, their struggles
and sacrifices and stories.  A cross country journey in itself is a story. From my research, I couldn’t find any other story of of other modern-day African Americans who have ridden a horse across the country with this purpose in mind. I loved the idea of this young boy
growing up watching western movies and television shows and dreaming that he too
could become a cowboy.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

On the Trail of the Ancestors went through many drafts. It began as a first person
narrative and then I changed it to third person. After trying to find an agent and not being able to find out, I thought I should let it go. But something made me continue and I decided to self-publish the book. I felt it’s a great story that had to be told.

For Tangerine Tango, I really had a lot of fun collecting the essays and working with the
writers. Some were a bit more resistant to editing than others, but it all worked out.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?
With any writing, you have to be passionate and committed to the process. With non-
fiction, I think you have to truly become obsessed with the subject to create a book. It’s
not like fiction—you can’t make it up! That said, I also believe it can happen—just don’t give up! It takes tons of patience, fortitude and sometimes luck to get published. With self-publishing there are many options to get your work out, but it’s a very tough (and can be expensive) road. Believing in your story is paramount. If you have passion for it, others will too. Also, there’s no “quick fix.” While an occasional book might sell hundreds of copies the first week, thousands the first month and so on, most don’t. I believe marketing really becomes a personal adventure: why would someone want to read my book? I view it as my journey: one sale, one reader, one book at a time. If you care about the book, you have to put effort into marketing it.

Was the research fairly easy to come by, or did you have trouble finding the sources you needed?

I ordered books from libraries and bookstores and read on the Internet too. I didn’t have
any trouble obtaining the resources. I reached out to several of the people Miles met and
conducted a few telephone interviews that helped my writing.

What has been the most satisfying thing about compiling this information and getting the book written?
For the first book, I truly believed in the story. I was (and still am) mesmerized by the
journey that Miles Dean took, and the history he brought to life in his travels.
With Tangerine Tango, it was just a fun project and has been a lovely gift book. The
proceeds are going to Huntington’s Disease.

What has happened since this book has been published? What kinds of reactions have you gotten?

The books have been well received and of course appeal to very different audiences. I’m
trying to get On the Trail of the Ancestors into schools. I’ve written a cross-disciplinary
Educator’s Guide that is free to download from my website. I taught these lessons to students when I worked in Newark and they were well received by students and staff.

What’s next for you? Will there be a follow-up?

At the moment, I’m not planning anything. I’m always looking for the next idea and
might do another anthology later this year.

The “real” Frank Sinatra from the guy who followed him for 60 years

Sinatra and Me

Sinatra and Me

Okay, not many people were allowed inside Frank Sinatra’s inner circle. But Tony Consiglio–of Sally’s Apizza fame–was a boyhood friend of Sinatra’s who remained his friend and confidant for over sixty years. One reason Sinatra valued Tony’s friendship is that he could be trusted: Sinatra nicknamed him “the Clam” because Tony never spoke to reporters or biographers about the singer. From the early days when Sinatra was trying to establish himself as a singer to the mid-1960s, Tony worked with Sinatra and was there to share in the highs and lows of Sinatra’s life and career. Tony was with Sinatra during his “bobby-soxer” megastar days in the 1940s, and he remained loyal to Sinatra during the lean years of the early 1950s, when “the Voice” was struggling with a crumbling singing and acting career as well as his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner. Tony also had a front row seat to Sinatra’s comeback in the 1950s, starting with his Academy Award winning role in From Here to Eternity and a string of now-classic hit recordings. Tony’s friendship with Sinatra allowed him to rub elbows with the Hollywood elite, including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Kim Novak, Ava Gardner, and many others. It also brought him close to the political world of the early 1960s, when Sinatra campaigned for John F. Kennedy and then helped plan the Kennedy inauguration. Tony was even at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, when the election results came in. Sinatra and Me will shed new light on the real Frank Sinatra from the man who knew him better than anyone.

And who better to tell Tony Consiglio’s story than Franz Douskey, who has been published in over 200 publications including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The Nation?  Douskey’s fourth book, West of Midnight, reached number 24 on the Amazon Best-Seller list in 2011 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

SINATRA AND ME: THE VERY GOOD YEARS is the result of eight years of interviews and travels with Tony Consiglio who traveled and lived with Frank Sinatra from 1942 until Frank’s first retirement. The book is Tony’s memoirs of the Sinatra years, as well as never before published photos and letters.

To hear Franz Douskey talk about how he convinced Tony “The Clam” Consiglio to open up about Frank Sinatra, listen to this podcast. http://www.tantor.com/share/FranzDouskey_interview_final.mp3

And come to see Franz Douskey and hear a reading from the book at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 13 at the Gateway Community College Library, New Haven, second floor.

Welcome to Books New Haven, Franz. Tell us about your book.

The focus of the book is Tony Consiglio, who co-founded Sally’s Apizza in 1938 with his mother and his brother Salvatore, then traveled with Sinatra, worked with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, worked on JFK’s campaign for president in 1960,  and the Inaugural Ball in January 1961, and was a regular visitor at the White House. On occasion he brought Judith Exner, who was having  simultaneous affairs with JFK and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. Tony was friends with with Pierre Salinger, Lou Gehrig, Muhammad Ali, Regis Philbin , Emeril LaGasse, Frank Sinatra’s mother, father, first wife and their three children, Nancy, Jr., Frank, Jr., and Tina.  Every story in the book is a first-hand account by a man who seemed to be everywhere and had the photos to support the stories.

What is your writing process?

I don’t have a writing process because I don’t do one kind of writing.  Early on I did travel writing to support my desire to travel.  Another aspect was a series of interviews with sports figures, such as Willie Pep, Bud Harrelson, Smoky Joe Wood, etc. Also published lots of short stories and some poetry.  When I’m working I’m in a place away from home where only a few people know where to find me.  That is essential.

Was the research for the book difficult?

The research was time consuming and entailed much travel, many phone calls and plenty of dead ends.  What I couldn’t verify didn’t go into the book.

What was the best part of writing this book? What did you enjoy the most?

The best part of working on the book was spending lots of time with Tony.  We visited Frank, Jr., Nancy Jr., we lectured at colleges, visited Emeril numerous times, and even wrote segments for Emeril Live! on the Food Network.  Tony was brilliant, and so much damned fun.  We had a great time together.  Two New Haven bums on the road together.

Did you come across any surprises in researching this book?

There were numerous surprises along the way, too many to mention.  Our early agents wanted us to put in large sections about Frank and the mob, Frank and Marilyn; you know, the usual stuff.  Tony wanted to tell the stories behind the music, behind the night life and the crazy stunts that Dean, Frank, Jimmy Van Heusen, Jack E Leonard and other pals would play on each other.  Also, there were stories Tony didn’t want in the book.  He had promised Frank that there were some stories that he would take to the grave, and he did.

How did you first know you were a writer?

I still have my doubts.  I don’t think of myself as a writer.  I’m just a guy who has had some very amazing experiences, so I have a lot to draw on instead of my imagination.

What have you been working on since the book came out?

Since the book has been published, I’ve been traveling, doing a lot of interviews.  One day there was a “virtual radio tour” and I did 24 interviews starting at 7:23 a.m. and ending at 7:45 that night.  Most of the interviews were live, and some were taped.  Oddly, for a person who likes to be alone, I like doing the interviews and the book signings.  The three that stand out are the Book Party at Sally’s Restaurant that was jammed.  Ruthie, Bobby  and Ricky went all out.  They were amazing.  Tony’s widow, Mary and their two sons, Anthony and Christopher were there and that was very important. But no Tony.  I really regret that Tony didn’t make it long enough to see the book published.

Another fine event was at R J Julia, let’s say the best bookstore in the USA.  We took the tour bus because we had a few friends aboard and it’s a great way to eat and relax while traveling to readings.  I thought there might be ten or twelve people at R J Julia but there were a lot of people, chairs set up in the aisles, and after I told a few stories from the book, people lined up and it took a long time to get all the books signed.  Was my hand tired? Never.  I enjoyed meeting people and listening to their stories about Frank Sinatra and music, in general.  The third best stop was to Imus In The Morning.  Very surprising.  I’m an unknown.  But I got a call and several emails from the producer.  Then Bernard send a great email telling me not to worry and be myself.  Well, I am usually myself, and I had a great time with Imus, Rob Bartlett and Tony Powell.  I had to be there very early.  I hate hassles.  The thought of finding a parking space at Union Station, then the train being on time, then wrangling over a cab contained too many “ifs.”  Just one thing going wrong could screw up the interview.   So, I called my favorite limo service and that was it.  Andrew came to the house in the dark, my wife Sarah and Tantor Vice President John Molish got in, no worries and we got there on time.  Beautiful.  There is no doubt about it, I may not be getting richer in my old age, but I’m certainly cutting down on things that can go wrong.

What’s next?

There are four books done and in line for publishing.  Tantor has rights of first refusal.  One book deals with Memphis, Tennessee, its music and musical icons, some of whom I knew and a few I still know.  There’s a huge book on the history of one year: 1968.  As mentioned those books are done, but I tend to never be finished with a book until it’s in print.  And there is one very intriguing project just being put together.