Thursday, July 28, 2011

Making Waves by Tawna Fenske

I don't know what it is about debut novels that make me giddy with anticipation.

Maybe because I get to stalk follow the authors on Twitter and live the excitement of the release vicariously. Or maybe it's because with a new author comes the expectation possibility that a new voice will keep me entertained for years to come. Or maybe, it's because I have a distinct appreciation for the Rookie.

It turns out that Tawna Fanske's unique sense of Twitter & blog humor has translated beautifully to her debut novel. Making Waves is a fantastic Romantic Comedy.

Full disclosure: I've always enjoyed Romantic Comedies (both novels and movies).

My wife will probably cringe if I admit that on my iPad I have both Notting Hill and Love Actually. She will probably warn me that it's odd behavior to watch those two movies every time I travel. Since she's right all the time sometimes I won't admit any of those.

I will admit, however, that Making Waves made me laugh, cring, smile and flush with embarassment.

Let me explain...

The characters are classic funny. The entire cast was crafted with an expert's scalpel. I do wish some of my friends in Hollywood would take a look at this novel and learn a thing or two about character development.

The dialogue is brilliant. I laughed more often than I should have, waking up my wife because I was giggling and snorting. The book is all fun. But the dialogues are examplary. Smart, witty, snappy.

And then there's the romance. Yes, it's a romantic comedy. So there will be romance. And Tawna delivers! At one point as I read a particularly steamy entertaining scene, my seven-year-old walked up to me and asked a question. I know I turned red. I was sure he'd find out what I was reading. Thankfully, I survived.

The hallmark of any good novel is characters that you fall for, dialogue that you believe and a story that moves the reader. Making Waves has all of that and more.

I was supposed to save this book for our little spa getaway this weekend. But waiting has never been my strong suite, and I'm glad I didn't. This book is a breath of fresh air when everything seems to be gloomy. This book reminds me of the sun, the beach, suntan lotion. I highly recommend Making Waves.

I love Tawna's style and look forward to her future novels.

By the way, I've been staring at our Battle Ship board game. You don't know what I mean? Pick up a copy of Making Waves to find out.

Fight the good fight!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ocean

We went to Zuma beach on July 10th. The ocean and I have a special relationship. Apparently, my son is picking up where I left off years earlier. I tried to capture the emotions I felt and the conversation (both verbal and otherwise) I had with my son.


The Ocean by Ara Grigorian

He transforms when he's in the water.

He is full of life, bursting at the seams with joy. His handsome little tanned face can't contain the size of the smile that wants to explode.

My son is seven. Will turn eight soon... he will be a man before I know it.

It's a beautiful Southern California day. The sun burned through the overcast day around 11 AM. The waves stretch for the heavens, reaching five to seven feet in their attempt to touch the sky. The smell of the suntan lotion, water and sand have an intoxicating effect. Always have. The dissonent sounds of the waves generate a rhythm that very few can discern. Only those who love the beach can appreciate this melody.

I love the ocean. I'm scared of the ocean.

He marches off on his own, ready to duel with the waves that break in front of him. He collects his courage and takes a few steps in. The frigit water turns my feet blue. He doesn't even acknowledge the conditions.

He's my son--I used to be like him. But I grew up. I forgot the magic of escape until I started to write again. I'm grounded in reality--mortgage, career, staff, family, reading and writing.

He levitates above all obstacles and duties. He is free.

He is seven, nearly eight. And I'm losing him. One wave at a time.

I stand behind him, watching his every move. There is a riptide that pulls. There is an undercurrent that charms. There is an ocean that invites. I'm ready to jump in and grab his hand. I am a tense coil, wrapped so tight that I will explode with the slightest of touch.

"Be careful, buddy. Keep your balance."

"I know, Dad. Don't worry."

But I worry. Every day, every second, I worry about my boys. And he in particular. My five year old is happy to play in the safe sand, under the umbrella. He will read one book after another. But my seven year old, jumps into the future without care or concern. He challenges the borders--redefines the borders.

A large wave throws him off balance. He tries to steady his body. He's athletic. He's strong. But he's still a little boy. As he falls, he turns his face towards me. The wave rattles him. He's looks at me, into my eyes, into my heart.

I run and grab his hand. He smiles as he stands. I don't want to let go. But he's ready to move on.

"Did you see that? That was cool," he says.

"It was. But be careful."

He thinks about if for  a second. Then holds my hand again. "let's go deeper, but I'll stand behind you."

"Are you asking me to be your shield?"

"Yeah. Come on, Dad. A good one's coming."

I march forward, he holds my hand, but slides behind me. The wave crashes into me. I'm freezing, coughing out the salty water, trying to blink away the burning sensation in my eyes... but I'm smiling ear-to-ear. Because he's laughing and giggling.

I'll be your shield, buddy. For as long as you let me, I'll be your shield.


Fight the good fight!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Google's new e-Reader... Yes, one more!

Google announced that starting July 17th, Target will sell the iriver Story HD e-reader
...That's a mouthful! iriver may consider their competition when thinking up product names. Here's a hint: iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc... one word. It's easier.

In fact, this is the first e-reader integrated with the "open" Google ebooks platform. You don't say. Integrated is a good thing.

This means you can buy AND read Google eBooks. Man, Christmas came early this year.

Okay, enough sarcasm.... but seriously, is this what the consumer was asking for? Yet, one more e-reader? What is that now? Ten? Twenty? Who knows... and frankly, who cares?

I can't help but think that the proliferation of readers will have a backlash effect on the consumer.

If I buy a hard cover book, I don't have to worry that suddenly the paper that I'm holding will be obsolete. That my eyes will not be able to read the text on the paper.

It wasn't too long ago that the choice between Blu-ray and HD-DVD cause so much confusion in the market place that overall sales stagnated. The consumer waited to see what would happen.

I have an iPad. I buy both iBooks and Kindle books (via the Kindle app on the iPad). I would consider buying a Kindle since it's form-factor and screen make it a more desirable reading platform. But I haven't yet. I've purchased and read over two dozen iBooks, and four dozen kindle books. I need one more device like I need another adverb in my novels.

How do you feel about this? Is this just a yawn, or are you excited as a writer and reader?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I am at a loss for words...

Yes, I claim to be a writer. So admitting this ineptitude is quite embarrassing.

But facts are facts... I am struggling. How can I do justice to Tahereh Mafi's debut novel with the limited words that I have at my disposal? I'm not sure that I have the talent nor ability to properly express my enthusiasm over this brilliant book.

I received the ARC on Wednesday July 6th. That was a tough day for me. With only a few chapters of editing to go with my new manuscript, I did not want to be distracted. My wife was waiting to read the story, and so was someone else (who will remain anonymous for now). Like I said, no distractions.

By Thursday evening I was done with my manuscript, and by 10 PM I gave myself permission to peek at Shatter Me. No, I was not going to read it on a Thursday night. That would be irresponsible. I had a conference call at 6 AM the next morning. Beyond irresponsible, that would be silly. The plan was that I would start reading it on Friday and enjoy it over the weekend. It was a good plan. As I said, all I was going to do was... you know, take a peek.

At 3:21 AM, I was on page 239, the start of chapter thirty-five. The Editorial Director at Harper Collins used the word "unputdownable." That's not a marketing line. It's a warning. A promise. I had to set it down. But when I came back home from work, I started to devour the novel. I read it standing up in the kitchen, leaning on the hood of my car, sprawled on my mother-in-law's floor. I had to finish it. I had to.

The newly revealed cover... sweet
Yes, this YA Paranormal/Dystopian/Romance/Suspense novel it is that good. No, I take that back. It's better than that. It's a voyage.

The journey starts with her dedication sentence. I don't know if I'm allowed to share it with you--so I won't. But the words she uses, the sentiment she portrays, and the poetic rhythm that is captured in that one sentence alone told me that I was in for a ride. [In fact, when my wife read that line, she tried to take the book away from me. Don't worry, we've worked it out. We have an agreement: when she finishes her husband's manuscript (that would be my manuscript) then she may read another person's novel (I had to put my foot down!)].

So what can I tell you about Shatter Me, without spoiling the story?

I can tell you that Tahereh creates characters that are deep, complex, thoughtful, evil, dangerous, wonderful, lovable, hatable.

I can tell you that these characters transform into real people by... oh somewhere around... page 1.

I can tell you that the dialogue is deep, multi-faceted, funny, hurtful, but always crisp and painfully honest.

I can tell you that the plot grabs your heart and forces the blood to pump faster and eventually explode through your veins.

I can tell you that the use of language, the vivid words she uses will forever etch the images in your mind's eye.

I can tell you that the romance is full of passion and heart, but never gratuitous and always on fire.

But all of this is still not enough. The only way you'll really understand is if you read it. And you must.

There's one other thing that I must mention. Tahereh Mafi's writing style is extraordinary. Nearly supernatural.

There is a beat, a rhythm to her writing. It's an orchestration of images. At one point, my heart was beating with the same cadence as her writing. The writing is fluid and viscous. It changes, alters, pushes, pulls, burns and cools. But at all times, it hooks. The talons sink deep into the reader.

But alas, the news isn't all good.

For one, since this is a trilogy, it means that I will have to wait for heaven knows how long before I read part II.

And lastly, my ARC isn't autographed by this brilliant debut author who, in my humble opinion, will soon (should be, must be) be the talk of both the publishing and entertainment worlds. I think I understand now what agents mean, when they talk about that indescribable moment when they realize that they have solid gold in their hands. She is golden.

I have a sense of longing right now. I miss the story. I miss the characters. I miss the erratic heart rhythms I experienced as I read it. My only solace is that I will be able to talk to my wife about it once she reads it. I feel like I belong to a special cult. Like I know something that others don't know, yet.... but their time will come. Your time will come.

Fight the good fight!


Shatter Me will be released November of 2011. The synopsis and the trailer are posted below. Check it out, then pre-order it.

Tahereh Mafi's blog:

Click Me! Easily one of the best out there. You owe it to yourself to follow it (see I even have it in my blog roll, waaaay over there --->

The Synopsis:
Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old-girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. 

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now. 

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior. 

The Teaser Trailer:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What Justin Bieber Can Teach Aspiring Authors

Say it ain't so, Ara!

Before you think I've jumped off into the deep end and have purchased a Bieber-Fever T-shirt, or have replaced all my conservative ties with purple ones, please take a deep breath, relax and read on.

My wife ordered Justin Bieber's documentary/movie ("Never Say Never") a couple of weeks ago. My boys (5 & 7) seem to enjoy his music, and my wife (who is always looking for any opportunity to show our boys that hard work pays off) made popcorn and turned down the lights.

This was my opportunity! Exit stage right. I was about to get nearly two hours of uninterrupted writing time. Score, right? Well...

It took about seven minutes until my wife called for me. I knew I should have put the noise-canceling headphones on sooner, but alas, I hadn't.

"What?" I asked, although it wasn't really a question--it was an accusation.
"You've got to see this." That's code word in our home. It means, come downstairs and check this out. Because, if you don't, we will all be disappointed in you.

I may have uttered a couple of expletives. I may have even said, "No one understands my pain." I may have.

I must admit that I walked downstairs having prejudged Bieber as another "created-in-the-studio" artist. No talent, but a phenomenal marketing engine. Thoughts of N-Sync & Spice Girls came to mind.

I went to the den and to my surprise, my boys (thunder and lightning) were watching this movie. I mean really watching it. Anyway, I walked over, sat on the arm of the couch and next thing I know, 90 minutes had elapsed and I was entertained beyond my expectations.

I went back to my office and sat in front of my manuscript, but instead thought of this young man's journey and the road ahead. It became apparent to me that if someone studied his road to success, then maybe on some level, we could apply it our own artistic journey. The journey of transforming from a writer into a published author.

12 things Justin Bieber can teach an aspiring author:

1. Create content that meets your audience's tastes

As writers, we have heard this before -- first, write a great book. I agree. But what's great to a romance reader, is not great to a YA reader. Know your audience. Ideally, you are a member of that audience. In the case of Bieber, the type of music he loved was the type of music he wrote. He understood what made him love artists like Usher, or Boyz II Men.

There are a lot of questions floating around genre. You must understand why an agent cares and why the editor needs to know. But think about it from your perspective as well. Who will want to read this story? Who is your tribe? "My novel will appeal to to all current members of the Whig political party." Awesome, you're adressable market (the total market that could be converted into a paying customer) is a total of seven people.

2. Never stop improving your craft

I was amazed to see how this young man spendt countelss hours with his vocal trainer/coach. Yes, my friends, he actually sings when he's performing live--no lip sync here. In fact, in the movie, he had strained his vocal muscles so much that he had to cancel a show.

Understand that the two core elements that make you a better writer are: writing & reading. And by definition, those are on-going elements. Therefore, your education never ends. There is no such thing as "I am there now." That's an abstract notion. There is no "there" to get to, because it only ends when you've taken in your last breath. You work hard every day... oh wait, that's number three.

3. Hard work

You must work hard every day--but also be smart. Tim Ferris ("4-Hour Work Week") asks the question, are you being active or effective. Set goals (word count, marketing plan, etc) then go after them with passion and focus. You never make excuses. You never accept excuses. You are not only your own toughest critic but you must also be your strongest advocate.

When no one wanted to sign Bieber, he and his manager hit the streets--planes, trains and automobiles. He went from one radio station to another. Just he and his guitar. He sang live and won over the DJ's. And he started building an audience. He built his platform by hard work and determination. No excuses.

4. You can create your "Platform"

In the movie, Bieber's manager (Scooter) tells the story of how none of the labels wanted to touch him. I paraphrase: "You need the platoform. He needs Disney or Nickolodean. You nead the machine." 

Yes, the platform is important. How will people know who you are? How much work will it take to generate a buzz about this new artists? What the labels didn't understand was social media: Hundreds of thousands of You Tube viewers + thousands of Twitter followers = platform (a true fan base). This young man had a monster of a platform. Which leads to...

5. This Social Media thingy may be real

More of your potential customers (i.e. readers) spend eyeball time on their computer/iPad/smartphone than on TV or the NY Times. Understand what this means. You need to have a presence in where they're looking. Doing poetry readings at Chuck E Cheeses will not get you the audience you need. Also, you need to have an honest voice. You need to be interesting and relevant and entertaining (not like a clown, but you know... entertaining). You have to be humble. You have to be you. 

Your voice as a writer is that special, unique way you say things. Your followers will follow you because you're interesting and relevant. And when you have followers, don't be a snob. Everyone loves the underdog. Everyone wants to be recognized as one of the people that helped a talented individual breakthrough against impossible odds. Treat them with the respect that they deserve.

6. Good Hair makes all the difference

7. The advocate

Scooter is Justin's manager. This guy belived in Bieber when no one else wanted to touch Bieber. He saw the talent when Bieber was barely fifteen (on You Tube by the way -- that's how Justin was discovered). He knew there was something there. And through all the rejections, he was never dissuaded. He worked even harder.

Many aspiring authors, myself included, are searching for the right agent. I emphasize right. Not every phenomenal agent is necessarily the right fit for you. For my day job, I have hired hundreds, interviewed thousands. I only hire on fit. Fit matters.

I know its tempting to jump on the first agent that shows interest. But this is a long-term relationship. The fit needs to exist for both of you. You are both investing your time/money on a joint veture. The right person is everything. First Who, then What.

8. The connector

Even with an advocate, what Scooter needed was someone who knew someone. He went to Usher. Usher had the power, prestige and connections to help pave the way. Usher knew Scooter so he agreed to listen to this "kid." This kid, sang an Usher song acapella (no music, just his voice) and blew Usher away. As Usher says in the movie, "This was a no brainer." Maybe. But so far, no label had even considered Bieber. Usher was the connector. He found Bieber the producer, who in turn got this young man's music published.

You never know who will help you. I find that the writing community has a lot of gems. And I am not referring to just their talent. But I mean as humans. They want to help. They want to give back. Behave like a professional. Be a connector for others. Do it, even when you're a relative nobody. Help others. If you love something you read, tell the world. Karma has interesting a way of helping you down the line.

9. You must be born left-handed

10. Love those who love you

Treat your fans--your followers--with respect. They will be your wave to success. Treat them as if your career depends on it. Because it does.

At concerts, his team goes out and upgrades seats for fans. Or give them free tickets if they were left without seats. It's the little things that converts a fan into a believer, and then into a loud chorus of appreciation. They will spread the word about you. This is the essence of word-of-mouth. And in today's democratized digital age, you never know who will be that person who will advertise you in ways that no full-page ad in the NY Times could ever dream of touching.

11. You must know how to dance

12. The right team, the right attitude

I was impressed at the loyalty of his team. Sure, they are with the fastest growing artist in the world. Sure, they are now rolling in cash. But they were with him when he was a nobody. It wasn't easy for the first few years. There was nothing there. Yet, they stuck it out together. As I watched them in the movie I noticed something else. They were a family and they had the right attitude.

Surround yourself with people who care about you and your dreams. Don't dwell in the negative stuff. Rejection letters are a part of the game. Please, oh please, don't post them on your blog. Don't badmouth the agent who "clearly is blind since you're the best thing since JKR, in fact, she stole your idea about Harry what's-his-name." Argh! Don't burn bridges--this is a interconnected highway with many connections. But more importantly, don't demean others in this industry who are trying their best. It's not easy. It can't be. Think about it and you'll get it. Finally, it's a small industry. When you attack one, you attack a few hundred people down the chain, and you show that you are not a professional. When you are dealt a bad hand, remind yourself why you write in the first place. I don't know about you, but I write because I have to. Because my sanity depends on it. Because now that I know I can, how could I ever pretend otherwise?

Fight the good fight!
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