Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mel Published Elsewhere

Here's my breast reduction story on The Toast.

(Here's my author web site, just as an aside.)

(I do so love writing.)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blog Hop: Writing Process

So y'all know I usually write about reading. Well, today I'm going to write about writing. I've been tagged in a writing process blog hop by Megan LaFollett, a friend at West Houston Romance Writers of America, whose desk setup, now that I've seen it on her own site, totally makes me jealous. 

But I'll stick with my own desk (an antique roll-top from my parents, which I love.) (This photo isn't current, so add a layer of paperwork and some more candles in your imagination.) 

Here are the blog hop questions and my responses:

1) What are you currently working on?

I'm revising my novel Rocket Man, which has been through the wringer with me over the past couple of years. I am even more in love with it than ever, though, and can't believe how well I know the main characters, Serena and Dillon, at this point. Go on, ask me anything about them. Their quirks, their bank account balances, the first foods they'll grab from the brunch buffet. (Serena stands patiently in line at the omelet bar, while Dillon's first plate overflows with bacon, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and a couple slices of meat.) 

It's a contemporary romance set in my hometown of Houston, and is the first in my Roll of the Dice series. I'm also working on another contemporary romance set in the fictional small town of Honey Wine, Texas. (I try not to bounce around too much from manuscript to manuscript, but sometimes a scene pops into my head so I just have to write it down.)

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre? 

With the Roll of the Dice series, I've created a small-town feel in a large city - it's a strongly interconnected, fun group of people and places that resonate with readers in the same way that small-town contemporaries do, although it takes place in the middle of the 4th largest city in the nation! I love how Serena, especially, seeks out meaningful connections and builds herself a community. I love bringing office friendships and career aspirations to my love story.

3) Why do you write what you write?

Well, first of all, I love the genre of contemporary romance. Ever since I picked up my first Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel, contemporary stories have truly spoken to me as a reader and as a writer. Still, I can't say that I put a lot of thought into it - these are just the stories that come to me. Strong, interesting women who have to fight a battle or two to get what they want - even if they don't end up wanting what they thought they did! These are the characters of my heart, and bringing them to the page is (usually) a challenge and a pleasure. 

4) How does your process work?

As I said, the kernel for my stories just... comes to me. (It may be mystical, or maybe it's just the result of a complex interaction between imagination and outside influences and something I overheard and that dream that niggles at my consciousness.) (Probably the mystical thing, though.) So when I'm starting a novel, I begin with that kernel, and sit down and write the first several pages to see where it's taking me. After the initial burst, I sit back and reread and figure out the overall themes and narrative arc, listen to the characters reveal a couple of their secrets, and make notes. I use all of that to shape the kernel into an actual plot outline. 

I've become, over the years, a big fan of scene plotting. Given that I'm working a full-time job, plus all that mom and wife and home and pet owner stuff, it's not always easy to just sit in front of the computer and come up with whatever words should be next in my WIP. But if I have scene notes, say, "Valentine's Day, something dumb with Joey, landlady issues" (to steal from my current outline), I can grab hold of the thread of my plot easily and get a few hundred words written without first rereading (which always turns into revising) what I'd written the day before. 

I have great, smart critique partners who give me feedback on chapters as I go, which helps enormously to keep me on track with my pacing, character development, and conflict. I also have friends willing to read completed drafts and give me feedback from the reader's perspective. (If necessary, I tell them which pages to skip so they don't have to read my steamier scenes!) And my husband is a fantastic early reader and editor, as well as an enormously supportive cheerleader. So that's my 'village' and I really appreciate them all.

So, that's it for this blog hop. I was meant, I think, to tag four people to continue it, but I have failed in that. :) However, two wonderful writer friends of mine, Sandra and Cristina, have both agreed to hop along with me, so please take some time to check out their responses!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Narration by Authors

Shirley Jones by Shirley Jones (Narrated by Shirley Jones; Tantor Media, 2013)
I, Rhoda by Valerie Harper (Narrated by Valerie Harper; Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013)
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington (Narrated by Grace Coddington; Random House Audio/Books on Tape, 2013)
(all audio CDs via library)

These are three of the six titles nominated in the Narration by Author category of the Audies, which is one of the categories I'm covering for the Armchair Audies project. There's a lot of compare & contrast I'm going to do with them, plus, although I have positives to pass along, celebrity memoir is not a category I seek out, well, ever except for during the Audies. (I do realize that means I'm weird for going back to this category, since it always includes celebrity autobiographies, but it also tends to include fiction I love, and after so many trips to the 'narration by author' well, I'm more than familiar with the format. And more than capable of judging the narration regardless of genre, as well.)

So, first up, we have Shirley Jones, written and read by Shirley Jones. Jones is the mom from The Partridge Family, and she got her start being Rodgers and Hammerstein's golden girl - eventually playing the lead in the movies of Oklahoma! and Carousel. She was also Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, so although I was never a Partridge Family fan (or a fan of Jones's stepson David Cassidy, despite my being the right age to have fallen for his teeny-bopper charms), I spent a lot of my childhood watching Jones's performances. 

Anyway, the story is of her life, obviously. She basically had early success with her career, a transformation from 'good girl' to 'rampant sex fiend' with her marriage to Jack Cassidy, various temptations she rejected (mostly) because of her 'good girl'ness, a few escapades that suited her 70s Hollywood lifestyle (though more often she was watching her husband's escapades and forgiving him over and over again), eventually a dwindling career and the sadness of mothering her sons through their father's suicide, and a marriage to someone less likely to cheat or ask her to participate in a threesome. It's all about what you'd expect, as long as you don't think that someone who plays prim sweethearts is actually a prim sweetheart in her personal life. It's not super compelling, with too much name-dropping from an era I didn't really know or care about terribly, and a narrative arc that kind of fizzles into nothingness. 

Jones is a grand narrator. She enjoys telling her story, has a fine, articulate voice, and a touch of humor when called for. I don't think I'd have finished the book if I was reading it, but listening was effortless.

And next up, I, Rhoda, written and read by Valerie Harper. Harper is Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. (Also shows I didn't really follow, though I did watch Valerie sometimes.) She delves a little more into her childhood (parents unhappy with each other but very supportive of her love of dancing and performing) before her acting journey takes off. Harper is a little more self-deprecating and humble than Jones, and her story is more inwardly focused. I had a lot more fun with this story - not as many salacious stories and more stories about work and loss and love and strife. It's not full of all the drama in the world, but Harper is nice to get to know.

She's also a grand narrator. She speaks with a lot of compassion and humor and a little too much nose for my taste, but hey, she's got the New York thing going on. She kept me interested in every step of her story.

And finally today, Grace: A Memoir, written and read by Grace Coddington. Coddington was a model who parlayed her experience into a strong, successful career at Vogue, where she is now creative director. And there's a hell of a lot going on in her back story: sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, fashion icons, power plays, stories of the rich and famous before they'd quite achieved either. It's juicy and would probably have been a certain amount of fun (though I'm the furthest thing from a fashionista, I like behind-the-scenes looks at other worlds like this.)

Unfortunately, Coddington's voice literally put me to sleep every time I tried to listen. She just marches ceaselessly on, word after word, and I never found a hook to grab me and pull me along. I gave it my best shot, but life is short, and the audiobook was too long. I might have stuck with this book in print, but as an audio production, I'm left just wondering why it was ever nominated.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Middlemarch, and Life Therein

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
(Crown / Blackstone Audiobooks, 2014)
Format: audio download via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Kate Reading)

From Goodreads: "Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot s "Middlemarch," regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage, and family, Mead read and reread "Middlemarch." 

In this wise and revealing work of biography, reportage, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, "My Life in Middlemarch" takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece: the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of the author herself, "My Life in Middlemarch" is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us."

I first heard about this book via The Toast (which is a place you should never visit unless you like laughing and thinking and getting sucked into the goodness), and participated in a Middlemarch book club there over the past few months. It wasn't my first read of Middlemarch, and as is so often the case with classics I'm revisiting, I chose an audio format - especially since I found one read by the marvelous Kate Reading, who has never steered me wrong. If you're looking at 32 hours of someone telling you about life in a small English town and humanity and emotions and intelligence and insight and love and loss and dreams and the agonizing failure of those dreams to come true, largely through faults of your own that you'd rather not contemplate the existence of, and Kate Reading is one of the options for hearing those superbly-crafted words (y'all should seriously read Middlemarch, it's amazing), pick her.

So when I saw that Kate Reading was narrating Rebecca Mead's book, I jumped in with a request to get it from Audiobook Jukebox. And they sent it to me, and I listened to 9 1/2 hours of Kate Reading bringing me back to Eliot's world, via Mead's smart, incisive prose, and was happy. Reading brings a fullness to the Eliot quotes, and is lively and engaged as she narrates Mead's observations and anecdotes.

I am a book person. This is apparent to every single person who knows me, even a little bit. And much of why books are essential to me is that reading is a way of reflecting on my own life, my thoughts and opinions and dreams. Take any of the fifty books I've read (or listened to) in 2014 so far, and I will tell you something about it that particularly resonated with me - changed the way I thought, or rang an emotional chord, or helped me articulate a formerly inchoate idea.

Mead takes us through those resonances as she reads Middlemarch, and studies Eliot, and re-reads Middlemarch, and tours through the world Eliot inhabited, and re-reads Middlemarch again. Her journeys through Eliot's landscapes and biography of Eliot's life were absorbing and edifying, but what resonated most with me was Mead's tracing of the impact of the text on her through various life phases. What matters when you read Eliot as a schoolgirl is different than what matters when you read her in college, or once you've gone and settled down with a spouse and kids. At least, for me that's true, and for Mead it is, as well. Dorothea's passion, in particular, looked very different to me when I was a younger woman. (Me to Younger Me: "It's not actually all Casaubon's fault, you know. Or even his and Brooke's. Just FYI.")

I love revisiting a book as full of varied, engaging ideas as Middlemarch to see what new things it holds for me, and Mead shows why that revisiting is not only fun, but is also good for the soul. Her life in Middlemarch is a journey I look forward to taking again.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Far Far Away

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
(Listening Library, 2013)
Format: audio download via library (narrated by W. Morgan Sheppard)

From Goodreads: "It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings..."

This is nominated in the 2014 Audies Teens category, which I've listened to for the Armchair Audies project. 

Jeremy Johnson Johnson is a bit of a cipher, but that's not going to stop Ginger Boultinghouse (who is a bit of a manic pixie) from working on figuring him out as he works on figuring out how to save his business and his dad and his companion-ghost Jacob Grimm works on figuring out who the Big Bad is in town. (Grimm has other-worldly knowledge that there's some sort of threat to Jeremy out there, but no one knows who that threat is.) Throughout there are allusions to various Grimm tales - children encouraged to look into big ovens, in particular - which are a fun touch. It's not the usual kind of updated fairy tale story - it's a little quirkier and a lot looser.

Mostly I liked it. It's playful and fairly well put together and as long as we can suspend all disbelief about the roles of all kinds of world-saving shenanigans run by teenagers only mildly supervised by a ghost.

Sheppard is a new-to-me narrator and was a fun listen. He makes a good multi-lingual ghost. I liked the gruffness he brought to Grimm and the brightness he brought to Ginger and the touch of menace he dropped throughout the book as our suspicions about who the Big Bad in town would be were shifted throughout the narrative.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
(Hachette Audio, 2013)
Format: audio download via library (narrated by Noah Galvin)

From Goodreads: "How would you spend your birthday if you knew it would be your last?

Eighteen-year-old Leonard Peacock knows exactly what he'll do. He'll say goodbye.

Not to his mum - who he calls Linda because it annoys her - who's moved out and left him to fend for himself. Nor to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing the unthinkable. But to his four friends: a Humphrey-Bogart-obsessed neighbour, a teenage violin virtuoso, a pastor's daughter and a teacher.

Most of the time, Leonard believes he's weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he's not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye."

This is a mostly lovely book I wouldn't have run across without the Audies awards. (Hey, guess what? I'm participating in the Armchair Audies again this year! It's so much fun for me.) (I'm going to listen to Literary Fiction, Narration by the Author or Authors, and Teens.)

So, Leonard Peacock is going to kill his former best friend, and then himself, on his 18th birthday. (This is well-established from the start; no spoilers.) There's some bad history there, which is especially difficult for a loner like Leonard (abandoned by both parents, though his mother stops by the suburbs sometimes from her far more glamorous life in Manhattan.) Before he goes, he brings gifts to the four people who have made life bearable for him, and each of those encounters reveals a bit more of how Leonard got to this desperate point.

The novel is gracefully structured and the four lifelines, while perhaps a tad over-eccentric as a whole, were fun characters to explore, especially in audio. Noah Galvin has fun with the Bogart-quoting old man, in particular, and the anti-"parking" comic handed out by the born-again pastor's daughter. (Leonard's relationship to that daughter was the most difficult part of the book for me. Perhaps it is just entirely true to the teenage-boy-ness of Leonard, but his aggressive refusal to take 'no, not interested' from the girl because his libido overrode him took me out of the story and removed a lot of good-will and sympathy towards Leonard I had built up.)

The sensitivity and emotion of Galvan's reading was often very affecting, and I was glad to spend several hours in the company of this particular smart, out-of-place, damaged teen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do or Die

Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann
(Blackstone Audio, 2014)
Format: audio download via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank)

From Goodreads: "Former Navy SEAL Ian Dunn has been tasked by a mysterious government agency with rescuing two children believed to have been taken prisoner in a South American embassy. Leading the mission alongside Phoebe Kruger, the new hire at the prestigious law firm where Dunn is a client, Dunn will embark on a race against time while simultaneously dealing with an equally pressing danger: being hunted by the mob. In the midst of all this, Phoebe gets sucked deeper and deeper into Dunn's clandestine world, and Dunn faces some surprises of his own as he slowly becomes aware of Phoebe's sharp intelligence, keen sense of humor, and generous heart."

One of these days, I'll meet Suzanne Brockmann and be surprised when Patrick Lawlor's voice doesn't come out of her mouth. Her audio team is so strong and adept with each of her books that their tones are inextricably linked to her stories, in my mind. And that's all to the good; Brockmann in audio is consistently delightful. The stories are tense and the situations dire and the characters sharp and snarky and crude and sexy and fierce, and it's all just great fun. 

This is a new series, Reluctant Heroes, which is an offshoot of the Troubleshooter series. So Jules Cassidy is somewhere in the background (which is better than not having Jules Cassidy mentioned at all, but I still missed him), and we get to spend time with some others who were secondary but who are coming to the forefront now (Yoshi! Martell!) It's nicely woven into Brockmann's world, and full of her usual energy. The complexities of the local mafia and international baddies was maybe more expansive than necessary for this particular novel, but I'm presuming that the series as a whole will make good use of the elements Brockmann set into play here.

Lawlor and Ewbank are, as always, great at the tension (and not just the sexual tension) and emotion of the narrative. Picking up one of their audios is pretty much a guaranteed several hours (in this case, 19 1/2 hours) of good listening. If you enjoy Brockmann (and why wouldn't you?), you'll really enjoy this audiobook.