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Lives Interrupted September 19, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction.
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Keith Cronin

Heartbeats and breath, walking and resting, speaking, hearing, reading, and sight. These are only a few of the daily activities we take for granted. We give little thought to the processes that occur in our bodies to facilitate these activities, yet if one of them goes awry, our lives are affected in dramatic ways. Life as we know it is interrupted, it stalls, pivots, freezes, even shatters. Lives are never the same after a catastrophic interruption, but the stories that result can be found in literature throughout the ages. This week in #litchat we’re discussing books featuring that unthinkable moment when life is interrupted.

Joining us as guest host of #litchat on Friday, September 23, is Keith Cronin, whose debut novel, Me Again, explores what happens when a life is abruptly interrupted. Jonathan Hooper is a picture of health, a 28-year-old accountant with a beautiful girlfriend, a loving family, and a taste for the good life, until he’s struck by a sudden and catastrophic stroke. After six years in a coma, Jonathan wakes up.

In one of the most poignant and witty first chapters in recent memory, Me Again begins with Jonathan’s miraculous awakening. Gripped by amnesia and trapped in a body withered by six years of disuse, Jonathan’s recovery is slow and disappointing to those who expect him to bounce back to his former self. He finds an ally in Rebecca, another stroke victim he meets in the long-term recovery unit of the hospital. Rebecca remembers who she is, but the stroke radically changes the way she thinks, feels, and believes, to the point she is a different person. Several mysteries lay hidden beneath Jonathan’s amnesia, leading him to understand who he is as much as who he is no longer.

A former librarian who went on to become a professional rock drummer and corporate speechwriter, Keith Cronin has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers, and has written about the merits of paperclips for a Fortune 200 office-supply company. Keith is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed, named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for the past five years. His fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Indiana University, and earned his MBA at Florida Atlantic University. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. You may purchase Me Again in hardcover from any of your favorite online sources.

Follow Keith Cronin on Twitter: @KeithCronin.


Plot Points in History: The Holocaust August 29, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, historical fiction.
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Pam Jenoff

This week in #litchat we’re debuting a reoccurring theme called Plot Points in History.” History is rich with the drama, conflict, romance, humor and mystery that makes good reading. Creating a theme tied to specific points in history allows us to examine the era and the books that have sprung from that period. We understand that these critical events are more than just scenarios for authors to use as plot fodder, and we never want to trivialize the milestones, both tragic and triumphant, that have shaped human history. Our first theme in “Plot Points in History” is The Holocaust.

Pam Jenoff, guest host of #litchat on Friday, September 2, is author of five novels. Her debut novel, the Quill Award winning bestseller, The Kommodant’s Girl, set in motion a career for writing historical fiction with specific interest in the European theater of World War II. Her most recent novel, The Things We Cherished, takes that theme into Nazi concentration camps, while also weaving through history.  The Things We Cherished tells the story of Charlotte Gold and Jack Harrington, two fiercely independent attor­eys who find themselves slowly falling for one another while working to defend the brother of a Holocaust hero against allegations of World War II–era war crimes. The defendant, wealthy financier Roger Dykmans, refuses to help in his own defense, revealing only that proof of his innocence lies within an intricate timepiece last seen in Nazi Germany. As the narrative moves from Philadelphia to Germany, Poland, and Italy, we are given glimpses of the lives that the anniversary clock has touched over the past century, and learn about the love affair that turned a brother into a traitor.

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Follow Pam Jenoff on Twitter: @PamJenoff.

Taking the E-Road: Publishing Direct to E-Book June 20, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction, e-books, fantasy, fiction, literary fiction, self-published authors, self-publishing.
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Last March bestselling author Barry Eisler made publishing headlines when he announced his new novel would circumvent traditional publishing and go direct to market as an e-book. The writing was on the wall long before Eisler came public with his choice. Nearly two years earlier author J.A. Konrath had already cleared obstacles barring the successful promotion and sales of fiction through self-publishing to e-book. Shortly after Eisler’s announcement, Huffington Post published this insightful conversation between the two authors, which went on to become a live discussion continuing today through Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog. How will such defections of bestselling authors affect the publishing industry at large? Last week PBS Media Shift addressed this issue with this report on literary agents acting as self-publishing consultants. The publishing paradigm is shifting so quickly now, the image is blurred.

This week in #litchat we’ll discuss the trend of authors–both known and unknown–to go direct to e-book.  We’ll feature three authors who have taken their careers into their own hands and boldly gone where Konrath and Eisler have already been. These authors, however, aren’t bestellers. Yet. Each of them have already achieved success within e-pub rankings and are forging new paths for other yet-unpublished authors to follow.

Monday: Georganna Hancock

Georganna Hancock shares the inside tips on how to whip a manuscript into shape for successful e-book formatting, promotion and sales. Hancock’s rich experience as an editor is the focal point for this discussion, as she emphasizes the importance of professional editing for content, grammar and style that is often skipped by self-publishing authors. She’ll also share insights on how to set-up an Amazon account for direct-to-Kindle publishing, how to format your manuscript for the best e-book results, as well as promotional and marketing tips for sales. Hancock holds a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University and now works as an independent editor and publishing consultant.

Follow Georganna Hancock on Twitter: @GLHancock.

Wednesday: Eileen Cruz Coleman

Eileen Cruz Coleman has published two novels direct to e-book. Her first novel, Sweetwater American, was released on Kindle in February 2010. Excerpts from Sweetwater American have been published in short story form in The Saint Ann’s Review, Bathtub Gin, Thought Magazine, Rosebud Magazine, Sundry: A Journal of the Arts, In Posse Review, Small Spiral Notebook, and Slow Trains Magazine. Excerpts from Sweetwater American have also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won third place in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. At this writing, her latest novel, Rumpel, is holding the number 2 position at Amazon Kindle’s Horror/Ghosts category. Rumpel is a literary retelling of the Brothers Grimm classic, Rumpelstiltskin, peopled with sinister spooks and textured with dark swaths of chicanery.  Cruz Coleman was born in Washington, D.C. and is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in European History. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two children.

Follow Eileen Cruz Coleman on Twitter: @EileenCruzColeman.

Friday: Billie Hinton

Billie Hinton began her own publishing company, November Hill Press, in the summer of 2010, launching her first title, Claire-Obscure, a literary fiction masterpiece. In the year that has followed, she has published two more literary fiction titles, The Meaning of Isolated Objects (December 2010) and Signs That May Be Omens (March 2011, continuation in the Claire Quartet). In February 2011, she published the first in her middle grade Magical Pony School series, Jane’s Transformation. These titles have been shaped through the years by Hinton’s magical literary touch and now come to readers through Kindle and Smashwords. Her writing has been praised by bestselling authors, critics and other publishing pundits, both in traditional and transitional fields. Hinton, a psychotherapist by vocation, also leads writing retreats designed to unleash the creativity and empower writers to project completion. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her husband, two teenagers, three horses, a painted pony, five felines, and two Corgis.

Follow Billie Hinton on Twitter: @billiehinton.

Lit Kids: Memorable Children in Mainstream Fiction May 22, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, literary fiction.
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Caroline Leavitt

Charles Dickens was a master of reflecting both the light and dark sides of culture, yet his books featuring children as characters are among the most beloved novels of all time. Mark Twain made life on the Mississippi in a bygone era believable through two precocious boys. To Kill a Mockingbird wouldn’t have the same brilliance had it been written from the perspective of Scout’s father, rather than through the eyes of a feisty grade-school girl. These, along with many other contemporary novels, feature memorable children as protagonists in stories larger than life. This is our topic of the week for May 23-27.

Joining us to talk about writing memorable children on Friday, May 27, is Caroline Leavitt, author of nine notable novels, including the recent NY Times Bestseller, Pictures of You. In Pictures of You, two runaway women collide on a foggy Cape Cod highway; one of them lives, the other one perishes. Nothing bound the two women before the accident, yet afterwards they become entwined in the life of one little boy, the precious Sam who loses his mother in the tragedy. This beguiling story is wrought with restraint, the story unfolding through a fog of realism that resists predictability, lifting to a bittersweet ending. Pictures of You, features a child so perfect and yet so damaged, you want to reach through the pages and pull him to your heart.

In addition to writing fiction, Leavitt is a book critic for The Boston Globe and People. She won a 2005 honorable mention, Goldenberg Prize for Fiction from the Bellevue Literary Review, for “Breathe,” a portion of Pictures of You. Leavitt has been a judge in both the Writers’ Voice Fiction Awards in New York City and the Midatlantic Arts Grants in Fiction. She is an award-winning senior instructor at UCLA Writers Program online, where she teaches “Writing The Novel” online, and she also mentors privately.

Leavitt’s essays, stories and articles have appeared in Salon, Psychology Today, New York Magazine, Parenting, The Chicago Tribune, Parents, Redbook, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She has appeared on The Today Show, Diane Rehm, German and Canadian TV, and more, and she has been featured on The View From The Bay. Leavitt lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, New York City’s unofficial sixth borough, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their teenage son Max.

Follow Caroline Leavitt on Twitter: @leavittnovelist.

Cult Classics April 25, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction, literary fiction.
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Timothy Schaffert

Some classics are like precocious children not appreciated within the culture of their birth. Other classics are instantaneous sensations lauded by critics, applauded by masses and forever assigned by academics. And then there are the others. Novels seared by the hot tines of satire, pop commentary, or political machination. Novels that peel down the skin of humanity and fry it on the griddle of public opinion. Novels that wag warning fingers or stick metaphorical tongues out at the very readers who turn pages in literary arousal. These latter novels become the cult classics that we’ll discuss this week in #litchat.

Guest host on Friday, April 29 is Timothy Schaffert, author of The Coffins of Little Hope (Unbridled Books). Stroked with ambitious swaths of color in character, setting and story, The Coffins of Little Hope pokes fun at everything our jaded society finds most compelling, beginning with the disappearance of a child; the over-analytical, microscopic scrutiny into the lives of authors and the books they produce; the fascination with dysfunction of the gritty kind; and the all-consuming desire to know the ending. Schaffert accomplishes all of this within a story told from the perspective of a small-town octogenarian, who shapes the story from her experience as the local paper’s obituary writer. With characters endearing in the faults that shape their mystery and set within a contemporary calendar, the story contrasts the honorable rural america of a bygone era with the media-frenzied public fueled by pop culture and the extreme. Add to this slim volume a book within a book, authors within the author, and you have a cult classic in the making with The Coffins of Little Hope. (You can read the insightful NY Times review, or visit the meta-fictional “Rothgutt’s Asylum for Misguided Girls,” where the “Miranda and Desiree” books within the book are set.)

Timothy Schaffert grew up on a farm in Nebraska and currently lives in Omaha. His short fiction has been published in several literary journals and he’s won numerous awards, including the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award and the Nebraska Book Award. He is the author of four critically-acclaimed novels: The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, Devils in the Sugar Shop, and most recently The Coffins of Little Hope.

Follow Timothy on Twitter: @timschaffert.

Connections April 18, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, fiction, food, literary fiction.
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Jael McHenry

The information superhighway has bridged oceans, united diverse voices, and placed virtual libraries in the palm of your hand. It’s the age of connection, when reaching out to strangers through chatrooms, forums, blogs and other forms of social media such as Twitter, is not only common, it’s expected. This week in #litchat we’re discussing connections and how they inform our reading choices, our writing practices, and the way we interact with other people.

On Friday, April 22, #litchat welcomes Jael McHernry, author of the recently released novel, The Kitchen Daughter. In this brilliant debut, McHenry brings us a sheltered young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, whose struggle for independence following the death of her parents is a poignant buffet of surprises. McHenry’s protagonist, Ginny, has difficulty connecting with people, but can connect with the dead when cooking from their handwritten recipes.

The invoking of ghosts puts one in mind of horror or other spine-chilling scenarios, but don’t expect screams and wails and rattling of chains in this high concept literary novel. The real story within The Kitchen Daughter is discovery of self, acceptance of family, letting go of and reaching out to others through simple things such as touch, talk, and trust—each an essential element of connection. Read more about The Kitchen Daughter here.

McHenry is a passionate amateur cook who grew up in Michigan and Iowa before moving from city to city along the East Coast: Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and now New York, where she blogs about food and cooking at the Simmer blog. The Kitchen Daughter includes ten of her original recipes, ranging in simple cocktail concoctions to complex ethnic cuisine. McHenry tantalizes readers of The Kitchen Daughter with descriptions of food and its preparation, layering the text with fascinating cooking lore and culinary techniques.

In addition to cooking and writing fiction, McHenry is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing.

Follow Jael McHenry on Twitter: @JaelMcHenry.

Ensemble Novels March 14, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, commercial fiction, fiction, thrillers, weekly topics, women's fiction.
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Meg Waite Clayton

Can a novel have more than one protagonist without losing focus and continuity? This week in #litchat we’re discussing novels that feature an ensemble cast, where more than one protagonist shares the stage for the revelation of story.

Guest host on Friday, March 18, is Meg Waite Clayton, whose debut novel, The Language of Light, was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. Her most recent novel, The Four Ms. Bradwells, features an ensemble cast of four strong women who bond during law school in 1979 and remain allies throughout life’s trials and triumphs.

Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four reunite for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

In addition to the acclaimed, The Language of Light, Clayton’s 2008 ensemble novel, The Wednesday Sisters, was a national bestseller. Clayton hosts the blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, which features award-winning and bestselling authors sharing stories about their paths to writing and publishing. Her short stories and essays have been read on public radio and have appeared in commercial and literary magazines. She’s a graduate of the University of Michigan and Michigan Law School, and lives with her family in Palo Alto, Calif.

Follow Meg Waite Clayton on Twitter: @MegWClayton

Intuition February 21, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction, fiction, mystery.
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Sara J. Henry and her four dogs.

When is the wrong thing to do the right thing? If the wrong thing makes everything work out fine, was it the wrong thing to begin with? How does one know the difference? Intuition. Knowing something without knowing why or how is one of the mysteries of human experience. This week in #litchat we’re discussing intuition.

On Friday, February 25, author Sara J. Henry joins us to discuss her debut novel, Learning To Swim. Set in the triple locations of upstate New York, Vermont and Ottawa, Learning to Swim is a triathlon of mystery and self-discovery with a hint of romance. What would you do if you saw a child falling overboard from a ferry in the middle of a frigid lake? Female protagonist Troy Chance doesn’t think twice before diving from the side of the ferry and swimming to the child’s rescue. Troy’s choices immediately following the rescue ignite a fuse of intuition that threatens to consume her self-controlled life.

Henry grew up in Oak Ridge, Tenn., graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont., and in between took journalism classes at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Like her character Troy Chance in Learning To Swim, she has been a sports feature writer for magazines and newspapers, including the Longview Daily News and the Tri-City Herald, both in Washington state. Also like her main character, she once lived in Lake Placid, N.Y. in a house with a lot of roommates, and worked as sports editor at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in nearby Saranac Lake, and freelanced for magazines.

Follow Sara J. Henry on Twitter at @sarajhenry.

Quick Change Authors: Writing in Multiple Genres January 15, 2011

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, chick lit, children's literature, coming-of-age, commercial fiction, fiction, historical fiction, YA fiction.
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Lauren Baratz-Logsted

It’s been said that a good writer can slip between genres without leaving tracks. Ken Follett made his name with action-packed cold war suspense, but turned the clock back hundreds of years with his medieval historical fiction. Margaret Atwood’s science fiction holds its own against her literary work, while Joyce Carol Oates writes in several genres using two additional pen names. The bard himself wrote comedies, tragedies and sonnets.

This week in #litchat we’re discussing what it takes to write well, publish and be read in multiple genres. Joining us on Friday, January 21, 2011, is Lauren Baratz-Logsted. One of the most prolific authors of our day, Baratz-Logsted has successfully published children’s early readers, young adult, chick-lit, adult suspense. Just last week Baratz-Logsted wrote “the end” on the ninth book in her popular children’s series, THE SISTERS EIGHT.

A graduate of University of Connecticut at Storrs, in 1994 Logsted-Baratz left her job at a bookstore to take a chance on herself as a writer. Success did not happen over night. Between 1994 and May 2002 – when Red Dress Ink called with an offer to buy THE THIN PINK LINE – Lauren worked as a book reviewer, a freelance editor and writer, and a window washer, making her arguably the only woman in the world who has ever both hosted a book signing party and washed the windows of the late best-selling novelist Robert Ludlum. Since Red Dress Ink’s call in 2002, Baratz-Logsted has been very busy writing novels and checking her Amazon ranking on a daily basis. She still lives in Danbury, with her husband and daughter, where she has lived since 1991.

Follow Lauren Baratz-Logsted on Twitter: @LaurenBaratzL

Note: There will be no moderated #litchat on Monday, January 16, while we observe the Martin Luther King holiday in the United States.

Read chatscripts from this week’s #litchat:

January 19, 2011: Quick Change Authors

January 21, 2011: Quick Change Authors, Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The Power of Place November 15, 2010

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction, literary fiction, multi-cultural fiction, religion and mysticism, weekly topics.
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Ilie Ruby
(Photo: Steve Lifshatz)

When discussing fiction, we talk often of protagonists–their physical attributes, personality development, emotional growth, personal motivation and the like. In many novels, the setting is so integral to the story, it becomes a character as vivid as the humans who inhabit the place. The Power of Place is this topic of the week for November 15-19 in #litchat.

On Friday, November 19, author Ilie Ruby joins #litchat as guest host. Ruby’s debut novel, The Language of Trees, is a mesmerizing work of mystery steeped in Native Indian lore and spiritualism. Through the disappearance of a local woman and the link it has to the drowning of a boy in Canandaigua Lake a decade ago, a powerful story of hope and forgiveness emerges. It’s not a love story, yet the relationship between Grant Shongo, who returns broken from divorce to the lakeside house of his childhood, and his first love Ecco O’Connell, ties them together and to the place. As memorable as the characters themselves, is the place called Canadaigua Lake. Spirits old and new roam the area with ancient memories and modern motivations. Humans and animals, spirits and setting bind together in this book of hope, forgiveness, respect and love.

Ilie Ruby grew up in Rochester, New York and spent her childhood summers on Canandaigua Lake, the setting for her debut novel, The Language of Trees. She is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foundation Fiction Scholarship; and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. Ruby is also a recipient of the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference Davidoff Scholarship in Nonfiction and the Kemp Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship. She has worked on PBS archaeology documentaries in Central America, taught 5th grade in Los Angeles on the heels of the Rodney King riots of 1992, and written two children’s books, Making Gold and The Last Boat. In 1995, she graduated from the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology.

Follow Ilie Ruby on Twitter at @IlieRuby.