Tuesday, March 31, 2009

War, pirates, reincarnation, and dogs make for a great read

The past few days have been busy with boring duties like laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping, so I haven't been able to do what I want to do most: sit down and read A.S. King's The Dust of 100 Dogs.

The author, Amy Sarig King, is a fellow Pennsylvania resident who spent some time close to my second home (Scotland). For years, King wrote and taught literacy in Ireland. This debut novel of hers is marketed as young adult fiction, which I'm an avid reader of since I write in the genre, but I have to say it will appeal to a much wider audience.

The book tells the story of Emer Morrisey, a brave and innovative Irish girl who watches her family destroyed at the hands of Cromwell's army. She's taken in by a brutish uncle who ultimately sells her to be the wife of an old, unattractive French man, tearing Emer away from her true love.

But Emer's too strong to let someone else control her life.

While we're learning about Emer's challenges and successes in the 17th century, we're also learning about her life in the 21st century. The jacket copy does a great job of explaining why that is:

In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of one hundred dogs, dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body - with her memories intact.

Now, she's a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.

I wish I had a few hours to sit alone with King's incredibly-woven, rich story of the past, the present, and the intricate workings of canine minds. Until then, I'll be enjoying the book bit by bit when I have a few moments, and I would strongly encourage you to do the same.

Monday, March 23, 2009

French Chateaus and English Cottages

Ironically, someone who never left her hometown of about 14,000 residents has told me several times, "If you're going to dream, dream big." That someone is my grandmother. When I was younger, she was a traditional matriarch organizing family gatherings for her three children, six step-children, and about 24 grandchildren.

In her older age, though, she became a more sedentary figure, organizing only evenings with Alex Trebek, Pat Sajak, and a pile of Circle-A-Word books. For such a humble figure, it's surprising that she frequently offered advice to dream big.

But now that I've actually finished a book, I find myself following Grandma's advice.

Who am I kidding? I've been dreaming of seeing my name on the New York Times bestsellers list for the better part of a decade. I've imagined my fabulous stories turned into Hollywood blockbusters with A-list celebrities telling me how much they like my work. It takes a pompous person to think people I've admired for my whole life would be moved by my presence.

Either that, or I've really bought into this idea of dreaming big. And like Grandma always said, why not?

Why not imagine that agents are going to swoon over my book? That they'll fight to represent me. That I'll score a huge advance on royalties despite the current economic climate (allowing me to spend summers writing in a French chateau, an Italian villa, or an English cottage). That my book will open the gates with huge sales. That hesitant teen readers will pick up my book and discover the love for reading I've had my entire life.

Aaaah, here's to dreaming big.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Finishing the first draft

The moment I finished writing the first draft of The Diner on Third, a young adult paranormal mystery, I felt as giddy as my 17-year-old main character when her hunky college boyfriend grazes her hand with his. With a massive grin and intermittent giggling, I opened my email account and sent a message to a few people who had helped me along the way. Then I added a few more names. Then a few more, thinking so many people have been around while I struggled with story ideas, characters, agent rejections, and failed projects in the past. Surely they would want to be a part of my success, even a success as minor as finishing a manuscript.

Truthfully, the success isn't minor to me. It's a big deal, but in the realm of publishing, I can hear seasoned editor/agent/writer types saying, "So what? You finished a book. You're a writer. That's what writers do."

And I guess that's what makes it such an impressive feat.

It's what writers do.

I've earned my official "I'm a writer" pin, or I would have if one of those actually existed.

Once a writer writes a novel, though, what's next? Well, for starters, I suppose I should answer the dreaded question authors hear most, one I heard from many of you when you responded to my giddy email.

What is your book about?

Writing a book wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, and I'm sure I'll talk a lot about the process on this blog. However, it was somehow easier to write a 64,000-word novel than to explain in one sentence what it's about.

Yet, fine-tuning the pitch or hook of your story is key in the publishing industry. If I can't make it attractive in the time it takes a potential reader to digest the few lines on the back cover in a Barnes and Noble, then a publisher will likely not want it.

So here's my attempt at answering the question: What is The Diner on Third about?

After three years of hiding behind static night vision cameras, 17-year-old ghost hunter Leia Angeletti begins to see paranormal “scenes” with her own eyes, scenes that aren’t picked up by the equipment she carries. She fears they might be hallucinations, perhaps the onset of mental illness which runs in her family. Instead she learns she has a unique psychic gift that she hopes is unique enough to explain how a diner in her hometown can simply disappear.

Any thoughts?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Welcome to the Girardi Diner

Having a meal at a diner is usually a relaxing, peaceful event. It’s a time to come together with friends and family, to receive excellent service in a family-owned business, and to eat great food. When I think of diners, I imagine plates piled high with pancakes, hash browns, and sausage as my diner experiences usually occur during breakfast.

One of the best diners in my memory is Eazer’s in my hometown of New Kensington, Pennsylvania. I spent many mornings there eating ham and cheese omelettes while my grandmother chatted about anything and everything. It’s just one of those memories frozen in time, not really a place I go often now, but a place that makes me think of my grandmother and how our relationship once was.

Another great diner is the University Diner in Jacksonville. Conveniently located down the street from Jacksonville University, my husband’s and my alma mater, the University Diner was the kind of place where grease settled on your face when you walked in the door.

In other words, it was awesome.

Perhaps the most alluring diner in my past, though, is the one that has eluded me. Since December is a busy month, filled with shopping, parties, and time with extended family, my husband and I found that we rarely get to spend valuable time together before the year is passed. For that reason, we instituted a tradition of spending a weekend away each December.

We don’t go far.

We’ve gone to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort for some quality spa time, and we’ve visited Hidden Valley for some quality snow-tubing time.

Each December, we opt for one or the other, and the trip is always awesome. One thing we love to do is explore the restaurants in the area. Domenick, my husband, prides himself on a psychic ability of sorts, to judge a building by its cover.

We drive around Uniontown, if we’re visiting Nemacolin, or Somerset, if we’re at Hidden Valley, and my husband determines from the exteriors of the restaurants whether they have good food. He argues his ability has never failed, and as an avid traveler for work, he exercises his skills quite a bit.

During one of those trips, my husband’s psychic abilities told him that a diner along the main road would have delicious food.

And it did.

We spent a meal in this little diner, laughed, talked and then went back to our hotel to get ready for snow-tubing, or was it the spa?

See, I insist that we visited the diner while on a trip to Nemacolin. Dom argues it was at Hidden Valley. The simple way to solve that marital dispute is to go back to the diner.

But that’s the problem. We’ve tried to find the diner ever since, but we’ve failed.

We agree that it’s on the main road, on the right side of the road, if we’re driving away from the hotel, and we can both picture the structure of the building. But we just can’t find it.

During our trip last December, Dom admitted we had failed in locating the mysterious diner yet again. He looked at me from behind the steering will and grinned. “I bet it’s one of those places that if you ask the locals, they’ll say (and in a spooky, horror movie voice), ‘Oh, that place burned down 30 years ago.’”

We laughed, but at that moment I knew the elusive diner could turn into a really great story.

I’ll tell you how soon…