Sunday, August 10, 2014

Interview with my latest heroine: meet Cassidy Shea of "Twitter Girl"

As is the custom when I've finished a RomCom, I like to spend time with my heroine and simply talk. You know, without putting words in her mouth. Let's face it, if you're a writer who has spent 80,000 words in someone's head, it's not unusual to take that character to a virtual lunch. Besides, it doesn't cost anything and you can order the lobster.

Anyway, I'm sitting down with Cassidy Shea, the snarky redheaded star of the soon to be released "Twitter Girl" which will be out on September 18th. But Cassidy is a little different in that she has her own Twitter account besides the one in the book. This one's real and you can follow her at @TwitrGrlCassidy. I must admit, this is the first time a character has gone out of her own, so I'm wondering if perhaps Skynet and Cassidy have become self-aware.

Me: So, you launched your own Twitter account. A real one.

Cassidy: Hey, you created me, what did you expect? Did you think I was gonna sit around for five weeks waiting for release day and not toot my own horn? Honey, this girl aint a literary fiction character watching paint dry for ten pages. And honestly, with the personality traits you gave me, you should have known I would go rogue. I mean, we have spent a ton of time together.

Me: So, are you happy with the way things turned out?

Cassidy: Well, of course. What girl wouldn't want happily ever after? But seriously, did you have to make me jump through all those romantic hoops and deal with a ton of obstacles? Talk about a love roller coaster.

Me: You had to figure out the meaning of true love and I couldn't let you do it in chapter one.

Cassidy: Yeah, yeah, I know you writers love conflict and have that "things get worse" rule. At least the roller coaster was a great ride. And I really did enjoy being sarcastic. That's why I started the Twitter feed. I got so used to tweeting in the book and I figured you're not gonna write a sequel, so I needed an outlet.

Me: So what are you going to tweet about?

Cassidy: Oh, anything and everything, from romance to the mouth-breathing shoppers at Wal-Mart. How I deal with an author who makes me say and do stuff I really shouldn't do. What life is like as a skinny, flat-chested six-foot-tall redhead. Speaking of my physical character traits, just once I'd like to say, "Hey, my eyes are up here!" Honestly, you couldn't have written one sentence and given me a decent rack? For God's sake, you're a guy!

Me: Sorry, but I can't write characters that are Barbie dolls. Besides, not all men are attracted to the Joan Holloways of Mad Men who look like they're gonna tip over. And your two love interests in the book wouldn't change a thing about you anyway.

Cassidy: Okay, you've got a point. You did set me up with two hot guys who thought I hung the moon. However, I do have one bone to pick with you.

Me: What?

Cassidy: Well, I know you write "sweet romance" without any explicit sex, but seriously, did you have to do a damn scene change just when things were getting hot and heavy? I mean, I'm wrapped around this guy, he's carrying me to the bedroom, we're ready to... and then, BOOM! New chapter!

Me: Sorry.

Cassidy: Anyway, I do appreciate the fact that you made me really smart and independent. And you let me figure stuff out logically. I guess I shouldn't complain too loud since you're in the final editing process and you could make me a humpback.

Me: Now what the hell would be the appeal of a humpbacked heroine in a romance novel?

Cassidy: I dunno, but it would give me the chance to say, "Hel-lo! My eyes are down here!"

Me: Dear God, I've created a monster.

Cassidy: Hey, my snark is part of my charm. Anyway, I just figured since you're Sicilian you have that revenge chromosome and you shouldn't be crossed.

Me: Alas, while I love a good vendetta, I would never take it out on such a sweet, innocent girl.

Cassidy: Awwww, you're making my heart melt. And you're such a good liar.

Me: Thank you.

Cassidy: Speaking of men who aren't up front about everything, the word around the laptop file room is that you're moving in with another girl. Redhead named Keira ring a bell?

Me: New book, new character. But I just started and I'm not in her head yet like I was with you.

Cassidy: Uh-huh.

Me: I hope you know you'll always be special to me.

Cassidy: Eh, I'm just yankin' your chain. But she'd better not be prettier than me or I'll kick your ass.

Twitter Girl on Amazon


Monday, July 28, 2014

Vote for my next book cover

What makes a book cover grab your attention? There's no real formula, is there?

So my publisher is trying something different to see what catches the eye of readers. They've created three possible covers for my upcoming book titled "Twitter Girl" (scheduled for September) and are asking people to vote.

Check 'em out, vote, and leave a comment if you're so inclined...

Twitter Girl Covers


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Money saving strategies for writers

I’m thrifty. Well, my wife calls me “cheap” but that term bothers me. We’re comfortable, have a nice house and don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But I still clip coupons. I think when you grow up without a lot of money you have a hard time spending it when you do have it. If I hit the lottery I would probably still clip coupons.

And I know a lot of people in creative industries who are in financial trouble. The problem is that many creative types aren’t born with the math chromosome and have little interest in dealing with the business side of things. And make no mistake, writing is a business. And like any business, overhead can kill you. But if you step back and think about it, writers probably have less overhead than any business. Seriously, what do you need besides a computer? And you already have one of those anyway.

So I thought I’d share some obvious and some not so obvious ways to cut costs and help writers eat a burger instead of ramen noodles. There’s a system that separates the burger people from the noodle people, and you need to know how to work it.

-Computers: Writing requires one of the oldest and simplest programs ever invented in the digital age, the word processor. Do you need a top-of-the-line laptop to be an author? Nope. I’m writing this on my ten year old machine. So what if your computer won’t download something in a nanosecond? What you need to be a writer is something very simple and inexpensive. My writing software of choice, Scrivener, cost me twenty bucks. (Most computers come with a word processor already installed, but I despise Microsoft Word as much as Central Park mimes, so I splurged.)

-Internet service: You don’t need the fastest speed. We have the slowest, cheapest speed available. So my emailed manuscripts get to my editor in three seconds instead of one. Big whoop.

-Cell phones: Okay, I’m older and don’t get the obsession with cell phones. Why would I want to watch a movie on a four-inch phone and go cross-eyed when I have this wonderful 50-inch Sony flat screen in the den and Blu-Ray looks as good as a theater?

Anyway, I’m assuming you already have internet access at home, so do your surfing on your laptop and drop your cell internet usage to a minimum. Shop around for deals on used cell phones. I picked up two iPhones on eBay for 45 bucks each and my service through Consumer Cellular is 39 bucks per month, total, for both phones. Yes, you read that right. Thirty-nine. Because I just use my cell to make phone calls. If you’re paying close to $200 per month for a phone, you’re in car payment territory. And you can’t drive a phone.

There are literally thousands of phones for sale on eBay. Every time a new iPhone comes out and the gearheads rush to get it, they dump their six month old “obsolete” models in eBay. You own it, no contract.

Speaking of contracts, those fees are negotiable if you are renewing. Years ago when I was still with AT&T I asked the clerk, “Seriously, you’re gonna charge me $36 to continue being a customer?” She laughed. Fee waived. (If you’re not from the New York area, it helps to fake the accent when doing this. No one outside the tri-state area wants to deal with us when we’re ticked off.)

-Office: Awhile back I read a story about a writer who commuted to an office he rented. Seriously? Your commute should be like mine, fifty feet from the bedroom to the laptop. Your office is wherever you sit. No rent, no travel expenses.

-Credit cards: Okay, now we’re in serious “game the system” territory. But this only works if you pay off your cards in full every month and don’t ever pay finance charges.

Charge everything, and I mean everything, with rewards cards, then sit back and watch the rewards pour in. Two years ago we went on vacation and got five free nights at a Marriott while dining out with $300 in restaurant gift cards. Last year’s vacation; two free airline tickets from Florida to Montreal. All from using reward credit cards to buy stuff we’d buy anyway.

Also note that many reward cards have special offers during the year. For instance, this summer Chase Freedom and Discover are offering five percent back on gasoline. If gas is four bucks a gallon where you live, that’s twenty cents a gallon in cash back. That’s four bucks if your car takes twenty gallons for a fill-up. Do the math.

-Don’t forget non-fiction as a source of income. Do you have a ton of experience in your day job? Write a book. I have three journalism textbooks out there that provide a small but steady source of income. A TV photographer I know wrote a book on video. If you are well versed in your chosen field, consider writing a textbook, how-to book, or whatever. Doesn’t have to be long or expensive. My reporter’s pocket checklist book only runs 22 pages.

-Coffee: I have never bought a cup of coffee away from home. I simply cannot understand why anyone would pay five bucks for a cup of coffee when you can buy a pound for five bucks and make it yourself. Someone did the math awhile back and figured out that Starbucks makes $152 on a pound of coffee. Would you pay that much in the grocery store?

-Everything is negotiable, and I do mean everything. Haggling isn’t just for car dealerships anymore, especially in our horrible economy. Furniture, jewelry, electronics, whatever. Never pay sticker price without asking if the seller can do a little better.

And a trick that works a lot is threatening to change your TV provider. If you have satellite, tell your provider you’re considering cable if the bill isn’t reduced. With cable, do the reverse. 

Companies would rather have eighty percent of something than one hundred percent of nothing. My satellite provider recently dropped my bill $25 per month. That’s $300 per year. Do the math.

-Professional discounts: If you’re in a profession that often gets a break, ask if you qualify for a discount. Veterans are on the top of the list. My wife is a teacher and often gets a break for that. We just bought a new mattress and the store knocked off $100.

-Age discounts: I hate to admit it, but I have an AARP card. There’s nothing better than getting a discount because you’re fifty years old and still alive. (But nothing worse than getting it without asking. And then the teenage checkout girl has to rub it in by announcing to the people in line behind you that you got the senior discount.)

-Rewards programs: Plenty of stores offer rewards cards for frequent shoppers. For instance, Walgreens has a great rewards program and about four times each year we get fifty bucks worth of free stuff.

-Shop the sales: Never rush out when you run out. Don’t run out. Stock up on stuff that doesn’t expire that you’re going to use anyway when it’s on sale. But only buy it when it’s on sale. Paper towels, bath soap, detergent, etc. I personally think we have enough dishwasher detergent to last out a nuclear attack provided the electromagnetic pulse doesn’t fry the dishwasher.

-Avoid convenience stores: You can buy a 12 pack of soda for three bucks, so why are you paying two bucks for one bottle while on the road or out of the office vending machine? Or a buck and a half for a bag of chips with four chips in it? Put a cooler and snacks in your car when traveling or going to work.

-Clip the coupons: They’re as good as cash. No brainer.

Now go enjoy your burger. If you work the system well enough you can even throw bacon and cheese on it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Obvious Emmy nominations that were missed

The recent Emmy nominations have me scratching my head and wondering if the people who vote ever use the words “enjoyable” or “entertaining” when considering TV shows. Apparently if your show is “critically acclaimed” or has a political agenda you’ve got a great shot at a nomination. If it is something people simply enjoy, well, fuhgeddaboudit. I mean, what the hell does the viewing public know?

Anyway, this year there were a ton of obvious oversights, so here are the ones that really got snubbed and get the Emmys from this household:

Justified: Well, I kinda knew the critics weren’t gonna give this show any love when a national entertainment magazine actually wondered why Raylan Givens had to use a gun. What the hell do you want him to do, sit around a campfire with a bunch of meth dealers and sing Kumbaya? He’s Captain Kirk with a cowboy hat, bending the rules, shooting first and asking questions later… if the people he shoots happen to still be alive. It’s Timothy Olyphant’s signature role, and he was damn good in the fourth Die Hard movie. And Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder has to be the most articulate bad guy ever written. He was excellent in The Shield, but he’s even better here.

Suits: While last season’s plotline was rather convoluted, this show features two terrific supporting characters. Sarah Rafferty’s Donna is the take-no-prisoners legal assistant who kicks ass and keeps everyone in line. (If “It Girl” is ever made into a movie, I want her to play the lead.) Rick Hoffman as Louis is the lawyer shark you love to hate, an absolute jerk who is obsessed with, of all things, cats.

The Goldbergs: You have to watch this show on a DVR because you often laugh so loud you miss the next lines and have to back it up to watch again. Wonderfully written and perfectly cast. Wendi McLendon-Covey (Sheila from Bridesmaids) is perfect as the smothering mom with a PhD in guilt. And nice to see George Segal’s wonderful comic timing which adds a lot to the show. Funniest sitcom in years, and it especially hits home if you grew up in an ethnic family in the Northeast.

Big Bang Theory: I’ve always thought Simon Helberg as Howard Wolowitz is the most talented actor on that show, and Jim Parsons is damn talented.

Sleepy Hollow: Can you imagine being a writer and pitching a buddy cop show with a time traveling Ichabod Crane and an upstate New York detective? One of the more clever sci-fi shows to come along in years, and there’s always a fish out of water moment with Ichabod wondering how the hell the country went so far off the rails.

The Blacklist: Is there a better actor on TV than James Spader? And Megan Boone more than holds her own in her scenes with him.

Dallas: Yes, they miss Larry Hagman but this show does cliffhangers better than any other. A worthy homage to the classic eighties show.

Supernatural: Yeah, I know this show is never gonna win anything but after nine years it still hits on all cylinders, especially in the writing department. Who wouldn’t want Jensen Ackles’ Dean Wincheser as a big brother? Or Misha Collins’ Castiel as a personal guardian angel? (Sure wish they hadn’t killed off Bobby.) And there’s always a vintage pop culture reference for those of a certain age.

Under the Dome: Dean Norris as Big Jim conveys evil without saying a word.

Grimm: One of the funniest supporting characters in this show is Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, the lovably loony big bad wolf.

Castle: What list from a writer would be complete without a mention of the incredible chemistry between Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion?

Finally, from the you-gotta-be-kidding-me department: reality shows deserve Emmys? Seriously?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Bloggers: the unsung heroes of publishing

My publisher recently asked authors to name their three favorite book bloggers, as it was time to show the people who do a ton of marketing for us some love.  

Which made me stop and think... a year ago, I didn't even know book bloggers existed. Now they're an important part of any author's success.

I remember thinking back to a few weeks before my first book, Wing Girl, was released by HarperCollins. I was told advance review copies were sent out, but I simply assumed those went to people at magazines and newspapers. Little did I know there's a whole community of people who are pretty much obsessed with books and read constantly. (Back in the day they were called "bookworms" and I was one of them. But I didn't write reviews and this thing called the internet didn't exist. If you liked a book you simply told your friends.)

Suddenly book bloggers were contacting me. Some asked for a bio, some wanted to interview me, others wanted to know if I would do a guest post. A quick tour of some blogger sites told me these people did more than simply write reviews. The sites were full of book news, cover reveals, lists of favorites, interviews, and things about the industry I never knew.

And it became clear book bloggers spend a ton (if not all) of their free time maintaining sites about fiction. Many read more than 100 books per year, then find the time to write about it. (My wife the teacher would say, "Please, fill my classroom with people who read all day.") Sure, some bloggers sell ads on their sites but I'll bet if you divided the income by the amount of hours they put in, the rate would be below the minimum wage. It became clear book bloggers do what they do because they love it. And unlike some of the internet trolls on sites like Goodreads, a review from a blogger always seems to be fair. Even if the blogger doesn't care for your book, you get polite criticism rather than a personal attack.

After awhile I started corresponding with some of the bloggers; answering interview questions, doing guest posts, participating in blog tours. You can't buy publicity like that, and a great review can really help sales.

What amazes me is that the bloggers are always thanking authors, when it should be the other way around. Guys, you've got it backwards. You're doing us a favor.

So that's my little bit of love for the tireless book blogger out there. This isn't my attempt to curry favor, but simply a note of thanks for all you do. Love my book or hate it, I'm just glad you took some of your precious time to read it.