Monday, January 28, 2008

Website Wonder!

It took me long enough, but I FINALLY have a website to call my own:

And you will note that my beloved Romantic Comedy, A NOVEL IDEA, has a place of prominence on the home page. :)

Check out the site for a comprehensive look at all my books, some links I love, a bio (and a video), and more!

I must say, it's a lovely feeling to have a proper "home" on the web. I look forward to having folks stop by and say hello!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What's in a Name?

I guess the answer to that question depends on the name. When I’m creating a character, sometimes the perfect name simply bursts into my mind with ease. It just feels right. It fits the personality perfectly. Other times it takes some work. Okay, a LOT of work. To help, I have a baby name website bookmarked. I’ve also been known to look through my high school yearbook, the white pages, and even the spines on the reference books beside my desk for inspiration.

I try not to be too literal with the character names. In my DRAMA! series, “Hope” doesn’t represent “Hope.” Although the other characters do like to have fun inserting her name into various hope-related cliches (for example, they might joke about how she "floats" or "springs eternal"). You might be surprised by the number of cliches out there that incorporate the word “Hope.” Or you might not.

The most fun I’ve had with names was when I wrote a couple books based on the ALIAS TV show. In them, I could exaggerate the main character’s aliases in much the way the series exaggerated her wardrobe. I couldn’t go as far as, say, a Bond Girl with the name, but I was able to create an exotic moniker like Lilia Von Malkin, which I built by taking a friend’s name and adding a little flair.

In LOVE, HOLLYWOOD STYLE I named my characters in honor of my favorite Romantic Comedy of all time: THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. I figured it fit with the Hollywood theme. If you have not seen this classic film, I URGE you to do so. Tracy is named for Katharine Hepburn’s Tracy Lord. Connor comes from Jimmy Stewart’s Macaulay Connor. Liz is from Ruth Hussey’s Elizabeth Imbry. And Dex is in honor of Cary Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven ... arguably the BEST name in film history. (Mind you, they all have different last names so it's an homage and not a rip off.)

So, to my fellow writers—both published and unpublished—I ask: What's in your characters' names?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This is Dedicated to the One I Love

Just a question for fellow writers (both aspiring and established). Do you have a difficult time deciding on your dedications? Do you feel like you're playing favorites if you dedicate it to just one family member? Is the dedication specificially tied to the subject of the novel? Do you parcel them out among loved ones over a series of a few books? These are the types of questions that keep me up at night. (And don't even get me started on figuring out what to write for the About the Author page.)

Who do you trust to read what you write?

This blog is interesting because it's part communication device and part therapy session. It's also about one of my favorite topics, writing. It is in that vein that I'm am posting this week. I'm curious about how everyone approaches the concept of letting other people read what you are currently writing. I know that some people are very sercretive. But, I'm not. I really feed off of feedback. As such, I have two distinct groups that I give pages to. The first is a group of woman who I work with in my day job as a television producer. There are three of them who are reading along now. They're all smart and they not only give me great suggestions, they also guilt me when it's too long between chapters. (That keeps me from falling too far behind.) The other is a handful of high school girls who live in my neighborhood. They're especially valuable for making sure that as I get older and further removed from the saga that was known as high school, I still keep in touch with what actual kids are really like. What about you guys? Do you go the Emily Dickinson route and hide your pages in your drawer? Or are you more open with them?

Oh the Times They Are A' Changin. . .BACK!

Lately, my teenage daughter has been asking me to go to the movies with her.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but it is to me. Ever since she hit 12, being seen with mom has been off limits. For a while in there I swear she wanted people to believe that she was hatched from an egg, with no parents at all. But now, things are changing. Now I'm not delusional. I know that when we go to the movies together, I pay, and that makes it more attractive. But I'm still taking this as a good sign. An even better sign is that we like the same movies. And not just the chick flick thing, either. (Although we did hit Enchanted one night). She's growing up and wanting to see and be part of things that are more political and important. In fact, I think a lot of mom's old-school ways are rubbing off on her. It was her suggestion that we see I'm Not There, and I was surprised at how many Dylan songs the kid actually knew. And then she asked me if we could go see Bob Weir and Rat Dog the next time they came to town. (I should have predicted that one, as my Grateful Dead t-shirts seem to be making their way into her room at a rapid pace). And then there was her suggestion that we watch The U.S. vs John Lennon together. Oh, and have I mentioned the collection of peace sign necklaces and earrings she's been wearing?

So where does all this come from? I think it's a combination of things. One, she's getting older (just her, not me of course). And then there's the fact that high school kids are faced with some harsh realities these days. As her male friends who are seniors hit 18, that old registration letter comes in the mail. (There's no draft, of course, but just the idea that the government wants to keep a kid on record is pretty scary). She's gone to a peace march already and will be hitting more. LIttle by little kids are becoming politicized, and I think that's a great thing.

Back in 2005, when I first wrote my novel Dawn's Early Light, which is about 24 hours in the life of a girl whose boyfriend is about to go off and join the military, my hope was that by the time it was published the war would be over, and the book would be a moot point (Sorry, Bethany, but you know that's coming from a good place). But here we are, three years later, and I still get myspace notes from kids who have read the book and can relate as family and friends are being sent off to war. And it just makes me want to scream. GET INVOLVED.

These frustrating times also makes the need for romantic comedies all the more important, because when kids are growing up in difficult times, they need as much laughter and love as they can get. So write on, my fellow rocom authors. You have no idea how many kids you're helping, just by giving them the time fantasize and enjoy.

Now, back to what I was saying before I digressed. I'm enjoying my daughter's sudden interest in the world and her desire to make it better. (A year ago the most she'd protest is if Sephora had stopped carrying her favorite eye-shadow). And the fact that she's bringing me along for her ride is really special.

But before I get too happy , I have to remember that my younger child has just hit 13, and like his sister before him, he's convinced that he was hatched from an egg and that there is no need for parents unless you need cash. How humbling!



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Winter Blahs

Here we are at the end of January, and I'm always looking for fun and active things to do to shoo away the winter blahs. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by ski resorts, so there's always skiing and boarding. And we sure have the white stuff this year! However, if you don't have season passes, it can get expensive. Same with snowmobiling, unless you own your own machines. Which, personally, I don't.

The other day, my whole family went snow-shoeing. Oh, man, that was great! It was a quiet, snowy afternoon and we walked around a lake, seeing who sunk and who managed to stay on top. Sledding is another winter favorite. Not only are these two activities fun and affordable, they're great exercise!

Last night my bunch and two other families went to the rock climbing gym. The kids did great and I mainly ran around keeping the baby from being someone's landing pad and hoisting people back onto the "mountain" when they got swinging too high. Stupid me, I wore the wrong kind of shoes so I didn't get to climb myself. There's always next week, right?

What do you do to keep active and have fun in the dead of winter?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

the fine art of writing

I honestly can't believe that a year has passed since I left my job as a high-falutin' (ha!) editor and decided to concentrate full time on my writing. As I've mentioned before on this blog, once I had made the choice to leave my day job, the timing seemed perfect to finally pursue a longtime personal goal of mine--and I applied to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults.

What a difference twelve months makes. I can recall in cringe-worthy detail how overwhelmed I was to arrive on campus and instantly be enveloped by this hugely passionate, widely-versed, and insatiably curious group.

I worried about so many things: had it been too long since I'd been in an academic environment, would my time as an editor prove to have hardened me to the workshop process, would my propensity toward writing more light-hearted, commercial fair like 30 GUYS alienate me from my more serious, "lit'rery" colleagues?

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. The faculty of this school: Kathi Appelt, Sharon Darrow, David Gifaldi, Julie Larios, Margaret Bechard, Martine Leavitt, Uma Krishnaswami, Tim Wynne-Jones, Leda Schubert, Rita Williams Garcia, and etc., etc., etc., are warm and giving and totally disarming. The caliber of the student body is beyond impressive, and you should by all means keep an eye out for: Carrie Jones, Varian Johnson, Stephanie Greene, Shawn Stout, Kate Angelella, and Gwenda Bond, for a start 'cause they are butt-kicking writerly types. And as for alumni, um: Lauren Myracle? MT Anderson? An Na? Um, WOW!

I'm the first person to admit that one doesn't "need" a degree in order to have a career as a writer. But to be in a position to take two years to concentrate on my craft is a luxury that I'll never take for granted. If writing classes are something that interest you, I absolutely endorse it (in fact, take my Media Bistro class, or come see me at Miami Dade College this spring, if you're curious!).

Oh--but if you're coming to VCFA, bring an extra sweater!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get my beauty rest. My next lecture starts at 8am tomorrow.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Day of Mourning

Tonight, the Golden Globe winners will be announced at a press conference. As in, no show, no dresses, no blingy shoes on pedicured feet for Joan and Melissa Rivers to ogle. With the writers' strike still on, the show is off. (Anyone else want to join me in a community "Waaah!"?)

As a writer, I'm all for it. Hollywood's writers work hard to create the storylines that keep us much time have you spent debating the plot twists on Lost, Heroes, Desperate Housewives, or Gossip Girl? The DVD sales from those shows stand to earn studios a lot of money, and writers deserve to earn a reasonable piece of that pie.

However, cancelling the ceremony means the actors and shows that win won't get their moment of glory--which is a big career boost. This year, it also means Steven Spielberg won't have an audience as he picks up a well-deserved Cecil B. DeMille Award. And it's not just the award winners who lose out. Calling off the show means a huge hit to the the L.A. economy. Given all that, I hope the strike ends soon, with all sides feeling the conclusion was reasonable, to prevent the same thing happening with the Oscars.

I'll admit, even though my writer side supports the an awards show fan, I'm in mourning. (I swear, the fact I'm wearing black today is a total coincidence. Really.) I mark the ceremony date on my calendar and even get up early on the day nominations are announced to find out who's up for which award. I enjoy it so much that I decided one of my characters, Val Winslow of the Royally Jacked books, should have an awards show addiction just so I could write about it.

Most years, I have friends over to watch the broadcast with me. As the stars make their red carpet entrances, we discuss their outfits (usually predicting who'll end up on Go Fug Yourself the next morning) and fill out ballots, trying to see who can pick the most winners. (Tip to those of you with awards show pools: nailing the documentary and music categories is what makes the difference!) But who'll be this year's fashion Cher? Who'll be this year's Halle Berry? Hopefully, we'll find out come Academy Awards night. I want to see what Amy Adams, Jodie Foster, and Keira Knightley wear this year.

What about you? Are you in mourning, or is the lack of an awards show no big thing to you? Are you in it for the fashion, the awards, or the speeches? Whose dress did you want to see? Me, I most want my regularly scheduled house party!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Buried under End of Year Avalanche

I am not a horrible person, but I always seem to play one at the end of every year. Then January comes and I slooooowly dig out and start hoping to catch up 'this year.'

Every year I make a resolution that next year will be different. So far, no go. This year may have been the worst end of year. Ever. At the beginning of December I was in balmy L.A. (see lovely pic, taken during my last week). And then I came back to a foot of snow and bitter cold (I was going to post a pic, but I can't bear to). And then it snowed again. And then I slipped in my driveway (note to self: never wear high heeled boots on ice) and twisted my ankle and knee. And then I curled up in a ball and whimpered for a few weeks. And then I had to get in a car and drive fifteen hours a day for four days to go to VA and back. My mom and her twin sister turned 70. 70 guests. Lots of talking. A certain amount of feeling human again. A slight respite from the snow. The thaw still too me...ummm...11 more days. It is January 11th, right?

So, uncurling at last, I am slowly digging out of the work I still have to do (why does the work not go away when I curl up? Why? Would it help if I sang a few bars of "Work Work Go Away"? No? Didn't think so). So it helps that I've turned in my book revisions, caught up on my teaching, starting preparing for an advanced workshop in tutoring I'll be going to a week from Saturday (barring major snow/ice storms), and made my first To Do list of the year. One of the top ten items was to blog here this month.

Top item on my New Year's Resolutions: Last two weeks of the year are for enjoying the change of season -- no book deadlines, family crises, or twisted knees allowed. Think it will happen this last? I do. Because I'm going to make it happen, or put my back out trying.

I hope everyone else's year ending went more smoothly than mine! ...and that next year's does too.

(instead of GETTING TO THIRD DATE, I'm looking forward to GETTING TO CHRISTMAS WITHOUT GETTING BURIED...would that be an awful book title...but a wonderful goal...sigh...wish me luck).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

We've got the scoop!

Look for these new Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies this year! ♥

***COMING IN MARCH 2008***

Something Borrowed
By Catherine Hapka

She’s ready to catch the bouquet, not steal the guy!

When Ava gets dumped by her boyfriend, she’s pretty upset. He wasn’t the love of her life of anything, but with her sister’s wedding—a.k.a. the social event of the season—just two weeks away, Ava’s got to save face by finding someone cute and fun to bring as her date.

With the clock ticking and no dates in sight, Ava asks her best friend if she can “borrow” her boyfriend, Jason, for the night. Ava’s never been a big Jason fan, but he’ll look great in a tux and at least she’ll have someone to dance with. But it doesn’t take long for Ava to realize she’s got him all wrong…

What do you do when Mr. Right is wrapped up in a package that belongs to your best friend?

***COMING IN JUNE 2008***

Party Games
By Whitney Lyles

Sara Sullivan has to create a fabulous sweet sixteen bash for spoiled socialite Dakota Lane. As if dealing with a diva isn't enough, Dakota demands that Sara find her a date for the party-with the very guy Sara has fallen for! Is the party over for Sara, in more ways than one?


Puppy Love
By Nancy Krulik

New York City dog walker Alana Marks can't help but complain to her new friend Connor about her clients' pampered pooches... and she can't help but fall for Connor. What she doesn't realize is that she's barking up the wrong tree-he's the son of her newest client.

***COMING IN 2008***

The Twelve Dates of Christmas
By Catherine Hapka

Lexi's best friend has this theory that, once a couple has gone out a dozen times, their relationship is pretty much set. If this is true, then how is Lexi going to rekindle her relationship with her ex, Cam, seeing that Cam's twelfth date with a new girl is approaching? Lexi has just one Christmas wish-her boyfriend back!

Tales From The Tour

LOVE, HOLLYWOOD STYLE is not autobiographical, but it WAS inspired by my first job out of college. Like my main character, Tracy, I was also a tour guide at a major motion picture and TV studio. Since today is the book’s official release day (yay!), I thought it might be fun to share one of my favorite work stories...

Let me first make it clear that I did not work at a studio that doubled as a theme park. We did not have trams carting a hundred people around while my voice was projected over a sound system. King Kong did not attack us. And the only earthquake ride we had was if there was an actual quake. Our tour consisted of approximately a dozen people walking through the studio, looking at the outsides of buildings while I talked about the history of what was filmed inside. Since it was a working studio, there was no guarantee that you’d get inside any of those buildings on any given day or that you’d see any celebrities at all.

The summer I worked as a tour guide, THE BIRDCAGE (starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, etc...) was filming on the lot. Word quickly spread among the guides that there was a good chance for celeb sightings if you took your tour down this one alley that I usually bypassed. Naturally, I planned to alter my normal tour route the first chance I got.

The next time that I was scheduled to guide a tour, I picked up my group and briefed them on the proper tour etiquette as usual: “No approaching the actors. No photos of the actors. This is their workplace. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to see any actors, but if we do, it’s preferred that we let them go about their work without interruption.” No one complained about the rules, but that didn’t necessarily mean they’d behave themselves. Remember, these were free-range tourist, not contained to a tram car. I’d already had one couple disappear on me earlier in the year (but I did find them before anyone found out).

I spent the first part of the tour gauging my group’s behavior. If there was any risk of someone going insane on me, I would just bypass the BIRDCAGE alley, and they would never know. An hour into the tour, things seemed pretty safe. So I took them down the alley. We were only a few steps in when Robin Williams stepped out of his trailer right in front of us. I was thrilled to see that my group behaved exactly as they’d been instructed. They did not approach Robin Williams. They did not try to take pictures of Robin Williams. They did not accost Robin Williams.

They also did not move. At all. They were frozen in place, staring at the actor as he smiled and said a polite “hello.”

“Okay,” I said, continuing the tour. “Down this way we have...” Nothing. I had ceased to exist.

“And we’re walking...” I reminded them. But they were not walking. They were not going anywhere.

Things were getting awkward. I had a dozen tourists encircling Robin Williams who just wanted to get out of his trailer. I was already imagining the calls to security and me losing my job. And that’s when Robin Williams did something I will never forget.

He took over my tour.

The actor sprung down the steps of his trailer and starting doing improv, pointing out all the buildings around us and sharing their rich histories. It was all lies, but no one really cared. We were a captive audience as he deftly walked us down the looooong alley spouting off whatever came to his intensely creative mind until he said good-bye and dashed into the makeup trailer at the other end.

Even though there was nearly an hour left in the tour, as far as I was concerned my work was done. Nothing I could tell them from my regular tour script could compare to what we’d just seen.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What to Watch for in 2008

On Christmas Day I got the happy news from a friend of my in-laws at brunch that I am featured in San Diego Magazine as one of fifty people of the year to watch in 2008. Every January the magazine does its "50 People to Watch" issue and they don't announce who's in the mag until it actually hits stands. I'm going to name drop which always makes me feel yucky, but just to give all a sense of what it's like. Norv Turner (head coach of the Chargers), Trevor Hoffman (pitcher for the Padres), and Heather Myers (anchor for national Fox News) are just a few of the cool folks I'm featured with. There are all kinds of musicians, politicians, and wonderful humanitarians to watch. The news came as a nice Christmas gift and an inspiring way to start the new year.
The following morning, my parents' neighbor very politely asked me what exactly she was supposed to be watching for. Just little things, I told her. A six figure advance and an interview with Oprah. Nothing major.
No seriously, it really got me thinking. And the first thing I thought of were alarming images of me walking into the workshop I'm leading at the Southern California Writers' Conference in February with a piece of toilet paper as long as an Olympic sized pool trailing from my shoe. Or something much worse.
Or maybe I should've said watch as I break all three of my new year's resolutions by noon on January 2nd. Because thats' exactly what happenend. I don't even remember what all of them were but I know I had three. I'm just not cut out for diets. I'm learning new things about myself all the time.
One thing the magazine did get right, and it's a guarantee to watch for in 2008 is the June release of my latest romantic comedy, Party Games. I can't wait!
Hope everyone is having a wonderul start to 2008.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Meet me in L.A.! (Lower Alabama)

I’ve received a surge of e-mail from readers in the past few days. I suspect a lot of you got bookstore gift cards in your stockings. Listen, I really appreciate that out of all the bazillions of books in the store, you picked mine. And thank you so much for writing to tell me you enjoyed them! There is no better start to my day than to turn on my computer and find e-mail from you, especially after I have hit my head on the kitchen cabinet door while trying to find the coffee.

One of the questions I get most often is whether I will make a movie out of Major Crush and/or The Boys Next Door. I think this is a great idea. Ashley Tisdale should play Lori. She makes a terrific diva in High School Musical, but she’s also got that dork act down to a science on Zack & Cody, and that’s what we want. For Adam let’s cast Lucas Black from Friday Night Lights--the movie, not the TV show. He’s handsome, he’s a terrific actor, AND he’s really from Alabama.

Okay, let’s get real. I can’t make movies. Most authors, even the ones whose books do get filmed, have very little to do with the process. Here’s what I know about it--which is probably a lot less than Micol knows, or Aimee, or...just about anyone on this blog.

Step 1. When you first sell your novel to a publisher, it’s announced with a short description on a publishing web site. Filmmakers haunt this site, and when they read a description of a novel that sounds interesting, they may ask to read it. This happened two or three times that I know of for Major Crush and six times for Going Too Far, my novel coming out with MTV Books in 2009. No takers yet, but I love hearing that someone even asked to see my work. That means I wrote a novel that SOUNDS good to someone, regardless of its actual quality, and that is no small feat in itself.

Step 2. A filmmaker purchases the TV/film rights to your book. This has happened for several of the Simon Pulse Ro-Coms!

Step 3. A filmmaker actually makes the TV/film. They buy a lot more stories than they can ever film. Only a small percentage of these ever become TV shows or movies.

Step 4. The filmmaker throws herself at your feet, pleading with you to write the screenplay from your novel so as to glean all possible benefit from your creative awesomeness. As far as I can tell, this only happens for huge best-selling authors who have a lot of editorial or film experience, and sometimes not even then. Currently I’m (finally!) reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, which so far is almost exactly like the film, in part because Helen Fielding both wrote the book and co-wrote the screenplay. But most authors are never given this choice. It’s give up control over what happens to your story in its film version, or no deal. I have heard of authors who refuse to sell TV/film rights for their books because they are afraid of what the filmmakers will do to their precious babies. Rest assured THIS will never happen at Chez Echols.

That’s the long answer. The short answer is, no, I will not personally be making films of my books, much as I would like to invite Ashley and Lucas and their stunt doubles to my parents’ place on Lake Martin for wakeboarding and pyrotechnics.

Jennifer Echols