Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hollywood, Here I Come

My son and I are taking a Hollywood getaway before his new college term begins. We're staying at the Hilton Universal in Universal City, right there near the Universal City Walk.

After a quick lunch at Puccino Pizzaria, we headed over to the live taping of America's Got Talent to see my friend sword swallower extraordinaire Dan Meyer, aka Captain Cutlass, who was one of the wild card picks. We watched all of the finalists, including our favorite singer, Jessica Price, but alas, Dan didn't make the pick into the finals.

We went out with Dan and some friends from the show (pictured here is Dan, along with Miss Pussycat and me) to the Saddleback Chophouse at Universal Citywalk, where the burgers are huge, the fries hot and salty, and you can ride a mechanical bull until it throws you off. And it will. Eventually.

Tomorrow we're going to Universal Studios and then out to see the Broadway production of Wicked at the Pantages Theatre.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I love NY

This post first appeared in my Press-Enterprise travel blog, INLAND TRAVLER.

New York is a city of wonders. As many times as I've visited, I never seem to see enough. I've just attended the annual Backspace Writer's Conference, where I spoke in a non-fiction writing panel called, "Real Places, Real Faces, Real Stories."

I stayed at the Radisson Martinique Hotel on 32nd and Broadway, in an area called Korea Town and not far from Times Square. My daughter, E, came along to check out grad programs at Columbia and NYU while I was conferencing.

When you're in town for a conference, you don't ususally get out and about the city. Wednesday night we stopped in for pre-conference cocktails at the Algonquin Hotel, the legendary watering hole of NY luminaries of theater and literature.

Friday night we did the town with some author friends, beginning at a book launch party for FALLING UNDER author Danielle Younge-Ullman at the V-bar in the West Village. We walked over to the Peculiar Pub with a few other friends, where we ate french fries and drank Stellas. The walls of the of Peculiar Pub were lined with lined with brewing paraphenalia, bottle tops and all kinds of kitchy stuff.

We crunched six into a taxi for a ride over to Hudson Bar & Books, a classy cigar and wine bar lined with bookshelves and full of literature and encyclopedias. James Bond films played soundlessly on video screens, while the waitresses served up cocktails and wine in red-satin dresses. Our friend Ron Hogan enjoyed a cigar and the rest of us sipped a lovely Pinot Noir.

Saturday morning found us West Coasters finally adjusting to the three-hour time difference. E and I slept in, then rushed off for a NY deli breakfast with Jackie Kessler and Heather Brewer. Jackie, a native NYer, called my bagel of scrambled egg, bacon and cheddar cheese a "heart attack bagel." Glad I don't eat like that all the time.

E and I took the subway to Central Park for an afternoon walk before hitting the train for our ride down to Harrisburg, Penn., the next stop in our summer vacation. I could spend days and days exploring Central Park and some day I hope to. There is a lovely bridge that holds a special memory for me there. Not romantic, just motherly. The first time D and I took our kids to NYC, our son J, was about seven. The only thing he wanted to see in the park was the bridge where "A Troll in Central Park" was set. I revisited the bridge and remembered the seven-year-old boy, but not the film.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Are you a serious writer?

Two days in New York can really change a person. Especially if you’re a writer attending the Backspace Writer’s Conference.

The Backspace Conference is for serious writers. I don’t mean writers who write only serious material, but writers who are serious about writing. Serious about getting published. Serious about a career writing and publishing. Serious about finding and keeping readers. Serious about helping other writers achieve their goals in a relay of success.

I attended the first Backspace Conference in 2005. Built around an online writing community, the first conference was attended by many of the friends I’d made through my participation in the forums. Dozens of the people I met at that first Backspace Conference have gone on to publish in a variety of genres. I want to talk here about three of them.

Jackie Kessler. Full of sparkle, humor and quick wit, Jackie had written several novels and had not been able to get an agent. She loves urban fantasy, but at the time was writing a chick lit set in a sexy lingerie store. Jackie was already an accomplished storyteller and writer, but talking with other writers and listening to the success stories of published authors gave her a jolt of inspiration. When she got home from the conference, she laid aside that project and went full bore on an idea that gelled her love for urban fantasy with a sexy theme. Within months she’d written HELL’S BELLES, had five agent offers and a three-book deal with Kensington.

Jon Clinch. Imagine writing five novels and never landing an agent. When I met Jon Clinch at the first Backspace Conference I found it inconceivable that this brilliant, literate, intense person had not been published. He writes literary historical fiction and two agents he spoke with at the conference told him that men don’t read historicals and literary historicals don’t sell anyway. Jon went home from the conference and put his marketing hat over his literary mind. He began imagining the story of a figure almost historical, a character seen only in sketches through the eyes of an American literary icon so familiar he feels like a real person. I’m talking here about Huck Finn. Jon wrote FINN in a matter of months, got an agent from the strength of the first chapter, the book sold at auction and he announced at this year’s conference the sale of the film rights.

Karen Dionne. Tireless co-founder with Chris Graham of the Backspace writer’s site and community forums. Author with one book that didn’t sell. Along with running a household and family business, Karen took her time writing her second novel, FREEZING POINT. Her agent put it on submission and they waited through several rounds of rejections. Undaunted, Karen continued to believe in the strength of the manuscript and the experience of her agent. Karen has whooped with dozens of other authors when their YES came along, but when it did for her, you could hear her whoop all around the globe.

Success doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t land on you like a rare butterfly. You must go after it. Success comes from listening to the stories of those who have gone before you. It comes from applying what you hear in those stories. Jackie learned that you must write about what you love and she went home and did it. Jon learned how to position historical literature with commercial appeal and he went home and did it. Karen learned that no matter how many no*s come around, it only takes one yes.

Each of these three authors were at this year's Backspace Writer's Conference to share, advise and encourage. If you're a serious writer, next year consider spending a two days in New York City at the Backspace Writer's Conference. It's worth it every minute.

You can see more pictures of authors at the Backspace Conference here.