Friday, April 30, 2010

Author Guest Post & Giveaway: WENDY HOLDEN

Today, Apprentice Writer is delighted to welcome one of her favorite comedic authors, UK novelist Wendy Holden.

It's wonderful to see your books make the jump across the pond with Sourcebooks!

First things first: the cover. The UK original continues the upbeat figure outline drawing on white background. This US edition has gorgeous saturated color with striking black silhouette, which I loved. Did you choose the title and have input on cover art?

WH: Sourcebooks is brilliant and involve me all the way. I saw the art and loved it immediately. It's so stylish and glamorous, and as the novel is set in a very glamorous world, it helps get the message across.

On this side of the pond, there has been much talk of the demise of classic chicklit and shift of its authors into other subgenres (for example, I recently reviewed an excellent novel described as Regency Chicklit). Has there been a similar development in the UK, or can you hold out hope for fans of classic chicklit?

WH: Many Brit chick litters have gone into Hen Lit - writing about families and children. I'm more interested in exploring the comic potential of various exclusive milieux. 'Beautiful People' is about the film industry and 'Gallery Girl', the book I've just finished, is about the crazy, sexy, wealthy and hilarious world of contemporary art. But there's always a girl heroine fighting her way through difficult people and situations and so in that sense they're as classic chicklit as you like.

What comes to you first? Heroine? Antagonist? Great one-liners?

WH: All three, ideally. Usually the anti-heroine, as I like writing those people best. Call it auto-biography.

My favorite scene in the story is Marco's confession - so morose, so sincere, so funny What is your favorite scene?

WH:I love Belle being summoned to the office of the very powerful and very scary studio boss and being told her latest film has bombed. She is outraged and has a diva tantrum. The studio boss is very short and has a very fragile ego - his executives sit on kindergarten chairs to make him feel better.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? All boas, bonbons, and fan adulation....

WH: Yeah! Except you missed out the people peeling the grapes and pouring the pink champagne!

....and what is the truth about the rumor that UK authors are conspiring to storm J.K.Rowling's castle en masse to stake out their own territories in the turrets and battlements?

WH: This is a metaphor, right? Because J.K.Rowling lives in Scotland and most UK authors don't even know where that is. I'm not planning to storm her castle in any way as boy wizards aren't my thing; besides, I've got a castle of my own!

Best writing habit? Worst writing vice?

WH: Best writing habit is working a full day. My worst writing habit is endlessly checking email.

Nightstand inspection! What was the book you last read in your own genre that made the greatest impression? Out of your genre?

WH: Well my genre is comic fiction really and the last thing I read in that genre was Posy Simmond's graphic novel 'Gemma Bovary'. She's an English author/illustrator and a social observer of genius. Outside my genre, I'm reading Dickens. He is a one-man crash course in thrilling plots and brilliant characters.

My preschooler's favorite alphabet book is 'Freezing ABC' by Posy Simmond! And yes it is beautifully illustrated and filled with clever little details that make gentle fun of human nature (disguised as animals).

Who is your writing idol and why?

WH: The English writer Sue Townsend, creator of the Adrian Mole series. She is concise, compassionate, clever, brilliantly observant, and absolutely hilarious.

I will have to take a look at Adiran Mole, in that case.

Which literary character do you wish you'd thought of first?

WH: Well, Harry Potter, obviously. I take back everything I said about boy wizards.

Haha! Anything else you'd like to share with Apprentice Writer's readers?

WH: If you're writing your first novel, don't tell anyone. People are desperate for you to fail. If no-one knows you're doing it, no-one knows if it doesn't work out. But if you stick at it, it will work out.

Whoops. Too late. I've already told everyone. Clearly, I now have no choice but to stick with it, first three agent rejections notwithstanding.

Thank you Ms. Holden for taking the time to stop by and chat with us!

Gentle Reader: learn more about the author here, including upcoming title: Gallery Girl
and please stay to enter our

Comment for a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of 'Beautiful People' generously provided by Sourcebooks. Double your chances by commenting on yesterday's review

The Fine Print:
1. U.S. and Canadian addresses only, no P.O. Boxes please.
2. Leave a non-spammable way to get in touch if your profile doesn't lead back to an active blog.
3. Bonus entry for following here or on Twitter (MayaWriter) and letting me know about it.
4. Contest closes 7 May 2010.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Laughter Reviews & Giveaway: BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

by Wendy Holden
Humorous Women's Fiction
Sourcebooks, April 2010 - IN STORES NOW

A 'serious' British actress getting her first big commercial break, a papparazzi-loving American actress looking to find her way back into the limelight, and a down-to-earth British nanny wrestle with the question of what makes someone attractive.

Cover: Eye-catching, saturated color, classic chicklit stiletto icon, title that can be interpreted on more than one level = great cover.

What Works:
Apprentice Writer doesn't recall how she first came across this author's work several years ago, but she has been an admirer of the over-the-top Britlit style ever since. The daily life dilemmas of the protagonists are so easily relatable the reader can't help but sympathize, the self-centred misbehavior of the antagonists so overblown that the reader often develops perverse affection for their delusions of grandeur. Ms. Holden's novels are great fun, and this one is no exception. She takes such glee in skewering stereotypes that one can't help but go along with it and speculate about what composite of celebrities may have inspired various novel characters. It is not a simple 'let's laugh at the out-of-touch-with-reality celebrities' story, though; by taking certain behaviors or character traits of more ordinary folks to the extreme to make a point, this is also a cautionary tale about the risks that can go along with blind deference to fame or social status.

AW's favorite scene was right at the end, when an Italian character confesses his deepest sin. In a story dotted with shortcomings of various intensities and unpleasantness, the secret revealed as most shameful was so true to character and believable it provided
the perfect comedic endnote.

What Doesn't:
Apprentice Writer has observed that often, a person's greatest strength can also be their weakness. She has long admired this author's skill at with multiple point-of-view characters, the a heroine/villainess juxtaposition often being the most enjoyable aspect of the story. In this case, the reader entered the thoughts of a rather staggering number of characters - male and female, mature and teenaged, financially advantaged and financially exploited, talented and wannabe, shifting across three countries - such that this reader suffered occasional moments of head-hopper exhaustion which led at times to lack of connection with the character de page. Reflecting on this narrative choice, it occured to Apprentice Writer that it may have been intended as a statement on the fleeting nature of fame and how one barely comes to recognize a new star before his/her face is swept away on the tide of new up-and-comers. So, she will give benefit of the doubt and call this a clever nod to the reality of all the 'beautiful people' out there struggling to make their living from their appearance.

The second thing that made AW say 'Huh?' was the opening point-of-view. None of the three primary characters, nor even one of the 'main' (if that's the correct word) secondary characters, but a minor (AW is going to call it tertiary) character who then disappears for a long stretch. This confused her, used as she is to the current fictional convention of opening with either the protagonist or antagonist, and therefore feeling in a holding pattern of anticipation that that tertiary character would enter the scene again at any moment. It took quite some time to clue in that that wasn't going to happen. Again, once she thought about it, AW could appreciate that the scene was actually a bullseye choice for a story about, duh, beautiful people: a top executive for a modelling agency who is eternally on the lookout for the next 'It' face spots one in the wild (i.e. on a London street). AW will further admit that she really enjoyed the funny twist, wherein the executive is stunned when the boy to whom the traffic-stopping face belongs is indifferent to being discovered, and runs away. It was like the fish story of talent scouts. AW slotted it in under 'Who says the rule of opening with a main character can't be broken?'

But does it make you laugh?
This is a classic Holden tale, with eccentric ensemble cast and lots of changes of scenery. Another novel perfectly suited to the beach bag or airplane carry-on from the queen of contemporary social satire.

Who's your favorite 'beautiful person' and why?

Comment for a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of 'Beautiful People', then come back tomorrow for Q&A with the author to double your chances!

The Fine Print:
1. U.S. and Canadian addresses only, no P.O. Boxes please.
2. Leave a non-spammable way to get in touch if your profile doesn't lead back to an active blog.
3. For bonus entry, follow here or on Twitter (MayaWriter) and let me know.
4. Contest closes on 7 May 2010.

Good luck!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Giveaway Winners !

And the winners of a copy of 'My Own Personal Soap Opera' are:




Drumroll, Confetti, Applause!

Thank you, Libby Malin & Sourcebooks!

Winners, please send your deets to:
mayamissani AT yahoo DOT ca

Nonwinners, take heart: another Giveaway coming up later this week.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Author Guest Post & Giveaway: LIBBY MALIN

Today, Apprentice Writer welcomes the lovely Libby Malin, author of humorous women's fiction, chatting on the topic of


I've watched Days of Our Lives for many years and before that, Another World.I liked to ponder the challenges of a soap writer - juggling actor vacations and contract changes, sweeps week stories - things outside of the writer's control, for the most part. Oh, and soap genealogy - I think more than one soap has shifted a story line after it was apparent that the family linkage between a guy and a gal was a little too close for comfort. Family trees get awfully twisted on soaps. That should be a college major - Daytime Drama Character Lineage! LOL!

Anyway, I found myself thinking about how writers dealt with these various challenges, and noticing how skillful the writers were, for the most part, in constructing story arcs. It fascinated me, especially since the storylines are usually so outlandish - swapped babies, evil twins, people 'coming back from the dead' (usually with amnesia). And yet, if the writers do a good job, you're riveted. You absolutely must be there when the Big Scene occurs - when the villains misdeeds are revealed, when the villainess gets her comeuppance. You drool for those moments!

Another thing I love about soaps is how the characters say outrageous things to one another that you'd never say in real life, no matter how much you loathed someone. Yet on a soap opera, it's not unusual to see various characters talking trash right in the face of someone they can't stand. It's marvellously satisfying.

So all of those things combined together created the germs of a story idea about a soap opera head writer. I started thinking: wouldn't it be neat to a soap opera writer and use all those in-your-face scenes to work out your own "issues" with people in real life? And what if real life started to blend into the soap life? That's how the idea of a real jewel thief imitating the one on the show popped into My Own Personal Soap Opera.

Another think I particularly admired about the soal Another World was how they stayed true to one story arc they used over and over - that is, haves-vs.-have-nots. The theme ran through all their plots. It also runs through My Own Personal Soap Opera. Frankie, the head writer, comes from 'the wrong side of the tracks', while Victor, the marketing guru who comes in to help raise the soap's ratings, comes from a moneyed background.

Since I am not, nor have I ever been, involved in the production of a soap opera, I had to do a bunch of research. I read some fiction set in the soap world as well as a number of autobiographies of soap stars. I also consulted with a number of people who do or did work on soaps, including the head writer of As the World Turns, who was so gracious and patient with my questions. I took what I learned and used it as a springboard for my fictional tale. Therefore, I did stretch reality to suit my particular story - just as soap opera writers do!

Thanks for having me as a guest. I'd be happy to answer any questions about writing as best I can.

Thanks, Libby, for dropping by!


Ask a question or make a comment and you can win a copy of My Own Personal Soap Opera, generously provided by Sourcebooks!

Double your chances by commenting on Apprentice Writer's review, posted yesterday!

The Fine Print:
1. U.S. and Canadian addresses only, no P.O. Boxes.
2. Leave a non-spammable way to reach you if your profile does not lead back to an active blog.
3. Bonus entries by following here or on Twitter (MayaWriter), please let Apprentice Writer know if you do.
4. Contest closes 27 April 2010.

Learn more about the author here.

Good luck!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Laughter Reviews & Giveaway: MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA

MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA: Looking for Reality in All the Wrong Places
by Libby Malin
Humorous Women's Fiction
Sourcebooks, April 2010

Premise: Personal and professional life starts to merge for newly promoted head script writer of longlived but threatened-with-cancellation soap opera.

Cover: Title - Perfectly captures content, subtitle a nice (and accurate) touch. Art - Delightful. The white-on-blue bubble background, redhead in a tub foreground, mix of block and cursive text set great anticipatory tone. Anyone looking at this knows they are in for a light, fun, happily-ever-after-in-some-way-or-other story.

What Works: Apprentice Writer is not of an overly patient nature. Perhaps for this reason she never got into soaps. If she is impatient with a two-hour movie that takes too long to resolve whodunit, how can she tolerate waiting months upon months to find out who tampered with the mail that fell into the evil twin's hands who blackmailed the prince-in-disguise who offered marriage by proxy to the amnesiac seretary?

AW did have a university roommate, though, who followed four or so soaps devotedly and a few others peripherally, much to the detriment of the roomate's grades and satisfaction of her need for emotional stories grafted onto goodlooking actors. Her devotion was such that AW suspected she was missing something, and chose a soap to follow according to the following criteria: 1. Not in roommate's stable (one must have some originality, after all) and 2. Airing before she left for the day's classes. Whether due to destiny or inferior selection criteria, that soap soon bit the dust. AW took it as a sign that she was not meant to be a soap viewer.

Imagine her surprise, therefore, when she took to this story and most especially it's heroine, Frankie, from page 1. Was it because it was in written rather than visual form? Was it because of the sometimes very funny situations and purple prose in the soap scenes studded throughout? Was it because of recognition of the incredible liberation posed by characters in the stories delivering the perfect comebacks and setdowns at exactly the right time, a luxury very few of us enjoy (unless AW is in the minority when she swallows her feelings or thinks of a great retort only when the opportunity is long gone)?

Whatever the reason - she was swept up into the story of Frankie's battle to stay on top of the heaving creative ship, protect the citizens of her town, keep to the high road post-divorce with her ex, chart a course in confusing love life, and grow her career amid a sea of colleagues with various intensities of secrets and ambitions for the next It showbiz thing.

One doesn't have to live or work in Hollywood to develop fellow feeling for a young woman who is smart but needs to prove it, creative but derided for her choice of artistic outlet, yearning for love but hesitant to accept it when it appears to come along. Welcome to the new milenium, when it seems we are constantly called upon to make a rapid, far-reaching choice among multiple shifting possibilities.

What Doesn't: There was one off note. Since it is mildly spoilerish AW will only say that it was a staff management decision that made no sense to her given employee behavior up to that point coupled with Frankie's relentless desire to be seen as worthy of her executive position. The choice made was in conflict with both those elements, and consequently seemed to fit in less with natural character behavior and more with authorly plot purposes.

This was however quickly forgiven when AW realized that the second aspect that at first made her say 'Oh no!' was actually the cleverest joke of them all: she reached 'The End' and sputtered " can't be the end yet! I have to know what happened to X's relationship! And Y's career! And Z's health crisis! And..."

This was when it struck her - Duh! THIS is why soap viewers keep coming back. That masterful tease, that expertly measured portion of clue which is just enough to tantalize them with the promise that return will be worthwhile and not enough that they will guess what happens or else whom it happens to. Non-soap watcher though she may be, AW engaged with Frankie and her crew enough to cherish the hope that there may be a follow-up story to quench her burning desire to know what exactly happened to that relationship, and that career, and health crisis, and...

Overall: If the test of a book is whether it makes the reader want to search out the author's backlist as well as read future titles, MOPSO is a success. The perfect light-hearted novel to buy now for immediate enjoyment of rainy spring evenings, or delayed gratification of sunny beach days.

But does it make you laugh? YES
'Zany', 'fast-moving' and 'multi-layered' are not rhetoric when applied to the 'Lust for Life' crowd. This is not a book readers would accuse of dragging middle - or beginning, or end.

The publisher, Sourcebooks, has generously provided two copies of MOPSO for AW's readers For a chance to win, share your thoughts on the question:

What soap opera plot development would you most like to see?

The come back tomorrow to double your chances by commenting on the author's GUEST POST.

The Fine Print:
1. U.S. and Canadian addresses only, please. No P.O. Boxes.
2. Follow Apprentice Writer here or on Twitter (MayaWriter) and let her know, for up to 2 bonus entries.
3. Please leave a non-spammable way to get in touch in case your profile doesn't lead back to an active blog.
4. Contest ends 27 April 2010.

Good luck!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Serious Side of Comedy: Online Etiquette

Social media seem to thrive on the ebb and flow of controversy. A recent cyberstorm made Apprentice Writer wonder about the nature of publicly being called to account for bad behavior, AKA shaming.

The Nutshell: A writer sent a literary agent a query. It clearly didn't follow guidelines, so a polite and even kindly form rejection was sent in reply. The writer took this rejection poorly, as expressed in two follow-up messages that were, shall we say, unfortunate on multiple levels. Whereupon the agent blogposted the correspondence, including the writer's name, resulting in a very long thread of blogcomments more or less universally deriding the writer. One commenter posted in haiku form which apparently led the agent to announce a haiku contest on Twitter, with a hashtag that included the writer's name, resulting in numerous mocking tweets and retweets. At least one author/blogger posted in a deliberately general manner (without any names or specifics that would allow identification) about discomfort with apparent misperception about a publishing hiearchy (unpublished writers below published writers below agents below publishers) and how this could cause writers to hesitate about speaking out when they see something with which they disagree. The agent posted a comment on expressed assumption that the author's post referred to her case, again specifed the name of the writer, and defended her choice to respond as she did due to (if AW has understood correctly) conviction that the writer's unprofessional responses constituted a direct attack on herself as well as her signed writers which justified counterattack.

OK, admittedly that was rather a large nut to fit in one shell. But here's the question:

What do you think of it all?

Here is what AW posted at the above-mentioned author/blogger's site:

"I'm still figuring out what I think of the whole thing, but chief among my reactions is - taken aback. There is no question that the response the writer made to the form rejection was unfortunate on multiple levels,


to me, his messages almost had something of a feel of the aspiring contestants in the audition rounds of reality shows that are not only deluded about the level of their talent, but give the impression they may have mental health issues going on as well. I have no knowledge about this particular writer, but my discomfort with how the online deluge mushroomed - haiku contest attached to a person's actual full name? - is because it feels like a colossally imbalanced situation if there is any possibility the rejected writer is dealing with health challenges. (I repeat: I have NO CLUE whether it's the case or not).

Wouldn't it be wise - or even, kind - to allow for this possibility before publishing names involved? Wouldn't the educational benefit (learning how NOT to correspond in the publishing world) have been achieved by sharing the messages without name attached?

I'm confuzzled about it all so I'd welcome thoughts."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Promoting Good Health

Laughter boosts the immune system. Today's dose of health:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Anatomy of DNF, Part II

As a person trying to figure out what works in novel-writing and what doesn't, Apprentice Writer is always especially interested in books unfinished. How does a book make her give up after it has done the heavy lifting of convincing her to bring it home?

The lesson drawn from the most recent DNF episode was:


Ask any published or aspiring writer what they think of this statement, and the agreement rate would probably be 100%. Where to draw the line on what is reasonable and what is too much, is, of course, the tricky part, and a matter of personal taste. The first pages of the current candidate made clear that AW's threshold is well below that of the author. This is a debut effort; for that reason, title shall remain nameless. AW doesn't need the bad karma of standing in a freshly-hatched author's way.

Where did it all become too much?

1. Driving home points with a sledgehammer:

'He was angry. Horribly angry. Livid. Enraged. Furious.'

2. Redundancy:

'May we discuss our private matter privately?'

3. Taking advice to show emotion by describing involuntary physical actions/reactions to the extreme:

During the space of four pages devoted to a conversation with her brother, a minor character:

shot a nervous glance
twisted her hands
coughed and started anew
blinked and looked away
glanced down both sides of the corridor before turning her nervous glance to his face
her cheeks leeched of color
her lips trembled
tugged her bare fingers
her response was a vivid blush and violent shake of the head
slumped against the wainscoting
her shoulders shook
nibbled at her lip
tossed him a nervous glance
clenched her fingers together so tightly the knuckles went white
her pale brow furrowed
her words trailed off as another crimson stain spread up from her throat
started and blanched
her eyes widened
looked away, eyelashes quivering
he could smell the unease in her sweat

Here was the point that AW knew: this was not the book for her.

If this amount of scrutiny is devoted to a minor character, at the beginning of the story, how much jumping and slumping and blanching and quivering were in store for the main character once the plot actually heated up? What in the world was the hero going to smell in her sweat? Apprentice Writer just didn't want to find out.

Gentle Reader: do you appreciate spare writing, or do you prefer lots of descriptives? What makes you stop reading a book?


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