Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pictures of You on San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2011

I am speechless. My novel Pictures of You is on Kirkus Best Books of 2011 List, Kirkus Top Five Books about Family and Love 2011 List, Providence Journal Best Books of 2011, Bookmarks Magazine Best Books of 2011 List and now on San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2011. 

This is so amazing because this particular book was rejected by my previous publisher as being "not special enough." The publisher also said they didn't really get what I was trying to say or do. I truly thought my career was over. It was my 9th novel. Although I had some great reviews from stellar places for previous novels, I had no sales. No one really knew who I was (or cared.) And then Algonquin Books came to my rescue and told me they were going to turn my life around.

And they did.

I've had five publishers before them. Three went out of business right before my novel came out. Two ignored me and wouldn't take my calls. Algonquin got POY into 4 printings months before publication. They gave me a huge tour. They got me on the NYT bestseller list and as a Costco Pennie's Pick. And they call me!  They email me!  They are still pushing Pictures of You a year later and they are publishing my next novel Is It Tomorrow! They are truly an Edenic paradise for writers.

So, consider me your poster girl for second chances. Never give up. You never know what is around the bend.

Sometimes, it's magic.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Filmmaker Sheldon Candis talks about Luv, moviemaking and never giving up

I’m a movieholic as well as a bookaholic and because I also write scripts, I keep a close eye on new film talent. Sheldon Candis is getting a lot of buzz for his new film LUV, about a young boy's coming of age in the mean streets of Baltimore, so I tracked him down and he very graciously allowed me to pepper him with questions. Thank you, Sheldon!

Can you tell us how and why you got into film?

For me, movies molded me as a child. My dad would faithfully take my mom and me to the movie on Sundays.  Also, when my mom wasn't around, he would show me rated R movies when I was 9. PURPLE RAIN and THE FLY altered me early.) That world on that screen was one that I wanted to be a part of, no matter how dark or heartbreaking the story! Also, my grandfather James Moore, aka “Mr. Fish” had a serious VHS collection in the 80s. I was always in front of Sears wooded floor model TV, watching movies over and over again. My uncle Charles McCaskill and I have seen THE TOY a few hundred times! (those OCD viewings came at our great Uncle Arthur and Great Aunt Doris’ house.

LUV is set in your hometown of Baltimore. What was it like filming there? Was this a place you wanted to escape when you were a kid or did you always know you’d come back and stick around.

Filming in Baltimore was great! Very surreal. I was shooting the movie in places where I grew up. We shot a scene in the pimlico horse track parking lot, right in the neighborhood where I grew up. My Uncle Tyrone Moore came to visit set that day, For part of my childhood, I slept in the basement under his room. We also shot down at the inner harbor and inside Lexington Market. M y grandfather would take me to the market, a very communal space where many of my cousins and uncles eat oysters there religiously

Did you want to escape Baltimore growing up?

Yes, I did. There were some tough times growing up off Cordelia Ave. and Ducatel St. My parents fought a lot. My uncle would come pick me up nights and take me driving through the city with him. It was an escape. I also grew up quickly because of the very adult things I was experiencing young.  My mom and I moving to North Carolina with my grandparents was the best thing that happen to our lives. We got to see the world outside of Baltimore and I was exposed to a lot of things that I wouldn’t have seen in the city. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown fonder of Baltimore and it has a special place in my heart. I love Baltimore because the rest of the world views it as this ultra violent place. Isn’t violent everywhere? I love that Baltimore’s nickname is Charm City. If you take the time to explore it and get to know it, Baltimore will win you over.

I’m always interested in structure. What made you decide to tell the story of Woody Watson, an 11-year-old boy during one day, rather than spread it out over time? What were some of the challenges of doing it that way?

I personally love movies that take place in one day, if done properly, it ups the stakes and makes the experience more visceral for the audience. DOG DAY AFTERNOON & TRAINING DAY are two of my favorites. My writing partner Justin Wilson and are branded ourselves as the guys who write DRILLERS. a hybrid genre of a coming of age drama with thriller undertones. We felt that it was very compelling for an audience to witness a boy's rite of passage, coming of age all in one day through the crumbling relationship with his fallen hero of a father figure. We thought, hmmm…we've never seen a story where a kid is exposed to violence for the first time. How does he react to that? Does it feel more authentic and present if it's all happening in real time in movie real time, where you don't give the audience time to catch their breath, where the child feels like he's present within danger.

I believe I read that it was 8 years and over 45 drafts to get LUV onto the screen. How were you able to keep from being defeated?

It was very challenging shooting a movie in a short shooting schedule with a child actor as the lead. Sean Banks, our co-producer, brought Michael Rainey Jr. to me and said, "I found him." he was so right. Michael is incredibly mature and self-possessed. He acts as if he's been doing it for years. The truth and vulnerability he emotes gives me chills. It's unfair that a 10-year-old kid has that many layers and depth. Michael is an "old soul," wise beyond his years!

I always saay: hear a thousands no's for that one yes. My producers Jason Michael Berman, W. Michael Jenson, Gordon Bijelonic, Datari Turner, Joel Newton, Derek Dudley, and Executive Producers Tom Fore, Michael Finley, Dwayne Robinson, Sandra R. Berman, and Mark G. Mathis sacrificed a lot to get this movie made and they believed in me as a first time filmmaker. Jason and Michael have been with LUV for the past 7 years. Jason and I had become like a feuding married couple. There's a strong level of respect and trust between us. I always believed Jason would get it done.

Gordon, Datari, Joel and Derek came onboard and made things happen during some critical moments. I've known Gordon for many years. He's a fearless and passionate producer who always fights for his filmmakers.

Executive Producer Tom Fore and his partner Sean Banks, our co-producer, energized the team and made things happen. They were on the ground every day actively working with the team to make sure the film would cross the finish line.  Your team must be fighting everyday to get your movie made. Every Day, do something to be working towards it being real: a phone call, writing, talking to someone. Don't ever stop working on it!

What’s obsessing you now?

Shame, Watch the Throne, Phoenix, Tumblr, Raven’s Football.

What question should I have asked that I didn’t?

What keeps me going? My faith in God, the foundation given to me by my mother, Minister Leslie Morrison, and my dad, Minister of Music Fredrick Morrison. They have always kept me up. God knows there have been some dark days in LA. Without them, I couldn’t do this interview right now. Without them, my filmmaking dream is not realized.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My beloved local yarn shop owners wrote a book!

Every community/city needs a fabulous yarn shop--for me, a knitoholic, it's a necessity of life. I'm completely thrilled with Patricia's Yarns, which just happens to be two blocks away from my house. Patricia not only knows everything there is to know about yarn and patterns (and she's calmly and patiently helped me out of near disasters more times than I care to admit), she's got this warm, cozy shop that's filled with unbelievably gorgeous yarns. (Sometimes I just pop in to look and touch.) And she's smart, funny and wonderful--and so is her husband Adam, who hangs out, and their gorgeous little girl Grace, and their dog! When I found out that Patricia and Adam wrote a book, The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater, I had to promote it! (And hint hint, it would make ANY knitter on your holiday list really, really happy. Trust me on this.)

Thank you Patricia and Adam for answering my questions!

So, tell us how the idea for writing a book came about. Had you ever written before? Was it fun or were there times when you felt like screaming? What was it like writing together?

In 2004, Adam was in the shop and he heard someone talk about the urban legend known as the curse of the boyfriend sweater / the curse of the love sweater (it has been given so many names).  He said that day that the topic would be a great idea for a book. I agreed, there were so many websites and articles about the curse, but no one had written a book about it. Initially, we were just going to do a book of patterns (Adam and I agreed, there weren't enough good men's sweater patterns and thought it would be cute to make a book about "breaking the curse"). We wrote out an outline and then started adding anecdotes to go with each pattern idea. After a while, the outline became a story line – we thought, let’s make it into a novel with knitting patterns.  For years, the story line was nothing more than a few Microsoft Word documents - a project for a later date. Then in 2008, we started to get serious about having a family and put together a list of things we wanted to do before a baby arrived... go to New Zealand, save some money, write the book, etc.

We aren't writers. The last time either of us had written fiction was in high school. But, we thought the story idea was great.  So, at first, we looked for ghost writers, but found out quickly that we couldn't afford one. Then a friend who worked in publishing said, "just write it yourselves, you can do it. Just write the first draft".  At the time, my father-in-law was sick with cancer. We were spending a lot of time in the hospital. So writing was a good outlet for both of us. We could work on the book in the waiting rooms, one chapter at a time - and then have something to talk about later (besides cancer). Writing became therapeutic.  Before we knew it, we had written more than 15 short chapters. Adam would write a few paragraphs and I would read it, adding here and there to each section.  It was fun to work on together.  There were times when I would ask him to read what I had changed and he wouldn’t have time – or vice versa- and we would just leave a working copy – covered in sticky notes – on the counter until the other person had time to look at it.  We did really well giving ourselves deadlines - until our daughter Grace was born.  Then things slowed to a halt.  When we finally completed the chapters, we then had a friend, Tommy Crawford, do some of the first drafts editing and he helped flesh-out some scenes.  This summer, though, a typically slow time at the shop, we were able to make final edits and upload the project to Createspace.

Tell us why there's a curse attached to a boyfriend sweater?

If you Google this you will have thousands of search results, each with a slight variation on the same theme:  if you knit your boyfriend a sweater, he will break up with you.  There are many explanations for this phenomenon, but the best in my opinion, are (1) he doesn’t understand how much work is put into making the sweater – which causes problems, (2) he realizes the commitment you’ve made to make the sweater, and him, and it scares him off.  It’s like a hand-knit engagement ring.  Or, (3) you knit him the equivalent of the Christmas jumper – one very ugly sweater.  Either way, it makes for a good knitting topic – and has been discussed often at the shop.

I love the story of how you, Patricia, left corporate life to forge this wonderful knitting store (I also left a horrendous corporate job years ago to write full time at home.) Tell us what that was like. Were you nervous about it or had you just reached a breaking point?

I used to really like my job in finance.  I was fresh out of college and was surrounded with people my age – many of whom I really liked.  Then, over a few years, many of my work friends were moved to different departments.  And their jobs became mine.  I was one person doing the job of three (or four).  I was stressed, getting sick often, getting migraines, it wasn’t healthy.  And, the hardest part was that Adam, a teacher, really liked his job.  I eventually called him from work one day crying.  He said, “quit”.  Just like that.  And so, the next day, I did. We had been talking about starting a knitting shop in Hoboken – so I seized the opportunity.  We were living very simply at the time, so Adam supported us while I got the business up and running.  I quit in April, 2004 and opened Patricia’s Yarns in August of 2004.  I love my shop and I haven’t had a migraine since!

Are you writing another book?

No.  Writing our book was a marathon.  Some people finish marathons and want to run another.  We are just happy we finished the race.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

For all of your readers that are thinking about self-publishing, we were very pleased with the simplicity and quality of Createspace.  

Our book is available at  Thank you so very much for featuring us.  We know your readers are all very knowledgeable writers and hope they enjoy our book for what it is – a lighthearted story with a few simple, but favorite knitting patterns. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tamar Cohen talks about learning to like the public side of being a writer


I love this post with a passion. Tamar Cohen's a wonderful author (go out and read her darkly funny and richly imagined The Mistress's Revenge if you haven't already) and I was thrilled that she wanted to write something for my blog. She could have been writing about my life! The oddness of being a solitary writer who suddenly has to "go out of the house" and speak and perform and be "on" all the time, is captured perfectly and wittily here.  Thank you, Tamar!

On Monday night I went to hear the celebrated Turkish novelist, Elif Shafak, talk about her books and her characters and the meaning of love. She was beautiful, impressive, articulate. She made jokes in two different languages. She told anecdotes about her grandmother, shared her thoughts on identity, and on the concept of home. She took questions from the floor and replied coherently and generously and made the questioners feel validated and special. Afterwards she signed books and chatted to people she’d never met and answered the same questions over and over again without her smile once slipping.

       Now here’s the thing – if Elif Shafak was a politician or a film star or a motivational speaker you wouldn’t be surprised. But she’s a writer.  For 99 per cent of our lives, we’re expected if not encouraged to hibernate inside our own homes, dressed in pyjamas and ugly fleece-lined boots and refusing to answer the phone, insisting instead that all communication be done remotely via the medium of email and Twitter. Yet, for the remaining 0.1 percent, we are expected to magically transmorph into public figures, at home in front of an audience, dressed in clothes without egg stains down them, able to converse on a range of topics in voices that haven’t atrophied from under-use, and to remember not only our own names, but also interesting and relevant anecdotes, all delivered with a winning smile.

       It was a huge shock for me when my debut novel The Mistress’s Revenge came out in June this year to realise that certain things were expected of me as a published writer. There were meetings and parties to go to, people to impress, questions to answer (often the same questions, again and again), intelligent points to be made, books to be signed. And all of these things took place outside of the house! After months spent holed up in a back room, hunched over my computer with only the dog for company (and believe me, my dog’s conversational ability leaves a lot to be desired), it was like entering into another space/time dimension.

       Now, I’m not saying most people go into writing because they’re socially inept misfits who can’t handle the real world but… oh who am I kidding, that’s pretty much what I am saying. But the great paradox of being published is that, having gone into writing because you’re naturally a shy retiring type who prefers tweeting to chatting and doesn’t own a single pair of trousers that aren’t elasticated at the waist, the payoff for success is that you leave all that behind and go out into the world to be on show – the very thing you hoped to escape by becoming a writer in the first place.

       I’m a truly terrible public speaker. Give me an audience of any type and my tongue becomes velcroed to the roof of my mouth, I say things like ‘um’ a lot or else make a strange nervous humming noise. I start sentences with no clue of how they might end. I also develop a rather disturbing giggle.
       The thing is I’ve never been taught how to do it. I like to see things written down, I like to play 
around with words and sentences until they’re exactly how the way I want them to be. That’s why I write. When I speak, it comes out in either a trickle or a gush, I get words wrong. I gesticulate madly (even if I’m on the radio). My mind goes blank. Doing a series of live radio interviews to publicise the book in the USA a few months back, I took to placing a sheet of paper in front of me with the names of my main characters written in big capital letters, after embarrassingly getting one of them wrong on my first attempt.

       God knows how big-name writers go into television studios to perch on sofas and talk knowledgeably in front of audiences of millions. How on earth do they know what to wear? At home I have a Writing Cardy, an outsized, woolly moth-eaten cardigan that sits draped over the back of my chair and that I put on over the top of whatever I have on (usually garments of the ‘leisure-wear’ variety), basically because I’m too mean to put the heating on when it’s just me in the house. This is what I spend most of my life wearing. After publication, not only did I have to step away from the cardy, I also realised that none of my other clothes would stand up to public scrutiny.  Things had to be bought in a hurry and chosen according to criteria other than whether they were a) comfortable and b) able to accommodate a pair of wellies for the daily dog walk. For the first party after I’d been signed by my publisher, I bought a pair of shoes with sky-high heels and spent the night grimacing rather than smiling at important people I was introduced to and hardly able to talk for the pain.  I suspect the collective verdict was that the company’s latest signee was clearly a sociopath.

       But you know how they say you can get used to anything? Well, the truth is that after a couple of months blinking in the unaccustomed light of an external environment in my non egg-stained clothes, I started to quite like it. I relaxed enough to throw out my characters crib-sheet when I did interviews, and stopped feeling like a child dressing up as a grown-up whenever I ventured out to work-related events. So it was a bit of a rude shock to find myself, after a whirlwind couple of months, back at my desk in the Cardy, writing Book Two and once again wisecracking at the dog (a wasted exercise if ever there was one).  

       The last year, since The Mistress’s Revenge was accepted for publication, has been the steepest of learning curves in so many respects. But perhaps the one thing I was least prepared for was this schizophrenic arc of the published writer’s life. Next time, hopefully, I’ll be more ready for it. Next time I’ll step seamlessly from the solitary subterranean fug of my home-office straight into any number of public situations and be impeccably dressed and effortlessly impressive in the style of Elif Shafak. I’m working on the bilingual jokes as we speak. The dog thinks they’re great!

The Mistress’s Revenge is published by Free Press (Simon & Sc