Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I'm Giving Thanks For

It is traditional at Thanksgiving for people to articulate what they’re thankful for. Sometimes this is a quick, embarrassing exercise around the dinner table before diving into the turkey, but it should be more than that. Studies have shown that people who keep a “gratitude journal,” or who are otherwise reminded on a regular basis of the good things in their life, are healthier, accomplish more, and exercise more frequently than those who don’t. (Here’s just one study)

As a self-pubbed writer, I have to admit, sometimes I concentrate more on what I don’t have than what I do. Like… an agent, or a publishing deal, or thousands of books sold. But that kind of negative thinking doesn’t get anyone anywhere. From this Thanksgiving on, I’m going to concentrate on what I’m grateful for. That includes:

Amazon, for making self-publishing so easy. A few years ago, when I was still writing screenplays, I realized it had become a lot easier to publish and sell your own book, while it was still just as difficult to make and market your own movie. The marketing part is still challenging, but the fact that I have an actual book, with a real cover and pages and all that good stuff, is amazing.

The graphic designers, illustrators, and typesetters that charge a very reasonable rate to design your book cover and convert your text into the acceptable format for Createspace, Smashwords, etc.

Facebook, for making it so easy to get to know other writers. Thanks to groups like ChickLitGoddesses, I always know where to turn when I have a question or concern. And that brings me to:

Other self-published writers. I have met so many amazing women who are incredibly generous with their time, ideas and encouragement. It brightens my day to log on to my email and find some notes from my writer friends, congratulating or commiserating. Even though some of them are all the way on the other side of the country, it feels like they are sitting across from me in my dining room, eating chocolate and sharing ideas.

Google, for hosting Blogger.com. My own blog is there, the blogs of several writers who’ve featured me are there, and they host ChickLitCentral.com, which gave me my start as a book reviewer.

My boss, who took a chance on a former PR manager who hasn’t had a real job in years or been in school in decades, and gave me an internship and a chance to prove myself.

My family, for supporting my writing efforts directly and indirectly.

And Hershey’s, for obvious reasons….

Oh, and those really great chocolate chip cookies Sweetbay makes…

And last but not least, I’m extremely grateful to each and every one of you who read KEEPING SCORE, left a review, or stopped by my blog this year and read what I had to say!

Happy Thanksgiving, all!!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Punch Drunk Reader

You’re driving down a local highway when up ahead of you, you see a car at the intersection preparing to make a U-turn. On the opposite side, the guy with the red light is preparing to turn right. It seems inevitable – they’re going to crash. You hit the brakes, honk your horn… and the guy making the U-turn gets the message. He holds back and watches the other car take over the space where he would have been. Accident averted. Crisis contained.

In real life, this is good news. We want to avoid accidents, minimize confrontations, remain unscathed and have a good day. And as writers, naturally we want this for our characters. We love them. We created them. They live inside our heads, like best friends who would never, ever, make out with our boyfriends underneath the bleachers while we’re in the marching band Homecoming parade.

But in fiction, the accidents happen. They have to. The best friend and boyfriend hook up. The two cars collide. The teenage girl’s pregnancy test is positive. The hurricane hits. The worst happens. It has to.

In too many unpublished manuscripts I read, however, the writer does an excellent job setting up the calamity – but then fails to follow through. The test is negative; the hurricane veers out to sea. The characters are relieved, of course… but the reader is let down. The writer has pulled her punches – set up the reader to anticipate this great clash, and then yanked away the football. The rifle stayed safely over the fireplace for the entire play.


Why do writers do this? There are two obvious reasons. The first is easiest to rectify:

One, the author had never intended for her book to be about how a town recovers from being hit by a tornado. She just wanted a reason for her hero and heroine to fight about whether to try to outrun the storm or hide in the basement. It was never supposed to be about the tornado!

I had a similar issue in an earlier draft of my book, KEEPING SCORE. I had a subplot in which my protagonist Shannon is faced with either losing her job or having to work fulltime. Either she’d be broke or she’d have to hire someone to drive her son all around. It was an interesting dilemma, but not what I wanted to write about. I’d also worked pretty hard setting up Shannon’s office environment and giving her an office crush, and I didn’t want to have to give that up. So Shannon found the solution of having a friend do a job share with her, so she was able to remain part time at the job that suddenly needed a fulltime worker.

It was a great solution, but it took up too much space in the book without essentially changing anything for Shannon. It was a waste of time and words. I cut the entire subplot (I did keep her job-share partner to give her more work conflict, though.).

In other words, if you’re not willing to let the hurricane hit – just like I was unwilling to write the story that would have resulted had Shannon lost her job or gone fulltime – you have to get rid of the hurricane. Your story might not need a hurricane at all, or it might just need a backstabbing best friend. Either way, the rule is the same – your set-ups need pay-offs. They don’t need to be pay-offs that neatly balance your set-ups, but something of the same weight needs to happen.

The second reason writers do this is a little more difficult to confront. That’s because the writer doesn’t want to. In real life, most of us shy away from confrontation – we apologize when we’re the ones who’ve been wronged, we pretend we’re not mad when we are. People who enjoy confrontation are called bullies. It’s the glue that keeps the social niceties moving along. In real life, it serves us well. In fiction, it causes us to pull our punches.

Bluntly stated, we make that pregnancy test negative because we just don’t want to deal with the consequences that plus sign would mean. We don’t want to destroy that nice town we created. We don’t want to break up that cute couple. We shy away from big confrontations in real life, and we shy away from them in our writing, too.

Is there a way to break this habit, other than years of extensive therapy? Frankly, I don’t know. But as a blocked writer, I was once told by a writing instructor to imagine the worst thing that could happen to my character – and then make it happen. Perhaps that exercise is a good place to start.

Being aware of the problem is the first step to solving it. Take a look at your current work in progress. Do you set up disasters, only to let your protagonist avoid them at the last minute? Think about how the story would play out if she ran into that wall at full speed. How much more engrossing would that be?

For the past several years, “The Good Wife” has been my favorite show. Now in its 5th season, the show – which was always well-reviewed – is receiving unprecedented accolades for its decision to have Alicia leave the law firm she’d called home -- and the ex-lover who’d hired her -- to start her own firm. More conservative writers might have had Alicia flirt with the idea to leave, only to stay at the end and avoid the fall-out. But that wouldn’t have given us this story.

Writers in any genre or medium cannot pull their punches. Rather, they need to leave their readers punch drunk, as blow after blow land for a direct hit. That’s the kind of work that keeps readers up all night, rather than letting them put down the book after a few chapters.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Happy release day, BETWEEN BOYFRIENDS! My friend Sarka-Jonae Miller originally self-published this chick lit novel, but now it’s been picked up by the publisher Booktrope. Congratulations, SJ!

About Between Boyfriends
At first glance, twenty-one-year-old Jan Weston has it all: a gorgeous boyfriend, fun friends, and wealthy parents who take care of all those pesky credit card bills.

Then her boyfriend dumps her, her friendships fall apart, and her parents cut her off. Suddenly without money, without a man, and without a plan, it's time for Jan to grow up.

Determined to get her life back on track, Jan decides it's time to make it on her own. Can she find her way as a single lady in San Diego? Can she fix her friendships, her job prospects, and her hair? And can she keep her vow that she'll never date again, even after she meets a guy who just might be perfect for her?

BETWEEN BOYFRIENDS is a sexy, hilarious story of living life, finding love, and growing up... but not necessarily in that order.

Praise for Between Boyfriends

"This book is the ultimate chick-lit read--a light-hearted romp focused on the travails of Jan, a college student dumped by her boyfriend, an SDSU student. The moment proves an epiphany, as Jan resolves to stop dating and find fulfillment as a single woman." - East County Magazine

Between Boyfriends "presents a unique twist on the chick lit genre." - Hollywood & Vine magazine

"Over the course of the book, Jan, who is in her early 20s, begins to grow as a person and even strikes up a true friendship with a man, a first for her." - Rancho Santa Fe Review

"Cut off by parents? Not got a boyfriend? That's the formula for a chick lit hit." - Indie Author Land

"The book teaches both subtle and obvious lessons about friendship, relationships, responsibility and decision making." - The Masquerade Crew

"Between Boyfriends is a delicious slice of chick-lit! Snappy dialogue sets this story apart from the pack as it follows a young woman who, financially cut off by her parents when she fails to attend school, learns that life is more than her Amex card, and reunites with a mother who has endured her own brand of pain." - Jan Moran, bestselling author

"BETWEEN BOYFRIENDS is a great read. It's got everything you'd expect in a chick-lit book: good friends, fun, and a little romance, but the thing Sarka-Jonae adds to this story is a journey." - Caroline Fardig, bestselling author

Buy Links:

Barnes & Noble

About Sárka-Jonae

Sárka-Jonae is a novelist, publicist, and journalist, among other “ists” there aren’t room for. Her novel writing career began with Between Boyfriends, an edgy chick-lit book for women who’ve been ”between boyfriends”, which is much cooler than being single.

SJ is a graduate of Syracuse University. Before writing full-time, she was a personal trainer and massage therapist, helping people tone up, slim down, and chill out. In her free time, Sárka-Jonae loves to dance in flash mobs, in music videos, on speakers, or at home in her underwear. She practices kung fu and yoga, was briefly a Buddhist nun, and travels extensively for ”research”. She’s a huge animal lover and has been vegan since 1999. She’s committed to respectfully unveiling the truth about the horrific way factory farms abuse animals. SJ lives in San Diego with two cats and two dogs.

Social Media Links:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Girl!

Francine LaSala is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the publication of her book, “The Girl, the Gold Tooth and Everything.” Today is the last day the book is on sale for 99 cents! Buy it from Amazon here:

Mina Clark is losing her mind—or maybe it’s already gone. She isn’t quite sure. Feeling displaced in her over-priced McMansion-dotted suburban world, she is grappling not only with deep debt, a mostly absent husband, and her playground-terrorizer 3-year old Emma, but also with a significant amnesia she can’t shake—a “temporary” condition now going on several years, brought on by a traumatic event she cannot remember, and which everyone around her feels is best forgotten. A routine trip to the dentist changes everything for Mina, and suddenly she's not sure if what's happening is real, of if she's just now fully losing her mind... especially when she realizes the only person she thought she could trust is the one she fears the most.

Here’s my review from Chick Lit Central:

There will also be a Goodreads giveaway for the paperback copy running through November 8!

FRANCINE LASALA has written nonfiction on every topic imaginable, from circus freaks to sex, and edited bestselling authors of all genres. She is now actively taking on clients for manuscript evaluations, editing services, copywriting (covers, blurbs, taglines, queries, and more), website and blog creation, and developing kickass social media campaigns. The author of novels Rita Hayworth’s Shoes and The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything, and the creator of The “Joy Jar” Project, she lives with her husband and two daughters in New York.

Find Francine online:
Francine LaSala’s website:
Francine LaSala’s goodreads profile:
Francine LaSala’s Blog:
Diversion Books:
The “Joy Jar” Project:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Part of the Problem

I am writing this blog post for free. This may be obvious to most of you, but in light of the recent flare-up on free writing on the internet (aka “exposure”), it may be worth repeating. Yes, you’re getting me completely for free. I don’t have a corporate sponsor; there are no ads on the right-hand side of the web site. I don’t even have an Amazon click-through. Perhaps I’m leaving a bit of money on the table, but I don’t think so.

Last week, the New York Times published this op-ed piece, which touched off a lot of debate among writers. Actually, it wasn’t debate, as the word implies arguing a few sides. No one I knew was arguing against paying writers.

By the way, I read that piece online, for free. And while I do subscribe to the Sunday dead-tree edition of the New York Times (I will never stop loving the feel of curling up on the couch on a Sunday, football on TV and sections of newsprint all around me), these days I’m getting most of my news without paying a thin dime. Thanks to Facebook likes and Twitter follows, I spent way too much time reading free news from Salon, Mother Jones, Slate, Talking Points Memo, the Daily Beast, and of course HuffPost. (And I’ve just outed myself as a gigantic liberal, but who didn’t already know that.) HuffPost is the first, biggest and most notorious of the “we don’t pay but hey, great exposure!” players, but I’m pretty sure the other publications actually pay their writers. Good for them! Sometimes I feel guilty about pressing the X on that dollar-a-year subscription offer (especially for publications that don’t take advertisements), but the guilt is fleeting.

In other words, it’s hard for me to complain too loudly about not getting paid when I’m benefitting just as much from the “don’t pay writers” system.

And I’m working really hard at not getting paid. It’s not just this blog, or the blog posts I do on other blogs, all in the name of exposure. It’s the internship I spend 10 hours a week on, reading and evaluating manuscripts, with nothing in return but a thank-you email. Or the book reviews in exchange for free books. Free books are great, but they won’t help pay the mortgage. Neither will selling my own book (buy it here!) for 99 cents. But my own Kindle is filled with 99 cent books, and I’ve put off buying books by my favorite authors because with all these freebies, I suddenly can’t stomach paying $13 for a download.

Going back a few years, I’ve written about 10 screenplays “on spec” (another word for free), and done several rewrites and original treatments “on spec” for producers. It’s hard to complain about not getting paid because they were working for free, too.

I work hard at what I do, and I’d love to bring in a salary that reflects that. But my college economics course taught me that the price of a commodity correlates with its supply, and the supply of free writing is astronomical.

What does this mean for the future of the publishing industry? While every writer starts off writing for free, the hardest working, most talented and luckiest find a way to support themselves through their stories. If this is no longer an option, will writing turn into a hobby that only the one percent can afford to indulge in?

I don’t know the answer. And I have a few more books I’m working on. But that real estate class my husband keeps pushing on me is looking more and more attractive.