Thanks so much to Christopher Mannino for inviting me to join this marvelous blog hop! Chris’ blog scan be found at poetsfire.blogspot.com. You can also check in with Chris on his author site:
What am I working on?
I’m currently starting the next book in the Liberty Heights series. (Book 7, if you don’t count the short stories). I don’t have a working title yet but it will come to me as I get more thoroughly immersed in the work. I’m also not sure of the entire story. It often comes to me as I’m writing. (More about that below).
I do know that the chief characters are a wounded Marine vet and Liberty Heights woman who has returned home due to a dismal failure. For the second time. Sorry, not revealing what sort of failure but it isn’t necessarily romantic like being ditched by a fiancé or anything like that. It struck me as interesting to work with a man as the primary hero who’s more of anti-hero and perhaps not especially likeable initially. He’s been wounded and he’s bitter and angry. I thought it would be interesting to pair him with a woman who’s been emotionally wounded. Each one feels like a loser but together, they could be a winning team. I like that idea. Of course, it involves catalysts to enable both of them to acknowledge mistakes, have the courage to take risks and be willing to make life changes.
One other thing, as crazy as it sounds I know there’s something about cheesecake in this book. Cheesecake as in pastry, not sexy pinups in case you were wondering. I’m not sure what but I’ve got a few ideas that are starting crystallize. I know I’m going to have fun with that. Stay tuned for developments!
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Good question. I’ve written a number of books that are cross genre. For example, my first book, To Catch A Cop, was never meant to be published. I was writing it to figure out HOW to write a novel. I’m a professor by profession and have done a reasonable amount of academic writing. That’s part of the job but I was interested in learning how to write a work of fiction. Yes, I know you can take all sorts of workshops and writing classes and I have no doubt they are helpful. Since I wasn’t planning to do anything with whatever developed, I skipped that—probably wouldn’t have had time to fit it in anyway. Just sat down and wrote. Put the thing aside for a few years, joined a critique group, kept writing and learning and revised the book. Put it aside again, did more revision and then asked three people to read it. They were all people who were writers with backgrounds in romance, journalism and thrillers. I knew they would be honest and constructive. And remember, this wasn’t going to be published anyway, right?
The first reader thought it was a rather unconventional romance but a fun story. She was a romance writer. The second thought it was a “cute mystery.” I never saw the mystery myself. That was interesting—two different readers who viewed the book differently. Reader number two also noticed a few dangling participles. Would I like her to correct them? Certainly. The third was a very successful writer of thrillers. He thought the book was a combination of romance with a touch of thriller. He also mentioned excellent, snappy dialogue and well-paced. That sounded good. I honestly didn’t know what I had written at that point. What mattered was that all three thought it was a fun book, plenty of humor, and highly engaging characters and story. Imagine my surprise when it was published and nominated as Best Romantic Comedy of 2010?
Right now, I’m concentrating on my Liberty Heights series. I think it’s safe to say these books are romance, romantic humor, small town contemporary stories.
I originally was writing the first book, Animal Crackers, as a stand alone book set in Liberty Heights, New Jersey. It was tremendous fun bringing together Hayley Weaver, an unemployed, stressed out New York workaholic and small town, laid back local veterinarian, Jake Marx. Opposites attract sort of story. As much as Hayley and Jake were the primary characters, in a way, the town also became a character. Liberty Heights is loaded with eccentrics—human and animal. As Jake says, in a big city, nobody knows you but in a small town, everyone knows you and everything about you. They accept you as you are. BTW there are always some quirky animals in the books. Everyone entertained me so much, I didn’t want to leave town! As I was finishing the book, another story set in the town started working its way through my brain and I realized Liberty Heights has a lot of stories to tell. Six books and two short stories later, I’m not finished with Liberty Heights.
Part of the fun of writing a series is being able to incorporate some of the primary characters, like Hayley and Jake, in subsequent books in secondary roles. It’s interesting to watch characters grow and develop in conjunction with a totally new story featuring other people in town. I also get a huge kick out of some of the senior citizens. Grandma Baumgart is a firecracker! In Book 3, Hanky-Panky, Grandma takes a joyride on a skateboard (what the heck was she thinking?) No serious injuries, just a concussion and the unshakeable conviction that grandson Hank is married to Dana, Hayley’s best friend. Yikes! They don’t even like each other but nobody wants to upset Grandma. Pretty soon the entire town is sure Hank and Dana are married, Grandma is planning a reception for everyone who missed the wedding and has her heart set on a new dress. Oh boy. Hank and Dana are stuck. Any chance they might end up stuck on each other?
Liberty Heights books deal with some serious issues. Widowhood. Attempted murder. But, and here’s the but, there’s always some underlining humor. Who wouldn’t have fun with characters like Paulette Stone aka Paula Stawicki, a B-grade movie actress. B-grade is polite. Paulette makes horror films like Driving with Zombies. In between these awful movies, she collects exotic pets. There’s Antoine, a French swearing parrot, Henry, a deaf dog from China who spends his days at the local Chinese restaurant and Pansy the chimp who’s trying to get accepted on the local Little League team. In Pranksgiving, a short story written for Thanskgiving, Paulette kidnaps Jerome the turkey to save him from being served as the main course. Mayhem unfolds with New Jersey police out hunting the stolen bird and chasing down ransom demands from assorted nutcases.
I get a huge kick out of LouAnn Freedbush who was first introduced in Book 4, Light My Fire. Readers also adore LouAnn. Everyone in town knows LouAnn was always a little flaky. Compared to her relatives, she seems almost normal. Almost. LouAnn owns a beagle named Wayne who’s psychic. At least, that’s what LouAnn says. Her sister BettyAnn has been studying to be a witch-none of her spells work. LouAnn’s boyfriend Howie is a magician who’s accident prone. Then there’s Uncle Rufus (to be introduced in Wait Watchers-publication date 2014) who suffers from the delusion that he’s Ernest Hemingway.) Now I ask you—wouldn’t you have fun with characters like that to work with?
I can only tell you what readers have written to me—
“Can you send me driving directions to Liberty Heights? I can’t find it on a map. I’m going to be in Pennsylvania and thought I’d drive over.”—Hmm. Sorry to disappoint but Liberty Heights only exists in my head. To me, it is a real place but you won’t find it on a map. All the surrounding towns mentioned in the books are real places. I took it as a compliment that the reader truly believed this town exists.
“Animal Crackers was a little bit Bridesmaids with an Evanovich twist.”—Note—I’ve never seen Bridesmaids but I’m a fan of Janet Evanovich so I sort of got what she meant.
“Elle Druskin once again brightens up any reader’s day by taking them to the fabulous setting of Liberty Heights…I’ve said it before but I just have to say it again, I love Liberty Heights and its eccentric residents. You just never know what’s going to happen and I’m always pleasantly surprised and mightily pleased with any events that do take place. If you are looking for a fabulous feel-good read, than this is the perfect choice. I always hate to come to the end of one of these stories, but I cannot wait to see what happens next to the friends and neighbors in one of my favorite small-town settings.”
With reactions like this, I think it’s pretty safe to say the entire series is light, easy to read, fun, and grows on you. People return to the books because they want to know what’s going on in Liberty Heights now? Is there anything more that could possibly happen? You bet!
Why do I write what I do?
I suppose it’s part of my personality. I’ve written enough heavy, academic work to want to do something different. Something that entertains me and brings a smile to my face. Liberty Heights does that. I’ve tried to write serious stories but even those have touches of humor creeping in.
I come from a family where we all laugh a lot. Many of my relatives are really funny storytellers. It’s a natural talent. Someone else could tell the same story and it wouldn’t be funny, so it’s a personal quirk, view of life or attitude. I tend to laugh harder at myself than anyone else. One of my friends once remarked to me, “My daughter goes looking for trouble. You naturally find it. What a pair!”
It’s true. I’ve been fortunate enough to do a great deal of travelling and see so much of the world. Along the way, I fell into a canal in Venice which I thought was hilarious, got accidentally engaged in India at a Bollywood wedding—I still don’t know how that happened–and started a riot in Poland. Not my fault, really. . What can you do when those things happen but laugh? Laughing beats crying any day unless you are laughing so hard, you’re also crying.
How does my writing process work?
Another good question. I know there are many approaches to writing and if the end result is a great story, that’s all that matters. I was a bit amused by some woman at a dinner party who was taking her first writing course and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it. “Do tell,” I said. I was genuinely curious. She insisted there is only one way to write a novel. “Really?” I said. “What method is that?” She had no idea I was a writer and yakked for ages about “the process.”
Hmm. I’ve never been good at sticking to rules. With the best of intentions I veer off. Maybe it’s something to do with being left-handed and getting countless things backwards. Who knows? Sure, if writing a detailed synopsis and extensive character sheets works for you, go ahead and use them. If you’re a “pantser”—that is, you start writing the book and see where it goes, also fine. I tend to have a general idea about the book I’m writing. I see scenes unfolding although not necessarily in sequence. That’s okay. I write as they come to me and usually as I’m writing, another scene will start to emerge. Eventually the scenes will come together to form a coherent story. It might require some additional work to connect those scenes but that’s not a problem. I generally know the ending of the book so I’m writing toward that goal and tweak the scenes to fit with the eventual close of the story. That’s about it and it works for me.
I think it’s also important to understand that I think of myself primarily as a storyteller. At the heart of every book is an original story and it has to be great. Sure, themes and situations recur in lots of books. The runaway bride, the jilted fiancé, the guy who’s been framed for a crime he didn’t commit. What matters is putting a new twist on those themes by creating characters that are interesting, engage the reader, and unfold to reveal hidden depths. Conflict is the basis of any novel in any genre so it had better be there and the sooner the better. It sets up tension. The back story can and should unfold over time but the conflict has to be front and center and then just keep twisting that tension line. Dialogue has to be realistic, character actions need to be understandable. They can make mistakes as long we understand them in context. Perfect people would be boring anyway.
If I’m not sure about a scene, I will read it aloud. Believe me, it sounds truly different to reading silently. What seems to read well might sound terrible. It’s one handy way of assessing a scene because if it doesn’t sound right—well, it isn’t. Back to work.
I think I’ve had a lot to say and thank you for your time. You can keep up with Liberty Heights and find my books at:
At Barnes and Noble for Nook:
You can find me on the web in lots of places:
My website and blog with book excerpts, reviews, news, free bookmarks and recipes.
I also hang out at Books and Writers Community, a great place for writers and readers. It’s free, it’s fun and everything you can possibly imagine is discussed. You’ll see some famous names there including Diana Gabaldon and Joanna Bourne.
The next writers on this blog hop are: Drum roll!!!!!
Marilynn Tebbitt who writes women’s fiction.
Bio: My first novel, Pool Party, will be released Jan 31. To publish my writing has been my life dream. I also paint, and have work in galleries, but I don’t earn a living off this. For income, I currently tutor, after spending most of my life in the food and beverage service industry. For a companion, I keep a now 24 year old Blue & Gold (pirate parrot) I’ve had since he was 3 months old. I’ve never been married, no kids – a red flag for a man; what, for a woman? For activity: I weight train, and have for 32 years. I’ve competed in body building. I rode sport motorcycles for 12 years, swam varsity, played competitive table tennis, and now happily row on Coal Harbour. And, of course, write.
Jane Beckenham who writes romance novels.
Bio: Multi-published author Jane Beckenham discovered dreams and hope, stories that inspired in her a love of romance and happy ever after. Years later, after a blind date, Jane found her own true love and married him eleven months later.
Life has been a series of ‘dreams’ for Jane. Dreaming of learning to walk again after spending years in hospital. Dreaming of raising a family and subsequently flying to Russia to bring home her two adopted daughters. And of course, dreaming of writing.
Writing has become Jane’s addiction – and it sure beats housework.