Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Once Upon a Drama: Writing an Unforgettable Chick Lit Novel

     I realize (and profusely apologize) that I have not written a Writer’s Wednesday post in some time. Not to make excuses, but I just wrapped up school for the summer, it’s been Annual Budget and Start of Repair time at work and finally, my fiancé and I just adopted a baby, feral kitten (who, every time I open my laptop, feels the need to walk all over the keyboard, either changing the current webpage I’m on or writing all kinds of gobbledy-gook on the page). But anyways, I missed my blog. I missed writing, reviewing and especially, reading the feedback from loyal readers like you.

     I just finished an excellent novel (and my first) by author Jane Fallon called Getting Rid of Matthew. Although it was about the darker side of marriage, elaborating on the topic of affairs, lovers, wives and best friends who may not always be who they seem, it was a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and entertaining story. The dramatic flair with which this story was written and narrated in made for a highly enjoyable and memorable read. (And the older I get, the less room there seems to be in my brain for things like books and movies so if I can remember mundane details weeks or months later, then I figure it must have been authored more than proficiently.)

     Anyways, it got me to thinking about my own writing process and writing in general and how authors must have to use certain techniques and tactics to truly engage their readers in the dialogue, plot and tone of their stories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a few choice or exact ingredients that someone could tell you to use to create a Bestselling Chick Lit Novel that went all the way to #1 on the New York Times Book Charts and then Sony came along to request the rights to make a movie out of it starring Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie? Unfortunately and luckily all at once, there is no set recipe for success in writing or producing a book. I say unfortunately, because if there were such a recipe, anyone and everyone who wanted to write a book could do so with great ease. From a similar vantage point, I say luckily, because without such a recipe to write a bestselling book, the whole process and creation of your novel becomes such a wondrous accomplishment that no one can take away from you, being unique to you and you, alone.

     For example, Jane Fallon took a risk with Getting Rid of Matthew by depicting the classic dilemma of an illicit love triangle from the perspective of a mistress who doesn’t want her lover once he leaves his wife (for her, no less!). Not only does this unique plot twist engage the reader a thousand times more so than the usual drama of the married man who won’t ever leave his wife for his lover, but this is only the beginning of the risky plot layers that unfold. First, married and successful business man, Matthew shows up on the doorstep of his mistress, Helen. Despite the fact that she’d been begging him for four years prior to leave his wife for her, she had finally reached a place in her life where she was “all set” with him and so when he shows up with all his belongings in tow, Helen is speechless, to say the least. The guilt at being the reason for his pending divorce is enough to drive Helen mad and at least to keep her from denying Matthew a place to stay. The story continues as Helen develops elaborate scheme after elaborate scheme in her attempt to be rid of Matthew once and for all. In the midst of her zany efforts, she loses her job (as well as the respect of her coworkers), befriends Matthew’s wife and falls in love with his son. While trying to juggle all the (secret) parts of her life and be rid of Matthew in the least hurtful way possible, Helen somehow manages to find herself in the midst of this wondrous little mess she’s made for herself. All in all, Jane Fallon took an expected premise to a chick lit novel and turned it upside down and inside out, making for an unpredictable, roller coaster ride of emotions, friendship, love, marriage, affairs and of course, ensuing hilarity. I was utterly fulfilled by the story’s end and sadly disappointed to say goodbye to the trio that brought life to this chick lit novel.

     What kinds of elements do you hope for or look for in a chick lit novel (or any novel for that matter) that give it that extra edge of mystery, drama, seduction, excitement or something else that makes a novel outstanding? Is it something about the climax or the climactic build up? Is it some sense of dramatic flair? What makes one plot or one character stand above the rest? Share with me and everyone else here!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Star Book Review: Sammi Ever After by Soma Helmi

First time author, Soma Helmi, wrote a fictional home-run with her debut novel, Sammi Ever After. True to the traditional format of Chick Lit novels, Sammi Ever After has readers follow one woman on her journey in search of self. When girl meets boy and they fall in love, it seems like everything is going to be happily ever after, but all too soon, he dumps her. To make matters worse, he leaves her stranded at an airport in a foreign country, in which she has no job and no place to live. Luckily, she has one true friend in the area who lets her cry and sulk on his couch for weeks on end, that is of course, until his girlfriend decides it’s time for Sammi to move on. Finally having to face the dilemma of starting over in a new city on her own, Sammi is determined to “fake it til she makes it”.

Find out what “happily ever after” means to Sammi as she travels from Indonesia to Australia to London to the Islands of Greece and then back to London in a story full of romance, friendship and travel. Join in as Sammi seeks out her own fairytale ending and story is and along the way much hilarity and humility ensue. One of the bits I absolutely adored in this novel was at the beginning when Sammi goes to dinner with Liam at the Red Lion. As her dish of chicken dinner comes out, Sammi reaches in her bag for Sambal, a sauce she never leaves home without. I imagine it must be the Indonesian version of Tabasco sauce. Little details like that can tell you so much about a character and I thought it was such a wonderful trait to add to Sammi’s character to make her a unique and unforgettable heroine.

Native Indonesian and first-time author, Soma Helmi, may already be established as a filmmaker, art director and graphic artist but I predict it won’t be long before she adds “acclaimed women’s fiction novelist” to her ongoing list of credits.

**Follow Soma Helmi on Goodreads!!

                                                                STAR RATING: 3 STARS

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Save Cathy: One Writer's Journey to her Blog and Back

     Welcome Back to My Blog. If you have been as absent as I have, I thought I might take a little bit of time out of my day to tell you where I have been and what I have been doing.

     All summer, my fiancé and I have been feeding a colony of feral kittens and cats that live in our backyard. One day, early in August we discovered that one of the kittens, maybe 4 or 5 weeks old at the time, was not breathing easily. It became painfully obvious that this tiny little kitten had a respiratory illness and if we didn't do something about it, who knows how long she would make it out in the wild. Complicating issues further (if you have never seen or dealt with feral cats), she was absolutely 100% terrified of us!! But, with a strong desire to play and eat and the sweetest most innocent face you've ever seen, we couldn't possibly imagine leaving this poor creature out on her own. We talked about how we could care for her and find her a good home and whether or not we thought we would be able to trap her. Over the next 48 hours, she let us know, herself, exactly how this was all going to play out. Every day I would find her hiding behind or under the grill on our deck, directly in front of our sliding door. She no longer went upstairs to sleep with her Mama and her brother. She no longer ran about in her crazy zig zag way that she did when we first saw her. In her own, timid way, I truly believe, she was trying to tell us that she was sick – she was too sick to move – or at least too sick to climb the stairs – she was too sick to protect herself from predators which is why she hid in the protection of our grill – but as sick as she was and as scared as she was, she was brave enough to come out from under her little shelter to let us know that she still wanted to live. She would come out from under her little shelter just long enough to let us know that she still wanted to live. She would eat little ripped up pieces of lunch meats and cheeses with the most innocent delight from our hands. She was so sweet. I think she chose us. In fact, ask any cat owner ore person who works with cats in any aspect of their lives and they will likely tell you the same thing – you don’t get to choose your pet cat – they will choose you!

     So we made a plan Friday night, August 6th to find a way to get the little girl (who at the time we thought was a boy, who we called Lil Tiger because of the Calico coloring of her fur in gorgeous patterns of orange, black and white) and bring her to a vet. The first vet we had picked out to take her to closed at 5pm but as time kept ticking on and we realized just how difficult the task of getting her was going to be, that vet quickly was crossed off our list. With the vet nearest our house closing at 6:00pm, we finally caught her at 5:45pm! Of course, at this point my fiancé’s arms had been clawed at and scratched to no end and the little girl was writhing and rolling in a little clothes box that I had made numerous holes in to ensure plenty of oxygen (The shelter I was referred to to borrow a carrier was closed when I went by). Every time I peaked in or removed the towel that was covering the holes (I read you are supposed to help the feral kitty feel like she is hiding from you – then she will be less scared), she made quick attempts to get out or to at least let me know she was not happy to be in such a small space or in for a bouncy car ride and she spat at me! (I don’t’ know why kittens and cats think spitting is so threatening – it is really the funniest thing to see them do to you) The next vet on our list closed at 6:00pm but luckily, it was practically just across the street because I was really not sure how long I was going to be able to keep this kitty under the lid of this makeshift kennel. We arrived at the vet’s door at 5:50pm; 10 minutes before the closed, and I breathed a sigh of relief – Apparently, I let out my breath too soon, though, because when I pulled on the door, it was locked!! I could see the receptionist in the window doing (what I imagine to be) her nightly paperwork and she began mouthing the words “We’re Closed”. Closed?!?! But it’s only 10 of 6:00pm, I pointed to my watch. She came outside to (very rudely, I might add) let us know that there was no doctor on site and that there was no way we were going to be let into the facility. She was angry. She was unsympathetic and she was very curt with us. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. We had just spent the past 2 and a half hours trying to capture this little kitten to bring her back to health, and we were about to be denied services! I moved the box up closer to my face and the receptionist’s and said, as calmly as I could contain my emotions, “But I have a feral kitten in this box who is very sick. I can’t just bring her back and….what am I supposed to do.” The receptionist had no words for me, only a very agitated and annoyed eye roll that was directed towards me and my fiancé. During this exchange another customer had begun walking towards the vet’s entrance and without another word to us or the new person walking up the path, the receptionist hurried inside (to lock herself in?). In what seemed like an eon of time later, she finally came back out with a postcard in her hand and told us “that’s where we could go”. I started to ask her a question about her reference and she gave me the hand! The hand!??!! As in, “not another word; that’s all you’re getting out of me.” Thankfully, this experience was a blessing in disguise as her “referral” (if you can justly call it that) turned out to be a 24-Hour Pet Clinic that staffed the nicest, most understanding, educated and knowledgeable persons. (I don’t know hwat ever happened to the woman who “dared’ to walk up to the facility that closed at 6:00pm (at 5:55pm)…she was apparently just coming to pick up a specially ordered prescription assigned by the doctor at the vet. Now come on, tell me, if a place advertises on their website, on their door and everywhere else that they close at 6:00pm, would you assume they close at 6:00pm or ten of 6:00pm!?!?!?

     All in all after that first hour, however (and very luckily, I might add), our little girl has been nothing but a doll ever since. She was treated for her respiratory infection and dewormed by the most caring staff of doctors and nurses aids at the 24-Hour Animal Hospital at the Buzzards Bridge Rotary. We took her home and let her hide for as long as she wanted to (which was no more than the first 12 hours). She still has a very (very) healthy appetitive and desire to play and practice honing her hunting skills, pouncing, chasing, swatting, jumping, thrashing around on the floor and running through her favorite tunnel. We decided to change her name to Honey and really, I have never met a little kitty that was so brave and so tough and sweet all at once. I read that Calicos are lucky in many cultures but always tell her that we are the lucky ones to be so blessed to have such a little sweetheart in our lives. There’s nothing like having a little girl to come home to, who runs over to greet you because she’s been waiting for you to get back from work all day, and then stretches out in your lap as she gets herself ready for a night of double loves and play!

     So other than our new kitten (who takes up a good 75% of my time), all the regular stuff has been filling up my day, school work, the regular 9 to 5, tennis, friends, my fiancé and family and of course, reading, listening to audio books and writing reviews. I’m hoping to start a new writing class next Saturday for a few weeks (to maybe get that spark going to really make writing my own fiction part of my everyday routine) and I also have my annual charity tennis tournament the same weekend.

     So summer may be officially coming to an end for us here in the states but I always look forward to cozying up with more books come fall and winter (When I don't have to justify being such a homebody anymore). I won’t have (too much) school looming over my head every waking minute so I hope to get much more reading and writing done. I have already embarked on a Revamping Project of my blog. I added a Book Review page where you will be able to find ALL my book reviews ever posted on my blog as well as links to the individuals reviews. Basically, I just want to make my site as user friendly as possible. I also want to make it more “for-the-user”, if you know what I mean. It is my goal to get more pages posted, including a writing tips section that would ideally be divided by things like Character, Plot, Setting, Dialogue, etc. I would also love to be able to get some Interviews up and running, especially some duo interviews for all the audio books that I listen to and have reviewed here. Who knows, maybe I can even include some audio interviews, reviews or clips form actual unabridged books (just to shake things up a little this fall!) Finally, there may be some additional small changes to the scenery and background that you see around here. I’d like to add a spinning logo to give tribute and thanks to all those who’ve nominated me for a blog award. I really cannot extend my appreciation and gratitude to any and all persons who take the time to read what I have to say. It makes me feel so good to know that someone is even glancing at my page! Overall, I just want my blog to stay in line with its original purpose – to follow my dreams and maybe to match up with a couple of somebody else’s wishes, hopes or dreams, too.

As always, Happy Writing and Keep Reading. Love, Cathy

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Star Book Review: Last Night At Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger (Audio); Narrated by Merritt Wever

     I know this is probably going to sound a little bit backwards to a lot of Lauren Weisberger fans out there but the very first book I read by LW was Everyone Worth Knowing. When I first picked it up, I wasn’t sure if I could get into it – it talked about nightclubs and the drug scene and I wasn’t sure this was going to be an author for me, but by the book’s end, something about the way Ms. Weisberger depicted her characters and scenes had me hooked. Later, I saw the Hollywood movie version of her first novel, The Devil Wears Prada. With a stunning A-List cast, the movie entertained and became a favorite of mine in the chick lit genre of movie pictures and films. Finally this past fall, I listened to the unabridged audio version of The Devil Wears Prada and I must say – I was blown away by its originality. From its fairy tale plot, to its invigorating writing and its articulate narration, I gave this production a 5 Star Review.

     Now, to no surprise of mine, I found Lauren Weisberger has done it again with her latest release, Last Night at Chateau Marmont. Her newest novel can be described as nothing less than “Fabulous!” Brooke and Julian Alter appear to be the perfect down-to-Earth couple that you’d love to go out to dinner with or live next door to. Young and in love, they were quickly swept away by each other in a fairy-tale type of romance and married shortly thereafter. Aside from each other, Brooke and Julian also share a love for their careers, both working extremely hard in their respective professions, Brooke as a nutritionist at a local hospital and young girls’ Private school and Julian as a musician. Barely a year into their marriage, it seems nothing can come between the two young lovers until one night, after an invitation to perform on The Tonight Show, everything that seems right and sane in their world is turned upside down. Julian’s status quickly changes from a struggling musician to a successful artist with a household name who’s known worldwide. Now Julian’s schedule demands his presence from coast to coast and the paparazzi are there for every beat. Brooke can’t escape the scrutiny; she’s either criticized for being there too much or too little for her husband. Torn between two worlds, Julian and Brooke’s marriage begins to look like anything but a perfect relationship. Has the instant celebrity and stardom brought their relationship to a point of no return? Will fame and money affect Julian’s faith and devotion to his wife? Has the constant traveling along with an otherwise MIA husband changed Brooke’s vision of their future? Listen to hear if Brooke and Julian survive the turbulent roller coaster ride that Julian’s sudden rise to stardom has taken them on.

     Newcomer, Merritt Wever, narrated in a believable, expressive fashion that sounded consistent and appropriate with what I imagined the characters might sound like. The varied emotions emanating from her tone and speech in various characters and scenes, made for the perfect dramatic effect. She really made me feel a part of every scene. I found myself imagining what my life would be like if it were suddenly taken over by the paparazzi and had taken my husband (or boyfriend) with them. Would I leave my life behind to attend every show, every performance and every media taping to be at his side? Would are love life slip further and further away as our lives made different turns and angles with each passing day? Would I be set up and decimated by the media as they so easily seem to do to people once they are surrounded by all the money and flashing lights? I’d like to think that I could balance our life out but I think Lauren Weisberger and Merit Wever captured the impossibility of it all in this audio edition of Last Night at Chateau Marmont. I look forward to hearing more from the talented duo of voice and writer.

     Based on its plot, narration and writing style, I would definitely recommend this audio book to music lovers, celebrity aficionados, chick lit fans and audio listeners alike.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Star Book Review: Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon (Audio); Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

     Jane Fallon’s debut novel, Getting Rid of Matthew came out in 2007, joining the ranks of many other successful chick lit books on the subject of extramarital affairs, friendship and how one defines one’s self in the midst of such relationship chaos. takes a unique stance on the topic. Reminiscent of books like 1996’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan and 2004’s Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin and Marian Keyes’ Angels of the same year, Getting Rid of Matthew tackles a tough topic but adds its own unique perspective to the subject matter. When Stella catches her man cheating in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, she takes her pride back by throwing him and all his clothes out on the street, burns all his clothes, including his most prized possession: a hip, roadster sports car, to bits, symbolizing the love and relationship that he threw away like yesterday’s trash. In an alternate viewpoint, we get a glimpse at the lives of those doing the cheating in Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed, which chronicles the saga of an affair from its inception when Rachel sleeps with her best friend’s fiancé the night of her 30th birthday. Later we find out, that it’s not just one fiancé having an affair. Darcy also commits the ultimate, adulterous pre-wedding crime and sleeps with her fiancé’s best man. Finally, in Marian Keyes’ Angels Maggie Walsh finds solace across the Atlantic as she makes a daring move from Ireland to the U.S. to start her life anew without her no-good cheating husband and finds happiness and herself in the City of Angels in Los Angeles, CA.

     Unlike its predecessors, Ms. Fallon’s story does not end with a cheating husband caught in bed with his mistress and thrown out on his rear. It does not indulge in the nuances of an illicit love affair and it does not take an entire ocean to separate the cheater from the cheatee to move on with their lives. Instead, Getting Rid of Matthew focuses on the women in Matthew’s life, and we get to see an affair from the vantage point of both the mistress and the wife of Matthew. In fact, at one point in the story, the two women form unsuspecting bond (although one of the women is entirely unaware of the other’s true identity). Nevertheless, I was surprised when this tale began when cheating husband, Matthew, showed up on the doorstep of his mistress, Helen, with all his possessions in tow. Ironically, in the tradition of the infamous saying “we all want what we can’t have”, Helen almost simultaneously decides she is “over” Matthew and no longer wants to be with him. However, feeling guilty, thanks to the constant reminder from Matthew about how he has just uprooted his entire family - wife, Sophie and two daughters - for her, Helen feels obligated to let him stay at her apartment. Nonetheless, as the label, an affair, often implies, Helen quickly realized nothing was about to be settled easily or amicably and as it became clearer to Helen that their living situation was anything less than temporary, she proceeded to orchestrate various “plans” to be rid of Matthew once and for all. Shortly into her master plan, Helen found herself in the midst of a predicament on the brink of disaster. Listen to the entire unabridged audio version to hear the hilarious recount of all the antics Helen pulls off in her attempt to break free form her married lover. This was a unique, fun, and unusual tale from British chick lit author Jane Fallon, made even more fun by seasoned narrator Rosalyn Landor. Ms. Landor excels at making emotion an audible expression such that listeners feel like they are part of all the narrative action.

Star Rating: 5 Stars