May I never grow too old to treasure 'once upon a time'. ~ Anonymous

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reading is the New Black: Confessions from Some of My Fave Chick Lit Authors or Why You Should Read to Write: Turning Everyday Reading into Research

I hear all the time that reading is “research”. Thank goodness, because I sure do my share of reading. My fiancĂ© is telling me all the time that I am going to turn into a book. Well, maybe in some fairy tale universe this might be the case (or in the book Enchanted, Inc. one of my personal faves), but for now, I just tell him, “Honey, I am learning about what it takes to become a bestselling novelist. I need to “study” this in order to get my own novel off the ground.” Sure enough, that usually ends the conversation. (Okay, there may be a “whatever” thrown in or a “going to turn into a book” mumbled under his breath once more, but hey, this is how the big girls do it! Right, ladies? So I figure if I’m reading them for research, I want to find out who they read for research? Here’s what I found out in my search around the Net:

What do you think? Have you read any of the below books? Would you add any of the below books to your To Be Read (TBR) Pile?
Do you have your own Top 5 List? Top 10? Please share with me your favorite books, favorite author or favorite genre of Chick Lit?

Blogger turned best-selling author Jen Lancaster has the let-it-all-hang-out thing down pat. In Bitter Is the New Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass, she lays her life bare with trademark wit, telling us about her psycho neighbors, unemployment, boyfriend Fletch, and those pesky extra pounds. Her newest book, My Fair Lazy, is another hilarious peek into her private life. Lancaster seeks cultural enlightenment, spurning reality TV for the opera, etiquette classes, and fine cheeses. She shared with Goodreads her favorite books that both revel in and rip off popular culture.

Room for Improvement by Stacey Ballis
"Ballis is the kind of author who instantly made me want to have her be my best friend because she's so witty and insightful. Room for Improvement, a behind-the-scenes send-up of reality television, is clever, adorable, and contains so many memorable lines that I've been quoting it for three years."

Stupid and Contagious by Caprice Crane
"I was sent an early copy of this book and decided I'd give the author a blurb if it made me laugh in the first chapter. After the first page, I realized that wouldn't be an issue. Crane is the queen of pop culture references, and I completely fell in love with her quirky, perfectly imperfect characters as they travel to Seattle to sell Starbucks on a million-dollar idea."

20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak (Goodreads Author)
"I adored Bosnak's memoir Save Karyn, so I was excited to read her first foray into fiction. Soon to be a major motion picture, 20 Times a Lady is a sometimes racy but always wry look back at a romantic past checkered with bad decisions and filled with side-splitting reunion scenes."

Unpredictable by Eileen Cook (Goodreads Author)
"Cook neatly answers the question, 'What would happen if I faked being a psychic in order to win back my old boyfriend?' One doesn't need to be psychic to predict the hilarity that ensues."
Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello (Goodreads Author)
"Tonello's memoir is part travelogue and part retail fantasy as he describes his jaunts across Europe in pursuit of the world's most coveted handbags. Told with an appealing mix of self-awareness and humor, Tonello's adventures never cease to delight." What are your favorite kind of books/genres to read?

Robyn Harding: I read only deep, meaningful, heavy literature. Seriously though, I do read mostly literary fiction, but if it’s good, I’ll read it, regardless of genre. The last book I read was ‘Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy.” I love David Sedaris. I was also really inspired by the Bridget Jones novels. Helen Fielding is the grande-dame of chick lit. I also think Marian Keyes writes great women’s fiction.

Cathy Yardley: I read all over the board… Romance novels, non-fiction, literary fiction, children’s books. I just read a feminist retelling of the Peter Pan legend, called “The Lost Girls” by Laurie Fox, which was mind-bending and interesting. And of course, I read Chick Lit. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Marianne Mancusi’s “A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur’s Court,” which is hysterical!

Sarah Mlynowski: My favorite book (lately) is The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, by Elisabeth Robinson. It was heartbreaking, hilarious and unforgettable.

Laura Caldwell: One of my favorite books is “Making a Literary Life” by Carolyn See. I read it right before my first novel, “Burning the Map”, came out. I found it to be such a beautifully written, honest and motivating look at writing and the publishing world. I only wish I’d discovered it earlier.

Valerie Frankel: The only book I repeat read every few years is Pride and Prejudice. Otherwise, I’m most haunted by John Updike’s Rabbit novels. Which book do you wish you had written?

Eileen Cook: I love Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed, Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series, anything by Meg Cabot, and John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is a favorite. In fact, there are quite a few books I would take credit for if I could. What is your favorite chick lit book?

Brenda Janowitz: There truly are too many to name! There are so many writers out there who I love, such as Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Kristin Harmel, Carole Matthews, Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner and Melissa Senate. As for favorite books, I love the sense of humor in the Shopaholic series - Becky's voice never fails to make me laugh out loud. Marian Keyes's Watermelon was one of the first chick lit books I read, and since then, I've always loved everything she's written (especially her latest, Anybody Out There?). Her books are always funny and poignant, and that's a balance I try to strike as a writer, too. All-time favorites also include Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (natch!), Jemima J by Jane Green, and Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro.

Milly Johnson: Jane Eyre. I read this first at school and it has everything for me - passion, drama and even a hint of the supernatural. It was a very influential story - with its plain heroine and un-handsome lead male. I still hold my breath at the part where Rochester comes after her up the staircase.

Lindsey Kelk: I remember reading Bridget Jones's Diary when I was about 16 and being obsessed with it but since I'm such a New York obsesso-girl it's probably The Devil Wears Prada. When I first read it a few years back, some of the experiences in there were altogether too familiar... I will say no more.

Nicola Kraus: Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. She also wrote Cause Celeb, which was a great book. She's a very intelligent writer.

Emma McLaughlin: Mine would be Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I know it is a classic but I think it fits all the chick lit criteria. It's very sexy. Who is your favorite chick lit author?

Milly Johnson:  Difficult - because I like so many diverse genres and have favorites in all of them. Classical wise - I love Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, contemporary-wise - I love Marian Keyes. Her writing was a great influence on me too.

Lindsey Kelk: I love Meg Cabot. Seriously, I just want to be her. That woman writes and writes and writes until her fingers fall off. She's never out of ideas, she writes chick lit and YA which is my dream and have you SEEN her author photo? HAWT.

Be sure to check back next Writer's Wednesday when I take a closer look at some of the genres within Chick Lit. What's your favorite genre to read? Write? Share with me and find out more on Writer's Wednesday every week.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Writers' Wednesday

This Writer's Wednesday I will be investigating the Favorite Books of some of my Favorite Chick Lit Authors. Please come visit my blog to read more on Wednesday May 26, 2010.

You'll be sure to find a few good books to add to that TBR pile and if not, share with me what books are your favorites and create your own list on my page.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

One Dream Come True: Chick Lit Audio Book Reviews by Me

As you already know if you read my blog, one of my greatest loves of all is the Chick Lit or Women's Fiction genre. Since about 2000 or 2001 I have been reading these "candy covered books" full of stories of everything related to women's lives, tackling topics of love, passion and betrayal to weddings, babies and motherhood and even the hardships of moving to a new city, death and grief. To be fair, this is only a minute sampling of subjects that you will find upon opening one of these books.

One of my first experiences to finding out about these books was at a job I had in Boston. I worked at a Trade Show Company amongst many other women and we had a large book shelf where we swapped books with each other. A few of the women I befriended received books at least once a month, some even more frequently, from one of Harlequin Publisher's affiliates, Red Dress Ink, which solely produced books of the Chick Lit genre. I had instant access to new titles and authors and living in the city, the library provided a whole world of books that I'd learned of from these women. On my train ride to and from my apartment in Somerville everyday, I read and read and read. I probably read two to three books a week...and my love for Chick Lit grew.

Years later, since leaving that job and the city (and Red Dress Ink has since retired its production of books), I have actively sought out resources on the web more than ever. I began with my local library's website to see what books were available at the library close to my current place of work. To my pleasant surprise, in this age of ever-advancing technology that I live in, I came across a new online library called Overdrive Media. Ever since discovering this awesome site, full of e-books and audio books, I have been checking out books on my library card to the max! and listening to audio books in my car, while I cook, make dinner and anywhere else I can plug in my iPod.

Around the same time, I also became active on Goodreads, a wonderful social networking Web site that acts as a virtual book club and and a whole lot more. You can find any book or author ever published, including plot summaries and author bios, win free books in daily giveaways, start your own group (on any topic you want) and find friends who share common interests. This is only the beginning of it, too. If interested, you will have to scope it out for yourself.

I joined the Chick Lit Book Club and soon was asked to become co-leader of the group with the fabulous woman who started it all. I soon found many women (and even a few men) who shared my passion for reading, writing and Chick Lit in general. One day, while talking a lot about shared interests and dreams of penning our own Chick Lit novel, a fellow Book Club member suggested I create another group called the Chick Lit Writers group. I was elated to find people as eager as I was about the subject and activity of writing and even more excited that they specifically wanted to write Chick Lit.

Other than these two sites, I know have a long list of sites I go to that I consider to be real gems for all things related to chick lit. One of my all time Favorite Chick Lit websites is the Chick Lit Club. It originates in Australia and has everything you could ever possibly want to now about the genre, from author bios and interviews, to book reviews, plot summaries, top ten lists, books-made-into-movies news and so much more! Recently, I mentioned this site on one of the Chick Lit Writers discussion boards and one of our members mentioned to me that she had seen on the Site's contact page that its Founder and is always seeking out new contributors, reviewers and women, in general, from around the globe who are passionate about Chick Lit. Additionally, another woman who participates in the Chick Lit Club had shared with me some of her freelance work on various women's Web sites and magazines. It was really inspiring to see that such opportunities to write existed for women like myself. I was eager to seek out a similar opportunity to get my foot in the door into the world of writing (especially one that included a Web site that I fully supported). As an avid chick lit reader and aspiring writer, I jumped at the opportunity to contact the Chick Lit Club's leader to see if I might be granted permission to try my hand at writing for her Web site.

I noticed the Chick Lit Club had an overwhelming number of regular book reviewers from everywhere, but especially women from the U.S. In fact at the time, the site was trying to increase its diversity of women by adding a reviewer from India. I thought for sure I would never get the chance to write for this site as just another American woman who loved to read Chick I began to can I be different from the other women reviewers from the United States on this site? How can I contribute in a unique way to benefit both the Chick Lit Club and myself? And that's when I came up with my proposal to the site's creator....

Luckily, the Chick Lit Club's creator accepted my request!! And ever since, the Chick Lit Club Presents Audio Books by Cathy Herbert. Please click on the link to check out my exclusive page where I have been reviewing unabridged audio books. I listen to all the latest and classic Chick Lit books and rate them from 1-10. Click Here For Reviews on How I Hear It:

Currently reviewed on the Site:

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin; Narrated by Christine Marshall (2006)

Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster, Narrated by Jaime Heinlein (2006)

L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad; Narrated by Lauren Conrad (2009)

Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights by Kyra Davis; Narrated by Gabra Zackman (2006)

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis; Narrated by Gabra Zackman (2005)

Shoe Addicts Anonymous by Beth Harbison; Narrated by Orlagh Cassidy (2007)

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger; Narrated by Bernadette Dunne (2002)

The First Assistant: A Continuing Tale From Behind the Hollywood Curtain by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare (2006)

Thyme Out/Second Thyme Around by Katie Fforde; Narrated by Davina Porter (1999)

And Many More To Come...

Note: I also review regular books at the Chick Lit Club, as often as I find the time to submit them. Because I am so focused on my exclusive audio book page, I have mostly been submitting those reviews, but who knows. As time goes by, and my review writing gets caught up tot he current book I'm listening to, I will probably spend my time more equally reviewing both new and classic paperback and audio books. Hopefully, this is a start of many new opportunities and writing prospects to come but for now, what more could a girl like me who loves to read and write Chick Lit ask for?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Wannabe A Chick Lit Writer: How Do You Do It? Some How-To’s From Some of My Favorite Authors

I know what you're going to say: writers write and wannabes talk about it. Well, I agree but can't I do both? My analytic mind loves research and my creative mind loves imagination, so while I'm crafting my story in my head and on print, I also like to seek out the brilliance of others and their great works of fiction at times. I figure it's a good activity to do when my eyes are burning from writing the details of my plot or when it's like my mind is running through a maze chasing after character after character. I also admit, I just like to find out the latest and greatest and the tried and true from some of my favorite authors. Like how does Emily Giffin create such wonderful characters that every time I read one of her books, I get so lost in their lives that I constantly have to remind myself that it is just fiction; Rachel and Darcy are not real. So until I can get my very first interview with one of the many fabulous chick lit writers of our world, I will be posting tips, ideas, suggestions and opinions from a variety of sources that I have collected over the years. (If you would be willing to answer some of my questions on how to be a writer and just life, in general, please please please do not hesitate to email me at cgraceh at gmail dot com.) I would love to have you on my site! (Yes, you!)

Some Tips (And Opinions) from Jennifer Weiner, Author of Good in Bed:
(Abridged slightly (please don't  take offense) for the purposes of my blog. Please click on link below for the complete hilarity of Ms. Weiner's original post.)

Well, there's no one path to take. Novelists come in all shapes and sizes. They're men and women, wunderkinds and retirees. Some of them are very attractive. The rest of us resent them horribly. And if there was a single magic bullet, or a list of steps to follow that would guarantee publication, believe me, someone would have published it by now. What follows is just my take on the question - a completely idiosyncratic, opinionated, flawed and somewhat sassy take on some of the steps you can take to get published. Important caveat: I have only written two books, and I'm thirty-two, which, as my mother would hasten to point out, means I am probably not qualified to give advice to anyone about anything. If you're looking for lessons from the life masters - people who've made long careers in the world of fiction - then run, do not walk, to your local bookshop and buy Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's utterly indispensable Bird by Bird, and Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings and Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft.

If you want my advice, read on (and if you've already written your book and just want to figure out how to get it published, skip ahead to Step 8).

1. The Unhappy Childhood

Why do unhappy kids grow up to be writers? I think because being an outsider - a geek, a dweeb, a weirdo, a smart, mouthy girl or boy who just doesn't fit in - means that you're naturally equipped for observing life carefully. You're not on the inside, you're on the outside - and nobody's a more careful, dedicated observer of life than a kid or teenager who's trying to figure out how to finally fit in with the in-crowd.

Also (and this is totally my own take on things, unproven by any kind of study or research), but I think that kids whose parents are divorced, separated, single, or otherwise un-Cleaver-ish might have a slight edge over those who grew up in happily-married homes.

2. The Miserable Love Life

Again, a crucial ingredient for the formation of a novelist - romantic humiliation and heartbreak. The unhappy childhood gives you the tools of observation. Unrequited crushes, romantic despair, a few memorable break-ups, will give you something to write about, an understanding of grief. No prospect of heartbreak in sight? I can provide phone numbers upon request. Now that our would-be novelist has survived high school, heartbreak, and perhaps her parents' divorce, it's time to talk higher education. My advice?

3. Major in Liberal Arts (but not necessarily creative writing)

Why? Because a liberal arts education, whether you're studying history or anthropology or political science or English, teaches how to read, how to write, and how to reason. Once you've got the foundation of a liberal arts education - you know how to think. And in order to write, you have to be able to make sense of the landscape of the world. In order to be any kind of artistic innovator, you have to understand everything that came before you. And a liberal arts education gives you a framework in which to place your own experiences, a context you can use to look at everything else, a framework that any writer needs.

4. Get a Job (not an MFA)

This is pretty controversial, but I think if you want to be a writer, you're probably going to be better served by going to work (or by traveling, if you've got the financial wherewithal to do so). Best piece of advice ever - go into journalism. "You'll see a different part of the world. You'll meet all kinds of people. You'll be writing every day, on deadline" - which, of course, turned out to be invaluable when it came time to write fiction. Best of all, you'll be getting paid to write, instead of paying someone to tell you that you can. And if you can't be a journalist, or aren't inclined, or can't get hired? Go do something that's going to take you out of your comfort zone, putting you in contact with different kinds of people, perhaps in a different part of the world. You're looking for challenges, for adventure, for new faces and new places. Plus, if you've followed Part Two of this plan, you're most likely single, and will want to get out of town anyhow.

"But if I got an MFA, I'd get to spend two years just concentrating on my writing!" True. But remember: a writer writes, whether or not she's in school for writing.

5. Write to Please Yourself

Tell the story that's been growing in your heart, the characters you can't keep out of your head, the tale story that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning. Don't write something just because you think it will sell, or fit into the pigeonhole du jour. Tell the story you want to tell, and worry about how to sell it later (more advice on that to come). And also…

6. Get a Dog

Okay, you're thinking, what does getting a dog have to do with becoming a writer? More than you'd think. Writing is about talent and creativity, but it's also about discipline - about the ability to sit yourself down in that seat, day after day, often after eight hours of work, and make yourself do it, day after day, even if you're not getting published yet, even if you're not getting paid. It's a form of training that's as much physical as mental in nature - you sit down, you do the writing, no matter what distractions are out there, no matter that you're tired or bored or uninspired.

Being a dog owner requires a similar form of discipline. You wake up every morning. You walk the dog. You do this whether you're tired, depressed, broke, hung over, or have been recently dumped. You do it. And while you're walking, you're thinking about plot, or characters, or that tricky bit of dialogue that's had you stumped for days. You're out in the fresh air. Your legs are moving. Your dog is sniffing the butts of other dogs. It gives you a routine, a physical rhythm, a loyal companion, and a way to meet new people when you're in a new place. It gets your body used to doing the same thing at the same time - and if you're walking the dog for half an hour at the same time of every day, it's an easy step to go sit in front of the computer and create for half an hour at the same time every day.

7. Get Published

If you want to be a writer, you've got to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (not to mention evil reader reviews on You've got to put your stuff out there for the world to see, and fall in love with, or revile. In short, you've got to get published.

If you're trying to sell a short story - and this is where I'd recommend you start - you can just be Joe or Jane Schmoe, with a great short story and a killer cover letter, and you can get published. I sold my first story to Seventeen magazine - one of the shrinking number of mass-market magazines that still publishes fiction. No agent. I just printed up my story, wrote a cover letter saying who I was and what I'd done, and mailed it off, and was thrilled and delighted a few months later when I got a phone call….and, eventually, a check. Eventually, you get started on the story you want to tell - your novel. You finish said novel. Finally, it's time to….

8. Find an Agent

Agents want to find you just as badly as you want to find them.

Think about it. How do agents get paid? By selling stuff to publishers. How do they find the things to sell that are going to make them money? By referrals, by word of mouth, and, in many cases, including the case of my agent, from people they've never heard of before who basically just wandered in off the street. They're looking for the next Grisham, the next Susan Isaacs, the next Tony Hillerman, because if they find that person, they're going to get paid. It's as simple as that.

Step one: I spent a day in the bookstore, and in my own shelves, going through the books that in some way resembled GOOD IN BED, making careful note of the names of agents (and agents are almost always thanked in the acknowledgements, so it's not like it's some big secret).

Step two: I availed myself of one of the many fine guides to literary agencies available, that lists contact names, addresses, websites and phone numbers and whether the agencies will even consider unsolicited material (most will, some won't). The Literary Marketplace publishes a yearly guide to agents. This can be your guide.

Step three: I put together a list of about thirty agencies, places that represented writers sort of like me who were willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts.

Step four: I wrote a kick-ass cover letter. It began with a paragraph from the opening pages from GOOD IN BED, ending with the line where Cannie reads the phrase "Loving a Larger Woman" and realizes, with a sinking heart and M&Ms stuck to her teeth, that the larger woman is her. It went on to say who I was, and what I'd done - that I'd published short stories in Seventeen and Redbook and written non-fiction pieces for Mademoiselle and It said that I was currently a staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer, that I'd finished my novel, and was seeking representation. I sent off about two dozen of these cover letters, sat back, and waited.

Step five: Believe that the good agents are out there, and with enough hard work and self-addressed stamped envelopes, you will find the one who's right for you.

Which leads to an important point…

9. Be a Smart Consumer

A good agent will readily discuss who she's worked with, at which houses, and what percentage of your earnings you can expect to share with her. Most importantly, a good agent should have a plan - a vision not just for your book, but for your career -- that sounds and feels right to you, the author.

10. Read

Read everything. Read fiction and non-fiction, read hot best sellers and the classics you never got around to in college. Read men, read women, read travel guides and Harlequins and epic poetry and cookbooks and cereal boxes, if you're desperate. Get the rhythm of good writing in your ears. Cram your head with characters and stories. Abuse your library privileges. Never stop looking at the world, and never stop reading to find out what sense other people have made of it. If people give you a hard time and tell you to get your nose out of a book, tell them you're working. Tell them it's research. Tell them to pipe down and leave you alone.

So that's all I've got in the way of advice. As always, feel free to email me with follow-up questions. Take care, and happy writing!

Top 5 Writing Tips From Hester Browne, Author of The Little Lady Agency

1. Don’t base characters on real people, or attempt to exact revenge for any heartbreaks, personal slights, or family feuds. At best, the writing will be too painful for anyone else to read; at worst, it will be published, and you’ll have to deal with it.

2. Read as much as you can, in as many genres as you can. Even bad books can teach you something (why was the pace wrong? Why didn’t the love story feel true? Why did you get bored?)

3. Pace yourself for the long haul. Lots of people start writing novels, then lose interest and energy. You should be aiming for 90,000 words minimum for a mainstream novel; slightly less for a Mills & Boon or Little Black Dress romance. Try to set yourself a deadline and work backwards from that – what’s an achievable weekly word count?

4. Write the novel you want to read; if you’re not excited about it, and anxious to know what happens next for your characters, your reader won’t be either. If you’re not excited, ask yourself why – is it predictable? Turn it around – think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to your heroine, then do it.

5. Think twice to avoid clichĂ©s. It’s easy to write on autopilot, or mirror Characters You Have Loved Before. Be honest: is your heroine’s mother a control freak who’s desperate for grandchildren? Does she max out her credit cards? Is she, in fact, Becky Bloomwood/Bridget Jones/Bella Swann?

**A very funny (and genuinely instructive) book to read is How Not to Write a Novel If You Ever Want to Get Published, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. They’re agents. They’ve seen it all.

Top 5 Writing Tips From Martel Maxwell, Author of Scandalous
1. Finish it. Yes it’s a mammoth task but if you really want it, just do it.

2. Believe your story is worth telling. Readers are going to laugh, cry or be inspired by your writing. They are.

3. Live life fully to have great experiences and characters that influence your novel.

4. Find what works for you – getting away to write alone, making your home your writing place – whatever it may be, figure it out and apply it.

5. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. If someone doesn’t like your novel, that’s fine but it’s only their opinion. Move on, keep knocking on doors like there’s no tomorrow. Hustle. It’s worth a fight and it will happen

1. Be true to yourself as a writer - and a human being. If you pretend to be someone you’re not, your writing voice will sound forced,” write Mlynowski and Jacobs. Create a world you understand, that you naturally gravitate towards. Jacobs writes, “I’ve gotten tons of manuscripts from older women trying to sound like 25 year old hipsters, recent college grads trying to affect the voice of a hardened career girl, and women who’ve never spent a day in New York City trying to work the attitude of a grizzled Manhattanite. Sure, some people can pull off these hat tricks, but I’m here to tell you that most can’t.”

2. Always have your wit about you. Showing your sense of humor is key to writing chick lit – and sprinkling any piece of writing with bits of wit makes it more interesting and memorable. Successfully writing humor is difficult, and requires practice, practice, practice! For help, read How to Make Your Writing Edgy and Quirky.

3. There’s a fine line between clever and catty. “So much of chick lit is centered around revenge and spite, but you have to earn that for your character,” write Mlynowski and Jacobs. I didn’t know revenge and spite are keys to writing chick lit – and I can’t recall many books that revolve around those qualities – but their point is sound. Aim for edgy and quirky writing…but don’t get caught in the “catty” trap!

4. Remember that good writing isn’t as easy as it reads. Whether you’re writing chick lit, your third novel, or your 33rd article this year – good writing is hard work and requires mountains of discipline. This “chick lit writing tip” applies to all successful writers, published or not, famous or not.

5. Make sure it feels right. “Don’t keep working on a story or with a character you hate writing,” write Mlynowski and Jacobs in See Jane Write. “We’re not saying that every time you hit a rough patch you should give up. Au contraire – you need to write through that.” Writing is hard work, but it shouldn’t be something you dread. Write about topics you enjoy, that feel natural (because the more you write, the more your writing skills will improve).

6. Commit yourself to writing your book. Again, this “chick lit writing tip” applies to all genres of writing! If you’ve finally generated a brilliant plot, character, article idea, or book topic – then commit to that idea and start writing. If you struggle with self-discipline, read Tips for Staying Motivated to Write.

7. Be prepared for rejection. This is a key writing tip because rejection is part of every writer’s work: “If you give up at the first rejection, then you’re selling your book – and yourself – short,” write Mlynowski and Jacobs. “Sometimes the best thing to do is take whatever advice was given in your rejection letter and rework that manuscript; in other cases, you might want to start something brand new and come back to the first story later.” Another key to writing in any genre is to learn how to fail and bounce back from rejection as a writer.

“The single most important element of your chick lit novel is your main character,” say Mlynowski and Jacobs. I think character is the most important element of most novels, articles, and even nonfiction books. If readers don’t care about a character or topic, they won’t stick with the book or article…and neither will literary agents, editors, or publishers.

Various Quotes on Writing from some Pretty Published Ladies of the Genre:

I never bother to structure a book. And the worst thing you can do is to concentrate on plot at the expense of the characters. As long as the characters live and breathe, not an awful lot need happen. Don’t get too complex. ~ Freya North is the author of Home Truths

If a book is good enough it can break any rule. It’s important to create a fictional world that people want to be in for whatever reason. I avoid extended “biological” sex scenes. Unless they’re done brilliantly, they can be a bit cringe-making to read, let alone write! ~ Sophie Kinsella’s Mini Shopaholic is out later this year

Women should write from the heart, and because they can’t not write. I don’t think that there is a chick-lit formula: you come across some heroines like Bridget Jones, but mine tend to be bitches. Entertain yourself, and don’t ever imagine your mother reading your book. ~ Adele Parks, author of Young Wives’ Tales

When it comes to women’s fiction, critics have a condescension chromosome. The demeaning label chick-lit says it all. While male authors such as Nick Hornby, who also write contemporary comic fiction satirizing the sex war are hailed as the new Chekhov, you will be dismissed as having undergone some kind of DIY lobotomy. ~ Kathy Lette, author of How to Kill Your Husband

Dialogue is a great way of showing character — a gushy person might say “darling” a lot, an older person will speak differently from a younger person. When a man doesn’t say much it adds to his mystique. It’s also a great way to speed up the action. If you find yourself writing long paragraphs of description, bung some dialogue in. ~Fiona Walker wrote the Lodes Valley series

If you're comfortable writing autobiographical fiction, well, writing in the first person plus honesty basically gives you your main character — you. It helps if you’re funny and interesting and willing to humiliate yourself. ~ Sarah Dunn, author of The Big Love

If something comes out of a character's mouth that makes you wonder if she’d say that, chances are, she wouldn’t say that. You have to go back and ‘listen’ and revise. ~ Lynda Curnyn, author of Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriend

From See Jane Write: A Girl's Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs

Writers' Wednesdays: Come Back Next (And Every) Week for More Tips on My Blog 

Bookinistas! 3 Months, 30 Books: The Spring/Summer Chick Lit Reading Challenge

I have been a member on Goodreads since late early 2010. It is a wonderful community to join and share with others your passion for books; reading, writing, collecting them; creating lists, adding TBR books to your pile, finding out which author is the latest and greatest, up-and-coming or hidden treasure. I co-moderate the Chick Lit Book Club with its founder, and I also started the Chick Lit Writers group, dedicated to women of all ages, aspiring to see their words in print, mainly of the Chick Lit genre but all are welcome. I typically read one book a month and discuss it with the others in Chick Lit Book Club and then I take part in challenges started by other groups.

So it's been a while since I've blogged (too many school and work responsibilities!) and since this site is my haven to share with my interests, passions, dreams and goals, I thought I'd set up a new section to include the Reading Challenges that I am taking part in. I will update them as I finish each book and try to include a review (or link to a review) and information on where to buy the book.

I hope this can become a resource to you for finding books and authors or trying out a new book or series. Please share or link your reading challenges with me. I always like to add new books to my ever growing pile! And, please join any of our groups on Goodreads. We are always welcoming new members.

This first challenge was created by the Goodreads' group, Red Dress Ink Fans. It is their To Be Read Spring/Summer Reading Challenge! (April 1st - June 30, 2010)

The goal of this challenge is to help us clean off our shelves and our TBR lists without acquiring any new books! The premise is simple: 30 Books, 3 months, as many as you can read!

I am in the middle of this challenge but please, read along with me or pick your own books based on the rules of the challenge!

The Rules:
1. For this challenge, you make three separate lists of 10 books each (plus up to 5 alternates if you so choose):
List A: Your Oldest 10 Goodreads TBR Books
List B: 10 Random TBR Books
List C: Any 10 TBR books – your choice
2. After the challenge starts (April 1), you can’t change the books on your lists. Up until then, shift whatever you’d like.
3. Each book can only count on one list for this challenge. So if one of your 10 Oldest TBR Books also ends up as one of your 10 Random choices, you need to pick a new book for one or the other.
4. You don’t have to go in order, and you can read off any list – but you can only count the book once.
5. You can select up to five alternate books for each list, and choose to substitute them for up to five books on each list. Alternate books have to be selected in the same method as the books on the list. (i.e. Your alternate books for list A will be books 11-15 on your GR TBR list)
6. Exception: If the book is in a series and you haven’t read up to that point yet, you may substitute an earlier book from the series (even if it’s not one of your oldest TBR or wasn’t randomly generated). Example: When I tried generating random numbers, I ended up with Janet Evanovich’s “To the Nines” as one of my choices, but I have only read the first book in that series. So I could use “Two for the Dough” in its place.
7. First one to cross off all their books wins!

Selecting your books:

List A: Your Oldest 10 Goodreads TBR Books
1. Go to your bookshelves and click on your “To Read” shelf
2. Sort this shelf in Edit view. This should number your books in the order in which you added them to your shelf.
3. Select books 1 – 10 on this shelf – these are the 10 oldest books on your GR TBR list. Books 11-15 may serve as your alternate choices.
4. If the books skip a number (i.e. if you have books 1-4, 7-10), then that means you’ve read or removed a few. So just select the first 10 (in the case above, I’d take 1-4, 7-12), and the next 5 as alternates.

List B: 10 Random TBR Books
1. Go to
2. Using the Random Number Generator feature, type in 1 as the minimum number, and the total number of books on your To Read shelf as the maximum number. Click “generate” to generate 10 different random numbers.
3. Go to your To Read shelf in Edit view, and select the 10 books whose numbers correspond with the random numbers you generated.
4. You may generate 5 additional random numbers and use those books as alternates.
5. If you don’t have a book that matches a number that was generated, that means you have already read the book or removed it from your list. So, continue generating numbers until you find one that matches a book on your list.

List C: Any 10 TBR Books – Your Choice
1. Pick any 10 books out of your TBR stack. Any 10 books work – but you can’t change them once the challenge has started. The main goal is to not acquire any new books for this list!

To Post Points:

Each book read is worth 10 points (300 total points). To claim points, post the book you read and the list it is from. First person to read all the books on their lists is the winner!

Cathy's TBR Challenge Lists
List A: Oldest TBR Books:
1. Secrets of a Shoe Addict – Beth Harbison
2. Hope in a Jar - Beth Harbison 5/16/10
3. How to Sleep with a Movie Star - Kristin Harmel 04/06/10
4. The Art of French Kissing- Kristin Harmel 4/18/10
5. The Blonde Theory - Kristin Harmel
6. Baby Proof – Emily Giffin 4/18/10*
7. Citizen Girl – Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin
8. Nanny Returns - Kraus and Emma McLaughlin 5/2/10
9. Tales of A Drama Queen – Lee Nichols
10. True Lies of a Drama Queen - Lee Nichols

11. Hand Me Down - Lee Nichols
12. Wednesday Night Witches - Lee Nichols
13. Fashionistas – Lynn Messina
14. Trials of Tiffany Trott – Isabel Wolff
15. Rescuing Rose - Isabel Wolff

List B: 10 Random TBR Books
1. 144 – Slightly Single - Wendy Markham
2. 131 – Italian for Beginners – Kristin Harmel
3. 205 – Are you there Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea? – Chelsea Handler 4/2/10
4. 189 - The Chocolate Lovers’ Club – Carole Matthews
5. 167 – Such A Pretty Fat – Jen Lancaster 4/27/10
6. 133 - Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife – Niamh Greene
7. 121 - Second Thyme Around/Thyme Out – Katie Fforde 4/23/10*
8. 72 - The First Assistant – Mimi Hare & Clare Naylor 4/14/10*
9. 122 – Wild Designs – Katie Fforde
10. 183 – Tallulahland – Lynn Messina

11. 115 – The Importance of Being Married - Gemma Townley
12. 95 – Carrie Pilby - Carrie Lissner
13. 81 – The Accidental Virgin - Valerie Frankel
14. 218 – Sex as a Second Language – Alisa Kwitney
15. 154 – The Pact – Jennifer Sturman

List C: Any TBR Choice
1. Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft – Mindy Klasky 4/10/10
2. The Night I got Lucky – Laura Caldwell 4/13/10
3. The Year of Living Famously – Laura Caldwell 5/4/10
4. The Carrie Diaries – Candace Bushnell
5. Holly’s Inbox – Holly Denham
6. Pretty in Plaid – Jen Lancaster 5/6/10
7. Enchanted Inc – Shanna Swendson 4/22/10
8. A Total Waste of Makeup – Kim Gruenfelder
9. Sammy’s Hill – Kristin Gore 5/12/10
10. Diary of a Mad Bride – Laura Wolf

11. The Big Love – Sarah Dunn
12. The Wedding Girl – Madeleine Wickham 4/8/10
13. Monkey Business – Sarah Mlynowski
14. Rachel’s Holiday – Marian Keyes
15. One for the Money – Janet Evanovich 4/26/10

16/30 Books
160/300 Points

*Visit for my very own Audio Book reviews of these books!

If you want a review of any of the books I've crossed off so far, please email me at cgraceh at gmail dot com and I will post them asap. (No spammers please:) Thanks!