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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Prompt: Dating Advice

By Marilyn Friedman

It's been a chilly couple of days here in LA!  Get cozy with your muse at Writing Pad in one of our wonderful February or March classes (see below for a full list).  We'll help you light a fire under your burgeoning writing career and put the sizzle in your writing!  You won't want to miss Meet Me Now, Squeeze Me Later: Crafting the Studio Romantic Comedy class tonight with Emmy award nominated writer Victor Levin and Memorable Memoir: Make Your True Tales Thrilling class this Sunday afternoon with Heather Havrilesky.  There is only 1 spot left in those classes!  Also, the deadline to sign up for the glorious Writing Pad Mountain Retreat (Mar. 9-11) has been extended.  There are only 2 spots left!

Meet Me Now, Squeeze Me Later: Crafting the Studio Romantic Comedy
Memorable Memoir: Make Your True Tales Thrilling


Writing Pad Mountain Retreat

Fiction, Memoir, Romance
Memorable Memoir: Make Your True Tales Thrilling
Boom! And The World Changed: Page One Of Your New Novel
The Found Story: Finding Your Story In The Street

Journalism, Personal Essay and Web Writing
Literary Feast: Writing A Culinary Masterpiece
You in 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing The Personal Essay

Playwriting and Writing For Actors
It's All About You: A One-Person Show Workshop
From The Page To The Stage: Finish That One-Person Show

Work The Room: Mastering The Power of The Pitch

Writing for Children and Young Adults
From Bedtime Stories To Tales of Teenage Woe: Writing For Kids and YA

Writing Prompt: It's the day after Valentine's Day so I couldn't resist doing another fun love related writing prompt! Make a list of 3 pieces of dating advice that you have been given or pieces of advice that you have for others.  Pick one and write for 10 minutes about it.  For instance, you could write a story where someone doesn't follow this piece of advice and it comes back to bite him or her. Then, post your writing in the comments of this blog for the chance to win a free writing class. I'm going to write about this piece of advice:"Don't try to change someone that you are dating.  It won't work."

Write about a piece of dating advice.  Post your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog, and you could win a free class!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jessica Brody: On Novel Ideas and Commercial Success

By Erin Auerbach

Jessica Brody will be the first to tell you that her “overnight success” took at least five years. Instead of letting rejection letters from her first attempts at book publishing discourage her, she took agents’ comments and used them to improve her writing. Now in her early 30s, Jessica has sold nine books!

St. Martin's Press published her adult novels "The Fidelity Files" and "Love Under Cover". Currently, Jessica is focusing primarily on young adult fiction. She has published "The Karma Club" and "My Life Undecided", and recently sold five more YA titles to Macmillan children's publishing group, including "52 Reasons to Hate My Father", which will be released in summer 2012, and "Unremembered", the first book in a new science fiction series for teens, set to come out in 2013. 

Aspiring novelists will have the unique opportunity of studying with Jessica when she teaches at Writing Pad's Mountain Retreat in Idyllwild the weekend of March 9th. Until then, Jessica talks about landing an agent, developing characters, organizing a story, and how to stay motivated.

1. You have an impressive number of book deals.  How did you get your first book deal?  Do you have an agent?

I had gotten rejection after rejection on "The Fidelity Files" (because agents couldn’t identify with the main character), but one agent who initially said no made some suggestions to improve the story. She suggested that my main character be a kick ass sex pot. I told her I loved the idea and asked if she would be willing to look at the first 50 pages of a rewrite. She said yes. I was so inspired that I sent the first 50 rewritten pages in about a week. She loved the partial rewrite and asked me for more. The agency signed me based on 100 pages of the new angle. My agent knew a publisher would be pleased to work with an writer who could embrace critiques and make changes. Once I completed the manuscript, my agent got it sold in 10 days. My overnight success story took five years.

2. How did you learn your craft?  How much of it did you teach yourself (and how did you teach yourself) and how much did you learn from people you worked with?

With "The Fidelity Files", I had to teach myself. I wrote the 400-page manuscript three times. In the first draft of the novel, my main character hated her job and was cynical. The rejection letters said, “Why is she doing her job if she hates it so much?” So I made changes and turned her into someone who loved her job and wanted to help people, and that’s what made the manuscript successful.

I also discovered a book called "Save the Cat!", and it basically broke down how to write any good story. And it made it sound so simple so I realized I had been struggling for nothing. I use the "Save the Cat!" method to outline my novels.

3. What are the qualities of a good novel, and how did you try to apply this to your own books?

I say that, for me, the qualities of a good novel are a concept that you can pitch in one sentence and a strong voice. I like to think that when someone reads an opening of a book they will know that it’s me who wrote it without looking at the cover. A strong opening that pulls people in to the story is also important, as well as a fast pace. There should never be a point where the reader doesn’t want to know what happens next. Unpredictability is good, too.

4. How important is it for writers to know how to package their materials when seeking an agent or publisher?

No matter what you write, you have to come up with something that's publishable. Your first novel has to have a concept that hooks you. It starts with one sentence. If you can’t sell the book in one sentence, you won’t be able to sell it in a paragraph or page. It will save you so much agony to have a pitch-able concept which you can articulately state from your query letter to the manuscript.
5. Your books are almost impossible to put down.  What are some of the techniques you use to keep your readers hooked in?

Short chapters help. I can’t say that I coined the concept. (James Patterson, an idol of mine, does this.) I also use cliffhangers or zingers. I want the final sentence of each chapter to resonate with the reader. Sometimes I have the character reflect on something big that happens that’s going to change the course of the story. Or I’ll cut in the middle of the scene and end on one line of inner of outer dialogue. Or I'll end with a character's dilemma or a character figuring something out.  I put suspense and mystery in everything. For instance in "My Life Undecided", I have a grumpy old woman in a home where my main character is doing community service. The protagonist has to find out why the old lady is so mean. She discovers something about the old lady’s past which helps the main character shed some light on her own life. You never want your main character to know everything. Otherwise, there’s no reason to have a story about her.

6. You are a very prolific writer.  How long does it take you to write your first draft of each manuscript? How do you keep yourself from not getting overwhelmed by your writing deadlines and stay motivated to finish your books?

It takes me about three to four months to finish a first draft of YA (about five months for adult) I try to write at least five days a week. (It doesn’t have to be Monday through Friday, either.) I give myself one or two “cheat” days a week.  But I get overwhelmed with every deadline! I like to say writing a book is like taking a road trip from New York to LA. You have to say, “Today, I only have to drive from New York to Pennsylvania. And I had to stop for gas and snacks at a convenience store on the way.”  With writing, you can say, "now I have to get to the part with the character does this or that." Staying motivated can be hard. I have lots of ways to trick to myself into writing. I always write outside of my house. I go to a coffee shop. It helps me get into writing mode. I don’t bring my power chord (artificial ticking time bomb). It gives me a finite time to write. These are things I’ve developed over the last five years and they work.

7. What advice do you have for aspiring authors of YA or adult fiction?

I have a lot of advice. Write often and try to write everyday even if it’s not part of your manuscript: a blog, a letter and email, etc.  Good writing takes practice. It’s like learning a sport or musical instrument. You have to do it often to get good. You can’t become a classical pianist in only a month. I’ve been publishing books now for about five years and with every book, I learn more about myself as a writer.

Thanks, Jessica for sharing this helpful advice with us.  Don't forget to sign up for the Mountain Retreat for your chance to study with Jessica. We can't wait to see you in Idyllwild in March!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mountain Retreat Recipe: Braised Short Ribs

By Pace Webb/Marilyn Friedman

Picture this: you've escaped to a wintery paradise to detox from your busy life and explore the gorgeous mountain town of Idyllwild. You are relaxing in a hot tub, enjoying a breathtaking landscape and the company of fellow writers. 

After warming up by a cozy fire with some decadent braised short ribs and a steaming mug of glug, inspiration hits.You spend the rest of the weekend completing your bestseller!  Writing Pad's Mountain Retreat can help make this dream come true.  Our all day writing workshops and one-on-one consultations with successful authors will help you coax your words onto the page and hone your craft.

Don’t wait to set your writing goals higher. Sign up by calling 323-333-2954 or email to sign up before it is full. The deadline to sign up is Tuesday, Feb. 7th and there are only 2 spots left!

To tide you over until March, our Retreat Executive Chef, Pace Webb of Taste of Pace, has been gracious enough to share her short ribs recipe so you can get a taste of the retreat in your own kitchen.  Pace says, "Braising is definitely my favorite way to cook meat, but it’s by no means the most difficult.  I love braising meats so much not only because of the tender juicy texture it produces, but because it transforms a tough cut of meat into a super star."

Braised Short Ribs (serves 6)
3 lbs. short ribs
1 (750 mL) bottle red wine
2 onions, large dice
3 carrots, large dice
6 ribs celery, large dice
5 sprigs thyme
5 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Liberally season the meat with salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet on high.  When pan is hot enough add the vegetable oil and brown meat on all sides.  Transfer to a casserole dish and set aside.  Saute mire poix (the French word for the classic combination of 50% onions, 30% celery, 20% carrots) in the remaining fat until lightly browned.  Deglaze pan with some of red wine (just enough to remove the fat bits from the pan) and add the mixture to the meat in the casserole dish.  Cover the dish with a tight lid or aluminum foil.  Braise in oven for about 6 hours or until fork tender, but still attached to the bone.  Discard all aromatics and vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.  Braised meats love to be served over purees.  

If that didn't make your mouth water, then check out Pace's sumptuous sample dinner menu for the retreat:

Sample Dinner Menu for Mountain Retreat
Autumn Salad of Persimmon, Asian Pear with Truffle Sherry Vinaigrette
Braised Short Ribs 
Red Wine Rosemary Mushroom Risotto (Vegetarian Option) 
Sauteed Baby Chard 
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Cardamom Banana Pudding with Slow Whipped Honey Cream and Pistachio Powder

And here's a little bit about our fabulous chef, Pace:
Pace Webb is a chef who runs a monthly supper club, teaches cooking classes, and caters through her company, Taste of Pace.  She has catered parties for celebrities such as Beyonce, Rob Lowe, Jamie Pressly, Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Eric Bana, Topher Grace, Alfonso Ribiero, Matt Bomer, and Lee Pace.  She took the winning prize at SEE-LA’s Lean Times, Green Times Chef-Off Competition at the National Autry Center. She appeared on HGTVs Fantasy Wedding in a Week as the chef in charge of the big day, Food Stylist and Guest Chef on Fox's Fran Drescher Tawk Show, and a contestant on the new Food Network series Extreme Chef and ABC's Time Machine Chef.   AOL named Chef Pace their Kitchen Expert for the Walmart Daily Solutions Series that airs every Tuesday and had a long standing weekly webisode series with The Green Girls TV cooking up environmentally friendly quick and tasty dishes. 

We can't wait to see you at the Retreat!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Prompt: First Love

By Marilyn Friedman
Whether or not you want it to, Valentine's Day will be here before you know it.  So we have some fun classes to help you get in the mood!  You won't want to miss I Love You Silly: Crafting The Perfect Romance Novel with RITA award-nominated author Zoe Archer on Feb. 12th and Meet Me Now, Squeeze Me Later: Crafting the Studio Romantic Comedy on Feb. 15th with Emmy award-nominated writer Victor Levin.  If you are in San Francisco next weekend, I'll be teaching Hanky Panky: Writing The Erotic on Feb. 11th at the Writing Salon.

Also, what could be more romantic and pampering than a weekend away, just you and your muse (and a bunch of sexy writers)?  The deadline to sign up for the Writing Pad Mountain Retreat (Mar. 9-11) is this coming Tuesday!  In the meantime, here's what else is on the menu at the Pad, and of course, below is your free writing prompt:

Writing The Story Worthy Life: Memorable Memoirs (with Monica Holloway, Meghan Daum, and Heather Havrilesky this Fri., Feb. 3)

Blogger's Paradise: Creating Irresistible Content
Storytelling at Light Speed: The Art of Flash Fiction
I Love You Silly: Crafting The Perfect Romance Novel
It's All About You: A One-Person Show Workshop


Fiction, Memoir, Romance
Memorable Memoir: Make Your True Tales Thrilling

Journalism, Personal Essay and Web Writing
Literary Feast: Writing A Culinary Masterpiece
You in 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing The Personal Essay

Playwriting and Writing For Actors
From The Page To The Stage: Finish That One-Person Show

Meet Me Now, Squeeze Me Later: Crafting the Studio Romantic Comedy
Work The Room: Mastering The Power of The Pitch

Writing Prompt: Make a list of your 3 first loves (or your fictional character's first love).  Pick one and add a sensory detail that you associate with that person (smell, taste, sound, touch) and write for 10 minutes about that person.  Then, post your writing in the comments of this blog for the chance to win a free writing class. My husband's first love was a girl he met at camp.  He says that her kisses smelled like jasmine flowers.  Boy oh boy, does that make me jealous!  My first love was a boy who I was afraid would lock braces with me if he ever kissed me.

Write about your first love.  Post your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog, and you could win a free class!