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We’re Having A Party–March 3rd 7:30 PM

Windy City Blues, my novel about Chess Records, the Chicago blues and the Civil Rights Movement will be out in the world in just a few weeks (Feb. 28). To celebrate John and I have decided to throw a blues bash at the legendary Chess Records studio, now home to the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation and you’re invited!

There are a million reasons why we wanted to have this book event at this particular location. This historic landmark at 2120 South Michigan Avenue is where such musical icons including Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor and even The Rolling Stones recorded. 2120 has been called “hallowed ground” by Keith Richards. This is the very place where (among many other greats) Etta James recorded “At Last” and where Chuck Berry recorded Johnny B. Goode.

Knowing that we’re going to launch this book at that site gives me goose bumps. And we have some very special guests that will be there that night including members of the Chess family and the Dixon family.

In addition to talking about Windy City Blues here’s a bit more of what we have planned that night. Everyone will have an opportunity to tour the legendary studio and even hold Willie Dixon’s bass! We’ve invited Doktu Rhute to give us a harmonica lesson. We have lots of prizes to give away, including these: IMG_2869

But c’mon now, what’s a blues party without lives music?! So we’ll head just a few doors down the street to Motor Row Brewing where our friends Chuck Crane and Gail Reid will perform some classic blues for you.

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We’ll be serving lite bites and libations too. This is a ticketed event and space it limited so if you’re in the Chicago area or  know someone here who would like to attend, there’s still some spaces available. Purchase tickets here:

 

FIND YOUR 2017 JAM

Here’s a very cool idea that the wizards in the Berkley marketing department at Penguin Random House came up with to promote my upcoming novel, Windy City Blues. It super cool, quick and fun! Plus, you get to watch a video of the song!  But wait–there’s more. If you take the quiz you”ll also be entered to win one of ten advance copies of Windy City Blues.  

Click here to start your quiz: http://app.snapapp.com/WindyCityBlues_2017SongPrediction 

I did it and got “Let the Good Times Roll” by B.B. King. Share your results and feel free to share this post!

Have fun and good luck with the giveaway!

 

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To Scrivener or not to Scrivener

Ah, the blank page. That’s what’s facing me down right now as I prepare to start a new novel. I’m super excited about this book, which has been living inside my head for the past few weeks, percolating away. But at the moment, I have not committed a single word to the page and though I’ve been here many times before, I always forget how intimidating this writing process is.

I have my basic manuscript template, which has served me now through five published novels, but I’m thinking of mixing it up for this one. So now the big question is, to Scrivener or not to Scrivener. I know writers who swear by Scrivener and I know others who swear at Scrivener. And having viewed the tutorial and then trying to go it alone, I can see why.

The features and capabilities of Scrivener are many and impressive. The thought of having all my research right at my fingertips and the ability to move a chapter or scene with a single click is oh so tempting. But the corkboard continues to baffle me as well as some of the other sophisticated Inspector offerings. And then there’s my own personal process and my silly romantic notions of what organic writing is supposed to be. How does that fit in with something so calculating and systematic as some cold, impersonal software designed to make me writer faster, better, easier?

I’m not an outliner. I will start this book—as I have with my previous novels—having a vague sense of what the book is about. I will write myself into 20,000 word corners, I will create and destroy secondary characters, I will establish and abandon sub plots and secondary story lines. And when I turn in the final manuscript I will go back and look at the proposal I submitted to my editor and hardly recognize the original concept. That for me is the magic of writing and I fear that I might lose some of that fluidity by going the Scrivener route.

So here is the question I throw out to you—should I or shouldn’t I?

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GIVEAWAY Time!

About two weeks ago my publisher, Berkley, began running the first Goodreads giveaway for WINDY CITY BLUES– 25 advance copies looking for a good home. This giveaway ends in two days on November 23rd so I figured I’d better hurry up and post this to my blog.

As you’ve probably long suspected, Giveaways have become a “thing” in the publishing world. It’s a great marketing tool. A way to announce a new title, get readers interested in an upcoming book, or a way to boost interest in a book that’s already been out for a bit.

As I was pursuing the giveaways up on Goodreads, it’s interesting to see all the offerings. Some are giving away 100 copies or more. Others offer 1 or 2 copies. Some are running their giveaways for a couple months, others for a couple weeks. A few only run for a few days. Some the giveaways are sponsored by the big houses, others by smaller independent publishers and some offerings are self-published books.

While looking at all those giveaways,  I got to thinking about all the giveaways I’d entered and never won and then out of the blue, I was actually selected as a Goodreads Giveaway winner.  I won an advance reader copy of Daily Goodwin’s VICTORIA  which hits bookstores, laptops and smartphones tomorrow.  I receive a lot of ARCs but winning one was truly special. Look for my Goodreads review coming soon!

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So with the clock ticking and the last two days of the Giveaway underway, I wanted to say thanks and wish good luck to those who entered for a chance to win an advance copy of  WINDY CITY BLUES. And for those of you reading this, I hope you’ll enter!

Thanks much!

 

 

 

Remembering Phil Chess

This week, the music industry lost a legend. Record executive, Phil Chess, co-founder of the famous Chess Records label passed away on October 18, 2016 at the age of 95. He will forever be remembered for his key role in electrifying the blues and paving the way for rock ‘n’ roll.

As some of you may know, my new novel, Windy City Blues is based on the Chess Records story and so I’ve spent the past year and a half researching the label, the musicians and the brothers Chess. Their journey is a remarkable one:  two Polish immigrants who came to this country and with no musical abilities of their own, launched their renowned blues label. Phil along with his older brother Leonard, introduced the world to such musical icons as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and on and on it goes.

Pop culture has often cast the older brother Leonard,  as the star of the label. In the film Cadillac Records starring Beyonce and Adrian Brody, Phil was completely eclipsed, left on the cutting room floor. But then again, that film got so little of the amazing Chess story right. One didn’t need to delve too deep to realize that there would not have been a Chess Records without Phil.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Phil but I did get to know members of his family. And from everything I’ve read and heard, I can honestly say that Leonard may have been the  face of Chess Records, but Phil was heart of the label. He was the one the artists went to. He was the personality and the support that Leonard needed. Whereas Leonard was driven almost to the point of obsession, Phil was more family oriented and took both families, his and Leonard’s, on their annual trips to Miami where they vacationed at the Thunderbird Hotel.

The tributes for Phil Chess have been many. Take a look at what Rolling Stone, NPR, NYT, and the  Chicago SunTimes have said about him. A quick Google search will bring up countless more. It is befitting that Chuck Berry should turn 90 and announce the release of a new album on the very day that we said goodbye to Phil Chess. My heartfelt condolences to the Chess family. RIP Phil.

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4 Months Till Publication!

The train has left the station.  I just looked at the calendar and realized I’m only about four months away from the publication of Windy City Blues and things are happening.  I thought I’d take you behind the scenes and share some of what’s going on. First off, I’m thrilled to announce that Windy City Blues will be available as an audio book! This came early and was unexpected and I can’t wait to give it a listen.

But there’s other things happening too. As I’m preparing to do my copy edits where we’ll make sure all the facts are correct, all the commas are in place, all the typos zapped, we have the book out to other authors for early endorsements, also known as blurbs. Cannot wait to share those with you, too!

Next week my agent and I have a meeting in New York with my amazing team at Berkley. Here we’ll be finalizing the marketing and publicity plans for Windy City Blues. I already know about a few very cool things that are in the works and I promise I’ll share just as soon as I can. In the meantime, here’s a hint—I see a big blues bash coming to Chicago in February!!!

Since this is the calm before the storm, I’m taking advantage of the downtime. This morning we hit the road with Rebecca Makkai and head to Michigan for the first annual Harbor Springs Festival of the Book.  Check out the lineup of authors! Then it’s off to New York for a little business and pleasure before we head out to Palm Springs for Desert Trip also known as the most insane three nights of concerts featuring The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. So if you don’t see me blogging for a bit, that’s the reason why. But do stop back for pictured and updates.

Happy Readings To You All!

 

 

Cultural Appropriation

So this morning as I was looking through the New York Times I came upon an article that stopped me cold: Lionel Shriver’s Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival”.  Apparently Ms. Shriver offended her audience while delivering her keynote address on the topic of cultural appropriation to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival in Australia. So what exactly is cultural appropriation? Basically it’s the criticism of an artist borrowing from any ethnic group outside their own for the purpose of their art, be that music, artwork, dance, literature –really any form of creative expression. In fact, one woman in the audience, Ms. Abdel-Magied was so offended that she left stating later that Lionel Shriver’s talk  “…became a celebration of the unfettered exploitation of the experiences of others, under the guise of fiction.”

Not to add fuel to the fire, but isn’t this just another form of censorship?   Is this going too far? If everyone stayed within the lines and the limitations defined by their birth imagine all that we would miss out on. Where would the Rolling Stones  and countless other white rock legends be today were it not for the blues music of black artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon? Furthermore what would have happened to this great music created in the 40s and 50s if it hadn’t been reintroduced to a larger audience by musicians of other ethnicities?

I think that before people take offense to a work of artist expression, they need to understand the creator’s intention. The Rolling Stones initially formed their band because as Keith Richards put it, they wanted to turn people on to blues music. For example, I just spent the past 18 months working on a novel, Windy City Blues about the blues. And yes, one of my main characters is a black bluesman from the Delta. Should I have not written from the perspective even though it was absolutely necessary in order to tell the full story?  (I’ll be writing and blogging more about that in the coming months because I have a lot to say about it.)

I would love to know what others think about this. Thanks!

 

Percolating on the Next Book

Now that I’ve finished WINDY CITY BLUES and am awaiting my copyedits, it’s time to turn my attention to the NEXT BOOK. I’m in the fortunate position to be in the middle of two-book deal, but what that second book will be, no one knows. Not even me. I’m finding it difficult to say goodbye to the blues and the Chess brothers . I fell in love with the music, the musicians and the legacy they left behind.

Finishing up this novel has been a different experience for me. Usually when I reach this stage, I’m sick to death of the manuscript I’ve been working on for the year or 18 months and am ready to move on. And usually by this point I already know what I’m going to work on next. Not so this time and I think it’s because the story of the blues and the Civil Rights Movement and the people I met while working on this book truly found their way into my heart. I feel as though I’m going through a bit of a mourning period and am allowing myself this time to grieve.

And yet I know the only cure for one book is to get busy writing another. Deciding what to write next is exciting, exhilarating and riddled with anxiety. For now I’m pondering… Do I want to write about real historical figures? Or would I rather create a character from scratch?  What time period would I like to delve into for the next year to 18 months?  What about the setting? Should I do another novel set in Chicago or is it time to spread my literary wings and go elsewhere? All this weighs on me and keeps me up at night.

I tend to keep a running list of topics I think might be able to grow into books one day and while they all seem viable in the moment, when I go back and give them a serious look, they tend to fall apart and crumble to nothingness. True confession, last week, Wednesday to be specific, I had a mini panic attack. I was staring at my grandfather’s typewriter–the one I played on as a child when I dreamed of becoming a novelist one day–and all I could think was I’m completely out of ideas.

Now mind you, I’ve been here before, it’s part of the process and you’d think I’d know that by now, but still it rattled me. And that old saw, it’s darkest before the dawn has never been more true. I remember being on the phone with my sister, the two of us tossing around possible subjects and nothing was getting me excited. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and had to get off the phone. Just when I was about to tear my hair out, a burst of inspiration rescued me. In fact, more than one burst of inspiration.

This is the part of the writing process that is filled with endless possibilities. Nothing has been committed to paper yet and as my friend Tasha Alexander  likes to say, I need to let the story and characters percolate. But I am percolating and it feels great. As soon as I know I’ve got something really cooking here, I’ll share it with you!

 

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You Sold Your Novel–Great! Now it’s Time to Revise it!

So as I’m wrapping up my final edits for WINDY CITY BLUES  I thought I would share a little behind-the-scenes look at what happens once you’ve sold your novel and what really goes into editing a manuscript. I think the story goes a little like this… After years of rejections, of well meaning friends and family thinking you’re wasting your time, you get the call and for once it’s “Yes! We want to publish your novel.”

Well, you’re champagne drunk for a month and when you’re feet start coming back to earth reality sets in. The manuscript that your new editor loved enough to purchase needs work so that it can become a published novel. This usually arrives in your inbox in the form of “The Editorial Letter”. It could be as brief as a few paragraphs or as long as several pages. What I can tell you having gone through this process with five books is DO NOT FREAK OUT.  It’s overwhelming at first, especially if you think your book was pretty much done, perfect and just the way you wanted it.

Well, I’ll share something with you. When I first turned in WINDY CITY BLUES I thought I was 95% done. I thought my editor was going to gush that this was my best book yet, etc, etc, etc. (cue the champagne).  Instead, I got a lot of wonderful comments but I also got A LOT of questions, concerns, comments and requests for changes. What?!  At this point I gave myself two days to read through her letter and read all her comments inside the manuscript and let it all soak in. I also told myself to keep an open mind and really take in her feedback. After the shock wore off, i realize how astute her comments were and as a result, I have a much stronger novel than the book I turned in that I was so sure was in such great shape.

In this digital age, most editors work in Track Changes. You’ll either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Take a look at what a few pages of WINDY CITY BLUES looked like with Track Changes. All those different colors represent comments from my editor and my responses. Do not assume that lots of comments means your novel isn’t good. It simply means that your editor is seeing more opportunities where you can make something more vivid, or be more clear. A good editor will also catch things that as the author, you’re just too close to see.

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This is what all 500+ pages looked like. So anyone who tells you that  editors don’t really edit anymore has not met my editor. She pushes me, which is what I want because I’m one of those writers who really loves the editing process. For me this is where the magic happens, this where characters really begin to sing on the page, where storylines connect, where themes emerge.  So the moral here is DO NOT FEAR THE EDIT and the edits are coming no matter how many books you’ve published. It’s part of the process. Embrace it and you’ll be amazed by how much your novel grows!

Happy editing to you all!

 

 

 

 

The Anatomy Of A Book Cover

As we know, people do tend to judge books by their covers, which is why publishers scrutinize every detail. I get lots of questions about my covers and who and how they’re created so I thought I’d take you through the process of how a cover comes to be.

First things first, while the author definitely has input, the cover is designed by the art department. And as for that input, the process begins with my editor asking if I have any images in mind that will get the designers started. So I’ll do a long Getty Images search and send everything that I think would make an intriguing cover. I’ll also reference other book jackets that I especially like. And then I wait. I wait and I wait some more. Before they’ll show an author a cover you can bet that the artwork, fonts, colors and copy have been through many, many rounds and revisions.

Once the team, i.e., editor, publisher, marketing, publicity, sales are satisfied, they send it to the author and their agent. This is always a big, big moment when that email comes through and you get to see how your publishing house is envisioning your book. Chances are, it’s something very different than what you’ve been picturing for months inside your head.

For example, when they showed me DOLLFACE, I had prepared myself for a black and white or sepia cover so the burst of color really threw me and it took me a couple days to fall in love, but fall I did! With WHAT THE LADY WANTS both my agent and I didn’t feel that the first cover they showed us captured the essence of the story and my wonderful team at Penguin Random House agreed to go back to the drawing board. When they showed me the new cover, I was thrilled. It had the elegance and sophistication that we’d been hoping for. When they showed us the cover for WHITE COLLAR GIRL I wasn’t initially sold on the strong graphic approach and I can remember being on the phone with my editor and agent trying to sort it out. My editor felt strongly that it was right cover and after looking at a second cover, I agreed and am so glad I did. I got such positive feedback from readers, fellow authors and even other editors saying it was one of their favorite covers of all time.

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So this brings me to my newest cover WINDY CITY BLUES. The art department picked up that strong graphic element that was so successful in my last book, which we all felt was very smart. But when we revealed the cover on social media we got some comments about it being too busy. I’m fortunate enough to have the support of my team and when I shared the feedback with my agent and editor, they agreed to go back to the drawing board even after we’d revealed the cover and posted it on retailer sites. So now I’m thrilled to share the new and improved cover for WINDY CITY BLUES. Hope you love it as much as we do!  Available for Pre-order.

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P.S. And don’t forget if you’re on GoodReads, add it to your shelf so you’ll know when we start running giveaways!