Last week Vida, an organization for women in the arts, released its second annual survey of highbrow publications and how many women they’re publishing and reviewing.

The news, predictably, was not good: The Atlantic reviewed 12 books by women, 24 by men. Harper's reviewed 19 women, 53 men. The New Yorker published work by 242 women, 613 men.

The typical hand-wringing, apologizing, defensiveness and search for solutions quickly began.

I wrote a piece for the Guardian’s blog, arguing that, for anything to change, women are going to have to speak up for ourselves, and one another.

And then, with my work done, I downloaded the latest popular piece of erotica that everyone’s talking about and settled in for what I hoped would be a fun read.

I love a good, fast-paced sexy book. I read Judith Krantz when I was just a lass, and kept the A.N. Roquelaure books under my mattress, and can still recite more of Shirley Conran’s LACE than you’d believe. I’m not looking for prose on the level of James or Proust every time I start a novel. Sometimes, I just want entertainment.

This book -- for a variety of reasons -- did not deliver.

On Sunday night, I dashed off a few snarky tweets, rolled my eyes, bit my lip, recommended a few other books, and went off to innocent slumber.

And woke up to a bit of a kerfuffle

I wanted to write back, You know who I am? I am a reader, who paid $6.99 for this book, and has a right to an opinion about it.

But other, more thoughtful responses kept coming. You threw another woman under the bus. You’re being a bitch. You, with all your talk of equality and fairness. How could you!

My first reaction was to get defensive. There is, I pointed out, a difference between calling a book an unreadable piece of trash that should never have been published and taking issue with specific pieces of a story -- a story that I've paid for, and taken time to read and think about.

I never said it shouldn’t have seen the light of day, or that readers don’t have a right to enjoy it. I certainly didn’t hunt the author down on Twitter and make sure she knew exactly how I felt about her book.

Did that make me a mean girl? Did that mean I was chucking another female author – and a first-time one, at that – under the bus?

Does standing up for women’s equality, for our right to be treated fairly in the book-review sections of big newspapers and magazines means that I can never say an uncomplimentary word about a woman’s book ever again?

I thought about it all day long…and I think that the answer is yes.

The problem is social media in general, Twitter specifically. It’s a new land that we’re still figuring out how to navigate, and none of the rules are clear.

To me, Twitter feels like a rollicking cocktail party, a series of overlapping conversations with friends and new acquaintances. But you arrive with an established identity.

In my case, that means I don’t get to take off the “crusader for women’s equality” cape and put on my “just a reader” hat.

I don’t get to talk about a book the way I would to my friends, if we were at lunch and the discussion turned to what we were least, not in public.

Last spring, Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal right after she’d gotten the good news, she did something that I found hard to understand.

With the eyes of the literary world on her, with the spotlight hers to command, she could have celebrated her peers. She could have said, “here are five great women authors you might not have heard of.” She could have used the occasion to give other women a boost.

Instead, she used the occasion to trash women writers she didn’t like. "There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models? I’m not saying you should say you’ve never done anything good, but I don’t go around saying I’ve written the book of the century. My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower."

It was a weird, Tourettes-y moment. My friends and I wondered (and have lots of theories) about why Egan’s mind went, almost automatically, to a five-year-old instance of plagiarism, in response to a fairly broad and innocent question (and, to be fair, Egan apologized for her gaffe, both in public and in private, to the authors she'd slammed).

But the dismaying part – in exhorting women to 'shoot high and not cower," she said, essentially, "be the kind of writer I approve of, not like those bad writers who I think are derivative and banal."

She had a chance to do some good, and she did harm instead.

I made the same mistake on Sunday night.

I could have tweeted about a book I loved, instead of one I didn’t.

I could have, as they say, used my powers for good, instead of evil.

I’m sorry I didn’t.

So, in the future, I’ll be reserving my Twitter snark for safer targets, including but not limited to reality TV stars, opponents of contraception and myself, for taking my daughter's word for it when she says she "just wants to hold" the bottle of sparkly nail polish.

Wish me luck.

The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat,” Arthur Opp confesses in the story’s very first line. Arthur estimates his weight as somewhere between five and six hundred pounds, and confesses that he eats “whatever and whenever he wants,” feasts of “Chinese food, the greased and glowing kind, unnaturally orange chicken with sesame seeds nestled in its crevices, white rice in buttery clumps that come apart wonderfully in the mouth; potstickers, ridged and hard at the seam and soft at the belly; crab rangoons, a crunch followed by lush bland creaminess; chocolate cake – nothing Chinese about it, but the best dessert for a meal of this kind, the sweet bitterness an antidote & a compliment to all that salt.”.

When we meet him, Arthur hasn't been out of the house in a decade -- not since 9-11. The lovely Brooklyn brownstone he inherited was once “very lovely inside and out, decorated very nicely, O this when I was a small boy. But now I fear I have allowed it to fall into a sort of haunted disrepair.” He’s a disgraced former professor, hopelessly longing for a former student whom he dated a handful of times decades ago. His word is confined to the first floor of his house, his television set, and the deliverymen who bring him whatever he needs from the outside world. “I made sure to choose the after 5 p.m option when I joined, which pleases me I like to think the deliveryman might believe I work all day and am just getting home. I’m very silly in this way!”

Arthur’s carefully-constructed life starts to crack open when he makes his first human connections in years. He meets Yolanda, the housekeeper he hires to get his house in order in the belief that Charlene might come back, and, eventually, the reader meets a teenage baseball prodigy Kel Keller, Charlene’s son. Kel, handsome and athletically gifted, is also a misfit, also trapped, imprisoned by poverty, by place and circumstance and the burdens of an ill and addicted mother. He lives in a rough part of Yonkers, attends school in a posh neighboring suburb, and keeps his mother’s secrets, caring for her even as he’s furious with her for failing him so profoundly.

Liz Moore is neither a six-hundred-pound professor or an unhappy, too-cool teenage jock. Tall and willowy, with a thoughtful manner and Julia Roberts masses of wavy brown hair, Moore grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, the oldest of two sisters, in a “very happy family.” Her mother was an English professor, her father was a research physicist who specialized in nuclear medicine, and Moore was an avid reader of everything from Beverly Cleary to Madeline L’Engle to “The Babysitters Club, which my mom was not happy about.”

Living in a soccer-mad suburb, Moore recalled wishing that her mother spoke with more of a Boston accent. “All I wanted to do was be like all the other kids I knew. I remember trying to be someone I wasn’t.”

She played soccer: “Not well. And I would have traded everything to have been really good at it.” When she was sixteen, she took up the guitar, playing “Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Phoebe Snow, all of those ladies.” She learned “a bunch of their songs first.” After arriving at Barnard (she followed the path of a beloved high-school teacher), Moore started writing her own songs. She worked weekends at the famed Matt Umanov Guitars in the Village, where she perfected her playing, and formed the Liz Moore Band.

At Barnard, she studied fiction with Mary Gordon and Roddy Doyle. By the time she graduated in 2005, she had a manuscript, a collection of short stories about the lives of musicians in New York City called THE WORDS OF EVERY SONG. Shortly thereafter, she had a book deal. Her first book was published in 2007, the same year her first album, called Backyards, came out.

“That book was almost luck. I had a manuscript, based on classwork I’d done.” She met an agent, a Barnard alumna, at a conference. “Two weeks later, the book was edited, and on submission, and Broadway Books bought it.” She was twenty-two years old, and thinking, “this will never, ever happen again.” Telling her parents was almost anticlimactic, Moore recalled. “I think all of us were, like, ‘What?’ We weren’t as excited as we should have been!”

THE WORDS OF EVERY SONG was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “sweet, wistful, artfully arranged: like the best mix tape anyone ever made for you.”

But instead of getting a quick start on her next project, Moore went back to school. She got a job at the Morgan Library, and enrolled in a Masters of Fine Arts program at Hunter College. Her plans was to use the advance from the first collection to learn the craft of writing. “I would never have given myself permission to get an MFA without having published a book.”

Of course, entering a graduate program in creative writing with a book already on shelves seems like a guarantee of toxic envy. Didn’t her classmates want to beat her up in the girls’ room? Moore laughs. “Well, you’d have to ask them. But some of my closest friends came out of the program.”

The grand tradition of first novels is for the young novelist to write what he or she knows – hence the shelves stuffed with tales of Brooklyn slackers with self-doub and Prozac prescriptions, or twentysomething magazine writers coping with bad boyfriends and body angst.

How did Moore decide to populate her first novel with two main characters with whom she had so little in common?

“I knew that, whatever I wrote, people would automatically assume it was me. Writing Arthur let me write sentences I would have felt self-conscious about writing, if I was writing a young-ish woman. It was safer to make him older, and a man, and different from me.”

Arthur’s passion for food – the tastes, the textures, the comfort of knowing there’s something good to cook in the kitchen, a feast waiting to happen – and his shame and horror at what that passion has done to his body, and his life, will feel familiar to every woman who’s ever had, even briefly or peripherally, a vexed relationship with eating. Which is to say, Moore says with a laugh, every woman in America.

But writing about a male character with body issues felt safe. The danger of being a young woman and writing about a young female protagonist is this: not only will readers assume that the woman on the page is the woman behind it, there is also a tendency to take works by young women about young women less seriously.

In a 2008 review of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ THE DESCENDANTS, the critic Joanna Kavenna wondered if Hemmings, along with young female authors Nicole Krauss and Zadie Smith, wrote about men “as a form of homage to writers like Roth, Updike and Bellow,” and also whether male protagonists might “betray a certain anxiety of seriousness: that up-and-coming and even established female authors, fearful of their work being ghettoized as “women’s writing,” place male characters at the center of their work.

HEFT has gotten a decent share of critical acclaim, perhaps because Moore put male characters who couldn’t be less like her front and center, while the women in HEFT take traditional supporting roles: the troubled mother, the supportive girlfriend, the cleaning-lady-with-a-heart-of-gold who helps tug Arthur back to the world of the living.

Moore acknowledges the issue. The female characters “occupy the roles we’re used to seeing women in. But those roles do occur in life. There are cleaning ladies in the world.”

“It’s important to write good books about women as a political action,” she says. “I’d like to write about women. The thing I’m working on – the protagonist is a young woman. It feels more like home.”

Arthur Opp was born in 2006. “I wrote a short story right out of college, about Arthur. And then it just sort of sat there. Like Arthur. But he, as a character, stuck with me.” In graduate school, Moore began writing about Arthur as the central character of a novel. “I knew I had to complicate things for Arthur. Kel was the complicating factor.”

Getting HEFT published was a more traditional process then selling that first collection. Moore started working with a famous agent at the beginning of her MFA studies. Two years later, after she delivered the finished manuscript, the agent decided that it wasn’t for her, and summarily dropped Moore as a client. Moore spent another six months finding her current agent, Seth Fishman. When HEFT finally went on submission, it sold to W.W. Norton within a month.

Moore moved to Philadelphia in 2009, for a yearlong fellowship at the Kelly Writer House at the University of Pennsylvania. She taught writing at Penn and Holy Family University and, when Holy Family offered her a full-time position, she and her long-term boyfriend (he’s a consultant) decided to stay.

“I love teaching. I really do. Whatever happens – if I become hugely successful – I think I’d always want to teach one class every semester. It keeps me sharp, and engaged with the world.”

So how does it feel to be twenty-eight with two published books, and a job teaching writing? Did Liz Moore get to be what she wanted to be when she grew up? “I would never articulate the desire to be a writer, because it felt so stupid. I didn’t believe I could do it until I was actually doing it…but now that I’m doing it, it’s a very exciting thing."

Every once in a while, you read a book with such well-written, memorable characters that you know you’re going to remember them forever.

Macon Leary in THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, Dolores Price in SHE’S COME UNDONE, Olympia Binewski from GEEK LOVE…all of them have their own specific voices, and their own unforgettable journeys.

To that list, add Arthur Opp, the unlikely protagonist of Liz Moore’s first novel HEFT, about a lonely man and a teenage boy making their way out of the wreckage of their lives..and toward one another.

HEFT is a wonderful oddball of a book. I loved it, and I think you will, too…and if you buy the book before or on Monday, February 20, I will send you a signed copy of one of my books for free.

Here’s the deal: treat yourself to a copy of HEFT, which is available at your favorite independent bookstore, online retailer, and wherever books are sold. Yes, e-books count. Yes, foreign readers are welcome (it'll just take a little longer for your books to arrive).

On Monday, tweet a picture of you and the book, or your receipt, or the title page on your e-reader, under the hashtag #HEFT. Not on Twitter? Post the picture to your Facebook page, or post it on mine.

Then, send an email to jen AT with your name, which book you want, to whom you’d like it inscribed, if at all, and where you’d like us to send it. I’ll send books until we run out, which won’t be for a while! You can ask for a book for yourself, or for a friend, or you can donate it to your local library, school, prison, hospital, shelter, wherever.

And come back tomorrow, where I’ll have an interview with Liz Moore.

Why isn't this woman smiling?

Back in the summer of 2010, some female writers (including me) used the occasion of the orgy of coverage around Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM to make a point that seemed obvious to anyone paying attention: the New York Times does not do a very good job at covering women writers.

After a tsunami of indignation swelled across the Internet – a tsunami that, unfortunately, was directed not at the Times, but at the female writers who dared to complain about its policies -- confirmed the problem: of the 545 books reviewed between July 2008 and August, 2010, 62 percent were by men, 38 percent were by women…and of the 101 books that were reviewed twice in that time period, 71 percent were by men.

Did the Times do any better a year after FREEDOM?

To quote Reverend Lovejoy of Simpsons fame, short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but. No male writer received the kind of saturation-level combination of reviews, profiles, think-pieces and mentions that surrounded Franzen's new book...but if you're hoping for equality, the paper's got a long way to go.

I counted the number of novels and short-story collections that were written up in the Times, mostly because fiction is what I write, and what I read. Numbers first, analysis at the end.

In 2011, the Times reviewed 254 works of fiction. 104, or 40.9 percent, were by women, and 150, or 59.1 percent, were by men.

Of the works of fiction that got two full reviews, 21 were by women, 22 were by men.

Of the works that received one full review plus a mention in a round-up, 5 were by women, 11 were by men. (This can be largely explained by Marilyn Stasio’s weekly round-up of crime novels).

Finally, of the works of fiction whose authors were reviewed twice (either with two full reviews, or review plus roundup) and profiled, one was a woman and ten were men.

The men who received two reviews plus a profile were David Foster Wallace, Albert Brooks, Julian Barnes, Kevin Wilson, Nicholson Baker, Tom Perrotta, Russell Banks, Jeffrey Eugenides, Haruki Murakami and Allan Hollinghurst.

The only woman who received two reviews plus a profile was Tea Obreht (who also received a mention in the TBR column).

J. Courtney Sullivan (a former Times employee), received a full review and a round-up mention, and was featured in the “Sunday Routine” column, where she discussed her preferred brunch, her work habits, and her favorite dog park.

Sullivan also appeared in the "Inside the List" column, wrote a book review, and published a piece on her hobby -- dollhouses.

Ann Patchett was reviewed twice, and was written up in a story that had to do with her buying a bookstore than her as a writer.

Ann Beattie was also reviewed twice for her book, MRS. NIXON, and mentioned in T Style, in a Q and A about holiday gifts. (Also featured? Gary Shteyngart and Jeffrey Eugenides.)

No female novelist received two reviews plus a Sunday Magazine profile, while two men (Nicholson Baker and Haruki Murakami) hit that trifecta. The only woman novelist profiled in the Sunday Magazine was independent publishing sensation Amanda Hocking. None of Hockings’ books were reviewed in 2011. The magazine also ran a great piece on cartoonist and nonfiction author Lynda Barry and her "workshop for nonwriters." Barry's last novel, CRUDDY, was published in 2000.

Finally, there’s the issue of timing.

The ideal situation for an author is to have a new book reviewed within days of its publication. New books hit shelves and e-tailers on Tuesdays, which means a review the Sunday before is ideal, as is any day-of-publication ink.

Of the authors who received two reviews within two weeks of their publication date, seven were women and twelve were men (David Foster Wallace, whose THE PALE KING was published on April 4 and received his reviews on March 31 and April 5, almost made the cut.)

The year had some bright spots. Commercial mystery writers Lisa Scottoline and Chelsea Cain were reviewed, as was YA queen Meg Cabot and chick lit-ish writer Allison Pearson.

Of the five works of fiction chosen as the year’s best, three were by women: Karen Russell's SWAMPLANDIA!, Eleanor Henderson's TEN THOUSAND SAINTS and Obreht's THE TIGER'S WIFE.

Only one of them – THE TIGER'S WIFE – was reviewed twice, while both men who received the honor (Chad Harbach and Stephen King) also got two reviews.

The Times showed improvement, at least in terms of fiction, in the two-review department, but the disparity between men and women who get that coveted two-reviews-plus-a-profile is still shocking.

Final thoughts? Like they say on the subways, if you see something, say something…and if you don’t see something, say something about that, too.

Social media means that everyone gets a voice – not just authors and publishers, but readers, too.

So if you believe that PEN-prize winning Jennifer Haigh's new book FAITH deserved better than a throwaway mention under the heading “For the Ladies” in a Janet Maslin summer beach-book round-up…or if you notice that Tom Perrotta got two reviews and a profile within three days of publication, while Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS received a single review, three weeks after its pub date…or if you wonder why memoirist Meghan O'Rourke is posing in a Missoni sweater in T Style Magazine, while novelist Gary Shteyngart talks technology...or if you believe the Times could have swapped one of its multiple pieces on well-connected cross-dressing memoirist Jon-Jon Goulian for a write-up of National Book Award-winning Jesmyn Ward (who was eventually reviewed, once, months after SALVAGE THE BONES was published)…or if you believe that a book review that makes space for mysteries, thrillers and horror novels can also spare a few paragraphs each week for romance, commercial women’s fiction and quote-unquote chick lit, get on Twitter, get on your blog, post something on Facebook. Speak up.

The near-equality among the twice-reviewed and the best-of lists, and the occasional not-entirely-dismissive mention of a commercial female author suggests that, even if they’ll never say so, people at the Times are paying attention. Things can change.

(Last but not least, a special thank-you to my assistant, the indomitable Meghan Burnett, who compiled all these numbers).

Remember that old Andre Agassi campaign where he finger-combed his mullet and told us that “image is everything?”

Take that and triple it when it comes to ethics in book reviewing.

Readers deserve a critic’s honest take on a book, an opinion that hasn't been influenced by the critic’s relationship with the author or her publisher. Because the community of critics and writers is small and incestuous, with plenty of connections and lots of overlap, editors are meticulous about making sure that the reviews they run are beyond reproach.

A reviewer cannot share a blood relation or a bed with the author of the book she’ll be considering. She can’t have written a blurb or be thanked in the acknowledgments of the book under consideration, or have blurbed or thanked its author.

Critics can’t review the work of a friend, or an enemy.

Generally, reviewers are required to disclose any relationship – any at all – that they have with the author. Did you ever work at the same university? Judge a contest together? Win the same fellowship, sit on the same panel, attend a writers’ conference at the same time? The editors want to know, because they want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, of log-rolling or score-settling or a review that is, or even seems to be, ethically tainted. They want their reviews to be fair, and to look that way.

Among the list of thou-shalt-nots is a rule that’s so basic that editors could be forgiven for not even mentioning it: thou shalt not take money from the publisher to promote the book you’re reviewing.

That's why it was surprising to find the Minneapolis Star-Tribune publishing Bethanne Patrick's review of Joyce Carol Oates’ book THE CORN MAIDEN…the same book that Patrick, wearing her #fridayreads hat, had done a paid giveaway of the month before. (Full disclosure: Joyce Carol Oates was one of my creative writing professors in college, some twenty years ago).

Patrick was assigned the review in August. She turned in her review in October. At some point between October and November, she negotiated the promotion with Oates’ publisher.

Star-Tribune Senior Editor Laurie Hertzel said in an email interview that at no point did Patrick disclose that she was doing a paid promotion for the book she’d reviewed. Hertzel said she “did not know about the financial relationship (between Patrick and Oates’ publisher) before the review was published.”

In fact, Hertzel said didn’t even know that there was a paid component to Fridayreads.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the Fridayreads saga, and who know that Patrick, who has been doing paid promotions ranging from $750 to $2,000 since March of this year, chose to disclose that fact that Fridayreads is “a hashtag and a business both” halfway down a FAQ page on a website, as opposed to on Twitter and Facebook, as FTC regulations require, and did not label promoted tweets as such.

When all of this was pointed out, by me and other writers, Patrick essentially threw up her hands and pleaded ignorance. Things moved fast, steps were skipped, the Internet’s a big, confusing place. Maybe she didn’t do everything right, but she didn’t mean to mislead anyone and she’s sorry if she did.

Which is the same line she’s repeating now that the book review-promo conflict has come to light. "I'm in new territory here," she tweeted yesterday.

Except disclosing a conflict to a newspaper editor isn’t new territory, or even new media. It’s fundamental. It’s Book Reviewing 101.

Readers and writers understand how rapidly the ground is shifting as the conversation about reading moves from print media to the Internet, where book bloggers work multiple jobs and sometimes have conflicting allegiances. Reasonable people can make allowances for honest mistakes…but not telling an editor who’s assigned you a review that you’ve been paid to promote that same title?

That’s hard to understand…particularly from someone who’s worked in the publishing world for years.

Hertzel said Patrick’s future as a freelance critic for the Star Tribune is now under review.

But there’s a bigger issue here than the critic who made bad choices, the editor who was kept in the dark, the author whose glowing review now looks fishy, and the readers, who now have reason to wonder whether what they read in their morning paper was an honest assessment or a bought-and-paid-for Valentine.

Authors deserve reviews that are fair and impartial. Other freelance critics and book bloggers don’t deserve the cynicism and suspicion that they’ll receive in the wake of Patrick's double-dip. Most of all, readers deserve reviews that are not, and do not appear to be, influenced by relationships, connections, or -- above all -- money.

By now, people who follow publishing news are familiar with the headlines from last week’s Fridayreads brouhaha: popular hashtag revealed as a business, too! Proprietors apologize for not properly labeling promotional tweets! “We may have made mistakes, but we’ve got ethics!” they claim.

When it began, #Fridayreads was a popular hashtag that was billed by its founder Bethanne Patrick, who tweets as @thebookmaven, as a “global community of people who come together each week to share whatever they’re reading.” Last week, Patrick admitted that Fridayreads is a hashtag and a business both, a business that charges publishers fees from $750 to $2,000 to host giveaways, author Q and A’s, “twitter tours,” and post positive tweets about their books.

Now that the business aspect is out in the open, there’s another question to consider, one that’s bigger than the issue of why Patrick and her colleagues chose to disclose the moneymaking component of a Twitter hashtag on a website few would have occasion to see, and whether they really believed that disclosure was sufficient: namely, why does any of this matter to readers and writers?

My own full disclosure: I found out that Fridayreads was selling services after a new online literary magazine called Book Riot ran a story that criticized me and Jodi Picoult for the crime of being insufficiently pissed about the coverage novelist Jeffrey Eugenides received (yes, this is the life I lead). A few of the Riot’s employees were kind enough to tweet the link at me, just to be sure that I saw.

I read the story. Then I went to the masthead to figure out who was in charge of this new magazine, and was surprised to learn that Patrick, who I’ve met once and who has always been friendly to me on Twitter, was the Riot’s new executive editor.

I went to Patrick’s Twitter page, to see whether her new job was mentioned. It wasn’t, but her Twitter page led me to the Fridayreads home page (which also failed to mention Patrick’s new affiliation). The home page led me to a link to the FAQ page, and, deep on the FAQ page was the news that the Fridayreads services were for sale (the page also revealed that two of Fridayreads’ three employees also have positions at Book Riot).

How many casual readers and tweeters would follow such a serpentine path, figure out how Fridayreads worked, and make an informed decision about whether they wanted to participate and be counted not just as a reader but as a potential consumer of the books Patrick was selling? My guess: not many.

In addition to posting their disclosure on a website, while most of #fridayreads happens on Twitter and Facebook, the people running the hashtag failed to clearly label promoted tweets as promoted. This is a problem, too. As others have noted, the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection has rules spelling out how bloggers and Twitter users must disclose when they’re paid to endorse or mention a product.

The rules make it clear that “a single disclosure doesn’t really do it because people visiting your site might read individual reviews or watch individual videos without seeing the disclosure on your home page," and that promoted tweets have to labeled as such, with an #ad or #sponsored or #promoted hashtag.

I won’t speculate about whether the disclosure-on-a-website and subsequent failure to label promotional tweets correctly was deliberately deceptive or merely clueless.

But I do want to talk about why disclosure and transparency matter.

On Monday, Patrick issued an explanation/apology on her website. In the comments section, someone named “Chris” said this was much ado about nothing. “It was obvious that someone was getting something for hours of hard work.”

In other words, duh, of course the Fridayreads crew was getting paid. You’d be a naïve idiot to think otherwise.

That’s my biggest problem.

I don’t believe that the vast majority of authors, or literary bloggers, are secretly or semi-secretly for sale.

I don’t think that publishing is a private club run behind a locked door with winks and nods and secret handshakes, where insiders know the truth about how things really work, and the outsiders are left in the cold, guessing. It worries me that readers are going to come away from the Fridayreads contretemps believing that’s the case: that there’s a story that gets handed to the public, and then there’s the truth that gets whispered among the members of the club, who all know that of course litblogger A runs hashtag B and also works for magazine C and who don't think the public needs to know that a hashtag that presents itself as a fun exercise in community-building is quietly a business on the side.

In ten years as a novelist, that hasn't been my experience with publishing professionals, or other authors, or the dozens of literary bloggers I've met. Implying otherwise is an insult to every blogger who ever did an interview or a giveaway because she loved a book or an author and wanted to get out the word.

It’s an insult to every author who ever gave an honest blurb or recommendation, or tweeted, “Guys, you’ve got to read this” because he believed it, not because the publisher slipped him some cash or he expected a favor down the road.

It’s an insult to the authors who do interviews and Q and As and post advice and links and the stories of how we got started on our blogs, who do giveaways and pay for the postage out of our own pocket because we want to give back to the reading and writing community, to support other authors, to encourage the newbies, to celebrate books in a world where opportunities to do so are shrinking, and are too often given to the usual suspects.

It’s an insult to the bloggers who have chosen to monetize their content publicly and honestly, the ones whose ads look like ads and whose disclosure policies make it clear when they get books to review or give away from publishers.

Nobody’s running a literary blog or magazine to get rich. Most writers who maintain blogs end up losing money, not making it. Should a blogger decide to try to turn their hobby into a paying endeavor, nobody rolls their eyes or clutches their pearls. We're all used to seeing ads alongside a blog post, or a request for sponsorship on a literary website, or a virtual tip cup at the bottom of a post or a review with a note saying, “Hey, if you like what I’m doing, consider supporting it.” I don’t think anyone begrudges the Fridayread folks the ability to make money from their endeavors, if they’ve found a way to do it honestly.

But honesty matters – to readers, to writers, to bloggers and Twitter users, to those who’ve chosen to monetize their content in a clear and public way, and those who continue to do what they do for community and good karma instead of cash.

In the midst of the Twitter conversation someone wrote to say that I was wrong to imply that Patrick was dishonest. “If you knew her, you’d never say that,” he claimed.

I don’t know Bethanne Patrick or her colleagues, except on the Internet…but I believe that you know people through their actions. If they’re honest, if they’re ethical, you can see it in the choices they make. If they aren’t, no amount of indignant insistence otherwise will change your mind.

The Fridayreads people have taken the steps of saying the right things, of adding the hashtag #promo to their promoted tweets and updating the Fridayreads FAQ page to note that the hashtag is also a business. Here's hoping that their actions continue to reflect their words.

The hands-down, all-time chart-topping question writers get is, “where do you get your ideas?”

Usually we mutter something jokey and self-effacing about Target or the Idea Elves, because the truth, at least for me, is, we don’t know where ideas come from. They just come…and whether they arrive as an image, or a scrap of dialogue, or a what-if question, it’s hard to say where they’re born.

At least, that’s true most of the time.

But, on Tuesday, I had an idea, that turned into a story (my first-ever horror story!), and I can chart exactly how it happened.

I spoke at an event Tuesday night, out in the suburbs, and I was driving home, letting my trusty GPS be my guide. As I tooled through the darkness, along a deserted road I’d never been on, I thought, What if this thing doesn’t want me to get home?

What if it sends me somewhere else entirely?

On Wednesday morning, I sent out a tweet asking if anyone had ever written a story about a possessed GPS.

A few people mentioned the great Stephen King story, “Big Driver,” (it’s in his latest collection, FULL DARK NO STARS). But in that story, the GPS is a benevolent presence, almost a friend to the troubled heroine.

I was thinking of a darker kind of GPS. And then, I started asking the big writers’ question: why? Why would a GPS want to do bad, bad thing?

Just like that, I had a story. An abused wife. A dead husband who doesn’t want to stay dead. A gift-wrapped box in the attic…and a GPS that starts telling its new owner to make some seriously wrong turns.

This was Wednesday morning. I emailed my brilliant agent and asked, if I write this thing, like, today, is there any chance we can get it up for sale on Halloween?

She talked to my editor. My publishing house swung into action. I wrote the story…and it came really, really fast. Thirty-five pages in five hours fast.

My agent and my editor both gave me notes. I revised it late Wednesday night and Thursday morning (the finished product clocked in at around forty pages, or 10,000 words).

On Thursday afternoon, my copy-editor, Nancy Inglis took a pass. By Thursday night, we had a cover, designed by the amazing Anna Dorfman. Everyone there hustled to get this thing formatted, spruced up, and ready for your enjoyment.

The story goes live on Monday – Halloween – and will be available on Amazon, on B&N and on iTunes for a mere 99 cents -- such a bargain!

Technology is amazing. And my publisher’s great. I hope you have as much fun reading “Recalculating” as I did writing it.

Happy Halloween. And if your GPS starts sounding like it’s angry with you the next time you take a trip, you might want to pack a map…

Greetings from Bungalow 5, on my last day in Los Angeles.

Tonight, I’ll pack up my office and go out to dinner with the writers for “State of Georgia.” Which, by the way, got an amazing review in The New York Times.

Tomorrow, I’m on a plane to New York. Tomorrow night, I’ll be live-tweeting “Georgia,” which airs at 8:30 on ABC Family. Tomorrow’s episode introduces a few of the show’s semi-regulars, Jo’s physics classmates Lewis, Leo and Seth, played by the very funny Kevin Covais (remember him from “Idol?”), Jason Rogel and Hasan Minhaj, all of whom are on Twitter…just put an “@” sign in front of their names, and you can’t miss them.

On Thursday morning during the eight o’clock hour I’ll be on “The Today Show,” along with Harlan Coben, who writes some of my favorite thrillers. We’ll be giving our summer reading recommendations, so please tune in!

Then, on Tuesday, July 12, THEN CAME YOU hits the shelves, and the e-reading devices, and I’ll hit the road, with stops in New York, Princeton, Philadelphia, the Chicago suburbs, and Kansas City. THEN CAME YOU has gotten some lovely early reviews, including the coveted four beach umbrella award from the New York Post, which said, “Weiner makes the unsympathetic women compelling, and chronicles the hard-luck ladies sans melodrama. We come to care about each one."

You can check out the first chapter of THEN CAME YOU right here and look at my tour dates here. Please note: all readings will feature whoopie pies. Not because there are whoopie pies in the book (although now that I think about it, there should be), but because I like whoopie pies, and I don't trust anyone who doesn't.

Thanks to everyone who checked out "Georgia," and I hope to see lots of you on the road.

Greetings from Studio City, where I've got of exciting news to report. First up: "State of Georgia" premieres tomorrow night (that's Wednesday, June 29) on ABC Family (which is NOT ABC -- it's on basic cable; check your channel guide) at 8:30 p.m.. The show stars Raven-Symone and Majandra Delfino as two best friends from a small town down South who are trying to make it big in New York City, under the benign neglect of Georgia's Aunt Honey, played by Loretta Devine.

I hope you'll tune in for the premiere....and I hope you'll stick with the show. It's been an amazing experience, shooting a pilot and then working on nine new episodes, watching the show find its feet and find its voice as the weeks went on. I think that Georgia ended up in a great place -- a funny show with lovable characters and a lot to say about what it's like to take those first steps toward adulthood. You can read more about my book-to-TV transition in the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Also, if you "like" "State of Georgia" on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, I'll be live-tweeting the premiere and posting pictures from our premiere party, as well as pictures of real-life BFFs watching the show on Wednesday night.

On July 12, THEN CAME YOU comes out. THEN CAME YOU tells the story of four women and a baby. There's brittle, wealthy newlywed India who will pay any price to have a child. There's Jules, a college senior with a few big secrets, who becomes the egg donor, and Annie, who's struggling with financial constraints, an unhappy marriage and her own ambitions, who become the gestational surrogate. Finally, there's Bettina, India's skeptical stepdaughter, who thinks the whole thing is a mistake.

The book's gotten some great early reviews, and I think readers will enjoy meeting each one of these women as they make their way toward becoming a family. I talked to about how the book came into being, and you can, of course, read the first chapter here.

Last but not least, the tour! I'll be doing readings, and handing out delicious whoopie pies, in New York City, Princeton, Philadelphia, Chicago and Kansas City, beginning on July 12. All the details are here, and I hope to see you there!

Hard to believe, but GOOD IN BED is ten years old this week!

I remember like it was yesterday seeing the book in bookstores for the first time (and then trying to sneak it onto the 'New Release' octagon at a New York City bookstore, and having the clerk promptly put it back).

If you haven't heard, we're celebrating with a "Win Cannie's Weekend" contest, where the lucky winner and a friend will get to experience Los Angeles Cannie Shapiro style. Two airline tickets, three nights at the Regent Beverly Wilshire (made famous in "Pretty Woman,") dinner at Asia de Cuba and a chance to watch a taping of "State of Georgia."

Sadly, I cannot guarantee a makeout session with a movie star, but it could happen, right?

To enter, click here, and tell me about the most remarkable thing that's happened to you in the last ten years. I've already read some wonderful essays -- hilarious and heartbreaking and everywhere in between. (PS: you have to enter through a Facebook app. If you're not comfortable with that, you can do it via my website right here).

In other news, FLY AWAY HOME is out in paperback, and in bookstores now, as is the anniversary re-release of GOOD IN BED, that comes with a new introduction and a candle on Cannie's bed-cake.

On June 29th, I hope you'll all tune in for the premiere of "State of Georgia," the sitcom I co-wrote and am executive producing, on ABC Family. Then, on July 12, THEN CAME YOU hits bookstores. It's a funny, moving, timely story of a surrogate pregnancy and how four very different women come together to form a family. I'll be posting the first chapter soon, and I hope you'll all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

It's been an exciting few weeks out here in Los Angeles.

My books appeared on "The Office" a few weeks ago, in an episode called "Garage Sale."

If you didn't see it, check it out here. Without giving anything away, it was one of the sweetest half-hours of TV I've seen in a long, long time. I only hope "The Great State of Georgia" can do as well some day.

Time Magazine named me one of its top 140 Twitter users (Tweeters? Twits? Never mind). They enjoyed my "Bachelor" tweets -- God help me, I miss that show -- and write, "the author of Good in Bed and Fly Away Home's smart tweets on writing — particularly the ongoing feud between chick-lit authors and quote-unquote real women novelists — make for entertaining, indispensable reading."

Entertaining and indispensable. Like a funny diaper for a not-quite-toilet-trained two-year-old!

If you agree, you can vote for me here...and, of course, you are always more than welcome to follow me on Twitter.

In non-Twitter news, I am having way too much fun in the writers' room, working on the first nine episodes for "The Great State of Georgia," which may be renamed "The State of Georgia." Or just "Georgia!" Stay tuned...and tune in to ABC Family for the premiere at 8:30 on June 29th.

I'm also doing a teeny tiny tour for the paperback release of FLY AWAY HOME.

On Saturday, April 30 I will be at the Warrington Country Club at noon, doing an event in support of the Doylestown Library. Tickets go on sale on April 10. Learn more here.

That night, I'll be at the library in Horsham at 5:30. Tickets for that event are $20, and you can learn all about it here.

On Sunday, May 1 at 3:30 I'll be in Los Angeles, appearing at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the USC Campus.

I've spent years reading about the famed LAT FOB from the opposite side of the country, admiring the line-up and wishing I could attend. Finally, my wish has come true, and I'll be hanging out listening to Patti Smith, Aimee Bender, T.C. Boyle and as many other authors as I can see (the full list of participants is here -- and it's amazing).

Then it's back east, for an event at the Soho Apple Store at 103 Prince Street on Wednesday, May 4 at 6:30. On Thursday, I'm reading at the Gershman Y in Philadelphia at 7 p.m., and my beloved Headhouse Books will be on hand to sell books.

Finally, on Friday, May 6 I'll be in Chicago, doing a 6 p.m. event at the Apple store on North Michigan Avenue.

I hope to see lots of you out there...and check back for news about the GOOD IN BED !0th-anniversary contest, and some fun THEN CAME YOU giveaways, as I continue to count the days until "The Bachelorette."

Greetings from Los Angeles!

I’m spending my days on the CBS lot in Studio City, where a bunch of absurdly funny writers and I are coming up with the first nine episodes of “The Great State of Georgia,” which will premiere on ABC Family on June 29, and finishing up the edits on THEN CAME YOU, out the second week of July.

Here is the cover! I love it, especially the green, which feels so fresh and spring-y.

THEN CAME YOU concerns four women and a baby. There’s India, the older, wealthy, married lady who wants to get pregnant, and can’t. There’s Jules, the college student who donates an egg, and Annie, the Pennsylvania housewife who serves as a surrogate, and Bettina, India’s twenty-three-year-old stepdaughter, who’s deeply skeptical of the whole endeavor. It’s an exploration into the issues that surrogacy raises…and also, the story of how these women end up forming a very modern family. It's been a lot of fun to write, and I hope lots of you will enjoy it this summer.

As for Georgia, I am loving my first stint in a writers’ room. In fact, I’m not sure how I’m going to keep writing without one. Novel-writing is so lonely, and writers’ rooms are hilarious. You spend the day sitting around swapping stories, pitching jokes, telling tales of Hollywood stars’ bad behavior (except because I don’t know any, I mostly just listen to those) and making up adventures for your girls. And then every afternoon: food trucks!

I think Georgia’s going to be a fresh, funny take on a time we all remember: right out of college and/or our parents’ houses, in a big city, taking those first jobs, navigating those first romances, finding your favorite bar and gym and yogurt shop, figuring out who you’re going to be. It’s a little “Laverne and Shirley,” a little “Sex and the City," and very girl-centric, which I'm thrilled about, because there's still so many comedies where the women are second bananas or romantic appendages or punchlines.

You can keep up with all things Georgia on the ABC Family website, right here.

Finally, the last piece of news, from the department of Wow Am I Old: GOOD IN BED turns ten this May! My publisher's releasing a special edition with a new cover (Cannie's bed-cake has a birthday candle), a new afterward, where I talk about what it was like to write my first novel and how the world has changed, or failed to change since then, and a new e-book price ($4.99). Best of all, I'm throwing a Win Cannie's Weekend contest to celebrate.

If you read GOOD IN BED, you probably know what the lucky winner and her BFF could get: a trip to Los Angeles, a stay in a fancy hotel, an afternoon of spa treatments, a delicious dinner, and an invitation to come watch us tape "The Great State of Georgia." (Introduction to movie stars who will subsequently become your friends or engage you in makeout sessions, alas, are not included).

Check back for the details. Better yet, follow me on Twitter, where I am @jenniferweiner, and I talk about what I'm reading, what I'm writing, and what I'm watching on reality TV.


More details forthcoming, but I wanted to share three pieces of big news.

Piece one: I turned in a draft of THEN CAME YOU to my editor today!

Piece two: I'll be on "The Nate Berkus Show" tomorrow, talking about life as a working mother.

Piece three: I learned that the most beautiful words in the English language are "I love you," and "ordered to series." "The Great State of Georgia" is a go!

So: I'll be relocating (temporarily!) to LA for the next few months, sharing executive producer duties, which means I will be writing scripts and overseeing casting and approving costumes and sets and doing a zillion other things to put a great, funny show with a big heart on TV.

Seriously, I heart Georgia. I loved writing the show, I loved watching Raven-Symone and Majandra Delfino bring the thing to life, and I think that, come springtime, you're going to dig it, too.

The TV show will premiere in late May or early June. The novel will be out the second week in July. And I'm assuming I'll spend August lying flat on my back, moaning softly to myself.

One of the heartbreaking things about writing novels is, there’s no opening night.

Yes, you’ve got pub day, which, as any author will tell you, is pretty anticlimactic. Your book shows up in stores with no fanfare or flourish. Maybe you do a reading that night, and maybe there’s a review or two. Your publisher sends you flowers, your loved ones offer congratulations, and your mother tells you she reserved her copy at the library. After that, nothing. It’s a whimper, not a bang.

TV? That’s different.

You spend months laboring over a script, thinking about the characters and their motivations, where they come from, what drives them, how they look, what they say. You hold your breath until the network gives you the go-ahead. You find your casting director, then your cast. A crew builds a set, constructing the workplaces and houses that have only ever existed in your dreams. There’s costumes and makeup and lighting and music. And then, you go onstage, in front of a live studio audience, and you put on a show.

We shot “The Great State of Georgia,” the half-hour sitcom I wrote with Jeff Greenstein last week at Hollywood Center Studios, where, once upon a time, “I Love Lucy” was filmed. About twenty of my friends and relations came to L.A. to watch the fun. Everyone from my seven-year-old daughter to my ninety-five-year-old Nanna was there…and my sister nabbed a small role, so they got to watch both of us work.

The whole thing was kind of magical. The sets looked so rich and so real – “just like a TV show!” I kept saying, which I’m sure wasn’t too charming after the hundredth time I’d said it. The characters, on stage, were funnier and more poignant than they ever sounded in my head. Raven-Symone as Georgia is all grown up, hilarious and heartbreaking when she has to be. Majandra Delfino, as her BFF Jo, is, in a word, adorable. Meagan Faye as Aunt Honey, their eccentric fairy godmother, is brilliant and droll, and should strike a chord with anyone who ever loved “The Golden Girls.” And I still love the story of the curvy, confident girl who’s going to change the world, instead of letting the world change her.

“So which do you like better?” a Facebook friend asked. “Books or TV?”

The truth is, they’ve both got their strong points. Nothing rivals the control you get from writing a novel: how it’s just you and your story and that great intangible, the reader’s imagination to see the world you're building on the page.

Television, as many anti-TV types point out, does a lot of that work for you: instead of imagining how a character looks and sounds, the viewer gets them served up in high-def.

But television also gives you a much broader canvas, a chance to tell a story over seasons, over years.

There’s also the question of audience.

If you write a hardcover that sells 100,000 copies in its first month of release, trust me, your publisher will be ecstatic.

In TV-land, a show just got cancelled for only bringing in 500,000 viewers on its debut night…and the show was on cable. Bottom line: if you’ve got something to say, a story to tell, and you want to reach people -- a lot of people -- there’s worse places to do it than on TV.

TV writing's refreshingly collaborative – instead of writing alone, spending a year by yourself with the characters in your head, you’re in a room, with other writers, pitching jokes and bits of dialogue, which the actors then bring to life.

I also love the chance to fix things that aren’t working. Joke’s not landing? Exposition’s feeling wordy? You rewrite on the spot, give the actor a new line or a new bit of direction, and it’s fixed. How many novelists would give blood or money for a chance to start tinkering with their words once they’re in print and out in the world?

Then there’s been the adventure of going from Philadelphia to West Hollywood. I’ve had a bunch of fun star sightings (Kelsey Grammar! Sarah Silverman! Cameron Diaz, who I think may actually live at my gym)! And I’ve learned lots of fun lingo. A “one-percenter,” for those wondering, is a joke that only one percent of your audience is going to get (“Like that joke you pitched about Sally Hemmings,” one of my new friends explained. “Or everything on ’30 Rock.’”) “Beat the blow” only sounds dirty – it means working on the joke or moment that ends a scene.

I’ve learned the joys of audience testing and network notes calls, gone through casting and blocking and post-production, a process in which you can sample a dozen different burps to put in your character’s mouth…and oh, did I mention that Liz Phair (Liz! Phair!) and her producing partners are doing the music? And that I had a breakfast meeting with Liz Phair during which I was too awestruck to speak? So now Liz Phair probably thinks of me (fondly, I hope) as that mute lady who ate some of her fruit plate. Which is cool. Could be worse, right?

So when can you see “The Great State of Georgia?” If ABC Family buys what we’re selling, I’ll be back out here in the spring to write and shoot more episodes, and the program will be coming to a TV set near you sometime this summer.

Stay tuned…

It’s been a week since I came to Los Angeles and started working on “The Great State of Georgia,” the sitcom I wrote with Jeff Greenstein that ABC Family picked up, and things are flying along. In a week’s time, we’ve hired a bunch of key personnel, including a great casting director and started auditioning actors for the lead roles.

Auditions are great fun…and a little dangerous. Actors come in. They read the lines, and then you say, “Could you try it a little faster? A little slower? With more of Southern accent? Hopping on one foot?” Georgia, our lead, is a singer, so we asked a few of the actors, if they could sing for us. One of them just finished a run as the lead on a Broadway show, so having her singing in a room was just amazing.

The thing is, once you realize that the actors will basically do anything you tell them, as long as they think it’ll help them get the part, it’s tempting – at least, for me – to take it too far, in a dance, meat puppet! kind of way. I see on your resume you can do a Cockney accent. Can I hear it? It says you can belt an E above high C. I’d like to hear that, too. In Polish. On one foot.

Georgia, our big, confident, curvy girl is probably going to be the biggest challenge to cast. Big, curvy, confident girls are not easy to find in LA as, say, tall, skinny, gorgeous girls. But our Georgia is out there, and we will find her.

Aunt Honey, our Southern grande dame of a certain age, is a challenge for another reason – we've got an embarrassment of riches. It seems like every actress of a certain age with comedy chops and a Southern accent in her repertoire wants to read for the part. I can’t name names, but it’s been kind of a Who’s Who of 1980’s/1990’s sitcom stars and big-screen actresses, and I’m having a hard time not behaving like Chris Farley meeting Paul McCartney when I see them. Remember when you were in the Beatles? That was cool!

In between all the TV fun, I'm working on my new book and getting my November and December in order, figuring out when I can fly home to see my family, or when they can come out here and visit me. Bicoastal living is rough. I miss my friends, and my routines, and Philadelphia in the fall…but I love this show, and I love these characters, and I’m having a lot of fun. And in less than six weeks we'll be shooting the thing!

Stay tuned...

Hey! Remember that development deal I had with ABC?

I had a great time. Met amazing people. Learned a lot. Wrote a few pilots and had them get close…and then, nothing.

Hollywood breaks your heart like that, and I figured, I loved the experience, and learned so much, and made great contacts, so I couldn’t be too disappointed. Especially not when I hadn’t quit my day job – I signed a new deal with my publisher last spring – and got to keep a hand in the world of TV, working on other ideas for shows.

So there I was, a few weeks back, on a beautiful September afternoon, hopping into a cab to meet my friend Elizabeth for lunch when my cell phone rang. It was a comedy executive at ABC Studios calling. Remember “The Great State of Georgia?” he asked.

Do I remember Georgia? I remember Georgia like you remember your first love, the guy who gave you your first great kiss, and then broke your heart and took your best friend to the prom.

“The Great State of Georgia” is a half-hour sit-com that I wrote with Jeff Greenstein, who is a genius, and much funnier (and taller) than I am. It’s about a big, gorgeous girl with a big, gorgeous voice from a tiny town down South who wants to be a star, and moves to New York City to make it happen, with her geeky, stunning-but-doesn’t-know-it science-nerd BFF in tow. Hilarity ensues – much of it stemming from the times when our heroine who is not, as they say, challenged in the self-esteem department, comes up against the unpleasant realization that she’s not what the snooty tastemakers of NYC have in mind.

I loved writing Georgia. It was a chance to do a funny, modern gloss on “Laverne & Shirley,” with rich, well-rounded female characters; to write about friendship and family and love and new beginnings; about making it in spite of the world telling you that you can’t.

It was also a lot of fun to do a big girl who’s not stuck in self-deprecation-land: Georgia knows she’s fabulous – the fabulous descendant of a long line of fabulous, beauty-pageant-winning babes who turn men into drooling piles of mush -- and is mostly confused when the world doesn’t agree. It broke my heart when ABC didn't bite. I figured Georgia and Jo, and Luke, Georgia’s loyal but dim-bulb hometown honey, would be forever consigned to that unhappy land where imaginary characters go to die.

But! Hold the phone! Turns out, ABC Family (home of “Melissa and Joey, “and “The Secret Life of the American Teenage,” and the late, lamented “Huge”) liked the script and wants to shoot a pilot.

Which means I’m packing up to head west this weekend for eight weeks of casting, hiring, rewrites, and, eventually, shooting the show. If ABC Family likes what it sees, they’ll order a bunch of episodes, which I will executive produce. So if you like my books, my blog, or even my tweets about “The Bachelor,” I think you’ll like “Georgia.”

It’s all very exciting. And scary. This will be, by far, the longest I’ll have been away from my family…but I’m thrilled to be starting a new adventure. And hiring a line producer. And figuring out what a line producer does.

So! Keep reading the blog -- and follow me on Twitter -- for what I hope will be frequent and funny updates from TV Land. (And if you're a gorgeous young plus-size actress who can sing and dance and wants to star in a sit-com, please keep your ear to the ground for news about casting calls, which will be happening soon).

As they say, stay tuned…

When I first heard the premise of Emma Donoghue's ROOM, I think my reaction was probably something along the lines of, "Oh, hell no."

A novel about an abducted woman, living in a lead-lined garden shed with her rapist's child? Thanks, but no thanks. Life's hard enough, and I've got little kids. Bad enough to pick up the newspaper or People magazine and read about the real-life cases of women snatched and stolen, turned into sex slaves by random monsters or their own fathers, living in lightless dungeons, being raped and tortured and isolated from the world. I'll pass.

But the reviews were so good, and there were so many of them (which shows, better than anything, the power that book reviews still have), that I bought a copy, and found myself not only completely engrossed but charmed and, ultimately, completely blown away by Donoghue's accomplishment.

ROOM tells one of those familiar, terrible stories, but turns it on its head by telling it from five-year-old Jack's point of view. Jack, who speaks in a patois familiar to anyone who's had a little kid in the house, thinks Room is pretty much a paradise. Ma, creative and resourceful, is never out of sight, and she fills his days with games and exercise, with singing and reading and activities he doesn't always understand -- there's a Daily Scream, where the two of them lie underneath the skylight and make as much noise as they can. She feeds him, nurses him, and tells him that the only things that are real are the things he can see...that everything on television is made up, and that there's nothing at all beyond Room's walls. When Jack asks for a telephone -- "Bob the Builder has one," Ma replies, "Jack. He'd never give us a phone, or a window." Ma takes my thumbs and squeezes them. "We're like people in a book, and he won't let anybody else read it."

Eventually, in spite of Jack's reluctance, Ma conceives a plan to set them free. "Let's just stay," Jack protests, but Ma tells him, "It's getting too small."

There's a nail-biting section where Jack gets his first taste of the outside...and then Ma and Jack's world cracks open. The rest of the story deals with the way the two of them cope with their new circumstances -- as tragic as they are triumphant -- and are, in a sense, born again.

ROOM also comes with an amazing website. You can read an excerpt here, explore ROOM here, and read about the author here.

Emma Donoghue was kind enough to answer my questions. Our Q and A is below...and don't forget, if you order the book before tomorrow morning and send your receipt to, I'll do a drawing and send ten winners a signed copy of whichever one of my books they choose.

Where did this story come from? Have you always been interested in
the topic of abducted women and imprisoned children, or was there a specific case in the news that piqued your interest?

Although I've often written about real incidents from history, I've never looked to today's headlines for material: my contemporary work tends to be inspired more by my own experiences. And I'd never taken any particular interest in kidnapping-and-confinement cases before, in fact I'm not sure I'd ever more than glanced at such headlines before hearing about the Fritzl case in Austria in April 2008. I think because my children were four and one at the time, I was primed: a couple of days after first hearing about it, I was seized all at once with the idea of a novel narrated by a five-year-old who's never been outside.

I know you did a lot of research on the Internet to understand Jack and Ma's circumstances. Did you also read novels? Were you interested in exploring the abductor's point of view (I'm thinking about John Knowles' THE COLLECTOR), or was it a deliberate choice to stay away?

Absolutely, I had separate research files for factual and fictional works. But with the fictional ones, with the exception of Fowles's masterful THE COLLECTOR and V C Andrews' unforgettable FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (both of which I read as a teenager), it wasn't books about imprisonment I was studying hard, so much as books in which a narrator (often but not always a child) conjures up their own little world, all the way from Daniel Defoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE to Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME. I also watched films such as Truffaut's WILD CHILD (for that shock of encountering 'civilisation') and Cameron's TERMINATOR 2 (there's no fiercer momma on celluloid!) As for representing the abductor's point of view, I did deliberately keep Old Nick at arm's length in ROOM: just as Ma does, I was refusing to let him set the terms of the novel, refusing to make it a kidnap story rather than Jack's story of childhood. Also, so much gripping detective fiction has explored the psyche of the 'collector' type, I was more interested in focusing on the vibrant normality of his victims.

Many reviewers have marveled at Jack's language, which struck me as both incredibly specific and universal to the way kids see the world (I've got a seven-year-old and an almost-three-year-old, and I was so impressed with how well you captured kid-speak). Did you draw on your own children for influence? Did you read the book out loud as you were writing, to hear Jack's dialogue? Who are some of your favorite fictional children?

I always read, or at least mutter, my lines aloud as I'm editing them; this is why if ever I write in a public space such as a cafe I seem like a crazy person. As for inventing Jack's language, I drew above all on my son, who (serendipitously) was five as I was drafting the novel: I wrote down remarks he made, and charted his linguistic oddities, trying to pick out a few of the most flavorful five-year-old-isms (such as the logical past tense, 'I winned', 'I eated') rather than subject the adult reader to all of them! My son knew the gist of 'the story of Jack and the bad guy' and let me, at one point, press-gang him into getting rolled up in a dusty old rug to see if he could wriggle his way out.
My favorite fictional children are a large crowd, but I'm going to pick... Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the boy in THE GO-BETWEEN (I don't even remember his name but I'll never forget his feelings of confusion and embarrassment), and the hero of Roddy Doyle's PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA. And there's a wonderful novel out next spring by Stephen Kelman called PIGEON ENGLISH with a Ghanaian-Londoner child narrator you'll never forget.

What was the reaction when you told people this was what you were working on? Did you discuss ROOM while it was a work in progress? Did you get any interesting responses from friends and loved ones?

My partner said 'But how could a five-year-old... produce enough meaning?' I took that as a challenge. My UK and US agents, more cannily, said 'yes, yes, yes!' Even now, I always feel slightly awkward when summarising the set-up of ROOM for anyone for the first time; I start waving my hands and saying 'honestly, it's not sick or depressing...'

One of the things that's always struck me about true cases of women like Ma, who are kidnapped, raped, and bear their captors' babies, is how often there's a woman involved, whether she's aiding and abetting a man she's in love with or married to, or she's the clueless mother of the victim, buying her husband's stories about what happened to their daughter. Did you consider giving Old Nick a female accomplice?

You're absolutely right. I read up on all the sexual-kidnapping cases I could find, and they typically have additional complications such as a complicit woman, religious mania, sadistic torture, incest, child abuse, brainwashing, Stockholm syndrome, health-damage from bad ventilation, additional captives... While these are all very interesting, I really wanted to focus on the issue of freedom versus confinement, so I created the simplest and most bearable setup I could for Ma and Jack. I didn't want my readers to be flinching and shuddering on every page, I wanted them to enter into the magic kingdom Jack and Ma manage to create in the middle of the underworld.

Ma gets testy with her "puffy-hair" interviewer when she's asked about still breast-feeding Jack. I've been surprised to see how the nursing's become an issue for some of the critics, who seem just as discomfited as your fictional reporter. Did this surprise you?

I encountered that reaction at the first-draft stage when someone working for my UK agent told me she was bewildered and repelled by the breast-feeding. Aha, I thought, I must keep that in! Not only does it seem to me to make sense that Ma wouldn't wean Jack off something so primally comforting as long as they're locked in, but I like the way it makes readers remember, every now and then, that Ma and Jack are not quite like everybody else: they're from a different place.

Many reviewers, and readers, have been grappling lately with the question of what makes a book "big," and what kinds of stories qualify as "great American novels." ROOM can be read as a domestic novel, a story of a mother and son that takes place in a tiny and circumscribed world, but it's got a lot to say about some major issues -- about a mother's obligations, about the nature of fame and notoriety, about what parents owe their children, and what they owe themselves. Do you think ROOM is a big book? What do you look for in a great novel (American or otherwise?) Tell us about a few of your favorites, and what makes them great.

I do see ROOM as a big book, in that it's got high ambitions, and it's about the most universal human issues. I tried to write on on several levels, so that one reader could enjoy it as a page-turner about an imprisoned boy, and another could recognise it as a thought-experiment along the lines of Plato's cave. But that does mean that at least some reviews have stuck to considering it as a description of kidnapping, or perhaps seen it as a simple celebration of motherhood... when I'd prefer them to make that leap and understand Jack's story as not just Everychild's story but Everyperson's too. After all, each of us is locked inside one skull. But this is an age-old argument. A woman writer, a domestic setting, and a small number of characters, often cause a novel to get mis-filed as small, ever since Jane Austen.

As for the novels I consider great... oh dear, it's so hard to choose, and to explain their greatness! Let me stick to mentioning American ones on this occasion: Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME-TRAVELLER'S WIFE, Dave Eggers' A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY, Jane Smiley's A THOUSAND ACRES, Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONOMICON.

My readers always want to know about my process, and trying to find time to write with young children at home. How do you do it? When, and where, do you work?

Like many writers, my books absolutely depend on the hard work of paid carers. ROOM, for instance, got drafted in six months of four long mornings a week, when our toddler daughter was being looked after by a woman in the little French town we were staying in. I've never managed to write while my kids are in the house, but I do get through my email somehow, often with my daughter writhing in my lap, and my son saying 'Can I see sharks on You Tube when you're done? Are you nearly done? Are you done?' I work in our front room, which we've turned into an office, and the minute the kids are off to daycare and school I run to my desk as if to a lover. I shouldn't boast about this, but my ability to absolutely ignore mess and dirty dishes really helps.

Another question I get a lot is about how old my kids will be before I let them read my books. Is this something you've thought about yet?

As the child of a writer (the literary critic Denis Donoghue), my experience is that kids often have no interest in picking up Mom or Dad's books! In the case of ROOM, I suppose it's possible that the child-narrator will make this one appealing to my son and daughter at some stage. I would let an eight-year-old read it, actually. It's got only the most brief and indirect references to rape in it; they'll hear far worse at school.

Finally, what are you reading now? What are you writing now? When can we look forward to seeing something new?

I'm reading Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG (she and Elizabeth George being my favorite intelligent-detective-fictioneers) and Peter Carey's PARROT AND OLIVIER (because I want to have read the whole Booker shortlist by the time I go to the party). I've finished the research for my next novel - 1870s San Francisco lowlifes - and am mulling over those vital questions of point-of-view and tense. I don't know when it'll be finished, though, because I'm finding that success takes up a lot more of my time than I expected: an alarming proportion of my days is currently spent on phone interviews and having my picture taken, and in between I find I don't have much in my head!

Back in August, when Jodi Picoult tweeted about the New York Times’ predilection for reviewing the fiction of white men, people wondered: is this true?

A few weeks after the #franzenfreude conversation began, the bloggers at Slate’s ran the numbers…and found that they’re even worse than regular readers of the paper might have guessed.

Of all of the fiction the New York Times reviewed last year, only 38 percent was written by women.

Of all the novels that got the coveted double reviews, 72 percent were written by men.

When you consider popular fiction, the numbers get even worse.

According to blogger Scott Lemieux, in the time period Slate considered, eleven best-selling male authors, including Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown, got the double whammy of the daily and the Sunday review. Only one woman writing what’s considered commercial fiction – NYC’s own Candace Bushnell -- was reviewed twice in the Times.

Where, wondered Ruth Franklin of The New Republic, is the outrage? Where’s the letter from the public editor? When is this going to change?

While it’s certainly fun to imagine the Times’ public editor harrumphing through the halls, banging his cane against the radiator and demanding justice, or to picture book review editor Sam Tanenhaus pawing through stacks of galleys, desperately searching for a debut rom-com by a lesbian of color to review tomorrow if not sooner, I strongly suspect that the answer’s probably never (I imagine this in my best David Spade voice – how’s never? Is never good for you?)

I say this because, the day after Franklin’s blog post ran, the Grey Lady, which had already published two reviews and a half-dozen news stories and columns about FREEDOM, gave us her answer.

It sent a reporter to cover Jonathan Franzen’s book party.

It was, by Liesl Schillinger’s account, a magical night, what with the glittering literati all gussied up for the coronation and having themselves a good old Manhattan laugh at the “detractors” who dared to “grouse” at their golden boy’s good fortune.

"After Time magazine put Mr. Franzen on its Aug. 23 cover, with the tagline “Great American Novelist,” the author Jennifer Weiner created the Twitter hashtag @Franzenfreude (sic), defining the word as “taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen.”

Emerging from a conversation with Lorin Stein, the new editor of The Paris Review, Jonathan Galassi, the president of Farrar Straus Giroux, publisher of “Freedom,” rejected Ms. Weiner’s word, as defined. In German, he pointed out, “freude” means “joy.” “This,” he said extending his arm to indicate the revelers —“is Franzenfreude” — Joy in Franzen.

Had Schillinger asked me for a quote, I would have told her that “your made-up German compound noun is incorrect” is not a satisfactory response to “your paper does not cover women’s work fairly.”

I would have explained how hashtags work. Then I would have said that of course it’s “joy of Franzen.” When you’ve got the nation’s most important paper acting as your personal PR firm, what could possibly cause you pain? The schaden part – the pain of the writers whose work goes unreviewed and unreported-on, the pain of readers who watch in frustration as the Times devotes thousands of words to its boy of the hour while ignoring the books that they read and enjoy and talk about – that’s as silent, as invisible as it’s always been to the people who run the Times.

Of course, franzenfreude was never just about Jonathan Franzen. It’s about the way the Times and the media works, piling praise and attention on a certain kind of boy writing a certain kind of book while refusing to ever consider a woman for that Great American Novelist chair. Meghan O’Rourke in Slate and Katha Pollitt in The Nation both said this more smartly than I could. Even Franzen himself, in an interview with Terri Gross on Fresh Air (which, is turns out, has female trouble of its own), acknowledged that the discussion was never primarily about of him or his book, but a feminist critique of which novels get covered, and how often, and where.

I don’t have much to add, except that it’s been amusing to watch the big boy editors and some of the quote-unquote literary novelists circle the wagons, repeating shrilly, almost hysterically, that there’s no problem with their policies, insisting that, even in the face of hard data proving otherwise, there’s nothing to see here except a pair of inexplicably discontented lady writers piling on poor Jonathan.

They’ve called me and Jodi Picoult names (in English and French). They’ve accused us of being fake populists, mean-spirited hacks just jealous of Franzen’s chops, or leeches trying to latch on to his success and tear down the distinction between high art and pop art. Most of all, they've pretended that this was a Jen-and-Jodi versus Jonathan fight -- Franzen versus "Franzen detractors," -- a conversation that wasn't really about review policies or about anything, really, except bitterness and bad attitudes...that it was personal, because with women, it's always personal, right?

Of course, there’s nothing new here.

In 2003, Stephen King was awarded the National Book Foundation’s medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and got the same kind of blowback for daring to suggest that maybe critics should give popular fiction its due. It’s the same stuff, recycled, only this time the criticism comes coated with a lovely layer of sexism, a delightfully dismissive tone of, "Oh, you girls. What will you think you deserve next?"

It’s worth considering what King said back then, in accepting his prize: “…[G]iving an award like this to a guy like me suggests that in the future things don't have to be the way they've always been. Bridges can be built between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction. The first gainers in such a widening of interest would be the readers, of course, which is us because writers are almost always readers and listeners first. You have been very good and patient listeners and I'm going to let you go soon but I'd like to say one more thing before I do.

Tokenism is not allowed. You can't sit back, give a self satisfied sigh and say, "Ah, that takes care of the troublesome pop lit question. In another twenty years or perhaps thirty, we'll give this award to another writer who sells enough books to make the best seller lists." It's not good enough. Nor do I have any patience with or use for those who make a point of pride in saying they've never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.

What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture? Never in life, as Capt. Lucky Jack Aubrey would say….There's a great deal of good stuff out there and not all of it is being done by writers whose work is regularly reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. I believe the time comes when you must be inclusive rather than exclusive.

That said, I accept this award on behalf of such disparate writers as Elmore Leonard, Peter Straub, Nora Lofts, Jack Ketchum, whose real name is Dallas Mayr, Jodi Picoult, Greg Iles, John Grisham, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connolly, Pete Hamill and a dozen more. I hope that the National Book Award judges, past, present and future, will read these writers and that the books will open their eyes to a whole new realm of American literature. You don't have to vote for them, just read them.”


Readers, and some writers (most eloquently Tess Gerritsen), ask: why does the Times matter any more? Writers like you and Jodi Picoult have managed to find an audience without the paper’s approval. Who cares what they say, or don’t say, about you?

On the one hand, yes. It’s perfectly possible to have a wonderful career, devoted readers, a very happy life (and a very happy publisher) without the Times ever taking notice.

On the other hand, we’re talking about the paper of record, a paper that’s wonderfully inclusive in its coverage of the creative arts, a paper that reviews opera and orchestras and Justin Bieber concerts and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop," a paper that takes as its mission to reflect the culture, not just instruct on what it thinks the culture should be, but somehow gets the icks when it comes to ladybooks.

If all you read was the Times, you’d be excused for thinking that FREEDOM was the only book published in the past few weeks. That wasn’t the case. On September 7, Terry McMillan published GETTING TO HAPPY, the sequel to her 1992 novel WAITING TO EXHALE.

McMillan’s tale of four upper-middle-class black women and their search for love was a game-changer. It became a huge word-of-mouth bestseller and eventually, a smash movie. Its success it opened doors for other authors by showing publishers that there was an enormous audience eager for stories about minorities who weren’t living in poverty, working as domestics, or coping with rape, abuse or illiteracy.

HAPPY's publication was big news in the mainstream press. Time and Entertainment Weekly ran profiles and Q and A’s. The Washington Post published a day-of-publication review, "Good Morning America" did an interview.

And the Times? Said nothing. The paper published not one review, not one news story, not one profile. Nothing. HAPPY debuted at number four on the Times’ bestseller list, which finally landed McMillan her first mention – a single paragraph in the book review’s chatty TBR column, which mentioned the author’s “bruising and very public” divorce, and concluded with a recycled quote from the Raleigh News & Observer.

I suppose the paper could say that Tanenhaus made on NPR: “we cover literature,” and, presumably, GETTING TO HAPPY doesn’t qualify. It could say that McMillan’s readers had plenty of other places to get information about the book….but neither of those arguments kept the Times from lavishing attention on Steig Larsson’s bestselling Millennium trilogy.

The message: McMillan's book doesn’t really matter. Her readers aren’t worth talking to.

And when the paper of record tells its readers, through silence and omission, that some stories, some writers, some readers matter more than others and some stories, some writers, some readers, don’t matter at all, then yes, I’ve got a problem with that.

Maybe it’s because I used to be a newspaper reporter, and continue to cling to the belief that newspapers matter. Maybe it’s because I’ve got daughters, and if either of them is lucky or cursed enough to be a writer, I’d like to think that their books won't have to clear the hurdles of built-in assumptions about the value of women's work.

Or maybe it’s the way gay couples felt when the Times started including their photographs and wedding announcement in the Sunday Styles section. Yes, their unions were legitimate and binding even without the paper’s coverage, and yes, their friends and loved ones always knew the truth about their commitment, but it’s nice to be seen as part of the official record, to have no less an entity than the New York Times say, “You know what? You’re part of the story. You belong here, too.”


So what happens now? Given the inequities, and the Times’ reluctance to address them, is there anything individual readers and writers can do?

I’ve been thinking about how there has to be a way to use whatever influence I’ve got, or have gained during this tempest, to help get the word out about great books that are never going to inspire a Franzen-level frenzy.

Tomorrow I'll be posting a Q and A with Emma Donoghue, author of the brilliant and much-celebrated ROOM, which has earned a ton of praise (including the double-review from the Times) and deserves every accolade it's gotten. She'll talk about her influences (FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, anyone?), her research, the challenges of writing with small children and what makes ROOM a big book.

If you buy ROOM between now and Saturday morning and send your receipt to, I'll pick ten winners to get a signed copy of whichever one of my books they like.

Finally, come back next week for an announcement about what I'll be doing going forward to make try to keep the spotlight on the books the Times ignores.

I think this could be the start of a great conversation. I hope you'll join me.

I can remember – I bet lots of fans can – the day I discovered Jenny Crusie.

I was a single girl at the time, a working reporter and wannabe novelist with a manuscript languishing under my bed. One night, I was browsing in the bookstore, when a candy-colored cover caught my eye, along with the title TELL ME LIES.

I think it took me about a page and a half of reading about Maddie Faraday’s perfect life fall apart (she finds strange panties underneath her husband’s driver’s seat, and things go downhill from there) before deciding that this was a book for me. I added it to my stack and brought it back to my single-girl lair in Philadelphia.

Let me tell you: that book was Hot with a capital H. It was steamy. It was sexy. It was funny! It was feminist. It was, in a word, wonderful…but, beyond just keeping me entertained and laughing, that book made me believe that there might be a place in the world for the kind of story I’d started thinking about telling.

If a smart cookie like Jenny Crusie could write brilliantly entertaining books starring sassy, spunky heroines who lived out their girl-power beliefs instead of being cardboard cutouts upon which their creator could scribble her views, maybe there was a place in the world for the characters whose voices had starting filling my head.

Fast-forward to 2001, I was a newbie author, on book tour with the story that had become GOOD IN BED. The tour had been predictably disheartening. There were bookstore visits where nobody showed up, and bookstore visits where the audience consisted of two whey-faced, terrified-looking women who trembled their way to the podium and whispered, “Your mother said she’d kill us if we didn’t come, so can you please tell her we were here?” I lost my luggage, missed deadlines on the columns I was still trying to write for my day job, heard my name mispronounced more times and more ways than I could count. Once, I showed up to a bookstore to sign stock, and was met with blank looks and a twenty-minute wait, after which the too-cool-for-school clerk heaved a weary sigh and handed me a stack of copies of WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE (which, ironically, I could have used at that point, but felt reluctant to sign). I was homesick and road-weary…and I was terrified of teaming up with an established author of Jenny Crusie’s caliber.

What if she’s awful? (some authors are). What if she doesn’t want to be bothered with a first-time writer nobody’s heard of (a completely understandable response?) What if…what if…?

Well. Jenny was lovely. Beyond lovely. She was generous, welcoming, full of encouragement and great advice. She showed me how to laugh at the indignities of book tour, told me stories about her own life as a writing and became, for that day, my new BFF (I think she had to actually pry my nails out of her flesh when it was time for us to go).

At one point during the day, we did a radio interview together. The host asked us each to describe our books, then said something to the effect of, “Isn’t it strange to be sitting down with your competition?”

Jenny and I said almost the exact same thing at the exact same time: we aren’t each other’s competition. Women writers are never each other’s competition. If someone loves my books, she’ll probably love Jenny’s, and vice versa…and probably each of us would happily tell you about ten other women whose work we love.

Along those lines, I am so excited to be spreading the word about Jenny’s first solo effort in six years, the brilliant, warm, funny, completely engrossing MAYBE THIS TIME.

MAYBE THIS TIME is classic Crusie. There’s the heroine, Andromeda “Andie” Miller, a strong-willed, singular, brainy babe who lives and breathes on the page. There’s North, her guy not taken, a hot, handsome attorney who was briefly her husband, and who never stopped loving her. When North convinces Andie to move out to the middle of nowhere, Ohio, and care for his orphaned niece and nephew, Andie quickly realizes that there’s strange doings in Archer House.

The housekeeper, with her aggressive attitude and persistent smell of peppermint schnapps, is an underminer. The little boy might be a pyromaniac. Andie’s engaged to a great guy who’s not the right guy for her, and her wifty New-Age mom keeps trying to talk tarot . Meanwhile, she’s tormented by strange, arousing dreams about her ex-husband of ten years. And that’s even before she starts seeing ghosts…

MAYBE THIS TIME has a colorful cast of supporting characters (just wait until you meet Isolde Hammersmith, potty-mouthed medium, and Kelly O’Keefe, a TV reporter who’s too ambitious, and too toothy, for her own good ). There’s two prickly, heartsore little kids, and a deceased young woman who might not be as dead as she should be.

It’s a story about love and obligation; about how your family isn’t just who you birth, but what you build. It’s about the way the past tugs at us and ties us down, and how passion and courage can set us free. There is, of course, a species of happy endings, but Jenny Crusie’s happy endings are never trite or predictable. Instead, they feel as real as the women who populate her books.

And now, without further ado, Jennifer Crusie on MAYBE THIS TIME!

* * * * *
Stephen King once wrote that every horror writer is obligated to write his or her own version of the haunted-house story (or haunted apartment building, in Rosemary’s Baby, or haunted hotel, in The Shining). But you’re more known for your hilarious romances than the supernatural. What made you decide to write a ghost story?

It was Henry James’s fault. I loved The Turn of the Screw, taught it over and over again, but I always wanted to give his governess a name and a second chance. So in the back of my mind, there was this nagging idea that I should do my version of the story, not because James’s version isn’t wonderful, but because I wanted a crack at it. I was fixated on the governess, but you get the ghosts as a package deal so about a quarter of the way through, I thought, Oh, damn, now I have to write ghosts, and went for it.

Andie struck me as a classic Crusie heroine – smart, hard-headed, good-hearted, outwardly sensible with the secret, yearning heart of a romantic inside. Is she the kind of character you would have written ten years ago? How is she different than Maddie in TELL ME LIES or Sophie in WELCOME TO TEMPTATION? How is she the same?

I think all my heroines share the same value system, but after that, they all get to where they’re going for different reasons. Maddie wanted to preserve her way of life, Sophie wanted to avoid rejection, Andie wants to run away every time she gets close to emotional involvement. None of them says, “Oh, goody, change, just what I wanted,” none of them wants the conflict or goes into willingly. What makes them go into battle is a threat to somebody they love which, I have just realized typing this, is a child or children in all three cases. Huh. I am so not a kid-writer. But Maddie’s going to protect her daughter, Sophie goes to the wall for her sister Amy (who, let’s face it, is emotionally about twelve), and Andie can’t walk away from Carter and Alice. That’s pretty much a staple in Gothics, the isolated child who needs protected, so it’s no surprise it showed up in Maybe This Time, but I am surprised about the others. Kids. Who knew?

MAYBE THIS TIME is your first solo outing in six years. I’m curious as to how you wound up co-writing books, and what made you decide to write by yourself again.

Menopause. It knocked out that part of my brain that told stories, or at least the part that let me hear the voices talking in my head. They just weren’t THERE any more, and that really threw me for a loop. It’s not like I make this stuff up. Then I was teaching at the Maui Writers Conference and seriously considering leaping into the Pacific, when Bob Mayer handed me a glass of white wine and said, “We should collaborate.” I thought, He’s written thirty books, he can probably get me to the end of one, and I said, “You bet.” The big surprise was that I loved collaborating and I want to do more. It pushes me in different directions and I learn so much. But after five years, I wanted a book of my own again, and the my-version-of-The-Turn-of-the-Screw idea was still at the back of my mind, and then one day I could hear Andie’s voice in my head, and I wrote the first scene as a parallel to the governess’s scene with the guardian, and I was off again. I have six solo books I want to do, but there are also two more collaborations I want to do. They’re just different options at the buffet that is fiction.

Readers always want to hear the story of how I got started. Tell us how you wrote, and published, your first book.

I got divorced. We should do a survey of how many romance writers got started writing because their own love lives pancaked. I started to keep a journal where I wrote down a lot of bitter, vile things, and that wasn’t very satisfying, so I tried to make it more interesting and it began to turn into a murder mystery—I spent a long time on the husband’s body rotting in a closed car in the dead of August—and then I added another a love interest—at that point, it was all fiction—and then real life intervened because I had this little girl to raise on my own, so I put it aside because I was never going to write a book, who was I kidding? Two years later, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer and given six months to live and among the other things, I thought, “And I’ll never write a book.” It wasn’t that I’d had a huge yearning to write a book, it was that now I wasn’t ever going to. The cancer worked out all right, and then a friend wanted to go to the Antioch Writer’s Workshop and talked me into it because she wanted company. Sue Grafton was the headliner, and she looked at my work and said, “Write a romance, they’re easier.” I thought, I don’t even read romance, and wandered off again because I was a single mother in grad school working two jobs and the whole writer thing was never going to happen anyway. But when I was working on my PhD. dissertation, I started reading romance novels as research (the thesis topic was the impact of gender on storytelling) and thought, “I want to write this. I LIKE this.” So I entered a Harlequin novella contest and won (there were 12 winners so it wasn’t that great an accomplishment) and wrote nine romances for HQ and Bantam, and then one day an editor from New York said, “I’d like to publish you in single title,” and I said, “Wait a minute,” and found a fabulous agent and showed her the pieces of my divorce book and she said, “That one,” and after many rejections and revisions, we sold it to Jennifer Enderlin. So when somebody says, “How long does it take you to write a book?” I say, “Tell Me Lies took seventeen years.”

I love your stories about your editor, Jennifer Enderlin – I’ve never met her, but I feel like I know her. Can you tell us a little more about the two of you? How did you meet? How long have you been working together?

Jen Enderlin is a goddess. We met because my agent, Meg Ruley, said, “You know who’d work well with you? Jennifer Enderlin.” I think that’s an aspect of agenting that’s overlooked, that ability to matchmake editor and writer. We’d sent Tell Me Lies out (it was titled Frog Point Wallow then) to nine editors and seven turned it down. The other two offers were really low, but one was from Jen at St. Martin’s. We turned both offers down, but I read all the rejections and went back and looked at the book again and did a major revision. While I was doing that, Jen wrote a note to Meg—handwritten note—that said, “I can’t stop thinking about Jennifer Crusie. Will I ever get the chance to work with her?” Meg showed me the note and I said, “Her. I want to work with an editor who would do that.” We sent her the rewritten book as a pre-empt and she met the price, which was huge for me at the time, and I began to work with her—first change: the title, thank God—and I was captivated by how smart she was. She’s a good reader, she intuitively knows where things aren’t working, but she never says, “Put a dog in here.” She says, “This part drags, I’m not emotionally involved here, I don’t like it when she does this, this scene goes too far and squicks me out.” And then we talk about it. I tell her why I made the moves in the book that I did, she tells me why she felt the way that she did, the discussion opens up the story for me in new ways, and we work together to get what the book needs. It’s such a great partnership. We’ve been working together for fourteen years, but that trust and understanding have been there from the beginning. It makes a huge difference that I’m writing with somebody I know will always be honest with me even when the feedback is discouraging, somebody who works so hard to make our books together better. And when the book is done, she sells the hell out of it; she’s a genius at positioning, marketing, the whole publishing game. Jen Enderlin really is the perfect editor.

Do you have a favorite character in MAYBE THIS TIME? A favorite scene? What was the hardest part of the book to write? Are there any stories behind the story – an unexpected inspiration; a line of dialogue you actually said?

The hardest part was the ghosts. I didn’t want to write a ghost story, but there they were and since I’m firmly in the of-course-the-ghosts-were-real school of Turn of the Screw critics, I had to have ghosts. It wasn’t until I stopped thinking of them as things that went bump in the bedrooms and started thinking of them as people that I finally found my way in. I did a lot of ghost research, but at the end of the day, ghosts are just people who can’t let go. I can sympathize with that; you should see all the stuff in my garage. But my favorite character turned out to be Alice, the little girl. I am so not a kid writer; I’m not even a kid person. I was a public school teacher for fifteen years, I know what evil lurks in those little hearts. But about the time I started to write this, my best friend moved in with me and brought her two little girls, and I remembered why I’d been a teacher: kids are fascinating, little ids running around, staking their claim to the future. I love Alice because nothing ever defeats her; she’s eight years old, she’s lost everybody she’s ever loved, she’s eating a lot of cold cereal in a haunted house, and she’s fighting back with everything she has. She isn’t a pleasant child, but she’s a heroine.

Alice and Carter, the children are remarkable – instead of being two-dimensional cuties, or baddies, there to move the plot along or provide comic relief, they are fully realized, prickly and in pain. How did you get them so right? Are there children in literature you used as models, or look to as great examples of grown-ups writing completely believable kids?

When my best friend showed up on my doorstep with Sweetness and Light, a deeply thoughtful, introspective ten-year-old and a red-rubber-ball extroverted eight-year-old, Alice was born. Sweetness writes and illustrates her own books in the quiet of her bedroom; Light never has an unexpressed thought or a moment when she’s not moving. The two of them together gave me everything I needed for Alice. Carter was harder because boys tend to be even less verbal than Sweetness, but I remembered my brother at that age, quiet and serious and just trying to do what was right without ever talking about it, and I built a lot of Carter on him and drew on Sweetness, too, for the love of comic books, the constant concern about the people he loves. I think it made a huge difference that Sweetness and Light aren’t my kids because I could observe them so clearly. Light set the microwave on fire the other day--she was trying to make soup and put a metal can in there instead of one of the microwavable plastic ones—and her exasperation with us all was so Alice that I almost laughed. Okay, I did laugh. Alice would have had that same the-microwave-betrayed-me look of outrage.

You’re famous for your spicy sex scenes. How do you do it? Whenever I write about sex I literally have to squeeze my eyes shut and imagine a universe in which my mother or my siblings will never ever ever read a copy of my book, and that the books will have ceased to exist by the time my daughters are old enough to read them. Are you similarly inhibited?

Oh, god, sex scenes. I’m writing a first person book right now and I just want to kill myself every time I get to one. It does help that my mother doesn’t read my books. She says she does, but when I was going to give a speech in my home town, and one of the people in the host organization objected because there was oral sex in my books, and my mother found out (my mother who swears she reads every word and loves them all) and said, “You have oral sex in your books?” So yeah, not too worried about my mother reading them. Back to sex scenes. The only way to write them is to remember that they’re like every other scene in the book. There’s a protagonist and an antagonist and they’re in conflict over something and at the end of the scene, the struggle has changed them both and one of them has won. If everything goes beautifully and there’s no conflict, you just write “And then they had great sex,” and move on to the next scene. But the first time people have sex, it changes them and the relationship and they leave that scene different because of the emotional impact of all that risk and nakedness. So you write the characters, not the stereo instructions. And I still would rather write almost anything else. I have noticed that, as I get older, I’m writing more about food than sex. I sent Jen the first half of my current book and it has a sex scene in it, but the thing she mentioned was my protagonist’s lunch: “That was the best description of a cheeseburger I have ever. Read. In. My. Life.” I love my editor.

Tell me a little about your process. Are you an outliner or a seat-of-your-pantser? Do you write in the mornings or the afternoons? Longhand or computer? Do you keep a notebook by your bed to scribble down inspiration when it strikes? How has your process changed as your life has progressed? Any words of encouragement for writers trying to balance novels with toddlers and young children? (It does get easier, right?)

I don’t know how you write with little kids, I really don’t. My daughter has a two-year-old and a one-month old and works full time from home; she’s doing a great job but I know she’s holding on by her fingernails. I started writing when she was sixteen when she could get her own juice and socks, so I have no words of advice at all, just a lot of sympathy and admiration. As for my process, ha. Twenty years doing this and I’m still lurching around. I write all night because I like the night, everything is quieter then. I think I was a vampire in a previous life. A dour vampire, no sparkling. A vampire who sat at the back of the room and made smart remarks. Where was I? Right, my process. It’s completely random and intuitive. A idea wanders in, and one of my neurons looks at it and says, “Maybe if we turned it upside down,” and then the frontal lobe says, “I have other stuff in the attic that might work with that,” and then some music comes on the radio and that gets sucked in, and I’m writing a story about the vampire in the back of the room only by tomorrow it’ll be a witch because vampires are so yesterday and then a dog will show up. I’m pathetic. The real left-brain work goes on in the revision. I revise forever. Well, I have to, otherwise I’d have a vampire, a witch, and a dog making smart remarks at the back of the room and never getting anywhere.

Have you been following the controversy over the praise and attention lavished on Jonathan Franzen for his new novel, FREEDOM? Are you planning on reading the book? Do you think there’s a difference between the way women’s stories and men’s stories are perceived, and reviewed? Do you think things are getting better?

I’ve had my knife out for Franzen ever since he dissed Oprah viewers as Not His Kind, so no, I won’t be reading his book since he made it very clear he didn’t want me (“Hi, I’m from the Midwest, I’m female, and I wear a lot of knits!”). I haven’t read the reviews, but didn’t somebody call it the best book of the twenty-first century? Making the next ninety years irrelevant? That’s fanboy stuff—“BEST BOOK EVAH!”—so I’m not paying much attention, but it appears to be part and parcel of the whole Literary Group Think, something I got more than my share of doing an MFA in fiction. One of my profs said, “Jenny, you write so well. Have you ever thought about writing literature?” I said, “No,” because it was easier than explaining that literary fiction is just another genre, not God’s Library. The people who say, “I write for the canon” have forgotten or never knew that the canon doesn’t read. People read. Fiction is not beautiful writing although that’s wonderful; fiction is storytelling. It’s putting narrative on the page that moves and transforms people, and because there are many, many different kinds of people in the world, there are many, many different kinds of fiction. There’s nothing wrong with The Literary Group—they know what they like when they read it—until they start insisting that what they like is what everybody should like, and refusing to teach anything but literary fiction in creative writing programs and refusing to review anything but their definition of literary fiction in their publications. That’s a mistake: I think they’ve marginalized themselves and are becoming more and more irrelevant. Jon Stewart sells more books than a rave review in the NYT. Nora Roberts and Stephen King reach more people than Franzen ever will. There’s the real world full of a multitude of readers with a multiplicity of reading tastes, and it’s thriving and alive and interacting on the net, changing and growing and exciting because of its fluidity and passion, and then there’s the New York Times Book Review which is born ceaselessly back into the past by the literary version of the Tea Party who keep moaning that they want their America back, oblivious to the fact that their exclusive white, male America died with Gatsby. I’m much happier being part of the “All right then, I’ll go to hell” bunch. That’s where the party is.

Finally, what’s up next?

Liz Danger. I was working on a fun, secret project with a pal and my character was a mystery writer, so I mocked up her sixteen book backlist complete with covers and blurbs: the Liz Danger Mysteries. My daughter who is also my business partner said, “You have to write the Liz Danger mysteries,” and I said, “Uh huh,” and went back to writing Andie and the ghosts. But the thought stayed with me, and I’d never written a first person novel, and I was intrigued by the idea of a short (four-book) mystery series in which each book was a complete mystery but the four books together made a complete romance novel. And then the voices started and I talked Jen into it (Jen suffers a lot, working with me) and I’m finishing up the first book now. It’s called Lavender’s Blue, to be followed by Rest in Pink, Peaches and Screams, and Yellow Brick Roadkill. They were supposed to be light, frothy romps, but they took a turn for depth and now I don’t know what they are. Crusies, I guess. After that, I want to do two novels set in the same world at the same time that intersect, so that scenes show up in both books, but they read differently because the point of view character is different. One is called Haunting Alice and it’s about Alice at thirty, and the other is called Stealing Nadine, which is about a teenager from Faking It at thirty. And two friends and I are working on a collaboration called Fairy Tale Lies, about what happens after the Happily Ever After. Anne Stuart is writing Cinderella, Lucy March is writing Rapunzel, and I’m taking Red Riding Hood. I think there’s a lot of unexplored rage in Red Riding Hood and I want to explore it. Plus, wolves. Wolves are always good. So nothing but good times ahead.
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