Thursday, February 28, 2013

From Menobleep to The Chanel Caper: Is There Sex After Marriage?

ABSOLUTELY AMAZING SUPER TERRIFIC SALE! SHORT TIME ONLY! Park Avenue Series Books 1-3 Boxed Set usually $7.50 now $.99.  Get em while they're hot—and they ARE! 

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Now back to our usually scheduled programming:  

Many thanks to Mark Chisnell, bestselling author of top-quality thrillers, for including me in the #nextbigthing! Don’t miss Mark’s latest, Powder Burn. Coming soon! 

What is the title of your book?  The Chanel Caper.

The book begins when no-BS haute WASP Blake Weston buys a fake Chanel bag from a NYC sidewalk vendor. As it turns out, it would have been cheaper for Blake to go to Chanel, take a deep breath, spring for the money and buy a genuine Chanel.

OTOH, if she had done that, I wouldn’t have a book!

The original title was Menobleep—my made-up word to convey Blake’s attitude toward approaching sixty. Let’s put it this way: she’s not thrilled.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Lots and lots of places.

For a long time, I've wanted to write about the ups and downs of a long-term relationship and, especially, about the way romance can last, evolve and even flower over the years. Blake and her DH, hot Brooklyn boy and ex-cop Ralph Marino, have been through it all—the break ups and makeups, the squabbles, the spats and the stand-offs. Even so, after twenty-six years, they are still holding hands in the movies, still driving each other crazy.

A second contribution was that as my friends and I approached sixty, I realized that 60 isn’t what it used to be (and maybe never was). Maybe 60 is—or isn’t—the new 40 but attitudes toward age and aging have been transformed by Baby Boomers determined to stay on top of their game.

Add to the mix the fact that I’m a news junkie and love to write about the social and cultural atmosphere of the time in which a book is set. The Chanel Connection is set in the fall of 2008 when the financial system faced collapse. From Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff to bankers in five thousand dollar suits flying their private jets to Washington to scrounge for money, the financial crisis of 2008 was a wicked and, as it turned out, wickedly entertaining background for my Baby Boomer couple.

Also inspired by the news: a washed-up Martha Steward wannabe trying to make a come back with the help of a red balconette bra. Plus a one-eyed, one-legged Afghan warlord who doesn’t speak a word of English and an ├╝ber neurotic, germ-ophobic billionaire named George Profett freaking out as the stock market plummets and his net worth goes down—and down.

Supporting players: NYC’s ubiquitous sidewalk vendors of faux designer label bags, sunglasses and scarves and the city’s vast selection of ethnic restaurants and foods.  Throw in news articles about counterfeit drugs, the glam and glittering city of Shanghai, trendy gurus, hot self-help fads, Bollywood movies and you have some of the ingredients that went into The Chanel Connection.

What genre does your book fall under?

The Chanel Connection is romcom-mystery-thriller.

Which actors would you cast in a movie rendition?

Ellen Barkin would be a great Blake Weston. She survived Hollywood and Ronald Perelman. She’s snarky, savvy, strong and sexy.

Robert deNiro all cleaned up in a Brioni suit has the sex appeal and street cred to play Ralph, a retired NYPD cop with a James Bond edge.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

James Bond meets Nora Ephron. Or is it the other way around?

On Sunday, I’ll be posting over at Anne R. Allen's blog about how difficult women—they're thorny, obstinate, blunt, steely, manipulative, and sometimes pathological—can come to your rescue.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Downhill (Or Not What It Used To Be)

Has anyone else noticed everything going to hell in a hand basket or is it just me?

From Edward R. Murrow to Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann.
From Audrey Hepburn to Lindsay Lohan.
From Julia Child to Rachael Ray.
From Ernest Hemingway to EL James.
From Dr. Freud to Dr. Phil.
From Rockefeller and Vanderbilt to The Donald.
No wonder I’m so p*ssed off. Not just because I’m about to turn sixty and not just today but just about all the time and just about everywhere.
On line at the supermarket where I have to pack my own groceries.
At the gas station where I have to pump my own gas.
On hold listening to a robot telling me my call is important.
At the twenty minutes of trailers and commercials that precede every movie.
At the ads that precede internet videos.
At cell phones and their rude, clueless users.
At Metro cards that don’t work on first swipe, at double length buses that make Manhattan’s terrible traffic worse.
At a decade that began with Enron and ended with Bernie Madoff and Too Big To Fail.
You name it, it bugged me.
And, right now, you could add Ralph to the list.

Just because we’d been married since about forever did it really mean he had to go on a diet, start exercising, and buy a fancy new wardrobe?
How come he had more—and more expensive—beauty products than I did?
Since when did he spend more time in front of the mirror than I did?
Was it really fair that, almost sixty, he looked like Gregory Peck while I, just a few years younger, was beginning to look like Phyllis Diller?
Why did women who weren’t even born the year we got married look at Ralph with goo-goo eyes and why did Ralph have to look back?
“The male menobleep,” diagnosed Julia Makins, my bff who’d been married three times, divorced twice and widowed once.
Still, I wondered what happened to Ralph and me. The sizzle was gone, domesticity had set in, time and gravity had had their way with both of us.
Or was it just me?

I remember college like it was yesterday and our first apartment, a fourth floor walkup, in a neighborhood so crummy the local gang members didn’t even hang out on the corner. I remember my first job at Click magazine and the day Ralph retired from the NYPD. I remember when and why George Profett, the city’s most neurotic billionaire, hired Ralph to be Profett Media’s Vice President in charge of Security.
I remember all those things—and more—but the more important question is, why don’t I remember how I got to be almost sixty?
What happened to all those years between college and now? How did they go by so fast? What was I doing? Why didn’t I notice?
When, exactly, did I get to be invisible?
When did empty taxis start passing me by and when did the feral perfume ladies in Bloomingdale’s no longer bother to assault me with a spritz? 
When, exactly, did people stop listening to me—even when I knew more about the subject at hand than anyone else in the room?
When did my shoe size go from 7 to 8 and my bra size from 34 to 36 even though I hadn’t gained any weight (well, not much, anyway)?
When did I stop reading Vogue and start sleeping in flannel pajamas all year because our apartment was cold in the winter and Ralph blasted the air conditioner in the summer?
Was I one of those women who had let herself go?
Was I about to get dumped for someone newer and younger?
Did I need bikini boot camp, a face lift, a Brazilian wax?
Would a new hair color, a different shade of lipstick or a pair of crotchless panties get Ralph to pay attention to me?
As it turned out, what it took was none of those things. Instead what made the difference was a murder in Shanghai, a dire threat from George delivered in a cheapo Vietnamese restaurant, a gung-ho war correspondent with a humongous pair of 36 Double D’s, a washed-up Martha Stewart wannabe trying to make a come back with the help of a red balconette bra and a showdown with a one-eyed, one-legged Afghan warlord who didn’t speak a word of English.
It all began the day I bought a fake Chanel bag from a sidewalk vendor on East Fifty-third Street. I was thrilled with my purchase and knew Ralph, a label snob, would be impressed. Anxious to show off my new bag, I headed for the office, moving faster than I had in years.
So fast, I didn’t notice I was being followed.

Now the news about Anne R. Allen and me:  The first weekend of March, Anne will be teaching a seminar so we've decided to swap Sundays to give her time to focus on the seminar. Instead of our usual schedule, Anne will be posting this Sunday, February 23.  Her subject:  Self-Editing 101—13 questions to ask yourself when you edit your first chapter.  I'll be posting at Anne's blog on March 3.  

And here's the hype:  My newest, THE CHANEL CAPER, is a romcom mystery thriller starring a Baby Boomer couple.  In a nutshell:  James Bond meets Nora Ephron. Or is it the other way around?

Here's a peek at the cover:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The story behind the story: where do you get your ideas? ZURI

The question readers ask writers most often is: Where do you get your ideas?

 Last week, Anne R. Allen wrote about how her struggles with weight and diets led to her novel Food of Love. This week I'll answer the same question and tell you how I got the idea for Zuri—basically, it was born via a series of accidental collisions.

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Out Of Africa, set in Kenya and based on the famous book, stars Meryl Streep as the Danish writer Isak Dinesen and the young, golden Robert Redford as her lover. It's one of my favorite movies—grand romance, gorgeous African settings, beautiful clothes, brilliant recreation of a vanished way of life and drama on an epic scale. What's not to like?

I watch Out of Africa every now and then and had just seen it when, flipping thru TV channels one evening, I happened to see a clip of a baby rhino running around and exploring his (or was it "her"?) surroundings. Rhinos had never been on my radar but I was blown away by the little rhino’s appeal and grace.

A rhino? Adorable? Absolutely.

I was also aware via newspaper and magazine articles—like my Dad, I'm a news junkie—that poaching was decimating the rhino (and elephant) populations of Africa. In addition, I had seen a TV story—I believe it was on Sixty Minutes—about the healing work being done by African animal orphanages. These four separate elements came together in my mind and the idea for the story took shape.

The need for research was obvious. The writer's best friend, Google, led me to the newest studies of animal intelligence and communication, pointed the way to articles about the lethal techniques of poachers, details of rhino husbandry and veterinary, and the dangers of wildlife rescue. I also read up on Swahili, Kenyan wedding rituals and cuisine—and that was just the beginning.

The research was fascinating. Did you know that the illicit trade in wild animals is third only to the illegal trades in drugs and weapons? Or that rhino horn—it’s actually keratin, the same material found in feathers and nails—is considered a miracle medicine in Asia, and is, in fact, of zero medical value? The price of rhino horn, driven by booming Asian economies, is now more expensive than gold. 

Even then, I still wasn't finished. Where was the love story?

Therefore: Renny Kudrow, the "wildlife whisperer" and sexy director of the Kihali Animal Orphanage, and Starlite Higgins, the talented vet with a horrifying secret. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Starlite almost causes Zuri's rescue to fail and the two must work their way through a very rough beginning to a happily-ever-after ending.

Zuri—the word means "beautiful" in Swahili—is the name of the lovable and courageous baby rhino who is the book's heroine and she, too, enjoys a happily-ever-after ending.

So, readers, have I answered your question? Do you have a favorite movie based on a book? Do you have a favorite book you wish would be made into a movie? Have you ever been enchanted by something (or someone) you had never paid attention to before? Do comment and share your views. I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

6-pack abs & buns of steel. Starving & bingeing. Is feeling fat the same as being fat?

Today: The Story Behind the Story by a survivor of the diet wars, the sane & sensible Anne R. Allen

FOOD OF LOVE—a novel about friendship, size acceptance and a small nuclear bomb

Does anybody remember the size acceptance movement of the 1990’s?

Fashion magazines like Mode and Radiance featured gorgeous models with non-surgically-enhanced curves. The plus-sized Emme became a supermodel and motivational speaker. Romance publishers issued whole lines featuring curvy women who didn’t diet to find love. Helen Fielding’s BRIDGET JONES DIARY and Jennifer Weiner’s GOOD IN BED topped the fiction bestseller lists. Books like Geoffrey Cannon’s DIETS MAKE YOU FAT and Susan Powter’s STOP THE INSANITY let us know 98% of diets result in weight gain.

The movement urged women to put energy into living instead of dieting. It reminded us that nobody who’s starving can work at full capacity. It told us that if women channeled the energy we were putting into hating our bodies into changing the world, we could make a difference.

I wrote my novel FOOD OF LOVE during that era—just when a diet drug combination called phen-phen had to be taken off the market because it, well, killed people (but left a fashionably skinny corpse.)

I wanted to point out the ironic truth that women—no matter what culture, sexual orientation or race—are united by one thing: the compulsion to diminish ourselves by dieting. I showed how women inflict this insanity on ourselves and each other—as one character says, “women are always complaining how the menfolk are oppressing us, but you know…we’re pretty damn good at oppressing our ownselves.”
I didn’t want to write something preachy. Or another “men are jerks” saga.

So I combined satiric social observations with a roller-coaster plot involving an aging supermodel, a conservative talk show hostess, a hot KGB agent, a small nuclear bomb, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Two different agents took it on and tried to sell it, but it didn’t pigeonhole neatly into a prescribed genre. Finally in 2001 I found a medium-sized independent publisher in the UK who loved it. I think the book might have taken off if they had been able to get US distribution. But one of the owners of the company died under mysterious circumstances (yes, fodder for another novel—coming out soon) before the book had a chance to find a US audience.

Soon afterward, New York pronounced romantic comedies “over” and plump, life- affirming heroines were replaced by vampires, zombies and the hungry undead.

At the same time a new cultural mindset emerged—carefully orchestrated by the multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry. By the mid 2000’s, the concept of body acceptance had been erased from our consciousness. We were again being told that starvation (and/or surgical enhancement) was the path to happiness.

I suppose it helped that our romances were all about falling in love with vampires, zombies and other assorted dead people.

Boomers were told the natural weight gain—which has been happening to aging human bodies since we were swinging from trees—is “unhealthy.” Children as young as six were put on diets that destroyed their natural appetite regulators. We didn’t let them run free and exercise, then shamed them for being fat. Fad diets like Atkins came back with a vengeance. Fat people were humiliated for entertainment and dieting lies got new life with the 2004 debut of “The Biggest Loser.”

Personally, I lost faith and fell for the lies again: “It’s not a diet—it’s an 800-calorie-a-day ‘lifestyle’.” I was swayed by those nightly news reports about the obesity “epidemic”—which turns out to have been created by reducing the medical definition of “normal” weight, inflated by the natural weight gain of aging Boomer bodies. I was shamed by those decapitated images of people who dared walk our streets without buns of steel or six-pack abs.

After three years of starvation dieting and the subsequent craving, depression, and binging, I’d gained thirty pounds and looked for help in the size acceptance movement again. But I discovered most of their websites were dead and/or had been vandalized. I Googled “Emme” and couldn’t find one entry. It was as if the whole movement had never existed.

But last year something happened that gave me hope. The brilliant actress Melissa McCarthy won the best actress Emmy.

I’m not a big awards show fan, and the TV was on only to accompany my laundry-sorting. McCarthy’s sitcom, Mike and Molly was barely on my radar. But as I stood there folding my plus-size clothes, watching her walk regally across the stage, I shocked myself by bursting into tears. Here was a beautiful fat woman—seriously fat, not simply un-skeletal—winning an award over the likes of Amy Pohler and Tina Fey.

I couldn’t stop crying. It was as if some huge shift was happening in my own consciousness as well as that of the Academy voters. I had a glimmer of hope that maybe things were moving back to sanity. Later that evening, I Googled Emme and found she has a new website, Emme Nation full of new messages to women about honoring ourselves, no matter what size the bodies our genes and age dictate.
This all happened the same weekend that FOOD OF LOVE finally made its US debut—thirteen years after I wrote the first version.

I am so blessed that a small publisher liked my blog enough that they contacted me and asked about my out-of-print books—and then liked them well enough to offer a contract. With a fresh edit and a gorgeous new cover, the book is as relevant today as when I wrote it—maybe more so, because a whole generation of young women haven’t been able to hear its message. Most women still need to learn to stop “oppressing our ownselves”—and love the bodies we were born with.
FOOD OF LOVE is about living life to the fullest and honoring our own passions—whether for food, music, faith, or an all-consuming romantic love.

So, readers, please tell us if you've fought the diet wars and let us know if you've won or lost. Have you made peace with your weight or are you still struggling to meet an ever downward-moving "ideal" weight? Do you rank every mirror you pass as a "thin mirror" or a "fat mirror" and when's the last time you had dessert?

Anne R. Allen is a former actress and the author of six romantic-comedy mysteries:  FOOD OF LOVE, THE GATSBY GAME, and the Camilla Randall Mysteries:  GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, SHERWOOD, LTD, THE BEST REVENGE and NO PLACE LIKE HOME The first three Camilla books are available in a boxed set. She has also written a guidebook for authors with Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of the iconic novel Pay it Forward.) HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY!

Anne blogs with Ruth at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris.