26

Deb Tawna goes out kicking and screaming

For our final posts here at The Debutante Ball, we’re supposed to talk about what’s next and say goodbye.

But really, what are they going to do if I fail to do either of those things? Drag me out by the hair?

What I’d rather do is tell you what I love best about the incoming Debutante Ball class, and why they rock so hard they make me seasick. Here’s a rundown:

2012 Debutante Joanne LevyJoanne Levy’s debut middle-grade novel, Small Medium at Large hits shelves next June. I loved the idea of a middle-grade Deb, since reading at that age played a big part in why I became a writer in the first place. I especially adored Joanne’s description of the book in her application:

Lilah Bloom is just an average twelve year old. She’s looking forward to starting a band with her best friend, tries for decent grades and is dreaming of finding the perfect guy. That is, until her regular life becomes not-so-regular when she gets hit by lightning and can suddenly hear dead people.

I love the “her regular life becomes not-so-regular” angle (as you might have gathered from the “normal may be nice, but weird is wonderful” tagline on the cover of Making Waves) so I already know this book is going to totally roll my socks up. I also love that she’s a longtime Debutante Ball reader.

Erika Marks had me hooked from the very first line of her Debutante Ball application:Erika Marks

I wrote my first Harlequin-hopeful novel at 18, printed it on dot-matrix, sent it out and was hooked for life on writing thanks in part to several editors and agents who were far too gracious to tell me I had no business writing about sex when I’d never so much as kissed a boy (Do you think it was that obvious? Er, yes.)

Her book, Little Gale Gumbo, is not a Harlequin romance, but rather a women’s fiction title being published by NAL in October. I know I’m going to love it based not only on the description, but on Erica’s voice throughout her Debutante Ball application, including her response to our question about whether there was anything else she wanted to share:

 Well…I prefer a gin martini to a vodka one, I can’t let my hand hang over the side of the bed when I sleep, and my favorite Golden Girl is Dorothy, although perennial-Deb Blanche is a close second. I think that about covers it!

2012 Debutante Linda GrimesThen there’s Linda Grimes. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that Linda is not only my beloved agency sistah (we’re both represented by the amazing Michelle Wolfson) but also one of my critique partners. Worried it might look like I was throwing my Deb weight around on behalf of a friend, I deliberately stepped back a bit and waited for the other Debs to weigh in before I offered my two cents. It turned out I had nothing to worry about, since all the Debs adored Linda’s humor, wit, and frequent, friendly comments on our posts (as one of the Debs put it, “I feel like she’s already an honorary Deb.”)

I’ve already been lucky enough to read her light urban fantasy debut, In a Fix, which will be released by Tor in July 2012. As a comment on her release date, Linda noted:

I’ve always pictured it as summer read. On a beach. With umbrella drinks. Maybe the kind that come in coconuts, and are delivered by cabana boys. (Not that I’ve over-thought it or anything…)

If you don’t fall out of your chair laughing over this book, you seriously need to check your butt or your chair for Superglue.

2012 Debutante Rachel BertscheThen there’s the nonfiction Deb, Rachel Bertsche. It’s not like we sat down and specifically said, “there simply must be a nonfiction Deb!” but it was wonderful to get an application from someone in that genre that made us all say, “she simply must be a Deb!”

Her debut memoir, MWF Seeking BFF is due in January 2012 from Ballantine Books, and the premise is so clever and unique, I think we all ran out and clicked the preorder button on Amazon the second we read about it:

MWF SEEKING BFF is a memoir of my yearlong search for a new best friend after moving to Chicago for love. Sort of I Love You, Man meets The Happiness Project meets AJ Jacobs, it looks at how difficult – and hilariously awkward!–it is to make new friends as an adult. I went on 52 “friend-dates” over the course of the year, and I interweave the stories of those dates with the latest research about the science of friendship.

Yeah, she had me at “hilariously awkward.”

2012 Debutante Molly BackesAnd finally, there’s M. Molly Backes. Her debut young adult novel, The Princesses of Iowa, will be published by Candlewick Press in May 2012.

Before I began blogging with our own Deb Elise Allen and read her amazing book, Populazzi, I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of YA. Deb Elise changed all that for me, to the point that I’m seriously looking forward to Molly’s hysterical sounding story:

The Princesses of Iowa, set in suburban Iowa, is a reverse-Cinderella story in which an It-girl who seems to have it all – the gorgeous boyfriend, the perfect best friends, and a spot on the Homecoming Court – starts to wonder if there’s more to life than being popular. (I stole that from Publisher’s Marketplace.) There’s also a gay creative writing teacher, a fake car accident, a real car accident, some jokes about Muttnik, a sexy nerd, an angry alternateen who changes her name from Miranda to Mirror, a disastrous homecoming parade, and an airbrushed rainbow T-shirt that says “I love my Iowa Grandma.” I’m told it all hangs together, somehow. 

I not only want this book, I want to take Molly out for drinks and a pillow fight and then tickle her until she tells me more about all those little details.

So that’s it for the new Deb roundup. Not that I’m going anywhere. Ever. I’m staying right here. For good. Hey, wait a minute. What are you doing? Ow! Dammit….

10

Deb Tawna wants you to love her man (just keep your hands off!)

One of the strangest things about having my book hit shelves is the way people discuss my characters.

A lot of reviewers have named Cookie – the former NFL player turned cross-dressing gourmet chef – as their favorite character. A few have referred to him as gay, which is fascinating, since I never made reference to his sexual orientation.

For the record, he wasn’t gay in my mind. However, neither of us care if he happens to be gay in your mind.

Many women seem to connect with Juli’s plucky, quirky nature or the different levels of social awkwardness displayed by her or by secondary character, Phyllis.

I can relate.

Then there’s Alex. I have to admit, there’s something different about having people discuss the hero in a romance novel I’ve written. The closest I can come to explaining this peculiar sensation is that it’s sort of like introducing a new guy you’re dating to friends and family. You sit back and bite your nails and hope they get him. That they pick up on all his sweet little quirks and adore him the way you do instead of suggesting he might be a good candidate for a straightjacket and a padded room.

And then when they do get him? When they praise some aspect of his character or appearance or that funny little trait you weren’t sure anyone else would notice? That’s the best feeling in the world.

OK, maybe not the best feeling in the world. But it’s close.

Can you identify with what I’m describing, either as a writer or as someone who’s introduced a new paramour to friends and family? If you’ve read Making Waves, did you happen to identify with one character more than the others? Please share!

Oh, and please keep your hands off Alex. He’s mine.

10

Wanderlust is Deb Tawna’s second favorite form of lust

The thing I enjoy most of all in the world is travel.

Riding a camel into the Sahara Desert at sunset.

OK, that’s a lie. Travel is a close second to something else I love more, but this is a family-friendly blog and nookie doesn’t happen to be this week’s Debutante Ball topic.

I’ve been profoundly lucky to travel the world over the past decade of hoarding frequent flyer miles, having jobs with generous time off, and not having kids. I’ve visited Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Hawaii, Jamaica, Barbados, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, and probably a few places I’m forgetting but surely enjoyed anyway.

I tend to fall more into the “grungy backpacker” crowd than the “luxury travel” set, though I’ll willingly take the luxury if I can get a good deal.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my years of travel is that the things I think will be most memorable seldom turn out to be. Almost always, it’s the funny little unexpected oddities that make the best travel memories.

Take the month I spent trekking around the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. I saw ancient ruins and gorgeous beaches, lovely old churches and quaint little villages.

But the thing I remember most is the trip I took on a third-class bus headed to a tiny town called Valladolid.

I’m mostly fluent in Spanish, which made me privy to the details of conversations between the bus driver and his buddy riding along serving no discernable purpose in the operation of the vehicle.

Bus driver: We should pick up Juan.

Buddy: You remember where he lives?

Bus driver: No, but if we drive around awhile, we’ll find him.

So we drove around for awhile looking for Juan. We made a few pit stops along the way to buy comic books and fruit, which the men took turns enjoying when they weren’t busy ignoring traffic signals and terrifying livestock with horn-blasts.

Cuddling a Koala in Australia.

Eventually, we found Juan and headed out of town. We had just hit the highway when the bus driver smacked himself on the forehead.

Bus driver: I forgot my shirt.

Juan: You’re wearing a shirt.

Bus driver: No, my uniform shirt. I got in trouble for that last week. I’ve gotta go home and get it.

So we spun a u-turn in the middle of the highway – narrowly missing a large truck packed with chickens – and headed back to town. All 35 passengers aboard were treated to a lovely tour of the barrio, complete with a colorful lecture from the bus driver’s wife who shared her immense displeasure at his failure to return home the previous night.

Eventually, we set out again on a journey that lasted nearly four hours and included a rousing game of “let’s hit pedestrians with fruit pits while traveling 50 mph in a vehicle held together by duct tape.” When the bus driver emerged victorious, he celebrated by taking a nap on the floor while his buddy took over driving duties.

Eventually, we made it to Valladolid. The bus driver was kind enough to weave his way through the narrow city streets in search of a hotel I pointed out in the guidebook. As the busload of weary passengers waved at us from the grime-streaked windows, I’ll admit I was a little sad to see the journey end.

It’s stories like that I tend to remember more fondly than the monuments and museums I pack into any vacation like a dutiful traveler.

What kind of traveler are you? What’s your fondest travel memory? Do you tend to catalogue the big things, or the funny little unexpected quirks? Please share!

And if you’ve got some extra frequent flyer miles lying around, can you share those as well? I promise to put them to good use.

18

Deb Tawna has release week brain freeze

For nearly twelve months, I’ve come here every Friday with a pretty good idea what I wanted to write. Sometimes it didn’t even involve dirty jokes.

Today – at the end of a week devoted entirely to discussing the release of my debut novel, Making Waves – I have to confess that I’m totally, utterly, completely stumped.

Part of it is the way I’ve always approached social media. I’ve never wanted to beat people over the head with my novel until they run away sobbing with a promise to buy a copy. My philosophy has always been that if I can make you giggle with a blog post completely unrelated to Making Waves, you might enjoy the sample of my “voice” enough that you’ll feel like picking up the book when the time comes.

If not, at least I’ve made you laugh. No hard feelings.

So now that I’m supposed to be here talking about me – well, I’m sort of frozen.

It’s also possible my possible that has nothing to do with it, and my brain freeze is a product of too many dirty martinis at my book launch party the other night. That seems likely, too.

I’m dizzy from all the wonderful things people have been saying about Making Waves. My fellow Debs made me cry every day this week with their touching words about the book. Writer’s Digest magazine praised Making Waves as one of ten “notable debuts,” and RT Book Reviews gave the book 4.5 stars and wrote, “This delightfully witty debut will have readers laughing out loud.” A recent review in Booklist magazine stated, “Fenske’s off-the-wall plotting is reminiscent of a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice.”

Incidentally, “Cupid juice” sounds deliciously filthy.

My cat expressed his fondness for the book by napping on a big pile of copies. If that’s not flattering, I don’t know what is.

I guess all I can really think of to say right now is thank you. Thank you for buying the book or saying nice things about it or just showing up here to occasionally read my posts. It makes me feel wonderful.

So do those dirty martinis. Anyone want to join me for another round?

18

Deb Tawna wants to have a slumber party with Deb Elise’s narrator

I’ve gotta be honest – I’m not usually a big fan of the Young Adult genre.

Maybe I’m too far removed from being a teenager, or maybe I’m not removed enough. Whatever the case, it’s seldom my first choice in genres to read for pleasure.

Deb Elise’s Populazzi made me rethink that

It’s not hard to figure out why. Deb Elise did a phenomenal job creating a narrator who is smart, quirky, flawed, earnest, insecure, driven, kind, funny, and a bit misguided. In other words, human – someone so entirely relatable you feel like you know her.

As I followed Cara on her journey through the minefield of high school popularity, there were times I wanted to grab her by the ear, give her a good shake, and say, “girlfriend, what are you doing?”

And then maybe we’d hug and braid each other’s hair.

See, that’s what’s so powerful about this book – the fact that the characters aren’t just cardboard cutouts, but real people who make you want to laugh and cry and stay up all night reading the book because dammit, they’re your friends and you need to know RIGHT NOW what happens to them.

Not that I did that.

OK, I totally did that.

If you share my love of flawed-but-lovable characters who become your very best friends in just a few pages, you’ll definitely want to pick up Deb Elise’s Populazzi.

Here’s a quick synopsis in case you’ve missed it in the other Debs’ posts this week:

Cara Leonard always wished she could be one of those girls: confident, self-possessed, and never at a loss for the perfect thing to say. They are the Populazzi, and they’ve always been many rungs on the Popularity Tower above Cara and her best friend Claudia.

Yet when Cara moves to a new school just before junior year, Claudia urges Cara to seize the opportunity and change her life… by using the Ladder. Its rungs are relationships, and by molding herself into the perfect girlfriend to guys higher and higher on the Popularity Tower, Cara will be able to achieve the ultimate goal: becoming Supreme Populazzi, the most popular girl in school

What starts off as a lighthearted social experiment becomes increasingly twisted and difficult, and Cara soon finds even the most basic things about herself aren’t what she always believed. Though the Ladder may seem like a straight climb to the top, for Cara it’s a sometimes-dark, sometimes-absurd, always-winding journey to find out who she really is.

***

What’s the last book you read that had characters so vivid, so well-crafted, so very, very human that you felt like you knew them? Please share, I’m always looking for good reads!

And please go buy Elise Allen’s Populazzi. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!


16

Deb Tawna’s dreams might get her arrested in some states

I’ve always envied people who dream about fun things like flying or showing up naked to work.

Though my dreams start out normal, there’s usually a point where my subconscious shifts and says, “You know what would make this dream about browsing the library even better? Gnomes! And let’s line the floor with Pop-Tarts. And what if all the books grew wings and started flying around sqwaking about a shoe sale at Macy’s?

Deb Tawna with her boyfriend, George Clooney, and, um...Steve Buscemi?

I always seem to remember my dreams, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. My most common recurring dream involves having my teeth fall out. Sometimes it starts with just one loose tooth, and other times my whole mouthful crumbles to dust. Since I’ve had variations of the dream from the time I was young, my subconscious has gotten crafty. I’ll be in the middle of the tooth dream firmly convinced I’m awake, and I’ll find myself thinking, “wow, I’ve been having this dream my whole life and now it’s really happened!”

I’ll also confess that my dreams often take on a decidedly risqué tone. My only wish is that I had more control over the starring characters. While dreaming about a wild tryst in a spaceship is appealing if I’m cast opposite George Clooney, I’m not so thrilled to wake and realize I was just knocking boots with Steve Buscemi.

What sort of dreams do you tend to have? Naughty, nice, or just plain weird? Please share!


17

Deb Tawna is a sucker for a sexy voice

If you told me to name my top three turn-ons, I wouldn’t need to pause for breath before answering.

Great hands.

Nice smell.

Sexy voice.

The latter is a big one for me, and I’m staggered to learn some women are capable of hearing Jason Mraz sing “After an Afternoon” without spontaneously dropping their panties.

Years ago, I worked for the marketing department of a large corporation. My job required frequent phone interaction with a graphic designer I’ll call “Ferdinand.”

Ferdinand had a voice that could melt chocolate. Warm and deep and sexy, and I’ll admit I used to make up excuses to call and check the status of projects.

I thought it was my own secret indulgence until I mentioned it to a colleague at another company that used the same firm for printing and design.

“Oh, you mean Sexy Voice Ferdinand?” she asked. “Yeah, the women in the office fight constantly over who gets to call and talk to him.”

We soon discovered an endless string of women devoted to devising creative reasons to phone the print shop with projects they’d ordinarily email. The funniest part is that none of us wanted to meet Ferdinand in person. We all loved the mysterious voice on the phone, the breathless anticipation of the next call, the titillation of wondering what he really looked like. No one wanted to ruin that.

I eventually did meet Ferdinand, and while he was sweet and charming (not to mention happily married with a kid) it was never quite the same after that.

That’s the thing about voice. Sometimes it’s part of the whole package, and sometimes it’s the only part you want.

In writing romance, I’ve discovered that a character’s speaking voice is one of the toughest things to capture. I can paint a picture to describe the color of my hero’s eyes, or the fact that he always smells like sawdust and fresh-cut grass, but describing the sound of his voice as he murmurs something sexy in the heroine’s ear…well, that’s more difficult.

And really, isn’t a sexy voice all in the eye (or the ear) of the beholder?

Are you a sucker for a sexy voice, or is it a different trait that rolls your socks up? Please share!

I have to go lie down and listen to that song again.

12

Deb Tawna is making the best of her new freedom

Earlier this year, I got a wallop of freedom I wasn’t looking for when my husband of 13 years decided he wanted to split up.

I haven’t blogged much about it, mostly because I write romantic comedy and…uh, well, divorce isn’t very romantic or funny.

But I’ve been muscling through like always, and am actually doing great now. One advantage of my new freedom is that I’ve acquired a surprising set of skills.

The first came when the headlight on my car burned out. No longer able to summon a spouse to replace it, I did the next logical thing: I sniffled.

Then I undid the top two buttons on my shirt and drove to the auto parts store with the fervent hope the clerk would offer to replace the headlight for me.

Apparently, my cleavage is no match for a blizzard. That’s what was happening outside that morning, and I’m fairly certain I could have removed my entire shirt and draped myself over the counter while the auto parts clerk stared outside at the snowfall and said, “good luck with that.”

Oh, yes. I have made the lawnmower my bitch.

But you know what? I figured it out. Oh, there was cursing and muttering, but I eventually managed to put it in all by myself (go ahead and make the joke about how that’s an important skill for a single girl to master – I’ll wait).

Not only did I change my own headlight, but I managed to remove the doorknobs around my house and take them to the locksmith for rekeying (an expensive endeavor if I’d had the locksmith make a house call instead). I also learned to repair a patch of busted drywall with a hot glue gun, wrestle my lawnmower into submission, and dispose of several tons of freshly pulled weeds without burning my house down.

I’ve recently taken in two twenty-something male housemates to help pay the mortgage. The possession of testicles requires them to offer assistance when I’m wrestling with a typically male task, and while I sometimes accept the offers, I usually don’t. There’s something satisfying about knowing I can do it myself.

I didn’t request this freedom, and I certainly didn’t expect to have to learn to make a pot of coffee so I could use it to clean corrosion off my car battery. But I’m happy with my new life and my new skills. And yes, with my new freedom.

Have you ever learned to do something under duress and found it wasn’t as bad as you expected? Ever gotten a taste of freedom you didn’t realize you needed? Please share!

I’ll be over here learning to use my new cigar cutter. Anyone got a light?

6

Deb Tawna’s lists leave something to be desired

Right now, I’m in New York City for my first ever national convention of the Romance Writers of America.

In addition to packing an assortment of fancy dresses and more shoes than any human could possibly wear in a week, I also brought a ridiculous collection of technological gadgetry.

I have with me a camera, an iPod, a laptop, an iPhone, and a Kindle. Several of those devices can not only keep my entire to-do list organized, but plot a hostile government takeover should the need arise.

Just in case I prefer another method for tracking my conference agenda, the good people of RWA provided both an online conference organizer and a lovely day-planner booklet with spaces for meetings, notes, and assorted to-do lists.

So can someone please explain why my hand currently looks like this?

I have no excuse. If my goal here is present myself as a polished professional, this doesn’t do much to help my cause. I may be wearing a lovely cocktail dress and all the fashionable accessories, but the ink-stained hand (complemented by matching ink-stained cheek from where I rested my face in my hand during a particularly mind-numbing presentation) reveals the fact that I fall markedly short of classy.

I’ve kept track of to-do lists this way my whole life, so it’s unlikely I’ll change my ways anytime soon. I’ll occasionally make use of paper to-do lists if I’m tethered to a desk, but when I’m mobile, my hand is one of the few things I can count on having with me at all times.

For now, I don’t plan to work too hard to break myself of this habit. It works for me, and it’s not hurting anything but my reputation as a well-organized adult. Since that didn’t exist to start with, I figure I’m in the clear.

Do you have any lifelong habits you know aren’t the best way to do things, but you’re just not interested in changing? Please share!

And please let me know if you catch me looking like someone slugged me in the jaw. It’s ballpoint pen, I swear.

10

Deb Tawna sometimes runs on heavy fuel

From the moment I glanced at this week’s topic, “fuel for writers,” on Monday morning, I’ve had Dire Straits’ 1991 tune “Heavy Fuel” stuck in my head.

In it, the band extols the virtues of cigarettes, hamburgers, scotch, lust, money, and violence as a means of fueling yourself.

Though I’m pretty sure the song is meant to be ironic, I’ll admit I gain a good bit of writerly inspiration from my own vices. Only one of them is on Dire Straits’ list, but I’ll leave it to you to guess which one it might be.

Not tough to do, considering I write romance.

Though I’m not a huge fan of scotch, I’ll certainly pick up a nice glass of Pinot Noir to get my creative juices flowing. Many’s the time I’ve gotten stuck on a scene and pried my brain loose using a crowbar and the contents of a good piece of Riedel stemware.

I don’t have a lot of unhealthy food vices, and tend to prefer snacking on frozen peas or raw almonds over hamburgers or chocolate or potato chips. Still, give me a really nice hunk of expensive cheese to go with the wine and I’ll be extra happy and productive.

The internet is one of my biggest vices, and I’ll admit I can fritter away hours giggling over www.damnyouautocorrect.com. Then again, I can almost justify it by pointing out I write romantic comedy, and reading anything funny is sorta like research.

Do you have any vices that inspire you? Or distract you, whatever. It’s tough to tell the difference sometimes, isn’t it?