News Flash: Welcome to the New Debutante Ball!

Photo courtesy of: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Welcome to the new Debutante Ball, and to a new class of Debs! We, the 2014 Debs, are so very pleased to meet you and pull back the curtain on our new space. For starters, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll notice we’ve done some remodeling of the old dance floor. Take…
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The Debutante Ball Welcomes (back) Joelle Anthony!

 We’re extending a big Deb Welcome (back!) to past Deb Joelle Anthony today. It hasn’t been that long since Joelle was here–she was in the 2010 Deb Class, but in case you’re new in these parts, here’s her official bio:

Joëlle currently lives on a tiny island in British Columbia with her musician husband, Victor Anthony, and two cats, Sophie & Marley. As for the future, their only plan is to avoid real jobs, write and play guitar in front of the woodstove, and live happily ever after. Her debut young adult novel, Restoring Harmony, was published in the spring of 2012, and her latest release, The Right & the Real is available now, both from Putnam.

And about Joelle’s latest book, The Right & the Real:

From the author of “Restoring Harmony.” Kicked out for refusing to join a cult, 17-year-old Jamie must find a way to survive on her own.

Jamie should have known something was off about the church of the Right and the Real from the start, especially when the Teacher claimed he wasn’t just an ordinary spiritual leader, but Jesus Christ, himself. But she was too taken by Josh, the eldest son of one of the church’s disciples, and his all-American good looks. Josh is the most popular boy at school too, and the first boy outside the drama geeks to give Jamie a second look. But getting her Dad involved in a cult was not part of the plan when she started dating Josh. Neither was her dad’s marriage to the fanatic Mira, or getting kicked out, or seeing Josh in secret because the church has deemed her persona non grata.

Jamie’s life has completely fallen apart. Finding her way back won’t be easy, but when her Dad gets himself into serious trouble, will Jamie be ready to rescue him, and maybe even forgive him?

Sounds AMAZING, Joelle!  And now, Joelle talks plotting with us.

Let me just dust off my tiara and I’ll be right with you. Okay…there!

In 2010, when I was part of the Ball, my day was Friday. After reading four stellar posts on whatever topic it was that week, I felt like if I couldn’t add anything just as good, I better be funny, and that’s usually the approach I took to the post. Since this is posting on Saturday, I figure I better be stellar and funny. Ummm…no pressure.

When I first started submitting, the rejections I got often included something like, “Great voice!” or “The voice is strong.” What they never included was, “Excellent plot!” In fact, if they mentioned plot at all, the notes were more likely to be, “Lots of holes in the plot.” “Implausible.” “Convoluted.” They probably could’ve added boring to the mixture, but by then the editor was too sleepy to bother.

So how did I go from boring to “fast pacing” and “page turner” (Publisher’s Weekly for The Right & the Real)? I wish I knew because then I could write a book about it and maybe do a TED talk or reign supreme at the SCBWI-LA conference next summer.

The truth is that I do know. Here’s the secret:

I started paying attention to the plot.

I know. That sounds so simple, but it’s actually true. As an actor, I’d pretty much let the playwright take care of the plot, and I worked on character and voice. And that’s what I was doing in my writing. Except there wasn’t any playwright to save my butt.

I started by reading craft books on plot. While most are useful, I’ve discovered books on mystery writing are often exceptionally helpful, even if you’re not writing a mystery. Essentially, all books to some extent are mysteries anyway. I mean, you don’t give the big climax away until the end, do you?

The next thing I started doing was paying attention to plot and pacing while I read other people’s novels. I’d like to say that after a handful, I got the gist of it, but honestly, I read about 300 books over two years before I really started to get a sense of plot. Also, during that time, I was lucky enough to land a critique group, an agent, and eventually, an editor willing to work on plot with me. I cannot begin to express how much they all helped me with this.

If you’re struggling with plot, the first thing to do is ask yourself, “Have I been giving it its due?” And if the answer is no, then you now know where to start.

Thanks for having me on the Deb Ball.

Oh, and one more thing on plotting. This is my plot to take over the world!

And if that video wasn’t gift enough, Joelle has generously offered up a copy of The Right and the Real to one of our lucky commenters! Just tell us a little about YOUR plot to take over the world and/or what your cult would be like.


Contest! The Debutante Ball Welcomes (Back) Sarah Pekkanen!

The Debutante Ball is so excited to have Sarah Pekkanen back for a waltz around the dance floor!  Sarah is a 2010 Debutante and is thrilled to be back! Her debut novel, The Opposite of Me, has been published in eight countries and is in a sixth printing. Sarah lives in Maryland with her husband and three young sons.

More on Sarah’s brand new book – Skipping a Beat – and a chance to win a copy after the interview!

Sarah Pekkanen takes the Deb Interview!

Talk about one book that made an impact on you.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. He showed that non-fiction can be every bit as riveting, graceful, and seamless as fiction, and his masterwork inspired me to write narrative feature stories for newspapers and magazines. For example, after the Columbine school shootings, The Baltimore Sun sent me to Colorado. I ended up writing the story of a boy named Adam Foss who was the class clown – he used humor to hide the fact that he had no idea what he would do after graduation. His twin brother and friends were all applying to college, but not Adam. He was hiding from his own future. When gunshots rang out, Adam was transformed. He led students into a tiny office – running back into a classroom to physically carry in a few students who were frozen in fear – and barricaded the door with his body. When a student had an asthma attack, he broke out ceiling tiles and lifted her up so that she could breathe fresh air. He kept kids calm, and saved lives. At the end of that day, Adam was no longer an aimless boy.

Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.

Once I met an unbelievably wealthy woman – someone worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Through a strange set of circumstances, we ended up having a rather tense discussion (I know it sounds odd but I swear it’s true). And midway through our conversation, she uttered the word, “Ain’t.” I didn’t react outwardly, but at that moment, a book idea unfolded in my head like a flower opening its face to the sun: What if a woman from a poor family in West Virginia went on to become fabulously wealthy? What would it be like to feel as if you were an imposter in your own life? The result is Skipping a Beat.

Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.

My kids! I have three little boys, and they are the funniest people in the world. Recently they made up a holiday jingle: “On the first Day of Christmas, my doctor gave to me… a cup in which to hold my pee!”

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

One page a day. That’s all you need to do. Don’t overthink it. Don’t beat yourself up. Just get those words on paper – they don’t even have to be good words! You can fix them later. Write a page a day, and you’ll have a draft of your book in a year.

What three things would you want with you if stranded on a desert island?

A dog, chocolate, and a tent. If I could only pick one thing, I’d pick a dog. Or David Beckham. Ooh, a chocolate-dipped David Beckham?

Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?

Sigh. All the time. It’s sort of strange – my parents are convinced they’re the parents in my first book (they do have in common an intense, bizarre love of Ikea’s low-priced breakfasts, along with a willingness to spend five dollars in gas and an hour in driving time to get to Ikea for said “bargain” breakfast). Even casual aquaintances, like a mom of my kids’ school, have approached me to ask if I based a character on them. (Hey, if I did, I’d never admit it!)

Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a beatChocolate-covered David Beckham? Hmm…we’ll take some of that!  Thanks for coming back for a visit!  You can catch Sarah on Facebook or at her website!

Sarah’s latest novel, Skipping a Beat, is available NOW!  Want to know more?

What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship? Skipping a Beat is “soulful, original and engaging” (NYT bestseller Emily Giffin) “wonderfully compelling” (Library Journal starred review), a “two-hanky weepy” (Kirkus) and “culminates in an ending that will leave readers breathless” (Jen Lancaster, author of Bitter is the New Black). It went into a second printing a month before publication!

Sarah is giving away a copy of Skipping a Beat to one lucky Deb Ball reader – leave a comment below to enter (don’t forget to include your email address!)


News Flash – August 29

Simply From Scratch (in German, Weiss der Himmel von dir) by graduate Deb Alicia Bessette enjoys its sixth straight week on the bestseller list in Germany. The publisher is Kruger Verlag, and the translator is Andrea Fischer. Danke, Deutschland!

Books N’ Cooks gave Simply From Scratch a very nice review, calling it “witty,” “well-written,” and “incredibly moving.” Thank you, Books N’ Cooks!

The 2011 Debutantes are here! They start their blog reign tomorrow – if you missed reading about them, check in here.

The winner of Jenny Nelson’s book GEORGIA’S KITCHEN is Jane Cook. Congrats, and thanks to everyone who entered!


Please Welcome Debut Author Jenny Nelson!

We’re so pleased to wrap up our time at the ball with debut author, Jenny Nelson here today. Her new book, Georgia’s Kitchen just came out this month. Georgia’s Kitchen tells the story of Georgia Gray, the talented, thirty-three-year-old head chef at a trendy New York restaurant who, suddenly finding herself unemployed and unengaged, travels to Tuscany, where she helps open a trattoria, finds romance with a vineyard owner and embarks on a crash course in self-discovery before returning to New York to salvage her reputation and open her own restaurant in the city she loves.

And guess what? You can win a copy here today. All you have to do is leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win.

Jenny stopped by to answer a few questions. Welcome, Deb Jenny!

A lot of the Debs love to cook. Do you? We know you have kids, so you probably don’t get much time alone, but if you had a night to yourself to cook whatever you liked best, what would it be? I do love to cook and, fortunately, my six-year-old twin daughters are fairly adventurous when it comes to tasting new things (which, sadly, is not the same as liking new things), so I do get to try out some new recipes now and again. If I were home alone with the whole delicious evening to myself, I’d make a super simple grilled wild salmon rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest, sautéed swiss chard with plenty of garlic and good olive oil, and quinoa salad with black beans, corn and tomatoes. I’d wash this all down with a glass of Sancerre, then finish off the meal with a serving or two of Death by Chocolate ice cream (in a mug, not a bowl — it tricks me into believing I’m not eating as much), no explanation necessary.

Even though you’ve undoubtedly been asked this a million times already, we want to know. What’s your connection to Tuscany that led you to send your main character there? I’m a huge Italiaphile who loves all things Italy – food, wine, design, architecture, clothing, people and, above all, the country itself. My husband, Warren, and I have traveled extensively throughout Italy and were married outside of Florence in a villa overlooking the Duomo. Warren’s mother’s side of the family live in Milan and he speaks Italian fairly fluently, so we decided that gave us the perfect excuse to get married there. Once I’d decided that Georgia, my main character, was a chef, sending her to Italy was a no-brainer – what chef wouldn’t want to go to Italy, the land of truffles, San Marzano tomatoes, artisanal pasta, and so many insanely delicious wines you couldn’t possibly name them all? Plus, it allowed me to revisit Tuscany, if only through Georgia’s eyes, which was like seeing it for the first time all over again.

It seems like the day after your book debuts, people start asking about your second book. What are you working on now?I’m working on a novel about a thirtysomething woman who trades in her cosmopolitan city life for life in the country. It explores themes of love, family and self-discovery and, like Georgia’s Kitchen, has a food motif running through it, though in a very different way.

What was the most exciting thing about your debut week? I’d have to say my book launch party. I’m not one for the spotlight, and throwing parties for myself is not something to which I’m accustomed. So I was a little nervous beforehand, worried that the food might not pass muster or the wine wouldn’t be up to snuff or – gasp! – no one would show. But the minute I walked into Kenmare, the restaurant in New York hosting the party, all my cares disappeared (I’m sure the seriously stiff Sicilian Margarita I swilled had something to do with that!). As one friend remarked, the party was the perfect mix of family, old school friends, new friends, industry types and randoms. The common thread was that everyone there knew how hard and how long I’d worked on Georgia’s Kitchen and everyone was there to celebrate that effort. It was a warm and lovely event I’ll never forget.

Anything you wished other debut authors had clued you in to before your big debut this month? It’s such a whirlwind and it brings up so many emotions it can be overwhelming. Elation at being published, anxiety about the book not selling or not being well received, angst about completing book number two, delight upon seeing the book in real live bookstores. I wish someone had told me to savor the moment and not to let my emotions get too far ahead of me. And I really wish someone had warned me to never, ever check my numbers on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  With a simple click of the mouse you can find out how well or poorly your book is selling online. The fluctuations are wild and I honestly have no idea what the numbers even mean. Every day I vow that I’ll never ever check again and then I go back! If I were to pass on any advice to future debut authors, I’d say take some time to reflect on what getting published means for you. As Ann Lamott says in her fantastic book, Bird by Bird, it won’t change your life, or provide fame and fortune overnight, but it’s something you carry with you always. And that’s pretty cool.

Thanks, Jenny for being a Deb for the Day! Congratulations on your release. Don’t forget everyone, a comment gets you entered to win your very own copy of Georgia’s Kitchen. Contest ends today at midnight Pacific time.

P.S. I should also add a note to the new Debs who take over tomorrow…If you ever are in charge of interviewing someone for the site and you totally forget until the morning before, you better hope the person you’re supposed to interview is as nice, quick and accommodating as Jenny Nelson so that you don’t look bad on the very last day you’re a member of The Debutante Ball. I’m just sayin’. Thanks Jenny for saving my (tofu) bacon.


Full Circle by Deb Joelle

They say a good writing technique is to go full circle in a story. Like ending your book with something similar to the opening  – the same setting, the same conversation, or even the same line. Since I began my reign as a Deb with a recipe for butter, I thought I’d leave you with a recipe that you could use that butter in – an original cookie recipe for you. Just to say thanks for hanging out with us all this year, and for being such a great support to us. So, here you go.

Deb Joelle’s Should-be Famous Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

8 TBS butter (homemade or otherwise!)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 large egg

1/4 butterscotch ice cream topping (or caramel)

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 cups old fashioned oats (the quick ones  kinda suck, but you could use them if that’s all you had)

1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries, chopped

1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped (the sour ones are better than the sweet ones)

* You could use any dried fruit you like, but the more sour ones work better than sweet ones like raisins or apples.

Sift (unless you’re too lazy) the dry ingredients together – flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the butter, egg, sugar, vanilla, and ice cream topping until smooth. If your butter’s not soft, you can melt it, it doesn’t really hurt it, but don’t add hot butter directly to your egg or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Yum!

Mix wet and dry ingredients together, add the dried fruit, add the oats.

Spoon about a tablespoon for each cookie onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. They get harder/crispier as they cool, so don’t overcook them. My oven works great at 13 minutes, but I’m at sea level. You might do a test or two before baking them all.

I wish I could make a batch to share with y’all! Take care, and visit me at my own website, http://www.joelleanthony.com and I’m always over on Twitter. My name there is Joellewrites. Take care everyone and thanks so much for a great year!


Hasta la Bye Bye!

Bye ya’ll!!  It was a blast being part of The Debs!  Please visit my website for updates or just to say hello!  www.101WaystoTortureYourHusband.com

When we first took over as the “New Debs,” it felt like the year ahead was an eternity. I was in the middle of moving from South Florida to Manhattan, my entire life was in complete upheaval, and I was shocked (and honored) to be welcomed to The Ball —ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Before I knew it, I arrived in Manhattan just before Halloween, and the crisp Autumn air felt like an Arctic wind compared to the beastly heat of Miami. I was actually happy to be back in Manhattan again (this time we settled into the charming West Side) after residing on the stuffier East Side several years prior. The West Side welcomed us with open arms and I quickly bonded with several school moms who were suprisingly quite friendly. I have to admit though, that I was absolutely OVERWHELMED. I was still trying to unpack my overstuffed suitcases when I had to start a brand new job, doing a morning show at a Long Island radio station. I almost shed actual tears when I discovered I’d have to wake up at 2:30 in the morning to drive an hour to the station, be on the air for 5 hours, then turn around and drive back to Manhattan in treacherous mid-day traffic. It took me about 2 hours(and many migranes later) to get home on most days, and upon my arrival immediately pick up my son at school. After homework, dinner, and bed-time battles, I would be lucky if I got to bed by 9 or even 10pm. I was a zombie, utterly sleep-deprived with barely enough energy to shower every night —-and then there was THE BLOG. Writing it was hard enough (with a barely functioning brain) but the biggest challenge was actually POSTING my weekly offering and learning all the quirks of the website. Of course we’re all experts now, but oh boy was I a disaster! That’s where my fellow Debs absolutely came to the rescue. Sarah, Joelle, Emily, and Alicia were so gracious and patient with me and my air-brained self. There was the time when my entire blog didn’t post because I messed up the military time display (duh), that was followed by the “all caps blog” due to some mysterious technical glitch, and then there was the blog I literally forgot to post because I was busy on a book tour in Miami! I’ve been the cross to bear for my Deb group, and I am just happy they didn’t hold a council vote and kick me off the island! I was also thrilled to be called an “author” and be among these fantastic professional writers, even though I’m just a radio broadcaster who was lucky enough to land a book deal.

As I write these final lines on this final blog, I’d like to sincerely thank the founding Debs for their genuis, applaud my graduating Deb Class for surviving this roller-coaster year, and warmly welcome the new Debs as they begin their blogging journey. Best of luck ladies..and if you have any techical issues, don’t even THINK of calling me! Ok I’m kidding. Well mostly.

Hasta la bye bye!


Signing off … and signing on

A year ago, when my first-ever post for the Debutante Ball went live, I was on vacation with my husband’s family in Duck, North Carolina — away from my computer and totally paranoid that something would go wrong. (My words wouldn’t post, or an error-riddled version would appear instead, or …) But thankfully, my inaugural blog published without a glitch, and I was welcomed by my fellow Debs and our warm, wonderful readers who stuck around for the whole year.

Many things have changed since that first week. Most notable of those changes? Our debut novels were published: The Whole World; The Opposite of Me; Simply From Scratch; 101 Ways To Torture Your Husband; and Restoring Harmony. What a thrill.

I may be signing off here at the Debutante Ball, but — thanks to my rewarding Deb Ball experience — I’m signing on at another blog: Quest For Kindness (Q4K). On Tuesdays, Matt and I share news, answer reader questions, and feature other various this and that; and on Thursdays, Q4K offers a short, true tale of kindness. Please do visit me at Q4K in the months to come! I’m also on Facebook and Twitter, and you can sign up for my monthly email newsletter here.

Kudos to the loyal readers and friends of the Ball, and virtual hugs to my fellow 2010 Debs: Emily, Sarah, Maria, and Joelle. I’m honored to have shared this formative year with you all. Thank you so much for making it a fun, meaningful, and interactive success.

~Alicia Bessette


See you soon…

Writing this final post is conjuring all sorts of emotions in me. I’ve loved my year as a Debutante – loved connecting with my fellow Debs and the women who have gone before us, loved chatting with the readers and bloggers who have been kind enough to leave comments — and yet, it feels right to turn over the reins to a fresh new group of debut authors. (And, by the way, they’re a pretty fabulous group!)

A year ago, I was terrified I’d click the wrong button and crash this entire site – as well as the websites of everyone in the world named “Deb.” Now I upload pictures and link with aplomb (well, with as much aplomb as I can muster, given that I usually write at my kitchen counter, in a ratty t-shirt, while sipping cold coffee).

I’m happy to say I’ve gotten bit by the blogging bug – so starting next month, I’ll be blogging with a new group of fabulous women authors, including Beth Hoffman, Carleen Brice, Graduate Deb Jenny Gardiner, Alison Pace, and a few dozen others. You can check out our brand-spankin’-new website, Girlfriend Books, at http:/www.girlfriendbooks/blogspot.com  And please keep in touch by friending me on Facebook, following me on Twitter (@sarahpekkanen), or dropping me a line via my website!

In a nod to Bridget Jones, one of my favorite fictional characters, here’s my summary of the past year as a Deb:

New books written: 1 (Skipping a Beat, out on February 23!)

Pounds lost: 6 (v.g.)

Pounds gained: 6 (needs work)

Times I dreamed I’d forgotten to write my blog post: 1

Times I sat bolt upright at 5 a.m., having forgotten to write my Tuesday blog post: 1

Times I had my kid write my blog post for me: 1

Times I had to gently explain in response to emails that we were not the kind of Debutantes who wore white gloves: 5

Times I had to explain to a hot-shot TV producer who wanted to feature us in a reality show that we were not the kind of Debs who wore white gloves: 1

Times I received an email through the Deb Ball site asking if we sold trash cans: 1

Debs I’ve met in person: 2 (Alicia and Emily)

Graduate Debs who calmed me down when I was panicking about writing my second book: 1 (Thanks Kristina Riggle!)

Saturday guest authors who claimed they’d sent me their guest post but it must’ve gotten (repeatedly) lost: 1

Saturday guest authors who finally sent me the “lost” post, which started off by thanking another blog for hosting them: 1

Times I’ve read my fellow Debs’ posts and smiled, laughed or gotten teary: Countless

Many thanks to Alicia, Emily, Maria and Joelle for sharing this experience, and to all the Debs before us who have created and maintained this site! I look forward to toasting your successes in the years to come. And most of all, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who reads this blog.

xoxo – Sarah


So long, farewell…by Emily Winslow

Sharing my debut year here on this blog has been a huge privilege.

I loved sharing the experience with my fellow debs. I loved “meeting” book bloggers, other writers, and readers in the comments.

I learned how to blog, how to use WordPress, how to tweet. I’m grateful.

If you want me, you can find me at my website and my blog.

Starting next Monday, The Debutante Ball has a new line-up!

We had a tough time choosing. These were my favorite lines from each new deb’s application:

Kim Stagliano
Memoir: All I Can Handle; I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism
Skyhorse Publishing, November 2010
“How one woman raises three daughters with autism, loses one at Disney World, stays married, has sex, bakes gluten-free, goes broke, and keeps her sense of humor.”

Eleanor Brown
Novel, women’s fiction: The Weird Sisters
Amy Einhorn Books, February 2011
“When I finally met my editor in person, she was totally bowled over by how tall I am (about 6’1″), so apparently that is the first thing I should tell people who have never met me.”

Elise Allen
Y/A novel: Populazzi
Harcourt, April 2011
“In addition to TV, I’ve written about 12 Barbie DVD-movies, and a couple internet shows, one of which starred my absolute heroes, The Muppets. During a particularly slow period, I wrote the dialogue for Furby toys.”

Sarah Jio
Novel: The Violets of March
Penguin, June 2011
“I make really good cupcakes, which hold up well in overnight shipping.” [Sarah, where are our cupcakes?? You have till next Monday to make good on your implicit bribe!]

Tawna Fenske
Novel, romance/caper: Making Waves
Sourcebooks, August 2011
“I got a call from my editor informing me they were canceling the line a month prior to my scheduled debut. My [first] book would not be hitting the shelves after all. Incidentally, this was also my birthday. And the day my cat died. Oh, and the same morning, my employer at the time informed me that they would terminate me the following week if I continued to disobey the company’s hosiery requirement.”

Don’t they sound fun? You’re in good hands now!