Saturday, May 18, 2013

Featured Author: Karen Frankola

Karen Frankola is here as part of her Chick Lit Plus blog tour for her novel, Appetites. In addition to answering some of my questions about writing, Karen treats us to a book excerpt and a guest post. Everyone who leaves a comment below will be entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card. Anyone who purchases a copy of Appetites before June 1 and sends their receipt to Samantha (at) ChickLitPlus (dot) com, will get five bonus entries. Appetites is free on Kindle May 18-19.

About the book:

Sarah hates her life. Even though she’s got a great job in Manhattan, she's on the wrong side of forty, chubby, and can barely remember the last time she had sex. It doesn’t help that her younger sister Max has the world’s best butt, despite a diet of burgers and beer.

Out of the blue, Sarah hears from Harry, the Brit she almost married twenty years ago. He's visiting New York in four months. Sarah refuses to see him unless she can lose a lot of weight—fast! Her solution? She asks Max to lock her up in her basement and feed her nothing but healthy meals. Max, a struggling waitress, agrees begrudgingly. She has her own set of appetites—for drink, drugs, and great-looking losers.

Sarah thinks a summer in Max’s basement will give her a new body, a fresh start with Harry, and the friendship she’s long craved from her sister. But things quickly go wrong. Can Sarah turn back time with the man she lost or will she and Max kill each other first? Can either sister ever learn to say no?

Guest post

Writing for the Ear

by Karen Frankola

Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. Once I get a handle on my characters, I almost feel as though they are coming up with their own words and I’m just eavesdropping.

One of the hardest challenges for a writer is to give her character’s different voices.  Unfortunately, in  many works, everyone seems to talk in a similar manner. I loved Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, but all of his characters tended to speak like geniuses in a hurry. Well, it was a show about overachievers.

I think one of the most effective ways to write realistic dialog is to read aloud as you write. And early in the process, I’ll even record myself doing that and play it back.  It almost allows my characters to exist outside my own head. This can make me realize that they sound too similar, or don’t sound genuine.

In Appetites, it was a challenge to contrast the voices of Sarah and Max because they are sisters who share the same upbringing and a similar level of education. But Sarah writes for a living and likes to use words as a weapon, overusing big words and long sentences. Max says less, but the few words she says carry more weight.

One major driver of the plot in Appetites is that the sound of Max and Sarah’s voices is almost identical. I got the idea because my sister and I have very similar voices. When I say “Hi Mom” on the phone, I immediately have to say “It’s Karen” afterwards or my poor mother won’t know who she’s talking to. I put that into the book, but the deception that occurs because of it is pure fiction! I can’t imagine writing a novel about identical twins because it would be even harder to contrast their dialogue.

The most fun character to write dialogue for in Appetites was Harry, the British man Sarah almost married and now wants to reconnect with. He speaks much more formally than anyone else and of course, uses British expressions. I lived in England for a few years and it seemed most college-education people spoke that way.

In Appetites, a good chunk of the dialogue is actually email messages between Sarah and Harry. It’s tougher to keep a reader’s interest because you don’t have that back-and-forth. But email is so informal that it’s similar to conversation. I’m sure there is someone out there now writing a novel made up of tweets! Another challenge in writing Harry’s emails was that my spell-check kept trying to correct his British spelling.

As a reader, I love to listen to books on tape, and of course, dialog really comes alive there. A skilled actor can make up an author’s deficiencies by changing the pitch and tone of his or her voice for various characters.

The ultimate technique in writing for the ear is creating dialect. I admire authors who do this, but as a reader, it’s quite a distraction that slows down my reading. I think a little unconventional spelling of words goes along way.

A similar challenge is the use of regional slang and idioms. I wrote a memoir set in my home town of Pittsburgh where characters use words like yins (the plural you) and gumbands (rubber bands). If you’re trying to write realistic dialogue, you want to use slang. But you don’t want to confuse the reader, so you need to put it into context.

I hope the dialogue in Appetites rings true for my readers. My ultimate dream would be to see it turned into a movie and actually hear Sarah and Max arguing!

Interview with Karen Frankola:

Karen, how did you come up with the title Appetites?
I had the title almost from the beginning because it covers all of the book’s themes—the obvious desires of Sarah and Max for food, drink, and sex, and their much deeper desire for love. Not just romantic love, but love for each other. I think in general, women believe their appetites are bad, shameful, and unhealthy. I wanted to explore those feelings, which have impacted much of my own life.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Writing has pretty much paid my bills my entire life. I was a journalist for a long time and now work in corporate communications. I do all types of writing and help others communicate. Writing for work is much easier than writing creatively. A press release, blog, or white paper has a structure that simplifies the process. Not to mention, hard deadlines help you to focus!

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

A woman desperate to lose weight for a man she almost married does the unthinkable. Appetites – a novel for anyone with a problem saying no.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Max, because she’s so different from me. She’s the kind of woman I spent my whole life being jealous of—because she’s beautiful and is indifferent to food. She’s also an alcoholic and has made a mess of her life, but I would still be jealous of her! I really wanted to explore her choices, because they are so different from my own. There is one point in the book where Max forgives one of the main characters for something that is really unforgiveable, because I honestly believe that’s what Max would do.

Are you like any of your characters? How so?

I am a lot like Sarah in that I have struggled with overeating for much of my life. I have also had trouble finding a balance between work and the rest of my life, although I’ve done a little better since I got married! And I have had a tendency to think about old boyfriends and wonder, what if? Sarah is a version of a woman I might have become if I had made different choices. I have never locked myself in a basement to lose weight, although I have to say in some ways it sounds very tempting.   

With which of your characters would you most like to be stuck on a deserted island?

Adam, the man both Sarah and Max fantasize about in different ways. He’s gorgeous, great in bed, and smart. Best of all, on a desert island I wouldn’t have to worry about him cheating on me!

What song would you pick to go with your book?

“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. I know you could never use it in a movie again after Say Anything, but that song taps into the desire and longing I think we all have felt for someone at some point in our lives. An alternative would be “Just Say Yes” by Snow Patrol. Sarah is so obsessed with saying no to food that she has trouble saying yes to love.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

Gosh, it’s hard, but criticism is so important to improving. I used to teach at the University of Missouri and every day we did a group critique in the television newsroom of everyone’s work. I honestly believe one of the best predictors for success at work is a person’s ability to not just accept the criticism that comes your way, but to actively seek it out.

I really want to learn from my readers—about what they thought worked and what didn’t. Of course, you also have to realize that everyone has different tastes and not get too upset when people tell you they dislike your writing, without explaining why. I belong to a book club and for any given classic we read, half of the group doesn’t like it. It helps you appreciate the varying perspectives readers bring to a book.

Where do you prefer to do your writing?

I’m lucky enough to have a desk with a window overlooking our back yard and woods behind it. I often glance away from the computer screen to watch squirrels chasing each other, cardinals and blue jays flocking around our feeders, and sometimes even a deer nibbling away. My dog Rascal keeps me company, either napping on the couch next to me, or often curled up under my desk.

Where’s home for you?

A little over two years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to move anywhere because I was working virtually. We liked New Jersey but were getting tired of the cost of living. We chose Durham, N.C. It’s amazing—-really friendly, highly educated people, and lots to do. I’m a little Type A, so I like the slower pace. I feel like I’m a better, more patient person when I live in the South. Plus I love seeing my daffodils come up in February!


When their food arrived, Sarah looked jealously at Max’s swaggering stack of three fluffy pancakes. Sarah had ordered was the spinach omelet, no toast, no home fries.

“So, do you do reference checks on your roommates?” Sarah asked.

“Sure, my HR department handles that,” replied Max, spreading the giant pat of butter in the center of her pancakes out to the edges in excruciatingly slow, even strokes. "It wouldn’t have mattered,” she continued. “She would have just given me the name of any lowlife she was friends with.”

“Did she even pay you any rent?”

“A month’s worth, but I gave three weeks of it back, except for what she stole, of course. Well, she said she was just borrowing it.”

“Hmm,” said Sarah, as she swallowed another small bite of her omelet. The smell of Max’s pancakes, mixed with the butter and the maple syrup she was now drenching over them, was almost overwhelming. It made her bland omelet—-she had also told them to hold the cheese-—taste almost like cardboard. Sarah put her fork down. Maybe Max won’t finish her pancakes and I can have a bite or two, just so it won’t go to waste?

“Oh, so you would have had her arrested, or sued her, or what?” Max asked, slicing off a large section of the pancake tower and stuffing it into her mouth.

Sarah shrugged. Neither of them talked for a few moments, while they focused on their meals. Sarah could never understand why Max was able to eat whatever she wanted and stay so skinny—-although she had to admit that Max could easily skip a meal. It was like Max never thought about food or took great pains to get a hold of it, but if something tasty was placed in front of her, she would enjoy it. If Max and Sarah were two cars driving down the interstate, Sarah would pull off every time she saw a new gas station with a tempting sign, while Max would just wait until she was on empty.

Sarah tried to get a conversation going, but her sister was so focused on plowing through her pancakes that Sarah ended up delivering an extended monologue about how much she hated her boss. When Max finished everything on her plate, Sarah felt so pained that she thought about coming come back the next day to get her own pancakes. She was starting on her third day of healthy eating, but there was no way it was going to last.

“Sorry, I gotta go,” Max said, flagging down the waitress. Sarah reached for the check as soon as it came.

“Sarah, for Christ’s sake, I can afford pancakes.”

“You get the next one,” Sarah said, pulling out her wallet.

“Whatever,” said Max, and a beat later, delivered a soft “thanks.”

“So, are you in a rush?” Sarah asked.

“Uh, well, I’m meeting this guy in the city-—we’re going on some yacht around Manhattan with an open bar, so I can’t be late.” Max described this as though she was planning to have her nails done, which was what Sarah’s afternoon plans were.

“So you’ve replaced Ed already?” Sarah asked. It was a stupid question because Max met someone new every night.

Max yawned.

“It’s just a guy who asked me out before I even met Ed. He was at the bar on Wednesday, and this time I said yes. He lives in Tribeca and is some kind of investment guy. He’s got a few clients in Montclair which is why he goes to McCabe’s a lot.”

Sarah tried to imagine a world where a rich, smart guy pounced the moment she broke up with her boyfriend. When she was growing up in Ohio, Sarah used to read Glamour magazine and imagined living in New York City, where handsome men in limos took her to fancy parties with champagne and lobster. She pictured herself dressed in some fantastic outfit that showed off her cleavage and small waist. Her hair and makeup would be perfect and her heels would be high enough so she could kiss her tall boyfriend while they slow-danced.

But that world never existed for Sarah. The only time she went to an expensive restaurant or hotel was for a work party. She would wear a cheap black dress because she was always planning to be thinner in the future and it didn’t make sense to spend money on something fancy she would never wear again. Her feet suffered from plantar fasciitis, no doubt caused by her excess weight, so she could never wear anything higher than a one-inch heel.

Sarah told Max to have fun and they hugged clumsily. When Sarah got home from the nail salon, she picked up her laptop and finally, there was a message from Harry, sent just a few minutes ago. He had written to her at ten-thirty on a Saturday night. Had he come home after a movie or dinner with his wife and tell her he would be upstairs in a few minutes?  Or perhaps he spent the evening at home watching T.V. with her, composing an email on his laptop?

I've stared at your message many times this week, trying to work out how best to reply.  If we are to keep corresponding, I must be honest - with both you and myself.

Firstly, let me apologise profusely. I clearly caused you great pain; indeed, it comes through even from this distance in time and location. You must know, however, that the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life was hurt you. So what happened, why didn’t I contact you?

About the author:

Karen Frankola wrote Appetites to explore the hard choices women make in love and work. Karen spent much of her career writing very short stories at news organizations like CNN and MSNBC, so creating a novel was challenging. She now does a variety of writing for corporations and nonprofit organizations. Karen is lucky enough to work mostly from home, with her dog Rascal curled up under her desk.

Karen grew up near Pittsburgh, where she spent much of her childhood reading books in the cemetery that bordered her family’s backyard. Karen moved to nine different states and England. Some of her favorite jobs were teaching journalism at the University of Missouri, working as a television news director, and handling video shoots for Deloitte around the world. She also spent a summer repairing motors at a steel mill and hopes to soon publish a coming-of-age memoir about that experience.

Karen and her husband Troy now reside in Durham, North Carolina, where they enjoy watching deer in the woods behind their house, lots of live music, beautiful biking trails, and great neighbors.

Karen is working on a sequel to Appetites and would love to hear what you think of it.

Connect with Karen:
Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon