dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author


Underrated TreasuresToday I’m participating in Alex Cavanaugh’s Under-Rated Treasures Blog Fest, highlighting books, bands, and movies that don’t get the attention they rightly deserve.

I’ve chosen to feature one of my family’s favorite movies – one that we traditionally watch every year on our family ski vacation: Better Off Dead (1985), starring John Cusack.

Northern California student Lane Myers is hit with a double whammy when he’s cheated out of his place on the high school ski team and his girlfriend Beth dumps him for the obnoxious ski team captain. (“Lane, I think it’d be in my best interest if I dated somebody more popular.”) Unable to face the rejection, Lane decides to end his life, but his attempts at suicide fail in various humorous ways while the French foreign exchange girl next door tries to gain his notice and escape her odious host family.

Better Off Dead never seems to appear on any “Best of the ‘80’s” lists alongside Ferris Bueller, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles. But I think it belongs there. My experience with people and this movie is: Either they’ve never heard of it, or like me, it’s one of their all-time favorites and they can practically recite the whole script.

Better Off Dead

“Go that way. Really Fast. If something gets in your way … Turn.”

If you’re one of the latter, please share your favorite Better Off Dead quote in the comments.

And if you’ve never seen it, you can check out the Quote-Along Film Trailer below!


“Never surrender, never give up!” ~ Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, played by Jason Nesmith, (played by Tim Allen) in Galaxy Quest

Welcome to Elana Johnson’s Never Surrender Blogfest ~ a salute to never giving up, no matter how much rejection you face. And it’s also a celebration for the release of Elana’s new book SURRENDER.
I won’t claim that my search for an agent was as long and fraught with rejection as some.  But it had its moments.  I only started looking for an agent a few months before my first book, WE HEAR THE DEAD, was released because … well, because I was given bad advice about not needing an agent and was dumb enough to believe it.  But by early 2010 I had learned that, no matter how wonderful an editor and a publisher might be, every writer needs someone looking out for his or her interests. 
I was lucky enough to have referrals from other authors I met while launching WHTD.  Over the course of eight months, two different agents for whom I had referrals read my manuscript and requested a Revise and Resubmit.  In each case, I revised as requested and was then turned down.  Each of these rejections was devastating in its own way, and yet my manuscript was stronger, thanks to the feedback.
There were also plenty of rejections from other agents: “Not for me.”  “I didn’t connect with your MC.” “I just don’t like your style.”  Not to mention radio silence. Whenever I had specific feedback, I revised and tweaked and fiddled with the manuscript so that every time I had a request, I was sending an improved version.  I also came to a revelation regarding my query and realized I was hiding the most interesting characteristic of my main character.  Just because it was a secret in the book didn’t mean I had to keep it secret from potential agents!  *slap head*
My revised query got me more requests, and by this time it was late 2010.  My first book was out, and I’d received some unhappy news from my publisher.  It had been a sad, glum fall. One Sunday afternoon in December, I sent out a pair of queries and received two full requests before the evening was over.  Promising—but I knew better than to get my hopes up.
That Tuesday afternoon, less than 48 hours later, I heard back from one of the agents.  She loved my writing; she loved my main character – she didn’t like my plot.  She thought I’d taken a really good idea and gone in the wrong direction with it.  She suggested a Revise and Resubmit and offered detailed editorial notes if I gave her an exclusive – but this would be a total re-write, throwing out most of the characters and the bulk of the plot.  We exchanged a few emails, and I was torn. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity, and yet I’d already been through two R&Rs without success.  She was telling me that I’d messed up the story. I shed a few tears.
That evening, I mulled over my response while driving one of my daughters to an evening activity.  When I got home and opened my email (still undecided), I had a new message waiting from the other agent I’d queried that Sunday.  Sara Crowe was brief: She’d started my manuscript on her way home from work that afternoon and couldn’t put it down. Could we talk later that week?
And, happily, I landed with Sara, who loved my story enough to work through revisions aftersigning me.  But as a Never Surrender twist to this tale – that manuscript was not the first one she sold for me.  THE CAGED GRAVES was the second manuscript I sent to Sara, but the first one she sold.  The original manuscript? It’s been recently revised again, and we have not surrendered yet.
The lesson: Keep writing, and no matter how much you love the ms you’re querying, write another one.  Not everything happens when you want it to happen or in the order you think it’s going to happen.  But everything happens the way it’s supposed to.
Oh, and go watch Galaxy Quest.
You can find the other blogs participating in the Never Surrender Blogfest HERE.

Madeleine Maddocks from Scribble and Edit is hosting a Plotting Blogfest next  month, and for those of you also participating in the A-Z Blogfest, she has conveniently scheduled it for the Letter P — April 17th.

You can sign up at Madeleine’s site.  On the day of the blogfest, share your methods of plotting. Pantsterers (like me) can share how we manage to write a manuscript without plotting much of anything!

Believe it or not, despite being a dedicated pantsterer, I’ve been trying to outline a future WIP while I work on the editorial revisions for THE CAGED GRAVES.  The revisions have left no time for the WIP I put aside in February.  It was kind of a mess when I left it, so if anything needed outlining it was that project!  But for some reason, my mind started wandering toward a different story … something outside my comfort zone. (wrote about that here)

I’ll have to report back on how outlining works out for me.  So far, I keep adding more and more details to the outline — up to the 50% mark in the story. After that point … I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENS.

Which is pretty much the way it works when I pantster. LOL.

Thank you, DL Hammons, Matt McNish, Katie Mills, and Alex J Cavanaugh, for hosting this blogfest exploring the beginnings of our writing journeys.
I started writing stories before I knew how to write. My first book was  a picture book – 3 pages long and pasted together with Elmer’s Glue. The titled was penciled onto the cover by my father. It was a dragon-kidnaps-girl, boy-slays-dragon, boy-gets-girl kind of story.  In fact, that was the whole story.
I don’t remember a lot about the stories I wrote in elementary school, but I received a lot of encouragement from my fourth grade teacher, Mac Rayne, and my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Haney.  (As an interesting side note, I currently have Mac Rayne’s grandson in MY class. Nice how those things come full circle.) These stories were all hand-written in gray tablets, and sadly, I threw them away in a fit of self-loathing sometime in high school.  I wish someone had stopped me.
In high school and college I moved up to spiral-bound notebooks, along with manuscripts typed on onionskin and eventually stored on computer disks.  Some of them are dated; others can be sequenced by the covers of the notebooks. (Ahem … Empire Strikes Back …)
In high school, I submitted short stories to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It only took a few rejections for me to give up trying. It was also in high school that I got my first taste of censorship: in my junior year, our Catholic high school literary magazine was banned because we printed a poem about abortion.  All copies were confiscated, and the teacher sponsor was reprimanded.  The principal called the junior and senior editors into his office to yell at us, and for the first time I realized he knew NONE of our names, even though we were the top academic students in his school.  (He knew the football players, but not us.)
I wrote all the way through college and grad school, although I never again submitted my work anywhere. When I first began teaching, I stopped writing for a couple years, and I had only just started again when I met Bob Salerni.  As our relationship developed, he became the strongest advocate I’ve ever had for my writing. In the early years of our marriage, he sent manuscripts on my behalf to publishers and agents. (By mail. This was the 90’s.) Nothing ever came of it, and when we had children, I quit writing altogether.
In 2004 I took it up again, plunging into a completely new genre for me: historical fiction. I started a novel based on the real life adventures of two teenage spirit mediums, and unbeknownst to me, Bob began researching self-publishing.  By the time I had the novel ¾ completed, he approached me with his plan.
I like to tell people I broke into the publishing field backwards. First I published a book (High Spirits, iUniverse 2007), then I received a publishing contract for that same book (retitled We Hear the Dead, Sourcebooks 2010), and then I signed with an agent, Sara Crowe.  During these very exciting years, I also sold a film option to Amy Green of One Eye Open Studio and wrote my very first screenplay!
Also during these years, I was invited by Mike Katz of Strider Nolan Media to submit short stories to his pulp fiction anthology Visions. I resurrected two short stories I wrote in graduate school – Necromancerand Greydeere – and they were published respectively in 2009 and 2010. One of the neatest things about that experience was seeing my characters illustrated by Mike Katz and C. Edward Sellner.
As 2012 begins and I look forward to the publication of my next novel, The Caged Graves, by Clarion in 2013 (add CG on Goodreads!), I think back on the girl who wrote all those stories on tablets and in notebooks. I wonder what she would think if she knew her dream of becoming a published author would come true – but not until she’d passed the age of 40.  Would she be excited – or would she think it was too long to wait? (I’m afraid my teenage self would think 40 was practically dead.)

While I was promoting WE HEAR THE DEAD in the early months of 2010, I had a startling revelation about the role played by séances in the 19th century. Too bad I only had 5 blog followers at the time …

Thanks to the Déjà Vu Blogfest – The Day of the Do-Over – I get to share it again!

While working on a guest post for my blog tour, trying to explain why abolitionists and suffragettes endorsed the Fox sisters’ séances, it suddenly hit me: Seances were the 19th century’s version of Twitter!

Picture it — People receiving brief, cryptic messages sent by faceless entities from a far away place. That pretty much describes both a séance and Twitter, doesn’t it?

While I was writing the Fox sisters’ story in WE HEAR THE DEAD, I struggled to find an explanation for why intelligent and educated people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass supported something that was just a clever hoax. Were they really taken in? Eventually I came to the conclusion that – just like today – people endorse things that benefit them.

People were quick to believe messages sent from Heaven, but, of course, as with Twitter, one can never be really certain of the sender’s true identity. 19th century Senator John Calhoun was a staunch (even rabid) advocate of slavery. Yet, after his death, Calhoun’s spirit (@johncalhoun if you please) visited the Fox sisters’ séances, claiming he’d been enlightened by the Truth in the afterlife and recanting his former position!

Stanton, Mott, Douglass, and other reformers knew exactly what they were doing when they endorsed the Fox sisters. They had a message they wanted to spread, and the Fox sisters, abolitionists and fledgling feminists themselves, were more than happy to cooperate. As @benjaminfranklin said in one of their séances, “Great changes are on the horizon!”

Next Monday is Christina Lee and Stina Lindenblatt’s Valentine’s Day-inspired event: Just Kiss Already Blogfest. I’ll be participating with a kissing scene from my current WIP.

Lenny – be forewarned. You might want to skip next Monday. I know this isn’t your thing, and I’m afraid there’s going to be smooching, canoodling, and making out all over the blogosphere! 😀

To participate, sign up at Christina Lee’s site. Next Monday, post a 250-word kissing scene – real kissing, mind you, no near misses. It can be from your work, or somebody else’s work you admire, as long as you give credit appropriately. Then, please visit 3-5 other participating blogs to respond to their scenes.

Oooh-la-la. Everybody pucker up!

In the meantime, I should have a post up today at the Dear Teen Me blog, if you care to visit. I sent them various teen-me photographs. I can’t wait (yikes!) to see which one they post.