Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Only One More Sleep Til Christmas!

The Muppet Christmas Carol is the pinnacle of Christmasy goodness. Where else can you get Michael Caine being all Scroogey, Kermit singing about Christmas Eve (only one more sleep!), a miniature Kermit (Tiny Tim) singing "Bless Us All", two miniature Miss Piggies dive-tackling Kermie, and the Great Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) and Rizzo the Rat narrating the whole thing?

Up here in the frozen north, there is a second-run movie theatre with tables in front of the seats and pizza/burritos/etc. served during the movie. Every year, the weekend before Christmas, they show a classic family Christmas movie and this year it was muppety goodness all the way. My whole family went, buying out two booths (thus facilitating a fabulous game of mid-movie peek-a-boo over the side of the booth with my baby niece). My favorite part? When the third ghost disappeared and my oldest nephew asked me, "When does the next ghost arrive?" I told him that was it. Only three. Now Scrooge gets a chance to be a good guy. He made a face. Ghosts are more fun than good guys, apparently. I couldn't help but smile - and agree with him wholeheartedly. I'd be a terrible Scrooge. If anyone ever told me I was going to be visited by three spirits, I'd probably say, "Only three?"

So I wish you all a Merry Christmas filled with spirits and the spirit of the season. After all there's only one more sleep til Chri-istmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

For the Record...

Day Jobs Suck.

That said, as day jobs go, mine is usually pretty sweet. However, even pretty sweet day jobs consume forty hours of my week, which is less than ideal when I am also decorating, shopping, wrapping, playing in the snow (wrong snow for snowmen, ideal for snow angels), swimming (indoor, we aren't quite that nuts up here in Alaska), and generally spending every waking hour with my family. Anything that can be put on hold gets put on hold, which includes: Blogging (hence my dearth o' blogs, and what you can expect will be a future dearth o' blogs until the 5th of January when I fly south for the winter), communication with the outside world (if I am supposed to be responding to a call or an email you sent me, be patient, be very very patient - I adore you, I do, and I will get back to you...eventually), writing, editing... even reading gets put on hold. This is not a vacation. This is a marathon. I should have been training for this all year.

Is anyone else totally exhausted by the holidays with weeks to go or am I the only one?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Nasty Case of the Shoulds

"Should" is quite possibly my least favorite word in the English language. My reaction to it is very Yoda. Do or do not, there is no should.

I'm heading home for the holidays in less than two days, and my ability to accomplish anything, writing-wise, evaporates the moment I step foot off that plane. For three-plus weeks, I will be basking in the glow of family & the holidays (while still putting in my usual 40 at the day job). I love this time of year, but my writing always stalls due to a complete lack of free time. In anticipation of this dearth o' writing, I thought I'd work extra hard this week and get ahead. (Guess how that worked out? Ha ha.)

I have been motivationally challenged all week long. I know I should be doing much-needed revisions on The Ghost Exterminator. I should be fixing the crappy ending on my little shifter novella. Barring that, I should be pepping up the dry prose of my Karmic short story, or maybe logging a few thousand words on my new WIP.

I should be doing any one of a dozen productive tasks, but what am I doing? A big fat nothing. My brain seems to have decided that my annual creative vacation has begun early. I sit here, kicking myself for all the things I'm not accomplishing, but I still can't seem to get my brain in gear.

So how do you kick a case of the shoulds?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Have Yourself a Naughty Little Christmas

I love Christmas stories. A Christmas Carol. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And I'm a total sucker for a good Christmas movie. I must watch Scrooged, Holiday Inn, and Miracle on 34th Street at least three times each every year. I am addicted The Santa Clause and Love, Actually. And every year, no matter how bad the previews make them look, I buy my ticket to whatever holiday themed movie is gracing the box office.

I'm afraid I can't recommend Four Christmases, unless you are the kind of movie-goer who will not be bothered by the fact that the protagonists never learn anything. Except how to breed, which is not really something I can support when the characters are childish, selfish, don't communicate, and lie constantly to their families--even in the final scene! Arg. I'm not going to deny that there were funny moments, but Christmas movies need to have heart. Four Christmases was sans heart. So no recommendation.

However, I can recommend that you all click on over to the Samhellion website where the magnificent Samhain authors are providing a series of FREE HOLIDAY-THEMED E-BOOKS!!! How kickass is that? Go on, wallow in the Holiday goodness (or naughtiness). Maybe you'll discover an author or twelve to add to your To-Be-Read pile.

And don't miss Baby It's Cold Outside by Shelli Stevens, my fellow Seattle-ite. It had me daydreaming about snowstorms in Seattle all day. I'm dreaming of a whiiiiiiite Christmas...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Cover!!!

It's here!!! The Ghost Shrink, the Accidental Gigolo, & the Poltergeist Accountant is one step closer to publication!

Check out the cover!!! -->

A real cover. As in for a real book. Something that someone (namely Samhain Publishing) is really going to publish. It's really happening!!! Aaaaahhhh!!! (Scream with me, people. It's more fun than you might think. Come on... you know you want to...)

I probably scared the bejeezus out of my neighbors with my hysterics when I saw I had a "Coming Soon" page on the Samhain Website. But this... hooo, baby. This is an actual, honest-to-god, bonafide cover.

So what do you think? Go ahead, judge a book by its cover.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tis the Season...

That's right, boys and girls! It's that time of year again. The time when all the accountants and their rosy-cheeked accounting elves (that's me!) put in crazy overtime hours at a workshop (er, corporation) of the northerly persuasion to prove that they've been good little girls and boys this year. You guessed it. It's Audit Season! Fa-la-la-la-laaaaaa, la-la... what's that? There's another season that runs between November and February? Holidays, you say? Oh, yeah...

It's Christmas! Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!

Now, you sticklers out there might inform me that the Christmas season doesn't start until Thanksgiving is over and, while I agree that October is too early for the Santa Claus display in Macy's, I am of the opinion that the Season begins the weekend before Thanksgiving and lasts until the Monday after New Years (longer if you're too lazy to take down your tree). So it's official (in my book, at least) - Christmas is here!

I decked the halls of my apartment this weekend, did a bunch of my Christmas shopping (cuz mailing to Hawaii always takes a week longer than they say it will), and crammed my iPod full of holiday tunes. I'm set.

I love the holidays. Please allow me to repeat for emphasis. I love the holidays. Family and laughter and feasting. Wrapping presents and clocking my nephews on how many nanoseconds it takes them to unwrap them. I'm sure my niece will soon catch up to them in speed, but she's still at the phase where she spends most of the holiday playing with the boxes.

I'll be home for Christmas (sing it, Bing!) this year, but my folks are coming to my place for Thanksgiving. For the first time ever, I am hosting Thanksgiving for my family.

It should be noted that I do not cook. This is not to say that I cannot cook and I have even made a Thanksgiving dinner or two in my time - most notably the Glenview Feast of '03, which featured numerous phone calls home for guidance and moral support, and such memorable quotes as "I put my hand where in the turkey?" and "How many Northwestern grads does it take to stuff a turkey?" The answer: Three. One to hold the slippery little bugger, one to shove the stuffing into its various cavities, and one to shout instructions across the room with a cellphone pressed to her ear because she is so grossed out by the stuffing of food into orifices where food should not live - such as the chest cavity - that she cannot stand closer without dancing around in circles squeeling "Ew, ew, ew!" Which one was I? The one on the phone, of course. Yeah, I have a low gross out threshold. This year, I bought a frozen turkey because the fresh ones - particularly the ones named "Jenny-O" - were too squishy and lifelike. In my world, frozen turkeys are more dead than fresh ones and therefore more edible.

So I have a frozen, unnamed turkey thawing in my fridge, a little tree with flashy lights and sparkly ornaments in my living room, and Jingle Bell Rock bopping through my apartment. Life is good.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Scotland Forever - ***007 Spoilers***

I miss Sean Connery.

The latest James Bond installment wasn't as bad as I thought it would be (glowing recommendation, eh?), but as studly as the new Bond is - and yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is one studly piece of manflesh - he's no Sean Connery.

Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but my Bond would never lose his calm (or that twinkle in his eye), no matter how wild the speedboat chase. My Bond was always more inclined to smirk than the sneer. He was smug and cocky, arrogant and coolly collected. He used his brain, his brawn, and his undeniable sex appeal for the good of England and mankind. And he did it all while secretly laughing at the lesser mortals.

New Bond Drinking Game: Take a shot every time the name "Vespa" is mentioned or Jamesey-poo cringes in pained memory of her. That bitch haunted this movie and as much as I love ghosts, I wanted to resurrect her just to kill her all over again for making Bond into a weepy, conflicted, real human being.

My Bond is impervious. I didn't want to see the neurosis lurking behind his mask. I want him to be superficial, dammit! My Bond may have deep dark issues that cause him to have the devil-may-care attitude in the face of death and destruction (not to mention a serious vodka fetish), but I don't want to have to watch them. James Bond is not the English Patient. I don't care why he is the way he is. I just want him to be the Bond I know and love.

Ugh. And don't even get me started on what they did to M's character.

Screenwriters: Grow a pair and stop trying to make everything so Chicken Soup for the Frickin Soul. Bond is gratuitous action and adventure. That's what it's supposed to be. Stop trying to make Schindler's List.

Scientists: Please clone Sean Connery. I need my Bond back.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day of Suck

Metaphor of the Day:

Right when you think you have your foot in the door, you discover you only had a toe in. Then someone slams the door on your toe and it hurts like a mo-fo. So then your toenail falls off. You're hopping around, screaming and bleeding and...

I'm sitting here, trying to think of a way to put a positive spin on this. I know there is a positive spin. Unfortunately, my toe hurts and that seems to be inhibiting my ability to take it to a happy place.

We'll go with Scarlet. Tomorrow is another day.

Heh. Yeah. Tomorrow I could lose another toe. Woohoo.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NaNoWriMo - The Halfway Point

Two weeks into NaNoWriMo! Do you have your 25,000 words yet? Do I?

Well, yeah, about that... funny thing happened, actually...

I sort of got sidetracked. This novella that I wasn't planning on writing until January totally railroaded me into starting it early. I was struggling with my WIP, puttering along at a snail's pace, and then, all of a sudden, I'm writing pages and pages on this completely unrelated novella.

This just demonstrates my utter inability to follow rules.

Do I have 25,000 words? Hells, yes, baby! Are they on the book I was hoping to write this month? Um, no, not exactly. Can I write 50,000 words on one book (which I believe are the NaNo rules) this month? Well, since the novella is done, kaput, completed, it certainly isn't going to hit 50K. And there is no way I am going to write a whole nother 50K this month on the original WIP, what with the family coming for Thanksgiving and my desire to retain my sanity and all. So I cry defeat, ladies and gentlemen. No NaNo for me.

Maybe next year.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

PYHIAB - Best Contest Ever!!!

For the record, the Put Your Heart in a Book Contest run by the New Jersey Romance Writers is the best contest ever!!! Now, I would love to be able to say that this glowing assessment is completely unbiased, but alas, I can make no such claim. Cuz I won it! Or rather, Picket Fences won the Single Title category. Sweet, eh?But I choose to believe I would have endorsed the contest just as whole-heartedly had I not been so lucky.

So what makes PYHIAB so awesome? Well, little lady, allow me to elucidate. (Anyone get the reference? Anyone?) Ahem. The evidence:
1. Three, count them, three published judges critique your work in the first round. I don't know about you, but I find the comments from published judges are much more helpful (and kind) than those of the unwashed masses. (No offense, unwashed masses!)
2. Three, count them, three industry professionals (editor, agent & best-selling author) judging the final round.
3. If you final, you get a certificate (plaque for 1st), cashola (enough to cover your initial contest fee investment), a pitch with an editor/agent at the PYHIAB conference in New Jersey (where many an industry professional has been spotted, due to its proximity to NYC), and recognition at their Awards thingy at the conference. Sadly, I had to take a pass on the last two as New Jersey is not in close proximity to Seattle and I am tres broke, but how rockin' awesome are those prizes? Not too shabby, huh?

Now, this is just my opinion and I'm sure there will be those out there who had very different experiences, but what made the PYHIAB contest so singularly awesome for me was the quality of the judging. If you've entered more than a couple contests, odds are you've had one of those judges. The nasty ones who seem to delight in tearing your work apart without providing any specific, constructive suggestions as to how to improve your story - which should always be the goal of such feedback, IMHO. The PYHIAB judges could not have been farther from those judges. They were stellar, phenomenal, breathtakingly brilliant. Someday, I shall write odes to their majesty.

Now, they obviously liked my stuff, so that does bias me pretty heavily in their favor, but they didn't just give me a pass, scribbling "Don't change a word" or "Perfect just the way it is" or some other unhelpful platitude. No. I got some good, hands-on, specific criticism. It was heavenly. I had several writing epiphanies as a direct result of these judges' comments. Realizations that will make my writing stronger for years to come.

I don't know what they put in the water in New Jersey or how they train/select their judges, but I do know that my experience was wildly positive. This contest receives my highest recommendation. I would totally enter again next year if not for the fact that my novella disqualifies me. PYHIAB - Best Contest Ever.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reading... Now a Social Activity

I'm reading Twilight, along with half the rest of the population, and I've noticed the strangest phenomenon. People who see me with the book are overwhelmed by the uncontrollable urge to talk to me about it.

First, when I picked up my copy from the hold shelf at my local library, one of the chicks standing in line at checkout with me started gushing uncontrollably about how much she loved the book. This seemed odd to me because, well, clearly I haven't read it yet, so what am I supposed to say? How nice for you?

Then, I decided I wanted to take myself to a nice quiet lunch at a local restaurant yesterday and brought the book along. It wouldn't fit in my bag, so I held it against my chest, cover facing in, with my arm around it. One of the hostesses recognized the book by the font on the back flap and proceeded to bubble enthusiastically about how great she thought it was. Then, a second hostess led me to my table and she too performed the magic back-flap parlor trick. For the third time in less than a day someone began volunteering their opinion of the book I'm reading. How weird is that?

I read constantly. I read in public all the time. This never happens. Then I pick up the Teeny-Bopper Bible and all my lovely reading privacy goes to hell. Random strangers interrupt my reading to talk to me.

And as happy as I am that America's teens are literate, I find this damned annoying. Did I ask for their opinion? Do they think I care? My internal monologue goes into high-snark mode, leaving me with nothing to do but smile because if I open my mouth...

So I ask you: Random Strangers volunteering their opinion of a book you clearly have not finished reading. Annoying? Sociable? Aggravating? Friendly? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Bulimic Email (aka Binge & Purge Editing)

My email program does not "delete" messages or "empty" the trash. No. My email purges. I know it is socially insensitive for me to think the idea of my email having an eating disorder is hysterically funny, but, hey, I'm pretty socially insensitive, so I laugh my CLA off every time I hit purge.

I should get my email some counseling. Send it on Doctor Phil to talk about its self-image. And while I'm at it, I should enroll myself. You see, faithful reader, I have an editing disorder.

I avoid editing. My editing fasts can last for months. I write stacks and stacks of fresh, newly minted manuscripts and set them aside to be edited later. Much later. Then once or twice a year, when my To-Be-Edited pile gets precariously tall, I binge on editing. Punishing myself with a glut of it.

I'm in an editing binge now.

"What's this?" you ask. "Aren't you doing NaNo? There's no editing in NaNo!"

I know. And I am doing NaNo. Or rather, I will be (hopefully), just as soon as I get this editing monkey off my back.

You see, October was my designated Month o' Editing Masochism and I didn't finish gutting and filleting one of my older manuscripts the way I wanted to. Did you see that Grey's Anatomy with Anatomy Jane, the doll with the removable organs? That's what my book looks like right now. An empty body cavity. The organs are all strewn around my apartment on ice, waiting to be put back inside. Now, you may say the metaphor is flawed, that my story isn't going to die if I leave the plot devices on ice indefinitely, and maybe you're the kind of person who can walk away from surgery with the guts hanging out, but I'm not. I can't.

Now if only I could remember which order to put them back in, so this puppy doesn't end up breathing out of its stomach.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


It's National Novel Writing Month! Woohoo!

So, I've never officially played this game before, where you sign up and log on and they verify your word count and all that. And, sorry folks, I'm still not going to be official. I'm going to party alongside those wild and crazy NaNoWriMoers, but I'm doing this for me, not for them, so I'm not going to be sending my words off to be tallied. The only tally that matters is mine. (Narcissism, thy name is me!) And I invite you, officially or un, to join in the zaniness. Write like a wild thing!

The rules? 50,000 words between Nov 1st & Nov 30th. That's all folks. It don't have to be Shakespeare, it just has to be verbose.

I love the idea of writing with blind enthusiasm and turning off the internal editor, because when I get started, step one of my process is to sit down and give myself permission to suck. Worry about quality later. You can't fix what you don't write. So write! Write 50,000 words in the next 30 days and earn bragging rights for a lifetime! Go, go, go!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ooooooob! Hamlet's Father's Ghost - Backwards!

So last week I saw, for about the twentieth time, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). And yes, it is still outrageously funny, even when you have the show mostly memorized. It's the Bard on speed. All of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets in ninety minutes, with some slight editorial adjustments. Here, have a taste:

Romeo: Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized...
Juliet: What did you just say?
Romeo: I said, call me but love, and I'll...
Juliet: Call you Butt Love?
Romeo: Can we get on with the scene?
Juliet: Whatever you say, Butt Love.

Now take a moment to visualize Titus Andronicus as a cooking show. Suprisingly apt, isn't it?

And then there was Hamlet. Oh, Hamlet. We always knew he was funny, but this? This was art.

And if you didn't already know Hamlet was funny, you must now read The Island of the Sequined Love Nun (Oh, Christopher, how do I love thee...) & then go watch Hamlet 2 - but only if you have a thick skin & a slightly deformed funny bone. (Mom, if you are reading this, these recommendations do not apply to you.)

So why did I bring this up? Other than just to babble on about how wonderful laughter is? Yeah, I don't really have a point. But I do have a bulletin board. It hangs next to my desk. And on this bulletin board there is a scrap of yellow construction paper. And on this construction paper, in black sharpie, are the words "Ooooob! Hamlet's Father's Ghost - Backwards! Why aren't you______?!?" The blank is currently filled in with a purple post-it note commanding me to edit. So, yeah, this is how I motivate myself. With reminders that anything is hysterically funny when done with enough enthusiasm. As long as it's done really fast. And backwards.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When Inspiration Strikes

I love being a writer. I love that moment when the random rambling of your own thoughts inside your head suddenly turns into a story. I love that having my palm read at an amusement park for a laugh can turn into a novella. I love that my own (exasperating and highly frustrating) experience with a certain internet dating site who shall remain nameless (eBastards!) has spawned the idea for what I hope will be my best book to date. I love sitting in writing workshops and listening to every third word because I am so busy scribbling notes about an idea I just had that has absolutely nothing to do with plotters vs. pantsers and everything to do with a new and creative way to kill off my characters! I love being the kind of person who will sit down anywhere and begin scribbling in my little notebook because Inspiration has Struck! I love that phrase. Inspiration doesn’t tap you gently on the shoulder. Inspiration Strikes! Bam! (Let’s just hope that Inspiration never decides to go on strike.) I love Inspiration all the more because I can’t predict or analyze it. It simply is. There are no rules for the ideas that smack you out of the ether. The Boys in the Basement, the Muse, whatever you call it, it is wild and unpredictable and fantastic. And it is the one thing that I could never train myself to do, but which I could never do without as a writer. Thank you, Inspiration!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's a Business, People

I'm gonna try to keep this one short, lest I get all ranty.

I read a very interesting blog today on bookstores, book buyers, and why books are skipped by certain stores. Fascinating stuff, and awful if you are an established author and you get skipped. But...

I have real issues with accountability, or rather the lack of it, in our culture. I am not going political, so please don't take it there. I mean personal accountability. Excuses. The sense that we are entitled to things (fascinating word, "entitled" - funny how a concept from an aristocratic culture has caught on so fully with our democratic masses) without ever having to work for them.

I am sorry those authors had their books skipped and I empathize. Writers, such as myself, who write for electronic and small presses have much lower expectations for whether or not the local Borders or B&N will carry our books. The sight of our book on their shelves, or even the ability to order it through them, is a victory in itself. But I am not saying that major authors writing for major presses should not have higher expectations of the megastores. No, what I am getting at is this:

You are responsible for your own success.

This is not to say that you are in control of your own success. That is faaaaaar from the truth. There is luck liberally mixed in with the hardwork to get you to the brass ring, but my take is this: If your book is skipped by a megastore, instead of launching into a vitriolic online tantrum (I mean no offense, I'm sure I would be tantruming with the best of them, though hopefully privately), instead of proposing boycotts or publicizing your indignation, write a better book next time. Write one they can't ignore.

It is so much easier to blame someone else for your failures than it is to own them and resolve not to fail again. This personal accountability extends into so many aspects of our lives, and just about every aspect of writing, I think.

We deal with a lot of rejection and it is easy to blame those rejections on the editor, the agent, the reader who didn't "get it." We hold up the stacks of rejections the Writing Gods received before they published and declare ourselves to be just like them. Misunderstood genius. It is so much easier than taking the advice, doing the revisions, making the next book better.

I am not telling you to take every rejection to heart and make revisions on your work at the say-so of every Tom, Dick, and Harry (Anyone else get Kiss Me, Kate flashbacks with that phrase?), but neither do I think you should lay all the blame at their doors and march off in a huff to find someone who really appreciates you. The finding someone who really appreciates you, I support. The huff, not so much.

We have to believe we are the Next Big Thing. We have to know that our talent is a shining beacon. We have to have so much faith in ourselves and our work that it almost reaches the point of folly. We need all of that to surf the tide of rejection coming at us. But...

That doesn't mean we don't have to connect with reality every now and then, and take ownership of our own success, or lack thereof. Keep the faith. But also keep pushing harder, reaching higher, and writing better.

And stop the complaining, people. I'm so tired of everyone wanting the world handed to them on a silver platter. You have the right to pursue your dreams. So pursue them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stupid Epiphanies - POV

I love stupid epiphanies. What, you may ask, is a stupid epiphany? Well, friends, a stupid epiphany is one of those things which is utterly obvious to the rest of the world, which you have been told a dozen different ways a dozen different times, which always seems to be somehow untrue and then one day BAM! (Please visualize Emeril screaming this as a magician makes him disappear and the entire stage on which this is being performed explodes in a cloud of realization.) Eureka! Aha! The light bulb goes off. The obvious is suddenly obvious not just to everyone else, but to you also. You feel brilliant, empowered, and yet somehow stupider than the rest of the world because it took you so damn long to come to a realization that everyone else was having months ago. That, my friends, is a stupid epiphany. And I just had me a doozie.

Point of View. The most basic of tools in any author’s toolbox. Writing 101. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. Of course, I know all about POV. (If you feel so inclined, now would be the time to laugh at my arrogance and presumption. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

The stupid epiphany? I was mixing up POV and personality. I kid you not. I thought because my heroine was mouthy and dynamic and completely dominated the scene verbally that any moron would be able to tell that we were seeing the world through her eyes. Her snark shone through, but, alas, characters cannot live by snark alone.

We needed to know what she was thinking. She wasn’t serious about half of the things she said, but people didn’t like her because they didn’t know she was just trying to get a rise out of her fellows. They thought she was just a bitch. Which she is, but she’s the Good Bitch. Like Glenda from the Wizard of Oz. We just needed a tiny glimpse inside her to know she’s really a lovable scamp with a mouth like a sailor.

I got so caught up in “Show Don’t Tell” that I forgot there is really no way to “Show” internal monologue and sometimes a character needs a good internal monologue.

So my realization hit me like a ton of bricks wrapped in a sock swung at the side of my head like a wrecking ball. (Needs a big sock, huh?) And now, I am conscious of something that I had been doing mostly correct on instinct. The consciousness is key. Being able to do good work at will rather than just through some amorphous “talent” means you can reproduce said good work at will.

So good news, yeah? Ah-ha! I understand POV!

And I’m a moron because other people have understood this all along. Stupid Epiphany. I’m so proud.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Embarrassment of Riches

Picket Fences finaled again!

In the OKRWA Finally a Bride contest this time. I actually feel a little sheepish, like finaling in a contest when you have a novella coming out is greedy. I'm still technically eligible since I'm unpublished in book-length, but should I be stepping aside to make room for the completely uncredentialed?

Maybe just one more. Picket Fences wasn't finished by the Golden Heart deadline last year, so it's never had a shot at that particular lottery. I can't deny my baby its shot, can I? Especially since this will hopefully (knock on wood) be my last year of GH eligibility...

So what's your opinion? Am I a bad person for limboing in under the published word limit for the GH? Or is it every man for himself, mercenary rules, contest warfare?

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Have You Learned, Dorothy?

The Emerald City Writers Conference kicked ass and took names. I, also, took names. Many of which I will probably forget, since I have a memory like a sieve when it comes to remembering names and faces. However, a few things I am not likely to forget include:

Susan Mallery is quite possibly the most inspirational speaker I've ever heard. I wish I could recall more precisely what she said, but I do remember distinctly the degree to which I was motivated by her words. I left dinner on Friday night convinced my appearance on the NYT bestseller list is only a matter of time - a delusion I wish had lasted longer.

Julia Quinn was eloquent and gracious. I spoke to her, she spoke to me, and by some miracle I did not dissolve into a pathetic puddle of starstruck goo - although I somehow doubt the experience had quite the same impact on her that it did on me. On the plus side, she did not appear to be visibly annoyed by my questions, for which I would like to nominate her for sainthood. (Though frankly, she should already be nominated simply for having written some of the most delightful books in print.)

Eileen Cook gave a fantastic workshop on Emotional IQ and how it can relate to character development. Too fascinating. I must now run out and get my hands on Daniel Goldman's book on the subject. If you have the opportunity to catch her Psych 101 for Fiction workshop at an upcoming conference, I highly recommend it.

Oh, and Delilah Marvelle's Sex Through History workshop? So hot it set of the fire alarms. Luckily, the heat was all metaphorical so we were alllowed to re-enter the building and continue.

The editors and agents were all charming and accessible... and I found myself thinking a lot about what an odd experience it must be to be on the purchasing side in these situations. We, the authors, are all so nervous, so eager, so hopeful and so terrified. How strange to be in the position of putting us at ease, but also simultaneously on the spot. To have us all staring at you, pinning our hopes and dreams on your words. How awkward that must be. What an odd responsibility. Last year at M&M, I was too preoccupied with my own neurosis to pay much attention to how bizarre it must be to be sitting on the other side of the table, the recipient of all that feverish hope.

But above all, what makes these weekends so spectacular for me, what makes them worthy every penny of the conference fee, is the feeling of camaraderie that comes from being surrounded by people like me. Writers, writers, everywhere. At the volunteer reception, one of the other volunteers said she often felt like a horse among cows at home, but at the conference she was running with Preakness winners. We are all at different stages in our careers, from the wet-behind-the-ears beginner to the multi-published best-seller, but we are all writers. The passion for books, both reading and writing them, is constant in all of us. Where else will someone understand the delirious joy of finishing your book? The high of getting a full requested? The bite of a rejection or the agony of boiling down your baby into a pitch, a query, a synopsis, a blurb, or a tagline? Who else will know what you are talking about when you start blabbing about Golden Hearts, word counts, GMC or deep POV?

At a conference, surrounded by three hundred women (and four men) who speak our language, we house-bound hermits come out to play, for one weekend leaving the landscapes of our fantasy worlds behind and taking a few steps toward making the perfectly visualized fiction of our writing careers a reality.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Off to See the Wizard!

I'm not sure who, at the Emerald City Writers Conference, will be playing the role of the Great and Powerful Oz (an agent? an editor? a small man with a hot air balloon?). Whoever the Wonderful Wizard may be, I'm off to see him/her and be blinded by the light of the creative energy that will no doubt be radiating from the Bellevue Hilton. (Okay, so I just got the song "There's a Light" from Rocky Horror stuck in my own head. Crud.)

Enjoy your weekend, faithful reader, and I'll be back on Monday (or Tuesday if conference-lag sets in) to share everything Dorothy has learned. (Did you get the reference? Volunteers? Tom Tuttle from Tacoma? Yeah. It's too late for coherency. G'night, world.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The X Factor (Soul for $ale!)

I am reading a good book. I daresay even a very good book. But I can put it down. I set it aside for hours or days without any desperate longing to know what happens next. I do not feel like I should be staying up all night or calling in sick to finish this puppy. There are very few authors who have that effect on me, the I can do nothing but read this book until it is done and then I will cry because it did not last longer effect. I know when I pick up a book by these authors (I can count them on both hands, but I am slavish in my devotion) that I will need to dedicate a full five or six hours to reading them. These are the single sitting novels. The ones that dig their hooks in nice and deep and don’t let go. I know they are fantastic and addicting. But I don’t know why!

What is it that makes these books so extraordinary? What separates a Julia Quinn or Jennifer Crusie from the delightful, but far less demanding, experience of a Loretta Chase or Christie Ridgway? What is the mysterious X-factor that keeps me up at night devouring Stephanie Rowe when I am perfectly capable of sleeping with the ending of the latest Julie Kenner unknown? All six of these women are goddesses. They are all brilliant wordsmiths. But why are some of them single sitting addictions while others are rip-roaring good reads that I can actually set aside. Why?

Of course I want to write something that will be someone’s X-factor. The page-turner that keeps you up at night. But the quality that makes them so addicting is illusive. I cannot pin it down, so I cannot replicate it.

I wish I had some great revelation to impart. Some brilliant analysis of what makes the great ones so great. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to come up with one theory: They’ve sold their souls for this power. Which is not helpful, unless they can tell me where I need to go to auction mine off. Soul for sale! For the low, low bargain price of literary genius!

So if you see a suspicious character with literary brilliance in his back pocket and soul purchasing on his mind, point him in my direction, will you?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Just Because...

Just because it's Wednesday. Just because it's October. Just because everyone seems to be panicking about the economy at the moment and couldn't we all use a laugh?

Check out: Poetry for Profit!

Ah, the Onion. Slice it open and laugh until you cry.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Freshman Year

As the Emerald City Writers' Conference approaches, I've gotten to thinking about the last conference I attended. My first conference. Last year's Moonlight & Magnolias Conference. (Which I won't be attending this year due to financial constraints and the fact that I now live two thousand miles farther away from Atlanta.) It was a great conference for me, but even more than that, it felt like a beginning of sorts. The beginning of my freshman year as an author, if you will.

This is not to say that I began writing thirteen months ago. Far from it. I scrawled my first attempt in a spiral bound notebook on my best friend's couch when I was thirteen years old. I completed my first book-length manuscript, proving to myself that I could do it, when I was a sophomore in college. The first thing I ever wrote that I deemed worthy of submission went out the door over five years ago. But as important as these accomplishments may have been in my development as a writer, they are only elementary school moments leading up to my career as an author.

I think my freshman year began when I found out I was a finalist in the Maggie contest, my first real writing credit. I finally had something to put in query letters to prove that I was serious about this writing biz! I was in. Ready to matriculate. The Moonlight & Magnolia conference was like the first day of high school.

Do you remember that feeling? Getting lost in the halls. Forgetting your locker combination. Overwhelmed by the enormity of it all and seemingly surrounded on all sides by people who seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they were going. Those intimidating upperclassmen. That's how I felt at the M&M conference, like a nervous newbie wreck who didn't know anything.

I was a moron. I made mistakes and, being me, I still agonize over them today. Little things. Silly things. (A fellow author complimented me on my dress at the Awards Night and I did not return the favor. I am now neurotically paranoid that this extremely nice and helpful established author remembers me as a complete bitch who hated her dress, which of course I didn't. I was just too tongue-tied to make polite conversation. And now I obsess over my imagined rudeness. I kid you not. This is my brand of neurosis.) (I'm sorry, Alyssa Day! You looked tres hot!)

But my point was not to dwell on how ridiculous and scared I was, but rather to say I am glad I was. How awful if I had just jumped right from junior high to college! Too much success too early is bad for the soul. I needed that nervous freshman year, struggling to find my way. Imagine my dreadful ego if I had been given too much too soon! Such a boost can be so difficult to recover from. I hope the memory of that freshman fear will keep me humble as I become an upperclassman.

I'm not there yet. I'm approaching my sophomore year, but without a book in print and some promo experience under my belt, I don't feel I can legitimately call myself a sophomore yet. I'm certainly not to senior year yet (multi-published! bestsellerdom!) by any stretch, but I'm on my way.

I look forward to my upperclassman days. The cocky, not-entirely-deserved arrogance. Knowing my way around, which teachers I want or don't want, the fastest way to get across the school during passing period... The little things that you almost don't remember learning, but make you feel so much more confident and at ease.

It's been a busy freshman year. I look back on the last thirteen months and my mind boggles at all I've learned. All that has happened. My God, the firsts! First conference. First pitch. First contest final. First "good" rejection. First acceptance (eep!). Signed that first contract. Established my first web presence (and have now referred to said web presence on said web presence in a very time-space-continuum-vortex kind of way). Submitted my first follow-up. Written (and kept to!) my first business plan. Judged my first contest. Cripes, has it ever been a year! And in the middle of all that I wrote two novels & two novellas. Not too shabby for a girl with a full time job, if I do say so myself.

But there will be no resting on laurels! My over-achiever gene has kicked in. I will scale this publishing mountain! Just you watch me. Next year will be bigger, better, and I will push even harder. Starting with my first second conference. (T-minus 11 days and counting!)

I’m truly grateful I was a neurotic nervous wreck of a newbie. I've made mistakes and I’ve learned, and hopefully I’ll never forget where I’ve been. And when I’ve made it to my senior year, when I actually know what the heck I’m talking about, I promise to be nice to the incoming freshman. Wildly famous though I may be (ha ha) and wallowing in my own high opinion of myself, I will read this post and remember what an ignorant fool I once was, and that there is always more to learn.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

By a Silken Thread by MK Mancos

MK Mancos, another of my TMF Antho partners, has a new book out this week! (Are these ladies prolific or what?) By a Silken Thread is a dynamic page-turner of a paranormal romantic suspense. Read the excerpt on the Samhain Publishing site. Trust me, you will be dying for more.

Two women…linked by one deadly memory.
On an ice-encrusted road in New Jersey, Tara Johanan loses control of her car and drives off an embankment. At the same moment in Palmetto Springs, Florida, in an unwitnessed attack, Charlotte Durand is shot in the head and left for dead.
Both women die. Both return. But near-death experiences are not always straightforward. Tara woke up with the voice and memories of a comatose woman in her head. And she can remember a shooting she never witnessed.
Telling the family a loved one is the victim of a violent crime is the worst part of the job for Detective Marcus Danforth. When his stepsister is the victim, and the loved ones his family and best friend, it’s crippling. He’ll do anything to uncover the mystery of Charlotte’s shooting.
Believing the story of a beautiful accident victim may be too much for him—even in the face of overwhelming desire. Even as the shadows of death grow darker.

Are you not intrigued? Go! Buy! Read!

And let me just say, for the record, how lucky am I to be in such company as MK, Sela Carsen & Misty Evans in Tickle My Fantasy? Pinch me, please.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tools of the Trade

Are you a plotter or a pantser (by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer)? Have you interviewed your characters? Do you know their GMC? Have you written your outline? Constructed your collage? Selected your soundtrack? Do you have a visual representation of your plot in sticky-notes across your desk?

If not, don’t panic. You’re okay. These are not necessary steps to best-sellerdom. They are just tools. They may be good tools for you. Hell, they may be the perfect tools for you, or they may be a one way ticket to disaster.

We writers are creative people. We are not only good at creating worlds and the people who populate them, we are also good at creating systems for the creating of the worlds. At conferences, workshops, and chapter meetings, you’ll hear people swearing by these tools, but that doesn’t mean they are for everyone.

Jennifer Crusie uses collages? My God! I must use collages! Of course, that isn’t how my brain works, so the images I collected lived in a manila folder in my filing cabinet while I wrote, never to be looked at again. Perhaps there was some value in the collecting itself, but I found that the images in my mind were much more dominant than the ones I had shoved into that manila folder. Sometimes an image will set me off – my current screensaver is this spooky looking Victorian house where I am setting my latest ghost book - but collaging for me is just wasted time.

Don’t get obsessed with what other people do to get where they need to go. These tools are options, not requirements. Give it a try, but don’t kick yourself if it’s a dead end. Eventually you will find the system that works for you.

My system involves vectors (everything I need to know about writing I learned in AP Physics), the kernel, percolating, generating, tweaking, occasionally overhauling, talking to myself as I drive around in my car (no, I do not have a blue-tooth, so if you see me driving around the peninsula and I look like I’m talking on an invisible cell phone, I am just crazy. No excuses), swimming, taking long showers, telling my mother how the story is going to end (she always cheats and reads the ending first anyway), and lying on the floor moaning in Italian. All of these things are necessary steps. For me.

Find your own necessary steps. If you don’t have a clue what your process is, I recommend going to workshops, reading how-to books, studying the craft and giving a few different methods a test drive. Or maybe you’re one of those writers who does best without a system. That would terrify me. If I didn’t know what it took for me to write a book, I would never feel confident that I could do it again on command. And unless you want to be a One Book Wonder, you need to be able to do this on command, under a deadline, with distractions and obligations battling for your attention.

So create your system, write like a fiend, and someday a newbie writer will be attending your workshop at the national conference on the tools to make it to the big time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Operation Sheba by Misty Evans

Opearation Sheba, a thrilling new romantic suspense from Misty Evans (one of my Tickle My Fantasy anthology partners! Woohoo!), is available NOW from Samhain Publishing!

Hotshot spies never die. They just slip undercover.
Julia Torrison—codename Sheba—is keeping secrets.
Seventeen months ago she was a CIA superagent, tracking down dangerous terrorists with her partner and lover, Conrad Flynn. A mission was blown, literally, when a bomb Julia built exploded early and Conrad died.
Yanked back to Langley and given a new identity, she is now the Counterterrorism Center’s top analyst, spending her days at CIA headquarters and her nights in the bed of her boss. Her former life as a secret agent has been sealed off. Like her heart.
Conrad Flynn—codename Solomon—has his own secrets. For starters, he’s not dead. Going under the deepest cover possible, he faked his death to save Julia’s life. Now he must tear her life apart and ask her to help him hunt down a traitor: her new love.
Is Con a rogue agent or just a jealous ex-lover? To find out, Julia will have to enter a web of seduction and betrayal to play the spy game of her life using nothing more than her iPod—and her intuition.

Are you madly clicking links to buy it already? Want to read more? You can check out an excerpt at her website, where you can also enter her contest for a free Ipod! Also, check out where Misty is this month's featured author! If you like your action with a twist of intrigue and your spies with attitude, you don't want to miss this one!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jasper, How Do I Love Thee?

The Fourth Bear blew my mind.

I had thought that the Ffordian brilliance of a Rocky Horror Richard III from the Eyre Affair ("WHEN is the winter of our discontent?" "NOW! is the winter of our discontent") could never be matched, but oh, how wrong I was.

Plot-devise twenty-six. Pippa Pepper. The cucumbers, my god, the cucumbers. I was laughing so hard people were staring. (Warning: Reading Jasper Fforde's books in public will cause people to gape at you like you're a lunatic. This is not your fault, the book's fault, or the author's fault. Blame the people who are doing the gaping. They clearly do not have sufficient respect for the glory of the written word. Of course you are laughing. You are reading one of the funniest books in the world.)

Detective Jack Spratt (with his powerful aversion to fat) and his Sergeant Mary Mary (not quite as contrary as you might expect) investigate the mysterious disappearance of a certain golden-locked reporter while the psychotic killer the Gingerbreadman runs and runs as fast as he can out of the maximum security nut-house that has held him since the dastardly cookie (cake?) was first apprehended in this brilliant opus of ridiculous fiction.

And now that I've hyped it up beyond all belief, you won't like it. Isn't that always the way? This is why my dad didn't like Star Wars when he first saw it. Too much hype.

So, if you are planning on reading the book: The second book in the Nursery Crimes series by Jasper Fforde is a distinctly mediocre book. Expect to yawn, but give it a go anyway. It might be somewhat better than your pathetically low expectations.

And if you are not planning on reading the book: What are you thinking? Don't you realize that this is one of the treasures of modern fiction? A masterpiece of the written word? You fool! Go, buy the book! Buy it now! Then read the above notation marked "So, if you are planning on reading the book..."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Whose Book Are You Writing?

Recently, while talking to a good friend of mine about her writing, she mentioned an idea that she was thinking of developing. On the most basic level, it reminded me of a premise in one of Stephanie Rowe’s books (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot). When I mentioned this, my friend made a joke about not being as original as she’d thought. This got me thinking about originality and what makes our books our own.

I know some writers will not enter contests because they are afraid of having their ideas stolen. Many multi-published authors avoid reading unpublished works because they are leery of frivolous plagiarism lawsuits. I understand both of these concerns, but so much of what makes our books our own is our voice. My friend’s book, though similar conceptually, will be a completely different experience to read than Stephanie Rowe’s – at least in part due to the fact that it will be neither a comedy, nor a romance. Even if the plots were identical (which they weren’t), then the difference in writing style would make it a completely different book.

I recently finished reading Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell. I was describing the book to someone when I realized how much of it was driven by the writing style. The plot – a duke kidnaps his own mistress with the ultimate goal of marrying her – could easily have been a playful regency romp, but it was instead a heavily dramatic historical saturated with the darker emotions – guilt, shame, possession. But, believe it or not, the theme in this heavy historical is the same theme I’m weaving through the bubbly little ghost rom-com I’m writing now – self-acceptance. It just goes to show that the same concept, the same premise, even the same plot, in different writer’s hands becomes a completely different creature.

This is part of why I can’t collaborate with other authors. I’m amazed by those who do, but I can’t imagine trying to blend my vision with that of another author. I have to write MY book.

Someone asked me recently whether I tailor my books to a specific market and my answer was a resounding "No." I know there are people who do, and who do very well at it, but I can't imagine going through that first draft generating phase where the book is wholly MINE while simultaneously trying to write it to someone else's specifications. I have to write my books - which is why, regardless of how much genre-hopping I do, I would be stunned if I ever tripped into writing erotica or young adult. Those just aren't my books. (No matter how much I might worship Emma Holly & Ann Brashares.)

Another writing friend was struggling with her ending recently. I asked her one of the (many) questions that I ask myself whenever my writing stalls: Whose book was she writing? Had she gotten caught up in writing what the readers want, what her editor wants, what her agent wants? Or was she writing HER book? If you write for someone else, it is all too easy to lose your way. Sometimes it is helpful to remind yourself why the book is yours.

I don't share my work before I've finished my first draft for the same reason I don't talk to people about movies they’ve seen that I haven't. If I hear a comment, read a review, or even gauge the body language of someone who has seen the movie already, it will be there, sitting in the back of my mind, whispering to me throughout the entire film, contaminating my opinion with "Leah thought this was boring?" or "Dave thought this was actually good?" Even if I wait for months after hearing that comment or reading that review, it will still be there, waiting to be triggered by the merest mention of the movie, lurking in my subconscious to spoil it for me.

My writing is the same. I don't want some else's opinion of my stuff lingering in the back of my mind, contaminating my opinions and my voice. When I finish generating the first draft, a switch flips in my brain (sometimes I have to force it to switch) and I am ready to see what the world thinks of me. The editing process is very collaborative for me, but during the first draft the book is MINE.

Occasionally I will pick one person who gets to read my stuff when I am in the "generating" phase. My aunt Kris & my best friend Leigh have both had this dubious honor. And both of them understand that they are allowed to say 1) I can't wait to see what's going to happen next! Write more! 2) I really love ___! OR 3) Yes, Vivi, I agree. (To be said in response to whatever question I am asking about the effect I am having on the reader.) All other comments are strictly verboten until I slap "The End" on that puppy. Only then can they tell me what they really think. Up until that point, that is MY baby and no one else gets a say.

I want my readers to feel like I felt when I finished The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde – as if he had written it just for me. I want my readers to love my books, take ownership of them, but they can’t unless I love them first. So my advice, if you’re a writer trying to figure out how to tap into the market, is to write YOUR book. Don’t get bogged down in what everyone else wants from you. Put yourself, your voice, into it and it will be unique. And if you love it, somewhere out there is a readership hungry for YOUR book, to take it and make it their own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Defense of Adverbs

I love adverbs. Ardently. Passionately. These powerful little "ly" words can subtly shift the meaning of a sentence, adding nuance and style. I am an adverb advocate, but these days it seems I am in a steadily shrinking minority of adverb aficionados.

I have been told, dear reader, that I use too many adverbs. The source was a fellow author who did me the courtesy of reading my work. She circled and struck through the offensive little parts of speech to emphasize the frequency with which I inflicted them on my readers. And I do inflict them frequently. I am quite aware that I am a shameless adverb whore, but I'm afraid I am not at all inclined to change my ways.

No matter how many times I'm told that adverbs are weak words, no matter how many creditable sources tell me that I should eradicate them from my lexicon (don't you just hate the word 'should?'), I simply will not do it. I like them. They are part of what makes my writing my own.

Perhaps I do use them too often. Perhaps I should rephrase here and there. Perhaps I will. But I flatly refuse to agree with those who write the writing rules, those handy-dandy guidelines on the One Right Way to write fiction, when they say that adverbs fall into the taboo category along with passive voice, head-hopping, and info-dumping.

I am adamantly pro-adverb. Are you?

Go ahead, comment. Disagree with me. I know you're itching to. Desperately.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

And the Gold Medal for Procrastination Goes To...

Since apparently I can’t even post my blog on time during the Olympics, today’s topic is Procrastination and Distractions. I don't know a single author who does not have to overcome these two dastardly threats. (Dontcha just love the word dastardly?) These nasty little puppies aren’t going to go away just because you write a good book, or get an agent, or get published. These struggles are going to be part of a writer’s life forever. So you’d better learn to deal with them.

Procrastination: Okay, I don’t know about you, but I am extremely good at rationalizing laziness. However, if you don’t actually sit your butt in the chair and write, then you will never have a career. It may seem obvious, but it’s the cold, hard truth, ladies and gentlemen, that you actually have to write to be a writer. Heh. Who knew?

The Coping Mechanism: My personal technique for dealing with that villain Procrastination is to find a way to rationalize against laziness. This involves arguing with myself, but I’ve found it’s best to just embrace the crazy and run with it.

Example: The Voice of Procrastination - “The Olympics are on and Phelps is breaking records! A once in a lifetime experience! They’re only on every four years anyway!” The Voice of the Writer – “Actually, they’re on every two years now. Besides, would you rather sit on your butt watching someone else achieving their dream or actually achieve yours? Write, woman!”

Distractions: The day job, family, friends… you mean you actually wanted to have a life? Unless you live in a bubble, or are whisking yourself away to an isolated cabin in the woods for regular writing retreats, you, as a writer, are gonna have to learn how to deal with distractions – and there is no limit on what can fall under this heading. It’s pretty much anything that sucks time away from your writing – no matter how well-intentioned the time-sucker may be. Now, quitting the job or abandoning your family might not be viable, or desirable, options, but that doesn’t mean you are doomed to writing fifteen words a month when you can squeeze them in around the edges of your frenzied existence.

The Coping Mechanism: Treat your writing a like a job, not a hobby, and if it’s a second job, try not to treat it like the lesser just because all your hard work isn’t resulting in a fat paycheck yet. Don’t be one of the many who want to be writers in a vague, pipe-dream sort of way. Be one of the ones who actually write. Press on! Finish that manuscript! Then finish another. If you don’t treat it like a career, you will never be able to turn it into one. This is a reality, not a dream, but only if you are viewing it realistically. Then – and this is the hard part – train the people around you to treat it like a career rather than a hobby also. The best way to do this? Learn to say No.

Example: I had a roommate a few years ago who thought any time I was home, I was available to her for fun and entertainment. I wasn’t at work, so clearly I was free. I explained, often, that when I was writing, my door closed, I didn’t want distractions, but she persisted in thinking I was just playing around at writing, so when she interrupted me to invite me to goof off with her, she thought I was just trading one pleasant pastime for another. The idea that I might write as a job, that this was serious, never registered. It was easy to say yes to her. To go out to dinner, the movies, dancing. It was always fun to say yes. But it didn’t get my book written. So I had her read an article in the RWR about training the people in your life to take your writing seriously and got used to locking the door when I wrote & saying “No” a lot. And you know what? It worked. She didn’t hate me for spending my “free” time writing. She didn’t throw tantrums when I said no. She supported me. Maybe she was disappointed that I had less time for play, but she never once complained. The people in our lives who love us will try to understand. Of course, this is a pretty mild case, and more easily dealt with than many things that will interrupt your life as a writer. You can’t exactly tell your infant, “No, Mommy can’t change your diaper now; she's writing.” (Unless you can get Daddy to do it.) There will always be distractions. The trick is to deal with them and get back to work. Push forward. Put your butt in the chair.

So the moral of the story is: You are your own boss, so be the boss from hell. You need to create deadlines for yourself, especially when you are first starting out, before there is a contract or an editor to impose a deadline on you. Be a taskmaster for yourself, or if you think you can’t, then assign someone in your family or critique group to be your taskmaster for you. For my first book, this was my mom, who is the single most supportive person on the planet and a terrible whip-wielder, but the fact that I was accountable to someone else for my pages, even if it was just in my own head, helped me make my writing a priority.

Let’s just repeat that last part, shall we? Make your writing a priority. Everything else will come out of that.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


My Picket Fences just finaled in New Jersey Romance Writers' Put Your Heart in a Book Contest!!! Can I get a "Woohoo!" ladies and gentlemen? C'mon, lemme hear it!

I would write more, but I am far too busy doing Snoopy dances around my living room and scarfing down celebratory cupcakes to blog.

And one more time, "Wooooohooooooo!!!"

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Much Do I Love...

… Judge Sarah Evans Baker of Indiana. A rockstar among judges. Down with censorship! I now lift my personal “Boycott Indiana!” campaign. And right after I nearly ran out of gas trying to get from Ohio to Illinois without buying anything and thereby tacitly supporting the evil censorious legislators of Hoosierville.

…that the origin of the word “ramble” was quite possibly influenced by trampy, night-walkin’, copulatin’ cats. Woo-hoo. …that the word “rave” implies both lunacy and praise. ...and that early Methodists were called “ranters.” Methodists: Imaginary fairies who skip to and fro sprinkling magic metho-dust, more commonly known as “meth.” (Definition of Methodists courtesy of BW, the Mendez & Miss Leigh: three of my favorite ranters – Catholic, Jewish & Presbyterian though they may be. Etymologies from

…Christopher Moore. Okay, so I know I just mentioned how awesome he is two weeks ago, but he continues to be so outrageously kick-ass (and I’m re-reading another of his books at the moment) that I felt I had no choice but to do a little repeat. So yeah. How much? Oh, baby. I would totally wash his car. (Which only sounds dirty if you’ve read The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. Which I have.)

…*Spoiler Alert* The Dark Knight – Hellaciously awesome. Although I found it unbelievably distracting that it was filmed in Chicago. Did anyone else hear the comments about bridges & tunnels and immediately think, “But there aren’t any bridges or tunnels out of Chicago…”? And I kind of wish the ferry boats had blown up. Does that make me a bad person? Yeah. I know. I just didn’t buy that none of the self-righteous do-gooders would push a teensy weensy little button (we’re not talking strangulation or stabbing, we’re talking, “Push the Button, Max!”) to “execute” a bunch of criminals and save themselves. And how come no one was trying to disable the bombs, huh? How fatalistic to just wait around to be blown to smithereens. Still though, badass movie. Deeply badass.

…Superheroes. Definitely feeling the alter ego thing at the moment. I am Super Vivi, the writer! But also, unfortunately, Mild-Mannered Vivi, the accounting clerk. I need a superhero to save me from my spreadsheets.

…my best friend. Who actually called me the other day and said, “Today I ran into my old therapist. With my car.” And then proceeded to laugh maniacally. “With my car.” Try it. It’s better than “in bed” with fortune cookies.

…that my editor’s blog is called “Grammar Geek.” Seriously. How kick-ass is that? (I know, I’m a nerd. Embrace it. Move on.)

…Seattle. Although it has barely rained a drop since I moved here. False advertisement, people.

…pub trivia. Nuf said. Though I confess, I am still trying to cleanse my soul after the karmic blemish that my evil Scottish friend Iain put on it by insisting we name our team “Heath Ledger’s Pharmacist.” In his defense, there is a sort of competition at our pub each week to see who has the most inappropriate name. Still. So wrong.

…duct tape. This week’s use: Shoes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Romance, the Bastard Offspring of Legitimate Literature

**WARNING: This one is a rant and I get a little soap-boxy.**

I write dippy little romances. Trashy beach books. Pure, fluffy, pulpy entertainment. No agenda. No political statements. Maybe a nice little message like “Love conquers all” or “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Nothing too earth shaking. Not trying to save the world here, just maybe make you smile. And someday, if I sit down to pen the Great American Novel that will fundamentally alter the way we perceive ourselves, will I be doing anything differently?

A good book is a good book. A talented writer is a talented writer. The sentence structure, the pacing, the plotting, character development and motivation – aren’t the basic elements the same? The difference is the goal. Good genre fiction is escapist. It exists to take you out of yourself. Good literature exists to put you back in and make you take a hard look around.

I don’t believe that romance (or sci-fi, or horror, or any other fiction genre) needs to be legitimized, but I keep hearing about this lately. Perhaps what bothers me the most about this quest for legitimacy is that by striving for the legitimate you are tacitly admitting that what we’ve done to this point isn’t legitimate. We are too ready to degrade ourselves, too ready to agree with those who think our work isn’t worthwhile simply because we want nothing more than to delight and entertain. I believe there is a subtle, but crucial, distinction between being respected for our legitimate accomplishments and bending over backward supplicating the elite on high to legitimize us. But what do I know? I’m just a romance novelist.

We’re a defensive group, we romance writers, affronted by the media’s every attempt to patronize and stereotype us. The Washington Post wants to do a Valentine’s Day article about romance writers and their boudoirs. Do the local romance scribes jump for joy at the free publicity? Of course not. They rant about the prejudiced reporter who had the insufferable gall to ask for photos of their heart-shaped beds. Okay, admittedly, the heart-shaped bed thing was pretty ridiculous, but why not approach the reporter with the piles-o-laundry, piles-o-books, unromantic bedroom angle? Why go immediately into outrage? Are we that insecure?

MSN does a romance poll which uses that most foul of phrases (the bodice-ripper) and the romance reading/writing community rises up in an eloquent wave to rage against the indignity – but does that change anyone’s mind? Does it do anything other than convince them that we are overly sensitive? There are a lot of covers out there with half-naked people on them. I, personally, don’t like to have naked people on the front of the books I read unless the book itself is fairly steamy, but I know a lot of people believe the hotter the cover, the hotter the sales, regardless of how well it matches what is inside. The nuance between a “bodice-ripper” and a “hot cover” is probably a little too fine for Joe Public, but we’re sure ready to be upset if he doesn’t recognize the distinction.

It all just makes me wonder if we would be taken more seriously if we were less desperate to be taken seriously. (Ha! I’m offended by how easily we are offended – irony, anyone?)

I saw a BBC show recently that was trying to legitimize romance, but I must say the effort left something to be desired. They did a (scientifically ludicrous – no controls whatsoever) stress test to prove that reading romance is relaxing. All they proved was that spending an hour not working is less stressful than spending an hour working. But the idea had merit. I would be fascinated to see a legitimate study showing the health effects of reading. BBC chick – now thoroughly relaxed after a hour with Georgette Heyer – then proceeded to talk to romance publishers, bookstore clerks, & romance authors about how grand romance is. (No bias there. No, not at all.) It was a romance love-fest, with one catch. Throughout the show one phrase was repeated by BBC chick over and over again: “Close the bedroom door.” No sex please. Romance is legitimate, but there’s no need to be slutty about it. Arg! Even our advocates are putting restrictions on us.

Is it all about the sex? Will we never be “legitimate” as long as people are pointing to us and calling us porn for women? Sex sells. Publishers are snapping up erotic romance as quickly as they can buy it, but is this trend in the industry a threat to “legitimacy?” No one likes to be labeled a pornographer (well, some people probably do…), but sometimes it’s hard to see where the line is between scintillating, erotic, & pornographic – especially because it’s a line that only exists inside people’s minds. So who gets to decide? The BBC? Oprah?

What really makes me see red is when the drive for legitimacy trickles down through our ranks and we start to view some sub-genres among us as more or less legitimate than others. Now, I’m not saying that everyone has to like every kind of book. Far from it. There is a broad spectrum out there and I’m not sure it’s possible to like it all. But just because you don’t like to read something, doesn’t make it inferior.

I’m not a Harlequin girl. I simply do not understand the appeal of these books. I’ve read a few of them by authors whose Single Title works I adore and still find myself chucking them against the wall. They are simply not my cup of tea. BUT when I meet a Harlequin writer at a conference, I treat them exactly the same way I would any other writer – if they’re published or have finaled in a contest, I’m impressed by the accomplishment. If they’re unpubbed, I’m encouraging and we chat about the struggle of trying to get published. We are a writing community. You don’t have to love a writer’s book to support her goals.

I was chatting with an erotic romance author a few weeks ago and she mentioned that she hadn’t joined her local RWA chapter because when she had gone to a meeting, she had been told that people at that chapter would not read ménage & M/M erotica. She was directed elsewhere and didn’t seem offended – to paraphrase her, at least she hadn’t wasted her time and money with meetings and dues before discovering they weren’t interested in her sub-genre. She wasn’t outraged, but I was on her behalf. I’m not saying that chapter’s members should be forced to read outside of their comfort level. No, my issue is with the fact that she was not made to feel welcome. These organizations are for community and growth in our careers. The idea that she could not find an accepting community really got under my skin. We all write at different heat levels. The balance of sexuality, emotion, & plot is almost never the same from one author to the next (yay variety!), but it makes me livid that some people think the authors on one end of the spectrum are less legitimate than those in the mainstream. Is it really so hard to be supportive? I thought that’s what these organizations were all about.

If you’re writing because you want to be respected as a legitimate author – first of all, what the hell kind of reason is that? And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, don’t write romance. Geez, people. You want respect? Write about the decay of modern culture or the bubonic plague. Romances are for pleasure. Don't measure your success by some intangible legitimacy gauge. Do your readers love your books? Are you selling? Isn’t that better than being “legitimized?”

Who needs legitimacy? We should be proud of being the black sheep, bastard offspring of legitimate lit. We’re more fun than the legitimate children anyway. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So don’t give it to them. Be proud of who we are. I write romance. And I do it well, damn it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fate Anyone?

One man's Fate is another man's coincidence. I've never really bought into Fate because I don't like the idea of relinquishing that much control of my life, but I do occasionally find myself marveling at the way the universe works. My path to publication was a series of seemingly blind turns and unexpected connections that have left me wondering - was the hand of Fate at work here? You be the judge.

In the November of 2004, I went to visit my best friend in D.C. That weekend, through a series of unplanned events, we ended up spending an afternoon on her high school sweetheart's father's yacht, listening to her former honey and his buddies brag about their trust funds. During that long and excruciatingly awkward afternoon, I entertained myself by imagining what could possibly make being trapped at sea aboard a floating yuppie-fest any worse... Add in a few memorable characters from my college days, some intrigue, some murder, some mayhem, (and, of course, a little romance) and voila! Easy Money was born. I went home and churned out the first draft in less than two weeks. (FYI - Two weeks is not a normal or healthy amount of time to spend on a 100K word manuscript. I only survived it because I was between dayjobs and had a loving family member on hand to force me to eat at regular intervals.)

I shelved Easy Money for a while, working on other projects, writing without any real sense of purpose or focus. Then, in spring of 2007, when I decided it was time to buckle down and get published, I took it down, dusted it off, tightened it up, whipped up a synopsis and submitted that puppy to the first contest I tripped across - the Georgia Romance Writers' Maggie Awards. And would you believe it finaled? Someone (who was not forced to love me through an accident of genetics) actually liked my book!

The Moonlight & Magnolias Conference (where the Maggie Awards are presented) was a trip. My first contest, my first final, and my first conference. I had no idea what I was doing. I stumbled along, intimidated by the authors I loved (I can't stand next to Sherrilyn Kenyon! She'll see right through me with her laser vision and be able to tell that I have one of her books stashed in my bag to read between workshops! I can't speak to Roxanne St. Claire - she'll know that I compared my Easy Money to her French Twist during my pitch session and smite me for being so presumptuous!), terrified of the editors and agents (who were surprisingly human and did not, in fact, look like they drank poor unpublished authors' blood for breakfast), and generally behaving like a pathetic nervous wreck - which I firmly believe is every writer's right at their first major conference.

I didn't know anyone going in and the M&M Conf probably would have gone down as one of the single most nerve-wracking experiences of my life if not for the fabulous group of ladies I met there. Everyone was nice. Everyone was wonderful. But there was a particular group of fellow unpubbed authors who took me under their wings and kept me sane. Two of them were up for Unpubbed Maggies themselves in the paranormal category (I was Single Title). They ended up coming in first and second and one of them had a full requested! My dreams of having a contract handed to me on the spot and skyrocketing to success (hey, they're dreams, they don't have to be realistic) were not realized, but I had a few partials requested and things were looking good. I went home, wrote like a fiend on my next madcap romantic caper (Picket Fences), and submitted, submitted, submitted - all the while maintaining email contact with my M&M goddesses.

For the next chapter of my quasi-Fated tale, we skip ahead to the spring. One of my M&M goddesses had just released a novella in an anthology with Samhain Publishing (Kaye Chambers, Tiger By the Tail) and she was encouraging me to do the same. Up to that point, E-publishers hadn't even been on my radar (I confess, I'm a paperback slut. Turning those pages really turns my crank. I don't even have an e-reader.), but I decided to check out the all-call for the next anthology. It was Tickle My Fantasy and it sounded like too much fun to pass up. The requirements (funny, paranormal, romantic, short) didn't match anything I had in my Idea Vault, so I decided to start from scratch. I read the notice again. Vampires? No, thank you. I've read far too many vampire books lately and if I tried to write a funny one I would probably end up doing a pathetic plagiarism of Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends (read it, that man is seriously bent in the best possible way). Werewolves? Again, I feel like everything I'm reading these days is about shifters and vamps. What else have we got? Ghosts? Huh. I could do ghosts. Sexy ghosts. Or maybe just ghosts who think they're sexy.

So I sat down and wrote The Ghost Shrink, the Accidental Gigolo, & the Poltergeist Accountant. Then I twiddled my thumbs for a month and debated whether or not I should submit it. (It should be noted that I am a coward.) I showed it to my M&M Goddess and she harassed me to submit it (for which I will be eternally grateful). I sent it. They bought it. No, really, they did. I couldn't believe it either at first.

So the question is: If I hadn't gotten on that boat with Richie Rich that November afternoon, would I now be only months away from my first release date? Is that Fate? Or just life?