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?