Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Under Pressure

So you've quit your day job to be a writer. Which means you've either negotiated with your significant author about the terms of your new unemployment, OR you've retired and are collecting social security even as you scribble madly, OR you are a single person with few expenses (no kids and no jigundus mortgage) who has saved your little pennies until you had enough savings to break away from the corporate machine (like me).

Or you've already struck it rich with the ginormous contract we all dream about. Six figures... or numbers that include "point" in the middle. Something just jaw-droppingly disgusting. If that's the case, you don't need to read this. Go back to your pool and sip your mimosa.

Not that anyone needs to read this. I just wanted to talk a little bit about one of the less often discussed side effects of quitting your job. (Or maybe it's discussed all over the place and I just haven't been paying attention.) This one has nothing to do with money (so maybe you mimosa sippers should stick around) and everything to do with state of mind.

When I quit my job in April, I was ecstatic. I was going to fly to Hawaii, visit my family, lounge on the lanai and write brilliant prose whenever I felt like it. A pretty idea, isn't it? But when I got to Hawaii, the reality was somewhat different.

I freaked out.

It was like I had dropped a two ton weight on myself. Suddenly I was under constant pressure to write. I had no more excuses. Why didn't I get five thousand words written each day? I wasn't working at my day job, so there was nothing holding me back. Nothing keeping me from writing a full novel every week, right? I needed to spend every waking hour on writing tasks! No going to the beach! No going to the movies! Drafts, edits, query letters, promo materials. There is work to be done!

I was my own boss and I'd just turned into the boss from hell. Overtime! No weekends! You will work from the second you wake until you fall asleep at your computer! Breaks? We don't need no stinkin' breaks!

I've since calmed down and remembered how to use my time well without turning myself into a basketcase... but that initial pressure to write, when I suddenly removed the Day Job Excuse, was tremendous. I just didn't see it coming. A psychological blindside. All of my inate drive to succeed came back to bite me on the ass. The more I wanted to be a writer, the more pressure I was under, and the harder it was to do.

So maybe when people tell you not to quit your dayjob, they aren't being such bastards after all. Maybe they just know that having all the time in the world to achieve your dreams isn't always as perfect as we imagine it would be.

That said, I'm still gonna avoid going back to the workforce as long as I can. Now that I've wrestled my overachiever-ism into submission, I'm loving having all the time in the world to write and I'm not going to trade it in until I'm reduced to living on ramen noodles and Spam.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ruby Bloggin'

Today I'm over at the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog, serving up A Heaping Helping of Inspirational Sap--or, Why I Almost Didn't Enter the Golden Heart. One lucky commenter will win their choice of the fabulous Ruby mug, a critique by yours truly of their first 25 pages, or an ebook copy of any of my books.

Stop on by and tell me how you bounce back when life smacks you in the face.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Editor Unleashed!

My editor is being interviewed at Beth Kery's Blog today. Swing by, learn a bit about her editorial guru-ness and comment to win some Samhain books!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Point of Entry

You know how when space shuttles are trying to land and the weather conditions are poor, they can't just wait for the weather to clear and land whenever they feel like it? They have to find a window, an appropriate point of atmospheric entry that will get them to their landing site.

Sometimes, that's what it feels like starting a story. I'm in orbit. I want to be on the landing strip. I know I'll get down there somehow, but I have to find the right point of entry. The book will crash and burn if I don't open it in the right scene. There are always a couple different scenes - landing in Florida or California? - but using a different window means the entire flight path will be different. How do I find the one I'm looking for? The one that will lead me to the best darn book I can make it?

That's where I am right now. I'm orbiting my next book, trying to figure out the right moment to fire the afterburners. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Fangled Technology

Ooooh, aaaaaah. Check it out y'all. It's a new-fangled-book-making-while-you-wait machine. Originally in Britain, but coming to Third Place Books in Seattle this November.

What say you? Too awesome for words? Too expensive to be useful?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things I Learned from 30 Days of Night:

Research is important.

Suppose you're making a movie about a real city in a real state. Let's say you're making a movie called 30 Days of Night and you're setting it in Barrow, Alaska. Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that the "days of night" in Barrow number more than thirty each year, because thirty is such a nice fun number. Round. Not like, oh, sixty-three. We will suspend our disbelief about the exitence of vampires, cuz it's a vampire movie and that's what you do when you watch a vampire movie. Oddly, I have no trouble suspending that disbelief. It's these other things that bug me... so I give you Things I Learned From 30 Days of Night: **Spoilers Galore!**

  • Thing One: Planes cannot fly in the dark. For all those days of darkness, the people of Barrow will be secluded from the world. Isolated. Helpless. Totally cut off and without resources until the sun should rise again. Ripe pickings for those thirsty vamps. Wanna test this theory? Try Expedia. See if you can fly to Barrow on winter solstice, December 22nd. You know what? You can! So that whole isolated for a month in the dark thing? Um... bullshit. You wanna remake From Dusk Til Dawn in Alaska? Neat. Go for it. But I recommend you pick a fictional city. By having it be a real place, with real flights (several every day!) you lost me. The movie makers went to a lot of trouble to cut those folks off - destroying all the cell phones (then promptly showing cell phones in use in the very next scene!), disabling the internet, and cutting the power - but does anyone actually think that darkness means there will be no more flights? Really? Dude, what century are we in?
  • Thing Two: Too many writers is a baaaaad thing. In Hollywood, a screenplay will often find its way through several screenwriters before making it to the big screen. The guy with the idea. The guy paid to fix the idea guy's idea. And the guy brought in by the producers to make the film "commercial" so it will make as much money as humanly possible. I'm guessing that with 30 Days the original idea guy was the only one who had ever given any thought to the realities of living in Barrow, Alaska. There were just enough things done right that it almost seemed like someone somewhere knew what the hell they were talking about. But those right things were grossly outweight by all the jawdroppingly dumb things. Like no one's breath being visible in the -10 degree air. Like Barrow being isolated in "80 miles of roadless wilderness". Um... y'all? That's one helluva lot more than 80 miles. I think you missed a zero. The only thing within even 80 nautical miles of Barrow is Wainwright - and that ain't exactly civilization. Or - and this one is a personal favorite - the oil pipeline running right through Barrow. Yep. Only off by a couple hundred miles of "roadless wilderness". I could totally walk that - like the cute dark-haired chick does after her friend gets munched by vamps.
  • Thing Three: Vampires are sloppy eaters. There are a limited number of people in Barrow, i.e. a limited amount of blood. So the frenzied ripping and splashing is just downright wasteful! Make that blood last, boys and girls! Be grateful for the stupid humans who stumble into your feeding frenzy. There are vampires starving in Africa!
  • Thing Four: Dental hygiene = morality. Two cute little eye-teeth fangs = Good Vampire. A mouthful of jaggedy fanged teeth with a nasty underbite = Bad Vampire. A mouthful of blackened nubs like you've been chugging battery acid = Bad Human. Straight, over-whitened pearlies = Good Human.
  • Thing Five: Stupidity in the cold is still stupidity. The vampires appear to be impervious to the cold. This adds a special layer of juicy idiocy to Our Hero's moving speech in which he proclaims that they live in Barrow for a reason. Cuz no one else can. They know the town. They know the cold. They are gonna prevail, bitches! Unfortunately, their little undead buddies are impervious to the freaking cold, you freaking moron. So the fact that you are not? Not an advantage. Oh! And then there's this one part (God, I love this movie. It is sooooo bad.) when the Rebel Badass guy is running into certain death with his big ass combine-looking piece of construction machinery - only what's this? He seems to be a-slicin' and a-dicin' those nasty vamps! He's winning! Eating their fricking lunch, baby! Then he intentionally runs his combine-thingy into a building so he can blow it up, but does not in fact succeed in blowing up the vamps. Just himself. Yep. Stupidity. Not any less stupid just cuz it's cold.

This movie? Beyond awesome. I can't stop laughing. It's the gift that keeps on giving. If only it were trying to be funny.

So do your research, boys and girls. Cuz if you don't, someone may just be blogging about how ridicu-awesome your mistakes are.

On a realistic Alaska note: Snow in the mountains behind my house today and a moose eating the neighbor's flowers before they're all killed by the frost. Winter's coming. And you thought it was Autumn. Ha ha.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good News!

Didja like Serengeti Heat? Didja wanna read more lion-y goodness? Are ya waiting with bated breath? Well, unbate that breath, baby!

Serengeti Storm is coming this January!!!

Shana's been a very naughty kitty and it's time for big bad Caleb to take her down a notch or two. Return to Three Rocks Pride for a romance that'll burn hot right through a winter storm!

I'm psyched. Can ya tell? Little bit? Scream with me, y'all. You know you want to. Woohooooooooo!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Surrender Dorothy!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! I give you the launch of the group blog for the 2009 Golden Heart Finalists: The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood! (Try saying that five times fast.)

The 2010 RWA® Golden Heart Contest opens for entries TODAY, so if you'd like the skinny, the lowdown, and a few insider tips from the 2009 graduating class, be sure to drop by the RSS blog during our launch month. Beaucoup prizes will be given away, from mugs to manuscript critiques. Come on by! Comment early, comment often!

Click your heels together three times and repeat, "There's no place like the best-seller lists."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Revisionist History

How historical do you like your historical fiction? I just saw Inglourious Basterds and I was completely unprepared for the new ending to World War II. To be perfectly honest, I found it pretty damn annoying.

Hollywood is basing their films ever more loosely on those "true" stories. No, Inglourious Basterds didn't claim to be historically accurate, but there are far too many people who will watch that movie and assume that's what really happened. If "historical" movie makers are going to veer quite so drastically away from reality, I'd like a disclaimer... or some paranormal element in the plot to indicate that this is an alternate history. The relationship between history and fiction is a messy one, especially in the eye of the general viewing public.

Historical romance is not immune to the bending-history epidemic. I don't have a problem with the wild proliferation of rich, studly dukes in the regency era... as long as you aren't giving those dukes real historical identities. Then things start to get a little fishy. A fictitious king? You can do whatever you want to him. George IV? He actually lived. Is it so much to ask for a little historical accuracy?

History itself is a jumble of perspectives. No two memories of an event are going to be identical, so it stands to reason that our cultural memory would be fuzzy around the edges. But some things are facts. If we know when someone died and how... if we know how they were viewed in their own lifetime... why do we have to mess with that? Why do we have to sensationalize and speculate? I'm all for creativity, as long as people aren't trying to pass it off as truth. "A true story!" has become a selling point that is trotted out more and more frequently, with less and less accuracy. We will never be able to reverse that trend until we start calling people on the lie.

What do you think? Am I not giving the masses enough credit for knowing the difference between Truth and Based on a True Story? Or are we losing our sense of history to fiction even as we lose our sense of news to entertainment?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lordy, Lordy, Look at All Them Books!

Books, books, and more books! The Writeminded Ebook Extravaganza is going on now HERE:!!! Many a book to be won, ladies and gents. Grab your free stuff while the grabbing is good!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Loss of an Icon

I loved Dirty Dancing. I think I wore out our beta player watching that movie when I was a kid. I didn't understand the whole sex part of it (being only seven when it first came out in theatres), but I knew Jennifer Grey was the luckiest girl in the world cuz Patrick Swayze was hands down the coolest guy in the world.

A cowboy ballroom dancer. A man not afraid to shake his booty and still macho as the day is long. Point Break, Ghost... yeah, he could be a sympathetic action villain and then emote with the best of them, but Dirty Dancing was his movie. And it has become a cultural icon. Yeah, it's campy and I can't hear "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" without snickering like the seven year old I was when I first saw it, but I still love every delicious second of it. The dancing, the music, the melodrama. Love it, love it, love it.

You will be missed, Mr. Swayze.

And just to show that I'm not alone in calling myself a member of the Dirty Dancing generation... a wedding video:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Admirable Heroines and Positive Reinforcement

Last week while I was out of the country, Tracy Wolff guest blogged over at Damned Scribbling Women and talked all about her strong heroines and what she learns from each of them. Check it out. (Comment over there and you could win a book!)

I just loved this post. I've been thinking a lot lately about whether people who read books with positive reinforcement of positive traits - doing the right thing even when it's hard or taking a chance that pays off - would be more likely to do the right thing in real life. Do you think we are subtly influenced by the stories we read? Can we learn from the fiction around us? Can books actually make us better people?

When I'm reading most books, I'm not actively thinking about how they are affecting my moral compass. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos was one memorable exception. I remember I felt like seeing Cornelia make what I felt were the right choices made me more likely to make good choices. I admired her. Perhaps that is a unique distinction. There are many heroines I like, respect, relate to, or all of the above, but the number of fictional women I actively admire is a small one. Admiration is a strong motivator. I want to be like Cornelia. And I couldn't care less about the fact that she is a fictional construct of Marisa de los Santos's imagination. She's real to me.

Your thoughts? Can books make us good? Or, conversely, convince us that bad behaviour is acceptable by their example?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Business Time, Baby

Dude. Giving serious thought to moving south of the equator. Partially because this is so damn funny.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Best Blog Post Evah.

I have emerged from the wilds of the Canadian Yukon victorious. I will now be basking in Alaska winter awesomeness for the next several months. Woot!

After digging myself out from the mountain of emails I acquired while I was on the Alcan and out of internet range, I began puttering around the internet this morning and I tripped across THIS. Click it. You know you wanna.

What is this, you may ask? Well, friends, this is only a beautifully-written, spot-on blog post by Josh Olson, screenwriter of A History of Violence, about the cruelty of overinflating undeserving egos and many other brilliant nuances. He was asked to read a screenplay synopsis by an acquaintance and... well, you can pretty much guess how the story goes from there, can't you? But seriously read the post. It's so awesome.

I feel like I've been on both sides in a way. I'm no Picasso, but I've been asked to read novels, queries, and synopses, and when I'm asked, I say no. Hate me, I'm okay with that, but I do have logistical reasons - I'm busy with my own writing, I have commitments to my critique partners for their reads, and when I have free time in my writing schedule, I will volunteer to judge a contest for unpublished writers. If you enter a contest, you've shown me that 1) you take your writing seriously enough to slap down an entry fee, even if it's only ten bucks, and 2) you are looking for honest, anonymous feedback from an impartial source. When you ask me in person if I will read your unpublished manuscript and give you a quote to put on your website about how much I loved it... I feel like you don't really want my opinion, you want my rubber stamp of how awesome you are. I don't do rubber stamps.

On the other side, I ask people to read my works-in-progress. I am a bad judge of my own work and I need outside eyes to let me know if I'm going off course. Beta readers. Lots of authors have them. As a supplicant, my frustration is in finding beta readers who will give me honest reactions. They've been broken by the rah-rah society that lies to people about their skills. Singing the praises of something that doesn't deserve praise isn't gonna do me any good. But neither is dissecting and shredding it just to show you can. The art of constructive criticism is highly undervalued. But I can take criticism. I can even take shredding.

As Josh Olson says, "not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, I've done you a favor, because now you'll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty screenplays and asking me to read them."

No one could talk me out of being a writer. So could you just be honest with me?

People just wanting rubber stamps is bigger than just the arts. You think this is just about me? Let's look at the trend of "social promotion" in schools. A kid fails a subject or an entire grade but is passed on to the next, and the next, and the next, all because we don't want to permanently damage his self esteem by forcing him to actually learn in order to advance. I realize that different students have different needs. But students with those needs should not get the exact same diploma as the student who worked their butt off and passed every class. It's a disservice to EVERYONE. Let's worry less about self esteem and more about producing functional, productive human beings, shall we?

Could everyone just stop being so damn nice? Please? It's not helping.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Genetically Predisposed to Wander

My dad is not a great believer in genealogy. The statistical likelihood that you can really trace your ancestors back to Eleanor of Aquitaine or Robert the Bruce... well, the odds aren't so great. Records just weren't kept and, for most of us, tracing our ancestral lineage is a series of dead ends and best guesses. Even if you're relatively sure you're making a good guess, the odds stack against you pretty quickly.

But I'm still fascinated by the possibilities. I'm probably descended from Pilgrims. I'm possibly related to Swedish nobility. On my mother's side there is a dramatic father-died-in-the-Civil-War-while-mother-was-pregnant-with story and my father's side has the tragic father-died-in-railroad-accident-while-mother-was-pregnant-with story. (As well as the story of the distant uncle who got drunk, yelled charge, fell off his horse and was trampled by his own men.) They may just be family legend, but they are fun.

And then there are the things which we can actually prove.

I'm a nomad. The travel bug bit me early and never let go. Could that be a genetic predisposition? In my ancestry are pilgrims and pioneers. A Swedish great-great-grandmother left home at fourteen to travel to America. My ancestors moved to Hawaii, Alaska, & Hong Kong, before it was easy to do so. I am by no means the first in my family to travel to far-flung places. Is it in the blood?

Ah, but see, there's a problem with that. Those pilgrims? They found their way to Ohio and settled there for three hundred years. Those pioneers? They just spent over a hundred years in the same spot in Oregon. For every adventurer in my bloodstream, there seem to be five who stood still so long they took root and became trees.

Is adventure a recessive trait? Or is the idea of a genetic predisposition toward travel just a fanciful fiction? Are we only as bound by the tradition of our ancestors as we wish to be? Picking the genetic precursors that suit us? Or is this itch I get in my feet before I take off a genetic condition?

Either way, I'm driving up the Alaska-Canadian highway right now...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Google Competing for Most Punkass Mega-Corp

So the other day, I'm listening to NPR as I drive through North Dakota and a segment comes on about the Google Books Settlement. What's that, you ask? Well, here's the sitch. A while back (2004, I think) Google decided to take a bunch of copyrighted material, scan it, and make it digitally available for the world to see... without notifying the rightsholders that they were doing this, asking permission or offering remuneration in the form of, oh, I dunno, maybe royalties? Bonus.

It's like Napster. If Napster were a MegaCorp who ought to freaking know better. This isn't some random college kid sharing files. This is Google. They have a freaking legal department. Where were all the lawyers? Out to lunch? Taking a cruise to the Bahamas together in some kind of high rent teambuilding exercise?

The Author's Guild and American Association of Publishers (two organizations composed of said rightsholders) exclaimed en masse, "WTF, yo!" and sued their sorry asses. Google was all, "Whoops! Were those your books?" and offered a settlement. Authors are automatically covered under this settlement whether they are members of the Author's Guild or not - unless they opt out (which must be done by TODAY, so you if you're an author feeling opty now's the time, boys and girls).

Anyway, the thing that cracked me up was a comment by the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin. Let's call him Sergey. So NPR chick asks Sergey the NPR equivalent of "Did it not occur to you to wait until you had permission to scan and distribute all this copyrighted material, you idiot?" And Sergey was all, "The library at Alexandria burned to the ground, dude! We must have backups and we must have them now!" (By the way, all "quotes" are not actually "quotes". I am enthusiastically "paraphrasing". If you want to read the "real story", you should GO HERE. But he really did throw out the library at Alexandria as an excuse. Classic.)

So yeah, Sergey is burning down the library at Alexandria. Therefore all knowledge must be digital knowledge! At this point, I would like to take Sergey aside and explain two very important concepts to him. We'll forget about copyright law for the moment, since he's more concerned about the good of humanity(authors not being members of humanity, har har).

Concept #1: The Printing Press. I know, I know, this is a new fangled technology and new technologies can be intimidating. We're all used to books being hand-written on scrolls and stored in one location, but the times, they are a'changing, boys and girls. That wacky Guttenburg. What the heck was he thinking? You mean now we can actually make more than one copy of a book? There might be a large "print run". Oooooh. Aaaaah. And those multiple copies will be stored in several different places... like libraries and bookstores across the country, nay, the world! In such a wide variety of locations, in fact, that should all of those texts burn up in a fire, we will have much bigger problems (APOCALYPSE!!!) and I'm betting the internet will be down too. No offense, Sergey, but how is your search engine going to function when we have no electricity because the zombies have demolished our technological infrastructure? Huh?

Concept #2: The Library of Congress. Nifty place. They do this thing where they keep a copy of every book. Ever. Seriously. How cool is that? So... oddly enough, all this information is stored in one place. And you're right, Sergey, that it isn't a digital place, but The Library of Congress is also not being sued by a buttload of really pissed off people whose rights they violated in a massive way.

I don't have a problem with the digitization of information. I actually think it's a pretty great goal. A lot of academic writers would just as soon see their books reach an internet audience. Books that are out of copyright? By all means, digitize those puppies. It's the fact that no effort was made to even locate the rightsholders of books that are currently still in copyright to establish whether they would like them to be available for free on Google. That bugs me.

There's this nifty thing. It's a copyright page. Right in the front of the book you're illegally scanning. It tells you who the copyright holder is. Track that person down, send them an email, find out if it's okay with them. You can't find them? Huh. That's odd. The publishers pretty much all have web sites. And the authors? Most of them do too. Maybe you should try Googling them. It's your fricking search engine.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Great Day for Contests!

You know those days when everything just seems to be going perfectly? This is one of those. :)

1. Katie Graykowski & Jamie Michelle, fellow Golden Heart Finalists, are finalist in my local chapter's contest, the Emerald City Opener, and the Reveal Your Inner Vixen contest, respectively.

2. Kinsey Holley, fellow Shifting Dreams anthology author and scribe of the brilliant Kiss & Kin (if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?) is a finalist in the Reveal Your Inner Vixen contest!

3. Kate Diamond, fellow Damned Scribbling Woman, is a double finalist in the Emerald City Opener!!

It's a good day to be a contest finalist, ladies! Congratulations and may your final round judges fall in love with your writing and offer you beaucoup bucks and multi-book deals!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nervous Nelly

Hello, darlings. I'm over at the Damned Scribbling Women blog today, talking about my latest nervous breakdown. Please swing on by if you have a cure for the mid-manuscript doldrums or just want to commiserate over my neurotic loss of confidence.