Monday, October 31, 2005
From Alesia, celebrating Release Day!
The Naked Truth, What do "being Pygmalioned" and evil fortune cookies of death have in common?
Today is that happiest of writer days, Book Release Day. This is the day that you get to relax, stop working, and drag your protesting children to the bookstore to Oooh and Ahhh over your newest release on the shelves. With your name on it. Naturally, having carried your little darlings for TEN MONTHS in your womb, they will be properly appreciative:
Me: It’s Release Day.
Them: Not again! Didn’t we just do this?
Me: That was in July. Don’t you want to see Mommy’s book?
Them: Emily’s Mom bakes cookies. Why don’t you bake cookies?
Me: I’ll BUY you a cookie at the bookstore.
Them: Okay, we saw it. Can we go to the kids’ section now?
Me: You didn’t say Ooooh and Ahhhh.
Them: Oooh, Ahh. Can we go to the kids’ section now?
With adulation like this, is it any wonder writers are neurotic?
So, to celebrate the release of my fun chick lit anthology, THE NAKED TRUTH, with my story, THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT GUYS, here is one of protagonist C.J. Murphy’s columns:
The Naked Truth About Guys, by columnist C.J. Murphy
Sports as Religion
A Guy may not be able to remember your birthday or your mother’s name, even after you’ve been dating for six or seven years* [*see: Guys as Commitmentphobes], but he remembers every stat of every player currently active in the NFL, NBA, and the European soccer league.
Plus all the stats for players who retired twenty years ago, and even those for players who are, in fact, dead.
This is nothing personal, it’s just how the Guy brain works. In every official medical pie chart of Guy Brains, as designed by actual brain doctors, you will see a breakdown like this:
25% Completely useless trivia, like the fact that Popeye said “Open, Sez Me” instead of “Open Sesame” in a cartoon he once watched twenty years ago;
18% Job-related stuff, like which VP at his office has the best handicap and should be schmoozed up before the annual company golf scramble.
53% Arcane sports stats, like how many times his favorite pitcher scratches his crotch before throwing a curve ball; and, finally:
4% Relationship issues. But, before you get excited, this includes every relationship he’s ever had, including the biggies, like with his dog Sparky back in sixth grade. Therefore, the actual percentage of a Guy brain that is focused on you and your relationship at any given time is approximately .0001.
Until next time, remember: Guys! At least they’re good for the sports questions in Trivial Pursuit.
And also remember, it's Book Release Day!! So, you know, please buy the book! Ooohing and aaahhhing challenged nature aside, I still have to feed the little darlings . . .
Plus, it's a 4 for 1!! With exciting stories by Donna Kauffman, Beverly Brandt, and Erin McCarthy! So have fun and get naked!
In honor of Book Release Day, this week I'll be giving away 5 copies of my holiday anthology, SHOP 'TIL YULE DROP, to five randomly-chosen people who e-mail me at email@example.com with BOOK RELEASE DAY in the subject line. Good luck!!
Alesia, who still oohs and ahhhs, even on her 9th (counting collections) book. I LOVE this job!!!
And please visit me online at my website!! I'd much rather answer reader mail than work . . .
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Liate Stehlik has been hired to serve as svp and publisher of Avon, reporting to HarperMorrow group publisher Michael Morrison, starting at the end of November. Stehlik fills a slot that has been vacant.
Avon executive editor Carrie Feron, who had been reporting to Morrison, will now report to Stehlik. She has been associate publisher at Pocket Books since 2001.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Authors' working titles, too, are often altered or scrapped in favor of something considered more sales-worthy by the publisher. After the publication of nine books, six of which had their titles changed, I've found it never pays to get overly attached to your creation's moniker. Of my historicals written as Gwyneth Atlee, Futile the Winds (named for a line of an Emily Dickinson poem, "Wild Nights") became Night Winds. This was a good call, as people kept thinking I was saying "Feudal" and expecting a medieval instead of a Texas hurricane story! Two titles I fought for (and ultimately lost) were Thunder on the River and Fire on the Water (about the explosion of the Mississippi River steamboat Sultana during the Civil War). After a decision from marketing that the titles didn't sound romantic, the related books were renamed Against the Odds and Trust to Chance. Those didn't sound romantic to me, either. My first contemporary romantic suspense, Fatal Error (written under my real name, Colleen Thompson), was initially titled Heart Drives (a computer-related clue to the central mystery figures prominently, as does a strong romance). The change was probably a good one, since a lot of mystery/suspense readers (especially males) wouldn't pick up any book with "Heart" in the title, and the story was cross-marketed to both romance and suspense readers.
I must be getting a little better with titles, because my next three romantic suspenses (all from Love Spell Romantic Suspense), Fade the Heat (Dec. 05), The Deadliest Denial (May 06), and Heat Lightning (Nov. 06) are all keeping my original titles. At least as far as I know.
I'm always curious about original titles of books I've read. Does anyone want to share one?
Friday, October 28, 2005
Thursday, October 27, 2005
I don't really remember any one particular book though. I remember going to the Idaho Falls Public Library every Saturday and checking out four books and hating it because even in 2nd and 3rd grade, four books wasn't enough. And when I was sick and Mama went to check out the books, she always got biographies and "improving" books instead of the fairy tales and animal stories I wanted.
I read every single Walter Farley horse book, every Albert Payson Terhune collie book, every color of fairy tale book, all the Mary Poppins books... I read almost everything they had in that library before we moved to Houston in time for me to start 5th grade. I was in book heaven, because in Houston, they didn't limit the number of books a girl could check out.
I remember riding my bicycle to the Sharpstown branch library and trying to maneuver my way home again with ten books in the basket on the front. It was in the late 60s, a time that was rapidly becoming less innocent, but I'm still amazed my mother let me pedal through all that traffic (awful, even back then) at 14 or 15 years old just because I NEEDED more books.
I'm still a binge reader. I find a new author I like, and I grab hold of everything they've published and slam it down. Which is why I have a mountainous TBR pile. Since graduating college and getting married, I've lived in small rural towns with small libraries. I tend to rip through their shelves in a few months and then have to go back to buying my own books. A lot of them get donated to the local library. I'm currently serving on the local library board and have been president of the Friends of the Library. (A much easier task than it might be when you live in a town of 1800--and yes, we have a fine library.)
I believe in libraries. Where else can a child discover how to dream?
Of course, this started me thinking about what lines from romance novels have stuck with me long after I've read the book. I narrowed it down to my top five.
Is there anyone who's read Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Mountain who doesn't remember the first line of the book?
- He needed a woman. Bad.
I saw this quote in a topic on the old Prodigy bulletin boards. I'd never read Linda Howard before, but I found it intriguing enough to go shopping and pick up the book. As soon as I finished the story, I went looking for every other book Howard had written.
Which other lines made my personal most memorable list?
Jayne Ann Krentz has written a lot of great books, with many, many great lines, but my absolute favorite is from PERFECT PARTNERS.
- "Good news, Dixon," he said thickly. She doesn't need therapy."
With this line--and the heroine's actions--the hero puts her cheating ex-boyfriend in his place, and sends him running back home.
Another of my favorite bits of dialogue is an exchange between the hero and heroine of Debra Dixon's BAD TO THE BONE. At this point, they've just finished making love and the ramifications are registering.
- "My medical history is clear."
"Yeah, well, if your fallopian tubes are, too, we're in big trouble," Sully snapped.
This is a Bantam Loveswept from 1996 and I love this story so much, I keep buying backup copies. I always want to be able to reread it when the mood strikes.
This next quote is one of those lines that has really lodged itself in my head. I'm not sure exactly why, but there's just something about this bit of dialogue from Linda Lael Miller's HERE AND THEN that gets me shivery.
- "If there's no baby inside you now," he said huskily, "I'll put one there when I get back."
This was a time travel romance from Special Edition.
To close out my top five I chose Julie Garwood. I adore her books, and they're filled with great lines that are laugh out loud funny. It's impossible to narrow it down to one, but for the sake of brevity, I will.
- He never knew what hit him.
This is the opening line in Garwood's THE PRIZE and truer words have never been written. Throughout the book, the heroine continually stuns the hero, but there are a few times when he returns the favor.
Thinking about these lines, though, made me wonder if the authors themselves loved them as much as I did? Did other writers even have favorite quotes from their own books? So then I started wondering about the stories I've written. Are there lines that readers remember and enjoy? I know what some of my favorites are.
In my second book, THE POWER OF TWO, my favorite moment was a bit of dialogue that I wrote during the revision process. It comes while Jake and Cai are in bed, and he stops her from touching him, telling her he needs time to recuperate. Cai's response?
"I thought you Special Forces guys had stamina.
There was a lot of stuff I thought was fun in my current release, THROUGH A CRIMSON VEIL. That makes it much harder to pick my favorite, but I think I have to go with what Mika says to Conor in chapter three. He's trying to resist his need for her, and she's pushing him. Before he loses his head and gives in, Conor lifts her off his lap and puts her on the kitchen table—right into a pool of spilled orange juice.
"Conor," she purred with a smile that made him twitch, "there are more pleasurable ways to get my panties wet."
Now that I've talked about lines I've really enjoyed in my books as well as other author's stories, what quotes have stayed with you?
Through a CrimsonVeil
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
And then there are those other parts, the parts where I struggle for each word and end up rewriting the scene a minimum of four times, adding layer after layer like watercolor paints. For me, the toughest of all are the love scenes, probably because self-consciousness arm-wrestles with my muse. I worry about purple prose. I fret over anatomical impossibilities (or at least unlikelihoods) and the difficulty of making this union between these two characters fresh and unique when the act I'm describing is as old as, well, sexual reproduction. Then I think about my mother-in-law, who's sure to scold me once the book comes out. And everybody knows, sex and shrewish m-i-l commentary don't mix!
Finally, after a Herculean struggle that takes many times longer than any other section of the book, I'm finished. And mightily relieved.
So am I alone? If there are other writers out there, which part of a manuscript do you find the toughest?
I always volunteer to do registration. This year, the Powers-That-Be assigned me to speaker check-in where I was able to indulge my inner celebrity-hound by chatting with Christine Feehan (and her lovely daughter), Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Madeline Hunter and …well, you get the picture…all the writers we love to read. I handed out the speaker thank-you gifts which included homemade chocolate fudge AND brownies.
Next was the Published Authors’ Retreat where we spent three hours in informal discussion groups talking about everything from best-seller lists to burn-out. Coincidentally, one session was about blogging and, thanks to “2 B Read”, I could even contribute to that one. During these discussions, we consumed quantities of wine, Diet Coke, and chocolate.
The evening brought the Golden Leaf Awards for published fiction (I even got to present one; it was very cool to say, “And the winner is…”). Then we adjourned to a magnificent dessert buffet for more chocolate and more gabbing.
Saturday morning it was well worth getting up for breakfast because Mary Jo Putney gave a truly inspiring speech, reminding us all of why we love writing romance. Workshops and agent/editor appointments followed. Lunch brought another terrific and highly entertaining address, this one by Lisa Kleypas (who, being a former beauty queen, looked absolutely dynamite, despite claiming that she “had never found an occasion she couldn’t overdress for”). Dessert was, of course, chocolate.
More workshops filled the afternoon. The two terrific talks I attended were Teresa Bodwell’s “Legal Issues for Writers” (did you know you can say “Rollerblades” but you can’t say “rollerblading” without getting into trademark trouble?) and Liz Maverick’s “Book of your Smarts” (great lessons in thinking outside the box when approaching editors and agents).
The Literacy Book Fair found me in the giant ballroom where over seventy of us authors signed our books and chatted happily with our readers. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the Literacy Volunteers of America, a very worthy cause. (Can you imagine not having the pleasure of reading?)
Sunday was the inaugural NJRW Booksellers’ Luncheon, our way of saying “thank you” to all those wonderful fans of romance who hand sell our books. There were tables displaying marketing ideas and goodie bags crammed to bursting with books, bookmarks, and other useful selling tools. With all those book lovers in one room, the atmosphere was downright electric. And we had chocolate for dessert.
Lots of people go to different kinds of conferences for work and for fun. How different are your conference experiences from mine?
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Everyone went through the normal sadness and shock (since we’d talked to my mother earlier in the day and the dog was fine). We comforted the kids and talked about death and made promises about future dogs.
Then I spent the rest of the week getting rid of pet beds and leashes and everything that had belonged to the mini doxie we all loved so much. But every chance I got, I sat at my computer to work because I have a deadline at the end of this month that has to be met no matter what happens in my personal life. Except there was a problem . . . I didn’t feel like writing.
Like the kids, I was sad, and after 13 years of listening to the sounds the dog made around the house, or having her lay on my favorite chair that she claimed in my office while I worked, now there was a void.
As writers, we have to be able to step out of ourselves and into a character’s head and feel whatever emotions that character is feeling. I realized that I could do that, but I just didn’t want to. I didn’t care about my heroine’s problems and I didn’t want to write anything funny or witty. I wondered how authors who have lost friends, and husbands, and parents, and the most horrible of all, children, can ever sit at their computer and write again. Then there are those that may have lost their homes and all their possessions in these hurricanes that won’t quit. There are numerable mini and major tragedies that happen to us all the time and yet we still have to produce and find inside us the story and all the emotions that are needed for a satisfying read.
So even though I didn’t feel like writing, I thought of my agent, and my editor and readers who will hopefully one day read my book – who deserved to be treated to the best story I’m able to write, no matter how I’m really feeling -- and I wrote.
By the end of the week, I thought of how lucky we writers really are. Mentally stepping out of ourselves for a while IS actually a great gift. Just like readers pick up a book to be transported to another time and place, and to leave their everyday problems behind for a couple of hours, writers do the same when they write. This is why books are so important for our souls.
Now, would I have been able to ‘get on with life’ as quickly if my loss had been a human family member? Probably not. But, I want to think that though it would have taken longer, my books and those of my friends still would have helped. For this reason, I’m grateful to all my favorite authors who continue to write -- no matter what. So, off I go polish my book, which will meet its deadline.
We 11 and 12 year olds were bored at first and moaned and groaned about it among ourselves...for a very brief time. Then we became engrossed. When she reached the third part of the book, (Book the Third, Dickens called it) it was a beautiful day in the early spring. I remember looking at the sunny expanse of playground outside as she read and feeling a surreal sense of displacement that it could be so wonderfully warm and bright and yet I felt like I was in a city's dingy shops and visiting dark and dank prisons and creeping through alleyways and places that made me feel cold and shivery for the characters I cared about so much.
She read the normal chapter and we all begged for more. Since we begged most days, through most books--hey, the longer she read, the less work we had to do--I'm not sure what was different about our begging on this day. But she continued. Every time she started to put the book away, we pleaded with her not to quit. When it was time for afternoon recess, she put the book down and we offered to give up recess if she would just keep reading. (We took a bathroom break and hurried back to class for more.)
When it was almost time for the closing bell, we were into the part where Sydney Carton was about to enter the jail to visit Charles Darnay and only a few chapters from the end. Mrs. Hinshaw, definitely one of the teachers who most influenced my life, quit long enough to go to the office and have them call our parents to tell them we would be late. She promised to make arrangements to get those who rode the bus home. Then, as the time for school to be out came and went, as the buses rolled for home, she continued reading. By the time she reached the part where Sydney Carton gave up his life so the woman he loved could have the man she loved, I--and most of the girls--were sobbing uncontrollably. (I don't remember what the boys were doing, which is amazing in itself and should tell you exactly how dramatic the experience was for me since I was boy crazy at the time and always paid attention to what they were doing.)
Mrs. Hinshaw was hoarse by the time she closed the book. And we were all stunned into silence by the experience.
And my life was changed.
I'd always been a reader but from then on, I was an avid one. I couldn't imagine not having a book around and each time I opened one, I hoped and expected and craved some kind of emotional or exciting or renewing or exhilerating and wondrous trip. Though it was a long time later that I realized I wanted to be a writer, I know Mrs. Hinshaw's reading of A Tale Of Two Cities planted the seed. That book and the whole experience made me realize the power of stories and words.
I've read lots of books since then that have affected me and my life in varying ways. (Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you about them all.) But I would like to know, what books have had an impact on you? What books have made you different in some way? What books have you read that have somehow changed your life?
Monday, October 24, 2005
I visited with two literary agents and an editor. I had submitted early to one of the agents so she could get familiar with my work before we met. She asked me how many Pirate books I had seen on the shelves lately and I said, "Hardly any." She told me that I should have gotten a clue that those kinds of books were not popular with the publishers because they didn't sell well in public. I told her that I've had a couple of readers asking me if I would write one -- and if there weren't any on the shelves, I was thinking it was about time someone wrote one!
After having this experience, I decided to create a poll to see who likes pirate books. Please visit my official home page to vote. I need everyone's input! I'll close the poll at the end of November, 2005.
So last night I found myself reading a book I’ve had sitting by the bed for a year, and I got to the part where the hero and heroine meet and he is intensely attracted to her. And suddenly, I felt that excitement, the knowledge that I LOVED these characters and wanted to keep reading all night and stay in this world. I wanted to vicariously experience this love affair and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
Of course, I eventually had to sleep, but when I woke up this morning and saw the book on my bedside table, I found myself wishing I could spend the day reading. I’m now completely caught up in the story and can’t wait to get back to it – I even find myself rationalizing why I can put off writing my own book to read that one... And every once in a while I catch myself thinking about the book and get that jolt of anticipation and excitement that I have a great book to read tonight. It is exactly this feeling that makes us love reading – and writing. It makes me wonder how people can not like reading. Haven’t they ever experienced this?
Friday, October 21, 2005
4. Surprises and shocks are great fun, but anticipation is agony!
We all love the shocks we get from watching LOST. Remember the time the airplane pilot was suddenly whooshed out of the plane? Or the time we discovered that Locke had been in a wheelchair before the crash? Or the time we first saw the numbers on the hatch? More recently, the shock of seeing Desmond’s face for the first time in the hatch and realizing Jack has met him before. We know more surprises are coming, and we keep showing up for the thrill. But it was no surprise that for the season premiere they were going to descend into the hatch. We all knew it. We saw them blow the lid off and look inside. Then, all summer long we had to wait. And wait. Anticipation is a powerful and cruel force! (Just ask some pals here who didn’t want to wait one day for the rest of this list!) What a great way to hook in a reader, whether it’s at the end of a chapter so the reader can’t go to bed even though it’s 3 am. Or maybe it’s at the end of a book that’s part of an ongoing series. Anticipation never lets us off the hook. All summer long the speculation grew. What was in the hatch? Was it cannibalistic headhunters (that was my daughter’s favorite), a strange cult, an experiment gone bad, the Others, or even aliens? By the time the season premiere arrived, millions of viewers were desperate to go into the hatch! Wouldn’t we love to have readers that hooked?
8. Excellent writing never takes a break.
As writers, we have to maintain the quality with each page, each chapter, and each book. Readers/viewers may love you today, but they can be easily disappointed tomorrow. I’ve gotten into the habit every week of checking online reviews that fans post about LOST. They are so accustomed to the high quality of writing, that they have become rather critical. And they’re extremely hungry for answers that are not forthcoming. Their frustration shows. It’s a scary thing for a writer. We work everyday with a fear hanging over us. Is this book as good as the last one? Am I still improving as a writer? Will my readers enjoy this and keep buying my books? All we can do is keep doing our best and never, ever take a break.
15. It has to make sense!
At some point, questions have to be answered. The plot has to move forward. Decisions have to be made. Sure, we write fiction. In other words, we’re telling a pack of lies. But there must be a truth to it. Characters must be true to themselves. Results have to be believable. And it all has to make sense, or you can lose the reader/viewer. LOST is really out there. It’s plain crazy, but we’re buying it. They’re making us believe it, and that is amazing!
16. To keep the suspense building, the best answer gives you an answer, but raises more questions.
LOST has a great way of answering questions in a way that only leads to twenty more questions. The result makes us bang our heads against the wall, but it certainly keeps us hooked!
23. Never underestimate the intelligence or imagination of the reader/viewer.
Fans of LOST have been keeping up with a large cast of characters. Now that the tail-end survivors have been found, the cast is growing even larger. The plot lines keep increasing and becoming more and more complicated. And we keep finding new ways that the different plot lines and characters interconnect with each other. It’s an amazing load of information to process and remember. Not only do the viewers handle it, but they love it!
42. That last one was actually number 10, but I have to complete the number cycle or something terrible could happen! LOL If that statement lost you, then you need to be watching LOST.
Seriously, this shows presents a fabulous display of writing expertise. The writers wield all the tools—great characterization, backstory, inner and outer conflict, dialogue, hooks, superb plotting. It’s all there, and it all works together so well. It is truly a great how-to manual for writing fiction. And it’s fun!
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire
Thursday, October 20, 2005
What I’ve learned as a writer:
1. Good plot plus good characterization equals GREAT success.
The plot is fascinating. It’s a mental jigsaw puzzle that keeps us glued to the television every week, hoping to glean a few more tiny pieces to the puzzle. A great plot is addictive to our brains. We must have more! On the other hand, good characterization is what appeals to our heart. It makes the characters so real, we can feel their pain, sorrow, fear, and joy. When you manage to combine the two—great plot and great characterization, you’ll have a sure winner!
2. Even with a large cast of characters, each one can be real and three-dimensional. This goes way beyond a well-developed hero and heroine who are backed up by a set of cardboard, interchangeable secondary characters. Without the strength of those supporting roles, the whole story can collapse. Each character in LOST is unique and fully developed. They each have strengths and weaknesses. They can be used as symbols—for instance, Jack is the Man of Science while Locke is the Man of Faith. They can be used as opposites—Jack is a Boy Scout compared to Sawyer as the ultimate Bad Boy. Irony within a character is effective. Charlie is a sweet angel, cursed with a hellish weakness for drugs. Michael had lost his rights as a father only to regain them right before the plane crash. And now, once again, he’s lost his son. Sawyer and Kate have both done terrible things in the past and are in serious need of redemption. Who will Kate choose—the heroic good guy Jack who symbolizes what she’s always wanted to be, or Sawyer who can understand her like no one else. Even Shannon, the Survivor Barbie, is showing an interesting growth arc. She started out completely self-absorbed and manipulative, but she’s lost her brother and now, she’s taking good care of Walt’s dog.
3. Inner conflict is most powerful when the writer shows how trouble from the past relates to the current trouble. LOST does a fantastic job on this every week! Here’s a good example—after suffering through everyone’s reaction to his winning the lottery, Hurley is frantically worried about how everyone will react to him being in charge of all the food in the hatch. Frantic enough that he considers blowing it all up.
4. It’s very cool to show a theme in a parallel fashion—either in backstory and current story, or through different characters. Last night, Locke hit the theme on the head when he said he was no longer lost when he stopped looking. In backstory, we see that Jin was searching for his future and Sun was searching for a husband. When they stopped looking, they found each other. In the current story, Sun found her lost wedding ring when she stopped looking. At the end of the show, the men convinced Michael to stop looking for Walt. We can only hope that by not looking for Walt, they will find him!
5. Point of View is a powerful tool! It’s a great way to manipulate what the reader/viewer knows or doesn’t know. In the season premiere, we were in Jack’s POV as he went into the hatch. We were as lost as he was. When Desmond shot off his gun, we yawned and thought ‘So what?’ The next week, we saw the same scene through Kate’s POV as she crawled through the ventilator shaft. When the gun shot off, the bullet barely missed her and I jumped in my seat! But Jack was still standing there like it was no big deal. Because he didn’t know Kate was there! For any beginning writer who’s having trouble with the concept of POV or inner conflict, I would recommend watching LOST. Not only will you be wonderfully entertained, but you will learn so much!!
Tomorrow, the last five things I’ve learned…
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Anyway, I just heard from my editor and the art department tweaked some more. They (and I don't really know who "they" are; sort of like most good government conspiracy theories "they" need no identity) felt that the woman in the picture needed movement. And they needed to tweak the art a bit to fit the fabulous, wonderful quote from NY Times Bestselling Author Mariah Stewart. (In case you can't read it, the quote is: "Taut, fast-paced suspense . . . a killer debut." Yeah, I'm excited. Can you tell?)
So, if I can figure out how to post images, here is the first cover:
And here is the revised cover:
The changes are small but noticeable. The same look and feel is there, but the woman is different, the dock longer and narrower, and the artist flipped the water so now the sun is coming from the left, not right.
I've been looking at the old cover for the last five months and I really, really loved it. But now the new cover is beginning to grow on me. Maybe after looking at it for five months I'll love it just as much as the original.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Ah. This was one reason majoring in English didn't further my writing ambitions. Intellectually, I get much of modern "great" writing, but emotionally...it just doesn't speak to me. Or when it does, it depresses me. I really don't like being depressed all the time.
So, can great books be happy? Can they be uplifting and inspiring--or does being "happy" immediately disqualify them from being "great"?
Monday, October 17, 2005
But it got me to thinking. Why do some stories resonate so strongly with us? All three of those books are on my keeper shelf and have been read more than once. I have other old favorites that I have read over and over--JAK, Amanda Quick, and Julie Garwood when she wrote historicals, among others. And of those authors, some of their stories resonate more with me than others, so it's not that they're just wonderful writers.
Victoria Curran, editor at Harlequin Superromance, talked about the NEXT and EPIC lines and tipped attendees off that the acquiring editors are receiving a lot of submissions with wives who are dumped by their husbands. Most of the women come off looking weak. She suggested that anyone who wanted to write a NEXT sidestep this pitfall.
EPIC is seriously looking for 75,000 word family sagas.
Caitlin Alexander, an editor from Bantam, said that she, personally, would also like to see family sagas -- and vampires are still doing well.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
As a writer of historical novels, I notice how certain words cease to have cultural meaning over time. The obvious examples are words we don't even recognize anymore, like all that slang from the Regency period. Those are not the ones that fascinate me, however. Instead I am captivated by words that are still in general usage, but that are falling out of favor or even losing their meaning as our culture changes.
An example is the word "honor." It means more than honesty. It speaks volumes about a person to say he or she is honorable. The meaning appears to have less and less connection to the way our society operates now, though. The values associated with the word "honor" are not the ones celebrated today and the use of the word in present day speech sounds antiquated.
"Dignity" is another word that I use in my books but that seems to have little use or application today. Is this even a compliment anymore? Is being dignified a good thing, or does the word now conjure up images of some old, stodgy, tweedy person.
"Noble" is yet another word on its way to losing any meaning in modern usage. I mean noble as an adjective, not a noun. Several years ago my sister used the word to describe a young man to me, and I thought how odd it was for her to choose that word since I never hear or read it anymore. It was the right word, however, which was even more unusual.
Have you noticed other words going through this transition? Words that don't sound anachronistic yet, but that refer to qualities and values that were once admired but are not in step with our culture today?
Saturday, October 15, 2005
We'd love your take.
Friday, October 14, 2005
When it comes to sorting books and movies, I have a couple of close friends who know my taste well enough they can predict what I will like. If they recommend something, I listen. If they send me a book, it goes to the top of my TBR stack because past history has proven that nine out of ten times, I'm going to love it. My sister, on the other hand, has recommended to me the dog of all dogs among comedy movies with enough consistency that I avoid comedy movies she loves like the plague. Likewise with my parents and a couple of friends who are into types of books that I don't like. (One thing about writing; it makes you pickier over time and less likely to enjoy pretty much any entertainment thrown your way, perhaps in the same way food critics lose their appreciation for hot dog stands and potluck dinners. The poor things.) But the thing is, these folks aren't wrong -- they simply have very different tastes -- as does the editor who, after awarding my work first place in a contest, sent me her favorite books she'd edited in the hope that I'd write something more in keeping with that style so she could buy it.
I disliked the books so intensely and found them so at odds with my strengths as a writer, I quickly understood that such a sale was never happening. Or at I wasn't willing/able to contort myself in that particular direction.
But I digress. My point is, each of these trusted or distrusted sources evolved over time. My question is, when it comes to online book reviews, anyone can post an opinion on Amazon or a number of review sites. They folks have a perfect right to their opinions, but that shouldn't make them trusted sources. That designation should only go to a reviewer who's recommendation you have tried -- and agreed with -- over a period of time. And as for the author, all of us (and I'm preaching to myself, too, on this issue) need to remember we're not writing to every potential reader out there. We're writing to please our audience -- and to entertain ourselves and grow as humans and as writers.
When we allow negative comments to rob us of our will to produce, we rob both our readers and ourselves of future books. And I also contend that when we pay to much heed to glowing remarks, we give away some of our power -- making the work better only by virtue of who else likes it. Who else other than ourselves.
In her brilliant Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott writes about the addictive, negative impact of positive reviews, prestigious awards, etc. With her trademark self-effacing wit, she talks about the growing need for more and more honors to feed her ravening ego -- and the negative impact it has on her ability to work.
Insteading of placing our self-esteem in the hands of others, whether reviewers, editors, agents, or random idiots posting in their blogs, we need to remember the quiet thrills that resonate through our centers when we craft a perfect line or the thrill of having our characters "take over" and come up with that witty comeback we'd never have thought of in our real lives or the muse hand us a descriptive shard that pierces to the heart.
JoAnn Ross, an author I very much admire, recently told me she never looks at Amazon and pays no attention to reviews. Instead, she focuses on the next project -- and on life.
This is how I want to be when I "grow up." With eight published novels (compared to Ross's eighty-something), I'm nowhere close yet. But I'm working on what I see as a very worthy goal.
How about the rest of you? Do you read reviews? Do you lose working time after the good as well as the bad? Have you noticed that even your very favorite books aren't universally adored? And have you figured out why you should think you're an exception? Oh, wait -- that last question was for me. But if you know the answer, please feel free...
Thursday, October 13, 2005
But don't you love this line from the official site? This is one of their official reasons:
To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
Hey, it still doesn't discourage me. I'm signing up!
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Warner Books will launch a new imprint in early 2007 that will feature English-language books aimed at Hispanic and Latino women. Under the Solana imprint, Warner will publish six English-language trade paperback originals annually that will feature Latino characters and lifestyles. The books will encompass a wide range of women's fiction, says Adrienne Avila, associate editor of Warner and who will be overseeing the imprint. The inaugural list will debut with "B" as in Beauty by Alberto Ferreras.
1. (From older, male family member laboring under delusion I write porn): "I'd read your books, but since my prostrate operation, I can't really enjoy that sort of thing any longer."
2. (From medical assistant at an office where I'm a patient): "I loved your new book. I just *adore* reading trash."
3. (From mother-in-law): "You know, an *acquaintance* of mine -- I certainly won't call her a friend any longer -- told me in the church parking lot that "either your daughter-in-law and son have a wonderful sex life or she has a great imagination."
4. (From a reader letter): "Do you think you could please stop using words like 'nausea' and 'vomit'? I have a weak stomach."
5. (From a customer at a book signing): "Could you please sign this book? I know you didn't write it, but it's one I'd rather buy."
6. (From a gold-chain dripping pseudo-stud at book signing, as girlfriend frantically attempts to drag him away): "I have some -- ah-- sexual techniques I promise would make your next book a bestseller. Want to hear about --" (Girlfriend, in amazing adrenalin surge, drags Psuedo-Stud clear)
7. (From overall-clad man at book signing, speaking to young son while pointing directly in my face from across the table): "No, ma'am. I didn't come to buy a book. I just came to show my son. (To ogling boy-child): "This, son, is a real, live arthur."
Okay, my memory cells are running on low power. Anyone have others to share?
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Monday, October 10, 2005
It applies to how readers accept our books. It applies to reviewers. It applies to life.
It doesn't hurt to have a reminder.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Four years ago (or somewhere around there) when the first erotica publishers began making a splash, the main characters had foreplay in the first chapter -- or erotic dreams or actual intercourse. The emotional buildup to having sex or the emotional consequences of having intercourse so quickly wasn't dealt with in the later chapters. This bothered me because emotions play such a big part in physical intimacy. Now that the big houses are jumping on the erotica bandwagon, it will be interesting to see if the emotion is dealt with as it should be. In the guidelines for the new Harlequin Spice line, it says "We want novels that will take the genre above and beyond today's stereotypical erotica stories" . . . which, I'm fairly certain they mean with more emotions.
Ever since the romance genre began, I think we've been heading in this direction and I don't think erotica is ever going away. Personally, I love having the option of escalating the heat in my stories, and it really opens doors for me. I'm continually experimenting and my stories have gotten hotter and gutsier. In my recent release, Endangered by Magic, the heroine was raised as a gypsy and is now a British spy. The hero is a shapeshifter. I have scenes that are pretty hot where there's some heavy foreplay with him as a panther (no, they didn't make love in his animal form -- I couldn't quite imagine that . . . or maybe I could and was turned off!
Women are diverse in their likes/dislikes (which is great -- wouldn't the world be boring if we were all alike?) and thank goodness there's a variety to choose from. I'm glad that the inspirational romance market is finally taking off, too. The romance market is ever-evolving and it's exciting to push the envelope, to be on the cutting edge and to be responsible for those changes!
So. What I was going to write about. I read this week, in one of last week's news magazines (yeah, I'm behind in pretty much everything) a whole series of articles about "how to have a healthy heart." Y'all won't be surprised to learn that at the top of the list for prevention of heart attacks you will find love.
It's scientifically proven now. People who are in loving relationships are more likely first, to avoid a heart attack, and second, to survive if they have one. Men whose wives express their love fare better than --I suppose-- men with grumpy wives. (Which leads one to wonder why those women don't express love--hmm, could it be that their husbands cut them off, ignored them, turned them away whenever they tried?)
Some might say that romance novels keep women from participating in real life, from actually living those loving relationships. However, other statistics show that romance readers are more likely to be in a relationship, and to be happy in their relationships, contrary to "popular opinion."
What do you think?
Friday, October 07, 2005
My first book, The Prey (Ballantine, January 2006), was pretty tight when my editor bought it. I had minor revisions, mostly layering in some emotion and tweaking a few scenes. I thought I understood the process quite well. I write, I tweak, I publish. I think most first books tend to be well-edited before they are even bought, because as an unpublished author we aren't on deadline. We can play and tweak to our heart's content.
I just turned in the revisions for my third book, The Kill (Ballantine, March 2006). Suffice it to say, the revised book is wholly different from the original manuscript my editor suffered through (um, I mean read.)
A good editor doesn't tell her authors how to change the story. A good editor shows an author where the problems are, and allows the author's creative instincts to fix the story.
Editing really uses a whole different creative process than writing. Editors need to look at each scene and how it fits into the whole; the story, the characters, the drama, the overall feeling. And they need to ask Does the story fulfill the promise? Since I write romantic suspense, the two questions are Does the scene further the suspense? Or the romance?
But editors also have to look at the big picture -- will readers of this genre be satisfied at the end. Because as an author, we represent not only ourselves, but our publisher.
It's not that The Kill was bad to begin with. It wasn't. The premise was solid, the story intriguing, the heroine strong and determined. The problem? I tried so hard to make the book fit into the proposal I wrote to sell it that every scene fell flat. Anti-climatic. I forced the characters to fit into my pre-conceived plot.
The original book was unsatisfying. I knew it when I turned it in. It wasn't bad, but I forgot my one "rule" . . . trust your instincts. I tried to force my characters into roles I'd created, rather than letting them do what came naturally to them. I tried to direct the story because I thought I needed it to end in one specific place, so every scene leading up to that ending fell flat because, ultimately, the story didn't end there.
When I typed The End a second time on The Kill, I knew the story would satisfy. Why? Because I didn't write it so much as I watched it unfold. My characters went off in directions I never imagined. I could hardly type fast enough to keep up with them. They even hopped on an airplane when I thought they should be in bed! LOL.
Next time around, I'm going to trust my instincts more and worry less. I think when I first sold, I became paralyzed. What if I couldn't tell another good story? So I sweated the small stuff and forgot the important stuff--that story is character, and characters drive the story. When I gave my hero, my heroine--and my villain--free will, everything fell into place.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Mostly he discussed internet porn, but almost inevitably, when he went off on the tangent (his whole 'monologue' is pretty much one tangent after another) on the difference between porn for men and porn for women, he hit on that old saw about romance novels--"Anything with Fabio on the cover"--being porn for women.
Of course, Ferguson being on at 11:30 p.m. or later, depending on your time zone, I'm sure not many were watching, but still...there it was again. That old preconcieved notion.
And of course, I immediately started trying to come up with a rebuttal--not that I would ever get round to sending one. You notice I'm not even blogging about it here until the Second Day after he mentioned it. Anyway, I quickly ran into a wall. I wasn't sure how I wanted to rebut. (Is that a word?) Because the first thing I thought was: Romance novels are not porn for women.
We're not to the wall yet. That first thought led me to trying to define the difference between porn and romance. One of our lovely romance authors (and I would give her name if I could remember who it was) has said something to the effect that romance is about relationships, porn is about mechanics.
I think that's a pretty good definition. (Still not to the wall.) But, it's hard to deny that romance has sex in it, because romance is about romantic relationships, and sexual attraction, sexual tension and actual sexual activity is all wrapped up in those kinds of relationships. It's a big part. Which of course is how romance gets it's "porn for women" label.
Which leads at last to the wall. Because the second thing I thought was: So what?
There's a whole continuum of sexuality in romance novels, from nothing more than heated looks or chaste kisses to hot monkey sex whilst hanging from chandeliers. And that's before we get into the romantica and erotica and all the rest that's becoming so popular these days.
If a woman wants to read erotica--or anything else that's out there--why shouldn't she? It involves no one but the person who wrote it, and the person who's reading it. (Okay, there are editors and stuff, but still, while they're editing, you're still talking just two--one wrote, one's reading.) Mr. Ferguson said that he thinks sex should be "just a bit nasty, and private." How much more private can you get than you and a book?
Can we discuss this in a calm and reasonable manner? What's your opinion? Does it matter if people think of romance as 'porn for women'? Why?
Do you think we're going to get anyone to change his/her mind? If so, how?
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
First of all, I wanted to write about characters who had special abilities and lived in a world far removed from our own. Moving away from historicals allowed me to do that. By creating the setting from scratch, my imagination could go wherever it wanted.
Second, venturing into the e-format after first starting in print opens my stories up to an entirely different demographic. I've discovered that print readers and e-book readers are very different in their genre tastes, number of books purchased, and internet saviness. There really isn't that much crossover. My historical Brava readers probably won't read my e-book futuristics and vice versa. By writing in both formats and multiple genres, I can reach a far greater number of readers.
I spent a wonderful hour in my local Barnes & Noble the day before yesterday and was pleased to see the large number of Ellora's Cave print titles in the store. They were in center aisle displays with other books, and liberally dispersed amongst the other publisher titles in the romance section. EC books have done very well in Borders/Waldens, and BN is a new venue for them. It was pleasant surprise to see them there in such large quantities.
The publishing horizons are widening, readers are leaping at new opportunities to find authors and stories they love, and I'm excited to spread out with them.
“Faye, you need a brand!”
That’s what other authors usually tell me whenever I tell them I’m writing again. I figure they must mean it since they used an exclamation point and everything.
“Okay,” I say. “How about Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey? That’s a great brand.”
“No, no, no!!”
Again with the exclamation points. They’re also looking at me funny at this point.
“You need a brand, Faye. Readers expect a brand. You’ll never get published again if you don’t have a brand.”
Okay, fine. I guess I’d better get one then. (Plus, an agent and a publisher. Maybe Target is having a huge blow-out sale this weekend and I can pick up all three.) But before I rush right out there and pick up mine, I’d like to know what you guys think.
How important is branding to an author’s career?
Do readers really expect us to have one?
And what's wrong with Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey? (I mean, have you tried it?)
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Bethany House editor Dave Long has been discussing niches and and how books fit into the market over at his blog this week. In his post about when to worry about such things, he says:It’s unlikely you’ll be able to turn a story about a woman caring for her dying mother into a lighthearted chick-lit novel simply because the genre is hot.
And I'll bet you'll find this post interesting:
Anything for a little bit of insight. Right?
I'm always amazed when I talk to rookie writers who tell me, when I ask, that they don't read. How can you possibly write if you don't read? Why would you want to write if you don't read?
It's the same basic principle as "You can't write what you don't like to read." Those who think that they can just sit down and bang out a romance because "romance novels sell like Tickle-me Elmos at Christmastime, and they're all just formula anyway," and think they can sell it instantly and make a patrillion bucks so they can sit back and write "the Great American Novel"-- those people soon discover that if they have no respect for the genre--if they don't even know what it is, they aren't going to get very far.
In order to write, you need to read. And if you want to get what you write published, I think it's even more important to read. Read in the genre you want to write, so that you know what's out there...and what's not. What's good...and what's not? Is there a gap? Something you'd like to see, or to write, that isn't out there?
I think it's good to read widely. Magazines. Non-fiction. Mysteries, science fiction, literary fiction. I'm not going to say you should force yourself to read things you just can't plow through, and yeah, sometimes time is just too short. And sometimes you're not in the mood for The Historian, or Heroics for Beginners, or The Cowboy's Pregnant Secret Bride. But it's not going to hurt me to try them out. (Was a little disappointed by The Historian, liked Heroics for Beginners--a tongue-in-cheek fairy tale--but thought it was a bit silly, made up The Cowboy's Pregnant Secret Bride--but hey, it could be a story, right?)
Now I just have to make time to finish The Dragon King's Palace by Laura Joh Rowland.
Monday, October 03, 2005
I counted 23 things on the current list (it changes as people put in their 'things') that I've been able to do because I'm a writer. And yesterday, about every other line was some version of I want to be a writer. Just think, we're living their dreams.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
According to the Book Industry Study Group, used-book sales topped $2.2 billion in 2004, an 11% increase over 2003. Much of that growth can be credited to the Internet.See if you find this short piece in the L.A. Times interesting (and just a bit scary).
Years ago, this nation invested much energy in anguishing over and mocking machismo — male swagger, a menacing virility, an air of aggression.Yes, I can remember people criticizing romances exactly because the men were too much the strong, silent type. Remember the (short) period when editors were actually requesting 'beta' heroes rather than 'alphas.' Now we're into alpha heroines, as well. And this, perhaps, explains why the alphas are so appealing.
For a person in authority to insist that lower-downs reveal their emotions is an abuse of power, a form of emotional groping that can leave the targets feeling violated and mad as hell.Wonder if this is one reason our heroes are so easy to fall in love with?
This was a fascinating column.