Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Had I Known

This was the blog I intended to write until I forgot what I wanted to write about. Sigh.

Last week I received a questionnaire with the question, "What's the one thing you wish you had known before you began writing?"

In all honesty, I can't answer the question. I thought about it for days, but I can't say that there's anything I wish I had known.

If I had known that sometimes it takes a decade--or more--to sell a novel, I may never have tried.

If I had known that most unpublished writers never sell, I may have stopped after my ninety-seventh rejection.

If I had known about Brenda Hiatt's "Show Me The Money" page, I may never have dreamed I could quit my day job.

If I had known the second book was often harder to sell than the first, I may never have started that second book . . . or wrote the five it took to sell.

I learned so much through RWA which I will forever be grateful for. How to write a query. How to research agents. What POV actually meant. Writers--published authors--answered my questions with generosity of spirit and kindness.

But I take each of my failures and learn from them. I can't honestly say I'd be where I am today if I didn't stumble along the path. Had I known what POV was before I started writing, would I be as conscious of its importance today? Had I known that big agencies rarely take on unpublished, unknown authors, would I have even queried one of the biggest?

I've always learned by example, by mistakes, by successes.

Maybe there are some things I wish I had known . . . that every writer's path to publication is different, that some of the biggest writers today had been rejected in the past, and that there really are no shortcuts. We write because we have to. And if it had taken me ten years, I would still be writing. The one thing I have learned is that those who give up will never be published. So never give up. To paraphrase Tess Gerritsen, the fairies are out there sprinkling their magic dust . . . but if you give up, they'll never find you.

So forget the rules and write. Practice. Create that good book. And dream. Because for all of us, it begins with the dream.

The Hunt Is On

Okay, this is my one blatant self-promo for the day . . . The Hunt is out.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog . . .

I've come across some fabulous blog entries over the last few days that I wanted to share with you. (Actually, I had a great idea for this article but sometime between midnight last night and 5 am this morning it disappeared in the mush that's sometimes known as my brain.)

Tess Gerritsen is one of my all-time favorite authors. I've never been disappointed in anything she's written, from HARVEST to VANISH. Every book has been not only a satisfying read, but has stuck with me.

Yesterday, her blog really resonated with me.Sometimes It Takes Fairy Dust talks about the luck factor, then segues into being nice. (I've never met Tess, but I can tell from her blog and word of mouth that she's one of the nicest people in the writing world.)

The whole blog is worth reading, but here is a excerpt:

But I've come to the conclusion that niceness isn't enough. Bitterness doesn't do it either, nor does being a nasty cutthroat.

What it comes down to is plain old good luck.

Yes, there are some things you as a writer can do to help along your success. You have to write a good book. Then you make sure you hook up with a great agent. . . . You insist on a great cover and a great title. You make yourself available for media. You plow into the publicity circuit with a can-do attitude.

Romance writers, in general, are the most generous writers of all. I have met many, on-line or in person, who exemplified that positive, can-do attitude Tess talks about, even (and perhaps most importantly) when things aren't going the right way in their career. I, for one, will never forget the help, advice, and generosity of certain writers who went above and beyond, even before I was published, before I had an agent, before I even knew what I was doing.

Next up is Miss Snark. Yes, I'm a snarkling. I love her posts, I agree with 90% of what she says, and she says it with style and, well, snark. I've been busy writing and with the kids so I haven't been by daily, but I think every unpublished author could learn a lot from her advice. I wish I knew some of it before I got started! (Oh, wait . . . I think I just remembered what my blog idea was for today. I might be posting something a little later . . . )

She got a letter the other day from a frustrated writer asking when she (the writer) should just give up trying to get published. I loved Miss Snark's answer:

When you're standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter is busy discussing his novel with Miss Snark.

She went on to give an inspirational pep talk that was so not snarky it was fabulous, and just what the writer ordered.

No one said it would be easy. Sometimes it is. Someone commented recently to me that I "had it easy" because I got published so fast. "Fast" doesn't mean "easy" . . . I (nicely--remembering Tess's rule) reminded this person that I wrote every night from 9-midnight or later, seven days a week, to produce five books, only the last of which sold. Fast? Maybe. Easy? No. Worth it? Absolutely.

I've often said that anything you value, anything that is worth having, is worth sacrificing for.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Let's Talk About...Mondays


I don’t know about you but I really have a thing about Mondays. ("Thing" not being something good in this instance.) I mean, on one hand, I embrace the whole, “It’s the start of a new week, a chance for a fresh start!” philosophy just fine.

(Okay, so it’s questionable about the “just fine” part. Honestly, my enthusiasm for Monday mostly depends on how late I was up on Sunday night and how much coffee I’ve consumed on Monday morning.)

On the other hand, when Monday dawns, I also want to groan, roll over and pull the covers over my head and sleep until, well, Tuesday sounds good.

I’ve been that way all of my life. I just can’t seem to bound out of bed with unbridled enthusiasm the first thing on Monday morning. (Shoot for a slow crawl out of bed to the coffeemaker and, yeah, that is probably doable.) Ask me to bound on a Tuesday? Sure. As me for unbridled enthusiasm immediately upon awakening on a Wednesday? Not a problem. On Mondays, you take your chances.

When I’m working on a book, I like to plan my writing agenda for the day over my morning coffee. Some days, my goals are straightforward: Write x number of pages today. Other days, my goals are murkier and open to interpretation: Finish the scene in the parking lot.

For some reason, on Mondays, my goals are always loftier than on any other day of the week. (I think it’s the whole “It’s the first day of a new week, a chance for a fresh start” thing that I referenced in the opening paragraph.) I think I should have "big" goals for Monday, so I usually set them. (Things like putting up a blog entry first thing on Monday morning, for example.)

So, as I was sipping my morning coffee this morning, I started to think about my goals for Monday. And then I got to wondering how other people handled Mondays.

And with that in mind, here’s my question for the day:

How do you deal with Mondays? Slow crawls to the coffeemaker? Boundless energy? Same as you deal with any other day? Please share.

Oh, and if you're heading to the coffeemaker, I'd really appreciate a refill.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Binge Writing, or The End of The Book

Some authors, when they approach the end of a book, tend to slow down. They become reluctant to end it because they love the characters and don't want to say goodbye.

I fall into the other category. I tend to speed up as I approach the end of a book. I write slightly longer hours, a few more pages--I want to get to the end and see what happens. (I'm not a pure seat-of-the-pants writer--just a hybrid. I know generally what happens, but I don't know. Not exactly.) I just this past week finished a book that grew out of all control to much longer than the very generous word count I was allowed, and because I'm one of those freakish throwbacks who write first drafts in longhand, once I finished it, I still had to get it all in the computer. For the last two weeks, I've had tunnel vision.

I forgot a haircut appointment. My hair's getting so out of control, it's beginning to resemble a mullet. (I did reschedule--and I really hope I don't forget a second time.) I forgot a doctor's appointment. Even though they called me the day before to remind me. (I'm afraid I'm really going to be in trouble with them when I try to reschedule that one.) I've been so totally focused on Finishing The Stinkin' Book That Would Not End that everything else has slid right out of my mind.

Do normal people do this? I feel semi-confident that amongst other writers, I'm surely not the only one who loses all control of ordinary life at one time or other in the process. But sometimes I wonder just how the rest of the world sees us...

Friday, January 27, 2006

From a Reliable Source

There's possible good news for Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books writers who spent last year wondering who'd end up owning the publisher if and when global media giant Viacom found a buyer. CEO Les Moonves (yes, the same guy who's Letterman's boss) sounds as if he intends to keep S&S as part of the newly formed CBS family. Calling the publisher a "world class leader in its sector," Moonves states S&S has "an opportunity for growth in the near term and an interesting bunch of opportunities going forward."

Another thing in S&S's favor is Moonves' feeling about the role of books in the digital future. "With everything else in our society going digital, how can books fail to benefit?," he said. "And when that happens, what's a backlist of 17,000 great titles going to be worth? Remains to be seen, but I'm optimistic."

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

to Sylvia Day for an amazing week of new sales. Last week, Avon contracted with her for their new erotic romance imprint. This week, she's agreed to write three new historical single titles for Brava.

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

to Allison Brennan, whose first book, The Prey, made the NYT extended list for 02/05/06 at #33 !

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Binge Reading

It started with Nancy Drew. My father gave me that first book featuring the titian-haired sleuth and I had to read the next one and the next and the next until I had devoured all forty-two volumes (that’s all there were back then so now you know how old I am). Then Georgette Heyer satisfied my insatiable hunger. Thank goodness she wrote dozens of books!

I went through Dick Francis like a hot knife through butter and then salivated over each new release. I read seven J.D. Robb novels in two weeks while vacationing in the south of France (I love saying that; it sounds so jet-set. Of course, I had my husband, sister, brother-in-law, cousin, and five children with me.) Most recently, I went on a Lisa Kleypas binge, heading to Barnes and Noble, grabbing four of her books at a time off the shelf, and wolfing them down before scheduling the next trip to B and N.

I got to wondering what triggers these binges and whether other readers experience the same obsessive—but blessedly low calorie!--behavior.

Here’s my theory on the necessary conditions:

1) The author has to be a great storyteller.
2) The characters have to be so compelling that you can’t tear yourself away from their company.
3) The story has to suck you in so completely that you find the world of the book more real than the world surrounding you.
4) The author has to have a backlist of at least ten books either still in print or attainable from the local library.
5) You need to escape from your everyday life for a brief period. Or you simply have the time available to escape from your everyday life.

Are there any other binge readers out there? Have you got any ideas about what gets your obsession going? Most importantly, what authors do you binge on? (I’m always looking for new fodder.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Spirit and Guts

Last night, I watched "Frequency" for the umpteenth time. The film is a time travel lover's dream. It's everything I love about the possibility of time travel: discovering love and changing lives for the better. This movie doesn't really focus on the traditional romance of man and woman although moments between husband and wife are beautiful and sweet. The driving force of this feature film is the time defying bond between father and son. Their love and faith in each other propels the story through triumph to tragedy until it reaches the tearjerker ending.

In 1999, John Sullivan tinkers with his father's old transistor radio and connects with Frank Sullivan in 1969. When John realizes that Frank is his firefighter father, John warns his dad about an upcoming fire that will claim the fireman's life. The tragic day arrives and Frank heeds his son's warning. Everything changes. Via the transistor radio, John is finally able to communicate with the father he lost thirty years ago and the two work to solve the mystery of the Nightingale Killer. The movie is a wonderful blend of suspense, angst and love with tidbits of comedy thrown in for good measure. And to top it off, "Frequency" has a great line that encourages everyone to go for their dream…at least that's how I interpret "spirit and guts."

Writing my debut novel, "Love Lasts Forever" required a good deal of both spirit and guts. Starting with the spark of an idea and two voices in my head that wouldn't go away, the words came and I typed. The spirit of Thor and Willow refused to give me rest and I was more than happy to be their typist.

In addition to loving time travel movies, I love books about the subject, too. I've read many time travel romances. My keeper shelf is loaded with them. Although each story is dear to my heart, I felt like there was a void. When I started "Love Lasts Forever," Octavia Butler's "Kindred" was the only time travel novel I'd read featuring an African-American heroine. I never doubted that women of color enjoyed the subject and wanted to read time travel romances featuring a heroine who resembled them. But the choices were limited.

I received some opposition when I started submitting my novel to critique groups. One person critiqued that Willow, a freedwoman of color, was too educated for that time period. That's just one example. Overall, I received more encouragement than negativity from the others who critiqued my work. Actually, I expected some stereotypical ideas to filter in. Without a healthy dose of spirits and guts, I might have quit then, tucked the manuscript away and wondered what might have been. Nah, that would have been the coward's way. Not that I don't have moments of cowardice. I believe we all do in different circumstances. Thor and Willow's story meant too much for me to give up on them. I knew when I started typing the first chapter that an interracial romance set during the 1860s would be a tough sell.

What can I say? Spirits and guts. Use the two to get your dreams rolling. You may surprised by what happens next.

Dominiqua Douglas
Love Lasts Forever (Genesis Press, Inc. - Available NOW!)
4 Stars from RT

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Vegas and Goal Setting

Over the weekend I was in Las Vegas, Nevada. My first time. You could say I was a Vegas Virgin. I was there to present a workshop on Goal Setting to the local RWA chapter. I don't know what I was more excited about, actually being in Vegas or speaking for the first time to a group that I didn't have an affilation with. First off let me tell you I have a thing for slot machines. So needless to say all thoughts of goal setting pretty much left my brain the minute I hit the Las Vegas airport.
Vegas is a great city. It's full of excitement and has an immense energy that seems to flow all around it. It soon became clear to me that my goal was fast becoming not losing all of my money in the first day. I figured it would be best to spread my losses out over the next two days, just to be on the safe side. Thankfully my gambling blitz was interrupted by the real reason for my being in Vegas and that was to present the workshop.
Goal setting is something we all do in every aspect of our lives whether or not we're writers. In my presentation I concentrated on short term and long term goals using a formula that lays it all out there. You should start by listing all of your goals and then breaking them out. Let's take my Vegas stay as an example. My focal goal or main purpose goal was not to lose all my money. In order to acheive this goal I had to have smaller goals in place. These would be lumped into two categories, general and action goals, keeping in mind that both of these must lead to the focal or main goal.
General goals were things like don't put more than five dollars into a machine at one time. An action goal would be setting a limit on time played at any particular slot machine, say no more than ten minutes. I think you can get my drift. Right about now you must be wondering if I met my goal. Well let's just say that after I acheived the slot machine goal I set another one and that was winning money at the roulette table. I did okay there, here again using the simple formula of setting limits.
The point here being that setting goals for yourself can be a great motivational tool to acheive a higher success. Just remember set your goals above the bar, but so high that you can never achieve them. Push yourself to get the job done and I think in the end you'll be happy with the results.

Tracey J. Lyons

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Best Ending I Ever Read...

If the beginning of a story is a promise to the reader, the end is its fulfillment. Once hooked on a story question, readers will keep turning pages. A skillful writer deepens characterization and escalates both stakes and conflict with each scene.

But the ending is what clinches it. A strong one leaves the reader with a sigh or such a sense of satisfaction that she immediately checks to see what other books the author has written. A weak ending is a promise broken, and if the reader feels sufficiently betrayed, there may be no second chance for that writer.

So what goes into a great ending? For certain, questions raised must all be answered. Nothing is more irritating that reaching the end of a story and turning to the next, blank page and asking, “But what happened about the boss who was blackmailing him with those compromising pictures?” Not every plot thread needs to be tied up neatly in a bow. There’s room for subtlety, even ambiguity, if the writer makes the reader believe that was the goal. Otherwise, the reader feels irritated – or worse yet, tricked - that the author made her care about something so unimportant it was later forgotten.

One of my requirements for a satisfying ending is that the main story problem be actively solved by the protagonist. Not a convenient earthquake which opens up a chasm to swallow up the bad guy in the crucial moment. This unlikely sort of conclusion, called the deus ex machina (or “god comes from the box”) ending harks back to a time when Greek playwrights wrote their characters into a corner, then had a deity handily show up to save the day. Today’s readers want their heroes and heroines to earn their happy endings because of strengths they have developed by surviving the story’s challenges.

We also like the protagonists to suffer in the process. In real life, change is difficult and its costs are high. We expect to see that dramatized in fiction, just as we hope the outcome reaffirms our belief that when someone suffers sufficiently, learns, and grows for a worthy cause, the effort will be rewarded in the end.

I’d like to finish this entry by asking what book or movie endings have left you most satisfied? Which particular stories left you desperate to read the author’s next work or see the next movie by the same screenwriter or director? Can you explain why the conclusion worked so well for you?

In March, I’ll be giving a workshop to the West Houston Romance Writers of America on writing satisfying endings, and I would love to add the opinions of both readers and writers. Thanks so much!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

the book that started it all

All right, I confess that this is a bit of a duplication from one of the posts on my personal blog (http://www.heidibetts.com/blog/), but you all got me so curious, I couldn't resist.

Since so many of you admitted to being just as addicted to romance novels as I am, I want to know what book truly began your love of the romance genre.

Can you remember a particular title that swept you away & made you realize you had to read more? Or the first book that created your need to buy, buy, buy, read, read, read...you know, the one that led to the towering TBR piles you now possess? :-)

For me, it was Rebecca Brandewyne's The Outlaw Hearts. I have three copies--one that's pristine & autographed & put away where no dust or air or moisture can reach it; one that I read until it nearly fell apart; and the one that I bought to replace that copy, even tho I haven't yet discarded the original. I love, love, love this story & remember just about every detail of it to this day.

This is the book that began my love of romance novels. And tho there are others I can look back on & think, "Yes, I read that one early on & loved it. It played a part in my romance novel addiction," The Outlaw Hearts is the story that really hooked me & whose characters feel like old friends. Every time I think of them, they make me smile. :-)

So how about you? What is the one book, for you, that started it all?

Heidi Betts
Seven-Year Seduction (Silhouette Desire #1709)--February 2006
And visit www.HeidiBetts.com for contests, excerpts, blogging, & more!

Monday, January 16, 2006

From a Reliable Source...

New Literary Agency Forming.

Although the official announcement is still pending, literary agents Scott Hoffman (PMA Lit and Film), Jeff Kleinman (Graybill and English) and Paige Wheeler (Creative Media Agency) have joined forces to create the Folio Literary Agency.

According to their new website, they intend to “provide regional and local publicity that can dramatically expand an author’s profile and increase sales.”

Read more about it here.

From a Reliable Source...

Harlequin Romances...Coming To A Comic Book Near You?

A recent article in the Toronto Star details Harlequin’s ambitious new manga imprint, Ginger Blossom, which will offer illustrated romances in conjunction with Oregon-based Dark Horse comics.

Harlequin has been offering its library of romances to a Japanese publisher since the late 1990s; Ginger Blossom will actually feature the artwork from these previously printed Japanese comics, along with the text of romances from their most popular authors.

Read more about it here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Somebodies & Nobodies

Okay, trying again since I have no idea why it posted before I was ready. Sorry that the poem posted 2x. Starting over:

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson wrote the above poem in the mid-1800s and I've recently taught it to my high school students. Toby Keith just wrote a song about somebodies and nobodies with a line that talks about how he's going to go get drunk and be somebody. This theme has been constant throughout history.

A lot of us long to be somebodies. Even our characters in romance novels do. Most of us are somebodies to our small circle of families and friends. For most of us, and many of our characters, this is enough. But deep down a lot of us long to have everyone know our name. Why else do people try out for American Idol or reality TV? However, Emily describes these "celebrities" as being like frogs--they must constantly telling their name to the admiring bog (or fans) in order to be heard. Perfect commentary--just look to actors and actresses out doing PR for their latest movie or to rock or country stars trying to promote their latest CD.

I attended Sound and Speed 2006 in Nashville this weekend as background research for an upcoming book, The Wedding Secret. Basically it was an event with proceeds going to charity. People began to line up at 6 AM to get a wristband for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s autograph. He drives the number 8 car on NASCAR's Nextel Cup circuit. The temperature was below freezing and many of his fans went away disappointed. My daughter and I ended up with wristbands for country singer Erika Jo and driver Jeff Green. We had little clue who either was. Perhaps few did, for we were able to go do a driving simulator and then walk up and get the bands, and later, their autographs.

PR takes a lot of work. It's not necesarily fun, and in the end, as authors, we don't get that celebrity feedback of having millions screaming your name. (Many of us wouldn't be comfortable with that anyway.) But some accolades are nice, as we all know. Whether it be that card from your special someone, or an award at work, for a moment, we all like some attention. I think Emily could handle a little bragging. It's that constant "look at me" she talks about in her poem. We all know who those celebs are.

As for me, I found a Harlequin fan outside of the CMT trailer where all of us were taking pictures with a cardboard Kenny Chesney cutout. (Closest I'll ever get.) I had my new book on me (Legally Tender), and I handed it to her. She took one look at the cover and said, "I've read you before."

That made my day, and I signed the book for her. Perhaps in a small sense, maybe I am a somebody after all.

Somebodies & Nobodies

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson wrote the above poem

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reading Challenge

How many books do you read a year?

The eHarlequin community has issued a 100 books in a year reading challenge with coupons/vouchers as incentive. As I write this, there's still a discussion about whether they're wanting to count only Harlequin books--which of course includes Mira, HQN, Steeple Hill and Luna--or any books read. But still, it brings up the question--how many books do you read, on average, in a year?

I'm always shocked when I talk to writers (or aspiring writers) who say they don't read. For the most part, people decide they want to write because they love to read. I'm certainly one of those. I love to read. And I'm fortunate in that I am able to read fast.

A couple of years ago, I ran across a "Personal Reading Log" booklet my local library was giving away. I think I went through two of them, and when the pages started falling out and I had to hold them together with a rubber band, I converted to a computer file. For each book, there's a space to put down title, author, publisher and date, comments, and disposition--what you do with the book after you've read it.

I'm not very good at keeping up with my list, but I have it, and I make a new computer document for each year's books. Which means I have just created a new one for 2006, and I still have a big pile of books on the floor by my computer that I read in 2005 and still haven't put in the computer. I've often said that I average reading a book a day. Some days it's more, some days less. Right now, my count for 2005 is just over 200, and I seriously doubt I have another 100 books on the floor here, so I probably haven't read a book a day--but then, I'm not sure just how big a pile of 100 books is. Still, I ought to at least put the title, author, publisher and date in my list, even if I don't comment on each one of them. (That's what takes all the time.) Yet another thing to go on my to-do list. But who has time for making lists when there are all these books waiting to be read?

Anyway, I thought this 100-books-in-a-year challenge was interesting. I don't know that I'm going to sign up, since I'm one of Harlequin's authors and it doesn't seem quite fair--even though I buy an awful lot of Harlequin books...and I know I'll beat 100 books even if I don't sign up. Still, being the bookaholic I am, it just...sounded like a lot of fun. Doesn't it to you? How many books DO you read in a year? (If I ever get round to counting, I'll let you know my last year's total.)

Gail Dayton
The Compass Rose, Luna Books, RT Bookclub Reviewer's Choice nominee for Best Fantasy, 2005
The Barbed Rose, Luna Books, March 2005

Friday, January 13, 2006

So what?

I love to learn new things. Don’t you? Recently, on New Year’s Eve, my 7 year old son taught me something. My family and I decided to spend the holidays in Orlando’s DisneyWorld, and to ring in the new year at the Epcot park. The multi-cultural aspect of it appealed to me.

So my family was enjoying some eggrolls and a drink in the land of China when all of a sudden super loud music explodes out of nearby speakers and strobe lights temporarily blind me. My husband and half-asleep daughter slip back, trying to hide from the crowds, but my son sort of shrugs and walks out onto an area they had obviously prepared for dancing. He gives me a mischievous grin and begins to DANCE. Now this kid has up until now been very shy – hasn’t wanted to participate in sports because he doesn’t want people watching him. Yet he willingly walked out in front of hundreds of people and performed some moves I’d never seen before. He danced for a minute or so, then cracking himself up, walked back to me. Then he repeated it a couple of times until the adults caught on and joined him on the dance floor. At this point, I fished him out and we moved on to quieter ground.

I can’t describe how shocked I was to see him out there dancing without any inhibitions! I kept thinking, "that’s not MY kid." Later I asked him about it, and he said he decided not think about being embarrassed anymore and to just have fun. That he knew he probably looked funny, but "so what". Wow. I was stunned again. I have to tell you that in my almost 40 years on this earth, I haven’t been able to resolve that same issue so easily. How many times have I NOT spoken in public because I was embarrassed? How many things have I NOT tried because I feared I wouldn’t be good enough or that I "might look funny".

Kids are great. They can say "so what". As we get older, we stop doing that. At least I have. I want to do things right or not at all. I want to be assured success before I try something new.
As writers, I think we could benefit from "so what". So what if we get a bad review – there will be good ones too. So what if the book of our heart doesn’t sell (when it’s the process of writing it that fulfills something inside of us). Much sadder if we don’t write it at all.

So this morning I joined a fitness bootcamp (scary name for dance/boxing to music) and made a complete fool of myself. LOL. I’ve stayed away from group lessons, because I have no rhythm and can never keep up with the way too young and fit girls that populate these classes. But today, I said, "so what" and went anyway. It felt great.

So if there’s something you’ve been wanting to try, go for it. Do it. Write it. Have fun!

Thoughts on Beauties & Geeks

I watch very little reality television (unless it involves paint & wallpaper, or topsoil and perennials), but I watched the "Beauty and the Geek" television show last night because I'm still fighting the Cold That Won't Go Away and didn't feel like doing anything but sitting in a chair and staring straight ahead, and one of the "geeks" (Wes) on the show is the friend of the son of a friend, and several thoughts occurred to me.

First, this show was the brainstorm of Ashton Kutcher, so of course it would be about gorgeous women and geeky guys, because Ashton is a guy and would obviously be interested in looking at gorgeous women.

Then I thought about the show "The Bachelor" where one guy picks from among a dozen or so women, and how they turned it around for "The Bachelorette" where one woman picks from among a bunch of hunky guys. And I wondered...

What if they did "Beauty and the Geek" with brilliant, geeky women and hot, not-so-bright men? My daughter is one of those brilliant, geeky women, with two degrees in mathematics and applications in for PhD programs in statistics--she's also gorgeous and married, but that's beside the point, which is that I know just as many geeks who are women as I do geeks who are men. (Wes on the show reminds me very much of my daughter's husband...) And I know an awful lot of attractive, but rather ditzy men as well. But would it work?

I think part of the appeal of the show is that the women have their insecurities as well. If the roles were reversed, though, how would the studly dumb guys react to being shown up by women who were smarter? Would they be able to handle it? Would they put the women down for being less attractive? Would anybody be willing to watch it?

What do you think? Would Ashton have the guts to reverse the roles? Should he? Or is this just a premise for someone's romance novel?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

hello, my name is Heidi & I'm a romance novel addict

I've suspected for some time now that this might be the case, but after today, I'm sure.

Weeks ago, I made arrangements to meet some people at the local library, then never gave it another thought. Until this morning when I was getting dressed & realized I was practically vibrating with eagerness.

Why? What was so special about today? Nothing much. Don't tell them I said this, but it wasn't meeting with this group of people that had me worked up. I wasn't loathing the trip, but I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, either. It was just one of those things that needed to be done.

And then it occurred to me: I was going to a library. I would be in a big room full of books. Yep, that was it. The minute I thought it, my stomach gave a jolt of excitement.

I didn't even check out any books while I was there, but still I made a point of arriving several minutes before the others in my party so I would have time to wander through the shelves, touching spines & looking to see what was new. What had I already read? What was I hoping to read soon? What had I not realized was out?

This, I believe, is a clear sign of book addiction. You know...if the piles & boxes of books cluttering my house almost to the point of having to move out wasn't enough of a clue.

I buy so many books, the people at my local bookstore set aside titles they think I'll like or new books by authors they know I love. I would rather spend money on books than clothes, shoes, movies, music... My day can suck, but if I come home with a new book or even have a chance to sit & read for a while, I consider it a success. When I'm in a bad mood, if I stop to read a chapter in a book I'm enjoying, it can actually put me in a better mood. A book "fix," if you will. And I need it, or I start to sweat & get the shakes.

So when did this addiction start? Many people who suffer from the same affliction may not know when their love of books went from a casual interest to a full-throttle physical need...it might have sneaked up on them, & before they realized it, they were the proud owners of thousands of books & a TBR (to be read) pile the size of the Eiffel Tower.

But I know exactly when & how my addiction began. It was the summer between graduating from high school & leaving for college. All through junior & senior high, I'd been reading romance novels, only I had to do it secretly because my mother didn't approve. (It should be noted that she didn't disapprove of romance novels, per se, but of her 13yo daughter reading them. And I'd gone straight for the good stuff--Catherine Coulter, Johanna Lindsay, etc. :-))

So for about 5yrs, I was sneaking around to get my romance fix. Then, when I turned 17 & was getting ready to start college, my mother suddenly informed me that she didn't care what I read. I was officially old enough to choose my own reading material.

Yippee! Whahoo! Glory be! From that moment on, every time we went shopping, I came home with at least one romance novel. By the time they packed me off, I had a nice size box of reading material to take along to college. And even tho I'd promised my mother it wouldn't happen, I often read romance novels instead of studying. On the night before my first year finals, I stayed up late to finish a historical romance...& that was the moment I decided I wanted to seriously pursue writing myself.

So that's how it began, this little addiction of mine. First, I wasn't allowed to read romance novels, then I was given free rein to buy & read as many as I liked, & now it's gotten completely out of control. There's this tiny spot in my brain that tells me I need to buy, buy, buy. I need to own every romance that comes out, even if the chances of reading them all in my lifetime are slim to none. I'm never without a book, never without the niggling thought of "What will I read next?" And for me, there's nothing in the world like seeing, touching, skimming, reading a good book.

If I'm addicted, so be it. But please don't send Dr. Phil to my house yet. I like my addiction & I'm definitely not ready to be rehabilitated anytime soon.

Heidi Betts
Seven-Year Seduction (Silhouette Desire #1709)--February 2006
And visit www.HeidiBetts.com for contests, excerpts, blogging, & more!

Sparks and Synchronicity

Sparks and Synchronicity

Ever wonder where writers get their ideas? For me it’s usually from very ordinary places—except that my mind seems to file things away and then retrieve them in wonderful new combinations.

It all starts with the ability to keep asking “what if.”

For instance, my current work in progress, a psychological thriller titled BLIND FAITH, began with a newspaper story. A woman traveling along I-80, searching for the graves of her two children. Her ex-husband had kidnapped the children and confessed to killing them but didn’t pinpoint the site where he buried them. Her need for closure, her quest to bring her babies home was clear even in the grainy photo that accompanied the story.

Wow. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her odyssey. As a pediatrician I work with families dealing with death and near-death on a frequent basis, but this woman’s story really touched a chord in me. I have had a too-close association with violent death, so I understood first hand how grief could push a person into such a passionate pursuit for the truth.

I also wondered at the ultimate betrayal her ex-husband, a man who presumably once loved her and his children, had wrought. What could drive a person to do that, to destroy their family?

I followed her story in our local small town newspaper. Then Katrina hit. Another big wow. Yes, the death and destruction was devastating in its enormity. But after my initial shock and frustration at not being able to do much to help, what I couldn’t stop thinking about was the number of young children separated from their families, torn away from everyplace and everyone they knew.

At the time, I was working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (http://www.missingkids.org/) to set up my charity program, Buy a Book, Make a Difference (for more information go to my website, http://www.cjlyons.net/). I learned that there were over 4800 kids reported missing, a good portion of whom were identified and reunited with their families thanks to the good people at the NCMEC.

But then I heard about all the sexual predators who also fled from New Orleans—most of whom were still at large. Combine this with the images of over-crowded, under-policed shelters and the ideas began to coalesce.

What if….what if a woman is called upon to witness the execution of the serial killer who has confessed to killing her husband and son? What if he dies without telling her where he has buried them?

What if she vows to find their graves and instead finds that her husband is still alive?

What if she learns that everything she believes is a lie? What if the only person she can trust is the man who betrayed her…her husband?

That’s all I had when I began writing BLIND FAITH—quite frankly it’s more than I usually have! I knew it would be a dark, edgy novel, filled with betrayals and intrigues. A novel where nothing could be taken for granted, where no one was the person they appeared to be. Where dark secrets would be unearthed and the lives of every character would be forever changed. But also an uplifting novel of courage and strength and perseverance, and most of all, revealing that we each have the power to choose. To choose to have faith, to choose to love, to choose to forgive.

I’m now 300 pages into it—only another 100 or so more pages to go—and I finally know how it ends. The rest of it is still a surprise waiting to happen. I find this journey of discovery the most exciting part of writing, those days when every scene I write unveils another piece of the puzzle.

It all begins with a spark fueled by small intersections of serendipitous happenings. That and asking, “what if?”

Have you ever experienced this kind of synchronicity? Times when things found their way into your consciousness exactly when the time was right? People who appeared in your life just in time to spark inspiration?

Maybe the most important part of being a writer is learning to recognize and appreciate these everyday sparks that others neglect?

Thanks for reading!
Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE is “a perfect blend of romance and suspense. My kind of book.” –Sandra Brown
Available this summer from Tor

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pride & Prejudice Worth a Second Look

I went to see Pride & Prejudice again last night. To appreciate that statement you must understand something about the Wilma Theater. This is the downtown art movie theater near my home in Missoula, Montana. The Wilma is generally referred to as "the historic Wilma". Translated this means that the seats are covered with red velvet, worn smooth with time and pocked with holes. The term "cushion" long ago lost any power to describe the seat bottoms. And don't get me started on the antiquated bathroom facility. To be honest, I usually spend my movie dollars at the multi-plex across town.

But I had to see Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen again to try and figure out exactly how they made the magic happen. Here are my thoughts. First--I did not give nearly enough credit to the screenwriter--Deborah Maggoch. I hope we see more of her work in future. She had an impossible task--bringing P&P to life in 2 hours. She made some interesting choices. Almost all of the sub-plots are gone. We see the bare minimum of Wickham and almost nothing of Lydia. Yet we still feel the impact of their scandalous affair. Even Jane and Bingley have very little time to fall hopelessly in love, but it doesn't matter because we see it at that first dance when they can hardly take their eyes off of one another. We don't need much more. I'm sure there are many Austen purists who will miss some of the exchanges between Darcy and Elizabeth. Those are some of the best scenes in the book and in the Colin Firth mini-series. In this short version we see instead smoldering looks and electric touches that tell us everything we need to know. These two are meant to be together.

My companion for the evening was a good friend who also happens to be a costumer. She was quick to point out Elizabeth's lack of gloves at the dance. And I know that Bingley had no business popping in to see Jane when she is sick in bed. Despite these faux pas, the film captured enough of the social atmosphere to convey the story. We see very clearly the urgency of the situation for the Bennet girls and the contrast between their simple country life and the more formal world of Pemberley. Tom Hollander is the definitive Mr. Collins. Donald Sutherland achieved a perfect balance between heart and foolishness as Mr. Bennet. And Keira Knightley is Elizabeth Bennet. The energy and expressiveness that she brings to this role make this interpretation of Pride & Prejudice one for the ages. This movie really captures the spirit of the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth.

I do wish it had a better ending, but otherwise I loved this film. This movie is a great example of how a film can bring a new dimension to a beloved story. (And now I'm going to sign off and read the last chapter of P&P).

What do you think about this film or movie adaptations in general? Do you still think Colin Firth is the definitive Darcy?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Okay, Somebody Explain This To Me

Okay. So here I sit, staring at a blank screen, 75 pages away from typing, “The End” to my latest WIP and without a single coherent thought in my head about what I should type next. Oh, sure. I know *generally* what is supposed to happen in the scene. I even know *specifically* the number of pages the scene should have. Honestly, the problem isn’t that I don’t know what I’m supposed to write.

(I wish it could be that simple!)

Nope. My problem is the actual writing of it.

Without producing a sizeable suckage factor, I mean.

First page, middle page, last page. It doesn’t matter. I agonize over all of them. I really only do one draft of the book as a whole, although each chapter usually undergoes several rewrites before I move on to the next.

Hey. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I know a lot of writers who talk about how “the book just wrote itself,” especially once they start that rapid slide toward the conclusion. Lucky them, I say. All I know is that every time that’s ever happened to me, I ended up having to delete the chapter in question and start over because of the high levels of suckage it contained.

So, here’s my question for writers on this snowy Monday: Do you find that the book gets easier to write as you go along? Or is the battle against the suckage factor just as intense for each chapter?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

So, THAT Explains My Royalty Statement!

There are hot books, and then there are hot books.

Bookstores report that the shoplifting of popular book titles is on the rise...and the culprits aren’t the usual suspects, either. What’s more, many of these stolen titles are ending up for sale on the Internet.

Read about it here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats!

A big round of applause to Allison Brennan.

Her debut novel, The Prey, hit #88 on USA Today's Top 150 during its first week of release.

Congrats, Allison!!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rites of Passage

My daughter—the little girl whom I just taught to walk and talk—turned sixteen yesterday. I’m still reeling. Yes, I know she’s five inches taller than I am, and has been for about three years, but I’m vertically challenged so that’s insignificant. Yes, she’s discussing what colleges to apply to, and I’m thrilled that one of them is my own alma mater. Yes, she notices cute boys now and even comments on them when her father isn’t listening. But how did this happen so fast and without my noticing the passage of time?

Of course, she’s become a charming, funny, lovely young woman who warms the cockles of her mother’s heart by reading voraciously and getting straight A pluses in all her creative writing courses. Her talent on the trumpet far surpasses mine on the flute when I was her age. Amazingly, she’s also a skilled basketball player, genes she clearly got entirely from her father. I suppose all this developed right before my eyes but it seemed gradual until yesterday when it hit me over the head that she wasn’t just growing up…she had grown up!

Granted there’s a way to go before she’s an independent adult. We still have the nail-biting task of teaching her to drive. Slogging through those college applications won’t be easy. And explaining how to balance a checking account? I shudder to contemplate it. She and numbers do not mix well.

But sixteen is a biggie. She has firmly crossed the boundary of childhood, never to return. The tears welling up in my eyes come from a wrenching combination of pride and regret. I’m proud of what she’s become, and the fact that I helped her get there, but I’m sorry that I’m going to lose her to the outside world sooner than I want to.

Parents always tell you to enjoy every minute with your children, and this was one piece of advice I did my best to follow. But enjoying the minutes doesn’t slow them down, and the rites of passage come upon us before we’re entirely ready for them.

My solution is to take pictures: lots of them. I try to put them in albums every year (I’m up to 2004 now—yippee!). When I need to turn back the clock, I go through my old photographs. That way I can recapture the moments leading up to this latest shock of recognition that time has passed too swiftly for me to keep up with it. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m getting out my daughter’s baby album.

How do you handle the big events in life that you aren’t quite prepared for?

Monday, January 02, 2006

What I *think* I learned in 2005

Every once in awhile I look back on 2005 and feel like a truck ran me over. The morning of Dec. 14, 2004 I was an aspiring author. By that afternoon, I was contracted with Brava. Now, just a smidge over twelve months later, I can't believe how different my life is.

I released 6 stories/books in 2005 with 4 different publishers. A reader forwarded me a post from a loop where another reader had said she enjoyed one of my stories so much she bought my entire backlist. I grinned like an idiot. A backlist of published works. Wow. A year ago, I wouldn't have thought that would be possible now.

In 2005, I hired an agent, fired an agent, hired another agent. I've signed 9 publishing contracts, and rejected three. I've learned to put together a proposal, but can't write a synopsis to save my life. I'm still learning about craft every day, mostly due to the studious patience of my critique partners, without whom I doubt I'd get by.

I'll finish my final contracted work by Jan. 15th and then, unless something happens in the next few weeks, I'll have some time off. I'm going to take that time to figure out what the heck I'm doing. I don't have a career plan yet. I've just been writing whatever I feel like, but pretty much, I need to narrow my focus. (And *pray* I get picked up for more contracts. *grin* )

In 2006, I have 5 trade paperbacks coming out (so far)--three of them are all mine, two are anthologies with other authors. I fully intend to release at least 6 e-books, hopefully I'll manage more than that by fitting in some shorts. Some of the e-titles will come out in trades, usually by the 6-month mark so that will be more books on the shelves in 2006. My third Brava is scheduled for release in 2007.

What have I learned (or at least think I've learned) in my first year as a published author:

  • 1.) Listen to the advice of authors who have been published longer. You don't have to heed that advice, but listen to it and absorb it. They usually know what they're talking about.

  • 2.) What works for one writer will probably not work for another.

  • 3.) Don't torture yourself with deadlines in Dec., Jan., or Feb. This is the second year in a row that I've signed on for deadlines over the holidays. I don't intend to do it again. I've realized that I just can't get into the holiday spirit when I'm not involved in the process of preparing for it.

  • 4.) Take the rose-colored glasses off. (I knew this from the get-go, but I'm sharing it with you) Publishing your book is your dream, not your publisher's. You have to make the extras happen.

  • 5.) Editors only answer the questions they want to and ignore the rest. They learn this in Editor Behavior 101 and they all got "A"s. It's okay. It doesn't mean they don't like you.

  • 6.) Don't be afraid to break the rules or assert yourself.

  • 7.) Don't take a bad deal just because it's a deal. Just like with dating, why buy the cow if you're getting the milk for free? Trust me, the publisher is thinking the same thing.

  • 8.) Writers are afraid to say what their strengths are. They worry that if they don't appear humble, they'll appear vain. Thing is, you've got to be good at something to do with writing, right? You wouldn't try to get published if you truly thought your work was crap. You'll need to have a core of strong confidence in this business or you'll get squashed like a bug. Find something about your work that inspires confidence in you and keep it close to your heart.

  • 9.) Reviews aren't that important. Great ones are awesome to get, but the bad ones won't kill you. I'm still learning this, but at least I'm now able to acknowledge that this is true.

  • 10.) Don't put too much effort into your title choices and don't get attached to your titles. In fact, it's probably best to just write "historical manuscript #3" or "paranormal vamp in space #2" in the header. Your editor is most likely going to make you change the title, whatever it is.

Happy New Year!!! *party* I hope 2006 is the year when some of your really big dreams come true. *hugs*