Thursday, April 27, 2006
Then he asked me how I’d nailed the Irish brogue so well. Had I, he wondered, recorded conversations during my trips to Ireland? Well, I hadn’t and his question surprised me because dialogue is one of those things I never really give a great deal of thought to. I just mostly write down the voices I’m hearing in my head. (Which is a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist and less emotionally exhausting than an exorcist. )
After I thought about it a bit, I remembered being sent to speech therapy in the second grade because no one in Southern Oregon ranching country could understand the West Irish brogue I’d picked up from my grandfather and mother. (Actually, my mother’s accent had a decided Brooklyn flair, which, when she got excited, made her even more incomprehensible.) I brought this up with my editor who said, “Well, that explains it, JoAnn. It’s your first language.” I’d never considered that before, but I thought then, and still believe, that she was right. It also may explain how, to this day, whenever I get really tired or irritated, my syntax suddenly turns Irish on me. You’ve no idea how many newly married arguments ended when I’d be trying to yell at my husband for something he’d done and he’d start laughing and say, “What the hell did you just say?”
I enjoy writing the Irish books because I know those people. They’re my family, and Brady, my heroine’s storyteller father in A WOMAN’S HEART is pretty much my own Granda McLaughlin, including the part about him kidnapping the woman he loved (my grandmother, with her permission) so her wealthier Irish family would be forced to let them get married. I feel as if I’ve come home whenever my plane lands at Shannon airport, so it’s a natural thing to place books there.
About eight years ago, we were about to buy a house in Dungarven, on the Southern coast of Ireland, when we discovered the government was actually serious about their six month pet quarantine. Since boarding my then ancient dog and equally ancient and very insane Siamese kitty wasn’t an option, the deal fell through, and looking for a new home, I landed here in East TN, which is the greenest place I could find in America. It reminds me a great deal of Ireland (except it has trees), which probably makes sense because the same mountains I receive inspiration from every day are, in fact, connected beneath the Atlantic to Ireland. It wasn’t until I moved to the South that I began to hear all the expressions I grew up with; family sayings that no one else I knew out west ever used. This is partly why, I suppose, I also feel equally comfortable putting books in the South.
So why is IMPULSE, my upcoming book, set in Wyoming? Well, because when Katrina hit the Gulf, I working on a book set in New Orleans featuring – oops – a killer hurricane, crooked cops, corrupt politicians, the mob, and a battle between good and bad voodoo. Not knowing at the time if the city would even be livable on the book’s May 23rd publication date, I came up with a new story set in Wyoming featuring a haunted hero, a hunted heroine, and a serial killer who thinks of himself as the “Man who was once the boy raised by wolves.” (For some dynamite Wyoming scenery, check out the killer video trailer at my website and be sure to turn up your sound to get the full chilling effect!) From a Southern hurricane to a Wyoming blizzard may seem like a bit of a leap, but having grown up in ranching country, I know Wyoming, and was able to make the shift.
But the one thing I’ve never been able to do is write about a place where I haven’t spent a great deal of time. Sure, the Internet offers myriad research opportunities, but I’ve always found that the people make a place. And given that my characters always come before my plots, I need to have a real handle on what makes them tick. And not just their day-to-day lives, but the entire history and backstory of their “people,” as we say down here.
I recently spent a week aboard an Authors at Sea cruise along the “Mexican Riviera” and listened to people planning stories they wanted to put in the cities – Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas – we visited. But while I enjoyed the opportunity to cruise with readers and writer pals, everything was too new to me, and our time too short, to even tempt my muses.
So, do y’all have a favorite setting for books? Ones where the stories and characters speak to something deep inside you and make you feel as if you’ve been transported there? Maybe even lived there in another life? Or are you more a reading gypsy, happy to go wherever a writer’s muse takes you, discovering new and exciting places?
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Despite the fact that I own--and have watched many times--both the A&E and BBC versions of Pride and Prejudice on DVD, it’s probably been close to 20 years since I actually read the book. I’d been considering reading it again (before I bought the new movie version on DVD), when I noticed that the local library was starting a reading group--and the first book to be read was Pride and Prejudice. Since I’d been looking for something that would get me away from my computer and around other people every so often, I signed up, dug out my copy of P&P and started reading.
Don’t ask me how, but I’d forgotten what a fantastic writer Jane Austen was. The DVDs are good, but there’s so much in the book that simply cannot make it into a film version. I soon found myself enmeshed in Lizzie Bennett’s’ world, loving every moment of it. It was hard to putting the book down, and I was sorry it was over when I’d finished reading it.
I can’t think of higher praise for a book than that!
The reading group discussion was fun, and it was interesting to hear what the others had to say about the book. I was surprised that several of them had never read Austen’s work--even more so that several didn’t finish because they couldn’t get into it (that shouldn’t have surprised me--I know everyone’s tastes are different--maybe my enthusiasm got in the way of my brain :-) ).
The one thing that stood out, however, was how many of us thought the book showed how little human nature has changed. IMO, that--along with Austen’s writing style and voice--helps explain why her work remains “readable" and relevant (anyone read Emma and watch the movie Clueless?).
What I got out of this experience, besides the pleasure of an enjoyable read and a lively book discussion, was that as a writer of historical romances I need to keep that in mind. Settings and situations may change, but human nature essentially remains the same. To keep a story set in the 12th century relevant to present-day readers, I need to show that my characters are real people with recognizable flaws and strengths--they just happen to live in a different time.
For me, that’s one of the neatest things about reading and writing.
I’ve been lax lately about reading classic romances as well as newly-published ones (let’s face it, there are a lot of good books coming out every week!), but that’s about to change. At the bookstore yesterday, along with Kerrelyn Sparks’ Vamps and the City and Gaelen Foley’s His Wicked Kiss, I picked up a copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Three yummy books to choose from . . . I’d better be good, maybe drag out my timer and sit myself down at the computer asap. Otherwise I won’t get anything done on my own work!
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
I've heard authors compare seeing their books published to giving birth to their children. I've never given birth, but I have had books published, and there do seem to be similarities to the process. Both involve growth and development that goes on inside, so that it's a very private, personal thing, and then with great effort and pain, your offspring enters the world. There's a lot of waiting and anxiety. Sometimes there are even cravings (I can't be the only person who craves certain snacks while writing on deadline). I guess the biggest difference between having a baby and having a book is that with a book you can usually see your own feet most of the time, unless you overdo it on the deadline snack cravings.
To stretch the metaphor to the breaking point, I think the day your book goes on sale must be what it's like to send your child off to school for the first time. You've done everything you can to prepare him, and now it's out of your hands. You hope he'll get a nice teacher who takes the effort to put him in a good seat where he can see the board and hear the teacher, maybe near some kids who will be a good influence on him. You hope the other kids will like him and be nice to him, and you hope he'll make friends. You hope he represents you well, reflecting well on what you taught him. Good grades and good conduct scores would be nice.
With a book, by the time it reaches the shelves, it's out of your hands. You've sweated over all those words, proof-read them, copy-edited them, checked and double-checked, but now you're sending it out into the world where it's out of your control. You hope the booksellers will be nice and put the book in a good spot where people will see it, near other books that may draw attention, but not so much attention that your book will be eclipsed. You hope readers like it and buy it, and you hope it will make friends out of them who want to come back for more. You hope it represents you well in the marketplace, and you hope it performs well, getting good enough sales that your publisher is pleased.
I get nervous before the release of each book, and I was surprised to find out that my editor feels the same way as each of the books she works on goes to market. She said that of course she thinks the books are good, because she chose them and she worked on them, but then there's some worry about what others will think. As Colleen said the other day, putting a book out does make you feel vulnerable. You're opening yourself to criticism, evaluation and judgment.
My latest baby is going out into the world today, so I hope it makes new friends and is loved and accepted. If you see it out there, please be kind!
Sunday, April 23, 2006
My response: "Oh yeah?"
Okay, not the most eloquent defense, and of course, all fiction has its elements of fantasy-unreality, but that lack of realism accusation seems to target one of the inherent romance reader expectations: the happy ending.
Happy endings aren't real? Baloney.
Today is the thirtieth anniversary of my wedding. Yep, I have been married to the same man for thirty years. Since we were both twenty-one. (Our birthdays are so close together, we don't even have separate ones any more. One week doesn't make much of a difference.) He's lost a whole headful of hair. Mine's gone from almost black to a lovely shade of pewter (or maybe silver). But he's still my middle-aged knight in shining armor. (Well, it might need a little armor polish these days--it's seen a lot of use...)
Not all romance writers get a happy ending, but many of us do. Some of us have to try more than once. I lucked out with my guy--but then, as I've told my children, the very best relationships are with those you're friends with first, then realize there's an extra spark. One reason why I love those "best friend" romances so much.
I personally think that a person is more likely to find a happy ending if they believe those happy endings are possible. If you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop, isn't it going to happen, sooner or later? Romances are about that belief, that possibility, that love is out there, and that it can last forever. Or at least for as long as we've got.
My fella is good at the romantic stuff, and he's the kind of guy who says "Gail, if you like both dresses, you should buy both dresses," but the real reason I love him so much... Years ago, before I ever sold a book, I was sitting at the dining table writing, and he asked what I was working on. I told him it was a new story. He said, "Oh good. I'd noticed you hadn't been writing for a couple of months, and I was starting to worry about you."
I'm hanging onto this guy for another thirty years. And then some.
Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re naked in public? It’s a common enough theme, and you don’t have to be Freud to figure out it’s all about the fear of exposure – of having people see the real you that lurks beneath the social masks we wear.
In some ways, novelists live that nightmare every day. Our books contain the blueprints of our real passions, recurring themes acted out by characters we’ve spent months or years animating with our efforts. Often, these characters say things or do things we never would (at least in public) – things that would horrify our families, coworkers, and old Sunday school teachers. To effectively write the book, we must push this out of mind and “channel” the characters without fear of the reaction of others.
In my case, this “amnesia” usually lasts all the way up until the book’s release. My debut effort was the hardest. About two days before the novel (a historical romance with one of the old-fashioned “bodice-ripper” covers) came out, I became convinced that I was going to end up in stocks in the public square, fired from my teaching job (even though I wrote under a pseudonym at the time, a newspaper article came out two days before the release and “outted” me), or worst of all, laughed at for something I cared about so much, it made my heart ache.
As it turned out, most people were genuinely thrilled for me. Publishing a first novel is a remarkable achievement, one widely celebrated and supported. This support – and the wonderful advent of fan mail - counterbalanced the few remarks that made it to my ears, including surprise that I could have written the book’s love scenes (a lot of people have the curious idea that teachers are asexual), a few armchair critics, etc. But nobody led me to the stocks, and my job remained secure until I chose to leave the classroom to devote more time to writing.
Next week, I celebrate the release of my tenth book, The Deadliest Denial, and there’s no use playing it cool and pretending. I’ll admit it here. While writing it, I held not one thing back. I poured heart and soul into this story of love and loyalty stretched to its limits – and toward it, I feel the fierce, protective passion a new mother feels for what poet Anne Bradstreet once called “thou ill-formed child of my feeble brain.”
Next week, we’re stepping forward, this child and I, together. Naked in public, and exposed.
But I like to think that in honor of this tenth outing, we’ll both be holding our heads high.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Lord grant me patience...
And hurry up!
That’s me— impatient and wishing I weren’t, but unable to change. Naturally, I chose to be a novelist, a career that requires infinite patience! But oddly enough, it suits me well. Lately I’ve been mulling this over. How can someone who wants everything yesterday be not only content, but passionately happy as a writer? I have come to realize that I am not impatient about all things. I can wait for and work steadily toward those things that really matter to me. (I’m not talking health stuff here. When someone I love needs immediate medical attention, I get pushy and very impatient. Grrr.)
But writing? For that I am willing, even eager, to roll up my sleeves, plant my behind in the chair, and do what it takes, often spending months to flesh out a story. That said, I wouldn’t be honest unless I admitted that impatience usually does strike within the first three chapters, when I am unsure of my characters and the direction of the story. (The synopsis can help, but not always). Then I yearn to jump to where I think my characters ought to be. But my books are character-driven, so skipping ahead doesn’t work. For a few days and sometimes up to a full week, I find myself unable to move forward at all. That’s when I mentally stamp my foot (the perfect picture of impatience), pull out my hair and bemoan my lack of progress. During this unpleasant time my family tiptoes around me, but we’ve been through this before, and they know the bad mood will pass. Sometime during this “dark” period I remind myself to take baby steps. That is the way a story unfolds, slowly, one sentence, one paragraph, one scene at a time. When I finally remember that (why I keep forgetting is beyond me!), the impatience fades, my mood improves, and I can proceed.
Anybody else out there impatient? If so, whether you’re a writer, a reader or both, how do you curb that impatience when writing or reading a book?
Thursday, April 20, 2006
For example, the setting requires research, maybe a visit. I have to acquaint myself with the geography, the scenery and the architecture--sometimes the colloquialisms and accent. Even when I choose a familiar setting, such as Maine, where I live, I have questions during the process of writing the book.
Recently, I’ve moved my stories onto a larger stage. In Breaking All the Rules, the hero and heroine go from Washington to New York City to a private Caribbean island. I had a lot of fun with creating the proper mood and details to make those places come alive. My August release, Deadly Memories, takes place in Italy, a country I haven't visited in many years. To research that setting, I sampled Italian wine and food (yum!), borrowed guide books and maps from my sister-in-law, and read books set in Italy. If you haven't read the mystery author Donna Leon, do pick up her books. Her detective is a Venice commissario, or police investigator. Not only are the mysteries intriguing, but you are immersed in Venetian culture and ambience.
I keep folders for the various topics needed for a given book, not just for the settings. Breaking All the Rules required folders on New York City, arms dealing, stolen uranium, luxury yachts, Caribbean plants and geology, and high-tech surveillance devices. For Deadly Memories I needed information on amnesia, the Italian language and slang, weapons-grade uranium, Etruscan tombs, and of course food and wine.
The Internet has made researching anything so easy that it's tempting not to do first-hand fact finding, like interviews and on-site visits. But there's nothing like being there to acquaint yourself with a place and people. In my next project, my museum-director heroine and adventurer hero must return a cursed Mayan figure to its temple in Central America. I've always been fascinated with the Maya, so it seemed logical to take a trip. My husband and I visited the Riviera Maya, with guided tours to two ancient ruin sites, Chichen Itzá and Cobá, as well as to a primitive village in the jungle of the Yucatan. Websites and books couldn't have given me the smells, sounds, and tastes of the region, nor the acquaintance of the smiling, friendly Mayan people. Think I was jazzed to write that book when I return? You bet!
Research is necessary for authenticity, but can be a trap. A writer must be careful not to make the book a dump for all she’s learned. The story is the characters and the plot, not the research. But you’d be amazed at the trivia I’ve accumulated!
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
These are my second set of copy edits for a print book, and I am trying to devise "the system" for doing them. So far I've discovered I really didn't keep good enough notes while I write the book in the first place. Some of those nit-picky points about world-building--well, they're in my head, and in the manuscript (somewhere) but are they in a nice, orderly place I can find them? No.
Last month I blogged a bit about devising a system to create a book--a big work in progress for me. I'm not good with systems. Stephanie's post about tax time made me smile--I wish I had my receipts in a box. Mine are scattered on the floor of the spare bedroom. They were "neatly organized" before I stepped on a pile and went skidding across the floor. Next year I might move up to the box!
As for the copy edits, I am trying to be systematic. I make my change on a post-it. Think about it. Then change on computer. Then print that out. Think about it more. Then finally, when I get the courage, I pick up the eraser or the red pencil and actually commit to the change. I still find it scary to think this big, momentous 'last chance to change' has to happen so fast. On the other hand, it cuts down on the navel-gazing.
Well, back to edits. And if anyone has some great tips, I love to hear them!
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Dorchester is buying the romantic suspense with a release date sometime in late 2007. The book originally came to life as her very first writing attempt--a 50,000 word romance that spanned 35 years. It went through a decade of major revisions and three title changes but she loved the characters and story and kept coming back to them until, as Lois says, "I finally got it right."
Monday, April 17, 2006
Today is Tax Day in the United States. Millions of Americans filled out their tax forms (or extensions of time to file) and headed for the post office to make sure their envelope was postmarked and avoid getting in trouble with Uncle Sam's treasury department, aka the Internal Revenue Service.
For me, it meant handing off the last of the returns I prepared for clients, and a couple of trips to the post office to mail extensions for my procrastinators. Now, I'm at my computer, dying to dig into the book that's been lurking about on the edge of my conscience all these weeks - and I'm frozen. My mind is still buried deep in depreciation schedules and partnership K-1s.
Then I remembered that the 18th is my day to blog at 2BRead! I'm a bit early out of the gate, but I thought this was a perfect way to get back in the groove of writing something other than numbers. Y'all forgive me if I lapse into a diatribe about effective tax rates or IRA rollovers....
Actually, I thought it might be amusing to relate a few of my observations from my many hours of toil and trouble during this Tax Season. Calm down - I culled the icky stories and went for funny. I hope.
First off, we have the Very Frugal Client. Okay, she's tighter than the bark on a tree. Also unashamed. Her list of charitable contributions came to $2.00. That's a two, with a decimal after it. Two dollars. Dos bucks. Two donuts. Not kidding. She sends a check for 50 cents to a children's hospital, Hospice, and a couple of other charities, in memory of someone who's passed on. The charity mails the grieving family a note that a contribution has been made for their loved one by *fill in the blank* and they send her a thank you note for her generosity. I'm not making this up. After my initial shock, I died laughing. That, my friends, is someone who can squeeze a penny until it begs for mercy.
One client received dividends from France and the paperwork was all in French. He wrote across the top, "You can convert this to dollars, wee?" Dude definitely needs to stick to English.
Then there's the client who wanted to know if he can write off racing pigeons. Evidently, pigeon racing is about to be hot. Who knew?
In the alternate reality we CPAs call Hell in a Shoebox, I had one client who included in the huge wad o' paper inside the box - are you ready for this? - receipts for porn flick rentals. I wasn't sure if he intended for me to write them off, but no way was I gonna call and ask. Can you imagine that conversation? "Good afternoon, Mr. Hell in a Shoebox Client. I've gone through your receipts and wondered about a few of them. Was there a legitimate business reason for renting Big Breasts in Baltimore?" I'll also add that delivering this man's tax return and handing back his Shoebox from Hell was very awkward.
I know we CPAs suffer from the stereotype of boring nerds with pocket protectors, anal retentive types who get turned on when anybody brings up things like amortization, or alternative minimum tax, but I'm here to bust the myth wide open. We're actually a lot of fun, the life of the party, interesting, mysterious and charming. And that's just when we're at the IRS. You should see us at CPA conferences. Whoo damn, we can party like it's 1999. And on the last day of tax season, Katy bar the door, because we are hot, hot, hot!
Take me, for instance. I'm sitting here in my jammies, drinking a Diet Coke, bleary eyed and filled with anxiety about all the returns I had to extend, the book deadline, the book in my head, and whether or not I missed a hair appointment. Yeah, baby - I'm so hot, I need antifreeze.
But don't let the scenario fool you. Inside, there's a party girl waiting to get out, catch a pigeon race, and head for the all night video store. Wonder if Big Breasts in Baltimore is in?
Friday, April 14, 2006
Various writers' groups have come out swinging against Google Book Search. The general idea of Google Book Search is to give potential readers the opportunity to search through books for specific terms and view those instances in context. The primary issue the writers' groups -- and some publishing houses -- seem to be up in arms about is the "unauthorized copying" of copyrighted texts. Meanwhile, some major universities and some publishing houses have given Google permission to scan their texts, which is a major boon for researchers and scholars.
Some writers' groups have extrapolated beyond this immediate issue and sound almost alarmist in their language. A recent article in the Romance Writers of America Romance Writers Report outlines one of the arguments given by Paul Aiken of Authors Guild in testimony before a subcommittee on COmmerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, then concludes with the tantalizing question: "Who is going to buy a book if they can get it for free off the Internet?"
Having spend a decade in the technology industry and knowing how easy it is for a new technology to be either misunderstood or misrepresented, I decided to go see what was going on with Google Book Search. I spent a morning searching various terms (of course, I had to check on terms I knew were used in my own book published last March, just for grins) and decided the ultimate test would be to search on the term "romance." When Julie Beard's excellent The Complete Idiot's Guide to Romance Writing appeared as one of the books I could "browse," I clicked it. I have that book, and know that the word "romance" appears on almost every page. Would I be able to read or print or download vast numbers of pages?
Ah... no. I wasn't.
Here's what I found:
- I could view an entire page where the term "romance" appeared, but only because the publisher had given Google permission to display an entire page. (Other books allowed only a "snippet" of three lines to be displayed, because the publisher had not given Google permission to display the entire page. This is explained in the help files.)
- Even when viewing an entire page, I couldn't print the book page. I could print everything around the place where the copyrighted text was, but the copyrighted text itself was not printed.
- While there were over 200 instances of the word "romance" in Julie Beard's book, I was allowed to view only a few of them before Google told me, in an oblique way, that I'd seen enough.
But since that didn't happen, let's talk. What do you think about Google Book Search? Is it a useful tool for readers or a threat to writers' livelihoods?
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
The creative process is a strange one, and it never happens in quite the same way for me. I've been struggling with the first chapters of my first druid vampire book in the world I've developed. I don't know -- maybe I was thinking too hard about it because last night I developed a horrible headache.
I took ibuprophen and ended up going to bed at 9:00. But even in bed, my mind wouldn't settle down and I kept thinking about my plot and whirling it around my fantasy elements though my head was throbbing. I got hot flashes, kept throwing off the covers, flopping around in bed, putting my pillow over my head in an attempt to try to ease the pain behind my eyes, then getting cold and cuddling next to my husband, only to complain that he was making me sweat and pushing him away. I was driving him nuts -- as well as myself!
Finally, I fell to sleep. And when I woke up, my headache was gone and I felt so refreshed. What's more, I knew what was wrong with my plot, and knew exactly how I was going to approach the story! So I've been writing like mad today, fixing my world and writing down the outline to my story -- and I'm very excited.
Also, I've been searching the 'Net, trying to find a good English to Celt Dictionary. I finally found an Online Etymology Dictionary that explains the origin of English words, which I absolutely love. And I've found quite a few Celt and Anglo-Saxon words in it. Still, it's time consuming weeding through all the Latin and other origins I don't want. But I might have to fall back on some Latin roots. I want to "flavor" the book throughout by having my druids say some Celt words.
When I'm done, I'll probably set up a page on my official website with all the terminology and roots in case anyone is interested, at gloriaharchar.com.
That's the report from the salt mines!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
On Saturday, I ran my first 5K (3.1 miles) race ever--in the rain! I don't love to run; I do it strictly for exercise and the race was really just a way to trick myself into pushing my middle-aged body a bit harder. My goal was simple: to run the whole way, hills included (no walking allowed, no matter how much my muscles and lungs complained). And I wanted, just once, to feel the famous "runner's high".
So how'd I do? Well, I did indeed run the whole way and I finished four minutes faster than my best training time. I crossed the finish line to the loud cheers of my husband and friends, who I think were amazed that I really did it. Then I went home, took a hot shower, and fell asleep on the couch. No adrenalin or endorphin or whatever it's supposed to be rush. No high of any kind. Just a strong sense of relief that I could take a vacation from the tyranny of the treadmill for a week, the reward I'd promised myself.
I couldn't help contrasting that with writing. Yes, there are times I long to escape the equally tyrannical word processor, days when I feel I'm dragging every word out of my brain with a blunt pair of pliers. Then there are other miraculous days when I sit down at my keyboard and look up fifteen frenzied pages later to discover it's time to pick up the children from school. I'm smiling for the rest of the day.
Even greater is the high when I type those two wonderful little words: The End. Of course I delete them before I send the manuscript to my agent or editor but I wouldn't miss keying in those six letters for all the ink in New York City. Last week, I finished the first draft of my romantic suspense novel and the sense of accomplishment was beyond description. I completely embarassed my sixteen-year-old daughter (always fun to do) by dancing down the sidewalk on our way to the orthodontist's office. My joy was just too great to contain in my body; I had to express it outwardly.
Now I'm revising the manscript and that too gives me a rush. There are plenty of things that need fixing but there is also the thrill of reading a line of dialogue or a descriptive phrase so good that I can't believe I wrote it.
I guess some of us are born to run, and some of us are born to write.
What gives you your greatest "high"?
Monday, April 10, 2006
Remember your first baby--you read every how-to book, bought only the best organic baby food, scheduled thousands of brain stimulating activities? Then number two comes along and what? T.V and Cheetos?
Well, I'm not expecting any more children, but my second book is due to appear any time now. And, I have to admit, as much as I love this book, it won't make its appearance with quite the same splash (on my part) as the first one.
Number one I bought ads in R.T. and at a number of online review sites. I sent out tons of home-made ARCS, had bookmarks printed up, mailed press releases, and in general announced it to anyone too slow to escape me. But book two? No bookmarks. No ads paid for by me. (well a tiny $8 spot in a group thing I do.) No press releases. And a lot fewer ARCS.
What's the deal? Do I love this book less?
The answer is no--in fact I believe this book is a lot stronger than the first one, but over the past year, I've realized something that a lot of veterans could have told me easily (if I would have listened). Getting readers is complicated. A lot of the appeal of a new author and her books can be completely out of the control of the author--things like the cover, title, and back cover copy. And the big promo opps are frequently reserved for publisher dollars (either literally or just too much $$ for one author to spend)--store placement, special display units, enough advertising behind a book to get buzz.
And, let's face it--none of that matters if the book itself doesn't strike a chord with readers. So, what's an author to do? Yeah, you guessed it, write the best book you can, then if you are feeling promo-oriented, get copies of it in the hands of some key readers. (book store employees who hand sell for example, or readers who will talk it up) Then sit your behind down, limber up your fingers, and start writing the next one--Maybe it will be the one to make it big. ;-)
Sunday, April 09, 2006
I was fully inducted into the concept of dreamstorming by Robert Olen Butler at the conference I went to ten days ago in New Orleans. The idea is to dip deep into the unconcious mind, without censoring, allowing scenes and snippets of the story to come to you as they will (in order or not). You capture these scenes with single lines (on 3x5 cards is Butler's preferred way). Butler dreamstorms for months before he begins to write. I don't have that luxury of time--my agent wants my new book idea ASAP.
I've done a little dreamstorming in the few days I was home between conferences, and I felt was I was going places that I might not have gone in the story if I were to be so focused on getting from beginning to end, as I usually am when I create my skeletal plot synopses. But on five hour drive home from the conference I attended this weekend, I dared to turn off the radio and dreamstorm the whole trip. Wow!
All I can say is, I was lucky to be traveling the interstate early on Sunday, when it wasn't busy, because I was a little surprised when the familiar landmarks of home appeared so soon :-).
The downside to dreamstorming while driving is there is not recording on the 3x5 cards. But I can do that tonight. After I shop for the family. And take some Airborne to help me get rid of this stubborn spring cold!
Friday, April 07, 2006
Recently, one of the local newspapers, The Missoula Independent, did a feature article about my fledgling career as a romance author. This was an interesting experience for me. Like most authors, I'm used to working in quiet anonimity. My friends know that I write romance novels, but when I'm walking down the street, the average person has no idea what I do.
That changed a bit last week. The Independent is a weekly, so for an entire week--the headline Write 'em Cowgirl appeared all over town, on top of a hunky, bare-chested cowboy reading a book. It was exciting and a little (okay a lot) weird.
Doing the interview was also a new experience for me. I've done a lot of online interviews where they send me questions and I can take my time writing answers. This was different. I sat in the conference room with the reporter--who had done his research on the romance industry, had read my books and studied my website--while he tossed questions at me ranging from my interest in Girl Scouts to why the sex in my stories is so explicit.
Writing fiction is a very personal thing, so answering questions about writing means that you are revealing a lot about yourself. I tried to be honest and open. I also tried not to say anything that would be completely mortifying to my teenage daughters who also live in this town. Did I pull it off? I don't know. You can read the article and see for yourself.
It's funny in a way that this should seem so awkward to me because I reveal much more about myself every day when I write my fiction. Of course, I get to wear the mask of my various characters, but good fiction requires the author to put her emotions out there for the world to see. If you hold back, the story suffers. The mask, the props and the setting all work to keep the author hidden--like the Wizard of Oz shouting, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." I think the article reveals a very ordinary woman, leading a quiet life behind the curtain so that her characters can come to life on the stage.
Ann Macela, THE OLDEST KIND OF MAGIC, Best First Book
Kelley St. John, GOOD GIRLS DON'T, Long Contemporary
Heidi Betts, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO DOWN, Short Contemporary
Susan Squires, THE HUNGER, Paranormal
Shane Bolks, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY MEN I'VE DATED, Chick Lit
Thursday, April 06, 2006
I'm sitting here looking at the clutter already invading the top of my new desk, trying not to think about all the things I have to do. Revisions on The Eternal Rose arrived last week, and while I have until my editor comes back from maternity leave to finish them (knock on wood that she comes back!), I hate having them sit around that long. I also have suggestions from my agent for revising the option book, and since they're good suggestions, I imagine I'll be getting to those fairly soon. And then there's all the stuff I need to do in my "real" life.
Somehow, everything has piled in at once. Not only do I still have (Um, wait, counting) about 7 books yet to read by the end of next week for the various published contests I agreed to judge (I read 14 books for the Rita. These are other contests.), I have a lot of other stuff going on.
There's a luncheon for the local "Art" club Friday and it's my turn to help host--vegetable slicing and decorating later this afternoon. Then when that's over, I get to help decorate for a wedding shower that I'm helping to host for the daughter of a dear friend. Fortunately, I was nominated to pick up the gift, so that's done. I don't have to provide any of the food or decor. The shower is Saturday morning, then I have to cook for all the college students we're having over for Sunday dinner. Oh, and there's a "quilt block of the month" class I'd like to squeeze in before the shower, with the block yet to be sewn up. And the lady who cleans my house was sick this week.
I've gotten fairly good about saying "no." Especially since the last son toddled off to college this year, but somehow, stuff still stacks up. And I know people work full time jobs and do all this stuff, but I've never been very good at keeping up with things. Adding writing in just makes me crazier. And it keeps me sane.
I suppose I'm blogging about all this--well, to whine. And to show that writers live the same, crazy, hectic sorts of lives as the rest of the universe. And because I could think of absolutely nothing else to blog about. Go read The Barbed Rose. It's a lot more interesting. :)
Kelley St. John, GOOD GIRLS DON'T
Roxanne St. Clair, KILLER CURVES, in the Romantic Suspense category
Roxanne St. Clair, WHEN THE EARTH MOVES, in the Short Contemporary category
Kerrilyn Sparks, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE VAMPIRE, in the Paranormal category.
Cheryl Bolen, ONE GOLDEN RING, in the Short Historical category
Jackie Kramer, WARRIOR'S HEART, in the Short Contemporary category
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
I enjoy a lot of different types of romances, but I confess I particularly like it when the author lets me know that hero and heroine are soul mates. Maybe it's because I'm a diehard romantic who believes that there's someone out there that we resonate with more closely than we do with anyone else. Or maybe it has to do with the idea of belonging to someone in a special way. I'm not really certain of the whys, I just know I love reading those types of stories.
In the last year or so, though, I've been seeing readers on bulletin boards and blogs commenting in a negative way about the idea of soul mates in romance fiction. The reason seems to be universal--they feel the author is taking a shortcut because there's no building of the relationship.
Recently, I wrote my own version of a soul mate romance--Through a Crimson Veil--and saw comments about how I didn't "cheat." And the people who said that seemed surprised, which surprised me.
My take on soul mates isn't that the hero and heroine catch one glimpse of each other and fall instantly in love. It doesn't matter if they've loved this other soul in life after life, when they meet in this life neither the hero nor the heroine are a blank slate. They've lived, they've had childhoods and survived adolescence and young adulthood, that means they have baggage just like every other human being. It means they're going to share the same fear of falling in love that almost every other human being has. That this other person is a soul mate doesn't mitigate how scary it can be to feel something as deep as love.
Being soul mates is also no guarantee that a couple will choose to be together. Being half of a pair of soul mates doesn't negate free will. Of course, since this is romance we're writing, there will be a happy ending, but because I believe in torturing my characters, they're not necessarily going to reach it easily. :-)
In Crimson Veil, I even used the heroine's anticipation of instant rapport as a plot point. Mika knows Conor is her soul mate before they meet, so she expects him to realize immediately that she's The One even if he doesn't understand why. She quickly learns, however, that she's going to have to get to know him, and they're both going to have overcome their pasts if they want a future. No easy task because their respective lives have left them very different from each other in their views and their behavior.
Soul mates are probably a big enough topic for one blog posting, but I'm going to bring reincarnation into it too since, for me at least, they are permanently linked.
I love reincarnation romance, but it's so seldom handled well. Sometimes I wonder what kind of research the author has done because so little of it matches anything I've read on the topic, and believe me, I've read a lot! But when it's done well, the story becomes extra special. Linda Howard's "Lake of Dreams" in the Everlasting anthology might be the best reincarnation romance ever. IMO, of course.
Since the hero and heroine usually have had at least one past life together, this fits in with the soul mate idea, but the extra component I like is that not only are the hero and heroine dealing with their baggage from this life, in reincarnation romance they're also dealing with something from a past life as well.
In "Lake of Dreams," the heroine has seen how she's died in many lives, and from what she's dreamed, it always seems to be at the hero's hands. Now she's met him again, she's fallen for him, and she's trying to beat what seems to be the fated conclusion of their incarnations. The suspense is whether or not she'll be successful and they'll have their happy ending in this life at last. If you haven't read this novella, I highly recommend it. Along with being a fabulous reincarnation romance, I also believe it might be the best anthology story ever. That short format is tough!
Do I need to mention that I've always wanted to write a reincarnation romance? :-) I did it too and I used this past life to cause conflict between my hero and heroine. If Mika and Conor thought being soul mates was difficult, they got off easy compared to Kendall and Wyatt. :-) In Eternal Nights not only are the hero and heroine dealing with Kendall's baggage from a nomadic childhood where she was forced to be the adult instead of her mother, but they're also dealing with things held over from a past life. Wyatt remembers this life, but Kendall doesn't know why she's attracted to the temple or why Wyatt hates that damn pyramid. And as the story progresses, this thread becomes a bigger issue.
Are the leftovers from their past life the main conflict? No, there's plenty of this life issues to play that role, but it's a nice secondary conflict and one I like to think adds to what they're already dealing with.
Reincarnation and soul mates can make for a very compelling theme in any romance story, but writers need to do their research. Check out the New Age section at the bookstore or check out the metaphysical section at the library and read a few books on the subject if you want to use this idea. It's interesting reading and might just spark some unexpected plot threads. And if you do use it, don't forget your characters still need to work for their happy ending. Readers shouldn't feel as if they missed the "good stuff."
So no shortcuts, no love at first sight. To quote Wyatt, "more like intrigued at first sight."
Eternal Nights - August 2006
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
To be honest, there were times when I thought I’d never see this day. I wrote for ten years before I made a sale. Throughout those ten years, I had lots of positive feedback, won contests, landed an agent, but was never offered a contract, even when editors told me to my face how much they loved my books. I’m probably about to show my age here, but remember the character in Li’l Abner, the one with the black cloud that constantly hung over his head? That was me. Especially when I’d receive rejection letters that praised my writing, my story, my characters, etc. but would end with, “...but ultimately I didn’t fall in love with the book, and for that reason, I must pass on it.” Honestly, my agent never asked any of these editors to MARRY my books, just buy them!
But now I can walk into Borders or Barnes & Noble or many other bookstores, stand in front of a shelf of books, and see MY book. MY baby with its bright pink cover and dancing title, its heart-shaped Manhattan skyline snow globe, its wonderful author quote from Melissa Senate, and MY NAME in big, bold letters. And after a decade-long gestation period, the feeling is numbing, humbling, and surreal. To be honest, I still can’t believe it. I have proof -- a signed contract, a cashed advance check, author copies that arrived at my door a few weeks ago, TALK GERTIE TO ME on bookstore shelves. And it still feels like I’m standing on the outside, watching all of this happen to someone else. Or like it’s all a dream that I’ll wake up from at any moment.
I don’t know if other authors have ever felt this way. I’ve never heard anyone speak to this issue. Maybe I’m just weird. What I do know, though, is that I’ve become a poster person (I think it would be stretching it a bit to say poster ‘child’) for many as yet unpublished authors. There are some authors who write a book, secure an agent, and get offered a mega-bucks contract all within the course of a few months. Then there are the rest of us, the majority of us. If after ten years, I can walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves, the same can happen for many others. So the moral of my story, albeit trite, is DON’T EVER GIVE UP!
The Flight Doctor's Lifeline by Laura Iding, Short Contemporary category
Marital Privilege by Ann Voss Peterson, Romanctic Suspense category
When The Lights Go Down by Heidi Betts, Short Contemporary category
Through a Crimson Veil by Patti O'Shea, Paranormal category
Blaze by JoAnn Ross, Romantic Suspense category
Unknown title (to me) by Victoria Alexander
Monday, April 03, 2006
Best First Book Finalists
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Men I've Dated by Shane Bolks (0060773103) Avon Books
A Texas State of Mind by Ann Defee (0-373-75080-3) Harlequin Books
Show Her The Money by Stephanie Feagan (0373513542) Silhouette Books
Worth Every Risk by Dianna Love Snell (0-373-27426-2) Silhouette Books
Long Contemporary Romance Finalists
The Father Factor by Lilian Darcy (0-373-24090-x) Silhouette Books
A Texas State of Mind by Ann Defee (0-373-75080-3) Harlequin Books
Worth Every Risk by Dianna Love Snell (0-373-27426-2) Silhouette Books
Best Novella Finalists
“The Naked Truth about Guys” in The Naked Truth by Alesia Holliday (0-425-206149) Berkley Books
Best Regency Romance Finalists
A Reputable Rake by Diane Gaston (0263843912) Harlequin Mills & Boon Limited
Best Short Contemporary Romance Finalists
The Rich Stranger by Bronwyn Jameson (0373766807) Silhouette Books
The Rugged Loner by Bronwyn Jameson (0373766661) Silhouette Books
The Ruthless Groom by Bronwyn Jameson (0373766912) Silhouette Books
Best Short Historical Romance Finalists
When We Meet Again by Victoria Alexander (0060593199) Avon Books
The King's Mistress by Terri Brisbin (0373293356) Harlequin Books
Best Traditional Romance Finalists
Smart Boys & Fast Girls by Stephie Davis (843953985) Dorchester Publishing - Kate Seaver, editor
Who Needs Boys? by Stephie Davis (843953977) Dorchester Publishing
Sunday, April 02, 2006
But the cover flats for my May Silhouette Desire, MR. AND MISTRESS, just arrived, & while I was oohing & aahing over them, I couldn't help thinking, "Wow, I've gotten some really good covers lately. Thank goodness!" Which only prompted me to remember a time when I got a very "not good" cover & had no choice but to make the best of it.
I think that every author, at some point in her/his career, is going to get a lousy cover. Some are worse than others. Some are a little sweeter in the "lemon" department, making it somewhat easier to make lemonade. My personal "bad cover" was on my second historical for Leisure Books, A PROMISE OF ROSES. It was a good book, darn it--it deserved better. :-p
But, alas, it didn't just get a bad cover...it got a recycled cover.
That's right. The artwork that appeared on my July 2000 release had already appeared before on another historical romance ten years earlier. I knew it the minute I saw it. I knew which book, by which author. I had read that book. (In case you're wondering, it was Sue Rich's Rawhide & Roses from Pocket Books.) Except for the hair colors being the opposite of what they should have been (in the book, he had blond hair, she had black), the picture did suit my story, but that one small consolation didn't keep me from being crushed by the fact that I'd gotten a re-used cover on only my second published work. (Chances are, it would have bothered me at any point in my career, but it was a more bitter pill to swallow that early on.)
So what can authors do when they get a bad cover for a book they love? Well, they can't get it fixed, that's for sure. In most cases, by the time authors see their artwork, it's too late to change anything. But when Suzanne Brockmann got a chubby hero in dress whites on the cover of her "Tall, Dark, & Dangerous" Navy SEAL book, Get Lucky, she turned her lemon into lemonade by passing out smiley face stickers. At signings, she stuck them over the pudgy face of her "Pillsbury Doughboy" hero, & even mailed them to readers so they could do the same to any copies they spotted in local stores. When another author got a cover that reminded her a little too much of a bottle of Pepto Bismol, she started promoting it with the tag line, "Think Pink!" And when I got stuck with my pretty but recycled cover, I held a contest on my website to give away copies of both titles that had been gifted with that artwork--mine & Sue Rich's.
What else can good authors who get stuck with bad covers do? It's one more thing in this life that we can't control and shouldn't let ourselves lose too much sleep over. Yes, a bad cover can affect sales. But so can titles, distribution, the weather, the economy, etc., etc., etc.
I have been very lucky to have gotten really good covers for the majority of my books. And I celebrate each & every one, because you never know when that next clunker will arrive...when you'll be forced to buy stock in smiley face stickers, or create a new ad slogan, or go up to another author at a conference & introduce yourself as, "The other author who got your same cover." LOL
Oh, & just so you know, even good covers can prompt some fun word-of-mouth. Readers have dubbed my latest (pictured above), "Here, honey. Hold my purse while I fix my hair." :-D
P.S. As a special treat, I'll send autographed cover flats of the gorgeous (if I do say so myself :-)) artwork for MR. AND MISTRESS to the first 5 readers who send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject header "2 B Read giveaway." Good luck!
And remember...please don't judge a book by its cover! :-D
MR. AND MISTRESS, Silhouette Desire #1723 -- coming May 2006!
Saturday, April 01, 2006
The same thing happens every time I start to write a new book. At the beginning, I’m creating a masterpiece. I love my characters. Their journey beckons to me, intrigues me. And I know I’m going to get it “right” this time -- it will be so emotional, so sexy, so riveting. But then reality sets in and I can’t seem to match my meager skills to the perfection I see in my mind.
Which leads to my great obsession: revising. I’m addicted to revising. I have to confess that I love it -- tinkering with words, rewriting sentences over and over... trying to get that vision in my head onto the blasted page. Revising is the fun part of writing for me. Getting that first draft down on the page is torture, work. But once those words are there, no matter pathetic they sound, I can start to play. And I can’t seem to stop (compulsion alert!). Even when the book comes out, I find myself leafing through the pages, finding words I want to change.
So -- honesty time. Am I just helplessly neurotic, or is this striving for perfection a good thing? Does it mean I’m growing as a writer? Should my husband start padding that cell or can anyone out there relate?
And while I’m waiting for your answer, I’m going to check out those flower pots again. Or maybe I’ll cruise past the nursery and see if they’ve set out their plants. Because I’m going to have the most amazing deck this year...