Friday, June 30, 2006
As I write this, I have three and a half weeks to deadline. For the last week, I’ve been casting about for an ending for More Midnight Confessions, a sequel to (big surprise here) Midnight Confessions.
I know some writers start with the ending, but not me. I wouldn’t recognize an ending ahead of time if it hit me broadside. Never see them coming. I *think* I see themes. But that's another blog.
At two weeks to deadline, I get fabulous news: an invitation from my editor to join an anthology titled BUILT slated for August 07. That'll give me a single title out in March, the sequel (said ending-less book) and a novella in August. Cause to celebrate!
My contracts arrive (for another anthology...all mine this time) I have to stop looking for an ending so I can go through them word for word. Forgive me for being excited about this, but it's still thrilling to see my name on a publishing contract.
So with two weeks to deadline, I've had some of the most exciting things that can happen to writer, happen to me.
Did I mention another neat way to avoid looking for an ending is to promo my July release, PURE SEX? So, add another exciting thing to my list.
I take a stab at writing through to the end...fizzles out like day old ginger ale.
My agent says there's another editor at a different house interested in getting a submission. (I obviously haven't had enough distraction...the muse had to toss in some more)
One week to deadline now and my July release is shipping! My author copies arrive, my Amazon order shows up, I'm collecting some nice reviews. Yippee...happy dancing all over my house!
I decide a smart writer would begin the boring work of taking out the space wasters like simply, realize, know, began to...my list has now grown to 27 of these suckers. That's 27 search & replace actions. Another fab way to avoid finding the elusive ending.
Six days to deadline. I wake after an oddly restful sleep, full of verve & energy. I have my ending, it wafted through my cramped brain while I slept. I fly to my office. I write, clear in my direction, knowing what I want to happen.
By Tuesday I type THE END. I'm crying because the last scene is the most perfect ending I've ever written. Elements from the very beginning of the first book have been woven into the last scene. Full circle and all that. We wave a fond farewell to our hero and heroine, leaving them well and happy with a wonderful future ahead of them.
And suddenly I know why I write. It's this feeling of lightness, of knowing I fried myself emotionally and creatively to get to this point.
Three weeks of exciting and wonderful things have happened. All the things that make a writer want to whoop with joy.
But it was finding that perfect ending that made me cry. None of the other wonderful things had given me a tenth of the pleasure that ending did. There are more joyful things than offers, contracts, reviews and release dates.
One of them is the perfect ending.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Early in May, the doctors at M. D. Anderson Cancer Hospital here in Houston, gave her the bad news that there was nothing more they could do for her. She was released from the hospital with a tube in her stomach and went on hospice care at home. She was no longer able to eat any solid food -- her colon was entirely blocked -- and went on a complete liquid diet that was eliminated through the tube. She'd already begun to lose weight and that sweet face had started to change, but through it all, she continued to worry about how we were doing rather than how she was doing.
I drove down to Pearland (small town south of Houston) at least once a week to spend the day with her and, although I know she was scared and sometimes really sad, she always had a smile for me, her former mother-in-law and her son's grandmother. She actually apologized for being exhausted or not being able to stay awake when I was there, as if the visit was about me and not about her. That was Rene, always putting others first.
She taught me a lot. She taught me about courage and she taught me about unselfishness. But mostly, she taught me about priorities. I have a book due July 15th and it's iffy whether or not I can make the deadline, but I don't regret one moment of the time I spent with her over the past months. There will always be another book, another deadline, another appointment, another demand on my time, but there will never be another Rene.
It's easy for us to get so bogged down with work and all the demands on our time that we neglect the people we care about the most. But those people won't always be with us. Life is fragile. In the next minute, something can happen that will change your life or a loved one's life forever.
So seize the day. Tell the people you love that you love them . . . all the time. Don't let work become more important than they are. If your husband wants to take you to a movie or to the beach or for a romantic weekend somewhere, don't let that deadline stop you from going. You can always work a little harder tomorrow, but there's no guarantee that he'll be there tomorrow.
Goodbye, Rene. And thank you. Having you in my life was a privilege.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I believe today might be the day my novella, Love Potion #9, in BAD BOYS SOUTHERN STYLE begins hitting the stores. I say I believe, because although it has a July 6th pub date, if it were a Pocket Book, it'd be out now. The thing is, I know nothing about Brava's publishing/shipping schedule because I haven't let myself get at all caught up in the business end of this book. I wrote the story of a descendant of the Puritan judge who presided over the Salem witch trials falling in love with a practicing witch for Brava solely for a lark and the opportunity to work with the incomparable Kate Duffy. This is the sequel to Cajun Heat, in BAYOU BAD BOYS, and both experiences have been the most fun I've had in 23 years of publishing. I even love my cover. But there's one thing about it I just don't get.
Why doesn't the guy have a head? He's not alone. There's a plethora of characters appearing on books these days without heads. Is there a guillotine somewhere in New York I haven't heard about? Do models get paid less if their heads, and therefore their faces, aren't shown? Are publishers not showing faces because while they want people on the covers (as opposed to the jewel boxes, flowers, and landscape photos of the past) they don't want to risk readers complaining that "That's not what the hero looks like?"
Meanwhile, there are books out there featuring other disembodied parts. I'm convinced that if I'd written anything that had even the faintest resemblance to chick-lit, I'd have had a pair of legs ending in snazzy shoes on the cover rather than my headless hero.
Why is that? Because Sex and the City told a generation of New York editors and art directors that shoes are what every young woman lusts after? Given chick-lit's recent slump and the fact that my nail salon has, in the last year, gone from two pedicure chairs to eight, I have to wonder if all those sexy sandal covers didn't have more women thinking about getting their toenails polished than buying a book.
So, what catches your eye when you're browsing the racks? How important is a cover in your buying decision? And most importantly, do you prefer your heroes with heads? Or without?
Monday, June 26, 2006
I started thinking about this when I read Catherine Asaro's The Misted Cliffs. This Luna fantasy novel used extremely simple language and sentence structure to tell its story of a very wounded hero and the woman he married in order to keep peace in his world. When I say "simple," I mean simple as in Hemingway-simple. The language was spare and gorgeous and didn't distract me except when I had to stop and admire it.
So when I picked up my very first Erica Spindler novel, See Jane Die, and discovered the simplicity of her language, I inevitably made comparisons. See Jane Die is one of those romantic suspense novels that sucks you in on pure premise alone -- and the spareness of the writing seemed to help with that. I enjoyed the novel very much, but something felt a little lacking to my reader's brain, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Was it too spare? Too thinly sketched on the page? Too...masculine, maybe? I dunno.
And on the other end of the spectrum was Colleen Thompson's The Deadliest Denial. Colleen's writing can be lyrical at times and she has moments, like those in The Misted Cliffs, where I just had to sigh contentedly because the image was so spot-on. If I have any complaint whatsoever with The Deadliest Denial, it's that -- hold onto your hats -- it was too perfect. (Is that even possible?) Had the language itself lulled me into a place where I was a little too content? I think it's possible. When I know I'm in the hands of a writer who knows what she's doing, I can indeed let go of the urgency.
Another lush novel was Olga Bicos's Deadly Impulse, which didn't bring anything really new to the table plot-wise, but which taught me a lot about a lot of things. The lushness didn't come from the language, but from the way information gets paid out to the reader, creating layer upon layer of motivation, character development, and plot complications. It was a nice read, though there were no real surprises in store for the reader.
Sure, we all want a gripping story well-told, but the gripping really is in the telling, whether we're aware of it or not. A suspense novel whose primary sentence structure is that of light comedy will likely fall flat, because the story's trying to tell us one thing while the language itself is telling us something different.
So which style do you prefer for romantic suspense? Or do you even care? What makes a romantic suspense novel work for you?
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Series, Sequels, and Stand-Alones
My publisher, Kensington/Zebra, has asked me to do several linked series. Because it's to the author's advantage to have as many books come out as often as possible to build name recognition, I was quick to agree. According to just about any publisher you talk to, it's commercially attractive to have series books.
My author friends have been getting a lot of two and three-book contracts where the publishers specify that the books be linked to one another.
I understand this. For most of us, when we finish a book we really, really loved, we go hunting for that author's backlist.
I get a lot of fan mail. For the past six months my fans have been clammoring for information on my sequels. "When is Rebecca Peabody (a minor character in both my Counterfeit Countess and One Golden Ring) going to have her own story?" they want to know. Or, "Will you give the Birmingham brothers their own stories?" Obviously, most readers want sequels.
(As for sequels to my CC and One Golden Ring, they are in the works, but I'm in the process of changing publishers, so they'll be delayed.)
That brings up one of the reasons I'm changing publishers. Some publishers are better at marketing sequels than others. Zebra is not very good at this, IMO. For example, in 2002 I had a three-book series titled the Brides of Bath. Book 2 came out in April and promptly sold out. When Book 3 came out in August, quite naturally the readers who liked it and who hadn't read the first two wanted to purchase the April book. (Let's face it, that's why publishers like to publish these puppies.) However, my April book was completely out of print and even though it sold extremely well, my publisher chose not to reprint. This is not good business, IMO. (By the way, that April mass market paperback that sold out so quickly is often offered for sale on the internet for about $18!)
Other publishers excel at pushing authors' connected books. Hands down, the hottest selling Regency-set historical writer in the world is Stephanie Laurens, who's written like a dozen of her Cynster series, and booksellers tell me readers wait in line for her next -- even if they have to buy it in costly hardback.
But why does it have to be a linked book? If I like an author, I like everything she writes. I'd still be eager for her newest whether or not it was linked to the previous one. I don't even know if I want to see the previous heroine and hero now that they're in to potty training and mundaneness.
As a pure reader, I prefer books that are NOT linked. Oftentimes I feel cheated when a subplot romance is not developed because I know the author is saving that story for her next book. My very favorite books (and my readers' favorites of mine) are those in which there's a very satisfying subplot romance (sometimes much lighter than the angst of the hero and heroine). The more that can be layered into a book, the better I like it. I hate it when I feel the author's saving some good stuff for the next book.
And I'd love to know what the rest of you think about this.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Are you a fan of the Crimson City series? Do you wish there were more than six books? Great news! More stories are on the way! Watch for an anthology tentatively titled Shards of Crimson coming in early 2007.
All five authors from the original series are participating--Liz Maverick, Marjorie Liu, Carolyn Jewel, Jade Lee, and me, Patti O'Shea. If you love paranormal stories, Crimson City has something for everyone: Vampires, werewolves, demons, humans, cyborgs and Druids. Check out the series at Crimson City or on Patti's Crimson Veil page.
Through a Crimson Veil
Thursday, June 22, 2006
My own kids are readers, though it was tougher getting my son interested since we had trouble finding things he liked, but (thank heavens) that didn't last. (Now that he's grown and buying his own books, his reading choices amuse me. He reads a general list of fiction--whatever is around and available on our bookshelves or his friends--but if he's spending his money, he's into self-help stuff that boils down to getting other people to do what you want them to.) My daughter is perhaps a more passionate reader than I am. And she reads everything.
My dilemma is this: What do you do with a nine-year old who isn't interested in reading? My niece is staying with me this summer and just isn't interested. How do I GET her interested? I'm determined to send her home when school starts, addicted to reading. (I know this is a prejudice of mine, but I swear, the people who read do much better in life. The ones who don't, don't seem to be having as good a life.) I know she'll do better in school. I know she'll see that she has more options. I just know that, like my kids, reading will open lots of worlds for her.
So what made you a reader? What books changed your life? Any specific book that made you a passionate reader?
And most importantly for right now: What books interest your nine year olds?
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
They DON’T READ? EVER? I’d expect an answer like that from a surly teenager plugged simultaneously into his Game Boy and Ipod. But college educated adults living in an upscale community? All right, maybe they meant they don’t read romance. I can accept that as much as I’d wish otherwise. But that wasn’t the case. Neither was it that they only read non-fiction (although a few did admit to that with an air that told you without a doubt that fiction -- any fiction -- was beneath them.) No, most who admitted to not reading meant THEY DON’T READ. As in NOTHING. Not books. Not magazines. Not newspapers.
And what amazed me the most was that they admitted this to a total stranger! I’d think that any adult who didn’t read would keep that admission buried deep underneath the widescreen TV, not voice it with a sense of pride. But no, they looked down their noses, their voices filled with disdain, as they proclaimed, “I DON’T READ.” As if reading were a bad thing, something to be avoided at all costs. As if we authors were the enemy, trying to infect them with printed and bound versions of some lethal strain of bird flu.
Now the truth is that the five of us had quite a successful day, selling a few dozen books and passing out promotional literature to many interested people. We’re not complaining. Just mystified by the responses of some who wandered past our table. After all, none of us could possibly imagine living a life devoid of the pleasures of the written word.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
What are your simple pleasures?
Saturday, June 10, 2006
The only two exceptions are book signings, and media interviews. I know there are authors who don’t care for either of these, but I enjoy both.
Book signings get me away from the computer, and into bookstores (which I love), and give me the chance to speak with readers who often share my same interests. I drink coffee, browse books, people watch – lots of fun.
And media interviews allow me to connect with other creative people: writers, journalists, television reporters. For some of these interviews I traveled to the media offices of the individual writing the article or producing the TV program. But there have been a few who wanted to be invited to my home. To see me in my “environment” – LOL.
At first, I felt having people with cameras and prying questions in my home would be an intrusion of my privacy. Besides, I’d have to clean my house! I wasn’t excited to open myself, my home, and my family up to outsiders. But I got over it pretty quickly. Everyone I’ve met has been professional and very respectful of my personal life. I found that having members of the local media in my home created a friendship and bond (admittedly a temporary one) between us. Most stayed at least two hours, and didn’t want to leave. We chatted about so many more thing than just my books. And I ended up with as many questions for them as they had for me.
With each interview, I became more relaxed and more myself. And somewhere along the line, I forgot that I agreed to do this for promotional purposes, and simply enjoyed having a conversation with a person who had similar interests to mine.
So what have I learned that I can pass on to others?
1) Set parameters ahead of time. Which rooms in your house will you allow the interviewer to see and enter? What will you allow them to photograph and what is off limits (many people say their children are off limits so if this is the case, let them know ahead of time).
2) Know the angle of the article or TV spot, and make sure you agree with it, so that the interview does not become a defensive piece.
3) Know what information you want printed. So even if the interviewer does not ask specifically about something you want to share, you will be ready to provide them with something extra. This could be the title of your next book or maybe future book events, your website, etc.
4) Dress well, but comfortably – be yourself. If you feel uptight, you won’t be able to relax and give a good interview.
5) Forget that you are in front of an audience (though not so much that you reveal something you don’t want printed, of course), and focus on the individual conducting the interview. If the exchange is between two people (rather than little you and a huge newspaper), it is usually a much friendlier and fun experience for both.
6) Keep in mind that the interviewer wants you to succeed – to give a good interview. Remember the feelings you had when you wrote your book? All the excitement? Your enthusiasm? Those special scenes that even made you cry, laugh, or left you terrified. Bring all those feelings back and share them as you discuss your book. If you make their job easier, they will remember and be willing to seek you out in the future.
7) Have fun! This is your chance to share your baby with the world.
I’m not a media expert, but these are a few things that have helped me. So there you have it . . . Becoming a Great Interviewee in 7 Easy Steps (couldn’t quite get to 10). Now go give a great interview!
Thursday, June 08, 2006
I don't know why I resisted the urge to write linked books. A long time ago I had an editor who said she thought it was risky to write stories about three siblings or three friends, because if the reader didn't like the first book, she might not read the rest. Well, I think judging by the extreme popularity of linked books in the past few years that this editor was well ... wrong. But even a few years ago another editor told me she thought the trend of linked books was fading. I, however, have seen no evidence of this. I think readers enjoy getting to know a group of characters or reading about characters who are friends, family, enemies, or related in some interesting way. On the other hand, I'm sure some of us have run into series that just don't hold our interest. And occasionally we might wish there weren't two more books to get through before our favorite writer created a new series.
Certainly one of the challenges in the writing of linked books is to make sure each story is really complete. I dislike it when individual books of a trilogy feel too "thin" as if this were really one story divided into three. I personally love to make my books as complicated as possible, probably one of the reasons I resisted linked books until now. I usually throw everything into one story. But this time around I had so much material and a really interesting villain that it made sense to write two books. Hopefully the readers will agree! Another challenge in writing linked books is to make sure that the front running romantic couple is more interesting than a secondary character waiting to get their book.
So what do you think? Do you loved linked stories? Are you tired of reading trilogies? Are you more likely to buy a book because it's part of a series? Or does it matter?
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
I recently read a letter to a book review editor lamenting the fact that the reader’s favorite authors so often change the kind of book they write because “that’s what sells”. The reader said that she would just get to know and like an author who was writing, say, historicals, and then the author would switch to chick lit. I read the letter with a certain amount of sympathy because I’m an avid reader myself and I have had the same frustrating experience.
However, I want to say a few words in defense of those genre-switching authors. When they say they have switched genres because that’s what sells, the authors are referring to selling their work to a publisher. It doesn’t mean they’re being soulless money-grubbers who just want to shove more copies on the reading public; it means that they want to continue to see the books they write being published. Having one or two or even ten books published is no guarantee that the writer’s work will continue be bought by a publisher. If you don’t write the kind of book editors want to buy, you can’t get your work into print or e-format for readers to enjoy.
Of course, by extension, these are also the kinds of books the editors believe they can sell to the reading public. Publishing houses want to maximize profits, just as any other business does. They buy books which they believe will appeal to readers’ tastes somewhere between six months and two years in the future, a tricky prediction. They study market research and try to forecast trends. It’s a tough job.
It’s tough on the writer too. However, sometimes being forced to write “to the market” is a useful challenge. I recently completed my first romantic suspense novel. It took three tries to get it right but I am incredibly proud of the finished product. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and I discovered the joys of creating a really nasty villain. Although I had to push myself to plan the plot far beyond anything I’d ever done in previous books, there were times my fingers just flew over the keyboard because I was so caught up in the story. That’s when you know the challenge was good for you.
There are some authors who change what they write because they themselves decide they are stale and need to try something new. However, many writers reinvent themselves because they have to if they want to continue to see their books on the shelves of their local bookstore and in their fans’ hands. So, gentle readers, I hope I have tempered some of your exasperation with your favorite authors who seem to randomly wander into new fields. Keep in mind that they may be as frustrated as you are!
Monday, June 05, 2006
This is where I'll nod and tell them that maybe someday they'll do it, but if they haven't found time yet, I doubt they will later. There's never going to be time to write. There's always something more pressing that needs to be done, something that will sap time and energy. And as long as writing is at the bottom of the list, no, they won't have time for it. IMO, though, there's a big difference between wanting to write "someday" and being a writer. A writer has to write. It drives them. The stories in their head won't allow them to push them off with "someday."
But there are also Stupid Writer Tricks (with apologies to David Letterman). I think I know every stupid writer trick there is because I pulled them on myself for years. They're such beautiful lies and so easy to believe.
Let me add a caveat here: Different writers work in different ways. What's a stupid writer trick for me, might be someone else's successful writing method. In your heart, you know which it is for you.
- I'll write as soon as inspiration/the muse strikes me
If I was having a bad day at the keyboard, instead of playing Minesweeper, I would tell myself, "You have to write for ten minutes. It doesn't have to be good and you can cut it all later, but you can't do anything but write. Besides, anyone can write for ten minutes." And so I'd write and maybe it was horrible stuff, but it was incredible how often that inspiration was there before those ten minutes were up. So I'd cut the junk and keep writing.
There were days, though, that the muse didn't arrive in those ten minutes. I'd allow myself five minutes to play Minesweeper and then I'd make myself write for another ten minutes. I can only remember one time that it took more than a couple of instances before I was off and running on my story.
So if you're one of the writers telling yourself you'll write when the muse arrives, I say chase after her and drag her to the keyboard yourself!
- I'm writing, I just want to make my first chapter perfect before I move forward.
How'd I overcome this stupid writer trick? I realized that as long as I pursued perfection--an unobtainable goal--I was never going to finish a book. I had to give myself permission to write sentences/paragraphs that were less than perfect and promise myself that everything could be fixed after the first draft was down. In the beginning, I regularly chanted: It can all be fixed on revision. And it can.
- I have to research (Fill in the blank) before I can write the story.
Did I ever write the book that I was researching sharks for? Nope, but I do have an over-edited and lifeless first chapter.
My advice here is get the strong base knowledge you need to set up the story, then start writing. Honestly, you won't know which small details you'll need until they crop up in the book. When the first draft is done, or when you're done writing for the day, then you can research those smaller details.
Dreams are scary things. It's so much easier to fantasize about achieving them than it is to put in the work it takes to reach the goal. Fantasy allows us to believe that if we just had the time, we'd have what we always wanted, but actually pursuing the dream brings anxiety. What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough? What if....? This doesn't only apply to writing, but to anything we dream of doing.
This is where the quote at the top of this post comes in. My viewpoint on life is that when we're on our deathbeds, we won't regret the things we tried and failed at, we'll regret the things we wanted to try and never pursued for whatever reason. No, it's not easy, but how many worthwhile things are?
One more inspirational quote:
Friday, June 02, 2006
Well, I got about a half hour in to the work, and my hand really got to hurting. When I looked at it, I had rubbed a blister on my palm and then broken it, digging holes to put those lilies in. Even going back to put my gloves on (yes, I have some, but silly me didn't think I'd need them) wouldn't feel good, so I stopped.
Then last week, I had planned to spend the week finishing up a proposal on the demon virgin story when my glasses fell right in half on my way out the door to walk to the post office on Monday. In Half.
I have a separate pair of prescription sunglasses, and I have special glasses to wear only at the computer (I refuse to get trifocals--bifocals are bad enough), but I wasn't sure I had any "regular" glasses I could wear in the meantime. My prescription is the type that when I go into the one-hour places and ask about their one-hour service, they say things like "Oh yes, we can do that with most prescriptions...except for yours. A week to ten days." This meant a hurried trip to the optometrist in the big city 60 miles from my little town which takes, at minimum, half a day--more, if you've saved up errands and such for the trip, which I always do. Anyway, between that, and the already planned trip to the nephew's high school graduation, last week was pretty much shot.
By now, if you're a regular reader of the 2 B Read blog, you know that I am a procrastinator, and that I am "chaos-organized." That's actually a technical term used by psychologists in a study I read once upon a time that spoke to the differences between Helicopters and Trains. Apparently the world is divided into helicopters and trains--IOW, those whose brains are chaos-organized--who not only thrive in chaos, but if there isn't enough of it, they create some-- and those who are linearly-organized, who think in an orderly, progressive, one-building-block-on-the-next manner. Most of us know instantly which we are.
Even though, according to those psychologists in the study, the chaos-organized person deals better with interruptions, because they prefer having more than one thing going on at a time, I still tend to have trouble when my plans go awry. It's taken so much effort to learn how to focus and get the writing done (or make myself go outside and do actual work), that when other things get in the way, it frustrates me no end. (Well, not the gardening work stuff--I was kinda grateful I had an excuse to quit. Maybe I can con the large son or the spouse into digging the holes for me...)
But what else can you do? Life gets in the way sometimes. Glasses fall apart. Grandsons come to visit. You have to just go with the flow, and keep making those lists. I figure eventually, I'll get to everything on it, and if I don't--well, it probably wasn't that important anyway...
Oh, and I did get the proposal finished, even with my minimal writing time last week. I had maybe ten lines to add on Monday, and I mailed that puppy off to the agent yesterday. I think I'd better give her a bit of a rest now...
So which are you? Helicopter or train? How do you cope with life's disruptions?
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Judging my local contest was challenging and interesting. It was a great opportunity to work with two other experienced authors, and to read the work of up-and-coming authors--some just starting out and some who have been writing a while, who've taken workshops, and who have been working hard at the craft. I feel its a big responsibility--as a judge, I hope to encourage, to help, and to be tactful and honest. And for a while, I felt as though I was in an editor's shoes--very enlightening.
When I first entered contests I received some brutal truths, but those truths helped me grow. It was tough to discover I wasn't a 'winner' the first time around. But I often think that had I sold that first book, I wouldn't have been ready to deal with life as a published author. Would I have had the confidence to deal with changes in the market? Would I have had the skills to create a second book? Would I have been prepared to deal with set back?
I learned so much from taking that first step--putting my work out there for others to read and to comment on. For those of you entering contests, I wish you the best of luck. And congratulations!