Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Of Headless Boys and Writing

One of the hobbies I cling fiercely to is painting. I drive 60 miles into the nearest "big city" (if Amarillo, Texas qualifies--and given where I live, it does) every Tuesday to run errands (we don't have a dry cleaners in town) and go to my oil painting class. I've been signing up for this continuing education class at Amarillo College every semester for several years, because if I tried to paint at home, I never would. I figure I'm paying for studio space, as much as advice from the teacher. I love to paint, and I like to think I've gotten better at it over the years I've been working at it again. (I have some of my paintings on my website, here.) (I painted with my middle sister when we were children--and she was better than me even then, when she was 10 and I was 14. She's still better than me.)

This past Tuesday, I was in my art class, working on my current "opus"--a picture of three anonymous boys playing in the sand at the beach--and could not get two of their heads to look right. Absolutely could NOT. One of them had a head 3 times too big for his body and no matter how much I tried to shrink it, it looked wrong--that shadow head I was trying to paint partly out always showed through and there was supposed to be sand under the water, not giant head flop-overs.

The other one's head was at the wrong angle and had too much chin. And I don't care how much I adjusted that chin, or the top of his head, it looked Horrible. Awful. First he was "head-on-crooked boy" and then he became "chinless-pinhead boy." Ugh.

Thank goodness boy #3's baseball cap worked. Right size. Right angle. No face. (Hey, the baseball cap hid it!) Perfect.

I got more and more frustrated, more and more annoyed, and finally, I mixed up a big batch of dirty blue water color and just painted their heads right out. I now have two headless boys in my painting. I won't leave them that way--next week, when the water's dry, I'll go back and give them heads again (with any luck, they'll look better than the first set of heads), but sometimes you just have to go back to the beginning and start over. Tweaking just isn't going to cut it. Now, I didn't paint over the whole canvas (though I have done that on occasion)--the surf and sand and little boy bodies all look pretty good. The heads just didn't match the bodies.

And it occurred to me that writing is sometimes like that. Probably more often than we'd like. Sometimes you just have to dump a scene and start over. It's only when you have to dump the whole book that things get worrisome. Hmm. Now I think about it, life in general is kinda like that too--sometimes you just have to go back to where things went wrong and start over.
I just hope we don't have to do it too often, or have to go back too far...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Critical acclaim vs. fan favorites

2 B ReadSeveral years ago my sister-in-law gave me a movie with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell titled Overboard and said, "I don't know why movies like this don't win Academy Awards."

Good observation. I have since watched the movie several times -- as has my son. We love it. It has pathos, romance, and humor. After several watchings, it never fails to coax a giggle. ("I used to be short...AND fat?") I'm not plugging my last (October) book here because it's already long out of print. But the head buyer for a national book chain wrote to tell me my One Golden Ring was the best book she'd read in a very long time. Readers felt the same way. It was one of those "warm fuzzy reads" they read over and over. It did have pathos, romance, and some humor. Most of the reviewers gave it very high ratings, except one prominent one that only gave it 4 stars. It won a few awards. Awards judged mostly by readers.

It did not do especially well in the stringently judged Rita competition scored by my peers, nor did I expect it to. Just like Overboard didn't win any Academy Awards. It wasn't particularly fresh in treatment or innovative in plot.

Does your taste coincide with films/books praised by critics? What are YOUR qualifications for a keeper pile?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Agents and Blogging

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Agent Kristin Nelson posted an entry this past Friday on her popular blog, PUB RANTS, about recent query letters that her assistant Sara had received.

Sara talked about the reasons she passed on several recent queries: Overused plots, personal turn-offs, genres they didn't represent, etc. She spoke in generalizations.

Then Sara talked about three queries that she'd received that warranted an enthuastic "I want to see this!". She spoke in specifics when describing the plots. Unfortunately, these weren't projects being repped by their agency. It was just three queries that had crossed her desk and piqued her interest.

The feedback on the Comments section was immediate...and quite interesting.

Some people thought it was a great idea. Others thought it was unethical.

Now, agents who critique query letters on their blogs is nothing new. Miss Snark has done it. Rachel Vater, too. But the difference is that the author knows in advance that will happen when they submit their query to those bloggers. The authors who submitted queries to Kristin Nelson didn't, and therein lies the difference.

My question today is for the writers out there, unpublished or published. How do you feel about agents who blog? Was Kristin Nelson well within her rights to post synopses of the works pitched to her in a query letter?

What do you think?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Oh the people you'll meet

I love being a writer. One of the greatest things about it is that you get to meet such fascinating people. As part of my NASCAR book research, I was invited to a media event where I got to ask all sorts of questions of NASCAR drivers in a very laid-back atmosphere. I have to say that the people I met at this event were exceedingly gracious and wonderful. Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Nextel Cup champion (with me over at the right), told me what it's like to sit behind a table with 200 fans waiting to meet you. Matt's PR guy gave me an insider's view of what a driver's PR person does, and how that person may or may not be his manager. Martin Truex, Jr.'s significant other Sherry Pollex told me what it's like to be the girlfriend of a driver, something my heroine in Hart's Victory is going to have to find out once she starts dating the heroine. Brendan Gaughan, #77 in the truck series, gave me a male/driver's perspective on dating. Many of the journalists there, especially Brandon Mudd, answered all my questons about what journalists do and what type of questions they ask. Normally no one worries about pictures, but as I also teach high school, I asked a few drivers if they'd mind a photo with me so that my students believed I actually spoke with them. :)

Each time I write a book, I get to enter a new world for a while. I get to meet some great people, people I normally would never come in contact with on and daily basis and people whom I certainly don't expect to remember me after we've talked. By immersing myself, though, for a little while in the magic of the moment, I get to learn and grow, and experience something new. Then, like Cinderella, I leave their world. Only I don't lose a shoe. Instead, I gain perspective so that I can then go home to create my own fictional world, immortalizing my characters and their story before I take myself somewhere else to start the process again.

Michele Dunaway
The Marriage Campaign
Harlequin American Romance--Aug. 06

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Warped Mind of a Writer


Although I live in it, New Jersey is not the state I was born and raised in so I haven’t been to all the usual civic and historic places on school trips. I’ve been forced to remedy my lack of basic Garden State education because my current work-in-progress, a romantic suspense novel, is set in the world of Jersey politics.

My most recent trip was to Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence, a lovely old mansion just outside Princeton. Don’t you love the name? It’s Scottish and means “wooded hill”.

The walls are covered with gorgeous hand painted wallpaper and New Jersey themed landscapes and portraits. The dining room holds magnificent antique silver pieces as well as the governor’s official china (some of it made in Trenton which once had a thriving china business). Outside are beautifully terraced gardens with statues and fountains and walkways, all making for a lovely afternoon stroll. It’s well worth a visit.

Instead of savoring the aesthetics, however, I was madly taking notes because photography isn’t allowed inside the house. Our guide was a lovely lady in a snazzy navy blazer who was entertaining the children on the tour with stories of the owner’s private zoo. Every now and then I’d interrupt and ask a question such as, “Which entrance would the governor use when he’s here?” or “What rooms are on the second floor where the governor lives?” or “Does this door lead to the kitchen?” (I had to ask because I’d tried to open it and discovered that it was locked.)

People were starting to look at me strangely.

Outside I whipped out my camera and shot every nook and cranny of the gardens. Then I started on photos of the service entrance, the parking lots, the security booth and even the trash receptacles. As I clicked away, I’m muttering to myself, “Okay, the kidnappers come in through this door, climb up to that porch, go in through the window over there….”

My daughter (who had been bribed to accompany me by the promise of a shopping spree at the Princeton U-Store) finally walked far, far away from me, saying over her shoulder, “Mom, if I were a guard worried about terrorists, I’d arrest you.”

I’ve included one of my more artistic photos so you can see how lovely Drumthwacket is. Now if you can picture the guys in black masks crouching amongst the foundation shrubs or scaling the white columns, you have the warped mind of a writer.

Anyone else have an occupation that makes you appear a bit strange to the general public? Tell us about it!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Save a Writer, Buy a New Book

Author Susan Gable has written a witty article about why readers should buy new books. She has asked other authors to spread the word, so here is Susan's article.
Susan Vaughan
DEADLY MEMORIES, Silhouette Intimate Moments, for sale now. Buy it new!

Save a Writer, Buy a New Book!
By Susan Gable

The recent demise of yet another Harlequin line, this time the kick-butt heroine line Bombshell, got me to thinking, which, as anyone who knows me will tell you is always a dangerous thing. I heard from a number of readers who were surprised by the closing, because they had friends who just "loved that line!"

I've also heard things like this: "I can't believe they closed that line. I loved that line. I read those books every month at my library."

Before I go any farther with this discussion, I have to offer up a disclaimer. I love libraries. Especially as a child with a voracious appetite for story, I borrowed armloads of books from my local library. I love bargains, too. I shop like men hunt or play sports. It's a victory when I score a bargain. (New black cocktail dress, originally $79, marked down to only $16. SCORE!) Used books are great bargains. Swapping books, another great bargain. The new websites on-line, where you can "rent" a book, in a system similar to NetFlix, are also an interesting bargain. Good grief, even the airports these days have a program where you can buy a book, read it, then sell it back to them. What a bargain!

But did you realize that those bargains could be putting your favorite line or your favorite author out of business?

It's a difficult, touchy subject for authors to discuss. We don't want to appear anti-used books ('cause we're not -- not entirely, anyway), or make readers think we're money-grubbers, always harping on them to buy our books. We all know (believe me, we KNOW - most writers don't make anywhere close to as much money as people think we do) how tight money can be sometimes, especially with the rising costs of gas and heating fuel, and food, and taxes, and…well, you know. Everything.

We’ve been known ourselves to sometimes borrow and trade books, or buy used. Or go to the library.

But publishing these days is a strictly-by-the-numbers business, which means if the numbers don't live up to the publisher's expectations, a writer can kiss her slot/line/future contracts good-bye.

"Where's SoAndSo's latest book? How come she hasn't published another story in that series that I love so much?" If you find yourself asking that question, it could be that your favorite, SoAndSo, got cut loose because the numbers of that last book in the series didn't do as well as the one before that. How did you get your hands on that last book? Did you buy it new, contributing to the continuation of the series, or did you bargain read it? Bargain reads don’t count towards our numbers.

Writers, especially those of us at the "lower echelons" of the publishing world, need our readers more than ever. Without you, there would be no point in what we do. (Well, okay, there's a certain satisfaction in telling yourself a story, but it's the audience that makes it truly special. It's a shared dream.) But now, because of the numbers, we need your support even more.

Our careers, our lines, even our publishers, live and die by the numbers.

So please, where and when you can, save a writer. Buy a new book. We'll all thank you for it. And that way, you'll have more choices of books in the future.


*****
Susan Gable thanks her fans for buying her books. Her latest book, The Pregnancy Test, sold well, thanks to them. It was also awarded the National Readers' Choice Award for Best Long Contemporary. Visit her at www.susangable.com for excerpts, contests, and more.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

To Prologue Or Not

Okay, people, need your input here. Really. Prologues or no prologues?

My current project seems to need a scene put in at the front. It didn't at first, but one of the characters who wasn't important became a lot more vital to the story, and now I think the reader needs to know this backstory. But does it have to go in at the front?

Now I view prologues a lot like tigers. They might be nice big cats, but they can turn on you and take your throat out.

On the other hand, I just hate to have to stuff those scenes where you have to stop the story and explain things. Austin Powers got it right with just having Mr. Exposition to get the job done and make it funny. Which proves you can get away with it, if you really make the reader wait and want the info, or if it comes out in some tense, snappy dialogue. Or sometimes you can weave it in here and there.

Of course, a good prologue can work. The trick is making it really, really good. (Loretta Chase did the most brilliant one I've ever in Lord of Scoundrels.) But there's also the issue of making the first chapter just good, too, so that it doesn't seem like the prologue fits another book--or worse, was written by someone else who is a far better writer. (I swear I've read those.)

So, it's to prologue or not to prologue? What's your opinion here?

Shannon Donnelly
www.shannondonnelly.com
www.myspace.com/randomfreshink

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sad News (& market news)

Let me be the first to offer my condolences to the Silhouette Bombshell authors who have heard this week that after January 2007 the line will be closed. For more details visit: http://community.eharlequin.com/webx?50@495.joavahFsTNO.1@.4a83db47/19

Let me put a call out to readers and other writers to be sensitive during these times. Whatever your opinion of the books and why they did or didn't sell, please be aware of what you say and how you say it. Already some authors have had insult added to injury. Thus, before you offer your opinions in any public forum, ask if your comments might add to the pain the authors are currently feeling. If so, please realize that this is like a death and refain from adding to anyone's misery.

Okay, lecture over. Let me also wish the Bombshell authors, many of whom are members of PASIC, good luck. You are darn good writers as Stephanie Feagan's RITA shows, and I'm sure you will find homes for your works quickly.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Editor of the Year

2 B Read
Silhouette editor Patience Smith has just been named by members of PASIC (Published Authors Special Interest Chapter) as Editor of the Year.

Though she's never been my editor, I've had the opportunity to speak to her a few times at dinners and PASIC receptions, and she not only has a great understanding of the industry, but she also has a great memory. She must. She always calls me by name!

More importantly, her authors love working with her. Every year they nominate her for this prestigious award. I've known some of her authors, and they praise her.

To earn an author's respect, IMO, an editor can't just be a pushover who tells you everything you write is perfect. A great editor knows how to stroke -- while at the same time offering suggestions to make your book the best it can be.

I think it's hard for an author to nominate her editor for such a prestigious award if the editor is disorganized, forgetful, haphazard about returning phone calls or e-mails, or careless about paperwork -- especially paperwork involving the author's payment!

And, most importantly, a good editor will go to bat for her author against senior editors and the marketing department. IMO. Am I being too Pollyanna-ish?

In the nine years since I sold my first book, I've worked with three editors. I'm sorry to say I did not nominate any of them for Editor of the Year. Because of failings in the aforementioned. All three of the editors had many good qualities, and I respect all of them.

How about the rest of you? Do you think my criterion is too high?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

2 B Read

A Year after Katrina
Once a year I travel to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for pleasure. Until last week, my last trip was in March of 2005. It's a year that will forever be engraved on the minds and hearts of those in Mississippi and New Orleans. Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. The once-beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast took the direct hit.

I first saw that distinctive coastline in 1968 -- before the devestating Hurricane Camille hit.

How wonderful it was! On one side there was an unspoiled, (I learned later) manmade beach. On the other side of Beach Boulevard were lush, broad green lawns with spreading, ancient oaks that sheltered the vernacular white houses with inviting front porches. Even after Camille, most of the wonderful old houses remained.

In the past dozen years Biloxi has established itself as a mini Las Vegas with about a dozen huge casinos and multi-story hotels to house the visitors. Even though the mushrooming of these gambling resorts affected (somewhat negatively) the uniqueness of the coast, I have to confess they were the lure for my husband and me. We loved to stay at Casino Magic hotel, which billed itself as Mississippi's first four-star hotel. I suspect Biloxi's Beau Rivage resort became the state's second four-star resort.

Sadly, Casino Magic now stands against the backdrop of green gulf waters, untouched, all its Katrina pounding still visible. No efforts made to rebuild.

Not so with Beau Rivage. At this stunning resort, a huge digital clock is counting down the minutes and seconds until its grand reopening: exactly one year after Katrina decimated the region. The casino is bringing in Tony Bennett to entertain.

Last week I was amazed to see those hundred-year-old oaks still standing even though all of the once-grand houses they sheltered were gone. It was encouraging to see that houses away from the storm's savage surge area were salvagable. All had new roofs -- and, I suspect, new interior sheetrock necessitated by flooding.

I'm glad that many of the gambling resorts are rebuilding. That -- and the revenues they bring in -- will help the gulf to rebuild. I believe I heard the the Biloxi casinos contributed (prior to Katrina) $1 million a day to the state's treasury. It might have been $1 million a week. Can't remember for sure.

But I'm unbelievably saddened over the loss of the character of Mississippi's coastline. Old homes and buildings cannot be replaced. And that's a terrible loss. It would be really sad if the Missippi coastline turns into a Gulf Shores, Alabama, coastline where passersby can't even see the gulf through the stack-'em-tall-and-deep maze of blah, multi-story boxes of condos and hotels.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My impressions of RWA conference

I think I've finally recovered from attending the annual RWA conference in Atlanta. It was a busy and hectic week. I attend this conference for several reasons. One to network. This is a great place to see friends and contacts, all in one place, since most of the publishers come to this conference as well as agents. The other reason I go is to get charged up again about writing. I try to attend several workshops and soak up the information.

This year Faith, Hope and Love chapter of RWA had a mini-conference on Wednesday aimed at writers who are interested in inspirational romances. I spoke at this one day conference about Interweaving Faith into Your Stories while Lenora Worth talked about Adding Emotional Depth to Characters. Later there was an agent/editor panel. I walked away from that conference upbeat about the continual growth in inspirational fiction. Melissa Endlich announced that Love Inspired Suspense was going to four books a month in February 2007 which is an opportunity for writers who like to write romantic suspense.

Another impression I received from the conference besides the growth in the inspirational market is the growth in sexy books. It is interesting to see the two ends of a continuum having the biggest growth. I did hear editors speak optimistically about historicals for the first time in a while. Love Inspired Historicals will begin in October 2007 with two books a month.

I have walked away from this conference feeling anxious about the industry in the past. I felt this year it was more optimistic (beyond just historicals). There are opportunities out there. Harlequin is starting a paranormal line (Nocturne) in October 2006 and the authors were signing the first books in that series at the conference. Sexy reads, paranormals and romantic suspense are still selling as well as inspirational romances. In a conversation with Stacy Boyd she told me the Nocturne line was looking for Alpha heroes with the stories being dark. They are accepting all kinds of paranormal elements--vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc.

Also Amazon did a program on promotions they have for authors to increase name recognition and possibly traffic to your web site. You can write a short story for them and readers can pay to download them. You can check it out with Amazon. I know how important promotion can be in this industry.

Lastly the Golden Heart/RITA ceremony this year was fun and entertaining as well as short. I really enjoyed the clips from various films having to do with people's perception of a writer's life. I only wish some of those clips were true. Is there anyone out there who can tell me the name of the film they showed with Hugh Jackman as a writer? I haven't seen it and it looked interesting.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gun-Totin' Mama


I've just returned from the Romance Writers of America conference in Atlanta. In spite of warnings that Atlanta streets were dangerous, I found I needed no more precautions than I would in any other large city. Atlantans were friendly, welcoming, and helpful. Since Maine has had its share of hot weather this summer, the climate was no great shock either. I toured the World of Coca Cola and checked out Atlanta Underground.
A big highlight of my stay was a day-long seminar on firearms. Yup, that's right, folks, guns. The Mystery and Suspense Chapter, better known as Kiss of Death, sponsored the day for us writer members to learn about the history of firearms, gun safety, and so on. We also had a few hours at a shooting range. Here's Deadeye Vaughan with the Ruger .22. The Glock 17 gave a bear of a jolt when I pulled the trigger. I didn't even come close to the target on that one. And the instructor—no, not a hunk, sorry—had to help me with the Ruger .38 revolver. And darn it, I missed out on the shotgun and the assault rifle due to lack of time. But I think I did pretty well for not having even held a gun before this. Hey, and I didn't shoot myself in the foot. Or anyone else. And what a relief to learn I made no glaring errors about guns in my new release, Deadly Memories, out now from Silhouette Intimate Moments.
Hmm, now to find a shooting range here where I can practice…

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

From a Reliable Source...

The AP reports on the recent Romance Writers of America conference in Atlanta, with this theme: "Strong women and edgy plots about relationships are replacing the heated passion and ripped bodices of swooning damsels in distress traditionally associated with romance novels."

Read More.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Readers and Writers

I was trying to think of something interesting to talk about today and I came up empty. It's funny because I never run out of content on my own blog, but then I don't necessarily have a topic unless you consider what I did the day before as a subject and I really don't. I feel free to veer off wherever my mind wanders--and it wanders frequently.

Finally, I decided I'd talk about ETERNAL NIGHTS since it's released today. Then I thought, what can I say about this book that's different? It took a while, but I came up with an answer for this too.

So my topic for the day is: The Role Readers Played in the Existence of Eternal Nights

My first book was RAVYN'S FLIGHT and it took me 18 months to write it. The hero and heroine were literally in my mind every waking minute of every day for that entire stretch of time. I loved them dearly, but I was so tired of this story by the time I finished it and that permeated everything associated with this world. When I turned in galleys for RF, that was it as far as I was concerned.

Then RF was released and reader after reader after reader emailed me and asked for more. Some wanted Alex's story, others wanted Cam's, but the bottom line was they wanted more.

The characters were gone, though, so I told them that and promised I'd write more in this world if they ever returned. I never thought they would.

Then in 2004, I heard Alex's voice again.

He hadn't changed much since the last time we'd talked. Then I started getting images, scenes, dialogue and I jotted down notes as fast as I could. Everything was about Alex and Stacey until I tried to figure out what the external plot was.

That's when Wyatt and Kendall arrived. They turned out to be the hero and heroine in EN and I liked them--a lot. Wyatt was patient and sweet and determined as heck. He had a goal--Kendall--and he wasn't backing off.

Still, I was busy. I had a proposal making the rounds and I'd just been asked to participate in the Crimson City series, I really didn't have time to go back to Jarved Nine. But I'd promised all the readers who'd asked for more that I would do that if the characters came for the world. They had.

So I got to work, trying to squeeze in another proposal, this one for EN. It wasn't an easy story to get right. I had to balance what the reader needed to know with the pace of the story. The first version of the story's start was jettisoned and I began again. And again.

Even with all my work, my editor cut a lot out of the first three chapters when we did revisions. Or she had me cut. I lost my haircut jokes. :-( But the pace was faster and the person who hadn't read RF would still be able to follow the story.

So if you're a reader and wonder if your email has any influence, I can assure you it does--at least with some authors. Eternal Nights exists because of all the notes I received. I probably would have ignored Alex otherwise or maybe not even have heard him at all--my head was really crowded just then--but because so many readers cared I felt I had to listen.

I just hope the fans of my first book enjoy my latest. That's always a worry, and this time, doubly so. RF garnered a lot of dedicated fans. Will EN measure up?


Patti O'Shea
Eternal Nights - Available Today
http://www.pattioshea.com/

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats...

And the winners are...

PASiC Members came home from the annual RWA conference with a bunch of awards and recognition, including:

RITAs

Best First Book
Show Her The Money

by Stephanie Feagan
(0373513542) Silhouette Books - Natashya Wilson, editor


Best Long Contemporary
Worth Every Risk

by Dianna Love Snell
(0-373-27426-2) Silhouette Books - Allison Lyons, editor

Best Novella
“The Naked Truth about Guys” in The Naked Truth
by Alesia Holliday
(0-425-206149) Berkley Books - Cindy Hwang, editor

Borders Bestselling Author Awards

Bestselling Debut Author
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire
by Kerrilyn Sparks

Prism Awards

Dark Paranormal
Susan Squires

Light Paranormal
Kerrilyn Sparks

Fantasy (Second Place)
by Gail Dayton

Booksellers Best

Romantic Suspense
Killer Curves
Roxanne St. Claire

And last but not least, the extremely well-deserved Pro-Mentor of the Year Award went to
JoAnn Ross