Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How Did They Do That?

Today I read a new book. New to me. It's been out a while. I think it may have even won a prize somewhere. Od Magic by Patricia McKillip. It's a fantasy with lovely lyrical language and a dreamy sort of feel and a touch of romance in its soul. And while I was reading it, I kept wondering "How in the world did she do this?"

Did she just float off into this dreamy, mystical world and start writing down what she saw there? Did she plot out all her threads before hand? Where did she find them? Did her scenes just happen and then she tied them together afterward? But how?

I think it left me feeling this way because my books, while fantasy, don't really have much that's mystical or dreamy or lyrical. The plots tend to charge straight ahead--sort of like that Gordian knot thing. Easiest way to untie a knot is to pull out a sword and whack it through the middle. And I think it's a very good thing that there are both kinds of books in the world--those that meander through the dreamy landscape, and those that plunge in.

Have you read something lately that made you wonder how the magic was done?

Monday, November 27, 2006

BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS: A long discussion on the vagaries of publishing

You have been warned. This is going to be a long one.

I've been absent from the 2 B Read blog for several months (I know, you probably didn't notice) because I received some devastatingly bad business news. My publisher decided not to publish the third book in my contract. They paid me for it, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, and they offered to possibly, maybe publish it as an e-book another year or so down the road, but the book in a paper format--the third book in a fantasy trilogy--was off the schedule. And I couldn't bring myself to blog about it here. I did post it on my own blog, but that's a little more private--those who read it are mostly fans and friends. Blogging about it here...was just too hard.

Partly because I didn't know what to say. Partly because--well, if you talk about awful news in public, that makes it more real. And partly because it seemed like...I don't know...inflicting my misery on other people...airing dirty laundry in public--that sort of thing.

The book was cancelled because sales of the first two books did not live up to expectations. The first one did fairly well, but orders from the bookstores of the second one went way down--who knows why. Which resulted in the reality of the entertainment business these days. Television shows get canceled within four episodes. Movies get yanked or sent straight to video if they don't get good buzz. And book contracts get canceled, and the authors have to write under another pen name. This is an object lesson for readers in the value of buying new to support authors they like, and for authors in the value of getting our book-eggs into many publisher-baskets.

But the title of this blog post is Bad News, Good News, and my sad story has a happy ending. I went to the World Fantasy Conference in Austin at the first of November (because Austin is semi-close and I could attend cheap by staying with my parents) and chatted up several editors there, including a couple of editors for new small press fantasy and/or paranormal romance imprints. I actually never met the paranormal romance editor, though I went by looking for her several times. But friends of mine met her. And one of them pitched my third Rose book to this editor. And later, she shared contact information, with the end result that the editor tracked me down at a writer's group meeting on a Saturday afternoon and made an offer to buy the book sight unseen.

Juno Books is a brand-new small-press publisher, so they will not have the vast distribution of the first publisher, but they will be bringing the book out in trade paperback format, like the first two books, and they will be bringing it out in July, 2007, only one month after it was originally scheduled for publication. I am thrilled for my readers--and for me, of course, but mostly for my readers who were unhappy at the prospect of not getting the last book in the trilogy. They will be able to get the book in a quality paper edition. And Juno Books will have some guaranteed sales because of my wonderful loyal readers, which will be good for them as a new, small publisher. Win-win-win.

Writing books is a roller coaster business, but as long as I don't get into any loop-de-loops, I'm going to stick with it. I always liked roller coasters...

The Problem With Mondays

Do you ever wonder why Mondays seem to get here so darn fast? In relation to Fridays, for example.

I do.

Especially on a Monday morning. *g*

I honestly don't know what my problem with Monday is. I mean, it's the start of a new week, which is a good thing. Right? But yet, try as I might to be excited about a Monday and all its glorious possibilities, when the alarm clock sounds on Monday, I find that all I really want to do is stay planted in bed. Until Tuesday, maybe.

LOL.

But I don't stay planted, of course. I crawl out of bed, stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of coffee...and, eventually, wake up to find find that Mondays aren't so horrible after all. (Ah, the wonders of caffeine.)

So what about you? Do you have a Monday phobia or is it just me?

Faye

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving Thanks

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Good friends.

Good health. (Relatively speaking, though I could stand to lose a few pounds and exercise more.)

A fabulous new agent who believes in me.

Really. Life is pretty darn good, all things considered. *g*

So, what about you? What are you thankful for today?

Faye, wishing you all a healthy and happy Thanksgiving, full of family and friends and good memories in the making.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Champagne, Confetti and Congrats

Mega Congrats and a bucketload of glittery gold confetti to PASIC author Christie Craig on her recent FOUR book sale.

MURDER, MAYHEM & MAMA, a paranormal romantic suspense to Triskelion Publishing. (E-book release in 2007; print edition in 2008.)

DESPERATE, DIVORCED & DELICIOUS
DESPERATE, DIVORCED & DATING
WEDDINGS CAN BE MURDER

All three are romantic comedy-suspenses sold to Dorchester Publishing. The first, DD&D will be released in December, 2007.

Hurray for Christie!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Crossovers too (2?)

I read with great interest Colleen's post on crossovers in genres. It's funny, because I was just blogging last week about how restrictive genre expectations can be - it's not only that writers can certainly successfully write more than one genre, it's that readers certainly READ more than one!

And yet recognition of those facts - especially salient I think to readers - is only just appearing. One always hears that "our readers" (of a particular, genre specific line) won't read something else. In a different line.

I mean do readers who love romance only read one kind of romance? Do readers who read romance never read mysteries or literary fiction or biographies or travel articles or....

I mean it's like saying only Italians eat spaghetti - when come on, everybody eats spaghetti sometime.

I'd love to hear from some of our readers out there - what different KINDS of books have you read recently? Were they really all from the same line, in the same genre?

Genie

www.geniedavis.com
The Model Man - Kensington, 2006
The Cowboy (as Nikki Alton - Aphrodisia, 2006
Five O'Clock Shadow - Kensington, 2007

You HAVE to you read this? (cont.)

I gotta add two books, Colleen. Only these two weren't runaway bestsellers. Both were recommended to me by other readers. And I've recommended them to lots of others, who in turn have recommended them and have told me they've become favorites of theirs.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a book from an 11 year old boy's perspective, sort of a coming of age novel, where he, his father and future bestselling author sister, set off to find his big brother, who is on the run after committing a murder. I loved this book. (And though it doesn't have a happily ever after ending in the sense we're used to, it did not depress me in the way that The Lovely Bones did.)

I also loved (and have reread at least ten times and bought at least 14 of them because I keep loaning them out and never get them back) Under the Beetle's Cellar by Mary Willis Walker.
This book always makes me wonder how some books are passed on by word of mouth and become house hold names that everyone has read and others are passed on word of mouth and never seem to gain fame. The only thing I can figure out is that the right person (read: Oprah) never read it. It was first given to me by a reader I trusted who got it from someone she trusted and--as I said--I've passed it on to my family (and anyone else who would listen) and, I guarantee, they've all passed it on to at least one other person. Why is this title not as recognizable as those you've mentioned?

I want to know when anyone figures this out.

You HAVE to Read This!

Today, I’m celebrating special books, those books that you can’t wait to tell your friends about or pass on to your sister. These are the books that became run-away bestsellers not through the marketing efforts of their publishers or authors but because people talked and talked and talked about them to anyone who would listen. They’re books that have been so startlingly different than other, more run-on-the-mill “good” novels that they’ve stood out in readers’ mind as exciting, special, and worthy of fan-girl-like devotion.


Some of my favorites have been

1. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells: This funny, touching story of Southern-fried female friendship is the follow-up to Little Altars Everywhere, which was originally published by a small press but became a word-of-mouth hit.

2. On Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press, another small one. This sweeping, Civil War historical may have first been considered too literary for mainstream readers, but hand-selling and reader enthusiasm made it an enormous success.

3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Who could have imagined that a murdered child telling her story from heaven could be so compelling? Although a larger publisher (Little, Brown and Co.) got behind it, enthusiastic fans and book clubs swept the book into bestsellerdom.

4. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown: I’ve heard a lot of critics gripe about Dan Brown’s writing style (and I have to admit, his characters leave me cold), but there was something so fiercely-compelling about this bestselling thriller that it spawned legions of imitators, along with the inevitable “companion editions”. Was it the premise that captured the imaginations of millions, or was it the novel’s relentless pace? Whatever the magic ingredient, on one can deny the book had plenty of supporters eager to recommend it to their friends.


Other books I’ve eagerly recommended include The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, and Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen. Most have featured a unique voice or protagonist that truly made the book stand out as an original. Two of the books I’ve mentioned, The Da Vinci Code and The Poisonwood Bible have excited me because they’ve caused me to re-evaluate concepts I have previously taken for granted. I couldn't stop thinking of any of them for days and remember them all clearly even years later.


So which books have roped you into helping spread the message in what is now termed “viral marketing”? What about these particular books compelled you, and do you think an author can do anything to increase his/her novel's chances of resonating with the public, or do you feel this phenomena is outside of our control?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Reflections on the Trial of the Century

I remember the O.J. Simpson circus of shame well.

I lived in Los Angeles in those days, and the news was everywhere. It was *the* topic of conversation when making small talk with strangers. Instead of saying “How about those Dodgers?” when you were forced to stand in line down at the DMV or the local Cineplex, you’d say, “What about that O.J.?” And for good reason, too. Every local news channel – and Los Angeles had several – was covering the story. Ad nauseum, in fact.

Back then, I’d spent my days working in a law office as a legal assistant/office manager and wrote at night. (I think I was my most prolific then, too, but I digress. LOL.) When the verdict was announced, we’d all gathered in the conference room to watch it on the big screen. No one thought he was innocent. Everyone thought the prosecution had screwed up. The case was debated for weeks.

Hearing about the upcoming book, and the TV interview to promote same, has brought back a lot of those memories. Some people say they’ll never forget where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the first plane hit the tower on 9/11. Me, I’ll never forget the O.J. trial. (The first one, moreso than the second.) Where I was. What I felt.

What about you? Did you follow the trial on Court TV? Were you glued to your TV screen when the verdict was announced? Or were you one of the sane ones who spent that time reading a good book? *s*

Saturday, November 18, 2006

O,J.'s Book: If I Did It

Judith Regan, O.J.'s editor/publisher, has defended herself for publishing his book and I have to say, I understand her defense. She said, "To publish does not mean 'to endorse'; it means 'to make public," she says.

"If you doubt that, ask the mainstream publishers who keep Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' in print to this day. ... There is historical value in such work ... for anyone who wants to gain insight into the mind of a sociopath."

"If I Did It," published by ReganBooks — an imprint to HarperCollins, is scheduled for release Nov. 30.

I do find it fascinating that probably the most vocal and indignant about this books publication were probably also the most vocal in saying that public money--our tax money-- should be used to support artists and finance artwork such as crosses in urine and a picture of the Madonna (not the singer--the real one) spattered with elephant dung. (Freedom of expression, ya' know?)

At least with the publication of this book I have a choice about whether I'll help finance O.J.'s new career as a writer. Thank heavens I have the freedom of expression NOT to finance this abomination.

Don't get me wrong: I hope Harper Collins loses it's shirt publishing this book. I hope NOONE buys it. I hope the money they've already spent (rumored to be 3.5 mil) has already gone to 'the children,' as Ms. Regan said she was promised it would. (And that it's all in some very secure account that daddy couldn't touch if his life depended on it.)

Isn't the usual censorship argument that people should be able to choose whether or not they have access to "something", whatever it is? (You can turn your TV off; you can NOT let your children read/watch it; you can flip the radio station or not take them to that particular museum or movie; you can monitor where they go on the internet.) And yeah, any public library who buys this book ought to be hounded should by those of us who do not want our money used in that way until the person(s) responsible are fired.

But I'm telling you, we're angry at the wrong people. We shouldn't be mad at the editor or publisher. We ought to be mad at the jury. They, a jury of his 'peers' in our society which depends on a fair judicial system, were the ones who let him off.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Censorship? Or good taste?

Several years ago, controversial author Bret Easton Ellis shocked the publishing world -- and readers -- with his book American Psycho, which, the story went, several editors at Simon and Schuster refused to edit because they didn't feel they could participate in the publication of a book that glorified the brutalization of women. Ultimately the publisher agreed and pulled the book, which was subsequently was published by Vintage. At the time several booksellers around the country agreed with S&S's take on the novel about a murderous Wall Street trader and refused to sell it.

More recently HarperCollins' sales force asked booksellers to buy a book blind from Regan Books (a subsidiary of Fox news), not knowing who the author was, but assuring them it was going to be a bestseller. Some bought into the hype; others didn't. Now we learn that the title of the book is IF I DID IT, by non other than O.J. Simpson, who says it's merely a detailed, hypothetical account of how he might have brutally killed his wife and her waiter friend. If he'd done it. Judith Regan, publisher, views it a little differently, stating that she sees it as his confession.

Meanwhile, booksellers are again having to make moral judgments. Most don't want to carry it; some are stuck with copies they bought blind; others don't want to sell it, but will special order for customers who ask; still others don't want to stock it, but also don't believe in censorship.

So, what do y'all think? Should this book have been published? (Even the always outspoken Bill O'Reilly, of Fox, says his company has "sunk to a new low.") Should booksellers sell it? Will people read it, putting, I assume, royalties into O.J.'s bank account?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Crossovers



One of the more interesting trends (to me at least) is how genres are getting to play in each others backyards more these days. It never made much sense to me that a romance writer isn't supposed to be able to write science fiction--or vice versa. All my friends who write are, well, writers. They read across genre and so why couldn't they write across them, too. But marketing tends to like boxes, which makes their job easier. I love to see it getting messy again.

What brings this up is having stumbled across a free PDF download of Subterranean Press' Issue 4, I came across Scott Westerfeld's very funny cliche SF Haiku. And from there looked him up on Amazon, because anyone with his kind of twist to his mind is my kind of writer. Sure enough, he's put a story into Sex in the System: Stories of Erotic Futures, Technological Stimulation, and the Sensual Life of Machines

Notice the flower on the cover--if that's not romance art, I'm need better glasses. You'd think they'd have gone for something, well, more robotic or phallic. So this seems a pretty blatent appeal not to erotica and romance readers. Which suits me fine. Now I've got a new author to read. Because CJ Barry (now to be known as Samantha Graves) just doesn't write enough science fiction romances.

Country Mouse

COUNTRY MOUSE

I live on the coast of Maine, on five acres of a quiet, rural peninsula with a year-round population of about a thousand. To me, a traffic jam is three cars passing when I want to leave my driveway. So a weekend in The Big City (Boston) is an adventure.
The dh and I just spent the weekend there, actually in a condo in Cambridge belonging to friends. We had a view of the Charles River and the Boston skyline. And parking, which is a biggie in that crowded city. The only drawbacks to staying in the condo were the city lights and constant noise when we country folk tried to sleep. I'm happy to report that not once did we get lost either in traffic or on the subway, called the "T." Tickets to ride the T are now called "Charlie Tickets," after the song by my old faves, the Kingston Trio.
Our main event was going to the theater. Saturday night we saw the classic courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men, at the Colonial Theater. The cast was basically an ensemble, but did have a couple of well-known names headlining. Richard Thomas, John-Boy, played the dissenting juror. He's now fifty-five. Can you believe it's been that long since The Waltons? And George Wendt, Norm from Cheers, was the jury foreman. Everyone in the ensemble was great. And although I'd seen the movie with Henry Fonda and knew the outcome of the play, the story and the acting were riveting and emotional.
Returning home prompted me to think about Thanksgiving. No, that's not an off-the-wall segue. The trip made me realize more than the usual things I'm thankful for. I'm thankful I live where I do, so at night it's peaceful and dark. But I'm also thankful I can visit a city and enjoy the culture it has to offer. Seeing the play reminded me of one of our most precious freedoms, the right to trial by a jury of our peers, a right that could be in jeopardy, given some recent changes in laws. Without getting into politics, I'm also grateful that we are a nation ruled by laws, with checks and balances, so rights can be protected even when threatened.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Susan Vaughan
http://www.susanvaughan.com

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On Becoming A Classic...

Today, Nov. 15, is my birthday. I'm 51. (And you thought I was going to talk about books!)

Now, normally at this age, people are edgy, leery of what black balloons or whatever like items their friends are going to fire at them. Or the red hats. God forbid, the red hats. Last year, at 50, my friends bombarded me with red hat items. (This was after my husband called them and told them that BLACK was definitely out!) However, I really am not a red hat kinda gal. Although I have nothing against the red hats (actually I rather like them--I look good in red) I'm a blue jeans wearing woman with style who would rather think of herself as a classic. You know, still sleek lines (perhaps a little worn), beautiful and something that could still give that old guy pleasure. Unfortunately, the red hat ladies go by that poem that talks about being old and wearing tennis shoes, purple and...well, red hats.

Sorry, I just can't see myself in that. So, the other day in the paper I find this article about the Blue Thong Society! After reading this I said, "Hey, that's me! I still have a kick in my gate! I wanna be a blue thong!" I looked them up. They're a set of savvy women who want to have fun.

And it occurred to me, something about blue thonged women would make a good book. I'll be working on that, but in the meantime, I'll be having lunch with my friends again this year, and you know what? I think I'll buy them each a blue thong...

Have a great one to all out there.

~ Lise

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

I love movies about the writing life. My favorites have been Finding Forrester, with Sean Connery as the grumpy, reclusive writer, and Wonder Boys, starring Michael Douglas, a professor of literature who has a thousand page manuscript he can't finish.

After this weekend, I have one more movie to add to my favorites list.

In Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick is a solitary drone of an IRS agent whose carefully controlled life is turned upside down when he begins to hear a female voice narrating his every action, thought, and feeling in alarmingly precise detail. If that isn't bad enough, when the voice declares he's facing imminent death, Harold realizes that, as impossible as it sounds, he's a character in a novel. So, now he must find out who's writing his story and convince her to change the ending.

The voice in Harold's head turns out to be novelist Karen "Kay" Eiffel, brilliantly played by Emma Thompson, who's been suffering writer's block for the past ten years, trying to figure out the best way to kill Harold. Eiffel has garnered fame in the past for always killing her characters just when they have the most to live for.

Desperate to avoid an untimely demise, Harold seeks help from a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman in a wonderfully subtle performance) who tells Harold that he needs to figure out whether or not he's in a comedy or a tragedy.

Is Harold in a tragedy? Or a comedy? Will the narrator kill him? Or can he find her and convince her to let him live?
Even if it'll mean giving up on what Hoffman describes as her potential masterpiece?

For those of you who don't think you like Will Ferrell (who plays Harold), ignore your preconceptions from SNL or some silly comedies. He plays the role in an understated, Everyman performance that had me thinking the part would've, in the 40s or 50s, been played by Jimmy Stewart. Or more recently, Jeff Daniels. Maggie Gyllenhall is also marvelous as the anarchist baker he's assigned to audit, and if I have any quibble with the film, it was that I kept wondering how long it took to paint that tattoo on her every day before filming.

This movie will make you laugh, make you cry (and yes, that's a cliche, and I don't often use it), and you and whatever significant other you have in your life -- whether husband, lover, sibling, best friend, whatever, that special person you trust enough to share your writers' angst with -- will so identify. And hey, what a relief to see a novelist, even a fictional one, more neurotic than I can get when faced with the inevitable writer's roadblock.

As we walked out of the theater, my sweetie said to me, "Well, you're not as bad as her." I decided to take that as a compliment.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can Storytelling Be Taught?

For a few years I've taught a synopsis writing class for various online writing group--it's been an education for me, too. The most recent, for Outreach International RWA, is a good group. They all are, actually. It's always encouraging to think more good writing is coming from somewhere. But I always hit a point where I wonder if this class should be "How to Tell A Story."

That is what a synopsis is, and folks seemed to get bogged down in details, not the actual telling of the story.

The class always hits a point where I start talking about telling only the main points, the turning points, of the story in the synopsis. And a collective duh seems to come up. So--does no one teach story structure (other than Robert McKee, who does it brilliantly)?

McKee teaches story structure--he's thought about it, knows how to break it down. And it certainly sticks with some people to judge by the successful works that have come from his class. But obviously not everyone gets it. So are there some things about story telling that can't be taught? Some kind of instinct you have for when a story goes off? Sort of like the kind of sense of direction that keeps some folks from getting lost in the woods?

Even my earliest memories of writing, I knew when it was 'bad.' I just didn't always know how to fix the bad stuff, (and thank god I learned). But that's craft. That anyone can learn. One reason I can teach is that I've learned a lot of stuff the hard way--I had to break it down, figure it out, so that's what I teach in return. But is there something more. Some combination of analytical and creative left/right brain and damn stubborn inclination that makes a story teller?

I've always been inclined to think anything can be taught. I know you can always teach enough to make someone technically capable. And maybe that's the real truth. Maybe it's not so much an on/off writer gene. Maybe there's degrees of story telling ability--and willingness to learn.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Regency paranormals

There's been a discussion this week on the email loop for the Beau Monde, a chapter of Romance Writers of America that caters to authors who write books set in the Regency. Do readers of Regency historicals mind if the books have paranormal elements, ie., ghosts, vamps, werewolves, time travel, etc.?

Personally, I won't read them. It's just my own personal prejudice. I want real stories, but not really. Unless Cinderella stories are really real.

Friday, November 03, 2006

High concept or hype concept?

A few days ago, a fellow RWA chapter member posted a movie producer's take on "high concept." It was pretty much what we've heard before: A one-sentence (or better yet, three-word) rendition of the movie/book/story/whatever. But s/he added on attributes like catchy title, gripping premise, etc.

When I asked on the chapter Yahoo! group whether high concept actually applied to us as writers, two responses came back. Both were essentially about selling -- boil the idea down to the bare bones, make sure those bones are catchy, and viola! you've got something that our soundbite obsessed society can grasp. One response, from a published author, mentioned the fact that her high concept novels were more easily "sold" internally at her publishing company (e.g., editor to marketing, marketing to sales) and enabled those novels to be released in international markets.

And yet....

I'm of two minds about anything deemed "high concept." I've heard the term mentioned in reverent tones, as if an idea's being high concept will almost guarantee bestsellerdom and gigantic advances. I've also read a couple of high concept books that left me cold.

As Leslie Wainger, venerable editing goddess at Harlequin, used to say: It's all in the execution.

Can anyone recommend a high concept book that was also a great read?