Saturday, March 31, 2007
What a blast!
The workshops were awesome - New York was awesome! Many cudos to the entire PASIC Power Conference 2007 committee!
Are we ever where we want to be? It is always about looking ahead? There's been talk of goals and dreams, and knowing the difference. And I wonder.
The dream used to be to get published. That was the goal, too. To just finish the book. Then the next book. Then a book that would sell (there are seven under the bed that are not getting out anytime soon). Then it was the book sold, so it was promote the book--signings, bookmarks, ads. Do that whole thing. And the next book done and the next contract, and the next, and trying the whole build a career thing. And I wonder.
Is there such a thing as too many goals? So many you can't see that dream anymore--or it's become a waking nightmare. Or maybe you've got the wrong goals--goals that are doing more harm than good in getting them done? Or you've got goals and you're meeting them, and it's all good. But there's still so much focus on tomorrow that today gets neglected. And I wonder.
Is this perhaps the real blessing of between contracts. A time to skip past dealing with the day-to-day of deadlines? A time to think and breathe and remember doing something you love so much you'd do it even if no one ever paid you a dime? I love to let a book sit a spell. It gives perspective. It's not a bad thing to let a career sit a bit. Get perspective. Gives time to wonder again.
And I'm ready--lord, am I read--to get back to the writing. Thank god that after all the talking and the sessions and the gossip and the market trends, the written word is there. Because these days, for me, it's back to just that one goal. Finish the book, make it good, tell this story, get it written. That's the place to not wonder so much--it's more about the doing than the thinking. I like that place.
And, I begin to think, as writers, maybe we all think too much; try to plot a life the way we do a book. When, in truth, sometimes we really just have to live.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Since it's Friday, it's down to business day. Sue Grimshaw of Borders started the day--well, actually, Patti did with the welcome, but Sue got into the details of book and Borders and what's going on. As almost everyone must know, WaldenBooks are going away--malls are not the places they used to be, it seems. But Border Superstores are doing great, so more coming. And Borders is getting its own online act together, so more good stuff I hope (they have a chance to use the latest tech at least). So--what's good for authors to get the word out? ARCs to bookstores, bookmarks to Borders romance specialist stores. Websites (well, yes, this is a blog, right). Sue encouraged authors to let her know about cool stuff being done--as in those great video or audio trailers that seem to be the new rage. (Big hint, put faces in--Borders creative folks want to see trailers with actors so the trailers look like the books are about 'someone' not 'something' or 'someplace'. I imagine that holds true for just about everyone else, too.)
There's more--and I'm sure it'll be covered in loops, but a blog only does so much.
Seemed like everyone wanted to know about promotion--and what's selling. No one's willing to say what might sell next and that seemed a wise idea.
Then it was an editor's panel. Avon, Berkley, Pocket and Dorchester were all represented. A lot of the questions put the focus again on the business side of thing--dull stuff like numbers. The editors all agreed they like steady sell-through numbers (and great books) more even that best seller lists (but USA Today list was picked as being good for honest sales numbers, even if it doesn't show the entire life of a book--which makes me wonder, does any reader really look at best seller lists? I never do--I always look for my favorite authors). MySpace got a mention for promotion, so did Amazon Connect, but it all came back to writing (which is like well, duh time again on that).
Then Kensington came in to talk covers -- Kate Duffy, who always has the best stories, arrived with Creative Director Kristine Mills-Nobel. They're both smart, and droll, so it was soon the Kate and Kristine show, and I'm not going to retell anything, because I wouldn't do any of the stories justice. But it was way more fun to see some of the covers that didn't make it to the final cut. There's more this afternoon--way, way more. And even more tomorrow. (Can we spell exhaustion at this point?)
Personally, I'm at the place I always get a day into these things where I want to go home and write--this is why I've learned to bring my laptop. It's not the comfort of home, but it is hte comfort of the written word. But, honestly, I love these things--I've already met more new instant friends (went to a play with two of 'em last night, and I'm rooming with another one). And it's just nice because writing is so solitary and this isn't. So bring on the coctails again--tonight I'm almost ready.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Perhaps you handed them an idea, a rough manuscript, and while they were honest enough to tell you what didn't work, they also knew that there was "something" worth pursuing, and they are willing to invest themselves to help you get there. They could see through the crap to the gem, they know it's there, and they make you believe it, too. In a profession riddled with doubt and focused on dollar signs, this is not small beans. They have faith.
I have been fortunate enough to have both an editor and now an agent who have given me this particular gift, and it makes you want to work harder, to strive farther, to do the thing they believe you can do, even if you don't believe it yourself sometimes. I don't know if our industry is filled with many of these people nowadays -- the 20 or so agents who rejected me saying "loved the idea, hated to book, sorry," would seem to prove not -- most are looking for something already formed, not something to discover.
I was fortunate to find the person who finally said "love the idea, hated the book -- let's work on doing it again the way I know you can do it."
When people like this -- people who have been around for so long, and who have seen so much, and who know so much -- believe we can do it, how could we not do it? They make you believe that falling short of their expectations is not possible. It changes your entire outlook.
Who are you thankful for? Who keeps you going, and makes you want to work harder, go farther?
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
That's what I'm wondering about this Wednesday. There are books that offer the specific promise of action between the covers – Harlequin Blaze, Silhouette Desire, Ellora's Cave, and lots of other single title novels. But when you read a romance that isn't specifically represented as being sexy, are you disappointed if the characters don't have sex?
I'm wondering because lately, I've read several books where it felt like the sex was thrown in just because it was required. It's not explicit, so it's not there for the steam factor; but it doesn't really seem to advance the plot or the relationship either. And usually, the hero and heroine have only known each other for a couple of days. The characters' motivations seem realistic in every other respect … but in the real world, it doesn't seem (to me) like they'd be ready to jump between the sheets so fast.
Do we just expect relationships to develop more quickly in a romance because the genre offers a heightened, more intense version of real life? Do publishers ask for lovemaking scenes because they feel they're expected? Or do readers need to know the characters made love in order to feel that they've really connected?
Or … maybe … is sex becoming obligatory in some romances?
Whenever I bring up a subject like this, I feel like Grandma Moses. So let me clarify one other thing: I'm not against sex in books. I'm just not necessarily for sex in all books. If it's not there for the rush of sensuality (which can certainly be fun!), and it doesn't contribute to the story, I just wonder … why is it there?
MEG'S CONFESSION, Avalon, February 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I love gritty romantic suspense. Karen Rose, Tess Gerritsen, Karen Robards provide amply. Adore Susanne Brockman, SEP, Nora Roberts. And the quirky musings of Jenny Crusie and Stephanie Bond.
I just discovered Christeen Feehan—I know, I know, where have I been, under a rock? But as a writer I don’t always have time to find new authors—that’s my sister’s job. And I’m jealous with my time. The book has to grab me right off.
I’m re-reading a couple Julie Garwood historicals—love ‘em
In a book, I like great characterization, good plot—one I can sink down into—and yes, sex. I want to read about interesting characters and I want dialogue that is fresh and real and interesting. Did I mention interesting?
My guilty pleasure—the extinct bodice ripper. I have to be PC in real life, I don’t want to have to do it in a book. I read for pleasure. It’s fiction.
So, c’mon, tell me what you like in a book. And tell me what you hate. As a writer, I’m really interested.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Monday is supposed to be a discussion of life's ups and downs. It's hard for me to feel down when right now my life is going pretty well. THE KILL was nominated for a Rita in Best Romantic Suspense, and I'm absolutely thrilled. But at the same time, I read a lot of fantastic books, many romantic suspense, that I think also deserve recognition, but didn't make it. Perhaps they didn't enter.
It's ironic because I almost didn't enter THE KILL. It's hard for me to judge my own books. I thought the first two in the trilogy had a better chance. But it seems to be THE KILL that's getting the attention (both in the RITA and the RT reviewers choice nominations.) Maybe I should read the book . . . (I don't read my books when they are printed. It feels too funny to me.)
Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS to all the finalists. This is a great list of authors.
But since this article is about ups and downs, I can say that I was a little down yesterday. A book I absolutely loved when judging the RITAs (in a different category than RS, of course) didn't make it. I was shocked. I loved this book. So I felt a little bummed this morning when I didn't see her name on the list.
I think that's the way with all of us, and one of the reasons why romance writers are the best. We support each other. Yes, we're competitive and possibly a little green-eyed at times, but 99% of the time we support our fellow writers in everything. When I went on the Levy Bus Tour last year, the head of the event said that she'd never seen any other genre as supportive and genre promoting as romance writers. There were fourteen of us on that tour, and we were happy to cross-sell readers who came up to us.
For example, a couple times I sat next to Susan Andersen, one of my favorite authors. She called her book "romantic suspense light." So the next time she said that, I said, "And I'm romantic suspense dark." For the rest of the weekend, whenever anyone said to me they thought my book would be too scary, I told them to go try Susan's book because she was lighter on the violence (and I've since read it and it is a wonderful story, too! BTW, Susan wrote one of my favorite heroes Elvis Donnelly in EXPOSURE.)
I am genuinely thrilled when someone has good news to share, no matter what it is. Because we really are a small community, and only other writers really understand about the stories. I can share quirks that my husband or mother or best friend would frown at (or want to send me off to the loony bin), but a fellow writer just nods and lights up. "Yes, I talk to myself all the time, too!" Only fellow writers understand that characters really become alive for us, that when we're writing, those characters are our favorite (so when someone asks who my favorite hero is, I have to say the one I'm writing now. Unless, of course, he's not talking to me then I cuss him out.)
So congratulations to all the finalists, because it is a thrill. And I'm also toasting everyone who entered and didn't final because I KNOW there were a lot of good books out there that didn't make it. I judged one of them.
BTW, a note to the Golden Heart finalists . . . a year or so ago I judged a book that I loved and knew it wouldn't final. I don't know how I know, maybe I'm psychic (ha!) but I remembered the story. I then saw that the same book finaled in another contest and I remembered the title (and the story, like a year later! The mark of a strong voice.) I then learned that this author sold. I knew she would, eventually. Sometimes it takes awhile, so don't lose the faith! And judging IS subjective. The books that final are good--no doubt about it--but there are many good books that don't make it. Keep writing!
Now, to segue into something completely different, I have to mention that my book, FEAR NO EVIL, is out in bookstores tomorrow. I gave my best friend an early copy (I know she'll go out and buy three tomorrow!) and she read it this weekend and said it was my best. (And I didn't even pay her to say it! Okay, I did take her out to lunch last week, but she's not that easily bought.)
In FEAR NO EVIL, Dillon Kincaid, a forensic psychiatrist, has 48 hours to find his sister, Lucy, before she's killed on a live webcast. The only way to find her is to locate renegade FBI agent Kate Donovan who knows more about the killer than anyone. Problem: she's wanted by her own government for murder.
Romantic Times gave FEAR NO EVIL a Top Pick as well. So if you want something scary (that promises a happy ending), I hope you consider my book!
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Today is the day the RITA calls go out. In case anyone isn't familiar with the RITAs, it's the top contest (for published books) that the romance genre has. It's a big deal for someone to win--at least in our little world, but outside of it? I'd argue, not so much.
I read the big three genres of fiction: mystery, scifi/fantasy and romance. Each has a big contest. The Mystery Writers of America has the Edgar. The World Science Fiction Society has the Hugo. And as a reader, I used to search those winners out; the contests are even listed at Amazon under Awards: Books. But the RITA? I'd never heard of it before I joined RWA, and it isn't anywhere on Amazon.
Perusing the web sites for the three contests you can see a few differences:
- The Edgars are free.
- As is the Hugo.
- The RITAs require a fee.
- The Edgars are judged by a committee. One committee for each category with five members on each. Thus each entry is read and judged by the same five people, all MWA members (which means they are published in the genre).
- The Hugo is completely chosen by popular vote by members of the World Science Fiction Society--you can not enter a book. It has to be nominated by the membership and a vote of this membership also determines the winner.
- The RITA is judged by published members of RWA. Each judge receives entries from various categories and books within a category are not all judged by the same judges. Finalist are judged by another group of published RWA members.
- The Edgars has among other things categories for books, TV series, movies and short stories.
- The Hugos has among other things categories for books, short stories, fanzines, artists.
- The RITAs has categories for books and novellas only.
Another thing that I see as a difference is the number of contests sponsored by local chapters. That really only happens in RWA. So, in any year, there are hundreds of "award winners".
I'm sure there are other differences, but these are the big four I see.
Which brings us back to the question--why doesn't the RITA get the recognition of these other contests outside the RWA world? Is it one or all of these elements? Or is it bias against romance? Should we look at doing something to increase the visibility of RITA outside RWA or should we look somewhere else for an award that has the same prestige for romance as an Edgar or Hugo does for mystery and scifi? Perhaps something that honors romance in all its forms: movies, TV shows, blogs, short stories, etc.? Or does it not matter at all? Would the romance genre not benefit from a higher profile contest?
What do you think?
Friday, March 23, 2007
I've been a bit befuddled about how to react to the book's early appearance. The writer part of me is excited--and nervous. The Earl looks so nice--and purple!--in the bookstore. I thought it stood out quite prominently on the display table--have I mentioned it's purple?--but, on closer inspection...were those fingerprints on the cover? Ack! Ah, but that's good. Someone has touched it. But it's still there, so that someone didn't buy it. Ack, again! Maybe the fingerprints belong to the bookseller who was setting up the display? So the book wasn't rejected...it wasn't even considered. (I clutch my hair and tug.) Will anyone buy the book?
Deep breath. Get a grip, I exhort myself. But then the promotion devil starts whispering in my ear...your publicity efforts are wasted. The book will trickle out. There's no chance you'll ever make a list of any kind. Your editor will be unhappy. Your career is over....
Sigh. Writers are a tad neurotic...or is it just me?
Anyway, in the normal course of events I'd be boring you all with this info next Friday, but...guess what?? I'll be busy next Friday. I'll be in New York City. I'll be at the PASIC conference! I'll be seeing many of the wonderful ladies who blog here. (And maybe I'll find out if any of them is as neurotic as I--or, better, learn how to cope from the pros.)
PASIC holds its conference once every two years and always in NYC. At the last conference in 2005 I was a rank newbie--my first book, The Naked Duke, had just come out that February. I knew next to nothing about the publishing industry, so the conference was a wonderful learning experience. I eagerly expect the same this time--and maybe this time I'll also learn to put some names and faces together.
Rumor has it that some of our intrepid bloggers will be posting reports from NYC, so be sure to check in and read what they have to say.
Oh, and if you see that handsome, very purple Earl? Feel free to pick him up and take him home. (Well, pay for him first, of course--I don't condone shoplifting.)
And don't worry--I'll remind you again on April 3.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
With LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION due out in less than 10 weeks, I’m bracing myself for the reviews that will start coming in soon. I’m not naïve enough to think everyone will love my sophomore effort. Why should they? Taste is subjective. I’ve tossed aside books after a chapter or two that other people have raved about, that reviewers have given high praise to, that have made “the lists.”
And I’ve loved other books that have received poor reviews and made no lists.
No matter how many people love a book, there are always others who don’t. As a writer I know that there will always be someone ready and willing to rain on my Happy Parade, rejecting my manuscript or proclaiming to the world via Amazon or cyber-review sites or in the print media that my darling, that precious newborn I labored so hard to produce, is a butt-ugly spawn of the devil. Yet no matter how pragmatic I try to be, it doesn’t make the rejection or the bad review any easier to take.
Which brings me back to my two friends because this is what I told them: Not every editor is going to fall in love with your next book, and you’re never going to please every reviewer. It didn’t make either of them feel any better. I didn’t expect it to, but still we say these words to each other because that’s what friends do at times like this. We also first rail about how unfair life is and how so-and-so wouldn’t know a good book if it bit her in the behind. Then we offer a shoulder, never-ending margaritas, and heaps of chocolate -- not necessarily in that order. We do this for each other because we’ve all been there and will undoubtedly be there again. We, more than anyone else, understand the pain of rejection and scathing reviews.
And that’s something that I’m very thankful for, today and every day. I’m thankful for a community of friends who understands the fragility of an author’s ego. No matter how supportive our spouses, non-writer friends, and relatives might be (for those lucky enough to have supportive spouses, non-writer friends, and relatives), they really don’t and never will ‘get it.’ Only another writer can understand the emotional roller coaster of being a writer.
So today on Thankful Thursday I raise my margarita class and pass the cyber-chocolates to my fellow writers. Thank you for being there for me!
Monday, March 19, 2007
Two dear friends took me out to lunch on Saturday - to celebrate both my then upcoming birthday and my son's, just passed, at a really nice little French restaurant up on Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood (which served a great chocolate souffle.) I digress. (but then blogs are sort of for digression) . They kept having to remind me that it was my birthday, too, when I joined the waiters in singing Happy Birthday to my son, but over-rode my own name. Oops.
Apparently, along with remembering to blog and maintain my car properly I do need someone to tell me that it's my birthday.
My friends kept pointing out to me that this was a milestone birthday and not only should I stop forgetting it, I should do something special - but it doesn't really feel like a milestone birthday, you know, one of those birthdays that end in zero and don't begin with a one. I think I'd worry if it did feel like a milestone. Life is a work in progress. A constant rewrite. A calendar page you forget to read.
Besides, I am doing something special, along with taking my car in for an oil change, that is. I'm going to write. I'm going to read. I'm going to spend some time with my kids and my husband and get Thai take-out.
I like milestones just as much as the next person, but not in terms of birthdays. I'm not worried about getting older, I'm not even concerned, particularly, over whether or not the glycolic acid #15 that supposedly eliminates wrinkles is working on those pesky things around my eyes. Well, I'm concerned to the extent that I did spend too much money on the stuff, so I hope it's doing SOMETHING other than getting on my hands when I rub my eyes, and then on my pen, which I chew on sometimes when I write. Nasty. Maybe your wrinkles vanish when you ingest the stuff.
Anyway, I prefer milestones in terms of books I've written. Books I've sold!
There, books - now I can officially and somewhat neatly segue into the true Tuesday topic which is -
I always have several going, my gym book, my car book (no, I don't read and drive, but I have been known to read while I pump gas, I have an SUV, and the cheapest gas station around, the local Arco, has verrry slow pumps) and my night table book (s). I have a fairly eclectic group of books right now - JAR CITY, an Icelandic mystery - I'm enjoying it tremendously, but how many American police detectives subsist on "junk food" like cold sheepshead? I'm also finishing both CHARMING JO and CHAMPAGNE RULES.
The authors of two of these books - Laura Drewry and Susan Lyons - are part of this blog. They do not appear to consume sheepshead, nor do their characters, but they're wonderful writers.
Anyway, veering back to milestones - I consider myself very lucky indeed to be a part of this blog, and a part of this group with so much talent. Now that's a milestone which doesn't require the application of gycolic acid #15.
Five O'Clock Shadow - OUT NOW!
The next morning I went online and ordered. Ten days later she arrived (yes, I have given her a sex and a name-female, Rosie.) To my surprise, those roses aren't silk at all. They're made of some nameless red fabric and stitched into the rim by their plastic, two-inch-long stems. The funkiest thing you ever saw! Not so beautiful as the picture; in fact kinda ugly. But she's still ultra cool, and I'm not the only one who believes this. Everywhere I carry Rosie, I get comments from women who want one just like her. Who'd have thought?
Anyway, as soon as I parked the car nice and close to the curb, I grabbed Rosie, whom I keep in the back seat of my car. When I pulled her into the front seat I accidentally hit the latch. She popped open. Fully open she's way too big for my car. I couldn't even open her all the way. I tried to close her back up to her trim little self, but for some reason that didn't work, either. I tried twice without any luck. Then I realized how funny the whole thing was. Well, I got the giggles. There I was, in the front seat of my Prius, laughing hysterically and trying to control my rebellious umbrella, while my husband got wetter by the second. Hey, he could've stayed dry if only he'd grabbed Rosie for himself. But for some reason he won't touch her.
At last I closed the thing and exited the car. My husband just shook his head. But I kept on laughing.
Next time he rides in my car he'll bring his own umbrella.
It Happened One Wedding, April, 2007
Another Life, April, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Here in Northern California in mid-March, birds are nesting, my front porch looks like a wedding passed by with the huge plum tree in brilliant white bloom and petals drifted up and down the stairs and every night, countless frogs fill the air with their love songs.
Later in the summer, I'll close the drapes to keep out hot sunlight, but now I pause when I pass a window to absorb soft heat that melts winter cold right out of my bones.
And this spring after way too long between sales, my counting book for the picture book crowd One Frog Sang is on the shelves. Artist Cynthia Jabar enriched the story with vibrant illustrations, may of the double page spreads begging to be framed. In fact, my daughter Cherie created an amazing wall hanging copy of one of those spreads, using applique, embroidery and quilting.
A few days ago, I spoke with several classes at Cherie's daughter Elizabeth's Montessori preschool. It was great fun to talk with the children about frogs and hear them repeat the different frog sounds, then count the frogs aloud on each page. As they returned to the class, the children were invited to come up and explore raised surfaces of the wall hanging with their hands.
On March 10th, my Candlewick editor came from Massachusetts to speak to a 1-day conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators in nearby Davis. She made my book part of her Power Point presentation and said she especially liked the line, "All the frogs sang for love."
Love is what spring is all about, really. Definitely my favorite season. Do you have a favorite? Care to share?
Visit me at: http://ShirleyParenteau.com, turn the sound up and release your inner child!
Friday, March 16, 2007
My computer died just before the Christmas holidays. I ordered a new one, with all sorts of cool bells and whistles, and an extra CD recorder...which refused to work the same way twice. So last Thursday, just before I drove down to Waco to do a workship at the Heart of Texas RWA chapter and see all my friends who still live in the area, I took it in to get fixed. And it took them a week to figure out what was wrong with it and how to fix it.
Apparenly, neither the recording software they installed to work with it, nor the software I had bought and installed to run with it knew how to work this CD burner. In fact, some of the time, it couldn't be found at all. And when the burner was found, it couldn't read what it just burned onto a CD. Or it thought the blank CD waiting to be burned was corrupted beyond all redemption. So the brilliant lads at the computer fix-it place installed another CD-burning software program, which apparently knows how to find the burner and read what it burns.
In this day and age, doing without a computer for a week can make a girl feel at loose ends. I'd see books stacked on the desk and think "Oh, I can log books into my list... no, I can't. I don't have a computer..." I could have checked e-mails on the "backup" computer in the back bedroom, but I didn't. I suppose I used the computerless status as a poor justification for laziness. I did keep writing, since I don't compose directly on a computer, though I didn't get as much done as I would have liked. (I actually blame that on the spouse being home for spring break, even if he did go down to the state capital for a couple of days to lobby the legislature for more junior college money) And I read.
I read the new Stephanie Laurens hardback The Taste of Innocence from the library. I read Nalini Singh's Visions of Heat, and Lydia Joyce's Voices of the Night, and The Earl's Secret by Terri Brisbin, and The Marriage Trap by Elizabeth Thornton, and The Abducted Heiress by Claire Thornton and The Secret Lives of Doctor's Wives by Ann Major, all good books well worth reading... I was kind of in a historical mood... but I had a great time, and I refilled that creative well a bit.
How much of a crisis is it at your house, if your computer is out in the shop? And what do you do to fill the time when it is?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Susan Elizabeth Phillips's extraordinary romantic comedy, Match Me If You Can is a delight. The book has a more "chicklit" cover and attitude, but SEP came through again with well-rounded and fascinating characters and more twists to the romance plot than the heroine's corkscrew curls. SEP has revisited the pro football world of the Chicago Stars with comic and heartwarming results. Heath Champion, the hot-shot and sometimes abrasive sports agent, hires not one, but two matchmakers to find him a bride. Annabelle Granger has inherited her grandmother's matchmaking business, including the seniors who were Nana's clients. In order to jumpstart the business her way, she needs a high-profile success--Heath Champion, called the Python for his cutthroat negotiating. This book is a great ride--crackling dialogue, sparkling wit, sizzling sensual tension, and characters who become their best selves because of each other. Don't miss Match Me If You Can. Now I have to find the next book, Natural Born Charmer, a sequel featuring one of the sexy football stars introduced in Match.
Now for those of you who are writers as well as readers, I have two books to recommend. The first is 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters, by Sue Viders, Lucynda Storey, Cher Gorman, and Becky Martinez (Lone Eagle Publishing Company 2006). Sue Viders is one of the authors of the must-have The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines (Lone Eagle Publishing, 2000), so you can be sure these authors know what goes into creating dynamic characters. The book includes forms, checklists and exercises to help a writer develop and build story characters. The exercises go beyond the usual backstory, occupation and physical description. They address such topics as successes and regrets, defining moments, family, pet peeves, soft spot, identifying tags, most prized possession, and flaws and fears. Their guidelines helped me develop the hero and heroine in my current project, so I feel I have much deeper characterization than I would have. The other handy manual is Becoming Your Own Critique Partner by Janet Lane Walters and Jane Toombs (Zumaya Publications, 2006). The authors are multipublished in a variety of romance subgenres and offer a wealth of examples and advice for critiquing one's own writing. The book covers in detail the aspects of ensuring one's novel is saleable, and more than saleable. The chapters address using telling and showing, deciding whether scenes stay or go, strengthening dialogue, building toward the black moment, using point of view effectively, and first chapters, among many others. Reading it cover to cover gave me the overview, and now I can refer to specific chapters's checklists and questions when I'm unsure of a scene or chapter or of my plot and characters. I recommend both these books as useful references in the writer's toolbox. Both are available online.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I bump into this with teaching more than writing -- many people are clear on the fact that that they can't write, but just about everyone who knows anything believes they can teach. But teaching is a profession, and those who have done it for many years will tell you, in the same way we learn about writing over the course of years, this is not a profession for the weak of heart, and it requires experience and specific skills. No, not just anyone can do it -- in fact, even experts in a field may be lousy teachers because they may not be able to communicate what they know in concrete ways that other people can grab on to. Knowing something, and helping someone else to know it, are vastly different things.
That's not to say we can't each share what we know and help others -- of course we can, and we should, we all have knowledge to share -- but when someone takes on the job of teaching in any kind of formal environment, it's a whole different thing.
For instance, I just bought a new writing book that people have raved about for years. I was hopeful, as it seems to address some of the issues I am facing in my writing life at the moment. I don't want to name names because I'm not that far into it, but within 40 pages already it has me annoyed. Typically, I don't buy a lot of these kinds of books for exactly this reason -- the writing industry is awash with "how to" books that make all kinds of promises to tell you how to do something, but in the end the books don't live up to their promises because they don't know how to teach. In my most cynical moments, I think they know they are duping me out of $25 with their "how to" promises; in reality, I think it's just that good people want to share what they know, but they don't really know how to do it in a useful way.
After teaching writing for so many years, I find the downfall of many "instructional" books is that they really aren't instructional at all, but more like motivational speaking. I crave the concrete. I know many of you out there have also taught, and you know that teaching means breaking things down to method, not just describing a general quality. It's not enough to tell a student their writing needs to "flow" -- you need to describe flow, show them examples of flow, and then help them to work in order to see flow in their own work in concrete ways, through transitions, linked passages, themes, etc (and of course, you may have to back up, show them what a transition or a theme is, how to find it, how to execute it, etc -- this is not easy analysis). Only in this way can someone really learn to do what you're trying to show them how to do.
Disappointingly, most writing books that advertise themselves as "how to" with "how to" titles end up really not telling you "how to" at all. They don't live up to the promises of what they say they are going to help you do. They lack the concrete. Part of the problem is that they attempt to do everything within one book -- how can you teach someone, really teach them, to write a novel in 180-300 pages? This is a comment we writing teachers make on the part of new writers: you are trying to take on too much, do too much within a short space, and so it forces you to fall into generality. Narrow, focus, be more concrete.
There are books that do this. Elements of Fiction series actually came up with a nice series of little books that focused 150-2o0 page books on just one element, or a small set of closely related elements -- plot, character, beginnings & ends, etc -- these are very good books, with exercises and examples. Taught by writers, and often by writers who have also taught professionally, and I think it makes a big difference. I could imagine seeing this series drill down even one more level, and have an entire book devoted only to writing romance characters, or how to set clues in a mystery -- really digging in. These are my fantasy writing books, I guess.
One of my very favorite writing books of all is Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which appears to be a literary meditation on writing (which it is), rather than a "how to," but there are loads of concrete lessons housed in beautifully crafted paragraphs that demonstrate good, sharp writing. I also like Joseph Williams' Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, which actually is a "how to." These two writers are also teachers. They know how to break it down.
I also find most books address a general or beginning writer audience -- for many of us, we don't need a lot of the beginner stuff, we need things that talk about writing and publishing at a more advanced level, but most writing books are targeted at novices -- am I missing some secret cache of expert writing references?
However, perhaps the real truth is that all the how of writing is OTJ (on the job) training -- you learn as you go, the lessons come from failures, hard work, and screw ups, and there really are no books that will take the place of that, because in the end, it comes down to figuring out what works for you, and making it happen. Dammit. While some may try to take this experience and teach it to others, the truth is, we all have to find our own way through it.
So, there's a lot of "how to" out there -- how do we know what to listen to? Experienced writers will know what they need, but it might be hard to find. What about new writers in the field? What advice to give them when seeking information and lessons? What are your favorite qualities in a writing "how to"? What's your opinion of writers using "how to" books, and what are the qualities of good ones?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The story is told in flashbacks. Jacob Jankowski is an elderly man in a nursing home. When the circus comes to town, he’s inexplicably infuriated when another resident of the home claims to have carried water for the elephants. We discover that Jacob knows the man is lying because he once worked with an elephant, and the great creatures drink such massive amounts that no one person can carry enough water for them. As a reader, I found myself rooting for Jacob both in his old age and in his youth. He’s a feisty, cantankerous narrator whose story grabs you by the throat in both time frames.
In his past the fact that Jacob doesn’t actually have a degree in veterinary medicine means nothing: in a world of illusion, he’s claimed as the Ivy League veterinarian to the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It’s the young man’s first lesson in the strange world of a traveling show. This book has it all: murder, intrigue, passion, page-turning pacing and great characters. However, what makes the novel unique is the gritty, atmospheric backdrop of a grade B train circus, a world author Sara Gruen recreates brilliantly, both with words and with black-and-white photographs at the beginning of the chapters.
The circus had a hierarchy with the performers at the top and the roustabouts at the bottom. While the performers always received their salaries, roustabouts were often not paid for months, working only for the food and makeshift shelter they were given. If the circus was having a bad run and couldn’t afford to feed so many mouths, crew members were “red-lighted”: tossed off the train in the middle of the night, hopefully when the train slowed for a red light as they came into a town. Sometimes, the tossers didn’t bother to wait for a red light. It was a violent subsistence level life and yet it was better than starving in those lean years which is why Jacob himself remained, despite his ill-defined status somewhere between performer and lowly workman.
He also stayed because he fell in love with the animals and the magic of the show. The dark foundations of the circus world supported a gorgeous, exciting spectacle that fascinated both its audience and its denizens. Let yourself be drawn into the magic, even as you you’re educated about its illusory nature by this most spectacular book!
Monday, March 12, 2007
The Silence of the Lambs meets The Sound of Music
The hero, a wildly handsome but misunderstood loner harboring a secret compulsion to chow down on humans, falls for the heroine, a sheltered, understated beauty who dresses in dull shades of gray and gets off on belting out tunes atop mountains.
When a serial killer kidnaps our beauty and tosses her down a well for safe keeping while he cuts a pattern for the spiffy frock she’s destined to become, our hero is forced to curb his hearty appetite and race against time and battle militant Nazis to rescue her.
Can their love survive a mad killer with a talent for sewing and a penchant for pretty dresses, an army of crazed Arians, our heroine’s charming but tacky habit of turning drapery into sports outfits, and our hero’s ever-increasing impulse to snack on the woman he loves?
They tried to deny the fierce attraction that drew them to each other, but her stirring rendition of Do-Re-Me and his delicious home-cooked meals prepared from secret recipes and served with a delightful Chianti lead them across the Alps and back into each other’s arms. In the end, love gives her the courage to go from frumpy to fabulous and he learns the true meaning of vegetariamism.
No? Then how about Gone With the Wind meets Jaws? Spoiled antebellum beauty encounters toothy alpha type while skinny dipping at midnight. And she thought Rhett Butler was a shark. (Oh, the possibilities.)
What examples have you used to pitch your books?
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Yesterday, I found out that Sharie Kohler, who writes as Sophie Jordon for Avon, made the USA Today List with her second book. I know she’s feeling like a winner. Congrats, Sharie! The funny thing was that Sharie talked about how, of all the things that helped her arrive on the list, she felt she actually had control of only one thing. And it’s true, things happen in this business that we have no control over – print runs, book placements, where our books are sold.
Yet, as I heard her news and saw her excitement, I knew that of the few things Sharie did have control of, she did them to the best of her ability. She wrote the best book she could. She promoted herself in the best way possible. She did this even when she faced some of the not-so-great sides of the business like deadlines and worries over another project. She remained positive and never stopped following her dream. She deserves to be a winner. And what a win.
Not all of our successes can be this big. But if we allow ourselves, we can celebrate all our wins–no matter how small. The completion of a chapter or a first paragraph, writing “the end” to a book, finaling in a contest, having your editor say something positive about your work.
My big win happened in November when I heard from Kim Lionetti that Dorchester was offering me a three-book contract and practically in the same day, Triskelion made an offer for a different book. Just like making the USA Today list, some of the things that landed me those contracts were out of my control. But the things I did have control of, writing one book after another in spite of the rejections, continuing to enter contests, and proceeding to learn and improve my craft, Those things, I did do. I did the best I could, and I think I was able to keep doing them because I learned to celebrate all the small wins along the way.
So today, my question to you is ...what can you do to the best of your ability to help your career? What small wins are happening along your path that help you keep going?
Congrats, Terri! Look for the link to the gift certificate from Barnes and Noble in your mailbox!
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Friday, March 09, 2007
“'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss: in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear.”-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
As an author, I'm so thankful for the existence of "the good reader," and as a reader, I'm grateful for those times when a book snatches me up in its grasp and carries me away. I'm especially appreciative of those rare moments when something an author has written resonates right to my center.
And I'm terribly sorry for those who have forgotten the quiet joy of reading and the respite that it offers from the noisy and demanding world. Too many are so caught up in spoon-fed, electronic entertainments or in fracturing their focus between text messages, e-mails, the Web, and other forms of virtual enslavement. They've forgotten what it is to fix their attention on the pages of a book and allow their imaginations to get so caught up in the thoughts and dreams of characters that meals go uneaten and e-mails go unchecked (oh, the horror!)
So what's the title of the last book that caught you up in its vortex -- the one you would use to show the world's non-readers exactly what they're missing? I'll start off by mentioning The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. It's a fine, old-fashioned Gothic populated by lonely moors and swirling mists and spooky/shocking family secrets. Wonderful story.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
So I'm giving thanks that I'm not only here, but I'm here with arms, legs, and everything else intact, which means I'll live to write another day . . . or two. :)
My third book, The Naked Earl, will hit bookstores on April 3. I was thrilled when Publishers Weekly gave it a great review. (You can see the review online on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, if you want.) It was my first time in PW. I was happy dancing along with my editor and agent. Then Romantic Times BOOKreviews gave the book four stars and a K.I.S.S. (Knight in Shining Silver) for the hero. More happy dancing here at chez MacKenzie. And then...well, then I got an advance copy of a review from someone who did NOT like the book. It was worse, really. She wasn't some ignorant toad. She was a fan! She'd loved my first two books; she was disappointed and slightly upset by this one.
Sigh. No happy dancing.
My philosophy on reviews keeps evolving. The fact of the matter is, you just can't please everyone--and you shouldn't try. If you did, the book would be a complete mess, contradictory, unfocused--or, worse, bland and boring. Reviews--yes, alas, even the good ones--are simply one person's opinion.
I do read my reviews if I come across them. (My Lenten resolution for the Earl, though, is to step away from Google.) Now I'm trying for what I consider a Zen outlook--the ability to be dispassionate about the review and the book. Oh, I'm not totally fooling myself here. I'll still feel elated at a good review and kicked in the gut by a bad one. But I also try to ask myself--after I've recovered my equilibrium--does the reviewer have a valid point or something interesting to say? Do I want to consider anything here when I write my next book? Or does the reviewer merely have his/her head up his/her...ahem.
(It's sort of like child rearing. I love my kids to death, but when I get less than pleasant information about them, I owe it to them, actually, to consider whether there is any truth in the matter.)
This doesn't mean I will let a reviewer change my writing--not at all. But I do find that occasionally I learn something useful--or even fun--that I can play with in my next novel. My writing skills are always growing, after all. I can find inspiration anywhere--even in a review.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
To editing: "The first step is to itemize all of the critical applications in your organization and obtain a physical and logical architecture diagram, including the supporting systems."
It might seem that the contrast, not to mention the shift in role from writer to editor, might be too drastic for my brain cells to handle, but I love it, and realized yesterday that even if I sold big in the fiction market (we can dream, right?) that I would not want to give up editing. It presents an entirely different set of challenges and I value that.
While the two roles are drastically different, one provides not only relief from the other, but products that are completely different and equally rewarding. When I talk to a writer with my editor hat on, I relate to writing in a different way and I get an inside view on editing that helps me in my fiction writing. As a writer, I can relate to text -- and writers -- in ways that I hope make me a more effective and sensitive editor (and this all makes me appreciate my own editor, and editors at large, even more).
In addition, there are blogs, email, IMs, and the other myriad writtten communications and forms that weave throughout the day, all addressing different topics and issues, and while this makes it hard to stay focused sometimes, in the end I find they all influence my writing style in some way, making me sharper, more aware, and more flexible than if I spent all of my time doing one kind of writing.
I think this is why writers often need to branch out to other genres and forms, to keep their writing muscles nimble. However, I wondered if that was true for everyone, of if this is just a result of my need for something new to do every 30 minutes (you can make short attention spans work in your favor, see?).
What other writing hats do you wear -- do you work jobs that require different kinds of writing or thinking about writing? Do they feed into your fiction or are they a distraction (or a source of information and energy)? Do you write in mutliple genres, or for different outlets?
I was just wondering. . . ;)
(for some reason this is showing up wonky in the preview, but I'm just going to go ahead and publish and hope for the best... apologies ahead of time if the fonts are strange...)
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
So I said to Barb: "I'd really like to write about Atlantis. But the books I have in mind are sweeping quest epics, and dark and twisty, and hot and sexy, and I'm just a romantic comedy author."
She said, "Go for it! What do you have to lose?"
And after a little consideration, I did. I even took a new name, Alyssa Day, so I could feel a freedom to go to scary places in my writing that I'd never gone before. Somewhere in the time between then and today, the release date for the first of the Warriors of Poseidon series, ATLANTIS RISING, I realized that the whole "dark side come to life" was a pretty good gig.
If you watch the excellent TV series, HEROES, you'll see that Niki/Jessica has (have?) a similar thing going on. It rocks. Jessica takes the blame for everything! But I've been doing this for more than a year.
Forgot to do laundry? Sorry, Alyssa was busy buying new motorcycle boots.
No groceries in the house? You don't expect a kickass paranormal author to COOK, do you?
Bad, seriously bad PMS? Nope, that was Alyssa yelling. Mom would never say "go to your room before I velcro your brain to the wall." Had to be Alyssa.
My husband, Navy Guy, is delighted by the whole thing. Because Alyssa? has very slinky taste in lingerie . . .
Tell me about YOUR dark side!! And if you're bored and surfing, there's a very cool interview Christine Feehan did with me here!
best wishes, from Alesia
buy the book, already! from Alyssa
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Some of the wonder I felt as a child is gone, but there are movies I still fall in love with. There are some that enchant me from beginning to end and can watch over and over. Others have an element or two in them that intrigues or excites me. And yet others are wonderful movies that I'm glad I saw once, but have no desire to ever see again.
Platoon falls into the last category. It was an intense story, so intense that I couldn't take the stress--not nonstop--and I'd find myself flipping away from the movie and then going back to it when I thought I could handle it again. I'm kind of a wimp!
Titanic, the last movie I've seen in the theater, is another one of these watch once films. I tried to see it again because I did like it a lot, but it just didn't hold my attention the way it did the first time. Same with Dances With Wolves.
Then there are the movies that I could sit through every time they were on and never lose interest. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This movie has more quotable lines than any other I've ever seen. :-) Of course, I loved the Python show when I saw the reruns as a teenager, so it might be an acquired taste.
Speed and The Terminator both combine great action with a romance. What can be more romantic than a man who fell in love with a picture and travels across time to save you? (Terminator) Or a man who'll put his own life at risk to save you? (Speed)
My guilty pleasure movie is Valley Girl. I know, you're rolling your eyes and going, "Valley Girl?" But if you can totally, you know, like get past the slang, it's a sweet romance between a rich girl and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. And the movie has one of my favorite lines ever. Our heroine tells her dad she has a problem (meaning being torn between the popular guy who's after her and the punker boy she likes), but before she can explain what it is, he says: "Take it back and get the more expensive one. You know the more expensive ones always fit better."
Sometimes, though, it's just one element of a movie that intrigues me and leaves me so excited, I want to see it again and again. It happened recently when I saw Sliding Doors. In this film, our heroine's life diverges on two separate time lines. In one, she makes the train and arrives home to catch her live-in boyfriend in bed with his ex-lover. In the second, she misses the train and is none the wiser. I found the whole premise fascinating and I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Haven't we all wondered "What if?" What if I'd changed my major in college? What if I'd said yes to the guy that asked me to have coffee with him instead of hurrying to catch the bus? What if I'd gotten a call from the ad agency in Chicago before I agreed to work for the airline? And this movie doesn't even take a huge event like one of these scenarios. It looks at something small. How would your life be different if you missed the train? Wow! I still find myself intrigued by the idea that something so tiny can have such a profound ripple. Would we even realize that in our own lives?
The film I watched last night was Stranger Than Fiction and it had me wondering and thinking, too. In this movie, a man hears someone narrating his life and it turns out that he's a character in this author's book and she's going to kill him off! Can he stop her before it happens? Talk about totally intriguing! Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I was rapt for the length of the picture. This is a story I'll be thinking about for a long time to come.
What movies attract and hold your attention? What's your guilty pleasure movie? What movie did you think you should have loved, but didn't? (Mine was Shakespeare In Love) Do you have a film that had an element that kept you thinking about it after the movie was over? If you could only choose three movies to watch and you'd never see another, which three would you choose?
Watch my book trailer!
Shards of Crimson -- Available Now
In the Midnight Hour -- August 2007
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007
… Heck, for me, it doesn't happen every YEAR. But I'm pleased to say that with the release of MEG'S CONFESSION, I'm no longer a one-book wonder.
It's a nice milestone, to be sure. Now when I search for myself on Amazon, I find two listings instead of one. And while multi-pubbed writers like Nora Roberts may now chuckle fondly over the memory of the first time they had two books to rub together, it's really nice to see them side by side on the shelf.
When that box filled with copies of my first book came, my husband knew just what to do. He took a picture of me sprawled on the living room floor with those books, while we still had them all together. Then we went out to dinner at Sizzler.
This time, we took pictures of me on the floor with MEG'S CONFESSION, although it was a week or so later. And I doubt I'll hit the living room floor with every book I write. (Our carpet is getting old, for one thing.) But I've heard many times that the pleasure of holding that shiny new book in your hands never gets old.
Surely every book is reason for celebration, whether it's the first book or the forty-third. So, is there anything you do to commemorate a new release? Any special traditions?
She ducked into a confessional and told him her darkest secret.
The trouble is … he's not a priest.