Friday, February 29, 2008

Why I love Drunk Writer Talk

Not the blog, but the getting together with my writer friends and talking writing, storytelling, rejections, successes and everything else in between.

I love my other friends, but they want to talk about their careers, and children, and the state of the world, and while I love these discussions, it doesn’t make me feel better when the writing isn’t going well.

It’s important because no one else wants to discuss at great length how awesome the story telling is in, Battlestar, Damages, Lost and Friday Night Lights. My non-writer friends love these shows, but don’t really have the same burning need to know why.

It’s important because no one, not husbands, not mothers, not even our best friends understand how devastating some rejections can be. And therefore they don’t have quite the right words to console. A pat on the back and ‘the next agent will love it’ doesn’t work.
Although a pint of cider sometimes does, and a bottle of wine always wins.

It’s important because no one else understands how freakin’ difficult it is to write the books we write. Truly… I think deep down every non-writer thinks they could be a best selling author if they just put pen to paper.

It’s important because it feeds my creativity. Other writers’ opinions, theories, even wacky suggestions usually get my brain working.

And most of all, it’s fun.

And again, I have gotta pimp Damages. Saw the second show, and love the questions being raised and the two timelines.. and how jaded Rose Byrne manages to make her character in the second timeline without saying a word.
I think I have a girl crush on Glen Close.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Writer Angst

Damn. Is it Wednesday already?

I completely forgot it was my drunken blog day. I haven't even had a drink to prepare.

Since I have no topic... I'm going to dump what's on my mind right now... which is mostly angst.

We writers can be a neurotic lot and I'm certainly no exception. Add that to the very long list of why my previous career didn't suit me. No one wants their accountant to be stressing all the time, or second guessing their choices, or what people mean, or reading between the lines of two sentence e-mails trying to find subtext that probably isn't there. (All things I've done in the past 2 hours.)

I'm extra-angsty this week, because I'm waiting on a couple of things. I have zero expectations of getting to the final 10 in that Amazon contest... (Really, I expected to be one of the 4900 already eliminated.) yet somehow, as the date draws near, I'm getting bummed that I probably won't be in the top 10. I also sent a new project to my agent this week and am DYING to know what she thinks. This is far from the first time I've been in this situation and you'd think I'd be better at handling it by now, but I'm not. I know I need to keep working on the new project, but suddenly it feels pointless...

I spent the first couple of days of this week on a serious high. Things were finally going my way. 2008 was going to be my year and everything was about to start falling into place.

Somehow, between Tuesday morning and now, the glass that looked more than half full, has completely drained. And I can't even site a specific trigger for this mood change. Can't find a hole in the glass, and haven't seen Daniel Day Lewis with a really long straw. (You need to have seen There Will Be Blood or last week's SNL to get that one. Okay, you need to see There Will Be Blood to get the sketch from SNL... But boy, did that SNL guy do a good impression of DDL.)

Given today's pessimism, let's hope I'm not psychic, or that if I am, my abilities were working earlier in the week but are on the fritz now.

What do you do to keep sane while waiting on news?

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Lifestyle is Catching Up With Me...

For years a friend and I made a huge deal about the Oscars. We had an ongoing bet about who could guess the most winners and it got elaborate. Sealed envelopes mailed across the country, faxes, midnight deadlines - it was a ball. The loser had to pay for this wildly decadent brunch on Easter in LA. That doesn't happen anymore - so so so sadly. It was a stupidly amazing brunch and I usually won. Since we've stopped doing that, I've stopped caring quite so much about the Oscars. This year I actually had a chance to see a few more Oscar films - of which I've seen ONE. And instead I choose to see In Bruges. (A great little film - highly recommend). Usually, I can be counted on to care about watching the Oscars. I really really like the dresses and Cate Blanchett's dress usually makes watching a three hour show totally worth it. And I love Jon Stewert.

I saw exactly ten minutes this year. I was asleep with my toddler at 9:30.

Javier Bardem (handsome dude) and his silver bedecked mother. That's what I saw. I heard there were some fun upsets in the actress category - that usually makes for some entertainment. But from what I saw on the red carpet -- the dresses were really boring. The jewelery was spectacular. But, again, I didn't see Cate.

So, tell me those of you with a more exciting life than mine -- how was it?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where the art comes in

I’m thinking back to Maureen’s post on can writing be taught? I believe everyone can learn to craft a sentence, come up with some sort of conflict and characterization, but lately, I’m discovered the books I enjoy the most do something that I believe is due inherently to the talent of the author.

They raise deeply compelling questions at the beginning of the book and answer those questions at the time when the reader absolutely is dying to know the answer, but as the author answers that question, at the same time, the author also raises two more compelling questions.

It’s knowing not only the question to raise, but also, the answer the reader really wants, but doesn’t expect.

I think that’s the art of it.

And even the most talented writers don’t get that knack for it in the first, second, even third books. Judging from the list of rejections of some of the best-selling authors out there, I would say it takes time and lots of writing to really finesse the talent.

The questions don’t have to be plot driven, they can be characterizations that are hinted at, something held back that keeps the reader needing to know more. And it’s a delicate balancing act, because as writers we have to give the reader enough to raise curiosity, but not so much we give away the baby with the bathwater.

To me it’s the magical element of storytelling. It's the one element that's the most trial and error, hit and miss.

It seems really instinctual to me, but I'd love to hear other perspectives on this.

Plus, am finally catching Damages. Caught the first episode this past Monday and wow, speaking of raising questions. This show has seriously got me hooked in one episode.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Contests

Okay, so I had another topic that I'd been thinking about blogging about this week... but something has got my mind on contests, again ;-)

And it's not just the ABNA thing. I'm the coordinator for my local RWA chapter's contest this year and I've spent a good chunk of the last week getting everything ready to go for that.

My opinion on writing contests has vacillated considerably over the five or so years I've been writing. The first contest I ever entered, the feedback I got just made me angry. I suppose it was the first time I'd received absolutely objective feedback. Not that I think my CP's or writing instructors had been lying to me... but they gave me feedback face-to-face, and so couched the negative in positives and were likely gentler than the anonymous judges.

I should see if I still have that entry and the feedback to check, but I expect much of it would echo the feedback I'd give if judging my 2003 era work. (But I think a few things would still make me angry. Some people have strong and strange biases and while you hope a judge won't let her bias show... it often does.)

A year later, armed with a new manuscript, I entered a whole whack of contests -- every one I could find that had a final round judge from Harlequin, the house I was targeting with that ms. I think that's the year my eyes were opened about the hit or miss subjectivity of contests. So much depends on the quality of the judges (which you can't control) and their likes and dislikes. And the only way to "control" the likes and dislikes part is to write something very vanilla, sure not to offend anyone, and while that might get you ahead in contests, I firmly believe it will NOT help you get published.

My mileage certainly varied contest to contest that year. In my own local chapter's contest, I did terrible. Whoever in TRW read my stuff that year hated it. Two out of three of them, anyway. Enough to put me way down in the pack. The exact same entry came second in the NYC chapter's contest and 3rd in the New Jersey one, and finalled in one more... Can't remember which. Now, I guess that's not a great ad for the contest I'm running this year, LOL. But it made me realize just how much luck goes into contests. You have to get the right judges. (Don't even get me started on my ms that BOMBED in the GH one year and finalled the next -- with no changes.)

I don't enter many contests anymore. I've got an agent to get my work in front of editors and don't feel like I need the pats on the back that contests can sometimes bring. (Okay, sometimes I do.)

That said, obviously I enter some. Higher profile ones. Ones where the stakes are high enough to make it worth the trouble.

How about you? Do you enter contests? What makes you decide which ones to pick?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why I am LOST...all over again.

I have held onto Lost through thick and thin. Polar bears, black smoke, strange cabin in the woods, others, the other others, the former/earlier others, Locke's flying leap off the deep end, Charlie's totally unnecessary death, Kate and Sawyer - I've watched and I've waited, sure sooner or later my dedication would be rewarded by one answer. Any answer. The black smoke, maybe? I would love to know about the black smoke.

And just when I get so frustrated and tired of the show -- they pull me back in. Not with answers. Heaven forbid we get answers. But with questions so much bigger and so much better that the make the earlier questions look inconsequential. Silly me, worrying about black smoke when I really should be worrying about WHO WAS IN THAT COFFIN?

This season of Lost has me hook, line and sinker. Adding Jeremy Davies, the Chinese actor who was so freaking amazing in The Sopranos and Sucker-Free City, as well as the flash-forward scenes - strokes of genius.

Husband is still frustrated. Last week when the writers did what is so frequently done on Lost - first, telling the audience something we don't know about a character and then having that character tell the rest of the characters that - not only do they know what was just revealed - but they have known forever. This little device manages to just raise more questions without answering anything. Anyway, husband nearly threw the remote through the screen. He's on the verge. But I feel like having watched through the second season and the nightmares they created then - now it's as good as the first season again. I trust the writers. I'm loving every storyline. Matthew Fox is really an unbelievable anchor for the show.

Yep, I'm totally Lost. And totally loving it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What to do when a book is going off the rails…

Working on my current WIP and having a hard time with it. A really hard time with what is essentially a first draft. It’s writing slower than any book I’ve ever written before. Each page is eeked out with what seems like blood and sweat, and I know, and it kills me, that I’m basically going to have to re-write two thirds from scratch for the second draft.


Karma maybe. The last book was pretty easy to write, certainly the first draft came out almost as a dream.

I’m really critical of myself on this book.. which might be proving to be anti-productive. I feel like I should be writing faster and better and what’s happening is the opposite.

I’m also trying to write the first book of what I hope will be a series, and I know the decisions made now will affect future books. (assuming this sells, which shouldn’t enter my mindframe now as it doesn’t do the writing any good)

And I just didn’t have a handle on some key elements of the character. And it’s taken me a long time to figure them out, and even still I don’t think I know for sure. My hero is proving particularly troublesome and he has a huge character arc throughout the story, so knowing him well is important.

So I’ve found myself going back to re-work scenes, which I almost never do. Plotting out again and again, writing scenes that don’t belong in the book just to understand characters better.

I think I’m just going to have to file this one under ‘some books are hard to write’. Hopefully in the end it will be worth it.

What techniques work for the writers out there when a book isn’t going well?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Can writing be taught?

Okay, so I'm stealing this topic from one of the forums for the ABNA contest I'm part of. It's interesting being a part of such a diverse group of writers -- at least as "a part of" as one can be while mostly lurking on the forums.

I've found most of my forum lurking exasperating. People whining that the Publishers Weekly reviewer obviously didn't read their whole book (who's fault is that, writer, if you couldn't hold a reviewer's interest???) to people who seem to think that books of a certain type or genre have no place in the contest, or it's "cheating" to ask people you know to write reviews. Makes me crazy.

But the most exasperating thing I've found personally... is the whole attitude of some of the entrants that this contest is a good opportunity to get and give critiques.

Now, for some of the entrants it might be. It might be the first time anyone has ever seen their work. They may view this as a great opportunity to learn what other writers think about their work, or would have done differently. But it's not a critique group, people. It's a contest. To me there's a big difference between a critique and a review. My ms has already been critiqued up the wazoo. Not to mention entered in multiple contests over the past three years. The only critique I'd still listen to on that ms would be one from an editor who's offered me a contract. Then, if it's ever published, if people don't like it, they can feel free to write me a negative review.

Wow, I have SERIOUSLY digressed.

Oooops. ** Maureen blushes, but doesn't delete the digression, then goes back and deletes some of it. **

Back to my planned topic...

One interesting subject that did come up on those loops was whether or not writing can be taught. Scanning through the discussion, I'm pretty sure that the more literary writers fall in the "no it can't" camp, while the popular fiction writers fall in the "yes it can" camp. Although that's a generalization.

Me, as usual, I have a foot in both camps. Love fence sitting. (or dual camp standing)

But seriously. I firmly believe that there is both a craft and an art element to writing fiction. And that the craft part can be taught. Now, not everyone is going to learn it as easily or as well, and not everyone who learns it will be able to apply it to their writing as well, but you can teach people how to make their prose and storytelling stronger. There are techniques that really work and can be taught. I know this. I feel I have learned and proven this through my own experience and have seen others learn and apply techniques, with great success, too.

But I also do think there's a nebulous, almost magic, element that certain writers possess. One that most of us will never have, or will never have as much of, in any case. Whether it's an ability to interpret human behavior in a way most of us don't see, or turn a phrase in an unexpected way, make us cry with the beauty of their words, or make us hold onto the edge of our seats, or take us places we never imagined, they've got something that I'm not sure can be taught.

What do you think... Can writing be taught?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wanda Ottewell is so SMART!

And I'm not just saying that because she's my editor. If she wasn't my editor and I had seen the talk she gave at the Toronto Romance Writers meeting on Saturday - I would want her to be my editor.

I've been with Wanda for six years and, frankly, I can't always say that I loved her. She made me rewrite a book from scratch and pulled me out of editoral line up. She told me Flipside was over and then when I told her I wanted to write for Superromance she wasn't 100% excited about that idea. I got an agent because I wasn't totally sure how to deal with my editor. (Which is an excellent reason to get an agent for anyone who is wondering why you might or might not want an agent when you're already with a publisher. )

But, man, times have changed. And I was struck dumb on saturday by how lucky I am to have her making my work better. She has a great vision for Superromance - she understands that readers come to Superromance for home and family stories but that if we want to get MORE readers and younger readers we need to give them fast paced stories with lots of conflict and edge of the seat emotional drama. She wants readers to be grabbed by the throat in the first scene and wrestled to the ground by the end of the first chapter. I love that! I seriously love that! And as writers we have so many tools at our disposal to make that happen - emotion, suspense, humor, character - the list goes on. Let's use them. Let's use all of them!

She explained that in Superromance (this is my takeaway and paraphrasing so take that for what it's worth) each character has to have a conflict and goal with HUGE stakes attatched that will jeopardize the romantic happily ever after. EACH CHARACTER. So you've got two characters working through thier stuff, against external stuff and all that stuff has to come in to play against the romance. That's a lot of stuff. And it's hard. But it has to be real and believable. And something that I really loved is that the reader has to close the book feeling that this love the two characters have found is the safe place for them to work out thier crap. Not everything has to be roses in happily ever afters - but we have to believe that life is easier for these two because they've found each other. Isn't that beautiful?

She's opening up Superromance for all kinds of plot lines (except paranormal - she really really stressed that) but romantic suspense is welcome and light stories are welcome. Not every book has to have a kid or a baby or a cowboy. There can be a full range of sensuality. They are looking for new authors. Her big pet peeves are information dumps in the first two chapters. Slow pacing. Conflict that can be resolved by an honest conversation or conflict that is simply two people bickering for page after page.

My friends and I all talked about what she'd said at the meeting and we agreed that's good writing advice. Period. For Superromance, other category lines, single title romance or genre fiction of any kind. And that's why I love my editor.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Welcome, Eileen Cook

My friend Eileen Cook's debut novel, Unpredictable, was released this week. I've been waiting to get my hands on a copy of this book for AGES. If Eileen lived in Toronto, she'd definitely be a drunk writer. I know this because I've had martinis with her. Girl knows how to throw a good hotel room party at a conference and I was lucky enough to get an invite.

In honor of her release... I asked Eileen to comment on her experiences to date with her book launch, publicity, guest blogging and all that jazz. I'm so mad she didn't tell me about her appearance on Breakfast TV, like before it happened??? The Vancouver version of that show even comes on TV here at a reasonable hour... Oh well.

Take it away, Eileen!

The F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about writers is hitting home these days as my first book, Unpredictable, is released. (By first book I mean of course, the first book that should ever be allowed out from my office, not the first book I’ve written.)

“Writers aren't exactly people...they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

The situation is even more complicated than ol’ F. Scott could have imagined. It isn’t just your characters that want a piece of you and your time. To be a writer now often means juggling your day job, family and friends while trying to squeeze in time for the part of yourself that you’ve designated as writer.

Now if you have fellow writers as friends (and if you don’t, you really should- fabulous people writers), then you have to add another dimension to your personality- therapist. Writers are good people- but we spend a lot of time out on the ledge. Someone has to talk us down from our latest creative crisis, so you’ll need to fit that in somewhere. If you do it for a fellow writer, they’ll do it for you.

You also have to take on the role of being your own book pimp. Books die with a short shelf life if there is no word of mouth, and as the writer you’re the one who cares the most. You find yourself trying to figure out if you have any friends of friends who might be able to help you get any media attention. You learn how to write a press release, pound your head on the keyboard trying to think of one more blog topic and find yourself making your own mini store display of your books when the clerks aren’t watching. (Not that I have ever done this mind you- the book just came out yesterday. I won’t build my own displays until at least next week.)

I like the idea of being a solitary writer, alone in a garret somewhere with only my imaginary characters as company- but life is far messier and more complicated. But on the upside- all this mess gave me a blog topic so it can’t be all bad.

Special Guest Alert!

Debut author Eileen Cook will be guest blogging on DWT this week. Her book, Unpredictable, is finally out! Yippee!

Friday, February 01, 2008

No one really knows anything.

I know I don’t. I occasionally speak with authority on the state of the romance market, or what’s hot, but really, other than reading the latest sales, I know jack shit. I can extrapolate based on the info out there, but then a sale will happen that will prove me wrong.

On the few lists I now subscribe to, there’s always a few people writing with complete authority on the market, what editors are looking for, what’s not hot and what people should be writing and how they should be writing it.
And almost 100% of the time, they don’t know much either.

There are workshops in every conference on how to plot, how not to plot, how to write characters, how to ensure the right pacing, and a lot of them have great information, in the right framework. I know the first conference I went to, my head got completely turned, and for the next year I was so busy trying to write the way I’d been told, I forgot how to write in a way that worked for me.

Now, I know which writing tools work for me and which don’t, but that took writing several books, and sometimes I wish I’d written the first two books in a vacuum, without having been to any workshops, or knowing anything of the market. Not that those books would have sold, but I would have figured out what I’m most comfortable with faster, I think.

I love that romance authors, published and otherwise are so generous with their knowledge and time, and I would certainly encourage any newbie to take advantage, but to understand there is a magic to this that I don’t believe can be pinned down in a writing seminar. Learn the tools, but discover the magic, through writing, and through experiencing great stories, in which ever format they come in.

And I’m not saying this with authority. With each book I learn tons more, and I’m up to book number five, or six, I think. By book number twenty, I could be singing a whole new tune.
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