Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welcome Marilyn Brant!

I heard some great news on Monday. Marilyn Brant, who won the Golden Heart in the "romantic elements" category last summer had SOLD HER MANUSCRIPT in a two book deal to Kensington!!! Now, some may think I'd have sour grapes at this. She did beat me out in the contest... She did sell before me... But if you ever have the pleasure of meeting Marilyn, you'll understand how it wouldn't be possible to be anything less than genuinely thrilled for her.

I asked her to guest blog about her first sale story. (First sale stories fuel my fantasies these days.) Take it away, Marilyn!

“It doesn’t have to be super long,” Maureen said when she graciously asked me to guest blog today. “I was thinking you could just tell your ‘first sale’ story for a bit.”

Nearly eight years sped by in my mental viewfinder at her words, stopping on the most memorable scenes from my writing odyssey--fast-forwarding to one and then lurching back to another, like some dreadfully mutated author-version of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

And I wondered, should I really try to condense my journey from Newbie Fiction Writer to Published Novelist in a handful of paragraphs when--let’s face it--I seriously suck at composing a 5-page book synopsis?

Hehhehhh! (That would be no.)

Okay, then. I briefly considered listing a bunch of pertinent facts about my writing background and letting you all conclude what you will, but I could too well imagine the reaction of Maureen, Molly and Sinead’s smart Drunk Writer Talk readers: “That Marilyn Brant person wrote SEVEN full manuscripts before she finally sold? She had to revise her According To Jane book FIVE TIMES before she could make it marketable? She’s, like, 40 and she STILL doesn’t ‘totally get’ GMC? Man, I’m not reading this blog post anymore. There’s gotta be something better on YouTube…”

So, I’m turning to an old standby--the wisdom of experienced writers. Because, when I lacked my own, their wisdom guided me through hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of rejection letters. And rejection emails. And rejection pitches. It saw me through group critiques where my novel’s opening was so somnolent that a few of my chaptermates were in danger of snoring. It supported me as I steadily worked my way from an aspiring romantic-comedy/women’s-fiction writer who’d never even heard of RWA…to a PRO member…to a GH winner…to someone who’ll soon have provisional PAN status. (And, incidentally, to a person who can now translate all of these industry-specific acronyms, which may be my biggest career achievement to date.☺)

The wisdom of which I speak basically boils down to something the wonderful Betina Krahn wrote to me this week in a note of congratulation: “Know that the world is a better place because of your dreams and the way you’ve worked diligently to achieve them.”


Her words resonated right to the heart of one of my deepest dreams--that from the moment I started this writing game, I DID want to help make the world a better place. I think most of us authors do. But I knew I couldn’t do it by cracking medical mysteries or leading a country through crisis or even baking anything that didn’t taste vaguely of too much vegetable oil.

I could, however, be emotionally truthful and share my observations and skewed worldview with others. I could scribble down plots that illustrated character growth, hoping the thoughts and actions of my heroines would be meaningful to someone else someday. And I could show by example that committing to following your dreams is not only a good idea but a vital one--the very cornerstone of personal happiness.

So, you see, although I wish I could do as asked and give a decent Cliffs Notes version of my “first sale” story, it’s not possible. Synopses really are a weakness of mine and, anyway, my real story has very little to do with a certain phone call on a special day. Like your “first sale” story is--or will soon be--it’s a lot more about those 2,812 days before it.

(Yeah, I counted…)

And, it’s also about where we choose to go from here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Some Books Just Happen....

I've been really lucky. I've had three books in my career that just happened. They poured out of me and needed very little blood, sweat and tears to edit or polish. Baby Makes Three was one and the last of the Mitchell books, Worth Fighting For and then the book after that, out in December called The Son Between Them. The characters arrived pretty fully-formed. I had a pretty sound idea of all the stuff that needed to happen in the book and the stakes tied to it so my plot mattered to my characters. A couple of nudges in the right direction from my critique group and that was it.

I am realizing those books do not come free. They are not a gift from my cruel and unusual muse. I am paying for them right now.

This book - tentatively titled THIS F*&$)@^ BOOK - started with a roar and died. Died a terrible death at page 200. It's just lying there, barely breathing, not even trying to help.
But, I've had two interesting conversations with Dr. Sinead and I think (probably unbeknownst to her) we've got a diagnosis. We, at DWT, have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we do well. What we get, inherently. And what just comes part and parcel with our process. It's a very very good thing to know - if you haven't figured out, you should. Because you can capitalize on it, shine that function up so that it really works for you. And I've been doing that. I have lots and lots of emotional, character driven conflict in my books. Oh! The conflict!

However, in polishing up that, I've neglected what I don't do well. And, of course, been delighted to do so. But we were talking about Sinead's current WIP and a certain dilemma she had about motivation. I kept telling her to write in the scenes that show us the character creating the motivation. And she kept saying "I think I need a plot point to create the motivation. Attempted murder, or something."

And I realized that why my book is stalling is that there are just too many character scenes that further the plot so minutely that the book isn't dying - it's sound asleep from boredom. Stuff needs to happen.

We watched the very brilliant movie The Savages the other day. (Not funny, that movie. Not funny at all.) But everything that happened was so small, yet so huge. I don't need attempted murders - luckily. But I have to keep things rolling along with the right kind of plot for the book and characters. People standing around talking works to some extent, but every once in a while, you need whatever the equivalent of a car bomb is for your book.

So, this f*#%(&^ book is reminding me to work on what I'm bad at - plot and stakes. Have you figured out what you're bad at? Are you working on it?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Trying to read the future.

It’s funny, as I read Maureen’s post from Wednesday, I completely understood what the authors were trying to do in gathering info on each agent’s preference. A couple of years back, I probably would have been volunteering my efforts.

It seemed so much easier than doing what all the published authors suggested, which was ‘write a better book’. A couple of years later and I sort of understand what those pub'd authors meant. Know the industry as best we can. Know what new books are selling, know what the overriding trends are. Right now sexy seems to be selling across genre.

But otherwise, trying to figure out what agents are looking for is a losing proposition. It probably changes daily.

And one great book that really creates some buzz can re-invigorate a genre in the space of a few months.

Otherwise it’s like trying to read the future with some vague tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. Which is hard to accept when you really want to sell a book and the prospects seem really grim. When we get rejection after rejection and no real reasons given for why an agent or editor doesn’t like our book.

The only way to deal with those rejections is to start the next book. Really get excited about the next project, and not get bogged down with what the market wants or doesn’t want.

It’s the only thing that works for me. That and wine and chocolate..

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Squeezing water from a stone

I belong to a couple of specialty chapters in RWA -- mostly because the women's fiction projects I've written fall outside the boundaries of the romance genre, yet I still love RWA and want to be part of the organization.

One of those chapters has started a very well-meaning initiative I think is fraught with problems at best, and is futile at worst. But in spite of several experienced and published members saying they think the project's a bad idea... many members (mostly newbies based on their posts) think it's an amazing one.

I started to write my third negative post about this idea on the loop and then thought the better of it, mostly because I've already said my piece there (as have several published authors including a NYT Bestselling one) and I think the overall message is worth saying more publicly and might generate some discussion if readers of this blog think I'm full of sh*t. (Which I often am.)

The project is to gather intel from rejection letters received by chapter members in order to determine agent/editor preferences. In particular, since this chapter is aimed at members with projects that aren't strictly romances, they want to identify agents/editors willing to look at stories that don't have a traditional HEA ending.

To me, the answer to that question is easy. If your book doesn’t have a HEA ending don’t submit it to a romance imprint, or to an agent who only reps romance. Your book isn’t a romance. There are plenty of houses and agents who rep commercial fiction that isn’t a romance. In fact, the pool is much, much bigger.

I think the most exciting thing for me when I started writing books that fell into the broad “romantic elements” category was that there were many more potential publishers and agents available to me. The number of agents who specifically do not rep romance is far greater than those who exclusively do. In fact, I'd wager there are less than a dozen who rep NOTHING but romance.

And as far as gleaning other insights based on rejection letters goes... I think it's hard to extrapolate much of anything based on comments an agent/editor made to a writer whose work you've never read. It's even hard with your own rejections or those of your critique partners. An agent might say, I don't like X, or there's no market for X, simply because it's the first thing or the easiest thing, or their standard thing to say when the real reason for rejection was "I didn't like it" or "it's not good enough to publish". The truth is sometimes harsh and agents in particular don't want to get a rep for being harsh, so they find nice ways to say things and often writers read too much into those nice things.

Also, agent's/editor's preferences can be a tad fickle and/or change over time. Fickle isn't fair. It's a subjective business and one that changes as the market ebbs and floes. Of course their preferences will vary and sometimes seem inconsistent. We've already had an example of this on the loop where one well-meaning member offered up that Agent X told her that she wouldn't ever rep paranormals at a conference... and another member piped up that Agent X had just signed her based on her paranormal. Things change. There are few absolutes.

On that note, I heard that Jennifer Enderlin told a crowd at some conference this winter she’d love to find a great western… So, I’ll bet that many agents who now say “no westerns”, mostly because they think no editors are buying them, will change soon their tune on that sub-genre. That certainly happened with paranormals over the past 3-4 years. And as someone who witnessed the chick lit boom... There were many agents who sent out rejection letters to some of the north american pioneers in this genre saying they hated books written in a first person voice, only to start signing a whole whack of authors who wrote in first person six months later.

I’ve heard an agent say at a conference that she’d never represent X, while knowing she’d just requested a full ms from a friend based on a partial that was full of X. (X in this case was graphic violence.) I also know an agent who turned down a now well-known author based on her less-than-sympathetic heroine, and then signed another based on a book with an even less sympathetic heroine.

My guess is agents/editors often state their preferences on panels, because they’re asked and have to say something, and to cut down on the volume of cr*p they get that contains X when X isn’t their favorite thing… But if they love a concept/hook and a writer’s writing, they will bend those preferences or discover they have new ones. Not that there isn't value to hearing them state their preferences... I just think those true preferences rarely show up in rejection letters.

I know it's frustrating for RWA members who aren't writing strictly romance to find agents/editors at RWA conferences who are interested in their work. But all it takes is five seconds on to learn that this is an advantage, not a disadvantage, in terms of the number of agents/editors willing to look at your work.

I’m sorry to the people who initiated this well-meaning project for sounding so negative. I laud the members who stepped forward to volunteer their time to do it. I just hate to see anyone waste their time trying to glean information from a source that has little reliable or objective info. I also hate to see newbies rely on unreliable information. As someone who has a stack of both, trying to ascertain agent/editor preferences from comments they made in rejection letters will simply never yield much. It’s like playing an old LP backwards in search of hidden meanings. Okay, not that bad… I’m getting carried away.

I might not have a contract yet, but I have been around the block a few times (a few more times than I’d like). And when I was starting out as a writer and submitting my first manuscripts, I was dying for the kind of information it sounds, on the surface, like this project could produce. I’ve simply come to believe that in a subjective business, such objective information simply does not exist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Romantic Times Convention: It was the Best of Times It Was the Blurst of Times...

Sorry, I do not know how my husband's Simpson's reference slipped in there...

Anyway - back from RT and I think I've recovered enough to give a little summary of the sights and sounds. I was a part of a series panel and we learned that while many of the publishers suffered a slump the last two years, thanks to the US economy, Harlequin managed to gain a 2% increase in sales. Probably in large part due to the ebook transition. Lots of lines at Harlequin are buying - including a new Young Adult division of MIRA. These books won't come out like series, but more on a "we get a good book we will sell it" basis.

The conference is really really leaning towards writers these days and I heard it's because as a reader conference it just wasn't bringing in the number of readers that it used to. So, now they are pulling from the big pool of aspiring writers. I have NO clue how effective the workshops are.

There is a lot of cringe factor - for me, anyway. The male cover models and they way they are treated by the conference attendees is really a little gross. But there is also a lot of celebration of the genre. RT truly reflects what's hot in the genre - so there was lots of paranormal/erotica fans there and as such - lots of ebook fans.

My main feeling walking away is that it's like Star Trek writers going to Comiccon. There are three thousand rabid fans at that conference, who will dress up in Spock ears and only speak Vulcan. But Star Trek has a viewership of millions - and the same is true about RT. The average romance reader and certainly, my average reader or the series romance average reader was not there.

But fairies, vampires and voracious readers of the genre were very well represented.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jessica Andersen and J.R. Ward at RT

In lieu of me actually doing a post this week. I will next week, I promise.

Read this post from the Smart Bitches.

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Jessica Andersen last year when I went to the NEC conference. She's repped by the same agency as I am (Maureen name drops) and she is a lovely, smart, down-to-earth person who is a very successful writer for Silhouette, and the first title in her Nightkeepers series for NAL comes out this June. Can't wait. I've never met her oh-so-famous-now-and-wonderful critique partner J.R. Ward, but as readers of this blog know... we're all big fans, and it sounds like the two J's did a pretty amazing talk at RT. Boy, I wish I'd been there.

Sinead and I are cheering for Molly this week who has gone to RT to speak on a panel and accept her second (HER SECOND) RT Reviewers choice award. Yeah, Molly!

Our good friend Eve Silver/Eve Kenin is also accepting two awards this year! One for Silver and one for Kenin. You go girls!

Blogeriffic II

Hey more blogging fun! This time over at Love Is An Exploding Cigar. Join me!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hate mail, bravery and Suzanne Brockman

Hey sorry this is so late. The New England Conference was incredible. Yet another small regional conference that I would totally recommend for those authors looking for the conference experience without the Nationals insanity. NEC is a smaller conference than New Jersey, but they have huge caliber authors in their ranks and so they have really interesting workshops. One of those authors is Suzanne Brockman.

I didn't know any more about Suzanne than what she puts out there in her books. She obviously has an incredible work ethic, a passion for research. A mutated gene somewhere that allows her to plan a fiction series out to the like the 40th book. She lives around Boston. Her husband has started writing. One of her sons is gay.

Jules Cassidy, a gay FBI character she created about a million books ago, she claims has been her most popular character. He keeps showing up and showing up and I imagine as her son and her family became more plugged into gay rights, politics and love affairs, the bigger Jules storyline. Until finally, in a mainstream heterosexual blockbuster romance novel, Jules got a love story. A love story that grew and morphed and became it's own book and then grew and morphed more and became it's own Novella that featured a gay marriage.

You can imagine there are people out there who hate this. Who now hate her. And because she has a website and a button people can click to get in touch with her - they let her know. She gets hate mail.

I've gotten three letters from people who say they will never read another one of my books, because of something I've written about or something that was on my website. And these three letters have tormented me. It just kills me that there are people out there who are so angry with something I wrote they took the time to tell me I suck and they wouldn't be buying any more of my sucky books. Three letters.

I can't imagine how many Suzanne has gotten. Or how vicious or mean or personal. Obviously, she cares deeply about this issue as it pertains to the health and happiness of her son. And frankly, I think it speaks volumes about her gifts as a storyteller that she gets more letters that say "thank you for writing about this." But still - she put herself out there. And she's staying out there.

I was just really blown away by how brave she is.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sarah Connor Chronicles

Another rainy, cold day. My fellow drunk writers are attending the New England conference, hopefully having a great time.

Me, I’ve been catching up on some of the stuff I’ve had saved on my PVR(TIVO in the States) forever. One of which was the last three episodes of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
It’s taken me forever to watch them, because I wasn’t completely enthralled with the first part of the season. And I just figured out why,

It was very straightforward. Pretty much every one’s seen the movie, so you know the basic premise. Women on the run, trying to keep her son alive when machines from the future keep trying to kill him.

And the TV series started with that premise and didn’t really expand on it tremendously. The same number of main characters, Sarah, her son, and the good terminator sent back through time to help them stay alive. Too few characters, and only one major plotline to fill 13 episodes. It felt too sparse and I sort of lost interest. Plus, there was no mystery to the storyline. No major unsolved questions, that really fired my imagination.

Then in the last three episodes, new characters, new plotlines, and a ‘what’s in the basement’ mystery that will keep me watching for several more episodes.

I have the season ending episode left to watch and based on the strength of the previous two episodes, I’m anxious to see it.

And I’m starting to formulate a theory on the best storytelling in the suspense genre. It either has a monster at the window, or a mystery that drives the narrative, but I’ll save that for another day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Conference Bound

I'm off to the New England Chapter's writers' conference this weekend outside of Boston.

In my first couple of years writing I can't tell you how inspiring, encouraging and simultaneous demoralizing I found writers' conferences. Inspiring when new light bulbs about craft and storytelling went off, encouraging to get requests for my work, and share war stories with other writers, but the demoralizing part was realizing how many other talented people shared my dream and how few of us would actually realize it. Humbling to say the least. That's a better word than demoralizing. **Maureen slaps herself upside the head.**

Then I had my winter-o-conferences -- the year I decided I was going to pitch to as many of my top choice agents as I could stalk at regional conferences. I was very focussed. Sure, I also went to some workshops at those conferences and learned a few interesting things, but mostly it was about the pitching and the networking and I did come out of that year with an agent. Yippee!

Now... while I'm stuck in this limbo place of having an agent but not yet having a publishing contract, I struggle to come up with rationalizations for spending money on conferences. Yet... somehow I manage.

This weekend I'm going to support my CP and buddy Molly O'Keefe who's a speaker and doing a booksigning. I'm also going to support and catch up with the very funny and talented Eileen Cook who I knew on-line long before we finally met in person -- at a conference. I'm also going to schmooze (and booze?) with a whole whack of TKA clients like the lovely Marley Gibson (who also writes as Kate Harmon), and Kwana Jackson, and Jessica Andersen and many more. And, I've also scored a breakfast meeting to pick the brains of the amazing Deidre Knight whose not only the president and founder of the agency I'm with, but is also a great writer (and a client). (That always sounds like those old Hair Club for Men commercials to me. LOL) Can't wait.

Do you go to conferences? Why or why not?

Monday, April 07, 2008


Hey guys! I am guest blogging over with the debs at The Debutante Ball! Come join me there!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Stuff happens - or is supposed to

It’s Friday. Season Four of Battlestar starts today, so even though it’s rainy and dark outside, it’s a good day. And apologies for the rambling. The coffee I just drank has not hit my system yet.

In a drunken rant about writing one night, I yelled out, so the whole pub could hear, I want to read books where sh!t happens. I think I might also have followed that up, it’s not difficult.

But really it is. Getting meaningful events on each page, is freakin’ hard. More so, when also adding conflict, sexual tension and poignancy.
It’s been top of mind lately, because I’ve surrounded myself with really good storytelling. A new historical, Joanna Bourne, The Spymaster’s Lady, read it, you will not be disappointed, especially if you love historicals. I’ve replayed the first three seasons of Battlestar, rewatched 3:10 to Yuma and now my head is filled with great storytelling.

It doesn’t have to be big stuff, but it has to be intensely meaningful to the characters involved. And lately I can tell when I don’t have enough stuff happening, because I stretch scenes out, add conversations that don’t tell us enough and generally slow my pace down to a crawl.

The stuff happening thing is largely a voice issue. Some incredibly talented authors can take one big thing and make it the focus of three, fascinating chapters, while other authors might have five events happening in one chapter. It all works as long as the storytelling works.

I’ve been trying to work the ‘stuff happens’ saying into something actually useful. So far no luck.

I know when I’m reading a book and the writer didn’t have enough stuff happening to fill her page quota. Then we get repeated scenes, but in a new POV, or a tacked on suspense plot, (see every historical romance put out between 1985 and 1995), or long, slow descriptions.

So far all I have on the stuff happens thing is, there is constant forward momentum in both character and plot, and a page that doesn’t do this has no purpose being in the story.

I’ll be more careful what I yell out during the next drunken writer rant.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Romance Instruction Manuals

Today I'm stealing ideas from other people again. What's new...

But something that the wonderful Margaret Moore said in a comment to Molly's last post really struck a chord with me -- and I love when new light bulbs go off--mixed metaphor much?--especially when they give me more great ammunition for defending the romance genre to naysayers.

Fiction isn't meant to be a how-to manual. It's not supposed to be life. It's supposed to be bigger and better and way more interesting than life. Otherwise, why would we enjoy reading it?

People forgetting this, is one of the reasons that the romance genre comes under so much criticism and derision. Real men aren't like your heros. People don't fall in love that quickly. It's all fantasy. Women who are pretty realize they are. Just a few examples of criticisms I've heard of the genre.

The disadvantage romance has in defending itself against these types of critics is that most people have experienced falling in love at least once and therefore they think they deserve to have an opinion about what happens in your FICTIONAL story. Whereas... not too many of us have been involved in a murder mystery, or a war in outer space, or a terrorist plot to blow up the world, or fighting off monsters -- and I don't know you, but I've never tracked or been tracked by a serial killer. (That I know of.)

But at the same time, this "disadvantage" is an advantage and why the genre is the most popular of all popular fiction genres. People have lived it and want to relive the feelings and emotions of falling in love, but in a better than real life situation that holds their interest.

That's what it's all about. (At least this is what I think, today.)
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