Monday, November 30, 2009

Stealing Your Traditions....and free books!!

Sweet sweet Thanksgiving. My family goes whole hog on Thanksgiving. We bring in international cousins and Hello Dolly Pie. We wrestle, play flag football, we play spoons until someone bleeds. Thanksgiving is our holiday. And because my brother is in the middle of wrestling season (he's a college coach - go Warhawks) and I live in Canada - it's too difficult to do Christmas all together. We've tried for years and this year - we've decided not to do anything. Which on hand is a relief. On the other hand it breaks my heart.

But here's my chance to start a new Christmas tradition with my own young family. this holiday is blank slate.

My Christmas Anthology - The Night Before Christmas - is all about Christmas traditions and Merri Monroe's love/hate relationship with them. I love this book and I would love to give out a whole bunch of copies this week to anyone who comments throughout the week. But only if you comment with a Christmas Tradition - because my intent is to steal yours in order to start mine...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Themes.

I’m always behind. The last to start watching Mad Men, long after Molly and Maureen raved about how great it was. Same with the Wire, West Wing and Generation Kill.

I’m still working on getting my hands on the DVD set of West Wing, but I have finally seen Generation Kill. Amazing series, if you can get past the first episode, where we as the viewer, are dropped into a company of soldiers, without any introduction, or idea of names, who these people are, what marine terminology means, or even a why.

But as I watched, I came to two conclusions. 1) the guys who wrote this can write dialogue like no body else. (it’s by the same guys who wrote the Wire) 2) the series has the most cynical viewpoint of any military show I’ve ever seen.

The cynicism is beautifully shown, through terrible decision making by the army superiors, who, in general, are self-serving and incompetent.

Not unlike the superiors in the Baltimore Police department, or the Mayor’s office, in the Wire. The type of cynicism that is bred into both shows, with the heroes of the shows, not only battling the enemy, (be they enemy soldiers, or drug dealers) but also the people above them.

It a very consistent theme between both shows, and from what I hear, David Simon has a new show coming out, and I’d put money, there’ll be a similar theme to that show as well.

I’ve seen a lot of Joss Whedon’s shows as well, in fact, all of them, and he too seems to have a similar theme running through his work. The idea of the warrior woman is the central core of both Buffy, and Dollhouse, but also Firefly, where at the heart, (especially in the movie) the main protagonist is River, the ultimate tormented warrior woman.

I’m not familiar enough with the work of Alan Ball to know if this is consistent across a lot of the most interesting writers on TV, but I have started to look for a consistent theme in my own writing as a result.

Right now I would say it’s the idea of atonement, for real or imagined sins. I’m not sure why, but this comes up again and again in my books. Now that I know it’s there, I can enrich the theme, and also work hard on not repeating myself. Because someday soon, I am going to need a new theme.

Anyone else notice on going themes in their work? Or there any other great writers out there that repeat similar ideas in all of their work?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ego...

There is a sucker born every minute. I know. I’m one of them. I have spent money on exercise videos that told me if I breathed correctly I would lose weight. I’ve spent money on pills, neck slimmers, special teas… you name it. I can’t stop myself. Despite being an intelligent person, despite knowing that if I simply ate less and drank less wine and jogged – I would serve myself much better. But still I continue to throw my money away on the idea of a quick and easy solution.

I once signed up for dating service. I’ve spent a lot of money in this venture as well, but this particular service was supposed to be very exclusive and consequently was very pricey. The woman sat me in a room and told me that after talking to me she already knew of someone for me. That I needed to be ready for what was about to come. That the likelihood was that I would be married and pregnant within the year. (This person I was to meet was very interested in having children.) All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. And of course hand over a check. Yes, I thought I could buy “the dream” of love and happiness. Like I said - I was the sucker. There was no “one” person. There was the typical series of fix ups with people I had nothing in common with like any other dating service I had ever used. Lesson learned. Shame on me.

But there is no getting around the fact that when you prey on people’s dreams, when you cash in on hope, desire, desperation… it can’t feel good. Going for a person’s weak spot to make money, it’s just not very nice.
This is my opinion of Harlequin Horizons. I get it, it’s a business and as long as there is a sucker born every minute, why not part them from their money. And while I think it’s not nice, I also think it’s up to the sucker to learn her lesson. I have when it comes to buying love. (Not exercise equipment).

That said I wonder if the anger over this venture doesn’t stem from something else. Are authors really this upset for the suckers that might fall into HQ’s evil clutches? Or is there something else driving the fire. Could it be that, what we’re really bothered by is the fact that this lessons our accomplishments as writers? For both the published and trying to be published. What we thought made us unique – either being published or going through the struggle of rejection – can now “sort of” be had for enough money. If I stood in a room of people who knew nothing about publishing and said I write for HQ Silhouette Romantic Suspense and someone else in the same room said … “Me too. I write for HQ Horizons.” Would anyone really know the distinction?

And so I have to say that for me, having been a sucker all my life - I hope writers don’t follow this path of being parted from their money for an illusion of the dream. But also I acknowledge here, in public, that part of what has bothered me about this, is my ego. Today my accomplishments feel less important because anyone (with the cash) it seems can be “published.”

And it’s at that moment that I have to remind myself – I don’t write for pats on the back. I don’t write for money (which is a good thing since I’m not making much) and I don’t write so I can stand up and say I’m published. I just like to write.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Intolerance

Intolerance. Now that's a topic. And one I'm certainly not prepared or qualified to cover properly, but I couldn't think of a clever title for this post.

Tonight I went to see the film Prom Night in Mississippi and while watching I kept thinking, what year is this again?

If you haven't heard of this movie, it's a documentary about a small town in Mississippi, called Charleston. A small town that Morgan Freeman just happens to live in (or near). I gather he was born there, moved away when he was six, but moved back at some point as an adult.

Anyway... Although the US Supreme Court ordered all schools in the US to be integrated in 1954, the high school in this particular town did not admit black students until 1970. And because the white parents were so upset about their children being forced to go to school with black kids, they (and the school board) decided that there should be separate proms. And ever since then, there have been two proms at this school -- one for the whites and one for the blacks. (No idea what would happen if a kid of another race were to move to this town... I guess no prom for him.)

In 1997, Morgan Freeman approached the school and offered to pay for the prom if they integrated it, but his offer was rejected. According to Freeman, the students were all for it, but it was blocked by the parents and the school board. So, he decided in 2008 to try again, but this time he took a documentary film crew with him, and the school, no doubt under the pressure of having the film crew there, took him up on it.

Mostly. Kind of.

Yes, they did have their first ever integrated social event in the history of this town, but in the end, the parents of the white kids got together to throw a separate prom for whites only -- which most of the white kids went to, even though a good number (16? 18?) of the them *also* went to the integrated prom. (The school is 70% black and 30% white.) And oh the pressure put on the white kids to show up to this white only prom, even if they were on the committee planning the integrated event. Horrible. And ridiculous fears and speculations perpetuated by the white parents of the depravity that would occur at the integrated prom, and the ugly words used to describe these imaginings. Chilling in this day and age. Chilling in any day and age.

And I kept having to remind myself that this wasn't a story about the south during or before the civil rights movement. This was real life. Real life in 2008. And the hatred and intolerance of some of these people, the pure ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar. Very sad.

And that kind of intolerance made me think of an Amazon review posted for the anthology, The Night Before Christmas, that Molly's fabulous story is in this month -- with Brenda Novak and Day Leclaire, no less. Check it out if you haven't already. I haven't read Novak's or Leclaire's stories yet, but I can attest that Molly's is fabulous.

But yes, her story has a subplot involving a secondary character who happens to be gay. The plot involves the heroine keeping a big secret, and so this teen kid dealing with coming out to his dad was a fabulous parallel story and totally worked to heighten the conflict and mirror what was going on with the heroine, and to force her to follow her own advice. Very nice. It also fit with the overall themes of being accepted for who you are, not where you come from -- not to mention the themes of love and forgiveness that were key to the romance plot.

Sure, the romance could've been told without this added complication or layer, but it wouldn't have been as poignant, or as conflict ridden, or as touching, or as interesting.

So imagine my surprise when I went to post a review on Amazon and discovered someone had gotten there first to post a negative review -- specifically about this subplot. Now, reviews are reviews and there's really nothing to be gained from arguing with reviewers. Especially Amazon reviews where anyone and everyone can post them. Tastes vary and everyone is entitled to like or dislike a story they read. But this review wasn't about taste, or likes or dislikes for that matter, (unless it was "I dislike reading about gay people"). Nor was it even about the story or how well it was written. The review was firmly centered in intolerance. It's reads like a public service warning: Danger. Gay character in this book. Stay away. But the reviewer is careful to point out that she's not homophobic, and she doesn't hate gay people. Oh no. It's just that the inclusion of a gay character spoils stories for her.

And it so reminded me of the people in this documentary... I'm not a racist, I just don't want a n*** rubbing up against my daughter at the prom. I'm not a racist, I just think they should all just keep to themselves. I not a homophobe, I just don't want to acknowledge such people exist.

Ummm.. What year it it again?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Other People's Success

My little cousin Justin has just achieved huge success. I call him my little cousin, even those he is quite a few inches taller than me, because I'm about 20 years older than him and changed his diapers.

If you haven't heard about Justin, you should probably check him out on Twitter. Yep. That's my little cousin talking about my uncle at Shitmydadsays. If you haven't heard about Shitmydadsays, you can read about it all over the place because my 29-year-old cousin got a HUGE book deal and is developing a sit-com for CBS. I won't tell you how much the book deal was for, but suffice it to say, you could add all my advances together and it wouldn't equal what he's getting as an advance for his first book.

People keep looking at me and asking me how I feel about this. I am thrilled! It's fabulous. First of all, my uncle is hysterically funny and people should know that. Secondly, Justin is doing a fabulous job of capturing a lot of his wisdom. It's especially funny for me to read it, because I know all the backstory and all the context. Thirdly, he's FAMILY, people, and as far as I'm concerned in our family, a rising tide raises all the ships. (The converse is something my uncle says which is that we're like a litter of piglets and if you pull one tail, we'll all squeal.)

While Justin's success certainly has an element of luck to it, I challenge you to find anyone's success story that doesn't have a little sprinkling of luck on it. Mine does. While it might seem like all this happened overnight to a kid, Justin has been working hard at being a professional writer since he graduated from college. Longer, really, since he worked at it WHILE he was in college as well.

I think people expect me to be jealous or resentful. After all, I'm 20 years older than he is and have been at this for a while and no one is making a sit-com based on my work and my books aren't being sold at auction. I'm not saying I don't want those things for myself, I totally do. I just don't think that Justin getting them has anything to do with me or my work.



Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weighing in on the Harlequin Situation

We weren't going to talk about this because there are so many people out there talking about it. So. Many. Computers around the world are crashing from all the yelling. But my feelings about this situation have solidified over the last day.

First I have to say - The Harlequin Horizons endeavor as it was originally set up was predatory. And sleazy. It blurred the lines far far too much. The fees are outrageous and the 50% royalty on a book someone paid for - was like...I can't actually think of what it was like, it's that bad. That said - I think Harlequin's forays into alternative publishing is smart. They're losing money like the rest of the industry and they have the resources to make Carina Press a valuable asset to the romance publishing world. Harlequin Horizons? I'm sure they were trying to figure out how to leverage their greatest asset - their slush pile. But unless they clean up the lines between Horizons and Harlequin proper -and the pay rates - it's just a big stinky mess.

Now - I also don't argue that RWA needed to do something. As an organization with the mandate to protect writers - it was their job to step in. However I feel more and more that they responded to the hysteria - rather than the problem.

Thomas Nelson also partnered with ASI - has the same language on their website that everyone was so upset about on Harlequin's website (again, it was worth being upset about - bad bad Harlequin) But Thomas Nelson is still RWA approved (last I checked). And now RWA has to backtrack and figure out how to handle this new monster in the romance world. This is exactly what happened with e-publishers. RWA took a stance, had to backtrack - infuriated a lot of writers, made everything incredibly complicated and ARBITRARY! A thousand dollars and you're legitimate?

As other writer organizations make public statements regarding their disgust over Harlequin Horizon's and Harlequin in turn backs off (Harlequin removing their critique service seems like a direct response to MWA) I'm wondering if there wasn't a more tempered and thought out way to handle this that wouldn't change an author's pan status, their ability to enter the Ritas next year sign books or speak at the national conference with their Harlequin Editor.
,
I'm supposed to be protected by RWA, too.

I for one am hoping and am fairly sure that this will be cleaned up in a little while - and we can all get back to actually working.

Here we go....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Magic time

The more I write, the harder it gets. I sit at the computer and I edit the words as I type them, and from now on, I’m going to try and do that less and less. The words flow less easily now than they used to when I first started writing, something that indicates my knowledge of good writing versus just words, and also something I regret in some ways.

But there is a time of the day, when everything seems to flow, at least in my head. As I’m lying down to sleep, and I think of my current WIP, the characters seem so clear, their words and voices ring so true and even occasionally I think of major turning points. It’s by far my most creative time, and while I can remember most of what I think about, when I sit at the computer to type, that half-asleep clarity, the pure creation deserts me.

Sometimes I get inspiration from taking a long walk and letting my mind roam, and sometimes from mediocre movies. A great movie fulfills its potential in a way that is awe inspiring, and wonderful to watch, but a mediocre movie, especially one that flows from a really interesting concept allows me to rethink the original concept in a way that could work well into a story. Movies like The Crow, and Dark City had amazing concepts never fully realized. And it’s far less intimidating than trying to live up the wonder that was Aliens or Jaws.

Does this happen to anyone else? Is there any other time that works for pure creation? I need a new fix, something closer to absolute wakefulness that can take me to the computer and actually writing words on the screen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Speed Demon

I wrote my first "longer" novel, my first women's fiction project, very quickly. It was the first time I tried NaNoWriMo, and well, it was awesome. (Not the novel, the experience. Although I still think that novel had some shades of awesome, too.)

At the time I was using a Palm and an extended keyboard and I would sit down somewhere (usually a coffee shop) and just type and type and type until my battery ran out or my brain exploded. The good thing was I didn't have any internet access on the palm, so minimal distractions. Then I'd go home and upload it to my PC, pat myself on the back for how many pages I'd done (usually 10-14) and laugh at all my horrible spelling mistakes.

I swore I'd try to replicate this with each one of my subsequent books, problem is, it never worked again. I think it's because I learned a hell of a lot about writing and storytelling during the revision process for that same book, as well as a lot about my own voice, which actually shines through for me at least partially via the revision process.

Basically, I think the issue was I started to expect more of myself. I started to expect what I produced each day to be closer in quality to what I'd discovered I was capable of producing. I expected the wording to be a little clever or interesting or at least avoid too many repeating words in the same sentence. And I'd learned more about storytelling and I expected myself to come up with cool reversals and to ensure I had a clear goal in each scene and that my characters were acting consistently and being well developed. If I realized something I added in chapter 10 should've been foreshadowed in the opening chapters, I'd go back and foreshadow. If I realized in chapter 15 that I really hadn't understood my hero's motivation when I first started, I'd go back and rewrite the opening scenes -- maybe even rewrite everything up to ch 15 again to make sure the new motivation really worked. I told myself my revisions would be easier because I was writing a much stronger first draft.

Thing is, I think it made my revisions HARDER. Harder because I was less likely to just scrap entire sections I'd spent days writing and agonizing over. Harder because I'd struggle to make a particularly clever or hard won metaphor or quip or description fit into my revised version of the scene. (How can I revise this scene so he still gets to say that after she says this, even if it doesn't make sense for her to say this anymore...) Harder because I was less willing to, as they say, "kill my darlings".

Now, out of sheer necessity and an insane deadline... (more about that on my own blog very soon ;-)... I am writing quickly again. And once again I've fallen in love with writing quickly.

Yes, I am probably deluded. Yes, you'll probably see a post on this blog sometime in December where I'll whine about my revisions and how stupid I was to write my first draft so quickly...

But for now, my fingers are flying, ideas are flowing, and pages are accumulating. Yippee!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

I spent Halloween at the Emergency Room with my mother. Yep. Halloween in a college town on a Saturday night with my 83-year-old mother. My mother was having some problems and wasn't really safe in her apartment in the assisted living facility. There was a bed open in the skilled nursing facility in her retirement community.

My goal? To get my mother in that bed.

My motivation? To keep my mother physically safe.

My Conflict? The rules that say that a doctor's orders have to be given to move someone into the skilled nursing facility and that the doctor has to actually see her which means the ER on a Saturday night.

So I ended up hanging out with my mother and my sister and the guy who got in a fight and got hit over the head with a beer bottle and nearly lost his ear and the kid who was having an anxiety attack after ingesting something he shouldn't have and a long line of very slender young ladies barfing out the sides of their gurneys from having way too much drink.

Now, if I was writing this, I might well have been tempted just to let the sweet little Mommy go into the skilled nursing facility because that would probably have been the point. Show the caring daughters getting their mother into a safer situation. But what would have made the scene interesting was Beer Bottle Guy and the Bevy of Barfing Girls.

My approach to writing a scene has always had to do with what I, as the author, needed to accomplish. Is there a piece of information or misinformation that must make it to the reader? Is there a character to introduce? A plot point to reveal? It's all about me, me, me.

Of course, I've heard other writers talk about having each scene have the POV character have a goal, motivation and conflict, but this seemed like one more straight jacket that might paralyze me and keep me from writing the scene at all. I thought it might deaden the scenes and make them less organic and flowing.

Then on Friday, I got totally stuck trying to end a scene. It had started out fine. I'd let the reader know what I wanted them to know and I couldn't get it to end. It finally occurred to me to wonder what it was my heroine wanted in the scene, what was stopping her from getting it and how she might work around that. Presto! I managed to get her out of her damn kitchen! Woo hoo!

I'm always looking for a way to improve my writing, to take it to the next level. I'm not certain I can apply the whole Goal, Motivation and Conflict thing to each and every scene that I write, but I'm wondering if it might add some extra SNAP!! to my writing so I'm willing to try it.

Anybody else a slave to GMC? Love it? Hate it? Use it when you're stuck?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blunt Conversations about Royalties part 3

We drunk writers love a good theory. Get us drunk and we will get righteous about our beloved theories. And my royalty statement seems to prove one of my favorite theories and has given me a new one to get righteous about.

My favorite theory is that there is nothing a harlequin writer can do to promote oneself that truly truly makes that much of a difference. I've had books get amazing reviews, I've had books get sucky reviews - they sold the same. For some books, I've done lots of guest talking on blogs - I've sent out lots of books and for others I've done nothing - again, about the same. And while covers are important - unless they're truly truly awful - I'm not sure they make a huge difference either. My best cover - Worth Fighting For was also the third book in a series and it sold considerably less than the two books before it. Around 14,000 in the US, while the others were around 18,000. Now, this is also during the worst economic situation in decades, so really, who the hell knows. But I'm not going to let that stop me from my theory.

Now, as we speak, my website is displaying my Christmas message from LAST year - so clearly, I like being lazy. And that said - I think the way for me to bust out of the middle of the pack is to perhaps be a bit more diligent in some basic promotion.

But the books that have sold well, I believe have sold well for a reason. Publisher support. I've been really lucky to be involved in promotional giveaways that introduced a lot of readers to Baby Makes Three (the first in the series) for FREE. My numbers for the second book are the best I've ever had - around 22,000.

I think the other reason some books sell well and other tank is the use of hooks. Everybody wants to groan and roll their eyes (myself included) at the cookie cutter of nature of Presents and now Desire (as someone said somewhere - Desire is now Presents II- the Revenge. Funny) This is what sells. You want to make money selling series romance - don't stray too far from the well-worn path. The books of mine that have had a flash on them like A Little Secret and Single Father - sold way better than the books without the flash. My December 08 book had the secret baby flash and from the numbers you wouldn't know that it too came out during the heat of the economic meltdown. August O8 - no flash, bad numbers. My Feb 09 book about the son of the President of The United States - miserable miserable miserable.

Aim for the flash. The average Harlequin buyer is racing through the grocery store or pharmacy, they have about three seconds to dedicate to buying a book - if they don't know your name - they're going to know that flash. And how to get that publisher support? Write the best book you can and be the kind of author your editor wants to support. Play nice. Work hard and be realistic and smart about the conventions of the line you're aiming for.

Those are my lessons from this royalty period. Now, back to work on my cowboy book....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Better Late than never?

Seems to be my motto these days. But I’m finally getting a few precious moments in front of the computer. It’s been a year since I’ve submitted a book to editors and agents, and because it’s been so long since someone said ‘hell no’ to my work, I’m feeling pretty positive these days.

I’m getting ready to submit, so I imagine that feeling will disappear very shortly, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Because as writers, don’t we need our feel good moments?

I’m getting mine these days from Glee. The show is the polar opposite of Mad Men, and yet I’m loving both. Where Mad Men is subtle and ambiguous in all the best ways, Glee is loud and joyful and has the subtlety of an elephant belly-flopping into a kids pool. But sometimes the combination of singing and bad boys and some nice unexpected reversals are exactly what we need.

Every week I start Glee with a mild tension, thinking, this will be the week they ruin my good will, because seriously, how far can they take this. And this week, I was completely charmed by Puck, and how they made the bad boy endearingly sweet, and still a bad boy, (weed cupcakes, need I say more). I love, love, love where they are taking the relationship between Kurt and his father, and how they’ve managed to avoid the most obvious clich├ęs and ground the relationship between two very different people in their mutual love for each other.

And Sue, who is a little one note, but a really funny character and the writers are adding a nice humanity to her as well. After this week, I have faith that the Glee writers will continue to charm me, and given the absence of mad men in my life, I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Things You Can't Control...

I’m going to say a few things and at first it might sound like bragging, but I think if you continue reading this post you’ll see how someone with my current mental state couldn’t possibly brag.

I am very successful in my day job. I’ve been with the same company for close to fifteen years. I’ve worked by butt off each and every one of those years. I come in early… (well I used to before I realized that I could still keep my job even if I got there fifteen minutes late) and I stay late. I’ve been consistently promoted throughout the years and now I’m running my own department. The more I pour my creative ideas into the job, the harder I work at it, the better the company does. The better I do.

I have (as much as anyone can have in these economic times) job security.

I have worked for my publisher for fifteen years. I have worked by butt off on each and every book I’ve written. I’ve met every deadline (there was one… but that was under exceptional circumstances) and accepted every revision my editor has given me. In short I have done anything I thought I could to meet the demands of my employer. I’ve tried to grow in my job, push the creative envelope and branch out when new opportunities were afforded.

I have no job security.

In fact as I write this I realize there is a very real possibility I might be fired someday. This of course stems from the receipt of the royalty statement. That mystical sheet that gives us our job performance review. How many books did we sell? Are our numbers growing? Do people like us? Are we making money for our employer or are we costing them?

I’m not going to lie. I don’t think my numbers look good. I had some expectations and they were not met and I realize… I can’t control it. I can’t make people buy my book. Now maybe you think this is a plea to go out and buy my books… and of course it is… please please please buy my books. (Now you see how a person so pathetic as to beg couldn’t possibly brag about anything.) But at the end of the day I can’t make you. I can work harder. I can give more. I can pour every ounce of myself into writing. I do this in my other job… success. I do this in my writing…Meh? Who knows?

It is enough to make a grown woman cry. Or drink. So I as I write this blog and I drink my wine and think in the words of Sally Field...“You must not like me. You must not really really like me.”… I realize that I need to let it go. I can’t control it. I can only do my best, put the work out there and hope. That is the reality of a writer.

Tell me again why I do this?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Don Draper is a Hero (and the Mad Men writers are mine)

A year or so ago, I wrote an analysis of the first episode of Mad Men where I marveled at the skill with which the writers made me, the viewer, care about a guy who really wasn't a very good guy. It particularly struck me, because I saw Season 1 of Mad Men all out of order the first time, so I already knew Don's "big secret" before I watched the first episode, and I just loved how the writers hid the truth from us, without lying. How they showed us all Don's most positive traits before revealing things that would turn many viewers off, if they'd been the first things we knew about Don.

And watching the season 3 finale episode, I had my little mind similarly blown.

Season 3 was a bit of a slow burn, with lots of interesting subplots, but no obvious major plot line for a while. Yet, I finally thought I had it all figured out. Slowly and surely, I figured, they were taking away everything Don cared about. It seemed a tad obvious, but a big part of me thought, he has it coming. It's about time Don's lies and cheating and arrogant manipulations and occasional cruelties caught up with him. I figured the writers had decided they had no choice but to punish him a bit, and I assumed the season was about Karma coming back to bite Don. I figured the season would end with everything falling apart and him starting over again next season, or at least being cut down several notches. Or maybe he'd implode in some major way.

But while what I'd been expecting sort of happened, I realized the Mad Men writers were at least two (or forty) steps ahead of me, and were so much smarter than that. Yes, they caused a huge crisis for Don, several crises at the same time, in fact, but instead of having him crumple or implode and get what many probably think he deserves, as I'd started to expect, they proved why their main character, Don Draper, is worthy of the title "hero" or protagonist.

What does Don do when everything's falling apart around him? He rises to the occasion in every sense of the word. He's brave and smart and bold and convinces others to follow his audacious plans. He realizes, whether or not his wife had been having an affair doesn't matter. He sees he has no business or right to be angry with her, takes the high road, and gives her what she asks for, even though it will destroy the perfect little family life he's constructed and oh so desperately wanted his entire life. He eats some crow and tells Pete and Peggy why he values them -- even though he hates Pete and has trouble respecting and valuing women. (And Peggy proves herself a worthy protagonist, too.)

Yes, in the Season 3 Finale episode, Don, with bags under his eyes, with childhood flashbacks haunting him, with everyone else tossing up their hands in defeat and saying, "Well, there's nothing we can do," Don proves himself a real hero. (Even if we all know he's a fake.)

Oh, Mad Men, how I do love thee.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spank me and tell me I'm bad!

Yesterday, Molly mentioned her critique group which started me thinking about the whole critique group thing.

I have been flying solo for quite a few years. I had a critique group back in 2002 to 2004 (or maybe a little past). We kind of fell apart after two of our members moved to other towns. By that time, there were only two of us actively writing anyway and the other person was writing personal essays. I was a little uncomfortable when it started turning into The Eileen Show.

Anyway, they were terrific in a lot of ways. Great sounding boards for ideas and directions. Excellent copy-editors. None of them, however, were writing popular fiction and didn't really know a lot about the romance genre. By the time we disbanded, I was a little relieved although I missed them.

A few months ago, a group of writers from my local RWA chapter asked me to join their critique group. I said yes mainly because I liked the people. They're a very smart, funny, sassy group of women and I find it hard to resist a chance to hang out with smart, funny, sassy women. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to be in a critique group, though. A lot of times, I don't finish things until they need to be turned in. There's no time for critiquing. Plus, I wasn't sure I wanted anyone monkeying with my stuff.

For the first few months, it was kind of pointless. I'd turn things into them at the same time I was turning them into my editor or agent and we know whose input was going to count more, now don't we?

But now . . . now, that I'm back to the long game (not just synopses and proposals, but actually producing pages), I'm totally hooked on it. They find little logic issues right away and I can fix them before they trip me up 200 pages later. They tell me when I'm dumping too much info and should save some for later or when I'm not dumping enough and they're confused. They tell me when someone says some thing stupid or offensive so I can take it out before my editor takes an unassailable dislike to my hero. It's marvelous!

Now, I like it when they tell me how funny I am or how clever, but it's when they tell me where I've screwed up that I come out energized and excited to delve deeper into the work.

It's only been a few months, but I'm totally hooked and can't believe I didn't have this backing me up all along. What was I thinking?

So, here's to you, Tiny Killer Bees (that's our name, don't ask me to explain it)! I love it when you tell me I'm naughty! Keep it up!

Monday, November 09, 2009

The process sucks for everyone..

We had our weekly critique group meeting last night and I was kvetching about writing proposals. Again. I love to kvetch about writing proposals because I hate it. For me, it's the worst part of my process - all the stress, none of the pay off. Just when I start to figure out my characters and what's happening and where everything is going to go - I stop writing, hammer out a crappy synopsis and send it off. To be rejected. Maureen was hating me at this point because we've had this argument plenty of times about what is worse - writing a whole book and having it rejected, or writing a measly proposal and having it rejected and the truth is - it sucks for both of us.

I devoted most of May to doing this with a project and now the rejections have started to roll in and they mostly say things like --- "hmmmm, just don't think there's enough here to fill a book." Frustrated, I asked my agent if I should just write the book. Because I know there's enough there to fill a book. I know because I wrote a disastrous 12 page synopsis that I cut down to five. That's a lot of plot removed - a lot of juicy character growth - a lot of subplot. And maybe I'm not the kind of author that can sell on proposal.

My agent said no. Instead she wanted another idea. I love my agent. Trust my agent so I said no problem. Her advice to me was - don't write different, write bigger. I said -"oh, I so get it. I totally understand."

I lied. I still don't understand 'bigger.' I think it's like pornography - I'll know it when I see it. But I'm hammering out another idea and I'm just to the point that I actually love my characters, this fabulous heroine and her troubled past, so I'm going to stop. Try to put all that love in the first 60 pages and send it off in the world, hoping that editors see what I see. Fantasizing about the best, prepared for the worst.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Can you write a book where you don’t kill anyone?

That was what my husband asked, when I told him the idea for my next book, the new shiny idea that will not leave my head and makes my old idea seem rusty and boring.

And the truth is, I could probably write a book where everyone survives, but I don’t want to. I love suspense, tension that comes from a hero or heroine fighting for their lives, love the idea of villain and discovering what drives them.

And killing characters in print is kind of fun. Seriously, everyone should try it, just once and see if it works for them.

I know this is what I want to write, because the first scene that comes to mind is usually my heroine in trouble, or my hero fighting for his life, not their first meeting, not how they interact, but how the suspense brings them together.

I’m not sure how this came about because the romance I’ve always read is the straight historicals by Judith McNaught and Laura Kinsale and to this day, if I had to pick a favourite genre it would still be historical, where typically, there is very little suspense.

I’m still not entirely sure there really is a market for historical suspense, but until I prove conclusively that there isn’t, that’s what I’ll write.

And now back to the final edit on the old rusty book, while I do my best to ignore the new shiny idea, at least for the time being.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Plot holes... and Speed II

I made a comment regarding the Twilight post that one of my biggest problems with that book was what I considered to be a major plot hole. The author establishes that to transition to a vampire you have to be bitten and infected with venom. However at the end of the book the heroine is bitten by the hero in an effort to suck “out” the venom from someone else but manages not to take in any of the hero’s venom. This rattled me. And it is one of those things that drive me crazy.

It happens in movies too. My favorite “plot hole” moment of all time was when I saw Speed II (Speed – being one of my favorite movies). The guy who couldn’t replace Keanu goes chasing after Sandra because she’s been kidnapped by the villain. (Willem DeFoe you should be ashamed for making this movie.) In one scene he’s trying to escape a room on a cruise ship that’s filling with water. In the process he loses his shirt. Now I remember this clearly because I love a shirtless man. However, in the very next scene he’s on a jet ski with a shirt on. (And I want to say the color of the shirt was even different from the one he took off… but here my memory could be hazy.)

I spent the rest of the movie focused solely on that. Did he not really care about her? Was he self conscious about his nudity that he felt it important to cover up before saving the heroine? Obviously, it was just a mistake. But they spend MILLIONS of dollars making these movies. How careless is that?

My other teeth grinder is George Lucas. BIG movies this guy makes. Major millions of dollars. In Return of Jedi (yes – I have the first three committed to memory because at one point I was fairly certain I was Princess Lea reincarnated) Lea says she remembers her mother. “She was always sad.” In the last prequel we see Lea’s mother die immediately after she gives birth. No chance a new born was able to make that connection I think.

What George? You couldn’t go back and watch the first three movies just to make sure you had the timelines all right? Or more likely – you thought I would forget.

I didn’t.

Look, I get it. When you write a story you’re going to have plot holes. Nobody is perfect. You have an idea on page 100. It changes by page 300. It happens. And I’m even more forgiving with really long series, 10, 15 books… that can really be tough to keep it all straight. That’s what critique partners and editors are for. To catch the things that you might miss.

But when something is really obvious to me that’s a lack of respect to the audience. The writer is being lazy and hoping we won’t notice. And for me that is the biggest no no in writing.

One of the things I respected most about JK Rowling and the Harry Potter books was that after going back and re-reading them from beginning to end… to see the effort and detail she put into connecting every element throughout each story was absolutely amazing. She plants a major plot point for book 7 as a throw away line in book 6. When I went back and realized it was right there I thought wow… you really did your work. As a reader I felt (this is going to sound crazy) loved. Like she cared enough to do this much work because she knew I would appreciate it.

I want to do that. I always want my audience to feel like I care and respect them enough that I will never be lazy with plot holes.

So tell me… what are some of your teeth grinder moments?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Don't Be Boring

I have a new mantra: DON'T BE BORING.

Or if not a mantra, at least a new goal. (Not that I was trying to be boring before.) And I figure if I can focus on that one thing, then maybe I can push through the hell-for-me-stage-of-novel-writing other people simply call a first draft.

I suppose DON'T BE BORING in itself adds some potentially paralyzing pressure to the process. (Why can't I come up with cute alliterations like that in my first drafts, when I can in this blog?)

But instead of letting the pressure scare me, I'm trying to think of it as more of a touchstone, a way to make choices.

And what exactly do I mean by DON'T BE BORING? Well, other than having interesting characters in a plot that's fast paced and non-repetitive, my don't be boring rule boils down to two main things: conflict and tension.

Now, that may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but I'm starting to think they are (or can be) two different concepts.

I think of conflict as making sure my POV character has a goal in each scene and something keeping him/her from achieving that goal. As long as my character is doing something active to struggle against whatever's keeping him/her from their goal, I figure there's conflict in that scene. (And of course, there should be goals and conflicts for the overall story, but I'm talking at a scene level here.)

And by tension, I mean that in every exchange of dialogue, in every description, in every passage of internal thought, there should be some kind of tension. It can be as simple as having a character say one thing when they mean another, or layering two conversations together, where each party wants to be discussing a different topic and is battling for control of the conversation. (And I don't mean arguing, it can be playful, I mean just swapping topics back and forth.) Or even as simple as having the character feeling an emotion they want to hide, or having the descriptive details of the setting oppose what the character's feeling, or highlight some other dimension to what they are feeling. Tension.

I think this is what Donald Maass calls micro-tension, and it's more subtle than the heavier hammer of "conflict". And while it's harder to achieve, I also think great writers of fiction do it naturally, without even thinking about it. They ensure there's a push-pull feeling to their writing, even when doing description. And while some may do this intuitively, the rest of us have to work at it. And I think what it boils down to is: don't write anything that is boring.

Wow, could my point get more circular?

I think my 13 days of rapid first drafting has eaten my brain. (Hmmm... brains... zombies... yes... this book needs more zombies...)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Something in the air

I had what I can only describe as a crushing disappointment a couple of weeks ago.

Over the summer, I'd been working out the details of an idea that I'd been toying with for months. It was going to be the second book in my urban fantasy series about a supernatural Messenger. I'd had the idea for it back when I started submitting the first book in the series in 2008 and it was time to flesh it out and send it to my editor who'd never seen more than a paragraph about it. The idea was based on Euripedes' The Bacchae and the title was Messenger in a Bottle.

There were ties to the wine country near where I live in California. There were naked women roaming through the woods having orgies and ripping cattle apart with their bare hands. There was vengeance and sorrow. It was going to be such fun! I wrote close to 60 pages of it and wrote a fairly detailed synopsis of it (not an easy feat for me) and sent it to my editor at the end of August.

She called last week.

Guess what they apparently did on the last season of TrueBlood? Yep. You guessed it. Bacchae running naked through the woods, ripping apart cattle, having orgies. Vengeance being called down. All of it. So, despite actually liking the proposal, we're not doing it.

It's not like I don't have other ideas for my Messenger series. I do. I'm even fairly enamored of some of them, but I'd put it in work on this one! And it's getting rejected not because it's poorly written or poorly thought through or just poor. It's getting rejected because Alan freaking Ball beat me to the punch.

My friend Sara says it's called Parallel Development. My sweetheart rocked me to sleep that night saying, "It's just like when they had those two asteroid movies at the same time. There was just something in the air."

Has that happened to anyone else? You work out a fab idea just to find out someone else pulled the trigger faster than you?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Thoughts on Twilight...yes, that Twilight.

We're sick. Husband was gone for the night, the kids were asleep I had no Mad Men to watch and Twilight was free on my movie channel. I haven't read the book - up until this point I hadn't had any inappropriate feeling for Robert Pattinson - but I decided to watch it. As an experiment, you know. To see what the hub bub was about.

And I have to say I totally get the hub bub. Again, haven't read the book - but the movie is FRAUGHT - with everything. Tension. Teen angst. Sex. Kristen Stewert pants her way through the entire movie in a convincing manner. I mean she just pants. Through the whole movie. And Robert Pattinson is like dream casting. He's handsome and creepy looking - all at the same time. And now I'm having inappropriate feelings for him.

I like how everything is set up for future books/movies. It works. It's convincing. Love triangle - bad vampire on a rampage. I like the vampire family and of course the glittering in sunlight is a nice twist.

That said - it's pretty bad. I mean, really she pants through the whole thing. The dialogue is right out of a bad Presents novel - the whole thing is like a YA Presents novel, which makes sense. That's when most of us started reading those Presents novels.

Honestly, we need to do a better job of catering to teenage female fantasy while providing a depiction of equality and compassion in a romantic relationship. Can't we temper the total assholeness of some of these heroes with something other than obsessive jealousy? Is this something that's hardwired into us? That at fifteen, a guy is only sexy or exciting when he's first an utter jerk followed by sentiment like "you're my whole life now, Bella." And it's okay for him to watch her while she sleeps? No it's not. It's weird.


Have you guys experienced the phenomenon? Book? Movie? What did you think?
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