Sunday, May 30, 2010

Writing Across Genres

I'm a straight up contemporary romance kind of gal. It's my skill set. People talk. They have daddy issues or mommy issues. There's some sexual tension. A kid hanging around. Totally vanilla.

Somehow I've thrown my hat in with people who want to cross-pollinate their genres. They want to mix historical with fantasy. Paranormal with suspense. Their tastes run purely down the middle of sub-genres. Taking the best of all worlds and trying to create something totally new. I can't tell you how I admire their thinking. Envy their creative freedom. It takes some guts - because more often than not the rejections come in with things like: "we just don't know how to market this" or worse "we just don't know where this would be shelved."

We all understand this - publishers have to sell books and if they can't figure out how to sell a book, it serves no one.

But what I think this writing across genres does is allow the writer to bust wide open. It's huge or it's nothing. There's no middle. The publisher doesn't worry about where to shelve you because you have a table to yourself in the front.

But I think what it takes to be huge going this route, is a story so pure and a world so simple that nothing trips the reader/editor/agent up. They have to believe they are in good hands, confident hands that are attached to a brain that has thought everything out. Things can't be complicated when walking the line between genres. It boils down to the whole reason we love reading and writing - characters in conflict. Big odds. Huge stakes. Human emotions. And most importantly, the unexpected.

What cross-pollinators do you love? Susan Squires comes to mind. Hunger Games, of course. I'm not sure what it crossed, but it feels so fresh it has to be something new. I feel like Eileen brought a bright ray of light to urban fantasy, which was new and needed. What else?

Friday, May 28, 2010

My writing break is coming to an end

I took May off, needing a break between books, and wanting a chance to really think about the next book, without the pressure of producing pages for my critique group.
And the break was great, I read, I brainstormed and in the end, I have a starting place for the next book and a very ambitious writing schedule.

I read some great books, Souless, Vampire Academy, and I managed to steal Maureen's arc of Chevy Steven's book Still Missing and it is amazing. Seriously gripping and so different from other suspense books I've read.

And it got me thinking about POV. (Maureen does the best explanation of POV and tense I've ever heard, so I won't try and explain anything other than my twisted thinking on it)
I've just finished a book with seven POV's and multiple storylines, and am prepared to start a book with first person POV. This changes the structure of the book, subplots have to be handled carefully and everything revolves around the central heroine, a huge change of pace for me, but it gives me an opportunity to make everyone in the book a mystery.

The restricted POV needs to be an opportunity to create tension as she decides how to interpret the actions of those around her. Which is what Chevy does so remarkably well in Still Missing.

I'm keeping it in mind as I create characters, what actions best define their characters? And in the end, what are their secrets and how will the heroine discover them?

I've got two more days on my self imposed break, and I'm trying not to start this book, trying to keep working on plotting and character studies.

Maybe I can sneak in one more book in the next two days..

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Zing...

I was thinking the other day that it might be possible that I’m a masochist. Now, don’t go all kinky on me… I’m talking in terms of writing.

I recently finished a proposal that I’m excited about. I let loose a “girl in the basement” and after writing the synopsis and the first sixty pages I’m not 100% satisfied with where it is. But I know after another hundred passes it should be okay. This for me is pretty impressive. I have hard time not thinking everything I write sucks. So to think I might eventually get there… well done me!

I let my brand new shiny critique partner read it (thank you Karen!) and took some of her excellent advice. Actually all the advice was excellent but some things I’m stubborn about and so there it is. The first book will feature Penny… sorry Karen.

Then I send it off to the agent. You have to see what she thinks right? You want to know if she thinks it can sell? Maybe given my writing history a proposal will be enough for some editors. But let’s at least see, before killing myself to finish the book, if anyone possibly might think the idea has merit.

You wait and wait. You check email two hundred times a day even though you know she told it would be a week before she could read it. You obsess. We writers know all about obsession.

Then on that 201st try when you refresh your email… there it is. The email from your agent. Your gut drops. You’re heart picks up speed. You look away – not ready to deal with the news if it’s … “Oh wow I’m sorry, but I just don’t think something like this is marketable/sellable/good….”

But what if it isn’t? What if it’s… “Oh my, this is the best thing ever and will sell sell sell!”

So despite being completely frantic about waiting for this email, now that it’s arrived you can barely stand to open it.

And it’s not just with a proposal to an agent. It’s any part of the submission process. Queries. Proposals. Full requests. Each time that email comes you wait to click on it because you know your happiness (at least for the next hour) hangs in the balance of what it says.

I thought about how horrible it felt to be hanging on the edge of that abyss. And I thought about how great it was too. I love that little zing of thrill. I love the expectation that maybe this time it’s GOOD news. Even though most of the time it’s the opposite.
I really believe it’s part of the joy of writing. The storytelling, the characters, the sense of completion when you finish a book… all good.

But that zing when the email comes… also pretty awesome.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Promote a Book

Since Molly's been stressing out about promotion for her new contract, I thought I'd post this video I first saw a couple of years ago. Hilarious.

BTW. Our blog template is one of the minima templates, just like his.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

They say it's my birthday

Well, actually, yesterday was my birthday. Forty-eight years ago on Monday at about 10 a.m., I made my first entry into the world. It was not a propitious beginning. My mother, being somewhat ahead of her time, was trying to give birth without pain medications and struggled against the doctor as he insisted she have demerol. Long story short, the needle broke off in her arm, she got a hefty dose and I was born a little bit drugged. Oh, and the doctor slit the top of my head during the episiotomy. Really, it had to go up from there, right?

That said, I'm not feeling particularly enthusiastic about my birthday this year. Maybe it's the old thing. I look in the mirror these days and, well, I feel old. Plus, we're super-busy. My oldest (affectionately known around here as Thing 1) is graduating from high school and there are parties and arrangements and college things to deal with. My youngest (that would be Thing 2) is right at the end of a long soccer season and we've spent three of the past five weekends out of town. Plus we just moved my mother from one senior facility to another which went about as well as something like that can go which is to say it was hideous.

Is it any wonder I'm not feeling festive?

That said, for my birthday, I asked for my whole family to spend all of Saturday cleaning out the garage. We needed to all be there to make decisions on what to toss and what to keep. I wanted the kids to be the ones making the decisions about their stuff and my boyfriend to be making the decisions about his stuff. Turned out it was a good thing. I would have totally guessed wrong.

My boys wanted to keep an ancient pastel drawing I'd done of the cat we had when they were little, but had no sentimental attachment whatsoever to their father's old leather motorcycle jacket. That would not have been my guess at all. Seventeen year old boy? I would totally have gone with the cool leather jacket from Brazil with a pocket that was ripped in a motorcycle accident rather than a poorly rendered sentimental drawing of a black cat asleep on a table with a lace tablecloth. I would have been wrong.

Of course, they remember the cat, but they don't remember the motorcycle (he got rid of it before they were born). Still, it got me to thinking about what we have sentimental attachments to. I would not have predicted that I would have blithely tossed my wedding dress with the little matching hat and shoes onto the Goodwill pile and burst into tears when I ran across my father's down jacket with the duct tape patching on the right shoulder. No one will ever wear that jacket. It's still in the garage.

So now I'm thinking about what my heroine might have her in her garage and what it might say about her. What do you all have in your garages?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Promotion: what's the next step?

That title makes it seem like I've done a first step. Which I have, I suppose, but barely. Truth is I hate promotion. I hate anything that feels like promotion. If I can do it passive/aggressively - that's the kind of promotion I'm all for. This is what I do now:

I have a website (a brand-spanking, slick slick slick new one coming up soon, thanks to Simone!)

I'm on facebook - but I tend to ignore it, mostly because I can't figure out how to use it without feeling like a knob.

I have this blog - which doesn't feel like promotion and frankly, I doubt I've sold a lot of books because of it, but that said - it's my favorite thing! I also blog on the superromance eharlequin blog. I like blogging. It's passive/aggressive. At least the way I do it.

I go to conferences and give talks. I have an article in the RWR in June. I send out books to a few review sites to be reviewed. Because I think there are a few websites that a good review can change your sales.

That's all I do.

Here's what I am going to start to do: run monthly contests from my slick and shiny website. Figure out Facebook. Maybe twitter. Though I hate the idea of it more than I can say. But that's it. That's all that I can think of.

What do you guys think works? Honestly. What do you think is an absolute-have-to-do-it-or-you're-a-idiot promotion tool. Does any of it work? Are we all just screaming into the abyss?

Friday, May 21, 2010

What do you like in a blog?

I read a few blogs here and there. I used to read more, but then my free time got squished to a smaller block and I had to cut some out.
Right now I read industry blogs, and the blogs of some of the friends of Drunk Writers, and that's pretty much it.

But here's what I enjoy and don't enjoy reading in other people's blogs.

I love reading about another writer's process, and their challenges, because so much of it is universal and at the same time so personal. Every writer struggles and sweats and obsesses over the details, and that justifies my own neurosis.

I love reading about the process of publishing, because again there are similarites and differences to every published author's experience.

I love any blog that tells me something I didn't know about writing, or research. Eileen listed a couple on her blog on Tuesday that are terrific.

I love debates on movies and TV shows. Tell me what you love, and what you hate and explain why, because in my experience, writers do this best, and I love those debates, whether in person or through a blog. Right now I desperately want to see Iron Man 2 to see whether I fall into Stephanie's camp, or Maureen's.

And especially, let's hear about the triumphs, because they need to be celebrated, whether it's a sale, finishing a book, a great review, or a great page count.

I do not want to hear about cats, or dogs, or hampsters, racoons, whatever, unless the story is sidesplittingly funny. I have a cat, I like him just fine, there ends my cat story.

Celebrate the triumps, but don't wallow in them. A great review is fantastic, but posting every review, every piece of positive fan mail, it gets a little dull, and that's what websites are for.

No industry gossip, please. Just the facts, m'am. I've seen message boards go crazy over gossip that was never substantiated.

I love how blogs keep us in touch with writers we've met at conferences, or through email. It's another way of communicating and keeping close to this incredible writing community we are so lucky to have.

And, True Blood coming soon, and the trailers make it look great. Stephanie, your boyfriend is coming. I have decided Maureen and I are going to have a cage match over who gets Damon from Vampire Diaries.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Today I'm at a baseball game...

If you’re reading this blog and it’s after one o’clock in the afternoon I’m probably (if the weather held) watching the Phillies, eating a hot dog and drinking a beer. Then another beer. Okay, one last beer…

Growing up I was never a baseball fan. In my house it was football and oddly golf. I know they’re on opposite sides of the spectrum but if you think about it all the major events in those sports happen on Sunday. Sunday was sports day in my house according to my dad. So whether it was the final round of a major or game day we always had something to watch summer through fall.

Then deciding it was time to adopt a team from my home base city (I’m a Giants football fan.) I gave baseball a try. In fairness I also gave basketball and even more so hockey a try. Hockey players are manly and buff and hit things… so I was like yumm.

But basketball and hockey moved too fast for me. I know others complain that baseball, golf and sometimes even football with it’s stops and starts move too slow.

So as I was watching a baseball game – on TV no less - I was thinking why it is that I took to the sport so easily where hockey and basketball couldn’t hold my attention for a full half or period…even with all the hot guys.

I realized it all had to do with writing.

What? Writing? Sports? Impossible you say. They can’t be linked. I say yes!

What I realized is that in many ways sports is just one big reality TV show for me. It’s not just the athletic achievement or prowess. It’s not just hoping my team kicks the other team’s ass (although it’s part that). It’s the drama. It’s the back stories. It’s the rivalries. It’s the sense that I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I love being on the edge of my seat.

And when I look at the sports I gravitate to, I realize that in those sports there is a sense of build up. The moment, that big-time-stop-everything moment where you hold your breath waiting for the outcome, takes time. In golf it’s the putt. The player reads it, studies it, stands over it… wait for it, wait for it…. Success! Or failure. In football it’s the play. The huddle with the team, the call, the snap count, the roll out and then… success or failure.

In baseball it’s the pitch. It’s the build up of the count until that one moment where there is only one swing of the bat or one pitch left to win or end a game.

With baseball and hockey, you can blink and someone has scored. Blink again, another score. Now I know fans of both sports might protest and really it’s not a competition. The great thing about sports is that there are so many. Maybe you’re a soccer fan. Or a tennis fan… who knows.

I only that for me I need that big slow dramatic build up. I want to move inexorably to some point and then I want a big explosion of drama at the end… just like I want with books.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reversing Expectations

I've been thinking about reversing expectations a lot lately and a few movies and TV shows I've seen have done a great job of it. Of course, because my brain is currently mush, I can't remember the movie that made me think this recently... (Might have been Ghost Writer) but the finale of The Vampire Diaries did a good job of using this reversal of expectations technique.

There's an old play-writing rule (attributed to Chekhov, I think) that goes something like: If there's a pistol in the first act, it better get used in the third act -- or something like that.

Because I often feel my storytelling is too pat, my new rule (that I'll really try to apply) is: if there's a pistol in the first act, make the reader thinks that it'll be used to kill someone in the third act, but then have someone use it to scratch their back. Okay, not as a backscratcher, but make it relevant in a way that completely reverses what the reader is expecting, while not making him or her angry that I've been dangling them along, foreshadowing something that didn't happen.

The trick, I think, is to make the reader think you're going to give her something comfortable and predictable, make her think she knows what's coming -- and then to do something different. Something better. Something she didn't see coming. Awesome. (Not so easy, but awesome.)

Another technique I saw in those last few episodes of Vampire Diaries (which I watched back to back because I was behind) was the magicians' trick of misdirection. Dangle the bright shiny keys over to the left so you can slam the audience (or reader) from the right.

Now, spoilers... If you haven't watched The Vampire Diaries and plan to, and if you hate spoilers... stop reading.

Okay, so I expected Catherine would turn up at the Founders Ball. Totally. And when they showed Elena in that period gown, I was very suspicious. But of course, it wasn't her. And all the build up of "Damon is in love with Elena" was slightly off putting. It made me uncomfortable. It made me think, Oh, no they wouldn't! It felt almost like really clunky foreshadowing. Or foreshadowing a clunky plot point. Or manufacturing false tension... Because while it has been clear for a while that Damon is in love with Elena, it would be SO out of character for her to cheat on Stefan.

But while I was thinking about all that, the writers did all this key gangling to distract me... With the mayor and his son, (werewolves? something else?) and Jeremy converting/committing suicide (another interesting twist) and Elena's real mother actually having some feelings -- then pow. A kiss. An AMAZING kiss. A kiss I instantly forgot was out of character for Elena, because I'd been distracted by all the misdirection and she was so into it (and I was so into it.)

And I was so busy dealing with the implications of that kiss, that POW. I did not see that final twist coming. When the first shocking thing in the last 10 seconds happened, I thought. WOW. Elena! Look at the balls on you! And then of course, it wasn't Elena at all. For the first 3/4 of the episode, I'd been thinking "when is Catherine going to show up?" But the writers did such a good job of distracting me and not doing it when I expected... that they completely surprised me. Awesome.
And the implications of all that happened in those last few moments... Of Damon thinking he's betrayed his brother when he hasn't, etc. etc. are DE-licious. And Elena and Catherine about to meet... Will be eagerly awaiting the next season of this show.

I admire The Vampire Diaries more and more. It doesn't try to be Mad Men or Friday Night Lights or any of the other shows I admire for different reasons. It knows what it is--a genre based teenager drama--but it does such a good job of being what it is. Awesome.

Oh, and I sense a cage match coming on. I saw Iron Man 2 tonight and loved it. Maybe because I went in with low expectations, but right from the ridiculously funny opening scene, I didn't stop smiling through the entire thing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Researching and loving it

I am not a fan of research. It's not that I really dislike it, it's just that I suck at it. I tend to get bored reading non-fiction. The pace just doesn't move fast enough to keep me interested. There are some exceptions to that and honestly I'm getting better at reading non-fiction, but it's generally not my thing. Plus I don't seem to absorb it right. Details and connections between one thing and another escape me.

Right now, however, I am having a blast. I started reading blogs by emergency room nurses. I got the idea from my friend Spring who had been reading blogs by police officers (also fascinating, by the way).

I've been reading blogs for awhile (hello, I help write one, right?), but most of the blogs I visit are by other writers talking about writing stuff. I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but it's a wonderful glimpse into how other people think and speak and feel. Plus, how can you not love a blog whose title is "You Can't Fix Stupid." I'm like an addict. I keep clicking and clicking and giggling and getting weepy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Treme, Friday Night Lights and The Forest of Hands and Teeth

It's a perfect storm of entertainment right now. Everywhere I turn, every book I pick up is knocking it right out of the ball park. It's bliss. Let's start with Treme.

This show (despite being picked up for a second season) is doomed to fail. It's lighter than The Wire, but it doesn't have the forward driving plot that The Wire had and it doesn't have Idris Alba - which really is too bad. It doesn't have much sex appeal at all to tell you the truth. When the only character you see getting anything is Steve Zahn...well, that's not sexy.

Instead Treme has unbelievable music, Steve Zahn(who is hilarious to me), microscopic realism, the best most real and least dramatic characters to grace the small screen and dialogue that breaks my heart. Much like The Wire and Madmen (Madmen, which seems so innaccesible at times, has all that ridiculous sexiness that no one cares that they don't have a clue what's going on) I have no idea what's happening or what's going to happen next. It's so much smarter than me all I can do is sit back and love every minute of it.

Friday Night Lights is like eating a big bowl of chicken and dumplings with a big slice of cake for dessert. It doesn't have Treme's big brain, but is has a huge heart and it trades some of that brain for sex appeal - oh Tim Riggins, I want to write a poem about the way your butt looks in jeans. And drama. Good drama. Slightly better than reality drama. I watch that show and I feel like I can see the splits in the road in terms of plot and characters, but I also know that those writers are going to suprise me. And that is worth loving too.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a YA novel that Sinead has been waxing poetic about for weeks, so I finally got my hands on it and...Sinead is right - YA is the most jaw-dropping entertaining subgenre going right now. This book is shocking and exciting in it's violence and drama. Several times I put the book down thinking - there is no way NO WAY she got away with writing what she just wrote. But she did.

At the same time, this book is flawed. I thought it got a little over-emotional and lost some serious impact when we needed impact. And Sinead has her beef with it which I'm sure she'll share - but this book is a book everyone should go out and get, just so you can see what's happening in YA.

Could life get any better?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Enough with the platforms already

I was inspired by Stephanie's movie rant yesterday about how too many summer movies were written for a seventeen year old boy, by people with the attention span of a four year old boy.

And then heard that a publisher has given a young, famousish model money to publish a book on inner beauty. And there it is, the last straw, dropping through the crack.

So I am taking a pledge.

I will not buy a book written by a celebrity who has not written for a tv show or is not a stand up comedian.
This especially includes Lauren Conrad, and Pamela Anderson.
(almost got caught there ending the sentence too early. Had I finshed at celebrity, I would have included Tina Fey, or Craig Ferguson in there, and I'd read their grocery lists)

I will not buy a perfume with a celebrity's name in the title.
I do not want to smell like Kim Kardashian, or Avril Lavigne. I don't care how sexy Mariah Carey feels when she gets out of the shower and I do not want a spritz of eau du Paris Hilton or Paula Abdul.

I will not buy a piece of clothing designed(?) by a celebrity whose only experience with fashion is trying on clothes.
Being a fashion designer requires the ability to tailor and sketch, and better still an encyclopedic knowledge of fabrics, usually garnered through years of interning for another designer, experimenting on their own, school, or a combination of the three. So I will not buy a clothes simply because some chick from the Hills, like decided, that clothing was too cool and she simply could not find the right kind of simple mini jersey dress and therefore had to, like, design her own. It sort of insults the people that trained and sweated and really worked at something they love.

I get that these people have access to Oprah, or US weekly, or the National Enquirer and what's better than free publicity, but I can control what I do, and I choose not to play this game any more.

I want to read books by people who love the written word, and breathe, sleep and eat story telling. I want to buy a perfume created by a person who can identity, individually, the twelve different ingredients in the scent, and if I buy a dress, I want to know that the person who designed it knows at the very least what a hemline is.

If we don't buy tickets to badly reviewed movies, chances are they won't make money and movie exec's will put their money into actual scripts and not a four page opus where every second word is 'boom'. If we refused to buy books written by people who don't understand what a sentence fragment is, publishers will stop giving them money.

At least that's the way it's supposed to work.

Rant over, now I have to go ponder when the CW became my favourite non-specialty cable network. Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries in one night, it's almost too much.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Movie Ranting...

I read Maureen’s post yesterday about how she forgave the mistakes she saw in the movie because the movie overall was so good. Today I’m having the opposite reaction. I can’t forgive any of the mistakes I saw in the movie I just watched because overall the story telling was so completely lazy. This movie… Iron Man 2.

Now I know what you’re thinking, why would I expect anything from this movie? But I remembered vaguely liking the first and based on the previews I had seen there was going to be a large emphasis paid to the love story (which is all I really care about.) The love story in Iron Man is a boss/secretary dynamic. I love the boss/secretary story. Love it!

So here I have Robert Downey – sexy arrogant brilliant guy – my ultimate weakness. A boss/secretary love dynamic. And the vague memory that the first one was good.

What did I get… GARBAGE. Now some will like the film for what it is. Cool scenes, crazy action, Mikey Rourke (Had they given him a real plot line would have been excellent.)

But all I could see is what they didn’t give me. No real plot. No understanding of what 3 of the major characters were even doing in this film. Lazy, lazy motivations for everyone. Introductions of characters with no lead into who they were or why they were there. And a love story that climaxed about as hard as soft serve ice-cream… after it had melted for a minutes.

So I’m here to rant against crappy story telling. Jon Favreau (the director/guy from Swingers) - I know - sat around with his buddies back in the day and talked about what made a movie good. He probably called out big budget busts like these. Now he’s responsible for directing this!

I spend hours, I spend days making sure all the elements of my plot works. I struggle with the beginning, middle and end. I try to give surprise, suspense and action. And I make damn sure (or my critique partner or agent or editor does) that the freakin’ story makes sense.

How did this guy watch this movie the first time fully edited and say… Yup! That works.

And why is it that I’ll struggle and struggle to make a story “perfect” on the hope that an NY publisher might buy it for a couple of thousand dollars… and someone thought it was okay to spend millions on this piece of crap and no one gets called on it.

People will go, spend their money, get a lazy half-assed story with some special effects and call it a day. I say NO! I say it’s time movie makers with their million dollar budgets become accountable to a higher standard. Good action movies can be made. Doubt me? Watch Star Trek.

Come on Hollywood. JJ Abrams can’t be the only action storyteller left can he?

Phew… rant done.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Going Along for the Ride

I went to see How to Train Your Dragon with my niece and nephew on the weekend and enjoyed it WAY more than I thought I would. Sure, the idea was cute, but nothing about the trailer made me think I'd like it. The trailer seemed to be mostly about the special effects and showing the audience that it was going to be in 3-D.

But it was actually a great story. Good pacing, entertaining, fun, heartfelt... enjoyable.

Once I stopped questioning whether or not it was historically accurate to have Vikings with Scottish accents and small details like why did only some of the main characters (the ones played by Clive Owen and Craig Ferguson) have Scottish accents? And once I got beyond the fact all the young people were dressed like Bratz dolls (particularly their footwear) -- I got totally caught up in the story.

So when questions entered my mind later in the film, like how come if it took him a long time to train one dragon, the others cooperated instantly when the story required them to... and how come the dragons understood English... By the time those questions came up, I was having so much fun I was along for the ride regardless.

It got me thinking about when/why we forgive "mistakes" in stories and when/why we're willing to let them slide. Any theories? Anyone else seen this movie?

And taking a slight tangent, okay maybe not so slight... I'm looking forward to the film The Trotsky more than I've looked forward to a Canadian film in ages. The link? The lead in The Trotsky is played by the same actor, Jan Baruchel, who does the voice of the main character in the dragon movie. (And he's also in another big film this summer... The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Plus he's from Ottawa and I saw the dragon movie in Ottawa... )

Wow, ramble much?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Low Humor

This is not going to be a particularly erudite post. Bear with me. Lately typos (and other little errors) have been cracking me up. It's probably a sign of the stress I'm under that I'm finding these as funny as I do, but I thought I'd share a few with you.

We were planning a campus visit for my oldest son and thought it would be nice if his friend Chris came along. I sent an e-mail to Chris' dad saying Teddy would have more fun if Christ came along. Spell check didn't correct me. Chris' dad wrote back saying that he didn't know Teddy was so religious, but it was always good to have the lord by your side when driving 17 into Santa Cruz. I now bust out laughing every time I see Chris (and I seem him quite often).

One of the detectives whose reports I edit was describing an apartment building. He said it had multiple balonies. I'm pretty sure he meant balconies. I'm still snickering.

My sister was e-mailing with a potential suitor. They were discussing a movie they'd both seen. He wrote "your right tit was inane." It took ages to figure out that he meant "you're right. It was inane." She decided she couldn't date someone who didn't know "your" from "you're." Plus, she has a completely bodacious set of tatas and they are not in the least bit silly.

One of my sister's friends was setting up a dating profile. She's into exercise and billed herself as "fitness fun gal." Unfortunately, if you run it together and break it up, it comes out "fitness fungal." She still hasn't figured out why no one seems to be responding and my sister doesn't have the heart to tell her.

When my boyfriend left the office today, he texted me to warn me that it was raining (we live in California, it's a big deal) and then said "Layer." I thought he was telling me how to dress. He meant to say "Later."

And last, but oh so certainly not least, in my WIP, my hero rolled over and slammed off his alarm cock.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


This is a game my firend Ian thought up on very long hikes. So, here is the Drunk Writer Version of Either/Or:

Christian Bale or Eric Bana

The first season of Dexter or The first season of The Wire

The first season of Dexter or the first season of Battlestar Gallactica

Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Laura Kinsale

Laura Kinsale or Elizabeth Hoyt

Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Jenny Cruise

Young Marlon Brando or Young Paul Newman

Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia or Sophie's Choice

Season One of Lost or any season of True Blood

Elizabeth Berg or Alice Hoffman

Hugh Laurie or Colin Firth

Friday, May 07, 2010

Necessary writing conditions

There are certain things I need in place to really be able to write well. Some of these are lifestyle, and some are specific to me sitting down at the computer.

1) Coffee. I'm addicted. Completely. And I'm at peace with this. But the morning coffee is what gets my brain working.

2) An hour. A solid hour, or the expectation of it, of peace and relative quiet. I know some writers who can do amazing things in twenty minute spurts, I think Molly is one of these. It takes me twenty minutes to really get my head in the story and get words on the page and from there, I can get some pages down.

3) Exercise. I know, and this is not a preachy, we should all work out blog post. For me, at least twice a week doing something seriously physical gets my head working. I don't know why, but I know on the weeks when I manage to do this, I write better. And I suppose it's another way to guilt myself into the gym, which is never a bad thing.

4) Tv and movies in moderation, and sadly, not reality Tv. Watching something brilliant can make me strive to write better and watching something mediocre can usually get me thinking about where they failed and how I can avoid doing so.

5) My critique group. I haven't written something in a long time without them and they are the ones who confirm, usually what I already know deep down, whether something is working or not. And more importantly, they keep me from being lazy.

6) A child NOT screaming in the background. Which is what is happening now, so I have to end this blog.

But don't forget, season 4 of Friday Night Lights is tonight. Watch, if just to see the best, most realistic, healthiest marriage on TV, but there is so much more to this show.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Big Book

As I always tell my family when they ask that hated question... “When are you going to write the big book?”…. I’m working on it.

I do it between waiting on Harlequin proposals. Each time I call up a lady from the basement, shake her out and give her a shot.

It’s good because it keeps me writing year round when the lag time between submitting a proposal and getting an answer can be a couple of months. It’s good because it pushes me to be more creative, more out of the box and more daring. It’s good because if I do all of these things well enough it might sell to NY and become a USA Today bestseller. And then of course life as I know it will be complete.

It’s good because it forces me to write for the fun and joy of it with no expectation that it will sell. It’s good because there are no deadlines for this work so the pressure is only self inflicted. It’s good because it forces me to take a more critical look at my work because I have the time. And because I know that if I’m going to sell to NY then it must be the absolute best.

I’ve written three complete books this way and one proposal that my agent didn’t think would sell. Each time I was convinced that this was it… each time it wasn’t.

So I’m back at it again with a ridiculously complicated plot and four POVS and I’m sitting here sixty pages into it and wondering… what I’m doing this for again?

See how easy it is to dismiss all that good stuff I just mentioned!

I’m questioning everything. Is it big enough? Are the two relationships less impactful because they both have history? How long is the audience going to give me to build the story before I plunge in to the gritty stuff?

My self-doubt is at an all time high. My weekends are spent with my ass in a chair. My alarm is going off every morning at 6:00 am (I’m ignoring that most days.) I’m in a constant state of panic.

And yet I have no control… the big book must have its day.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Chevy Stevens Guest Blog

Hi. Maureen here. :)

A month or so ago, one of my writer friends, debut author Chevy Stevens, was in Toronto on a pre-release promotional tour (yes! cool, right?), for her July 2010 release STILL MISSING, and we managed to grab dinner together. Among other things, we got talking about all the weird misconceptions that people have about writing and publishing. (And all the helpful suggestions they offer like, "You should go on Oprah!")

Now that I'm thinking about it, people assuming that authors always get sent on book tours, never mind pre-release tours, is a misconception I've dealt with. ;) But at least now I personally know someone whose publisher has done that! I also had the privilege of reading Chevy's ARC and let me tell you, this one's worth all the buzz and is sure to hit the lists. She just got starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal, too!

But one of the misconceptions Chevy's come up against is: if you know how to write, you don't need anyone else's input. To which everyone who is in the business would say, whaaat??? This came up when the Globe & Mail did a lovely feature on her and she mentioned using a freelance editor before seeking an agent. There were a few random bloggers and commenters on the Globe's site who clearly had no idea how publishing works (and/or were jealous writers.) Anyway, I thought it might be fun to have Chevy stop by for a drink to talk about it.

Hey, Maureen! Thanks for having me. This is so cool—I’ve been reading you guys for years! Ah, yes, misconceptions. I think the one that gets me the most is that if you work with a critique group, hired a freelance editor, or revised for your agent then it’s no longer YOUR book and you didn’t actually write it yourself, which makes me scratch my head. Okay, it makes me do a lot more than that, but I’m on my first drink. Wait until I get warmed up!

They’re aren’t many trades that don’t require learning from someone or getting feedback. Carpenters apprentice before they start building houses, plumbers too. They may have a natural aptitude for construction, but they still have to learn the skills. Great artists and magicians apprentice. My accountant's firm has a system where everything is checked over by another pair of eyes—twice. Olympic athletes have trainers, coaches, managers, nutritionist, and physical therapists. No one asks them if they really deserved to win the gold. Even sports teams have coaches. They run plays, study tapes, practice over and over again. On the occasions I’ve hired a personal fitness trainer I work harder and see better results. There’s something about having someone standing over you yelling, “One more time!” that really fires me up. In movies there’s the writer, the director, and then even an actor may bring something to the table. Chefs give people a taste of their creation, then adjust their ingredient accordingly.

Even when your final draft is bought by a publisher, your editor has feedback. Then there’s a copy-editor and after that, a proofreader. And you know what? Stuff still gets missed. I had to make two corrections last week because of errors readers found in my ARCs. One of them was a medical mistake that no one caught. You can’t see everything that’s wrong with your work. Sometimes you’ve been living with it for too long and other times it’s because you only see things from your own life experiences. Until someone points out that your character sounds like a real bitch when she says X, Y, Z and people are going to want to stab her with a fork, you might have no clue. Getting feedback can teach you a lot about yourself and your way of viewing the world.

I don’t work with a critique group because I live in a small town and don’t know many people working on novels. I also like one on one attention. I can be demanding and impatient. That doesn’t always work out well with writing partners! If I was to use an analogy, I’d say for me writing a book is like having an idea for a house, then building it and decorating it. When it’s as perfect as I can get it, I invite a couple of people in to tell me if I missed a spot, if my ceiling is sagging, or if the front door is crooked. I’m careful whom I invite as the wrong person can make me feel like shit about my house, and I don’t want someone who suggests I knock it down and build a condo because that’s what they secretly want to build. I also like having someone who can explain why it’s a bad idea to hook the toilet up to the sink and how I can get it to flush faster!

Once my beta readers have given me their feedback, I step back and think everything over. My natural reaction is always to want to slam the door in their face, so I take a moment, grab a tea, and when I’m ready, I go to work. A good freelance editor, beta reader, or critique partner might make comments like, “The kitchen seems too dark,” or they might brainstorm with me and say “orange” would look good. Then I might think, “No, I hate orange, but I agree it needs to be brighter so I’m going to go with yellow.” Then when I’m finally satisfied I’ll invite guests in. But I’ll still run around trying to straighten pillows and open curtains. I’m crazy like that. :)

Feedback is just that, feedback. You still have to find your own voice and figure out what works best for YOUR story. But getting feedback can sometimes help you figure out what the true essence of your story is, what is really, really important to you. It can be agonizing in the process. I once had someone suggest I get rid off all my shrink intros and just tell my story in real time. I considered it, because the intros weren’t working. I talked it over with a few people, tried to rewrite the book a few different ways, cried, ate too much food, and ultimately took six months, or so, to rewrite the intros so they were stronger.

There is no wrong or right way to write a book. If you want to use a critique group, go for it. If you want to hire a freelance editor, that’s cool too. But if you hire a freelance editor, do your homework. Ask for a sample and testimonials, check them out on Predators and Editors— be smart about it. I would recommend finding someone who doesn’t just point out flaws but teaches you why something isn’t working. Then learn from them. It’s also important they give you positive feedback or there’s no light at the end of the tunnel! Not all editors, critique partners, or beta readers are created equally, so be clear what you’re looking for and what works best for you. They’re a relationship like any other. You still have to know yourself, know what you need and want, and be willing to do your part.

Okay, I’m thirsty now. Is it time for another drink?

Great observations, Chevy. And to answer your last question, it's always time for another drink. Especially when talking about writing and publishing. ;)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Psych Me Out!

I have read three books in the past few weeks that I've just adored: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane and Heartsick by Chelsea Cain. They're all very different books, although I suppose you could argue that Shutter Island and Heartsick are both mystery/thrillers, but one is a contemporary creepy serial killer book that takes place in Portland and the other is a 1950s mystery that takes place somewhere outside of Boston.

What actually connects the books is that they're both very psychologically intriguing. What actually happens in the books isn't all that interesting, what it means to the people in the books is FASCINATING.

I'm almost done outlining my new book. I want to make it as psychologically complex and layered and intriguing as those three books. It's not all about plot twists and surprises, although those are definitely there, it's about something deeper and truer.

Wish me luck!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Forcing Ourselves To Grow

Yet another way in which this business is unlike any other business. Improvement is largely self-driven. It can be inspired by competitive jealousy or even a big contract - but taking the steps to actually make ourselves better at what we do is something WE have to do ourselves. Editors help, don't get me wrong, but often they help after the fact, because sadly my editor doesn't sit at my kitchen table with me when I'm sweating through chapter 7.

Critique partners, for me, are the biggest help, but once again, they're not drinking cold coffee with me in the middle of day while I pull out my hair - wish they were. But they don't.

So, it's up to us. It's up to us to think of better and bigger ideas, to write faster and more efficently, to create characters that force us to be on the top of our games. All, while actually finishing the book - which is hard enough.

I'm thinking of this because I just wrote a super in what seems like ten minutes. I'm not kidding. Ten minutes ago, I was at page 60 and this weekend I typed the end. I was telling my husband this, proud of myself, because you know's hard. And he asked me - "is it good?"

The answer is probably not. But the downside of forcing myself to grow as a writer is that whatever little bit of perspective I had on my work - what little bit of confidence I had cobbled together from bits of scrap and pebbles is gone and I have to figure it out all over again. Can I write fast and still put together a clean rough draft? Who the hell knows? I just finished the thing ten minutes ago.
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