Friday, April 30, 2010

Writer's retreat

First off, my apologies, because of some drunk writer talk, I got four hours of sleep, and the coffee hasn't quite hit my system yet, so there will be typos and wierd phrasing. (it was totally worth it)

We at drunk writers have been throwing around the idea of a writer retreat for a while now. A place where we go for a few days, to read, chat and possibly drink. And last night we hammered out some of the details.

Molly's main criteria is a place where someone brings us drinks.
Mine is somewhere warm, because to me there is nothing more decadent than lying on a chaise, in really hot weather, and reading.
We threw around the possibility of Vegas, then an all-inclusive somewhere south and sunny, and finally Maureen mentioned the idea of a spa, which is particulary intriguing.

Molly and I have young kids, so who knows when this will actually happen, but it's really nice to think about and plan for.

Any other ideas? Anyone out there have an ideal destination for their writer retreat?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drawer Books

What are drawer books you ask? Those are the books you write but your editor/agent/whoever felt that it wasn’t quite the right market/right book /big enough – you fill in the adjective – and you stuck it back in the drawer. These are books you loved, invested in and thought were good enough but these are the books that in the end got rejected.

Now don’t get me wrong, on some level I love drawer books. I have like ten of them and if I ever become an NYT Bestselling author I’m going to make a killing off of books that I’ve already written.
But here is the problem. As a reader I can smell a drawer book from an established author ten miles away. (Okay not really – I have to start reading it first – but then I can tell.)

The writer in me can usually appreciate these books. They give you a sense of the author’s growth. How they started smaller and eventually made their way bigger. I like to see that. I started reading Nora in single title and eventually went back to her category stuff. I enjoyed seeing the originations of the character types she would later perfect. Good stuff.

But what I don’t like is when they package and try to sell it to me like something new and for more money than the first book! I really think there needs to be a disclaimer. If for no other reason than to protect the author.

Now we’ve all read amazing debuts by authors followed by so-so seconds. But usually this is a direct result of the time the author had to write book one vs. the deadline the author had to produce book two. I get that and forgive them for it. As readers we want that follow up and we want it fast. So if the second or third book in the sequel seems a little rushed I’m still willing to give that author another try depending on how well I loved the series. Of course after a while if I don’t see them pick that pace back up then I get a little weary. I understand deadlines and I understand when something hits you have to act fast, fast, fast. But after a while a writer should develop a groove.

But then comes the drawer book. That sneaky book that doesn’t relate to the series, isn’t part of a new series, but instead stands alone and when you read it it’s like a shadow of that first debut you fell in love with.

When I read them it reminds me how smart agents and editors are. I just read what I’m SURE is a drawer book of an NYT author. It’s the author’s voice, the style… but it just doesn’t compare to the debut.

I think as writers most of us know that we usually do improve. My guess is this author wrote this book and garnered a lot of attention from the publishing world. But the agent or editor said… close but not close enough. Let me see what else you got.
You know what… the agent or editor was right. This book is an example of someone on the cusp just waiting for that right that story. And sucker that I was I paid twice for that drawer book than I did the original. Damn those sneaky publishers!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Character, Plot and Dragon Tattoos

I went to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo tonight and it got me thinking about plot and character, again.

On the absolute plot level, this film (and I assume the book, too, but I haven't read the book), is a who-done-it type murder mystery with a thriller/suspense edge. But it's so much more than that, and I couldn't help but think of how it rises above other popular books/movies in that same ilk like, say, The DaVinci Code.

Both had an intriguing mystery to solve, both have danger and life-threatening situations, both have chills and thrills, but the big difference is that Dragon Tattoo also has interesting characters.

Really interesting characters, whom we really care about, and worry about, and have unanswered questions about.... And the backstory for the one character is held back until virtually the end of the film but we're so fascinated by her (or at least I was) that I actually wondered at one point if maybe I'd be okay if we never found out what had happened to her. I actually started to think that they were going to hold that info back... because I knew there was a sequel (for the book, anyway).

I just read a bit of the description of the second book The Girl Who Played with Fire and it does have the same characters and it does sound like we find out more about her... Hmmm... Thinking I need to buy this book now. Too many books, not enough hours in the day.

Anyway. Good film. A few scenes were hard to watch, but a highly entertaining film.

On another aside... I don't know the story of how/when this bestselling book got optioned... but I also thought it was bold to do the film in Swedish with subtitles... After the book took off so big in its English translation, I'm sure there was huge pressure to do the film in English or even move it to Maine or someplace like that. Glad they didn't.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Je ne sais quoi

I've been doing some contest judging. I don't do a lot of it, but it's a volunteer something I can do at my leisure (sort of) so I don't feel like a total parasite on the bum of the many RWA chapters that help and sustain me in many ways.

The easiest entries to judge or the really great ones and the really sucky ones. It's fun to go through a terrific entry and mark places that totally rock. It's fun to write gushy notes in the comments at the end about what a pleasure it was to read the entry.

It's not as much fun to mark up the sucky ones, but at least I feel like I can offer some constructive criticism so the person has a chance to learn and grow. It's satisfying to be able to pass on some of the things that I've learned over the years.

The ones I hate judging are the ones that fall somewhere in between. They're good, but not great. There's nothing glaringly wrong, but there's nothing fabulously right, either. They're often missing that certain something that makes me fall in love, that certain Je ne sais quoi that takes something from ordinary to extraordinary.

I can't figure out how to tell someone how to do that (or how to do it myself ) and I so wish I could. It would make the process much easier.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Cleaning Lady and A New Bantam Deal....

So, Lisa, my cleaning lady also happens to be a nanny, so a few weeks ago, amid a terrible freak out that I was never going to get any work done - I hired her to babysit my daughter for one morning a week. This stressed me right out - I like Lisa, but I was a little convinced that she was going to kidnap my daughter and sell her on Yonge Street. I'm crazy, but I think it's a common fear anytime you hire someone to look after your kid.

Now, at the same time a proposal I had written was garnering some interest. And then, suddenly it was garnering A LOT of interest. It seemed for one dreamy weekend like I was going to have the job of picking between two interested houses, but at one house the last person that needed to read the proposal before they could offer went on vacation. The other house made an offer but my agent wanted "everyone to be able to come to the table." So, on Tuesday it was all going to shake out.

Tuesday was also the day that Lisa was going to take Lucy for the morning. So, Lisa and Lucy trundle off to the park and I call Maureen and Sinead a thousand times to ask them what they would do if they had to choose between houses? Editors? Promotional promises? Money? Maureen had firm arguments for both sides. Sinead said Bantam. Every time.

My agent calls to say that Bantam wants a pre-empt on a two book deal. I don't have to make a decision! I'm so sick to my stomach with giddiness and nerves I can barely stand it. I giggle and stress out and call my husband, call Maureen and Sinead, my folks.

But what's really crazy, in this business where success feels like luck, I suddenly felt like the other shoe was going to drop. Like for this good fortune I was going to have to pay some price. And then I realized that my daughter was still out with Lisa. And what did I really know about Lisa? Really? Who hires thier cleaning lady to look after thier toddler? Am I nuts?

I stood on my front porch in a weird panic and I answered calls from my agent to hammer out delivery dates and other exciting things and the whole time my heart was in throat.

And then, they arrived. Lucy was filthy and happy. Lisa had bought her piece of pizza. And there it was - the best part of this ridiculous day - a two book deal with Bantam and my daughter didn't get sold on Yonge Street.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who else hates the word discipline?

We talk a lot here at the Drunk writer blog, and more so over beers at our regular pub, about what makes for great writing. Seriously, we have analyzed the different components every which way.

We love to take apart our favourite books, figure out what maked them work, and hell, this is fun, usually because we're doing it over a few drinks and because it's how we learn to improve our own writing.

It's the fun part of writing. It's definitely one of my favourite parts. But discipline is the fundamental foundation writing is built on.
Discipline is what seperates the 'I'm writing a book when I have my weekends free again' people from the writers. Because aside from cool conversations over beer and sitting with a glass of wine, while you figure out the main points of a plot (seriously, I think I might sound like an alcoholic ) most of writing is one word, than the next, and then the next.

And then when you've put 90,000 words into your computer, you get to read them all again, and re-write many of those words. And then once you've done that, you get to re-read it all over again, and possibly again, re-write some of those words.

It doesn't sound sexy, and while a lot of this process is exhilerating at times, it can also be tedious. For example, reading all 90,000 words out loud, because it's the only way I can really catch all the basic mistakes in wording.

Discipline is opening the computer at 9pm at night, while Supernatural is on, or editing for twelve hours in a coffee shop because home has too many distractions, and not enough coffee.

It's the discipline that allows us to sit and talk at excrutiating length about pacing over beers.

And it doesn't matter where it comes from. Real deadlines, self imposed deadlines, treats, the disapproving faces of your critique partners, not being able to watch any of your favourite shows until you finish the bloody book.
It all works and it's all worthy.

And if I ever want to see Supernatural again, I have to go back to work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Networking

I was recently on a panel of romance authors at a library event in my area. It was the first time I had ever been asked to do something like this. I felt very official sitting up there on the podium. Like I had really arrived! Stephanie Doyle - author!

But it’s not like they asked me because they knew me or my work - I just happened to know one of the organizing authors. And it occurred to me how little time I spend networking and putting myself out there at events like this. I was told to provide a picture – I didn’t have a good one. (That’s since been corrected.) I was told to bring some promotional goodies… huh? I brought some books instead.

I’m an absolute loser when it comes to this. I know other people get published and right away get a picture, pens, bookmarks and business cards. It took me 5 conferences to learn that when somebody asked for my “card” they weren’t asking for my day job business card. I used to think what the heck do they want that for? It wasn’t until that 5th conference that I actually looked at what I was getting in return that I realized people were handing me “writing” business cards. Ohhhhhhh. I get it. (This has also since been corrected.)

Anyway one of the questions asked of the panel was how did you get your start. Two of the authors said that networking played a crucial role for them in getting published.

As the anti-network person I thought how? You write a book, you send it in, someone likes it or they don’t. But they gave a really compelling argument. One mentioned that they started with the three C’s. Contests, conferences, and critique groups. That it was important to have face time with editors and agents. And two of the authors actually told stories about how after meeting their editor at a pitch session, it eventually led to a sale.

I felt like a jackass. Not that I didn’t get my start that way. Just that here were these other authors - some with fewer sales than I had - who had gone out to libraries and bookstores, had been asked to speak on panels and had been to conferences around the country.

Who had stuff. While I was totally oblivious to all of it.

So for the “networkers” out there - educate me. How do you network? How do you get invited to conferences? Where do you go to get all the stuff? And when you have it who do you give it out to? But more importantly do you think it helps? Do you think it’s making a difference in your career for those published and not published yet?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I love me my RWA

Yet another short post today. Sorry, but I just got back last night from the Desert Dreams RWA Conference in Scottsdale.

It was fantastic. The organizers did a terrific job. The hotel was lovely (okay, lunch was questionable, but really, what do you expect?). There were tons of interesting talks and people and I feel all jazzed up. This is what I love about RWA. I mean, really, I got to hang out at a cocktail party chatting with Linda Lael Miller and then she mentioned it in her talk at the lunch the next day! How cool is that?

The whole thing felt especially meaningful to me since the very first RWA anything I ever attended was a Desert Dreams Conference back in (I think) 1993. I'd read about the conference in the Arizona Republic and as I'd been trying to write a romance novel, I decided to go. A bunch of people had these little stickers on their name tags. I asked what that was about and found out that it means that those people were published authors. I remember thinking, "I want to come back to this conference with one of those on my name tag."

Now I did! Well, that don't do stickers anymore. It was a ribbon, but it felt good all the same. I am reasonably certain that I would not have gotten published without what I learned through attending RWA conferences and workshops and meetings. It felt good to be in a position to pass it along a little.

Smoochies, RWA! Big Hugs, Desert Rose Chapter!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Taking Stock

So, there I was the other day, on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor using a wipe - yes, a DIAPER wipe - to clean up the mysterious sticky brown spots by my sink when I realized, while this wasn't rock bottom (I love my life far too much to be bothered by some diaper wipe house cleaning) it certainly was strange. And sitting there, next the the crushed blueberry that I haven't bothered to pick up for the last week - I took a quick stock of my life:

I love, absolutely love being a mom, wife and writer. But there are days - many of them, for each - I want to get in my car and drive to my mommy and let her take care of me.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is about as comforting and page-turning as a writer can be and those two traits are hard to achieve in tandem.

I will never get to that Tuesday morning spin class. Never.

I have no problem saying no to the first beer, it's the second and fifth that get me in trouble.

Should my trusted writing friends get kidnapped by a Columbian drug cartel - I would ransome them. Maybe quicker than I would my husband....

The words SPRING MAKE UP TRENDS are so foreign they're like an alien language.

The self doubt that plauges me as woman, plagues me as a mother and a writer. It blows, but I really think I'm just going to have to live with it.

If I drank as much water as I do coffee I have no doubt but I would be healthier.

I want to pay people to do most of the things in my life so I can have more time to drink coffee.

Spartacus is as close to a penis as I get sometimes....

Where are you guys? Similar boat?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tension, or why American Idol sucks this season

American Idol, so boring right now. And it's not, as some are saying, because the participants can't sing, because they can, go back a few seasons and listen to the top ten. These guys aren't awful by any stretch, but sadly, they are consistent.
Crystal is always going to be great, Lee probably too, Siobhan is going to scream at some point, and Casey will sound generic, but in tune.

No surprise from week to week, and no tension what so ever.

To me tension is the glue that holds any book together. Tension is created by not letting the reader know what is about to happen, but they know that it is of crucual importance to the POV character, and when it does happen, everything will change.

It involves everything - emotions, pacing, plotting, these are all the groundwork of creating tension. And when it's missing, that's when things get seriously ho hum.

There has been a serious lack of tension in the romances I've read recently. Sexual tension can only take you so far, and when added to a predictable plot, well, it's gets a little dull.

But there should be a new Sherry Thomas book released soon, which is great, and a couple of more books are getting serious buzz and I just cracked the spine on Eileen's book, so I'm excited to read that.

And, Tru Blood is coming back soon.

Summer should be good.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Crap!!!!

I screwed up. I messed up my pre-post option and it posted today instead of tomorrow.

I'm sorry Maureen!!!! Sorry everybody! Just wait and read it tomorrow!

You gotta have an arc... you gotta!

I have been majorly impressed with two television shows recently as they dealt with the romance of the lead couples. Glee being one (but I don’t want to talk about the episode if not everyone has seen it).

And the other is Bones. You all know I’m a fan. This week in the pivotal 100th episode our hero admitted his feelings, which we the audience have been privy to since the season premier.

The admission of love, the grab and kiss and then…. BAM! He was denied. She didn’t want a relationship with him.

Now for those who don’t watch the show – her prevailing arc has been she was abandoned by her parents who left her at age 15 - thought dead. Her 18 year old brother couldn’t take care of her. He left her to foster care, where we know she was abused in some of the homes where she stayed. A special child (she’s a gifted savant), she shut down all emotional connection with people and used her highly developed intellect as a defense shield.
In a very emotional scene she tells him she can’t love. She doesn’t have an open heart. And she doesn’t want to hurt him by failing to love him the way he deserves.

But what I loved more than the drama of it – was that it was so true to her character. She’s not done with her arc. She’s moving forward. For the past 5 years we’ve seen her developing this connection with the hero. We, the audience, can see by her actions that she’s in love with him. This season we see her touching him in simple ways.

But when pressed - her fear of abandonment kicked in… the way it should.

Am I worried that the relationship component of this show is over? No way. I trust the writers implicitly here because they’ve been so true to sticking to these characters growth arc that I know in the end they’ll get me to the Promised Land. (Although I’m probably going to have to suffer through the hero getting a new girl friend to get there.) But I have trust. This wasn’t the end of their chance. This was the first crack in her defense shield. If I was writing the next few episodes I would paint her as more agitated. She would have fits and outburst at odd times. The kind of thing to show us that she’s breaking down.

This is good solid relationship writing. The couples have internal conflicts that are legitimately hindering their chance at a relationship despite how deeply they love each other.

Every editor/agent/critique partner will say it. Your characters must have internal conflicts, not external. And they must grow over the course of the story. If you’re a writer and you’re asking yourself how do I do this? Watch Bones reruns from the beginning and start watching Glee now. (I trust those writers too.)

So many times movies and TV romances fail in this component. They set up the relationship – play, tease, fight, play tease, fight and then finally consummation. Inevitably people will complain that the “spark” is gone.

The creator for Bones rejects what he calls the “Moonlighting” curse. And I agree. Done right, the relationship after consummation can be just as interesting if your characters are still growing and working on that arc.

So you gotta have one. Who are your leads? What are their issues? Most people find this part easy. But how are they growing beyond just falling in love. The love in a romance is a given. It’s what your characters are going to change about the way the act, think and feel that makes them able to handle that love… that’s the challenge.

For the Love of Crit Groups

I'm thinking about Molly's post on Monday and wanted to explain what she quoted me as saying... But first a word about critique groups. I know some writers hate them, and I think there are bad situations. Situations where critique partners are biased or want to rewrite books the way they would have written them, or when writers are too timid to stand up for themselves and end up trying to please everyone and by listening to all the advice, end up with either a hodge-podged mess, or a something so tamed down and homogeneous it's boring.

But crit groups can also be fabulous. And I think all writers are smart to get feedback on their writing. I've been talking about this with writer friend Chevy Stevens a lot lately, and she'll be doing a guest blog very soon on the topic. (Next week, if I can get my act together.) Basically, she had a lovely article written about her in the Globe & Mail and then was attacked by a few crazy bloggers, (whom I won't link to, because they're crazy and don't deserve any more attention), who seemed to think her book had been written by committee, because she talked about her editorial process in the Globe article and they seemed to think that getting editorial input or critiques or even input from your agent meant the author wasn't doing their job. But more on that topic of craziness when Chevy comes over for a drink and some writerly talk...

But that's all lead in to what I meant to post about today. I wanted to set the record straight about my blurting out that I love everything I write until people tell me it's crap. I'm not that arrogant. Honest. :)

I think anyone who's read my posts on this blog over the years knows I'm a bundle of insecurities 90% of the time, but when I find my confidence about something -- well, I can be really confident about it -- at least until someone rips that confidence away from me. (Not that hard.)

The exact context in which I said, "I think everything I write is great until someone tells me it isn't," is kind of personal to what's going on with my career right now, and I don't want to get into it publicly, but in general, what I really meant was that I'm never shooting for mediocre or "good enough".

Once I finish a book, or proposal and send it out to my agent, I never think it's mediocre. I never think, "Oh, I'll be so happy if this is just published. " I never think, "Oh, I'll be happy, even if I get a tiny advance for this one." I never think, "I'll be happy if it's in print, no matter how it's published." I never think, "Oh, I'll be so happy if this sells a thousand copies." No! I always think, "I've done my part and done it well. Now, if the stars line up the right way, this book could be huge."

I know this might be delusional, and having those kinds of expectations means I get slapped down pretty hard when things don't work out how I'd hoped, and I know every publishing deal must be evaluated on its own merit.... and the more stuff I put out there, the harder it is to believe it's all awesome... but I still haven't given up. Not on any of my manuscripts except the very first one. (Which wasn't the kind of book I should be writing, but I learned a lot writing it.)

But this faith that what I'm writing is good, is the reason I haven't tried to self-publish or to submit to the digital-first or other really small publishers with my projects that haven't sold. I still think they mostly rock, but just haven't landed on the right desk on the right day, yet. Or if I now see (based on the rejections and with the benefit of hindsight) that there are issues with them, I think I know how to fix them to make them rock.

So, ya... I still get horribly nervous (and sometimes defensive) when I get critiques from my CP's, with whom I've been working for over seven years now, so you'd think I'd be over that. I'm not. I'm still genuinely self-deprecating and think my stuff sucks until someone is kind enough to tell me it doesn't suck. I still hear the bad crits louder than the good ones and beat myself up a lot...

But once I'm through the hell that writing and revising a book can be... I'm typically pretty damned confident about it. At least I try to be. At least until the first rejections come in.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Connection

My family put together a team for the UC Davis Relay for Life. We walked this past weekend. The Halperns for Hope (that's us!) was one of the top fundraising teams of the relay. In addition, we won a prize for having a team member from the farthest away (my cousin Sondra from Maine). We had three generations walking and ranged in age from 83 (okay, the 83-year-old more rolled than walked) to 15. For 24 hours (give or take), we talked, ate, walked, ate, laughed, cried and ate together (trail mix rocks!). We had several very memorable moments, including but not limited to, when I took off pushing my mother in her wheelchair for the special Survivors Lap and went in the wrong direction. It wasn't until my sister pointed out that the band was walking TOWARD us that I realized my mistake.

Mainly, however, we were together. I don't know of anything that gives my life more meaning than those connections. While I'm certain that there's some core to me that is immutable, much of me is defined by who I am to and with these people: mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, lover, friend. Each one of those people has touched my life, changed me, enlightened me, loved me, been exasperated by me, been proud of me and I've done the same for them. It's like a giant web of connections with the vibrations from any one occurrence to any of us reverberating through the rest of us.

Or as my uncle would say, we're like a bunch of little piggies. Pull one of our tails and we'll all squeal.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tough Love

Maureen said something last night at our critique group meeting that rang totally true for me: "I always think what I write is great until someone tells me it's not." Sometimes I have an idea that something might not be working, but usually, I think what I've got on the page, or in my head, is pretty great.

On Saturday we went to the Donald Maass workshop at Toronto Romance Writers. And he said, that feeling resistance to changing our work is totally natural and normal and that we need to pay attention to is, because where we feel the most resistance is where we need to make the most change.

I can't say that I agree with that for myself a 100% of the time, but when I do agree with it, I agree with it 100%.

I'm working on a series of books and at the Saturday workshop I did a lot of great work on the first book, but those decisions impacted the second book and in regards to plot and character for the second book - I had nothing, so I really wanted to get it figured out so I wouldn't be half way through it and realize that the things I put into effect in the first book had totally screwed me.

So, my brilliant critique group started throwing around ideas. I love brainstorming. I adore it. And my ideas last night were weak, and tired and mostly non-existent. I had just kept circling the same tired plot points. And my lovely little critique group - and I have to say Sinead was particularly brilliant - kept saying; nope. Nope. Not big enough. Old-fashioned. What's in it for him? What happens to her? What's the worst thing that can happen to her? What does he really want? Until finally, the story broke wide open and it was fresh and exciting and new. Scenes arrived in my head. Characters created a second and third dimensions. Subplots got juicy and all tightly-woven with the main plot.

In so many words - they fixed my book.

After the meeting Sinead said she was sorry if they were too hard on me and I wanted to kiss her. Too hard was what I needed. Tough love was the only way this book was going to be anything but boring. It's hard to push a person past that resistance to change, but man, it's so worth it.

Thanks critique group.

Friday, April 09, 2010

I write like a soap opera amnesiac

Finally worked through the last major edit of the current WIP. An edit I thought would take a week, maybe two max and here I am four weeks later and i'm re-writing the ending.

And I still have one more read through of this bloody book.

Every book, I tell myself, I won't make the same mistakes and every book I get a little better, but the same problems crop up with every manuscript.

Inevitably, I race towards the end and finish it in ten pages, really abruptly, when it should be drawn out, savoured, satisfying. Hence the re-write.

I always write too short. Some people have to cut back on their word count. Not me, I struggle to get to single title length. EVERY single time. Even with six POV's... seriously.

I always underestimate how long it will take me to do the final edit. Always. This time by four weeks.

I always plan to write faster, so that by the time I get to the end of the book, I'm sick to death of the story, and have lost all perspective on it.

Maybe with the next book, I'll fix these things, but I'm guessing I'll be going through the same pain on the final edit of that book as well.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I'm writing like a teenage driver...

I just recently let my seventeen year old niece drive me to the beach. She’s actually a very good driver, but it just reminded me about the one mistake that new drivers (and sometimes bad drivers) make. That hitchy start and stop motion. Gas, break. Gas, break. You know what I’m talking about?

And I realized it’s sort of like my writing these days. I start and then I hit a wall - usually an historical fact that I need to know - and it stops. I find the information I need and it starts up again. But then I wonder where I’m going with the end of the chapter and bam - I slam on the breaks.

This freakin’ book! I can’t seem to build any momentum. I know the opening so well in my head but still I’m struggling at twenty pages when I should be at hundred by now.

I’m like a bad driver. Or a bad writer. I can’t seem to find that easy start up where I coast along and slowly break toward the end of the chapter. Instead it’s hitchy. Which I can only imagine how that’s translating on the paper.

I’ve tried that technique where if you don’t know a particular fact you just put ( ) or ??? and move on figuring you’ll find it later. Doesn’t work for me. I can’t move on until I know I’ve found the answer. Which might lead you to ask… why are you writing historical?

Good question. But it’s not like I really have all that much control over these stories. They just come.

Anyway – that’s my writing rant. In other news I now have a picture to go with my profile. Be warned – this is not what I look like. It’s really the best version of me. So if you see someone at say Nationals that looks like this picture but only chubbier with baggier eyes… that’s probably me. If you’re not sure call out “Steph” – if I turn around that’s definitely me. If the person instead looks at you funny, then turn your ahead away and pretend to look around for the person who just shouted.

Also Suspect Lover (see cover below on loopy thing) was nominated for best series cover of 2009 by Cover CafĂ©. The cover will be here: www.covercafe.com at the end of April and voting begins April 28th. Of course I take absolutely no credit for this. All props go to the amazing art department at Harlequin. But I do think this scene was actually one I submitted which never happens… so that’s cool.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lessons Learned in the Pressure Cooker

Well, other than the line edits, I'm done with the first two books in the new Twisted Tales series for Pickwick Press, a new Children's imprint for Phoenix Books. YAY!!!!

And.... drumroll... I have release dates (October 5, 2010 for both) and covers! And they're up for pre-order on all the online retailers. Check them out!

But most of all, I feel like I learned a lot of lessons. I suppose one should expect to learn a lot of lessons while in the midst of one's first book contract, but the lessons I learned weren't necessarily the ones I expected to be learning. D'uh. I guess that's why I had to learn them, right?

1. I can write way faster than I ever imagined.

I had 4 1/2 months to write two 80K length books. And while they were simple in that they were based on fairy tales, they were decidedly NOT simple in their structures because of the "you decide the outcome" feature of the series.

2. Something will always come up to throw a wrench into your plans.

I knew from watching my friends and from reading writers loops that authors often have requests thrown at them from their publishers, without any regard for timing or their deadlines. I knew this. BUT, I didn't expect the number and frequency of such requests. Or how they would throw me off and take me out of my flow. And all that's before my personal life intruding... family and friends, eye infections, colds, daily life...

3. It's not smart to drop everything else in your life.

Dropping everything while under deadline seemed smart to me when I made the decision. It was only 4 1/2 months. It was my first contract. I figured I could stop doing "optional" things like--opening mail that wasn't obviously a bill, deleting SPAM, doing my personal blog, updating my website to, like mention the sale, cleaning my house, talking to my family, answering personal e-mails, taking care of myself and my life--until the books were done. Turns out, this was dumb. Very dumb. I may have met the deadlines, but of course more writing things have come up... I have a bunch of opportunities in front of me, all with urgency.... So, I'm not really any less busy now, PLUS I have a very messy house and stacks of goodness knows what that landed in my mailbox. And these tasks seem monumental to deal with now, whereas with a half hour every couple of days... I could have kept up with it all. At this point, I can't even remember all the e-mails (personal or professional) I put off until later... I kept putting people off with, "Just wait until March." And so they didn't understand why I was still busy in March (editor's revision letter -- plus, um, my own revisions because I turned in such a hot mess) and why I'm still busy now. Worst, I stopped going to the gym and gained weight... Basically I let my life fall apart. Not so smart in the end.

4. Eating right and exercising is worth the extra time.

Kind of related to #3, but while under so much pressure, I figured I'd give myself a break in terms of eating right and working out. So, I ate too many thing sold at coffee shops. I ordered take out too many times. Now I feel like a slug. A fat slug.

5. You can't change who you are.

I know I'm a last minute panic person. Always have been. And when I have a deadline (whether self-imposed or not) I always make my schedule knowing my nature. Usually I set out a schedule I think is doable, leaving myself a few days off, and knowing that likely I'll fall behind, but will be able to catch up at the end. Problem with this deadline was I didn't have the luxury of a reasonable, doable plan from the start. When I divided the amount of work over the number of days (with no days off) I already had to produce more per day than I'd ever done before--even during a Nanowrimo situation. Nano seems easy peasy, now. Right from day one, even before I got behind and it all started to fall apart, I knew I was in trouble... And so it was a lot of stress.

6. I'm not good at tricking myself.

If I could change one thing, I would have stopped work on the first book, the Cinderella book, in early-mid December. That was the book that I'd already done a detailed outline for. (Did one for the proposal that sold it.) That was the book I'd already started and developed characters for. That was the book I had time to let my critique partners help with. If I'd stopped working on Cinderella in mid-December, that would have divided the time between the two books pretty evenly. But my deadline was January 3rd, and my editor wasn't interested in getting it before that (because she was on vacation in late December) and so I took every last minute to finish. So, not only did I not have as much time to do the second book, I also had to do revisions and line edits for the first book, as well as meeting several other unexpected requests (for marketing materials, etc.) during that shorter period of time. I think I had about five weeks to do the second book, total, and going in all I had for book 2 was a title and concept. No outline. No characters. No book. In hindsight, I feel like a superhero for pulling it off. And in the end, I actually love my Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer book. :)

7. Good friends will save you.

I don't think I've ever, in my life, felt quite so much panic as I did this February. And my friends came through for me. In late Jan/early Feb, even though she has 3 small kids and had just moved, Sinead met with me to go over my outline. Even though she has 2 small kids and deadlines of her own, Molly read the first scenes for me and met to give me some ideas. Then the weekend of Feb 20-21, I was basically only at about 33K in, and I knew some of that I had to trash. And not only was I behind, I still had some HUGE logistics/world building and story decisions to make and I could not think. Brain was frozen. Just kept going around in circles chasing my tail. (As Molly would say, I kept looking right, over and over, when the answers were off to the left...) Molly and Sinead came over that weekend and let me talk through my issues and told me which of my solutions worked and which ones didn't, and where I was making things more complicated than I needed to, and just as important they reassured me that everything was going to be okay and it wasn't the absolute end of the world if I had to send a near first draft to my editor, that I wouldn't be the first writer to ever do that... And I calmed down and wrote about 53K in the next ten days and did a quick second draft of the entire 83K in three days (the fastest I'd ever revised a book before that was four weeks. I prefer to have six weeks for revisions. I'm a reviser...)

8. If I take time off right after a book, I should plan something busy but satisfying and non-writing related.

Instead, I planned a short trip away that ended up being miserable, because after so many months of relative isolation, a vacation by myself wasn't what I wanted or needed... and I was still too anxious to relax. Plus the weather sucked, so I just felt sorry for myself. Didn't feel like a break at all. Just added to my stress.

And I think the biggest lesson, one I'm still learning, is you should stop and smell the roses. Cliche, but true. My dreams are starting to come true, at least things are moving in the right direction, again, but through this process I felt too panicked to rejoice and enjoy it.

So, let's pop the champagne now!

What lessons have you learned under pressure?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I'm taller!

Well, probably not really, but I turned my book in last week on Thursday (at approximately 8:05 p.m.) and immediately felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I'd grown an inch or two.

Normally, I take a week or two off after finishing a book. I don't have that luxury this time. I need to get to work immediately on the next project. At this point, I can't even remember the names of the characters and am having to reread the proposal so I know what it is I said I was going to write.

I was worried that there would be a certain amount of brain drain (and maybe there is a little, hence the fact that I'm posting this way later than I usually do), that I might not be able to plunge from one project to another. Apparently I'm getting better at the switch from one genre to the other and I'm now all excited about the new book and can't wait to get to it.

I think it might be possible that taking off the week or two between projects wasn't a good idea. Often the two weeks would stretch to three or more. I always felt sluggish when I finally got my started with the new one. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to turn off my author brain and rest it.

We'll see at the end of the summer. If my brain has totally overheated and I'm blowing gaskets, I'll know that those two weeks off helped at some point.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Stamina, Ryan Reynolds and why Sinead is off her rocker....

What a weekend! The weather was out of this world, my husband went away on rugby tour and the kids went to my MIL's. For two freaking nights!!! I had roughly 43 hours all to myself. The plan was to write as much as I could - at LEAST fifty pages.

But, man, I learned pretty quickly that I am out of writing shape. I've been writing in two maybe two and half hour stretches for four years now. Which is great, but I have no stamina. This weekend, every two hours I needed to move to a different part of my house, or a different coffee shop. The longest I think I could write in a stretch was four hours and that was first thing in the morning. Maureen's ability to put her head down and plow through twelve hour days is a freaking miracle! I amanaged to get those fifty pages, but it was work.

How about you guys? How is your writing stamina?

Also, this weekend, because a girl needs a break, I watched The Proposal. My feelings for Ryan Reynolds are out of control. It's not just his abs. Though, that's a big part of it. He's got the same twinkle as Harrison Ford. It's a really potent twinkle.

And finally, Sinead is off her rocker for publicly admitting she is excited about Clash of The Titans. Granted she had a few ciders, but honestly. Excited? Now, I have incredibly fond memories of the first movie (I went with the Zawislak's and Mrs. Z snuck in homemade popped popcorn in brown paper bags. I got scared about Medusa and Matt turned to me and said it was just a movie. Not making me any less scared, but making sure I kept my mouth shut about it.) And I too have a curiosity about Sam Worthington. But come on. Excited? Outside of some effects isn't this movie going to be a steamy pile of poo? Isn't Sinead wasting her few precious moments of entertainment?

Please, weigh in.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Instincts and Imagination

It's good friday, the kiddies are home, my house is a madhouse, so this will not be a long post.
I noticed the other day, both my daughters were trying to lift something heavy. Without ever being told, they both, bent their legs and lifted without ever straining their backs, as if the right way to use their body has been imprinted in their DNA.
The Wii fit has a test when you sign on, a balance test that no matter how much I suck in my stomach, or relax my shoulders, or tense my legs, I cannot seem to manage to gain a perfect score in this. But my daughter steps on, and every single time, perfect balance.
We're born knowing all this stuff and the older we get, the less we instinctively know.
Unless we make a real effort to nurture it. The same goes with our imaginations. Children compose the most far fetched, beautiful imaginary games, and as we get older, those imaginary games become harder and harder as we practice them less and less.

I'm keeping this in mind as I think long and hard about what I want to write next, because my instincts are leading me somewhere interesting and very, very different and I want to believe that they will not lead me astray.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Oscar Winning Performances

So I just watched the Blindside. Very nice movie. Very nice performance by Sandra Bullock. Was it Oscar worthy? Maybe there is some debate – but understanding Hollywood they probably wanted to recognize her for her career achievement. I’m fine with that. I’m especially fine with that since her husband turned out to be a scumdog. (Note to all scumdogs… if your wife is going to win a bunch of awards and you know you’re cheating on her and it’s about to all come out – tell her to tone down the love rhetoric in her acceptance speech. Ouch!)

What does this have to do with writing you might ask? Not really whole lot and I got off the track with the scumdog stuff, but it made me think of other Oscar winning performances.

That’s what I want to do. I want to write an Oscar Winning Performance! I want that type of story where the characters are so unforgettable, the emotion so elevated that if the book were a movie… my heroine or hero would be nominated.

I’ve got this plot point that will happen between my hero and heroine in my current WIP. It’s heartbreaking, awful, mean and purging. It’s all bottled up emotion and it’s going to come spewing out after this one revelation somewhere around Chapter 14 or 15 or so.

In my head I can “see it” sort of like a movie. No famous people. My characters are always strangers when I meet them. But I definitely can see the scene being played out. I know how they’re going to move. And I know the gist of what they’re going to say. The actual words right will only happen when it comes time to write the scene. But what I want to do is elevate it somehow. Take that nice performance and make it “Oscar” worthy.

Is it the dialogue? Is it what they don’t say? I don’t know yet and obviously the proof will be in the pudding. But it made me think about other characters. Who could have won “Oscars” in the romance genre? RITAs and GHs are great for picking the best stories but who have been the best characters?

Who would have won an Oscar if that book had been a movie?
My first thought… Laura Kinsale’s hero in Flowers from the Storm… portraying people with a disability tends to do well with the Academy. He would have been a lock.

Who else?
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