Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Might Have Been: The Baseball Book That Will Probably Break Your Heart

Joe Schuster is one of the best teachers I've ever had. Top five, easily. At Webster University in St. Louis he teaches Communications and Journalism as well as a few film and script classes. For me and I think the majority of his students (certainly my husband who would list Joe in his top five as well) Joe was the kind of teacher you wanted to do well for, not just because he was generous and warm and fun in class, but because he was a writer. A real one, and you wanted him to think the same of you.

And you wanted to have a beer after class with him.

So, you can imagine my delight. My total thrill to find out that his debut novel THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN was bought by Ballantine and is being released in March.

It's been called "transcendent" and "damn fine." I asked Joe a few questions about Baseball movies, Die Hard, his process and finally, exactly who is his favorite student. One lucky commentor this week will win a copy of the book.

The premise of your book THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN is one that you've been fascinated by for a long time, please tell us about the book.

THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN centers on a character named Edward Everett Yates who spends a decade kicking around in baseball's minor leagues until he finally gets the call to major leagues, to the St. Louis Cardinals. Three weeks later, he tries to make an impossible play and suffers a serious injury in a game in Montreal, ending his season. Shortly after that, the Cardinals cut him from their team. He tries for a while to start a new life—he has a good job, he starts a relationship with a woman he knew in high school, they decide to marry—but he can't let baseball go and so he tries to catch on with another team and does but then, suddenly, it's 30 years later, he' still in the minor leagues (as a manager for a broken down team in a small fictional town in Iowa) and he's confronted with the implications of his decision three decades earlier, confronted with regret about "what might have been," the life he gave up, the decision he made in that game in Montreal that caused his injury.

My interest in the story comes from a couple of impulses.

One, I have been fascinated for a long time with players who are good enough to get to the major leagues but not able to stick beyond a single game, a couple of weeks, a few months. Even getting that far is a kind of miracle. I have read in a couple of places that the chances for someone who plays high school baseball will make a professional team at all are something just less than one in a hundred and the chances for someone who signs a professional contract and plays in the minor leagues to get to the major leagues is one in ten. This means that someone who is good enough to make his high school team—and we're talking someone who is probably one of the best athletes in his town or at least in his area—has a one in a thousand shot at making the major leagues.

That someone is that good but then falls short in some way or has something happen that ends his career abruptly just seems sad to me, or even a bit tragic.
The other, larger issue, that interests me is how we make decisions about what we want to do with our lives and then what those decisions mean after years or decades. My book makes a large jump in time at one point—the end of part two is in 1977 and the start of part three is 2009—because I am interested in how our lives can get away from us if we don't pay attention. One day we make a decision and then, voila, we're X years older and this is the life we have that grew out of a single decision we made, a decision we made without really understanding what it would mean to us.

Some people—too many people, I feel—come to regret the lives they have, although they made the decisions that gave them that life. To regret the life you gave yourself seems like another sad fact.

One of my favorite sayings is, "The rich man is he who wants what he has." Being grateful for what you have instead of being angry, sad, regretful about what you don't have, seems a better way to live. And so, in a pig picture kind of way, that is one of the things I was trying to look at in this book.

You are a busy guy, teacher, department chair, parent, rabid baseball fan: What is your writing schedule like? Has it changed since being published? How do you find working with an editor?

Because of everything I have to do at school, it's difficult to carve out time to write and so I end up doing most of my fiction writing in the summers, over winter break, when I am on sabbatical. That's one of the reasons it took me so long to write and revise THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN to the point that I thought it was good enough to send out. I have started another novel but I haven't touched it since the academic year started in late August. I am looking forward to the start of summer, when I can get back to it. There is an icon on my computer desktop for the file for the novel and I think it is beginning to glower at me when I boot up my Mac Hey, you? Did you forget about me? Pay attention to me.

When I do have days to write, I usually work in the mornings. I think it's because I see the time I do have to write as valuable so I don't want the days when I can write to get swallowed up by all of the other parts of living a (somewhat) responsible adult life. And so I make writing the first thing on my list on those days.
As for working an editor. I have to sing my editor's praises. Her name is Jennifer Smith and she is a wonderful writer, herself. Her YA romance, THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, is getting tremendous reviews and lots of attention, as it should, both because it is a terrific book but also because Jen is just such a wonderful human being and so deserves all good things.

Jen is amazingly insightful about every aspect of crafting a narrative. The first draft that she saw was massive – more than 500 pages long – and the first thing she said was, "this needs to be a hundred pages shorter," and then she sent me a detailed letter, outlining where I might cut the manuscript without wounding the story. Then we did a second pass, in which we cut another 30 pages, as well as addressed some other aspects of the novel that she thought needed work, and finally did a line-by-line edit that tightened it even more. I can say that the book is much better now because of her work on it and, the entire time, I had no question that her only aim was to make the book the best that it could be.

How long were you working on THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN? Tell us a little about getting the call that a publisher wanted it?

I am a very messy fiction writer, at least when I am working on the first draft. I often have no idea where I am going and so I end up writing a lot of pages, a lot of chapters, a lot of characters and scenes that end up cut. I think to get to the final 500 pages that was the finished first draft, I threw out another 500 pages that didn't belong.

Because of the way I write and that, at least until I hack my way to a finished first draft I am totally lost, it took me a long time to find the story, and so it took me almost seven years to finish the first draft and another two to revise it. By the time I sent it off to the agent who took it on, I did nine drafts.
Once I sent it off, it sold amazingly quickly. I sent off the 500-page ninth draft in mid-August of 2010. A month later, the agent emailed me to let me know she had gone ahead and sent it on to Jen and they both agreed that it needed the cutting I mentioned a minute ago. They wanted me to trim it and send it back for their consideration. Even though we didn't have a contract, Jen still sent me that detailed letter I mentioned, and so I spent an exhausting month going through it, cutting it, and then sent it back. I did it quickly because I am a bit of a pessimist and I thought if I took too long to send it back, they'd get it and say, "Joe Who?"

Almost immediately – I think around a week later—my agent let me know that Jen wanted the book but it had to go through all of the other people who had to give it their blessing. Less than three weeks after that, my agent called. I was actually in class; I never answer my phone in class but this time I excused myself, went out into the hall, and my agent told me that she had an offer. I went back into my class, explained to my students that I never, never did that, but here was why. I would rather have told my wife and kids first but I thought I owed them an explanation because I had interrupted class. Then we took a short break, I called my wife and texted my kids.

You have stepped very easily into the world of Facebook and Twitter. Do you like that aspect of promotion?

To be honest, I have to make myself do that kind of promotion. Maybe it's my Catholic upbringing, but I always feel it's sort of impolite to call attention to yourself – but I do it because writers today have to do it. I will tell you my favorite part of this aspect of marketing: even more than posting updates or tweets about me and my work, I enjoy the people I have "met" through facebook and twitter and the fact that you really can learn a lot by participating in this great virtual conversations that sites like that allow. The best way to "promote yourself" in these arenas is to give your followers and facebook friends something of value – you post a link to an interesting essay or article you come across, you post a notice about a good book you have just read – and I have learned a tremendous amount from what the people I follow have talked about.

Top three baseball movies? Novels?

Top three baseball movies:
The Natural, The Sandlot, The Rookie (with Dennis Quaid)
Top three baseball novels:
This one is harder to answer because there are so many good ones, and so I will mention a bit more than three: The Natural by Bernard Malamud (very, very different from the movie, but each is perfect for its specific medium), The Southpaw by Mark Harris (Bang the Drum Slowly is a more famous novel by Harris and centers on the same set of characters from The Southpaw but maybe because I read The Southpaw first, it has a special place in my heart), Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, If I Never Get Back by Darryl Brock (it is sort of like Jack Finney's Time and Again, but about a guy who finds himself back in the middle 1800s, connected to the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first professional team). I also read Chad Harbach's Art of Fielding last year and admire a great amount about it.

One of my favorite classes with you was film analysis and I remember very clearly you saying something like "Die Hard is a perfect movie." You convinced me, but I was young. Does Die Hard still hold up?

Die Hard definitely holds up. In fact, one of the Christmas traditions I have with my five kids is that, if we're able to be together on Christmas eve, we always watch Die Hard. It's our "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Story." A few years ago, I even published an essay, arguing that Die Hard is just about a perfect Christmas movie:!/content/13871/we_wish_you_a_die_hard_christmas

And finally, because it's time to settle the debate in my house - favorite student: Adam or Molly?

How's this for diplomacy:
Of all the students I actually had in a class and who now live in Canada, Molly is my favorite female student and Adam my favorite male. My momma didn't raise no fools.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Single Title Contemporary Romance... What the heck is it?

For my RITA books I read a lot of single title contemporary romance. And in anticipating Molly’s big release this summer I started to think how wide open this genre is.

When I read Molly’s manuscript what struck me about it was the size and scope of the story. It was a BIG story. It has a lot of stuff happening. There are all these characters and side stories and things that seem on the periphery but eventually work themselves in to the tapestry of the whole book. And I think because I love this kind of BIG storytelling this is what I expected out of most contemporary romances.

However, this was not the type of stories I read which were classified as STCR. Most of these were just small town types of stories with normal people going about their everyday business in which two people met and fell in love over the course of some very normal events.

And I’m not saying this is wrong at all. One book in particular was a really nice love story. It’s just different. And it makes me realize that what I thought was a pretty defined genre, like so many others – isn’t defined at all.

When people say paranormal that can be any NUMBER of things. I guess I didn’t think that was the case with contemporary romance – because the world it’s defined in - let’s face it... is fairly defined. It’s like… now and that’s it.

But once again the romance genre has knocked me back on my butt and forced me to take another look. STCR can be many many things. And just like we think of dark paranormal, sexy paranormal, vampires or demons, I think we’re going to have to start talking in those same terms for contemporary romance. Maybe cozy STCRs and BIG STCRs and cute STCRs and sexy STCRs.

What about you? What kind of STCRs do you like?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Breaking Storytelling Rules

I was going to hijack Eileen's topic and talk about a few movies I saw this year that weren't so much movies as acting exercises. And failures as actual stories in my opinion. (Hint: the movies star Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. Don't get me wrong, I thought the performances were great in these movies--some impressive acting--but the stories... not so much.)

But I thought of something else I wanted to talk about before the Oscars.

Although only half of the post is about a movie. The other half is about a book I'm reading right now. And these two stories--one a book, one a movie--both break a lot of storytelling conventions/rules. For me, breaking the rules worked in the movie but not in the book. And in this case I'll bet the book is actually more popular than the movie, although I don't have any stats to back that up.

The book I'm not going to name... but the movie is Monsieur Lazhar, a nominee for best foreign language film in the Oscars this year. (Go Canada! Although The Separation will win...)

The book that I'm not naming (and it's not that YA novel we were talking about a few weeks ago) works really well in the parts that work. Really well. And the author is a great and successful writer whom I admire, but some of the choices she made didn't work in my opinion and prove why the rules of good storytelling exist for a reason. What made me crazy, I think, is how many of the really heartbreaking moments in the story happen off screen.

Now that I'm finished, I'm starting to see how she might have made those choices in the first half of the book in order to set things up for later--to give more power to other heartbreaking moments--but... it didn't work. After a very exciting first chapter the book shifts forward several years, which in itself wouldn't be a problem, but then the next 150 pages are either: a) full of backstory explaining what happened during those seven years that we missed, b) scenes with either the hero or the heroine but never together, (where not much happens to forward the plot), and c) scenes in subplots with characters other than the hero and heroine who the reader doesn't really know much about. After that it really picks up, :) but for me it was too late. I'm not sure whether this was an experiment or intentional or whether the author couldn't think of another way to tell her story, or whether she really didn't think much about it at all... but whatever the case, I'm sad to say it didn't quite work for me.

On the other hand... The movie, Monsieur Lazhar breaks a few "rules" and I thought it was simply lovely.

Maybe it's about which rules you're breaking.

In Monsieur Lazhar, I'd say the broken rule is "escalate the drama" or "increase the complications or challenges your hero faces" or the old "put your character up a tree and throw rocks" rule. However you want to articulate that rule, there were several places during this film where the tension is really high and you think you know what's going to happen, because it's what would happen in most commercial films or books... but then it doesn't go that way, but instead of something even worse happening, things turn out well and the tension releases. You'd think this would make for a boring story. But it works. I think because every time one of these tension points deflates, another secret or possible risk is revealed to make you worried for the characters for another reason.

In the end, it's a lovely sweet story that doesn't end sadly, but doesn't end with a tied up happy ending either.

The story is about an Algerian man who's claiming refuge status in Canada and gets a job teaching a grade 4 or 5 class, after their teacher commits suicide in their classroom and the Principal is pretty much desperate to fill the job. It's a fish out of water story, a kids healing after a trauma story, a man healing after a different trauma story, a man fighting to stay in Canada story, and ultimately just a really sweet story that made me proud to live in this country.

It's in French with subtitles, and if it shows up in a theater near you, I highly recommend it. The little blonde girl in the middle of the front row of this poster will break your freaking heart. So will the kid with the camera. And Monsieur Lazhar himself will melt it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Artist: An Actor's Movie?

There are movies I consider writers' movies. Adaptation comes to mind. I loved it. Pretty much every writer I know that saw it, loved it. We got it. We got the subtleties and the relationships. We got the anxieties and the fears. Not many of my non-writer friends liked it. They didn't get it.

Shakespeare in Love is another one, but for other reasons. The word play. The wit. I think as writers, we could see what they were doing and appreciate it all the more for its subtlety and cleverness. Clearly, a lot of other people liked that movie, too, but I think writers got more out of it because of our understanding of what the writers had one.

We saw The Artist on Friday night and I was wondering if actors felt the same way about it. I thought it was wonderful for a lot of reasons, but the acting was so fun to watch. I was amazed at how little we really needed the big dialogue screens. We know what they were saying. If not the exact words, then certainly their intention. I was impressed, but I bet another actor would get even more out of it because an actor would understand how John Goodman or Jean Dujardin or Berenice Bujo was using a facial expression or a cocked hip or an arched brow to convey so much information. Then again, it was about acting and actors. I bet an actor would "get it" even more than I did, because an actor would understand more of that internal struggle, like I understood the Charlie Kaufman character in Adaptation.

Regardless, it was a great movie. I'm so glad we saw it on the big screen in the funky theater with the super comfy seats. Did you all see it? What did you think? Do you have any actor friends who have seen it? What did they think?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Countdown to movies

There are some ways in which I'm a teenage boy at heart. I'll admit to loving horror movies, big blow 'em up visual extravaganzas, even dumb comedies. Even thinking about The Other Guys makes me giggle. Will Ferrell cracks me up every time.

So summer movie season was made for me. And now with the summer movie season inching closer to March, the season is longer. And it starts with John Carter, which not only has Taylor Kitch in basically a loin cloth, (those of you who watched FNL will understand why I'm excited for the movie) but visual effects and monsters. Perfect! even though the trailor does look pretty dumb.

And then the end of March has Hunger Games!!!!! which yes, at the thought I turn into a teenage girl, squeals included. The trailor for this looks incredible.

And then over the summer we have the final installment of the Batman series, which looks as fantastic as the other two that came before, Snow White and the Huntsmen, which, based on the trailor, looks spectacular and in case John Carter wasn't enough Taylor Kitsch, Battleship, yes, the movie based on the boardgame. For all the subtlety and depth you would expect based on a "you sunk my battleship" statement. It looks really dumb and even that isn't enough to turn me away.

The fall season is when the smart, creative, well thought out and character driven movies come out. Summer season is when things go boom, and after watching some really wonderful, character driven movies over the past few months, I'm ready for boom.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm Back to New Girl

Okay – I know I’m gushing about this show but truly this is ranking up there with Modern Family for me. And what I love about it is that it doesn’t hold any punches. There is a “real” factor which just seems so refreshingly honest to me.

We have a situation where Jess (Zoey) and Nick are clearly bonding more than the other roommates. It’s your classic TV relationship set up. But this is season one, so nothing is going nowhere for a while. And I’m fine with that. The story starts with the two of them getting out of long term relationships so we’re okay with him dating his rebound girl and her dating her rebound guy.

But the key here – we the audience really liked rebound guy. (He’s already gone.) And I’m liking rebound girl for Nick. They are not pulling out cookie cutter “bad” guys that the audience has to hate because we really want the main couple to be together.

And then what I LOVED is that Jess and Rebound Girl (Julia I think) didn’t like each other. Jess is a sweet school teacher. Julia is a hardcore lawyer. And for once they really did an exchange between two different women which had nothing to do with the guy involved, but everything to do with why sometimes women aren’t friends.

I'm paraphrasing but we get lines like...

Julia thinks Jess is zaney and spacey and bakes things and makes people blankets and walks around like little birds might start flying out of her skirt. And if Julia talked like Jess at her office people wouldn’t respect her.

Jess thinks Julia talks too much like Murphy Brown and should where more ribbons on her suits because they are not cute at all. And maybe she does talk a certain way but it’s because she’s an elementary teacher and she talks to kids all day long. And she ends this great scene with, it doesn’t mean she’s not smart and strong. Then she follows that with how she has to write out a check for a parking ticket and her checks have baby farm animals on them… BITCH!

I saw this scene and I was like YES. Finally. This is real. And maybe while people aren’t that openly confrontational sometimes that’s what they are really thinking. And they didn’t magically become friends. Yes there is grudging acceptance but still the differences are there and they are real.

To me the writers of this show are brilliant. I have absolutely no idea where they are taking me but I know I'm going to get the unexpected.

Also Schmidt is a flat out show stealer. Look for him to be up for supporting awards soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Resources

Molly and I had our "Romance 101" workshop accepted for the 2012 RWA National conference. It's going to be fun (and interesting to figure out how to squeeze what was originally a six hour workshop into one hour...)

I need to turn in the final draft of the handout today. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute.

Help a girl out. Does anyone have either a) a great resource to recommend for beginner writers (online or a book), or b) an example of something (jargon, craft concept, publishing term) they didn't understand when they first got started.

Oh, I am a lazy blogger today. And a lazy handout preparer. But I did do a rather long post on my own blog earlier in the week if you're interested in more meat.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Writing Retreat Report

I had a weekend with no kid's soccer, only one prior social engagement (and that was on Sunday afternoon) and two friends who needed to get some work done. So the fabulous, funny, smart Catriona McPherson and the witty, beautiful and soulful Spring Warren and I skipped town on Friday afternoon, made a quick stop at Costco and checked ourselves into a hotel in Petaluma. The result?

Forty pages. Pretty close to 10,000 words.

I was really hoping to get closer to 70 pages written, but even at 40 it makes me deadline totally reachable. I cannot tell you how relieved I am.

I also probably gained five pounds because of what we bought at Costco:

We laughed. We helped each other with plot problems and titles. We barely ever left the room. It was fantastic. I'm already trying to figure out when we can do it again.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My son is six years old today

I can't seem to think past the fact that Mick has been around for six years. It's one of those weird time splits - seems like it's been about five minutes while at the same time it feels like he's been around forever.

I'm literally up to my eyeballs in Lego.

It's so strange how my career started to work just as he was born. I started writing consistently for Superromance with the amazing Wanda Ottewell. His iron clad schedule made my life doable and I think having only nap times to write, gave me an urgency that frankly I could use right now.

It also freed me from the idea that I had to do everything. And I think that's served me well as our family and my career has grown. I don't bake. I don't clean. I don't do my own website. I don't make bookmarks and in an exciting development - I hired a publicist.

That's right - soon, I will be branded. Which I'm pretty excited about, to tell you the truth.

But that's really all I've got this morning. Lego and branding and my boy is six.

I should really lose that baby weight....

Friday, February 10, 2012

Luther and the tortured hero

I was trying to think of a cage match but right now my brain can only think in two directions at once. One direction is The Vampire Diaries and how every week it has a twist I do not see coming and the other direction is Luther, a BBC tv drama I've been watching over the past few months.

Luther is in some ways a procedural, but given the first season is 6 episodes long and the second season 4 episodes, it's not as if it's presenting 24 different cases to be solved. The other thing it does is make everyone, police and criminals deeply flawed and some of the time not that different from each other.

What is deeply compelling about the show is the main character, who actually is, truly, a tortured hero. It helps that he's played by Idris Elba, a really compelling actor, but it also helps that the writers committed to the character being not entirely likeable all the time, and also, morally flawed.

The writers balance this by making him truly excellent at his job, and so like a lot of flawed heroes out there, the balance exits between the good he does in stopping future crimes and the chaos he creates in his personal life and his career. But in this case, there is no redemption, at least personally for him.

(Spoiler Alert) Stop reading here if you plan to see the series.

In the first episode we see Luther make the choice to let a pedophile drop through a ceiling to his death and we also see, how years of chasing the worst criminals has eroded his soul and his ability to make the right decision. He just wants the man dead and gives into the impulse and doesn't regret it.

He has this fascinating relationship with a sociopathic woman who killed her parents, and he knows she did it, and still gets drawn in, because I think, he's fascinated with the idea that she feels no remorse or regret and deeply envies that about her and wishes he could be more like her, while she falls in love with him, partly because he's brilliant, but also because she is fascinated by his conflicting emotions.

He turns a blind eye to a cop that's making money illegally on the side, because they're friends and the end justifies the means.

He's truly a man that needs, for his well-being, to not be a cop, but he doesn't know how to do anything else, and by the beginning of the second season, he's weary and resigned, and almost suicidal and figures he'll do this until it kills him which might be soon, and he's OK with it.

I love this show, because it exists entirely in the grey zone between good and bad in a way the best HBO shows do. It's really hard to find, but if you can I think it's one of the best portrayal of a tortured hero I've seen in a really long time.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ode to Barnes and Noble

The other day my friend and I were killing time before dinner and decided to go into the B&N next door to the restaurant. I’ve gone on about my love of the eReader but I should have mentioned that as much as I don’t read paper books any more I miss bookstores.

I really miss them. I don’t think I realized how much.

Walking through the doors I was struck again by the colors of all the covers, the excitement of seeing author’s names who I didn’t realize had a new release out. Old books, classic books, all the books I haven’t read. Books arranged in neat rows. Special stand alone shelves and racks calling my attention to covers and authors I might not have picked up otherwise.

Then there was the smell of coffee and treats. And the sight of people alone reading while they ate a sandwich and had a cup of coffee and maybe saved room for a black and white cookie. See at the B&N it’s okay to be out in public by yourself reading a book. No one thinks that’s strange.

I browsed the new releases. I checked out all the staff recommendations. I went to the romance section and it was like visiting a this place I hadn’t been to in so long… I had forgotten how much I loved just standing in front of it.

So this blog is dedicated to you… the brick and mortar store. May you always be there with your sections and your special racks and your coffee and your display of all delicious things I really shouldn’t be eating.

I forgot that in so many ways Barnes & Noble is like my church and if felt comforting to be inside those four walls once again.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Twilight vs Vampire Diaries

Since we seem to be on a cage match theme....

Sure, lots of teen girls love Twilight, but in terms of the love triangle, why does The Vampire Diaries work so much better than Twilight?

Well, at the SCBWI conference, keynote speaker Cassandra Clare had an explanation that, after I heard it, seemed obvious, although I must admit it hadn't occurred to me before. Huge light bulb moment. Love those.

She was talking about the power of forbidden love as a theme in YA fiction and the popularity of the love triangle. And what she pointed out was that sometimes so-called love triangles aren't triangles at all, but love vees.

If two boys both want one girl, let's say, then that's a vee.

But if the two boys have a relationship that's just as strong as each of their feelings for the girl... then you've got a real triangle -- where each line of the triangle has a strong dynamic.

That's why the Damon, Stefan, Elena triangle is so compelling. (Well, on the TV show, I have to say, for me, it mostly works because of Ian Somerhalder, but I've heard it works in the books too.)

The triangle in The Vampire Diaries is powerful and emotional because Damon and Stefan are brothers who love each other and who've already had a relationship for, well, more than a hundred years before either of them meet and fall in love with Elena. And of course the fact that they've been in other love triangles in the past makes the dynamic even more interesting.

Sadly, I realized listening to her talk that in my upcoming book, Deviants, I've created a vee, not a triangle... But I've put some pretty huge forbidden-love-style obstacles in between the heroine and each boy, and some other twisty twists, so I hope it will be an compelling love vee over the course of the three books in the trilogy.

What are some other love triangles or vees that you think have or haven't worked?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

CAGE MATCH: Grimm vs. Once Upon a Time

Somehow there ended up being two fairy tale shows that started this fall, Grimm and Once Upon a Time. It happens. I guess there are two Snow White movies coming out and there was that time with the two volcano movies and that other time with the two asteroid movies. Oh, and remember when Chicago Hope and ER started in the same season?

We figured we'd watch a few episodes of both of them, figure out which one we liked better and dump the other one. We're still watching both. I think we prefer Grimm since we stay caught up on that one more often, but nobody's suggesting dumping OUAT from our DVR lineup.

Grimm is the grittier of the two shows. The main character is a police officer who finds out that he is a Grimm, which is some kind of fairytale creature hunter. We still don't know about the details of that. We also don't know if this police captain (or chief or whatever he is) is evil, not evil or what. We really like the Big Bad Wolf who is trying to lead a more peaceful life by doing Pilates, but it's definitely the creature of the week and a lot of blood and gore. I don't recognize many of the fairytale creatures and they use funny names for them, but yet I'm still watching each week.

OUAT is a gentler show. There hasn't been much blood and gore although the psychological manipulations of the Evil Queen are really dastardly. They're doing a better job of moving the overall story arc along along with the weekly episodes. There's more emotional pull, too, with a woman reconnecting with the child she gave up for adoption. Yet, it's the one that we're more likely to let sit on the DVR.

I was talking to a friend who is also watching both. She's getting frustrated with the lack of answers in the overall story arc of Grimm and is irritated with the length of the eyelashes on the women of OUAT. Personally, I just want them to let Ginnifer Goodwin's hair grow a little.

Anyone else watching both these shows? Any preferences?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Oh Man - life got in the way of my life last week. My son was home sick with this disgusting hand, foot and mouth disease. Oozy sores everywhere, but he was never really sick. But because he wa so contagious and gross I couldn't take him anywhere. So after one day of endless movies (that owl movie? the Guardians or whatever....WTF? Owls???) it was on to arts and crafts.

So, last week instead of getting any work done I was glueing egg shells back together, covering them with tissue paper and painting them and then gluing googly eyes on them. Hours. Of. This. We have an egg shell army. Or monster squad.

And actually it was pretty fun. But we're back to school today and I can get on with my life!!

Winners of the great ARC giveaway are:

MJ Frederick

send me an email from my website with your addresses and I will get the books to you!!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Why TV shows shouldn't last past three seasons

In writing, we rarely talk about a great book without reference to character and how the main character grew and changed over the course of the book. It's that character arc that takes a book from good to great. At some point the character reaches their end point, they have grown enough to have earned their happy ending and as a reader we close the book with a sense of satisfaction.

TV shows that focus on one character, or even a few, do the same thing, usually over a season, or two. But after three seasons, with the characters still making mistakes, and not growing quickly enough, especially in character driven shows like House, or Grey's Anatomy, I get frustrated.

I'm there right now with 30 Rock, a show I still watch every week, and love, but no longer find as funny as I once did. It's starting to feel like a 'been there, done that." Lemon still has self-confidence issues, Tracey is still an idiot, Jenna completely self absorbed and there's not much new in that.

House I gave up on several seasons ago.

Everything else I'm watching is either at the three seasons, or less. There are some shows that are exempt from the rule, like procedurals where the focus in on the crime of the week, or something like Game Of Thrones where the huge cast of characters and complex plot keep everything moving.

I'm even concerned about my beloved Vampire Diaries. Will I ever get tired of Damon's snark, or Alaric's morality or the brother's competing for Elena's attention? I'd rather it have three seasons than get tired in my memory and lose what I love about the show.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

My Kindle Died!!!

Okay – maybe not dead, but for thirty minutes it did not work at all. I’ve been judging my RITA entries so I’ve gone back to reading actual books in paper form and in the three weeks of not charging my Kindle it lost all power. So when I went to pick it up last night and it wouldn’t turn on I let out a cry of despair.

Which makes me realize how much my reading experience has changed. I know some people will say they will always want to read paper books. I know some people will say that they enjoy the feel of the book in their hand. That it’s just not the same on an eReader. And I hear all of you. I thought I was one of you.

Until I became… a Kindle junkie.

Having to read actual physical books again was not fun and in many cases even though I had been given a free book to read I considered putting the money out to download them. Maybe that’s something RWA can consider - having authors provide Amazon/B&N gift cards for the price of the book rather than the book itself. Although I’m sure logistically that would be a nightmare, but you know where I’m going. Some “e” alternative.

All I know is that I hate opening a book to a page and not having it stay where I want it. I hate needing two hands to read a book. I hate stiff trade books that don’t easily fit into my purse. I hate not having my convenient light on my reader case to illuminate the page when I need it. I hate not having the anonymity of people not knowing what I'm reading.

I eat out a lot at restaurants and like to read at the bar as I’m eating my meal. (A Kindle you can rest against a water glass and still read while using two hands to cut your food – genius.) Since my Kindle I could be reading anything and no one can tell. Not that I ever back away from being a hardcore romance reader, but there have been plenty of times when someone (usually a gentleman) will remark that I’m reading, (some see this as highly unusual - not sure why), ask what it is, and then go on about how silly or ridiculous romance novels are. It usually gets awkward when I tell them I write them as well.

Guys, I just want to eat and read my book. I don’t need commentary on my reading choice. Then wouldn't you know it, in my packet of Rita books there was a cover that was… shall we say… racier than most. Now normally I really don’t care, but I realized since having my Kindle how nice it was not worry if people were checking to see what I was reading and not having to hear anything from the peanut gallery.

So that’s it. I’m here to confess it. I no longer care for books. That hurts me just writing that sentence but it's true. I only want my Kindle… fully charged.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Cage Match -- SCBWI and RWA

The mere title of this post amuses me. A smack down rumble between children's writers and romance writers is an unbelievably funny idea to me. But I am a tad twisted.

No, I'm not going to suggest a war, I just thought that, after attending my first big SCBWI conference last weekend, I might talk a little bit about the differences in the organizations and their big conferences, based on what I observed.


The SCBWI conference was definitely skewed toward women, but there were more men there than at an RWA conference. I'd guess it was close to, or over, 10%. At RWA it's probably less than 1%.


The I in SCBWI stands for Illustrators. It was kind of cool to be at a conference where some of the workshops/contests/talks were for people who earn their living drawing and painting, rather than writing. And many do both.


If size matters,  RWA has SCBWI beat. There were about 1100 people registered at the SCBWI conference and that's less than half of what's usually at an RWA National Conference.

Chicken Dinners

SCBWI wins here, I'm afraid. Because of the absence of rubber chicken dinners. ;) We only got one "meal" at SCBWI, which was a cocktail party, not a big banquet, but the food was pretty high quality for that kind of thing. They also had bagels and cream cheese and coffee each morning. My only "beef" with the meal thing was only having an hour for lunch, which was a bit of a scramble on our own.


This one is a toss up, but I have to give the slight edge to SCBWI. For such a short conference (1 1/2 days) there were three big keynote speeches and they were all excellent. Four if you count a short one by Henry Winkler. (Yes, Henry Winkler.)

Here's the terrible photo I took of him right after his talk, when I accidentally ended up next to him waiting for the elevator. My apologies to Mr. Winkler.

Because of the absence of rubber chicken dinners, the keynotes weren't delivered over desert and coffee and therefore it was more practical for the keynote speeches to have content vs just inspirational messages. But one, in particular, by Chris Crutcher, was incredibly inspirational. I laughed and cried a lot during his talk. But I actually took notes during the other two keynotes.

One fun tidbit... Cassandra Claire gave one of the keynotes and I think one could argue that she's more of a romance writer than she is a children's writer... But that's the thing with YA: Children's publishers worry less about putting books in genre boxes... But what Claire talked about during her keynote was forbidden love and love triangles -- a talk that would not have been out of place at an RWA conference. And the SCBWI crowd (many of whom I'm sure would scoff at romance as a genre) ate it up.

Workshops and Panels

This is where the two conferences varied the most. It was set up completely differently and both ways have their pros and cons. At the RWA National conference, any member can propose a workshop and during each time slot there are probably 10-15 choices. Some talks will be awesome. Some will suck. Some will be just a chance for fans to fawn.

At the SCBWI conference, there were fewer workshop options, only three "breakout" times, and each workshop was offered during each time slot. That is, the presenters, gave the same talk 3 times to 3 different groups. This meant less choice, but it also meant that the quality of the presenters was much higher.

I was a bit worried, to be honest, when I saw the line up of workshops/speakers. Worried that the workshops would all be super generic and too basic, because almost all of the breakouts for writers were being given by agents or editors. And my experience at conferences (RWA ones and general writing ones) is that the agents and editors who give workshops often don't prepare, and instead wing it, mostly answering questions. And one can't blame them for winging it because they get asked dumb questions so tend to glaze over things, repeating: "Just write a good book," over and over and over. At this conference, no one let them get away with that. In fact, on the big editor and agent panels, which were for the entire 1100 people, not in breakouts, the moderator told them ahead of time that "just write a good book" was not an acceptable answer to any of her questions. :)

But in spite of my worrying, I got a ton out of all 3 of the workshops I attended. One, I admit, was fairly high-level basic information about the YA genre, but was well timed for me, because I'm giving a talk for Toronto Romance Writers on the YA genre in April, so I was taking tons of notes. The other two breakouts I went to were AMAZING.

One was on Thrillers by agent Sarah Davies. Top notch. If I parsed through every word, I think I'd heard most of it before in some form or another, but it was super-well organized and just what I wanted to hear right now.

The other was on revisions, by editor Cheryl Klein. Smart, smart woman. Wow. I've been to at least a half dozen workshops on revising over the years and have read at least two full books on the topic, so I wasn't sure I'd get much out of it, but she was awesome. I think hearing this stuff from an editor (rather than a writer), and from an editor of a fairly literary imprint (Arthur Levine Books) versus a genre fiction editor was amazing. That first part because I think writers tend to bias their talks toward what works for them, their "method", rather than being objective and/or talking about the big picture enough... And the second part because I was glad to hear her say the same things we hear in the genre fiction world: Tighten up your prose. Be clear. Make every scene, every character, every word count. And she mentioned Jennifer Crusie's collage technique and how much she loves her books. :) Her suggestions for the big picture stuff was awesome too. She calls revisions re-visioning.

Workshops for Published Authors

During the core part of the conference, there wasn't really anything specifically aimed at published authors. It clearly was a conference about getting published. But the day before the conference started they had full day "intensives". The one I went to was "Marketing for Professional Writers" and I have to say, it was one of the best learning days I've had at a writers' conference. I thought my head was going to explode. But perhaps that's mostly because I know I need to start thinking about these things for my upcoming release...

The other "intensive" choice for writers was a full day critique session. I didn't go to that, (chose marketing instead), but it also seems like an intense, but awesome experience. Basically participants bring 18 copies of the first 2 pages of their work. Then they are put into two different critique circles of 8-9 people, one of which, each time, is an agent or editor. So, by the end of the day, you've received and given crits from/to about 18 people and at least two agents or editors have seen your writing and had a chance to make a request or not. Intense. Beneficial, I'm sure. And to listen to a professional crit of that many bits of writing. Awesome, I'm sure.

Overall, I don't think I can pick a winner. The organizations seem very different, but on the other hand both are extremely supportive and encouraging.

D'oh! Just what a needed.... Another annual conference to get addicted to!

On that topic... Molly and I had a workshop proposal accepted for RWA in Anaheim this summer! So, guess I'll be going again, even though I arguably haven't written a romance since 2003. :)  RWA, why can't I quit you?

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