Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let the race begin...with The Departed

Sorry for the delay - Monday is my day and I was in Pittsburgh with my 92 year old grandmother. I had not anticipated the little love affair that would bloom between Oma and my 9 month old son whose name she never remembers - but it happened and that combined with a wind storm convinced me to stay an extra day. Mick was a delirious flirt for two days and lit up like a sparkler every time he caught sight of her - how could I break them up?

Anyway - it gave me some extra time to think about this...my favorite time of year. Recognizable not so much by the turning of the leaves or the cool nights. But by the appearance of Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Clint Eastwood films at the movie theater. Yep - it's Oscar race time.

Pretentious and overreaching and exciting all at the same time. Now - Maureen is really the reigning film fan - and my standards have taken a serious blow (Sinead's standards have taken a hit since admitting she owns the Chronicles of Riddick - still can't get over that) with lack of sleep. (We rented Benchwarmers the other night and I howled until I cried at the various ways Jon Heder could hit himself in the balls with a baseball bat) but I adore the Oscar race. All that earnest over-acting (sorry Sean Penn) gets me pretty revved up.

Last week we went to go see The Departed - the new Martin Scorsese film. While not a huge fan of Scorsese I can appreciate what he's done for modern movie-making (the man deserves an Oscar alone for bringing us DeNiro) and there's a pretty good chance that he'll get an Oscar for this movie. Most people will say it's sort of an honorary Oscar -- like Denzel Washington's for Training Day (when he deserved it for The Hurricane) but I gotta say -- The Departed deserves it on it's own merits. It is a hell of a movie.

I think leaving behind New York and his usual cast revitalized him. And the cast he assembled for this film is brilliant. He found the right guys - and it's not just about getting the right South Boston accent -- it's about finding the actors that can portray men that live on that line between good and bad and have no qualms about going one way or another whatever the situation dictates. Mark Whalberg might very well have been playing some kind of version of himself but I have never seen such authentic non-acting. And Jack -- just when you thought the guy was going to keep phoning in performances he pulls this monster out. He's terrifying and electric. DiCaprio should finally get that nomination he's been so pissed about. And he looks really good in jeans. Really good.

Scorsese knows how to put together a cast and a soundtrack -- both are amazing.

What I really love is how the characters are what they are. The motivations are simple and they permeate every single action -- as they should be. He doesn't spend a lot of time showing us why or how (although he does a bit with Matt Damon) these men just explode on the screen - same as the one female role -- all of her motivation summed up by DiCaprio saying "you're the kid of an alcoholic." And the action just unfolds -- nice and slow no manipulation, no flashbacks - every character reveals himself, further creates the tone and mood and then pushes the action ever forward which starts slow and then beings a horrible gut wrenching wind up that is unrelenting. My heart rate was elevated to an uncomfortable level for the last half of the film.

There's a lot of violence -- poetic and raw in the Scorsese style. Some amazing camera tricks (Mark Whalberg in the briefing with Alec Baldwin in front of the task force -- WOW!) And Scorsese will be nominated and so far -- I think he should win. Sorry, Clint.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Confessions of a conference slut

I’ve been to a lot of writing conferences this year. So many, I’m embarrassed to admit the number (6).

In my defense, I started 2006 determined this would be the year I’d sign with an agent. To that end, my motivation for registering for 3 winter conferences (in Florida, San Diego and Arizona) was to meet and pitch as many agents as I could (and to get a little winter warmth at the same time). I carefully picked conferences which had agents I wanted to meet in attendance (and writer friends I wanted to connect or reconnect with). But since I actually got the offer-to-rep-call from one of my dream agents, Pamela Harty, a day before the first of these three “meet agents” conferences, I guess that excuse for conference promiscuity doesn’t hold water. (I actually picked up the message at the conference. Story here. Scroll to February 8.)

When I decided to do the winter conferences, it was supposed to be in lieu of going to RWA Nationals in 2006. But that plan fell apart too, because the agency I signed with is The Knight Agency who were throwing a 10th anniversary party at that conference. Couldn’t miss that, or the opportunity to bond with my agent, could I?

For attending the NJRWA conference in early October, I have few reputable excuses. Basically, I wanted to go to have fun with my fellow drunk writers. Nuff said.

The Surrey International Writers Conference in mid October? I wanted to go to a conference outside the RWA world (which is great, but a tad insular) and also wanted the opportunity to do the “Blue Pencil CafĂ©” sessions, during which best-selling authors (including Jennifer Crusie, Diana Gabaldon and Bob Mayer) read 3 pages of your work and then discuss it with you for 15 minutes. I really wanted to get Jennifer Crusie for this session, but who knew Bob Mayer would help me solve the biggest problem I was having with my book! Yippee! Thanks Bob.

Not conferenced out yet, I’m still cooking up new reasons for going to more, so I thought I’d put together a list for others searching for reasons.

Reasons for the newbie writer:

  • Learn the basics about the craft of writing. If you’ve never been to a conference or taken a (recent) writing class, you probably don’t know as much about writing as you think you do. (Your high school English teacher thinking you were talented doesn’t count. Sad, but true. Chances are he/she didn’t know as much as he/she thought either.)

  • Learn the basics about the industry. (If you’ve done your publishing industry research by watching movies with author protagonists, you’ve got a few rude awakenings ahead. Publishing is like no other business (and it’s certainly nothing like it’s depicted in movies). If you want to be part of it, learn as much as you can.)

  • Reasons for the intermediate writer:

  • Explore craft topics in greater detail. Are you using POV to greatest advantage? Will using the hero’s journey help to deepen your character’s arc? Will 3 (or 4) act plotting improve your pacing, make your stories more compelling? Are your characters’ motivations rooted deeply in human psychology?

  • Engage in drunk (or sober) writer talk. This recent conference has reminded me how much I enjoy talking about writing with other smart writers. Fun, fun, fun. (This reason stands for all stages.)

  • Meet other writers for support, for critique partners, for connections, for friends. (This reasons stands for all stages.)

  • Reasons for the advanced writer:

  • Share your wealth of knowledge with others

  • Argue with the instructors to spark interesting discussion

  • Get strokes if your work is praised (we all need strokes)

  • Think critically about your work

  • Perhaps be humbled…(okay, what is an advanced writer? IMHO anyone who claims to be one may just not have realized what else they have to learn yet. Or worse, may have stopped learning too soon.)

  • Reasons if you’re submitting:

  • Conference pitches can help you avoid the dreaded query letter stage of the submission process. (Skip query, go straight to submission. Sadly no $200.) While many agents I’ve spoken to say they’ve found more clients from their slush than from pitches, there’s a lot to be said for skipping over the query stage.

  • Seeing agents in “real life”. I think this is often overlooked, because when you’re looking for an agent, it’s hard to remember that writers have any control in this whole process. At conferences, you get to meet agents to help determine whether you’d want them to represent you. NB. Only submit to agents you’d love to have as your representative.

  • Reasons if you’re “close” to selling

  • Madeline Hunter does a great workshop on “Surviving Almost There” and I’d suggest that simply attending conferences and meeting other writers in a similar position can help survive almost there. Acutally, I could have simply listed Madeline Hunter as a reason to attend conferences. And Jennifer Crusie. And Bob Mayer. And Eloisa James… and lots of other good writers and editors willing to share their expertise and experience.

  • Making your own luck. There’s a lot to be said about luck and timing in this business, but if you’re not putting yourself and your writing out there, you aren’t creating opportunities for luck. Diana Peterfreund sold off contacts her critique partner made at a conference, co-drunk-writer Molly O’Keefe became involved in a Valentines anthology WHO NEEDS CUPID? based on contacts she made at a conference. Eileen Cook got a great blurb (Jennifer Crusie) for her January 2007 release IN THE STARS based on a contact at a conference.

  • Reasons if you’ve just sold

  • Writers are voracious readers. If you meet lots of writers at conferences, you’ve created a pool of people more likely than the general public to purchase your book when it comes out. At least they’ll know the book exists!

  • Writers (for the most part) support other writers—especially those they’ve met and who’ve made a good impression. Therefore contacts made at conferences can lead to future help via buying books, recommending books, reviewing books, giving cover-blurbs, blogging about books, cross-promotional ideas. All these types of things can happen via contacts made at conferences.

  • Reasons if you’re getting stale

  • Writing never gets easy. Markets change, readers get bored, writers develop blocks, editors leave, agents disappoint us—they also retire. There are lots of reasons to keep learning and keep making contacts throughout your career. (So I assume. I’ve been hypothesizing for some of these stages.)

  • Wow! There are plenty of reasons to attend a good writers conference. I’d better think about going to some more. If you’ve been looking for a good excuse and I've provided you one?—you’re welcome. Always happy to help rationalize an expensive (but smart) decision.

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    Why I used to care about hair color and now don’t.

    To start with, this post is not my own hair color, which is pretty boring. I used to open a book and look for the scene where the writer described the heroine.
    Actively hunt it down, because I must have cared.
    Why? Sad thing is, I can’t remember.
    This is a while ago, before I started writing myself, but I remember it being really important. I needed a visual of her, more than I needed to know what she was like, character flaws, any of that stuff. And to be frank, and I’m not proud of this, I wanted her to be beautiful.
    Perhaps it connects back to the whole reading as escapism, which I know is particularly true with romance. It was easier to get swept up into another world if I could place myself in the shoes of someone who was gorgeous and virtuous and in hindsight, pretty uninteresting.
    Now, a few years later, I don’t really care what she looks like, unless it enhances her character in some way. I really dislike virtuous heroines, I find them boring and for a book to really sweep me up, it has to be different, unique and have characters who are deeply flawed and conflicted.
    What’s the difference between now and ten years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s the writing, although I’m also sure a lot of readers out there would make a good case for non-writers also not caring about the heroine’s hair color.

    But sometimes I worry that puts me out of touch with some potential readers. By trying to create books I want to read, am I creating books that don’t have enough escapism, characters who have too many flaws, am I skipping over that all important description scene(which I know I do now)

    The answer won’t change anything. I write the books I want to read, or what’s the point.
    But perhaps I should try for a balance between escapism and character, which is what I’m trying to do now.

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    The numbers that make me feel better...

    Numbers in any context usually scare the bejesus out of me - make my eyes glaze over and I instantly turn back into a freshman in Mr. Kerestes Algebra 1C class (math for idiots and, as it would turn out for the kid next to me all semester -- drug dealers). But as I go to conferences and get overwhelmed by the number of people making serious efforts to write romantic fiction -- any one of whom could be far more brilliant than me - I remember what someone told me....

    Say every second person in North America wants to write a book - so you take 100% of those people. 1% will actually do it. Of that 1% only 1% will actually finish the book. Most get stuck around page 100 and they spend years talking about thier novel but never work on it (because writing is really hard). 1% of that 1% who finish will submit to a publisher -- now .00000001% will sell that first book - they don't add into the math here (because they are rare and they sold thier soul to the devil.) Now the 100% of people who submitted - almost all of them will get rejected in some fashion - some will get a great rejection letter with an invitation to resubmit but most will get a form rejection letter. And because it takes a seriously thick skin, the kind of which can only be built up by years of "good" rejection letters - most will only see the "no thanks" which will read in thier minds like "you suck." 100% will have wine or chocolate. Perhaps Margaritas. Perhaps pizza.

    Only 1% of those who submitted will either make the revisions needed, or do the smart thing and hide that first manuscript, join RWA and start a second book. So, I don't know what our percentage is now -- but there aren't that many of us still standing and we've only really just started.

    So, we've got 100% of people working on a second book, they're learning some craft things and realizing how much more fun it was to write when they didn't know anything - some will stop right now because it's not as easy as they thought. They thought people just sat down and wrote books - no one said anything about POV and character motivation. And frankly, it's been two years now and they only gave themselves a year to be a NYT Bestseller. Time to move on.

    So 1% of people who finish a second book, working so hard on craft and query letters and that @#$% synopsis actually submit. And now, thier chances start to improve -- they might sell. They've put in some real time and sacrifice (and we all know that nothing good comes with out sacrificing something - TV, social life, time with family and friends, that olympic swimming career...) and now the publishing Gods smile upon them. Well, on .5% of them.

    Of the other .5% only .1% (is this math even making sense anymore?) will be able to keep going. And some will have to keep going for fifteen years - through 10 manuscripts - each one better than the last and each one getting them closer and closer to the validation we writers NEED after spending so many years dedicated to this cause. It's no longer about the money at this point -- that's simply ludicrous. More and more people will lose heart as those rare stories surface about the lucky (devil worshiping) writers who sell thier first mms.

    But the point of all this faulty math is -- if you stay in this business long enough AND if you work hard on improving your craft constantly (writing the same problematic stuff over and over again won't help your cause) and you get wise to industry stuff (stop sending out that western idea to editors who HATE westerns) -- the odds are actually in your favor.

    See...totally heartening information. Right?

    On an unrelated side note -- the TV show Dexter? Anyone watching this? I'm blown away. Seriously blown away by this show.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    The Beginning…. And the End

    Molly blogged about finishing a book, which is a huge event. And deserves huge congratulations.

    Any writer that finishes a book, published or not, deserves a serious pat on the back. Well done, you’ve accomplished what so many people talk about, but never actually do.

    I’m in the process of finishing a book as well. Another 50 or so pages, some serious editing, and I’ll be done. This book suffers from some serious mistakes as well. Starting it, I thought it might be a little lighthearted. I don’t do lighthearted well, so a third of the way in, the tone changed, probably for the better, but the beginning all needed to change.

    The relationship between the hero and heroine also changed significantly. Halfway through I gave them a past history, so more re-writes and a lot more of me wishing I’d figured all this stuff out before I’d written the book.

    But, at the same time I’m finishing this book, I’m also starting another.


    I can’t resist. One of the joys of writing for me is starting a book. I love it. I love writing that first chapter. I love thinking through the upcoming plot twists and the character reveals. The idea of an unwritten 400 pages invigorates me. I know this makes me weird, but hey… I’m weird.

    I also usually know writing that first chapter how the book is going to go. Whether the book is going to be easy to write, or hard. This next book, the first three chapters have come together really well. My first draft is solid, which is really unusual for me. Why this book and not the one I’m finishing?

    Why is it, some books flow so well, are joyful to write and everything comes together easily, and others are like slogging through quicksand.

    I’d love to hear whether other writers have the same issue. Are some books easier to write than others? And why? Because right now, it’s a mystery to me.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    The End...sort of

    Big week here. Honorary drunk writers - which, frankly I think we should have more of - and I finished the latest mms today. Done. The End. Epilogue too. Exactly a month and a half before deadline - which isn't to say I'm actually done. Oh no.

    My critique group used to celebrate these sorts of events with champagne and then we got wise to the fact that actually finishing the book is just the beginning. Oh! Those sweet days of ignorance and champagne.

    I've sent versions to the critique group and now, I just await the real work. Revisions.

    I know what my BIG problem with the mms is -- I really have no clue of what's going on. Scenes aren't clear in my head, GMC is all over the board - if it's there at all and the whole character arc is pretty muddied - if I remember correctly my heroine has her major life changing epiphany while eating eggs. Now, that happens to real life people all the time but I'm pretty sure the readers of Superromance are expecting MORE. (His epiphany happens at gun point, well, knife point, but I think that's an improvement.) As Sinead so wisely said while critiquing one of my earlier books -- "basically the guy goes for a walk and changes his mind." I inferred from her tone that that wasn't good enough. Anyway - that's only one of the major things I have to change.

    The second major thing is that I have her loving her job in the first 30 pages but after that I decided she hated it. I also could never remember her hair color and was too lazy to go back and change it so she covers the spectrum. I also couldn't remember the official name for the hats police officers wear with their dress uniforms so I just have BLAH BLAH HAT - reminding me that I have to do a little research - which I could do now - but I won't.

    I also, I'm sure you've noticed from reading this blog, have no clue what to do with a comma. It's embarrassing and every once in a while I figure I should just learn the rule - but then I don't. Too busy writing, maybe. I also need to change just about every character's name. There's a heavy Hispanic influence in this book and because I never think about these things all the character's last names end in EZ. (thanks, Maureen for pointing that out) OH! And I have my hero hiding behind a couch in a very un-heroic way during a big shoot out- which was funny to me while writing it- but I don't think that's going to fly. I also think maybe he does too many drugs. And there are too many scenes with food.

    So - yep. Book done. Except for those few things.

    Regardless - I'm celebrating tonight with leftover meatloaf, Hershey kisses and two hours of watching exactly what I want on TV. Husband is gone and I'm watching Food Channel and Entertainment Tonight...That's so sad.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Introducing... ATIII Finalist Kimberley Howe!

    Today, we have a special treat. Honorary drunk writer, Kimberley Howe, who is a finalist in the American Title III contest. Kim is an amazing writer, “on the verge” and her romantic suspense manuscripts have finalled in multiple contests, including last year’s Golden Heart.

    We’re all rooting for Kim in ATIII and hope you’ll vote for her too!

    She’s done some serious research for her romantic suspense novels—how many writers do you know who’ve done a course in Advanced Tactical Training!—so we thought she might share some of her research tips with us today.

    Welcome, Kim!

    Thanks to Molly, Maureen, and Sinead for asking me to stop by Drunk Writers. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the fascinating world of research. Perhaps the invitation stemmed from the fact that the words, “drunken oblivion,” can be found in the first sentence of my novel, ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS. :-)

    Ed note: Use of the word “drunken” in the first line of the book certainly helped! But we’d have asked her to blog, even if her characters always remained sober.

    When I decided to set my romantic suspense about a former Army sniper in St. Lucia, I had never been to St. Lucia, and I had never shot a gun. That’s what is so exciting about writing—the process of discovery, the opportunity to learn. I figure that if you’re willing to commit several months of your life to a project, you had better grow as a person during that time.

    A writer’s life is disciplined, not unlike a sniper’s. Heck, we both get shot up when we falter in our work. Precision is crucial and we need to get our facts right. That’s why I’ll let Kenya—the heroine of ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS—take point on our mission of discovery, allowing us to delve into research and low-crawl in the trenches.

    Reconnoiter. Scout out your target. Learn everything you can about your subject before you speak to any experts. Use the internet—an invaluable tool. The library also offers excellent resources if you have a sniper’s patience. Be creative. Out-of-print books about a variety of subjects can be found at www.abebooks.com or www.bookfinder.com I purchased videos and books from Palladin Press, a company that specializes in material about sniping and guns. The History Channel had a series on snipers. I ordered the DVDs and learned that in Stalingrad, 2,000 women snipers participated in the battle and only 500 of those women survived. One of these heroines became Kenya’s grandmother, the person who first taught her how to shoot.

    Infiltrate. The best way to get the facts about a subject is to spend time in the middle of the action. Now, to clarify, by no means did I join a mercenary group and travel to Sierra Leone, but I did visit a gun range where I had the opportunity to fire the exact rifle Kenya uses in the novel. I also took a course in Advanced Tactical Training and participated in simulated combat with a bunch of guys. FYI, Prada has nothing on Camo Wear.

    Ambush. Okay, maybe ambushing is more Kenya’s style, but you can go for the subtler approach and ask questions without a full frontal attack. Experts are usually quite willing to share their knowledge if you do your homework first. For example, Kenya runs a dive charter in St. Lucia and the hero approaches her about assisting in the recovery of a sunken Russian satellite. Although I’m an avid scuba diver, I’ve never had the chance to use trimix, the mixture of gases that allows you to dive deep with fewer side effects. My eye doctor travels the world on diving vacations, so I dropped by his office to ask if he knew much about trimix. He introduced me to an instructor who specializes in it. The man called me from a deep diving expedition off the coast of Ireland. I had more details than I had dreamed about. And discovering the waters of St. Lucia was definitely the highlight of the research.

    The lesson in all of this is to immerse yourself in research. Be fearless like Kenya when pursuing the facts. Also be open to double-checking. My mentor at Seton Hill University was a former New York homicide detective and a Vietnam sniper. When he read the book, I was proud that he didn’t find any technical errors. No matter what subject you’re tackling in your novels, zero in on your target.

    If you have two minutes to spare, please log onto www.romantictimes.com and vote for ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS in the American Title III Contest. Kenya would be most grateful, and a sniper is always a good friend to have.

    Thanks Kim! We'd love to have you back, anytime.

    I think we should all vote for Kim. She’s right. It’s better to have snipers as friends than enemies! To vote, simply send an e-mail to webmaster@romantictimes.com with the words, ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS in the subject line. Vote from every e-mail address you have. Tell your friends to, too!

    To see all the contestants and their opening lines, check out this link.

    Good luck to Kimberley Howe!

    Secret Guest Blogger!

    Stay tuned...

    The Drunk Writers have a guest blogger today! The post should be up around noon.

    Very exciting!

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    What I learned at NJRW – Editors and Agents

    First off, this is a great, really well run conference that I’d really recommend. Small enough that you can meet people and large enough that it gets a good turnout from editors and agents.

    I attended the agent/editor panels, so I’m going to cover them. Not that I ever find them that informative.

    The editors present were from St. Martins, Avon, Kensington, Harlequin(Luna, SIM, HI) and a new publishing house, Samhain.

    The usual questions got asked, what are you looking for? What trends do you see in the marketplace, yada, yada..

    First and foremost, all of them said, they’re looking for a well written story. I really got the sense that they’re open to a lot of different genre’s, as long as the story is compelling. Not one said they’re looking for any particular genre specifically.

    But here are the specifics
    1) Westerns. No one there other than Samhain was willing to consider Westerns. They haven’t sold well in the past. Personally, I think someone is going to write an incredible Western romance and change all this. Maybe, I'm just really hoping that’s the case.
    2) Paranormals, still selling well, but if you’re going to do a Vampire or Werewolf story, you have to put a really unique spin on it, as they already have established authors writing the more standard Vampires and Werewolves.
    3) Hot… sexy sells better. In almost all genres. Up the saleability of your book by adding great sexual tension and smoking sex scenes.
    4) Check the Barnes and Noble best seller lists and see what’s selling, and that will give you a strong indication of what’s selling. That’s what the editors do.

    The agent panel, had six agents. Sorry, but I either won’t get the names right, or I’ll misspell them. Not much came out of this, except they are looking for really well written saleable stories across all genres.

    My impression coming out of these panels are that they are open to almost all types of stories(westerns aside) and are looking for something different.

    What else I learned from the New Jersey conference.
    I agree with Molly. Eloisa James is a very smart lady and I really wish I’d attended her workshop.
    Most bestselling authors are bestsellers because they write great books, but also, because they are really knowledgeable about the publishing industry and what it takes to progress in their careers. I aspire to be half as smart as Eloisa James, Ann Stuart and Jennifer Crusie.
    I’m trying to be half as nice as Virginia Kantra, Roxanne St. Claire and CJ Carmichael. Class acts, and really lovely ladies.
    And even though we only see them once a year, it was so fun hanging out with Anna and Brenda Harlen.

    Great conference, catch it next year if you can.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    What I learned in NJ – about career objectives

    In my opinion, the most important business, i.e. non-writing, thing a writer can do is to:
    • Learn as much about the industry as humanly possible

    • Decide what kind of career he/she wants

    • Make all career decisions based on the above—without compromise (or as little compromise as possible.)

    This is something I’ve “known” for a while, but somehow I really started to believe it at the NJRW conference after listening to best selling authors like Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer, Anne Stuart and Eloisa James talk about their careers and how they got there.

    Career planning is important to me right now, because in spite of thinking I was close to publication a couple of years ago when my romantic comedy (now abandoned) was doing well in contests, I’m pretty sure I’m now at a point where I can fairly say, “I’m close”.

    Problem is, in this business one can be “close” for a very, very long time. And these days, with so many options available for publication, (e-pubs, small pubs, self-pubs) it’s easy to get confused or to just leap one direction without giving much thought as to why.

    Debbie Macomber asserts that it’s a good thing to write down your goals, so I’m going to say, right here and now: I want a long-term publishing career writing mainstream fiction. (Of course, Debbie suggested writing your goal on a file card and sticking it in a drawer, and I’ve gone and announced it publicly… Doh!)

    But that’s what I want. (Right now, anyway.) And while I know there isn’t only one way to get there, I do know that I don’t want to make any decisions that aren’t directly in support of that goal.

    Last winter, I was floored to hear Jennifer Crusie say that when she was breaking out of category romance into single title, she turned down mediocre contracts for her first book to hold out for the possibility of a great contract for her next book. Floored. What a brave thing to do, I thought. But it was just smart. She knew what kind of career she wanted, and she knew that taking a mediocre contract wasn’t going to help her get it.

    Another writer I met in NJ bought out the last two books of her first three-book contract, so that she could write books in a “hotter” genre for a smaller house. She figured she was better served getting on the wave of a rising new genre and having the chance to be a lead author for a smaller house, than she would have been delivering on her contracts for books in a down-trending genre at a big house where she’d likely be a bottom-of-the-ladder author the sales team wouldn’t push.

    Very brave. Very smart. And all about knowing what you want and making sure your decisions support it.

    Still, I do second-guess myself in weaker moments. Some days I just want to be published. I want to join PAN. I want to see my name in the First Sales column in the RWR. I want to tell people I have a book. I want to have a few dollars in my pocket to show for all my hard work. I just want to see and hold a book with my name on the cover. Show it to strangers on the subway. Maybe sleep with it under my pillow…

    But in these moments, I realize the primary reason I want to be published by any means possible, is so I’ll have better answers to questions like: “How’s the writing going?” or “Still writing?” or (a personal favorite) “When is your book coming out?”, which I inevitably get every time I’m around anyone I know who isn’t a writer. (and who hasn’t previously had their head bitten off after asking me these questions when I’m in a bad mood.)

    So, this post was a long-winded way to say that the most important thing I learned in NJ was know what you want and: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

    Oh, and I also learned that when I’m sleep deprived, I start to slur after 2 gin & tonics.

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    What I Learned at the NJRW Put Your Heart In A Book Conference...

    My reasons for originally signing up to speak at NJRW's conference were pretty basic. I have a bunch of books coming out and attending conferences (speaking and hiding in my room - or worse with the people I already know) is the kind of promotion I am comfortable with. AND it was at a Sheraton -- and they have such dark rooms and nice beds. AND it was my first time away from my new baby. So - in a nutshell I was going to New Jersey to get some sleep.

    Well - best laid plans... Maureen wanted to drink gin, Sinead wanted to dance (I know trust me no one was more surprised than her) and I ended up having some serious light bulb moments about writing and more importantly what I want from my writing career.

    Let me first say this -- Eloisa James. Wow. Smart lady. Virginia Kantra. Smart lady. Molly O'Keefe - big dummy.

    First let's talk about the craft stuff - because as a writer terrified of promotion - this is the most fun. I know that we internalize a lot of what we do - we know in our gut what we love about romances and why we want to write them but we often don't get those reasons, spoken to us wrapped up in a bow by another writer - but when we do it's electrifying and clears all the crap off the table and reminds us what we're supposed to be doing.

    Eloisa James gave me this one -- halfway through the book, you have to turn things inside out. Expectations must be upended, love must be thwarted and a happily ever after must seem like an impossibility. I am so wrapped up in chapter hooks and likeable heroines and contracts and nap time and FBI research that I have completely forgotten what the point is. The reader knows HEA is coming - it's my job to make them wonder if maybe...this time... it won't. It's not just a black moment - it's something intrinsic in the character, not always the conflict, that keeps them apart. And I have to make it REAL!

    I know lots of you are probably going...well, duh?! And I think other times, in the process of writing other books I would have said the same thing. But this was exactly what I needed to hear as I get ready to do a big rewrite of the current WIP.

    Now - in terms of the career. This gem I think came from Jenny Cruise but it was something I heard echoed lots in the bar and hallway. I need to gather myself a good posse. A team. People who have my back and I have theirs - and sure Maureen, Sinead and the rest of the talented women in my critique group are core members of that - we bitch, we moan, we theorize and most importantly we make sure that each person is putting out the best book they are capable of.
    But each of us have people we need to meet at different parts of our career, to inspire and help us to the next level. And I have to be smart about it. It's not just about making contact with a writer I admire, or is a NYT bestseller, or a writer who writes the same thing I do - it's about making contact with writers who are a few steps ahead of me in terms of their career - whose careers are enviable and exciting and have gone from point A to point B. or C.

    And what I really learned -- it's about meeting the nice writers. The kind ones. Ones who engage in conversations rather than monologues -- because these relationships will hopefully last a long time and they should be equal and friendly. Not mercenary and shallow.

    Maybe that's a no duh thing too - but it feels huge right now.


    I did speak at this conference about Writing a Partial That Sells and the notes to the workshop will be on my website by the end of the week. Feel free to use them if they help.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Stages of Rejection

    Sorry for the downer subject, but having received a particularly disappointing rejection almost a month ago and just realizing I’m not totally over it yet, I’ve been reflecting on how we, as writers, deal with this inevitable and frequent event called rejection.

    I wondered if the five stages of grief might offer some clues. The most well known stages of grief as defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are:

    Denial (this isn't happening to me!)
    Anger (why is this happening to me?)
    Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
    Depression (I don't care anymore)
    Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)

    Somehow, this list doesn’t adequately describe my personal rejection coping process, at least at this point. I admit, my rejection coping strategies have evolved as I've progressed as a writer.

    Anger? In the early days, I probably did go through some anger, (what an idiot that agent/editor is), and along with that anger, I read lots of personal meaning into phrases I later recognized as part of that particular agent’s form letter. Really, though, I can’t remember the last time a rejection made me angry. Two years ago? Three? All-in-all, I’ve gotten pretty good at shrugging off rejections. Even bad contest scores don’t really make me angry any more. I mean, what’s the point? I’m not even (that) bitter about the fact the Stiletto contest imploded this year and I’ll never know how my finalling manuscript, THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON, placed. Okay, I’m a little bitter. But what difference would it make to know whether I was first, second or third? I’ve already got a great agent.

    Bargaining? I’m not sure I ever did that—unless you can count the days when I kept putting time limits on how long I’d keep trying to get published. (I’ll give myself one year to get published. Okay, two. Okay, three. I’ve since seen the folly in that!)

    I’d say my stages of rejection are:

    Ambivalence (It doesn’t matter.)
    Depression (I’m never, ever, going to sell. I suck.)
    Rationalization (I wasn’t expecting that one anyway. It was bad timing, bad luck.)
    Acceptance (It was just one chance. I'll have others as long as I keep trying.)
    Optimism (I’ll get ‘em next time. It took many great writers a long time to get published. Maybe I’ll sell that book after the one I’m working on now hits bestseller lists.)

    Thing is, the “bigger” and more disappointing a rejection is for me, the more these stages seem to cycle. I think sometimes I need to run through them all a few times, before I truly graduate from faux optimism to the real thing.

    The bigger my hopes the farther I fall and the more times I need to rinse and repeat*. Know what I mean?

    At least that’s how I’m rationalizing the funk I’ve been this past week. The “really disappointing” rejection came right after labor day. You’d think I’d be over it by now…

    Onward and upward. (she said optimistically)

    What are your stages of rejection?

    *(Ha! I'm blogging about hair on my other blog today. The rinse and repeat metaphor was an unconscious coincidence.)

    Post script: Not sure if there will be any fresh posts until next week. The drunk writers are heading to New Jersey for a conference and to catch up on their drinking.

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    Where have all the good books gone?

    Before I get too in to this I should let you know -- I've been a bit hungover for two days. My son got up three times last night. I had Sunday all set aside to do some work -- which I didn't do. And because of the hangover I've eaten everything that has crossed my path and not gone for a run.

    So - I'm in a bit of a funk.

    But through all of this I have just wanted to be entertained. I have just wanted to hang out in my bed and read something really really good. A page-turner. A character driven romance of moderate epic proportions. I would skip the epic. Alas -- I can't find them. Where have all the good books gone? Three four years ago when the romance world was turned upside down by chick-lit and dark erotic paranormals -- amazing things seemed to be happening. Heros were dark and tortured again. Heroines were flawed and real. Plots didn't rely on a mis-understanding (though I like a good misunderstanding ala Judith McNaught who I've been re-reading during the dry spell). But most of all there was TENSION. Not just sexual though that abounded -- there was tension between me as the reader and the book. I couldn't turn pages fast enough.

    I felt- as a reader - totally energized. As a writer I was totally freaking out! But those were some good days as readers. Fun authors came out of those years - Eileen Rendahl, Susan Squires, Susan Donovan (She was around earlier but I found her then and gobbled up everything) Mary Kay Andrews and dozens more.

    Maybe I just need to be reminded of the good books I've read. The ones I really remember are The Dark Queen and even more so The Courtesan by Susan Carroll. So - someone remind me or inform me of the great books I'm missing. Because I need some romance. The best romance I've come across in months is The Office season finale from last year and the premiere this year. Now, that's tension.

    So - let me have it. Best romances you've read this year....
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