Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On being a writer

Actually, this isn't about being a writer so much as calling yourself one. Earlier this week, Kimber suggested one of us address this topic, so I thought I'd address it. (I'm always glad to have someone else think up a topic for me. (See the lazy part below.)

I've heard writers at conferences and in articles say things like, "As long as you write you're a writer and should call yourself one," or "If you don't call yourself a writer, you aren't committed," and other such nonsense.

The reason I think statements like these are nonsense is at least twofold.

First, well, who cares what you call yourself? How you label what you do doesn't change what you do or make you more or less successful at it, or make it any less real. So who cares?

Second, I think when to start outing yourself as a writer and when to start saying, "I'm a writer who may or may not have a day job, too" versus, "I'm a whatever who also writes," is totally personal. No one can tell you how you feel about your writing or how to describe it -- which are two separate things anyway.

So, that said, I can only speak with any authority about my own experience, my own decisions. I've been calling myself a writer for about three years now. A turning point was answering the "what do you do" question at a US immigration desk on the way to a conference a few winters ago. Up to that point, I'd been kind of jokey and dismissive of my writing when talking about it with family and friends, and always wrote CA on my immigration and customs forms, but I decided that for me, I wanted to change that. Take it more seriously. And for me, saying it made it feel more serious.

Adding to my personal decision was that I wasn't then, and am not now, working in another paying job. So, while I can still legally say, "I'm a Chartered Accountant," if I want to, (I still pay the dues and do the continuing ed stuff), I haven't worked in a job where I needed to be a CA for over five years. On top of that, my friends and family know I'm not working, so basically if I didn't out myself as a writer, everyone would think I'm totally lazy and have way too much time on my hands. (Well, I am lazy and I do have too much time on my hands... but that's not the point.) As any self-employed person knows, it's hard to protect your time, and without explaining to others what you're trying to do with your time... well, it'd be impossible. For me, anyway.

So, I am a writer.

How about you? Do you call yourself a writer? If yes, when did you start? If no, why not?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Writing is ruining EVERYTHING!

Sinead's last post and the resulting discussion is something we talk about a lot. Why are there so many bad books coming out? Do people really want to read these rehashed plots and cardboard characters? Well, the answer is clearly yes. The New York Times Bestseller list is filled with books that all seem vaguely familiar. And frankly, the problem isn't the books - it's us. We're writers and we're working on our craft and trying to figure things out and when we read a book - our inner editor is working full-time. Part of it is probably jealousy (how did this get sold when my books aren't) but most of it is what I heard a writer say (I want to say Laura Kinsale but I'm not sure) about why she doesn't read fiction anymore - "I've looked behind the curtain and seen the wizard." There's not much that can surprise us anymore - or mystify us - or really sweep us away. And because we've read so so so so much - and we all have, it's why we wanted to become writers - I think those things that do sweep us away are usually on the fringe. They're obscure and not seen before.

Romance is popular because it offers some predictability. It's just the nature of genre. And if we weren't trying to write it - we'd probably be a whole lot happier with it.

Writing has ruined reading. It's ruined movies and TV. It's ruined my Olympic swimming career and my knitting hobby. Damn you, writing. Damn you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I’m not a prude…. Honest.

Been on a bit of a reading binge lately, mostly because my wonderful, and ubertalented critique partners keep handing me great books to read.
So I am in heaven.
A lot of paranormals and historicals, almost all of which have been tagged with the label, erotic, or steamy by the publishers.
One, which will remain nameless, is really well written and well plotted and I’m halfway through and it’s about as steamy as a frozen lake, which doesn’t at all detract from how much I’m enjoying it.
And clearly the publisher is just trying to drum up more sales for a really well deserving author by calling it steamy.
Another historical I’m reading has an amazing, different setting, a really unique heroine and is gripping, in all the scenes that don’t revolve around the hero and heroine lusting after each other, or having sex. Those scenes are almost laughable and seriously detract from the pacing of the book.
Feeling the same way about many of the paranormals I’ve read lately.
And hey, I love a good sex scene as much as anyone out there, but when my reaction to a book is, it would have been better without all the sex, that’s somewhat sad.
When the sex works, and it furthers character and plot, see JR Ward and Anne Stuart, then fantastic..
And I know publishers label books as erotic because steamy books sell better. Or at least that seems to be the way of things in paranormal and historical.
Why are those two genres different from romantic suspense, a genre that doesn’t seem to need the steamy label to attract readers?
Why is there a different reader expectation depending on genre? Or is it just that publishers seem to believe there is.
Or is this another trend that’s about to be oversaturated, like chick lit was four years ago.
I’m posing a question I honestly have no idea how to answer and I would love to hear if anyone knows, or has a theory.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I don't get the Oscar noms this year.

Okay, so this is a little off topic for drunk writer talk... but there are some really crazy nominations for the Oscars this year. Maybe it won't be the end of the world if the ceremony isn't broadcast.

Setting aside the acting and best movie awards for a second... Why the heck was Eddie Vedder not nominated for best score and multiple times for best song for Into the Wild??? The music made that movie and it was a great movie. I love that Hal Holbrook got a nomination for this movie, though... Back when I first saw it at the film fest in September, I thought Holbrook should get a nomination... But I also predicted nominations for Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener and Eddie Vedder.

What's with nominating virtually every song from Enchanted? I mean, it was a cute movie and all, and a few of the songs were funny... But seriously? How boring will the ceremony be when we have to sit through the entire song list from Enchanted! When we could be watching Eddie Vedder perform???

Speaking of Hal Holbrook, the supporting actor list was probably one of my favorites. I love that Holbrook got a nod. Really, you must see this movie. He'll break your heart. And I love that Casey Affleck got a nomination for The Assassination of Jessie James... even though he was really the lead in that movie. The Affleck boys had a good year and it's nice to see Affleck the younger getting some recognition.

The actress in a leading role list seems off to me, too... Cate Blanchett was good and all, but the Elizabeth sequel just wasn't that strong a movie and hey, hasn't she already won an Oscar for playing the exact same role? And while I loved Away from Her and love that a Canadian movie is getting Oscar recognition (Sarah Polley also got a nomination for writing the screenplay)... It does feel like Julie Christie's nomination is a bit sentimental and nostalgic... look, Julie Christie is acting again. Look, she's still beautiful in her sixties. Still talented. Not that there's anything wrong with all this. The movies have been sorely missing Julie Christie and if it takes her getting all these nominations for her to get cast in more good movies, I guess I'm for it. Don't know what my point is here. I guess when I try to think who I'd put on this list to replace her... I'm at a loss. I must keep a better list of the films I see this year so I have a reference point next year.

I love that Juno is getting lots of recognition... The not-a-Canadian film that might as well be. Filmed in Canada with a Canadian director and Canadian lead actors, Ellen Page and Michael Cera. Actually, very cool that Jason Reitman got a nomination when his dad is such a famous and successful director and producer and never won any major awards for it. (Little piece of trivia I heard today... Ivan Reitman actually won a Genie (Canadian film award) for his 1980's (or was it late 70's?) film Meatballs. Too funny.)

The foreign film list is a total mystery to me. And I see a lot of films. In fact, I saw all of the foreign films nominated for the Golden Globe in this category... And I've never even heard of any of these films. Not one.

Okay, no real conclusions here. The entire nomination list just feels flat, predictable and lacking excitement for me.

One more dash of trivia... This year's list does confirm, however, the TIFF's reign as the official launching pad for Oscar contenders... Looking down the list of films in the major categories... All of these films were in the Toronto Festival this year:
Michael Clayton; In the Valley of Elah; Eastern Promises; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; No Country for Old Men; Into the Wild; Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Away from Her; The Savages; Juno; I'm Not There; Atonement; Persepolis; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Across the Universe; Lars and the Real Girl.

I didn't do a calculation... but I'll bet that's something way better than 80% of the films -- excluding the ones in the makeup and sound categories, which rarely tend to be film festival types of movies. A couple of those foreign language films may have been at the festival. Don't know. If they were, they weren't ones on my radar screen or that I heard any buzz about...

Who wants to take bets on whether or not the strike will be over in time for the Oscars? Not sure I care so much anymore.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tina Fey wants to be my friend

I am sure of this. I am sure of this because of her American Express print ads - the one with her baby sitting at her desk and Tina's sitting under the desk surrounded by the mess of her messy successful mom/wife/writer/huge star life. Across from the picture is what she claims to be her perfect day which includes - naps, exercise, going to the park, movies, dinner with adults - that's my perfect day too! Eerie. No?

And while it might have started with this print ad my love grows for her every week with 30 Rock and it's not just because as the star and writer of the show it's the only show with new content - it's just that 30 Rock is easily the funniest, most ridiculous show on television with absolutely a heart of gold. Case in point - the last episode with Gladys Knight and the giant sing-a-long at the end of I'm Leaving On A Jetplane. Perfect because you saw it coming a mile away but at the same time it was the freshest, funniest most unexpected thing ever. Probably because Tracey Morgan started it off. Which is another reason I love Tina Fey -- she rescued Morgan from whatever he was doing after wasting away on Saturday Night Live -- and gave him a platform for his really really strange humour. The guy is hilarious. And who knew he'd go so well with Alec Baldwin? The episode when Alec Baldwin told Tracey Morgan that Baldwin was his father? And he left because "your moms didn't want me around no more."

30 Rock has totally eclipsed The Office for my favorite comedy on television.

And as a side note -- what the hell is going on with Friday Night Lights? How can they take something so sweet and ruin it like they are ruining it? I'm still watching - but I am getting close to not caring.

Anyway - back to stalking Tina Fey.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Opening up a can of worms..

So a lot of you reading this might be at least aware of the plagiarism scandal hitting the romance writing world. An author, who I believe has been writing for years, had paragraphs in her books that were almost word for word the same from research books she might have used.

I’ve read a little on this, and everyone seems to have an opinion, most of them extremely negative.

And hey, we all know plagiarism is wrong and stupid and ultimately someone’s going to catch you.

That said, could every one get off their high horse already. We don’t know how this happened, we don’t know if the author in question copied the passages directly from the text, or just happens to have a brilliant memory. She might not have realized what she was doing was wrong.

I know some of you out there might be chuckling at that statement, but the two other incidents of highly publicized plagiarism I know of revolved around authors taking pages and pages of another author’s fictional work.

What she did was lazy writing. A character thinking, or talking in the same way a textbook would, is just plain bad writing.

But there are lots of other authors out there guilty of that.

As a historical author I do a lot of research. I have historical texts all over my house, some of which I’ve read more than once. I use them for fact checking, more than anything else, but it’s possible I could someday have a character describe something in terms really similar to a text and not even realize I’m doing it.
I’m not saying it’s likely, just a possibility.

And because of that possibility, I’m willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Or at least not sneer from my ivory tower at the horrors of plagiarism.

Because if I admit the possibility, I’ll work harder to ensure it doesn’t happen and I’ll feel more for the people who slip up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Trying to be Smart

Sorry to be posting so late in the day, but I've had a little excitement. My manuscript, THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON, has made the semi-final round of the Amazon Breakout Novel Competition.

To read the excerpt and post a review, click here. Making it to the next round requires lots of positive reviews... so if you have a chance, I'd appreciate your support. (I've just learned of a complication that you need to be an customer -- the American store -- in order to post a review. This sucks. I'm looking into it and will let you know if Amazon fixes this. The authors are from all over the world. I think there were 12 countries from which writers were eligible to enter. The reviews should be eligible from those 12 or so countries, too. Luckily, some of my Canadian friends have accounts, but I've had people who are loyal customers of and and tell me they weren't allowed to post a review.)

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled post.

And I don't have it all that well thought out. But I wanted to talk about the double edged sword of trying to be smart in this business. I guess there are tons of ways to be smart or the converse, but here I mean: trying to find that intersection between the books you want to and think you can write, and the books the market seems to want at any particular point in time.

This is a tough thing. One never knows for sure about these things, (oh, for a crystal ball) but I think it's highly possible that if my April Hillson ms hit the desks of NYC a year earlier, it might have sold. It certainly would have had a greater chance, anyway. Conversely, I think fellow DWT Sinead had a book that hit desks a year or two too early for what the market was doing.

I'd like to pretend I wasn't chasing trends when I started that book, in fact, I wasn't thinking chick lit at all when I started it. I was going to target the NEXT line at Harlequin... but it just came out with a chick lit sort of voice, although the subject matter is decidedly not chick lit. But, some editors painted me with that brush and frankly, with the glut of chick lit on the shelves and warehouses, and pipelines at major publishing houses when my ms was submitted, it was getting hard to sell anything in the commercial women's fiction arena.

C'est la vie.

I've written another complete women's fiction ms since then and started another, but it sometimes all feels so pointless. Like I'm writing books that are missing that magic intersection and I could be smarter about the whole thing.

So, I've just switched gears again. An idea came at me in a rush just before Christmas that I think might be at that magic intersection between books I like, books I think I can write well, and what the market's doing right now.

Problem is... I fear I'm too late for the market surge once again.

How does one balance this? Makes me crazy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

When Plotting Isn't Much Different From Pantsing...

I think I've said this before but - I used to be a pantser and then when I started to sell books it behooved me to become a plotter and then I became a seriously anal retentive plotter. Fifteen page synopsis with snippets of dialogue and characters thoughts were my forte. And still are, but man they take a lot of time to do and I've got less and less time it seems every day.

And so now I find myself in a strange spot. I am at the big black moment and third act in my current WIP and I find that I need a little guidance because I've managed to keep my romantic conflict on the plot lines I had laid out - my subplots have run amock (in a seriously fantastic and bizarre way - I adore my subplots right now and don't want to change them) and now these crazy unplanned plot lines and my romantic plot line are converging. So, looking for guidance I go to the synopsis I turned in with the first three chapters, thinking that my anal retentive plotting habits will give me some footholds for writing my black moment scene.

Here's what it says:

J.D. comes face to face with his past and the man he believes he truly is.

What? Huh? That's what I came up with? Isn't that every black moment? Where are the snippets of dialogue? The clever thoughts I can just plug right into poor J.D.'s head? Where's the help? Where's the plot? Who does he think he is? Who do I think he is? I thought I did all this work already?

So, here I am staring at 50 blank pages. I've got a mob boss, ( I know? I'm not kidding - a mob boss) a pregnant teenager, a man who needs to go on the run from the mob boss, a nine year old boy who wants his mommy and a woman who wants to sleep the next 50 pages away because J.D. can't get his head out of his butt (not me, thought I wouldn't mind a nap) And I have no idea what to do with all of them. In fifty pages. Isn't this what pantsers face every time they sit down to write? It's making me a little nervous. And you know something - I just don't like it. Pantsing is for people braver than I.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


For the first time in a long, long time, I think I’m reasonably caught up with the movies out there. Saw a lot(for me that is) over the holiday. I’m nowhere close to the number Maureen’s seen, but that’s not going to change for a few years.

I am Legend. – Gotta agree with Molly on this. Really entertaining and tense, and Will Smith is amazing. A couple of big plot holes, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie. A great movie to study how to create tension with little dialogue.

Juno – Seriously quirky, well-written movie that is both more serious and funnier than the trailers make it appear to be. A great movie to study how to craft dialogue.

No Country For Old Men – This was a really interesting movie for me. Amazing cast, great, great performances, tight, tight story telling, and riveting tension and then it all fell apart for me at the end. Now, I’m seriously in the minority with this, as every critic out there disagrees, and I think I’m showing my genre roots here, but an ending that left me puzzled, and thinking for days afterwards, but not entirely satisfied.

Sweeney Todd – Johnny Depp is wonderful, I love Tim Burton and the story was already fascinating. It’s a musical so don’t expect serious character development. Maureen covered this better in her personal blog, but a really fun, dark movie.

I still need to see Atonement, Michael Clayton and There Will be Blood, before I really feel ready, but I’m close. Or at least closer than I have been for a few years.

I feel like it’s been a good year for movies. For the first time in a few years they’ve eclipsed TV in storytelling for me. With the writer’s strike, I don’t see that trend changing anytime soon.

As long as the fourth season of Battlestar still starts in April, I’ll be happy.

And on a last note. If anyone is looking for a really wierd, but very entertaining horror movie, check out The Host. It's Korean, so if subtitles put you off, this will not be your cup of tea, but it went in directions I did not expect, but made sense, in a strange, but enjoyable way. The monster is cool and the humor is bizarre. Anyone else out there seen it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Don't mess with my awards season, damn it!

Now, I'm all for writers getting paid their due, and if TV writers aren't getting royalties on DVD's and internet broadcasts that others involved in the production are getting, (or whatever the exact dispute is), then I'm behind them.

My support for the strike has been pretty strong in theory and it's not like the it's been affecting me, anyway. I mean, so far the TV schedule hasn't been affected much and when the new shows stop coming, well, I've got DVD's and movies to catch up on and maybe a big break in new programming this winter will mean some interesting TV over the normal summer good TV dearth. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll find something other than TV to do with a few of my evenings. ;-)

But why oh why did they have to mess with award shows???? I mean, how much writing is there anyway? A few bad jokes in the introductions. Some silly monologues for the hosts we could all live without. Why not just let the presenters wing it the way the award winners do in their acceptance speeches? Sure, the show wouldn't be as slick without the writers, but really we just want to see what dresses the women are wearing and how hot the guys look and, with the Golden Globes, to see how drunk everyone gets.

But no Golden Globes this year. Egads. This strike better be over before the Oscars. Oh, the humanity!

(Thanks Wylie for the topic suggestion.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What I Did Over My Christmas Vacation...

I gained five pounds. Damn my mother's banana bars! I managed to leave almost all of my family's Christmas gifts on my table in Toronto. My Dad got an orange in his stocking from me instead of the three million John Wayne movies I got for him. I wrote zero until yesterday when I managed to open my laptop, squeeze out two pages before passing out, exhausted from my efforts. I got snowed in at my folks house - which was kind of nice with all those banana bars. BABY MAKES THREE got nominated for the Romantic Times Best Superromance of 2007! A fantastic holiday gift.

I finished Battlestar Gallactica. And I totally get why Sinead and Maureen couldn't spend five minutes together without blathering on about some fantastic element of that show - namely how many times Apollo appeared in a towel. It's fantastic storytelling anchored by some seriously grounded and dynamic actors - Mary MacDonald slayed me in the pilot and she just got better. Of course Starbuck and her past and her angst is easily as interesting a character as Tim Riggins - and that's pretty darn interesting. The only weak spot is Boomer/Cylon whatever number she is. I didn't believe her for a minute with any of the emotions or conflict she was supposed to have.

I saw Alpha Dog and am now officially in love with Justin Timberlake. The scene at the end when he's taping that boy's mouth -- oh my god! Powerful, really powerful stuff. Who knew he had it in him?

I saw I Am Legend and you know I was really blown away. I am a Will Smith fan from the Fresh Prince days and I still had doubts that this would be a good movie. And it was. It was poignant and scary and sad and I think it stayed really true to it's sci-fi roots. Watching it reminded me that every scene, every moment is a fork in the road and you can pick the fork that might be more dramatic, bigger or flashier, or you can pick the fork that stays true to your story. Watching I am Legend I kept going 'okay, here's where we get the Hollywood Blockbuster scene' or "here's where Will Smith says his one-liner that everyone will be copying for months' - but they never happened, the writer's took the fork that kept the movie's focus. The movie was big in a really small way and I loved it.

Husband got to finally play Guitar Hero on New Year's Eve - that was a big moment for him. Mick got a bunch of firetrucks - so, all in all, a great Holiday. How about you guys?
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