Sunday, March 29, 2009

My never-ending struggle to understand and use conflict in all it's proper forms OR it's about discomfort.

Let me start this blog by saying - Maureen is very smart. My whole critique group is very smart. Much smarter than me this week. I was going to talk about how writing is bad for my health, but what I realized tonight is that trying to figure out conflict (AGAIN) is bad for my health.

I'm all revved up. My heart rate's accelerated. I can't sleep. I drink too much. And it's because once again conflict - the slippery devil is wiggling out of my grasp. But anyway -- we talked about it tonight and I had a lighting store's worth of lightbulb moments.

Conflict isn't good conflict unless the characters are uncomfortable. They can't sit down and chat and have tea if there's conflict between them. Unless it's the most uncomfortable tea ever. You can keep piling on more and more conflict but unless it actually shows up between them - in those crackly tense moments we all love -- it's not working. That's Maureen's genius.

Now, I keep saying and thinking (quite smugly) that what good romantic fiction needs is drama. And it does, but drama isn't interchangeable with conflict (which is what I'd been thinking.)Drama is how YOU the writer convey your conflict. Drama is how you end your chapters, and all you have your characters say and not say - it's how you layer your conflict and how you weave in your subplots.

So, again your book need conflict (duh)- but your conflict needs drama. And I need a nap.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What I didn’t know about writing before I started

Well, tons actually. I knew almost nothing, which in retrospect, was a good thing. And I know a lot of the readers of this blog are writers as well, so you all know this, but some things along the way really surprised me.

Everyone who writes says it’s hard work, and it is. It requires looking at your own work critically. Not since school ended have I looked at anything else in my life or professional life and really taken it apart, analyzed it for flaws, thought for hours on how I can make it better. I do hope some of that thinking has leaked into my regular life.
I thought I’d write 100,000 words. Well the truth is, by the time I finish a book, triple that, what with re-written scenes, chapters, entire hunks of the bloody book.
So yep, writing is hard and requires a certain abandonment of ego.

But what I really didn’t realize about writing was how it would seep into every part of my life. I don’t read books, watch TV, or see movies in the same way. I see a great episode of Battlestar, I now need to talk about it, dissect how it worked or what the writers were thinking, or the new episode of Dollhouse that I unreservedly loved, and my husband is tired of hearing about.

The people I work with think I’m nuts every time I try and convince them of the brilliance of Friday Night Lights, because I think I get a strange gleam in my eyes. And forget talking about JR Ward with anyone who isn’t a writer. They aren’t interested in really talking about those books for longer than three minutes, and three minutes doesn’t even scratch the surface of the first chapter of the first book.

Which is why Drunk Writer Talk was invented. Because no one else wanted to discuss the unbelievable brilliance of the Wire for three hours.

I guess when I started writing, I had no idea how storytelling would invade so much of my life, and my thoughts and how passionate I would become about it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What are you willing to give up?

I find myself at yet another cross-roads in this "journey" towards becoming an author, and one question I've been asking lately is what am I willing to give up?

This is in part because, up to this point, I haven't had to give up a whole lot (other than my pride). Yes, I've worked very hard. Yes, I've spent way too much money on courses, and conferences and books... But I had the time and money so it wasn't a huge sacrifice. Not in hindsight, anyway.

I watch my good friends give up time with kids and husbands, I watch them squeeze writing time into lunch hours at work, I watch them sacrifice bits of their social lives, or, gasp, TV -- and I think: boy, I'm not sure I want it that badly.

But now, I've reached a point where I have to make some hard choices. And it's actually turned out to be a good thing.

To explain, or put this in context, here's a transcript of some drunk writer talk from about a year ago, when I was shedding blood to produce the first draft of the manuscript that's on submission right now...

Maureen: Boy, if this one doesn't sell, I think I might be done. I just don't know what other direction I can take. I don't know if I have another one of these in me without getting a contract.

Molly and Sinead: Shut up and drink your beer. You won't quit. You love it too much.

Maureen: Do I? I mean, sure, I always had vague dreams of being a writer, but in many ways I kind of fell into this. If I hadn't been lucky enough to meet you two I doubt I would've finished my first book.

Molly: Have a french fry. And another beer.

Sinead: You won't quit. You say you will, but you won't.

Yes, DWT is full of gripping conversations like this one. Jealous? ;-)

But looking back at my angst, I'm seeing the silver lining in the hard decisions I'm facing about my lifestyle right now. Said silver lining is that I've realized Molly and Sinead were right. (They're always right--almost always, except about movies sometimes--but I'm a little slow so it takes a while for me to believe them.)

Yes, it's true. In order to become an author, I'm willing to give up more than just my pride. :-)

Maybe even TV. No, not TV. Get serious.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Battlestar Finale

Careful Spoilers...and I'm serious. Don't read this unless you've seen the finale. My Battlestar experience has been fraught with reading things I shouldn't have.

I, for one, LOVED the finale. Loved it. And I'll get to why in a second. The one giant black fly obscuring my total joy is of course the last two minutes and the social commentary by the creators of the show. That two minutes of social commentary is why I HATE sci-fi. It seems to me that most sci-fi writers can not resist the allure of the blatant and bald social commentary. The whole fracking show was social commentary and then they spit in all the work they had done with those last two minutes.

However, I am not dwelling.

The last ten episodes or whatever it was - had some serious serious problems. I did not buy the Caprica/Tigh affair. At all. What a huge waste of time - and where did it go? Nowhere. Nowhere at all. Bad writers. Bad. Giaus - way too much Giaus garbage - I actually felt that way through the whole series. The finale and his role in it would have still worked without all the yammering on about whatever it was he was yammering on about.

But the great moments of the finale - finding our Earth at whatever point that was supposed to be post dinosaurs pre bronze age or whatever -- I, like Maureen was having a little nerd fest with myself. Starbuck with the music and the numbers jumping the Galactica into range of our Earth - fabulous.

But what the writers did right - and have always done right were the little character moments. The wrap ups of little plot lines that end up being such a big deal.

I loved, and could not have loved more the Starbuck story. Everything about it - so good. And that the flashback revealed what it did about her nearly cheating on Apollo's brother with Apollo - it just sort of showed that they really didn't deserve a happy ending. They'd been too wrong too many times. I loved it. She was redeemed utterly for her mistakes, but she just couldn't have it all. A bittersweet character with a perfect bittersweet ending.

Chief - oh sweet chief. Finding out about Kallie and nearly getting them all killed. Amazing. And then choosing to go to an Island in the Highlands were there weren't any people. You know he's Scottish.

The President and The Admiral - perfect. For me that's got to be the longest running successful romance in tv history. They played every card just right between those two.

So? How did you guys feel?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

All About the Attitude

I received the nicest e-mail today. Made my day, my week, my whole year.

Thank you, again, to the fabulous Marilyn Brant, whose debut ACCORDING TO JANE is coming out in October 2009, published by Kensington.

And Marilyn got me thinking about two things: keeping a positive attitude and professional jealousy.

On the first topic... keeping positive in this business is always tough. And for me these past couple of years, I'd venture to say extremely tough. (The post Molly made about surviving the submission process was at least in part directed at the insanity she's been seeing in me lately. (Although me reading secret messages into Molly's blog post may just be a symptom of my insanity.)

Anyone who knows me well, knows I'm no Pollyanna, but I think I can be balanced. While I admit I've been imagining the worst case scenario a lot lately and second guessing many things, I just as often concoct elaborate best case scenario fantasies and find the silver lining in my defeats. Keeping your chin up is hard in this business, unless you're totally naive or deluded.

But on to professional jealousy. That's one place where I hope Molly's fab line about crazy inviting professional jealousy over for a BBQ wasn't directly aimed at me. Because I think my brand of crazy tends to invite insecurity over more often than professional jealousy. In fact, these past months, I think my crazy has invited insecurity over for more than a BBQ. They've been shacking up. I'm hoping they get into a monster fight and break it off soon. (Sadly, crazy and insecurity seem made for each other.)

And as Sinead said in her great post a couple of weeks ago, (that I also read secret messages directed to me in), a little insecurity can be a good thing. It can make us try harder to continually get better.

But back to the topic at hand. While I can't claim never to have felt professional jealousy, I also don't think it's one I dwell on. I really can't see the point. If author X sells a book, or does really well, I really don't see how that affects me, except that if I know them, I enjoy sharing in their joy. Love, love, love seeing books written by people I know, or know of, on the shelves or on bestseller lists.

And when people on writers loops get their collective noses all out of joint when a celebrity sells a book for huge bucks. Do I wish I had a big book deal? Sure. But a celebrity getting one doesn't have anything to do with me, so why be jealous or angry? I can't offer a publisher a huge platform or built in readership like a celebrity, or even an already well-established author can.

And even if the publishing world worked in such a way that there were a finite number of publishing contracts available, such that if someone I know scored one, that was one less chance for me, I think that 99% of the time I'd still be genuinely pleased for the person who got one. But publishing doesn't really work like that and I am always glad to hear about other writers getting contracts or their books selling well or hitting lists.

The only times I felt some serious professional jealousy, leading me to say spiteful things to my friends about another writer, it's related to very specific situations where I felt either like I'd been used, or said person became condescending after selling, as if they suddenly knew some secret, or possessed more talent, just because they got a contract before me. Especially if said contract is with a publisher I wouldn't want to be published by. That bugs me. But 99.9% of writers I know aren't like that at all.

99.9% of the writers I know are the most supportive people I've come across in my entire life.

Thanks again for your kind words, Marilyn. You rock!

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's not a's politics.

Okay, Kimber this is an open invitation for you to school me -- but here goes.

My take on the reality of the publisher/author relationship -- it's not business. Not at all. Despite a contract with very clear terms regarding deadlines and timelines and the ramifications of meeting or failing to meet those deadlines - this is not a business arrangement.

Oh, don't get me wrong - the author better meet those deadlines - in fact without plenty of advance warning that the deadline won't be met - woe! upon the author who does not meet those deadlines.

But the publisher might not get back to us on proposals within three months. Or maybe they will. You just don't know. And sure, you can nudge and email and passively aggressively inquire as to what the hell is going on, but there is a line you - the author - just can't cross. Not without pissing off the editor.

And seriously -- this is the politics part - don't piss off the editor. Don't do it. It's like your editor is the Mayor and you are trying to get some funding, some face time, some serious work done. The mayor wants to help you get that work done, in fact the better you do, the better the mayor looks. But there are twenty of us wanting the same thing - or sixty - or hundreds - we want time and money and attention. Let's say, I'm education and another writer is the police force (yes, The Wire rears it's head yet again) if I do what I can to totally serve the mayor, working my tail off and not cause any problems - I might get what I want. But I'm almost assured to get what I want if the police force is acting like a jerk. Or demanding more than can be given. Or not holding up it's end of a contract.

Part of my job is to eat a little crap from the Mayor. Missed meetings, missed deadlines etc... you get my point. I'm not saying just roll over. Or, obviously do things you're not comfortable with -- but realize getting ahead in this business depends A LOT on your editor fighting for you in various meetings. Your editor has to like and respect you and that is something that is earned. Editors are human after all. You want to like and respect your editor right? And once the shine of being published wears off - you realize it's something they have to earn, too.

On various loops as soon as an author starts wondering why we don't stick up for ourselves - reminding everyone on the loop that it's a business not a friendship and if we as authors are required to do our parts, shouldn't the editors? And why the hell can't we just call the editor and ask why it's taking so long? Well, all I can think is that The Mayor is going to be getting behind education even more in the years to come.

It's also why you need an agent - no matter what.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My writing fantasy

I have to preface this post with a reality check. I’m a mother of two young children, with a full time job and a husband who, surprisingly and quite nicely, likes to spend quality time with me.

I eek out writing time when I have energy in the evenings, after the wee ones go to bed, and during my increasingly rare lunch hours at work, but these are short timeframes.

And, (this is not a sympathy bid,) I’m cool with this. I like my job, and love my kids and husband and while I’d love to write faster, I’m writing, so all is good.

But on Friday mornings, when I’m feeling lazy, I fantasize about my ideal writing life.

So here it is.

A sunny, bright office, all to myself, with floor to ceiling bookshelves on three of the walls. A comfy couch for reading breaks and a computer not attached to the internet. (because even in fantasy, I know my limitations. The internet is writing kryptonite)

A full day to write. The nanny would be taking care of the kids. Eight solid hours to think about nothing but story and craft. The mornings would be for writing new scenes, the afternoons for editing.

A state of the art, two hundred pages per minute, printer. A fresh cup of perfect coffee that magically appears, and the knowledge that someone else is taking care of the mountain of laundry piled up in all the bedrooms.

And every four months a research trip, or conference, with my writing buddies. I’d like to go to France first. I’ll set a book there eventually, so it would be useful.

I’d take an hour every day to work out with a personal trainer, because when my body’s tired, my brain sometimes works better. And because it seems really decadent to me to work out during work hours.

Ok, that sums up my perfect writing day. I’m sure the reality is that with eight hours, I’d still only accomplish what I do in two hours, but it sounds so relaxed and nice and my laundry would be done.

And really, can you ask for anything better than someone else doing your laundry.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Surviving the Submission Process

Writer Molly had some wine last night and like a bad split personality - Righteous Molly came out to play. Sometimes it's fun, most of the time I wake up the next morning feeling like I need to apologize to a bunch of people. This morning not withstanding. Maureen - Sorry.

Sinead's post on Wednesday about how crazy we are as writers is all too true and frankly there is no worse breeding ground for the writer insanity than those long desolate weeks of the submission process. The waiting for the phone calls, waiting for the emails, waiting for your life to start again, waiting to feel like writing, waiting to feel like doing anything - it's the worst kind of limbo.

I know we're supposed to just keep writing. Start a new project, get your head in the game - but is anybody really able to do this whole-heartedly? Really? Isn't just an exercise to exercise?

My worst submission hell was after two Harlequin lines had collapsed from under me (and Stephanie Doyle, but again - let's not blame her) . I got a new agent and she's a great agent (but tell that to a person waiting in submission hell - because what you do after doubting yourself is doubt your agent, no matter how good.)

But this process was taking upwards of TWO YEARS.

Two years of submitting to the same editor (who had said she wasn't sure I could write Supers) at the same house I had already written five books for. Two years. I had two supers out on submission and a single title that was going nowhere. So it was silence at one end and a steady stream of rejections from the other. I was hysterical.

I was at a party one night (a fundraiser for a camp for kids with Cancer - which you would think would put things into perspective for me - but no. Nope. Crazy and shallow and self-absorbed, that is the writer out on submission.) I picked a fight with my husband, left the party, walked home crying. The low low point of my writer life thus far.

So, what can you do when waiting? Well, what you really need is a kid with pink eye, or a flu epidemic in your house - something so time consuming that you don't have time to obsess. Barring that - I think you've got to get out of your house. Waiting for the phone or the emails is a long slow death. Exercise, walk, shop, drink coffee, drink booze. Anything to get you away from the computer and the phone.

Read. Read all those books outside your genre that have been piling up around you. But don't read your genre - please. That's the crazy inviting professional jealousy over for a barbecue.

Organize your sock drawer, make dentist appointments, clean out your front hall closet -- all those chores we neglect because we're too busy writing - now is the time to get it done.

And finally, yes, keep writing. Because that's what we are and what we do and the crazy just can't take that away.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Writers are nuts

I know I am. Completely certifiable on my good days. Because so often this whole writing thing seems like an exercise in masochism.

I’m unpublished, which means on a regular basis I’m sending personal work out into the world. The vibe being, ‘Please sir, or M’am, please validate this work that took me a year to create and polish, by liking it’.

Then, even if they like it, I might sell it for, when worked out on a hourly basis, mere cents per hour… and I will be thrilled, believe me.

Even published authors regularly deal with rejections, or revisions, and bad reviews. And let’s face it, most writers I know, myself included, have disgustingly fragile egos when it comes to the writing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to convince myself to be confident in my writing, in the story I produce and then see that confidence crumple to nothing at the first rejection, or the first less than glowing contest critique.

I’ve even tried to convince writer friends to be more confident, which is pretty laughable, and I seethe with jealousy when I hear of writers who had the confidence to change agents, or turn down publishing deals when they weren’t published, as they fully expected better agents, or better deals to come along. And better agents and deals did come along.
I wonder where they got their confidence and how I can steal some.

But I’m starting to believe that my insecurity might have a bright side. I’m a lazy person by nature, and I usually try and get by doing the least possible. But with the writing, the more I write, the less confident I get, which makes me edit more, question more of my story, re-think more, in essence, be less lazy and work harder towards getting the book right.

So what I need. A lack of confidence when writing the book, and then complete confidence when marketing it… I guess I’ll try and fake it when this book is finally finished..

Monday, March 02, 2009


Great treat today, everyone! The lovely and talented Eileen Carr has stopped by for a glass of wine and a guest blog about switch hitting! (Ooo... sounds kinda dirty... Unless it's about sports.) **Maureen pulls her mind out of the gutter.**

Actually, it's about switching between genres, something of particular interest to me right now, so I was thrilled when Eileen suggested the topic.

Eileen Carr is the alter ego of the equally fabulous Eileen Rendahl, whose DO ME, DO MY ROOTS, is one of my favorite books of recent memory. I cannot wait to see what she's done in her "Carr" incarnation (cool pun). (At least I held back from typing inCARRnation...) This book sounds fabulous and it's at the very top of my TBR pile. **Maureen hangs head in shame for not having read it before Eileen stopped by for a drink...**

Take it away, Eileen!

by Eileen Carr

I am not known for my long attention span. Nor am I known for my ability to stay focused on one thing for any length of time. I tend to get caught up in something, become completely absorbed and then get distracted by something shiny outside the window. I don’t have a favorite color because I like ALL of them. Preferably all together all at once. I can’t quite grasp the concept of clashing.

Reading has been one of the few things I have been dedicated to since I can remember. That said, I rarely stick to reading just one genre. I love romance, mystery, spy stories, thrillers, literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy, to name a few. I even enjoy the occasional non-fiction title. There’s an old John Denver (don’t judge me!) song where he says he’d no sooner love just one kind of woman than drink just one kind of wine. I feel just like that about books.

Now, lucky me, I get to indulge in writing more than one kind of book, too. After writing four chick lit novels as Eileen Rendahl, my debut romantic suspense, HOLD BACK THE DARK, was released by Pocket Books on February 24 under the pen name Eileen Carr and my debut urban fantasy, DON’T KILL THE MESSENGER will be released by The Berkley Publishing Group in April of 2010.

Writing in different genres has definitely made me stretch some new writing muscles. For instance, that plotting muscle got quite the work out writing HOLD BACK THE DARK. It was sore for days. It hadn’t been completely unused, but it certainly didn’t have to work quite so hard when I was writing chick lit books. I’m working on DON’T KILL THE MESSENGER right now and my world building muscle hurts so much I can barely walk sometimes. Setting is always important to me and I used it extensively in my chick lit novels to strengthen the message I was trying to convey, but nothing like the burn I got writing about Chinese vampires living under the streets of Old Sacramento.

It’s always exciting for me to try new things and to get to new places in my writing. The part of this that really rocks, however, is the cross-pollination. I can see how what I learned about pacing and plotting while writing HOLD BACK THE DARK is making DON’T KILL THE MESSENGER a better book and the world-building I’ve done working on DON’T KILL THE MESSENGER is definitely having an impact on the richness of the setting in the romantic suspense proposal I’m working on now as well.

I may never be the kind of person who can focus on one thing long enough to be an expert, but I think there might well be an advantage to my dilletante-ish ways, too. Have you tried genre jumping? Do you think it helped your writing?
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