Friday, July 31, 2009


I have been on a reading binge lately and it has been spectacular. I have finally caught up on the list that’s been sitting by my bed for months.

And in the lot, were some amazing books. Another great YA, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, You belong to Me by Maria Santos(seriously, amazing author). Some so so books, but all entertaining and all of which I finished.

Some books I read and I can see how the author wrote it, can figure out the pulsepoints, almost get a sense for what the author was thinking, how they plotted it. A peek behind the door, so to speak, and not one that in any way affects my enjoyment of the book. Other books just read like pure magic, effortless as if they tripped off the keyboard and those books, other than making me envious, completely intimidate me.

They are usually the kind of books I don’t write. Heavily character based, deeply emotional, and I know they are as intricately plotted, if not more so, than my books, and I know sweat, blood and tears went into them, and I believe that not in a million years could I write a book like it.

You Belong to Me is one of those books. I adored reading it. And I’d sit down to write something in a similar vein and be lost by page three.

I don’t even wish I could write it, because I get a thrill from writing a scene where my characters are in danger, and the atmosphere is tense, and I’m working at reversing an expectation and the words flow and I can picture what’s happening in my head.

My strengths and limitations have really honed the books I’ve written and while I’m constantly working on my limitations, I’m always going to focus on my strengths, because those scenes are easier for me to write, certainly more fun and usually require the least editing. (that’s my lazy side talking)

And right now, in my surprisingly zen state of being, I’m really OK with that.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pitching your novel -- love it or hate it?

Anyone who's been reading this blog over the years knows I'm a big believer in the conference verbal pitch, and went after these opportunities aggressively when I was agent hunting.

So, you might be surprised that my opinion wasn't swayed by St. Martin's editor, Jennifer Enderlin, saying, during the SMP spotlight at RWA Nationals, that she doesn't believe in verbal pitches, and rarely agrees to take them. She doesn't like them because she can't tell whether or not she'll want a book based on a verbal pitch.

Contrary to what you might think, this doesn't go against my reasons for liking pitches, (more later), but first I want to share this exchange from a few moments later in the SMP spotlight:

Audience member: If you can't tell whether or not you'll like a book based on a verbal pitch, what can you tell?

Enderlin: (looking slightly baffled) Whether or not I like your clothes?

LOVED that answer on so many levels. First, it was a humorous, slightly-sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek answer to a question that was moderately silly given Enderlin had already said she didn't believe in pitches. But I ended up loving that questioner, because in addition to making me laugh, Enderlin clarified that what she can gauge in a pitch is your personality.

Ultimately her contract-or-not decision depends on the quality of your book, not your looks or personality or clothes, but meeting an author does give her an idea of whether or not the author's someone she'd like to work with. Or really not want to work with...

But from the other side of the pitch table, I believe the verbal pitch is (almost) like free pass past the query stage. And that's where I believe my love of pitches and Enderlin's dislike of them converge. And it's all in her reasons.

She said she can't tell if she'll like your book until she reads some of it. And that's my point, too. While a query letter does show a bit more than a verbal pitch, in that there's actual writing and less "performance" involved, there's still a chance (often very high chance) the letter reader will never see any of your actual book.

The problem with query letters is the agent/editor doesn't have the opportunity to judge your story by, well, reading your story.

To me, sending a query always feels like playing roulette. Sure, if you've got an amazing premise and can craft a great query, you can increase the odds of your ball landing in the "request" slot, but it's still roulette. Whereas, if you include a sample of your writing along with a query, or can leap past that query stage altogether, at least you're judged on the quality of your writing, not your ability to write a query.

Not to mention that it's so easy, in a query, to hit some pet peeve you couldn't possibly know about ahead of time. (I didn't need to sit through a pre-conference workshop, where a panel of 6 editors and agents went through the query letters of 10 Golden Heart finalists, and ended up making, I think 3 or 4 requests out of a possible 60, to know that agents, are looking for reasons to say no when they read queries, not reasons to say yes. No means clearing something off their to-do list. Yes means adding to their mountainous reading piles.)

But, as hard as it is to deliver a verbal pitch, it's just as hard to say no in person. So, if you do your homework and pitch the right person, you're almost guaranteed to get a yes at a verbal pitch. Ta da. Free pass to request land. I rest my case. ;-)

All that said, queries, (like the dreaded synopsis), are part of the process of publication, and it's important to learn how to write a great one. But when I sent queries, I almost always included at least the first five or so pages of the manuscript. Because ultimately, it's the writing that matters.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Used Bookstores

I love used bookstores. Well-run, well-organized - it's like walking into someone's extended keeper shelf. There's one in the Milwaukee airport (I know brilliant, right? There are small magazine vendors in the gates, but not a bookstore and this one is in the main lobby, so if you're waiting for someone you can find a book. ) And there's one in Florida where I vacation with friends, that literally every year sends me into fits of book love. I've found City of Thieves (AMAZING BOOK)! The Shadow of the Wind (OH!!! The nights I've stayed up too late!) The Birth of Venus (delight, start to finish). All by authors whose next books I will buy - because I am in love with them.

I know a lot of writers think that used bookstores are robbing them of royalties, and in way - they're right. But I've been thinking a lot about Sherry Thomas' comment that what sells books is love. People have to love your book to talk about it to their friends, on-line, in the grocery store, over dinner - everywhere they can. And the only thing that builds love is actually reading the book. And that's where used bookstores come in. People take bigger risks on books and authors they've never heard of, when the price tag is in half.

So, yes, no royalties on that second sale. But if you think of those bookmarks everyone makes, or the postcard mailings to bookstores and booksellers - and the end result isn't known. Do the postcards get tossed in the trash? Do they make it to readers? Do the readers care? That feels to me so often like money tossed away. But getting books into hands of readers - how can that be bad?

That said - Internet piracy sites. The scum of the very earth - all they do is ensure that good books and good authors don't get published. It's stealing and there's no love there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Relatability at RWA Nationals

This post isn't going to be what you might think from the title. I'm not going to blog about writing relatable characters... Rather, it's a blog about the things that struck me the most at last week's RWA National conference.

#1. Janet Evanovich

She did the opening session and it was a Q&A. Since there were nearly 2000 of us in the room, the questions were on index cards, but she hadn't seen them ahead of time so it was lovely and spontaneous. And what slayed me was finding a moment when I could totally relate to her. No, it wasn't when she talked about how her make up artist was going to kill her because she blew her nose on stage (although that was funny) and seriously? she travels with her own hair and makeup people? Could not relate to that. ;-)

What I could relate to was the reason she had to blow her nose. One of the questions was: How long did it take you to get published? Her answer, more or less, was: it took 10 years after she seriously started writing and submitting romance novels. Makes me feel better about my current 6-7.

When she described the moment she found out she'd sold her first ms (for $2000) she started to cry on stage. I felt so connected to her at that moment. Here's this huge bestseller. A multimillionaire. And it took her AGES to sell her first book, and she still remembers that moment so well it makes her cry. Wow.

#2. J.R. Ward

Whom I adore. She did a 2 hour talk with her CP Jessica Andersen (whom I also adore) and, as usual, they were funny and informative. Such intelligent women who know who they are and are in such command of what they're doing.

But the moment that slayed me in this talk was when pal and frequent DWT visitor Stephanie Doyle, asked J.R. and Jess to talk about the transition of their careers from midlist and/or category into bestsellerdom. And that's when J.R. cried.

She cried because she says she doesn't yet understand "why her"? (her readers could tell her, but that's another matter) But it was so great to see (and have her show) that she's so humble about it all, and understands how hard it is for all of us in this business, no matter at what stage we're at, and that she realizes how lucky she is. She said that the person who sits down each day, at her desk in boxer shorts to write, is still the same "Jessie" who wrote all her other books, but this new persona has emerged who's J.R., and you could tell that, at times, it's still all a little overwhelming for her. Made me tear up, too.

#3. Eloisa James

The strange thing about this one hitting me, is that I've seen Eloisa give the exact same talk before. Her DC speech might have been a combination of two different talks I've heard, but I'm sure I'd heard nearly every main section of the talk. And it's a great talk. The difference for me this time was how emotional she got telling her story and in particular the part about how her mother never accepted what she chose to do for a living.

Her mother, like Eloisa (in her Mary Bly persona), was a professor of literature. So her mom approved of *that* career choice. The difference is that the fiction writing her mother chose to do, in addition to her teaching, was literary short stories, while Mary/Eloisa chose to write romance novels. And it's clear, hearing her talk, that she chose to write romance because she LOVES romance, in spite of her occasional, "I write for money", claims.

I have a similar disapproval thing going on with someone in my family, right now, and it hurts so, so much to have someone you love disrespect what you've chosen to do with your life, and find all these ridiculous arguments to refute your every attempt to explain why you think what you're doing is valuable and not what she thinks it is. That she refuses to even consider that the literary education she got in the early 1980's was not only biased against the genre, but totally out of date. To have someone tell you that the thing that makes you happy isn't worthy or is trash, is so hard. But enough about me.

Eloisa says for years she hid behind the excuse of "I'm just doing it for money" but now admits, that's (mostly) a lie. She writes romance because she loves it. The money's a bonus and has provided a nice justification against all the disapproval from her family. (And, of course, we all know that even in genre fiction, only a very few writers really make much money.) Eloisa says she's Simon and Garfunkel born into the Bach family. Loved that. (Although... wasn't Bach writing popular music in his time??? Still, I get her point.) While she was telling us how her mother, on her death bed, told her she felt sure Eloisa would write a "real book" some day, it was the closest to tearing up I've ever seen this very strong woman, who I've seen speak to groups about emotional events in her life before. I teared up, too.

All in all. It was amazing to find that I had something in common with, some way to relate to, each of these three NYT Bestselling authors. Awesome.

Worth all the money I spent to go to DC? Well...

I won't talk about another highlight (lowlight?) when a certain Pocket editor said she liked the bra I was inadvertently flashing. And I'm not talking straps. Not as bad as it sounds. I hope. You had to be there. At least it matched my temporarily unwrapped wrap dress.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conference Agenda

Well, I'm here in DC. And feeling somewhat relaxed considering the RWA National conference is about to begin.

Last night I had dinner with the lovely and talented Diana Peterfreund and the equally lovely and talented C. L. Wilson and was asked: what's your plan for the week?

I realized I didn't really have one. Yes, I have meetings. Yes, I'm getting together with friends for drinks. Yes, I have a few parties scheduled. But plan? Not so much this year.

Part of me thinks that's crazy. This conference costs a (relative) fortune and to come without clear objectives seems frivolous. On the other hand, in other years I've come with such a clear set agenda in my mind of who I wanted to meet and how I wanted that meeting to pan out... that invariably I came away disappointed. I suppose, back a few years ago when it was all about pitching, I usually came away happy. But since then, my goals have been more nebulous and it's been harder to quantify whether I achieved much.

So, this year? Go with the flow. Try to learn stuff. Try to come out of my borderline introvert shell more often and meet new people. Pass out business cards (with info about the anthology I'm going to be in on the back). What? You didn't know about that? More later. ;-)

Friday, July 10, 2009


I check the Rotten Tomatoes website once a week. It lets me know without having to read a single review whether a movie is worth watching and in less than thirty seconds of my time.
And occasionally they will interview a director, or an actor. This week they asked Kathryn Bigelow her top 5 favourite movies.
Kathryn Bigelow directed the Hurt Locker, which right now seems to be one of the best reviewed movies of the summer, second only to UP and one of the movies that created some serious buzz at the Toronto film festival. Plus, she directed Near Dark, a spectacular, vampire flick.
Her list is terrific, but the film that jumped out at me is The Terminator. She calls it a gamechanger.
And for the time it was. Go back to 1984 when the movie was released and for the time, the tension, the special effects, the storytelling, it was a movie that raised the bar for all sci fi and thrillers.
I was thinking about what my gamechangers are in romance. I know for sure, and this is going back a bit, the Anita Blake series was a gamechanger for the paranormal genre. I know they're technically urban fantasy, but they had tense plots and some amazing sexual tension and I do think they started the urban fanstasy craze, and then the series fell off the rails, but before it did, man, those books were great reads.
The JR Ward series felt like a gamechanger, in terms of connected books, secondary plot lines, and some intricate world building. For me, those books have changed the way I approach plotting.
And then in historicals, you had Sherry Thomas and Joanna Bourne writing these incredible historicals with intelligent, non-perfect heroines and scenarios that couldn't be set further from a regency ballroom, making the historical a hot commodity again.
To me a game changer raises the bar, creates new standards of what works, and smart writers pay attention. Not that we'll always agree about which books were gamechangers, but I like being challenged by better books, more imaginative storylines, better characterization. I like to see how far we can push this genre and those books usually spark some serious creative thinking and some great drunk writer discussions.
I know I've left a lot of books out of this discussion, but would love to hear if anyone has any other books that they feel are gamechangers.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mysterious Premises

I love a good mysterious premise. I love ambiguity. I love not knowing 100% of what's going on at the beginning of a book or movie or TV series. I love wondering (to a point) why a character is behaving a certain way.

But when does a mysterious or ambiguous premise, or not-fully-revealed motivation, become an annoyance?

When it doesn't work, that's when.

And not working is sometimes a hard thing to put one's finger on, so I can only think of examples of "works" and "does not work".

Life on Mars... I didn't watch the British version of this show, and would like to, if for no other reason than to compare it to the US version, which I really enjoyed... But I think this one is a brilliant example of "works". And maybe they handled it so well because it was all contained in one short season. (The British version has a sequel called Ashes to Ashes... don't know that it's about. But assuming the British version of Life on Mars ended the same way as the US one... well, it's hard to imagine a sequel. Now I've made myself curious...)

I've heard people talking about the US version being "canceled"... and I admit I haven't read up on all the dirt, but from watching it, well, they couldn't possibly have had a second season. Or rather, if they had stretched it into a second season, at some point the "big mystery" would've become annoying rather than mysterious. There were only so many possible answers and I was still getting chills almost every episode until we finally got our answer. An answer, which, for me, was none of the possibilities I'd been considering. I think if they'd led me down all those other garden paths for too much longer, I might've been angry when the answer was "none of the above". But over 13 episodes, or whatever it was, it worked for me.

If you didn't see Life on Mars, rent it when it comes out on DVD. The lead actor is hot, hot, hot -- the acting was great (Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli) and I, for one, loved the mysterious premise and how it got solved. Plus, there's a nice little romance running through it. (Not to mention a great, early 70's soundtrack.)

Lost... Now there's one of the biggest examples of a fabulous mysterious premise. For five, (six?) seasons we've known they crashed onto an island (or were maybe dead). We've known strange things happen on this island. We know it's hard to find. We know people get healed and come back to life and others get sick and babies can't be born and some people don't age -- etc. etc. etc. And for me, it's always stayed interesting enough to pull me through the confusing bits. I know others (Molly) who think it fell apart in Season 3... and if I agree with that at all, (I actually enjoyed Season 3), it might be because they lost track of the mystery and instead transferred focus onto the love triangle. Or was season 3 the one where they were focussed on the people from the other side of the island?

I admit this show has become incredibly complicated... and I'm not sure the time travel thing is going to wrap everything up satisfactorily... And they've dropped a few threads... Michael? Walt? Walt seemed so important in the first seasons... And reappeared mysteriously a few times after leaving the island... yet now he's gone. But overall, the premise of Lost works for me.

Heroes is another example of one where the mysterious premise was AWESOME in the first season. But then they let themselves get too complicated. Talk about time travel issues. (Which Sylar is he tonight? Which Claire? Which Hiro? Which Peter? Which powers do they have this week?) But still, I think this show is a good example of a mysterious premise which, at least for a while, pulled the audience along by balancing how/when the truth was revealed. (Until it fell off the rails.)

But what really prompted his post was a new TV show called The Listener. And to be fair to the writers/producers, I haven't seen every episode. (And maybe I just want to be fair because the show's Canadian), but the "mysterious premise" is pissing me off. And has pissed me off from episode one. Okay, maybe I don't really care about being fair.

The hero can read minds. Okay. Fine. I can accept that.

He's always been able to read minds, and had to learn as a little boy how to block them out/control it, but in the first episode, "something" suddenly changes (we don't know what) and now he hears people in distress and can't get them out of his head until he solves whatever problem is causing the distress. (Talk about a convenient contrivance for a weekly series...) And we get no explanation for why things suddenly changed. But that's not even what bugs me. What bugs me is he's been told that "he must NEVER tell ANYONE he can read minds". Doing so means danger, bad things, horrible things. And while I love a big mystery, I'm sorry, but "you can never tell" isn't good enough for me. Especially if it means your girlfriend dumps you and worse, you keep getting suspected of crimes.

Why the frak doesn't he tell? Especially when not telling causes problems for him? He's a grown man. Wouldn't he question this professor guy who's been telling him he can't tell anyone, since he was a little boy? (Even if professor guy is played by Colm Feore? Okay, now I need to include a photo of Colm Feore... He's playing Cyranno at Stratford this year. REALLY want to go see it... US folks, you may have seen him as the "first gentleman" on 24 this season.)

But back to my rant... I guess my main issue is that him not telling is clearly causing big-stakes problems for him (suspected of murder, etc.) and yet they haven't convinced me that him telling carries equally dire stakes.

All that would've been annoying enough, but then I caught a bit of an episode last week and suddenly his partner (they're paramedics) knows his secret. And his partner's character hasn't exactly been set up as the kind of guy who can keep a secret... Yet, the hero seems okay with babbling-idiot-partner-guy knowing his BIG DANGEROUS SECRET. And the world hasn't ended. So why not tell the ridiculously-pretty-and-always-inappropriately-dressed-for-her-job cop, who each week is coincidentally (with a big C) involved in solving a crime related to the person who's thoughs the hero can't get out of his mind. Especially since she always suspects him of the crimes because he knows so much? And why not tell his also-ridiculously-pretty-doctor-who-doesn't-act-like-a-doctor ex-girlfriend, who he loves but who dumped him for keeping secrets??? Why doesn't he tell these two female characters? Because then the writers would have no conflict.

And with a conflict that flimsy... Well, I tend to rant.

Is anyone watching this show? Am I wrong? Is there more? Could the lead actors or the premise holes be more annoying?

If there is something else, I'm willing to take this rant back, because after the first 3-4 episodes of Dollhouse I would've said the same thing (although not this bad) and they ended up fixing that problem big time and creating a whole bunch more interesting questions/conflicts to lead us forward and now I'm desperate to see season 2.

My lessons from all this: if your plot hangs together on a secret that no one can know, the writer better give the reader/viewer a fraking good reason to believe that keeping the secret has very high stakes. And if a writer is purposefully holding back a secret about the premise... he/she had better be changing things up, and raising new questions, and upping the stakes, or we'll just get impatient and feel manipulated when we're not given the answer.

Thinking back, both Sinead and I have had premises that relied on the heroes of our stories not being able to reveal a "big secret"... but I think we both handled it better than the writers of The Listener.

Ha! While writing this, and simultaneously half-way watching Canada's Next Top Model, I just saw a teaser for this week's episode of The Listener. The voice-over announcer says: "How long can he keep the secret? Is it time to tell the truth? And then one of the pretty chicks (doctor or cop, can't really tell them apart) looks at the hero and says, "You know what I'm thinking, don't you."

Maybe they've finally realized they can't keep that crap up. Still not watching. My TBR and TBW (watched) piles are too high to waste time on crap TV. Even if it's set in Toronto.

Now. Back to Make Me a Supermodel. ;-) Hey, a gal's allowed to watch some stuff that's just pure fun.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

bad bloggers pt 2

ugh. proposals, deadlines, The freaking HUNGER GAMES - taking over my life right now. I have so much to say about that book! And I will - later. I only have the brain cells for one blog and I'm over at the superromance blog at eharlequin today. Please stop by

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Crying in the Theatre

Well, we've been very bad bloggers this week... I blame birthdays. Within 4 days at the beginning of July, I have Canada's, my younger sister's, my Dad's and America's.

Not that (being a Canadian) I really celebrate the 4th... Unless I find a good excuse to... Like an American friend... Maybe Molly needs someone to have a drink with on Sat? (Call me.)

Anyway, in the interest of not having the same post up for an entire week, I thought I'd just say how much I enjoyed seeing West Side Story today, onstage at The Stratford Festival. (Yes, they do musicals as well as the Shakespeare, to get more bums into seats.)

Clearly I knew the story going in. And I've seen the movie several times. But boy did I cry. Wow. Really well done.

Went with my sister, two of her friends, and 4 tweenaged girls. The adults were all balling. The kids, not so much. They just thought the actor who played Tony was hot.
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