Friday, October 30, 2009

Aliens and monsters and vampires, oh my!

I love horror movies. I’ve seen an embarrassing amount in the theatre, some wonderful, Pans Labrynth, Alien, 28 days later, some pretty good, Jeepers Creepers, Event Horizon, Deep Rising and some really, really bad, Evil Dead, Resident Evil, Leviathan.

Aliens, and Jaws count would definitely hit my top ten movie list.

I’ve seen most of horrors released over the past twenty years, even the one about the evil tooth fairy… yep, I am not a discriminating horror watcher.

And I love the thrills, the tension created when you know the bad guy(monster) lurks around the corner and I love to jump in my seat when a movie surprises me. But there are two types of horror that I cannot be bothered with.

1) Torture porn. I find these primarily boring and just a little gross. They replaced tension with fake blood, and an attempt to disgust the audience. I don’t watch horror to squirm in my seat. This includes the Saw series, the hostel movies, the remake of the hills have eyes, and the rest that seem to keep getting made.

2) Most Zombie movies. I have to exclude 28 days later and Shaun of the Dead. I loved both movies, and have watched them both at least twice since the first time I saw them. But to me, Zombie movies aren’t horror, they are disaster movies, and I do not enjoy disaster movies.

I realize this sounds weird. But here is my explanation. The thrill of horror is that in the end, the resolution is usually, the bad guy(alien, monster, shark) gets defeated, so that through the enormous tension, we, the audience, get relief in the end. But Zombie movies, in general, offer nothing except perhaps the main character gets to escape to fight another day, or they don’t escape and end of movie. Basically, it’s an end of days movie, and those don’t really thrill me. Without the release of tension, what was the point to the build up?
But I think I’m alone in this theory..

But as someone who’s seen a lot of horror and sci fi, here are my favourites, The Alien Series, Jaws 1 and 2, Pans Labrynth, The Descent, Deep Rising(it had a sense of humor, something else invaluable in a horror) The original Halloween, and a few more I’m forgetting.

Anyone else like these movies?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jaws...'nuff said.

So it’s freak out week and I have to say I fall right in line with my predecessors. Okay maybe not Maureen – I could handle Scooby. However, I can’t handle gore, serious blood or sick stuff.

Sinead it sounds like you’re going to have to be the brave one this week.

My fears make up a very simple 'don’t' list…

Don’t let your thirteen year old middle school friends tell you that Friday the 13th Part (fill in blank here) isn’t that scary… traumatized me for life.

Don’t watch one of those true crime specials on Jack the Ripper before going to bed at any age. Don’t know why it is but Jack the Ripper freaks me WAY out.

Don’t in your dreams accept a mission from God. Now I know this is a difficult one, God asks you to pony up and you think you can handle it. Trust me when I tell you He sends you on some dangerous stuff in your dreams. The one “nightmare” event I had – I was six. God needed me to steal something from the devil. I had to monkey bar my way over a pit of fire to extract a burning message. Now at six I thought I was the world champion of monkey bars… so I was like no problem G I got you covered. However, when the devil caught me hanging by my knees over said pit of fire… well I can’t remember the rest. Just a lot of screaming. It was the one and only time my parents had to come get me.

And finally… do I even need to list this? Isn’t this accepted throughout society? Do NOT watch Jaws before going in the water. I don’t care if it’s a pool, lake, ocean or bathtub. He’s still going to get you and eat you. It’s what he does. Right after the music starts to play…

Eileen good luck with your release. I’ve just put it on my next Amazon purchase. However based on Molly’s assessment I will be reading this during daylight hours!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scooby Doo and Flying Monkeys

The title of this post says it all. I was a total fraidy cat as a kid. Total. I only ever remember watching one episode of Scooby Doo and I was embarrassingly old (I'd guess at least ten or eleven) and I wouldn't shower for months after because that involved closing your eyes and when whichever character on Scooby-doo closed his eyes in the shower, someone peeked out from behind a tile that moved and then the whole tub and shower went down some terrifying rollercoaster track to a dungeon. Phew...
Shower? No way. I'll take a bath. At least when you bath you can keep an eye out for moving tiles.

And The Wizard of Oz? I honestly, without a lie, think I may have been well into my twenties before I actually saw that film all the way through. However old I was on my first attempt, I was so freaked out, I didn't even bother to try again until I'd already gotten through The Amityville Horror. Oh, the flies, the flies! Why did I go to that movie? Why was I allowed in? I was only seventeen! Why wasn't it restricted? Oh, the humanity.

And recurring nightmares. The only one I remember as a child involved a witch at the window (I blame The Wizard of Oz for that one, too) whereas most of my nightmares these days involve various parts of my house falling into total disrepair. Oh, wait. That one's still true even when I'm awake. ;-)

But I'm much better with the scary now. I somehow let Molly and Sinead talk me into seeing SAW when it first came out, and Sinead dragged both Molly and I to see the IMAX version of Alien when it was re-released a few years ago, and after seeing Pan's Labyrinth at the TIFF I became a big fan of Guillermo del Toro -- although it did take more than one sitting to get through Mimic when I rented the DVD.

And I do like a good suspenseful read such as Eileen's HOLD BACK THE DARK.

Happy belated release week, Eileen!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Freaking Myself Out

So on Molly's dialectic of chicken-sh*ttedness from yesterday, I have to admit that if I'm not the Queen of Chicken Sh*t, I'm at least the Crown Princess. Seriously, I'm the biggest scaredy cat of all time and writing scary books has not helped that at all.

I scare easily. Back in the day when the first Halloween movie was in the theaters (and yes, I know I'm dating myself here), I got so scared during the movie that I actually ripped the sleeve off my boyfriend's shirt. I had trouble going to the bathroom by myself after seeing the first Friday the 13th movie because I thought that Jason kid might pop out of the toilet tank. For that matter, at the age of three, I was terrified of sculpture because I thought they were called "Snatch-yous" rather than statues and that gremlins were going to pop out of the pedestals and drag me off somewhere.

How did I get through the day with so many things to scare me at so many corners? I taught myself not to think about it too hard. I practiced a mental version of stuffing my fingers in my ears and chanting "la la la."

But now . . . now I think about scary stuff all the time. It's my job to think about scary stuff to put in my books. I first noticed the impact it was having on me when my boyfriend came home from work while I was deep in thought working and my reaction to him walking in the door was to leap up off the couch screaming. Then there was the fall night when I walked into my bedroom and smelled smoke. Did I think that maybe the neighbors had lit their first fire of the season? Nope. I decided there was someone hiding in the bushes outside my bedroom window, smoking cigarettes and waiting for me to go to sleep so he could sneak in and slit my throat. I ended up standing in the doorway of my kid's room brandishing fireplace tools, ready to fend off the intruder.

One of my regular running routes takes me past a marsh that's being preserved as a bird habitat. I saw a pair of little girl's shoes and a pink play purse lying by the side of the path and with about ten seconds hesitation went crashing into the brush to search for the dead body that had clearly been dumped there. Ten minutes later when the kid's mother came back out of the nearby apartment complex to retrieve the toys, I was really embarrassed.

What really scares me is the idea that the tragic and terrifying lurk just beneath the surface of our everyday ordinary lives. Sure, the idea of an asteroid hitting the earth or a giant tsunami washing California out to sea holds some terror for me, but the stuff that makes my heart pound is the idea that real monsters might be lurking in the house next door to mine or right down the street.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Freaked Right Out

In honor of Halloween and Eileen Carr's romantic suspense Hold Back The Dark - the drunk writers are talking about things that go bump in the night and freak us right out. It's probably smart that I go first - because I am going to take a big stab in the dark and say that I am the biggest chicken. Here's my proof - Three Examples of Me Being Freaked Right Out:

1. I have read about thee pages of Eileen's book. I made it through the late night phone call - which never bodes well. I read it through the vague but freaky description of what had happened that required a late night phone call. However, when our heroine crosses the dark empty parking lot ans she's nervous and we're nervous - I put the book away. Tucked it right next to the pastel covers of her other books on my shelf and wondered "What happened to Eileen?"

Maybe if I didn't read at night...I don't know, but what I do know is I can't sleep with that stuff in my head. The premise alone of that book has stayed with me in spooky ways. Eileen - you did a great job - by page three I was freaked right out.

2. I've had three nightmares in my life that I remember with crystal clear detail. The first of which took place when I was six. That's right. Six. I remember because my room was beside my parents at that time and I dreamt that my brother put me in a bag full of burning hot sand. It was one of the few nights my parent's let me sleep the whole night in their bed because I wouldn't stop crying.

3. Silence of The Lambs. It was 1991 I was a sophomore in high school and it might have been the final nail in my freaked right out coffin. We watched it at a friends house - late at night. I had to ride my bike home - late at night. My bedroom at this point was on the first floor - and far away from my parents. There was a rain storm and I freaked right out. Sixteen years old and I spent the night on the floor beside my parents bed.

So - where are you on the spectrum? Me? or what I am going to guess might be Sinead and Stephanie? And of course Eileen, who came up with the premise of Hold Back The Dark? How did I fall in with you guys?

Friday, October 23, 2009

How to keep your sanity as an un-pubb’d author

There is an assumption we all have to make before I really start this blog post. First, that I am actually sane, and really, the jury’s out on that one.

We drunk writers are an opinionated lot, from movies, to books, to how to write, just ask us over a couple of beers, or ciders, and I talk a good game but the one and only thing I truly know a lot about it being unpublished.
Hell, I’ve been there for seven years now, through at least five books. So consider me an expert.

1) Writing is subjective. Some people may love your work, some may hate it and try as much as possible (which is almost impossible) to not take rejection personally.

2) Keep submitting. The more we do this, the more likely we are to actually be published. Even though rejections suck… I could wallpaper my bedroom if I’d kept all my rejections. But I really don’t read to re-read those suckers, just to experience the pain all over again, so I throw them out.

3) Everyone’s route to publication is different. Understand why you choose your route and respect everyone else’s.

4) Writing is subjective, but 99.9% of us need regular critiques of our work to really understand our weaknesses and strengths and if you can’t accept a reasoned and constructive critique, you have no place in this business and you might as well just be writing for yourself.

5) Have a life outside of writing. Seriously, I should have put this as number one, because we all need something to take our minds off why publishers aren’t buying our books. In that, I should also add, where possible, have a day job, because even after selling, almost no one makes enough money to live off for several years. It takes the pressure off, and makes the writing more fun.

6) Have a group of writers to drink with, to share the pain and hell, who else would want to examine every plot point in the Hunger Games for a couple of hours. We need our writer friends to help ease the pain of rejection, and convince us our writing is worthy.

7) Figure out what you love to write and really revel in it. Because it might be the last time you write completely for yourself. Because once you’re published, you actually have to think about what your editor and readers want. Plus, writing what you really love helps you discover your voice and what is unique about your writing.

8) Don’t ignore the market, but don’t obsess about it either. As someone who once compulsively researched what had sold and when and in what genre, I know that it doesn’t hugely matter, and it played with my head whenever I started a book. I’m always aware of the market, but still writing the books I want to write.

9) Love writing and storytelling, because, seriously, no one should be doing this for the money.

There you go, everything I’ve figured out by being un published. Did I miss anything?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't yank my chain...

This past week we’ve been discussing TV shows we’re getting ready to break up with. One show that was mentioned a lot was House. Great character, great actor, great premise. However, after so many seasons it seems there is nowhere left to go with him. Then last season they emphasized the long and ongoing chemistry between House and Cutty. There was a kiss. There was a “faux” sex scene. There was an implied understanding that House was ready to acknowledge his feelings ask her out. I got sucked in. Naturally. And I watched every episode with anticipation.

Then in the premier for this new season he meets a visitor/stranger at the Mental Health hospital he’s checked into and has sex with her in a closet. Hookay – not what I was looking for.

There were no thoughts of Cutty, no mention of his past feelings, nothing. When I saw that I thought… I’m done with this show. Then in last week’s episode (because breaking up is hard to do) once again an emphasis is placed on the chemistry/non-relationship between House and Cutty and the will they/won’t they tension begins again.

Now I’m pissed. Now the writers are yanking my chain. I’ve been down this road a number of times and I get why TV writers think they have to do this. The theory being if you get the couple together the tension dissipates and the show falls apart. (In my opinion do a better job of writing and coming up with better ideas how to handle the relationship and the show WON’T fall apart.)

But instead the solution is to yank my chain.

And I hate it. And I realized I’ve read books that do the same thing. Books that bothered me but I couldn’t understand why.

Couple A wants to be together, but he has commitment issues. So she fights the attraction but fails. But his issues are still there, and eventually they push her away. Then he wins her back, (because he’s that good.)…. only she realizes the issues are still there and she leaves again.

No. No. No. This is chain yankage. I find authors will do this at the end of the book when they are trying to create that will they/won’t they moment and it drives me NUTS. If the hero or heroine was willing to overcome an obstacle the first time to be a couple, using that same obstacle again at the end of book to drive a makeshift wedge between them in lame attempt to ratchet up the sexual tension is just lazy story telling.

I don’t have problems with new obstacles. I don’t have problems with obstacles left unresolved. But I have a huge problem with taking the reader (or watcher) up and down and up and down on the roller coaster ride for no other reason than to make us queasy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Agent Hunting -- A different view

Recent angsty questions on some of my writers' loops got me thinking about how timid writers can be when they're agent hunting.

Yes, while on the hunt, often it feels like agents have all the power. Even once you've got an agent, it can take a while before that power imbalance starts to stabilize (depending on how your respective careers are going). But one thing writers often seem to forget is who works for whom.

To remind us, I thought it might be interesting to boil the agent hunt process down to the business basics.

First, at the risk of going all Econ 101 on you, the reason the power feels out of balance is a matter of supply and demand. That is, there are more aspiring writers and manuscripts, than there are qualified agents. Ergo, agents are a scarce commodity, and even if they're looking for new work, many can afford to be picky when choosing new clients. The more successful they are, the pickier they can afford to be.

But the scarceness of the supply, doesn't change the substance of what's going on when a writer is agent hunting. It doesn't change the fact that the writer is the potential employer and the agent the potential employee, essentially making the agents job applicants.

(Okay, the writer/agent relationship isn't exactly like an employer/employee relationship... but come on, go with me...)

Let's say you're a writer with a manuscript in need of a publishing contract, (and it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a manuscript in possession of good words, must be in want of a publishing contract), and let's say you're not currently represented by an agent. If you're in this position, you've got a job that needs to be done--the job of shopping your work and landing a contract. Some writers will chose to fill the agent position themselves, instead of hiring from outside the firm, so to speak, but savvy writers will have noted that the chances of landing a great publishing contract goes up if they hire an expert, a sales specialist, to handle the part of the transaction.

So, let's say you've decided to find an agent. To attract qualified applicants for this position, you need to advertise. But because you're picky, and smart, and don't want to waste your time interviewing just anyone, you don't put the ad up on Craig's List, you target your want ad directly to those people you hope will apply for the job.

These specialized want ads are called "query letters". Agents currently looking for more work, who were lucky enough to receive one of your ads, and who think the job sounds like one for which they might be qualified, will respond, effectively applying for the position.

But before the applicants can be seriously considered for the job, each must pass a test administered by the potential employer. To pass this test the agent-applicants must demonstrate they understand and love the employer's product and have a plan to find an editor who will feel the same way.

This employment suitability test is administered via something called a "submission", and typically the potential employer lets the applicants choose whether to complete this submission test in a one-stage or two-stage process. For example, less confident applicants (or applicants whose offices are particularly cluttered) might chose to start with a sample of their potential employer's product, often called a "partial", while others may decide to take the entire test at once by requesting to review a "full". Some applicants are so eager, and/or competitive, they ask the potential employer to take all the other applicants out of consideration for a set period of time. This is commonly referred to as an "exclusive", and employers may choose to accept or reject an applicant's exclusivity request.

Agents who pass the submission test are granted the privilege of moving on to the final interview stage, often conducted over the phone, but sadly, many agents fail the submission test.

Why the high failure rate? Can we assume the quality of the agent applicant pool is low? No. It's more complicated than that.

Selling works of fiction is a passionate process, passion's a tricky thing, and sadly some applicants fail to find the requisite level of passion for all the products they apply to represent. Some discover they don't share the same taste as the potential employer, and didn't enjoy the product as much as they'd hoped. Some reach the conclusion that the quality or uniqueness of the product is such that they fear their sales skills will prove inadequate to place it. Still others might fall in love with the product, but don't believe they have the specific abilities and/or contacts with the right editors to do the product justice.

Yes, there are many reasons why agents fail the submission test, but there's no reason for agents to feel ashamed about this, or take it personally. Sometimes the fit simply isn't right. ;-)

Agents who fail the submission test send a letter to the potential employer to announce their withdrawal from consideration for the position. Occasionally, if the agent feels particularly demoralized, he or she might fail to withdraw their application in writing. In these cases, the dejected agent sends out passive-aggressive signals, such as breaking off all communications and/or not reporting their test results for an extended period of time, assuming the potential employer will deduce the agent's failure to pass the submission test.

But most agents will send a written notice of their submission test failure, and these letters are often referred to as "rejection letters". This term is highly misleading slang as they rarely, if ever, contain the word rejection. The letters are simply the agents' notification that they no longer believe they'll be able to adequately perform the job they'd applied for.

If a large number of applicants fail the testing portion of the interview process, or if few potential applicants respond to the initial want ad, it can be frustrating and disappointing for the potential employer. At this point, the employer will have to round up another group of potential applicants, perhaps by using a revised version of the initial want ad, or by widening the pool of applicants to consider.

If a writer has already widened his or her agent search net to include every applicant who shows potential, but has not yet found anyone qualified to hire, the writer has at least three choices. He or she might choose to let some time pass and then try to identify more applicants at a later date. Or, the writer might choose to consider the reasons for feeling unqualified that were offered by the past applicants', and then revise their product to better suit the tastes and skill levels of the available pool of applicants. Or, the writer might choose to return to the research and development stage and create an entirely new product. Then, with a new product in hand, they may return to the want ad stage. Often agents who felt unqualified to represent one particular product may feel better qualified to represent another product produced by that same potential employer -- perhaps using refined production techniques, or a with more inventive overall design concept. Statistical evidence has proven this last option has the highest probability of success.*

Bottom line: no reason to be angsty. As clearly demonstrated by this analogy, we writers are in charge. ;-)

Okay, I'm not that deluded, but maybe if writers thought of it more this way -- trying to find the right person for the job -- it might relieve some of the angst?

Who am I kidding? We're an angsty lot.

* You want a reference for the statistical study? Sorry. Umm... It's confidential. Yeah, confidential.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fever Dreams

I spent the last week in bed. Well, a good deal of it was on couch, but mainly it was in bed. My head was too hurty to read. Or maybe I just didn't have the right book to read. Too bad I found that Suzanne Brockmann at the library yesterday instead of the week before.

Anyway, I watched a LOT of TV. I mean, a lot. I love me my TV anyway. I love stories and there are always stories on TV. Good stories. Bad stories. Stupid stories. Funny stories. I'd turn on the television set and float along on the ebb and flow of turning points and character development and banter. At one point, I think I watched three NCIS reruns in a row, but I only know that because of how much time passed. For all I knew and could make sense of at the time, it could have been one episode. Somewhere in there, the good guys caught the bad guys and I was soothed.

So this post is in praise of story. I love it. I love the rhythm of it. I love thinking about it. I love playing with it. I love creating it.

Yay, story!

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Beef with Zany

I'm done with zany. I'm done with zany characters and their unrealistic mad-cap scrapes. I am done with zany plots and what characters are required to be to make it all work. Zany is starting to involve all the worst of the romance cliches - heroines too stupid to live, heroes so blind to reality it's amazing they can get around in the world.

I love romantic comedy. I love it more than most things, but I've always thought for romantic comedy to really work, to lift itself out of the realm of disposable and zany - it has to be anchored in heartbreak. Love Actually, SEP, About a Boy, the best of chick lit (and I do mean Do Me Do My Roots, Good Grief, all those fabulous Anna Maxted books, Love Walked In) - the comedy is just a part of the heartbreak.

And I have to say I'm angry about this - really really angry. Because one of the best shows and best male characters on TV - what's-his-face Moody on Californication has been ruined with zany. Ruined. That first season all his hijinks were simply an antidote to the heartbreak. Now they are hijinks for hijinks sake.

Sinead asked about when a series is over and Californication needs to call it quits before it gets any worse.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How long can a series work?

Am about to give up on Dexter and House, both series I feel are increasingly repetitive, which is a real shame given how electrifying the first seasons of both shows were.

The problem being, how to you keep telling new and different stories about a character, without changing the essentials of what made that character fascinating to begin with. Does it put a limit on how long such a series should be continued?

I was addicted to the Anita Blake series until book eleven. To give credit to the author, she did change the character pretty in major ways, just not in ways I believed, or found interesting.
Same with the Stephanie Plum series.

Even series with different characters, but the same world can get repetitive. The world needs to evolve, the mysteries deepened, to keep everything interesting book after book. JR Ward has done a really good job of this, evolving her world with each book.

But for those of us writing a series, at what point do we say enough? Do we plan the end book before we write the first book, or evolve it as we write? I guess that depends on what kind of writers we are? And whether a publisher wants the series to continue.
It would take a stronger writer than me to turn down a contract because I believed the series should end..

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When do you give up on a favorite?

Recently I have run into several auto-buy authors where I have been hugely disappointed by their latest release. Part of this disappointment has to do with the fact that my expectations are obviously high. Auto-buy authors are my favorite authors.

I have one author who I have read over 30 books and finally after one was so bad I just had to ask myself… why do I keep buying her? I didn’t buy her next release. Not even in paperback. What if I'm missing out on her next book though which is amazing?

I have another author who I have read 2 books prior which I loved, but the third was so bad for me I couldn’t finish it. Does she deserve one more chance based on the first two efforts?

I have another author who I have been reading for 20 years. And I just can’t let her go for sentimental reasons even though there is nothing new for me in her stories.

So I thought when do you – as a reader - call it? When do you say the end to this series, this author? Or should you ever if the entertainment they provide is at least better than what might be out there.

I gave up on Lost. But as bad as the True Blood finale was, I’m going back for more. I gave up on Stephanie Plum around book 10. But I’m still buying Eve and Roarke.

I can’t say what it is. Maybe quality, maybe comfort, maybe habit. Or maybe somebody has to turn me off so much that I just can’t go back again.

What about you? When do you know when to say when?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This F*ing Business

I've had a tough few years in this business. Lots of disappointments, lots of questions and reasons to question my decisions, just as I was starting to feel confident. Just as I felt like I was getting a handle on my craft.

But the thing is, that's so not unusual in this business. It lifts you up and then smacks you down. The very lucky few get enough ups to make up for the smack-downs, but even authors who are relatively successful tend to get more smacks than lifts, even though they don't advertise them as much as we yet-to-sell-a-novel writers do.

All that said, we continue to write and pursue publication.


Masochists, perhaps?

I don't think so.

We do it because we are writers. Because we love creating. Because we love making shit up. Because we love telling stories. Because we love the writing part of the process.

Funny thing is, probably 80% of the posts on this blog are about how tough the writing part is, about it being hard, hard work, about how much we hate it sometimes, about how difficult it is to keep going.

And yet we do. (Drinking helps.)

Everyone reading this who's writing, whether you're completing your first novel, or struggling through your twentieth... Stand up and take a bow. Now. Seriously. And then have a few drinks. You deserve it.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This little piggy . . .

. . . apparently has the swine flu. They're not actually testing anyone anymore, so maybe it's some other flu, but anyway you slice it sucks and I can't think straight. I can't even come up with some clever connection between high fevers and creativity.

Sorry, guys! How about you talk amongst yourselves?

Friday, October 09, 2009

What I need to sacrifice

We’ve talked about what we need to make us better writers, or perhaps just, happier writers. And there is a lot. I added my list to Stephanie’s and the crucial elements are great entertainment, be it TV, movies, or books, coffee, wine, critique groups and drunk writer talk.

But I do a lot that I now find, out of necessity, I have to give up. And probably should have a while ago.

1) Any website that is not drunk writer talk. That means, Entertainment weekly, which I love and read twice a day. It’s gone. I don’t have time for it. Gossip websites, even, and this kills me, other writing blogs. Although if I do have an extra two minutes in a day, those writer blogs are where I’ll go, simply because I love the community of writers and sharing our pain and passion.

2) Reading mediocre books just to see what’s selling. I know I should be educated in our genre, but with the amount of free time I have these days and the wonderful books out there, I have to be picky.

3) Any TV that is not Mad Men, the Wire, Glee, Generation Kill, True blood, or as good as the aforementioned. Although right now, I’m PVR’ing everything. Because at 2am when baby is up and so am I, even America’s next top model works better than anything else on. But once the night feedings end, only quality TV for me.

4) Facebook – even though I’m nothing but a lurker, it’s a distraction I don’t need right now.

5) Any form of computer game, which includes spider solitaire. To be honest, I’d given this up a while ago, but for a while, I couldn’t sit down to write without completing at least one game.

There’s probably more distractions, but these are all that come to mind right now. It’s a good start though. And hopefully, the start towards getting rid of some bad habits that I’ve accumulated over the past few years.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What a writer needs...

This comes from a lot of the posts and comments made this week which all churned in my head until I came up with a list. As a writer what do we need to get the work done? What do we need to feel accomplishment for our work? What do we need to get inspired?

What do we need to keep doing this thing that we all agree is a really hard.

This is my list in no particular order.

1. My work day to start at 9:30am instead of 8:30am - because I can’t write after work, (too drained) and I can’t wake up at 5:00am to get in both a workout and an hour of writing time (too sleepy).
2. Quality Television – because how am I going to get inspired to write about Vikings if guys like Eric from True Blood are missing from my world? (*DWT supporters no matter what - do NOT let me try to write that story! If I mention anything about it please tell me to step away from the computer.)
3. Wine – because I need something to help me wind down from the day and sleep through the night. (Although this could be why I can’t get up at 5:00am. Damn it’s a vicious cycle.)
4. Cheese Fries from Outback – (only ½ of a ½ order) because there are times when I need to be bad… so I can get into the heads of my villains.
5. Great ideas – not Viking historicals.
6. Writer friends – who get why I’m doing this in the first place.
7. Great writers – whose books I can read to inspire me to greater heights.
8. Bad Bestselling Books – so I can remind myself that if “that” book can hit a bestseller list I might be able to one day.
9. Rejections – because I need to be humbled so I will work harder to get better.
10. And someday… A writer retreat beach house that will be a concrete representation of all the blood, sweat and tears I put into this darn thing…

That’s my list. What’s yours?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Ask any writer and they'll likely be able to tell you what they've sacrificed to be one, but this leads some writers to fall into a martyr mentality. And in my case, instead of leading to martyr mentality, it leads to a lot of guilt.

Part of my guilt comes from the fact that I write full time. Theoretically. That is, right now, I don't have another job demanding my time. (Although I do need to get one...) Many of my writer friends with jobs and kids or both are jealous of this, thinking, I'm sure: if only I had all the time Maureen had, I'd write five books a year. And this makes me feel lazy and guilty and like a failure at times.

But before I get all maudlin on you, know that I am able, almost always, to shrug those feelings off. Because I know that no matter how many hours a writer has available, sitting down, concentrating, keeping focused to produce words and sentences and pages is hard, hard work. In fact, at times I find the busier I am with other things, the easier it is to concentrate on the writing. That is, if I only have 2 hours, I'll use those 2 hours, whereas when an entire day stretches out in front of me, I procrastinate and waste time and slack. (Yes, Sinead, I know. I need to get me a job.)

I've taken a lot of flak from a family member (who thinks she understands writing, because she was a literature major in University) for referring to what I do (or endeavor to do) each day as "work". And yet nearly every successful writer I've heard or read on the topic says one of the keys to their success is to consider it work -- to show up every day, even when they don't feel like it, and to have some sort of feeling of responsibility to the "work".

I recently listened to a talk from a past RWA session, and I wish I could remember who was speaking right now... or who they'd been talking to... but let's just say Successful Romance Writer met Successful Literary Writer at a conference or cocktail party, or something.

SRW self-deprecatingly said to SLW, "I don't write anything as high brow as you." (SLW may have in fact been a well-respected non-fiction writer, or reporter. I missed the details. I was listening in my car and couldn't rewind.)

But the point is that SLW responded, "No matter what we're writing, all writers are just blue collar workers in the end, getting words down on the page."

I'm not sure I 100% agree with the blue collar worker analogy, but I get and appreciated what the man said to SRW. He acknowledged that it takes a strong work ethic to be a writer, and that beyond the creative part, beyond the intellectual part, beyond the fun part, beyond the stuff that makes us feel smart or clever or like god ;-) ... it comes down to work in the end. Writers can't afford to wait for inspiration to strike, they need to work to make it strike.

I read somewhere that Sommerset Maughn was once quoted as saying he only wrote when inspiration struck -- it just so happened that inspiration struck him every morning at 5:00 am when he sat down at his typewriter. And I'm coming to believe that's the key. Writing every day (or at least on a schedule, as if it's a job.)

So that's what I've been trying. And so far, I haven't been entirely successful. In fact, this very moment is my scheduled "work on my novel" time and I'm, um, not doing that, because I watched TV last night instead of writing this post. But I'm working toward an everyday at the same time schedule. So many things in life take practice to become habits and I'm refusing to beat myself up right now for not instantly falling into a new pattern of behavior. Instead, I'll endeavor to do better tomorrow.

And give up TV? Get serious.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ridin' off the rails

We've been talking a lot about process here. One of the things that's nice about having written a few books is that one starts to get a handle on what works and what doesn't. What I wish right now is that it also kept me from making the same mistake more than once.

I am a few pages into a new work in progress (yes, the one I've been whining about) and realized that I am making the exact same mistake I made with the original draft of my last romantic suspense. I have a motive for my heroine. I have a motive for my hero. They both need to find the killer for their own reasons and they're both investigating. The problem is, they're doing it off on their own.

Oh, sure, eventually they'll be crossing paths and getting all entangled, but right now, not so much. This is the exact same thing I did last time. When my editor read that first draft, she asked if maybe we could get the hero and heroine on the same page more than once or twice in the first hundred pages? It seemed like a pretty reasonable request considering that this is a ROMANCE NOVEL!!!! There was a lot of painful bouncing around of scenes and changing things about to get there.

So here I am doing it again. He shows up to tell her that they found her brother's body and then off he goes to investigate to bring the bad guy to justice. Off she goes to investigate to heal the wounds of the past. But how am I supposed to create sexual tension between them when they're not together? I'm only 40 pages or so in, so I can step back a little earlier this time, but I'd so like to learn from my mistakes a little faster.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Sherrilyn Kenyon Phenomenon

Sherrilyn Kenyon was the keynote speaker at the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference this weekend. She also did a Q&A with the PAN authors, board members and volunteers. I've been to conferences where Sherrilyn was speaking or signing - but never heard her speak.

I feel enlightened - and I'm not being sarcastic or snarky. I am genuinely amazed by this woman. Say what you want about her books - fan, not fan, crazy stalker fan - this woman is a phenomenon. And genuine. And funny. And hard-working. I mean seriously hard working. Ten books out next year...that would be ten. And how many of them do you want to guess will be best sellers?

At the Q&A she discussed her writing schedule - which seems to be she writes twenty hours a day -with some breaks for kids and food and video games. She sleeps about four hours a night. Her reward for finishing a book - starting the next one. And, honestly, I don't think she was being funny or cute. Or even lying.

There's no question that Sherrilyn's success is that perfect storm of timing, right book at the right time (twice) and an absolutely astonishing amount of determination and persistence. Honestly - her backstory includes homelessness and welfare and, as she said "the kind of poverty people in this country don't think exists" and this AFTER she sold six books and hit a bestseller list. If you get a chance to hear her speak - go, because her story is really amazing.

But I think the phenom part of her success comes down to serious world-building. And I mean serious. She talked about how she comes up with names for characters and it's all based in mythology and dead languages. Her books lap and overlap and swing back around in this world of hers. And she let's the readers live in it, between the covers and along the series. But I have a pretty good feeling - she lives in this world too. She knows it, because twenty hours a day - she's there.

I have kind of a weird reaction to that - I'm sort of uncomfortable with it for some reason. But I do believe - therein lies the difference. She's committed on a whole different plane than me.

There's also been some controversy about how she represents the genre and to be honest, I've agreed with the people who don't think she does us any favors. But this is what I've realized - she's not representing the genre. She doesn't want to. She's representing herself, her world and her fans. She accessible. Nerdy and willing to talk for hours to a line up of HUNDREDS of people waiting to sign her books. She might care about the genre - but she's to damn busy creating a world and writing books and making a gazillion dollars to try and represent it. Go see her talk - you won't regret it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

My process is a work in process

I wish I had a tried and true process, and I’ve experimented with a bunch. I’ve tried writing a rough draft quickly on a brief outline, and discovered that the rough draft had to be totally scrapped.

I then tried writing a detailed outline, scene by scene, with everything mapped out, and then when I went to write the book, discovered my outline was seriously flawed and I basically had to start from scratch.

I then tried a basic outline, with the beginning and ending mapped out, and as I wrote the book, I evaluated how the story worked and tweaked it as I went, and still had to re-write the first third.

So basically, I’ve discovered, no matter what I do, at least a third, to a half of the book will need almost a complete re-write no matter what I do.

So I can safely say my process is to re-write, no matter how shiny the story idea, no matter how clearly the beginning and ending come to me. If I’m lucky it’s just one re-write. With the current book, it will end up being three, possibly four by the time I’ll be done.

All with the help of my endlessly patient critique partners. Because without them I might be lazy and skip the final re-write.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Okay so I think I ticked some people off (cough Eileen cough) by admitting what my process is. For the record the books fall from the sky in snippets and then BAM - I need to write a colonial setting historical about a mute witch. Or a book about a professional woman golfer. Or a Viking book…

Yeah me! I’m so lucky. (This is my sarcastic I’m-sure-my-agent-already-thinks-I’m-nuts voice.)

This is really the first time I’ve admitted to a process. I never really thought I was successful enough to have an official one. A process was for “those” writers who gave “Chat Withs” and workshops at conferences. You know, the crowded ones.

I’m the writer who goes to the “Chat Withs” and workshops.

I know Suzanne Brockman’s process: divide the deadline by the number of pages and write that each day or else you die.

I know Nora’s process: three drafts. First draft story, second draft development of story and character, third draft language. Wash, Rinse, Repeat… Bestseller.

I know Jenny Cruise’s process – which really explained to me why I was the anomaly who didn’t always love her stuff. She only writes the good parts. She writes all the good parts and then puts them together and that’s the book. For me, she can be all over the place and I have a hard time following her story. This would be the result of a book with nothing but good parts.

I now know Eileen’s process and Maureen’s process and I think you are both insane. I would have killed myself a long time ago if I didn’t know how the story ended before I started it. Seriously – I am in awe of both of you and the way your minds must work.

Sinead and Molly and all the rest of the DWT followers – it is now time for you to confess. Some of you have given hints… but I want the dirty details. What is your process?

Because the one thing I learned with all the Chat Withs and workshops and blogs is that they’re all right. It took years before I could accept that. Every writer at every workshop tells you – your process is your process.

Linda Howard can write for forty-eight hours straight. Jessica Anderson percolates ideas until finally the steam valve goes off and it’s time for her to write. (I collect these stories like memorabilia.) Stephen King starts with a thread of an idea and simply follows it. Insanity!

But now I believe it. Process is like voice. Figure it out. Embrace it. Because I’m here to tell you it doesn’t change, it’s never easy and there is no escaping it.
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