Saturday, December 27, 2008

she might be bad, but you're stupid

I'm going to do something I don't usually do and name names. You see, I was reading a review site the other day, and in the message boards I came across a post by someone who is not a fan of a particular author.

She doesn't like Lori Foster. She said, and I paraphrase, "Lori Foster is at best mediocre and at worst completely unreadable."

I took offense because I happen to like Lori Foster. I frickin' love Lori Foster. I am, admittedly, quite jealous of her success. But it's not about that. Lori Foster writes really good men. Her men never fall into the category of whiners, or chicks with dicks, in fact, they are quite on the opposite spectrum and testosterone-laden enough to be paranormal heroes. She has 3 sons and a husband (according to her bio) - and being surrounded by men like that gives her writing an authenticity that shines through in her characterization. Her women... well, that's a different story. You don't read LF to see yourself in the heroine, you read her to hope that one day you'll be loved that way by a hero.

Regardless, this post isn't actually about Lori Foster, it's about phrasing a statement in such a way that you don't come off sounding like a tool.

If the message-board-chick had said something like, "LF has never done it for me, but check out Author X," I wouldn't even have blinked. Instead, the way she voiced her opinion about Ms. Foster's work wound up insulting not just LF, but anyone who happens to like LF. Because the subtext is, if you enjoy a book written by LF then you like 'at best' mediocre writing and 'at worst' completely unreadable dreck, and what kind of loser likes dreck?

We see it a lot in the world today. People saying "X is shite," as opposed to, "I don't like X." Even worse, there's quite a bit of, "Why on earth would anybody ever enjoy X? Who would enjoy something like that?"

I'll tell ya who, me.

Just finished: Fearless Fourteen
Just finished: A Pregnancy Promise
Just finished: Animal Urges
Currently reading: Sarah's Seduction
Currently reading: Falling For the Rebel Heir
Currently reading: Santa Baby

A step away from writing.

This is alpha kitty. His name is Bobo and I've had him since 1995. Five days ago I took him to the vet because he had slowed down a lot and his breathing was congested. They told me he's in kidney failure and dying.

I was more than a bit surprised. He's had arthritis for a few years, and it's been cold, so I thought that was what was slowing him down. Not so much. If I hadn't know about the arthritis I would have acted sooner, but I just assumed that with his advancing age it was getting that much worse.

I've been watching him a lot more closely since he came home. I was barely watching him at all before. We've co-existed for so long that I just kind of expected him to take care of himself like he has been all these years. I provide food, water, and feet for him to warm. He provides warm feet, a superior attitude and a great deal of undeserved caring. Now I watch him all the time and he doesn't take advantage of the food at all, he drinks a pathetically minuscule amount of water and my feet stay cold because he doesn't want to cuddle anymore.

I give him a daily IV so he stays hydrated. I give him an antacid to help with the ulcers the vet has told me develop with this illness. None of it has helped. He stays in the same spot almost all day. He doesn't talk to me any more. He pees on the mat instead of the box. He drinks water by the thimbleful, he ignores food and he's skin and bones. He's breaking my heart.

I will have to let him go soon.
I've only had him for 13 years and 10 months.
I am not ready yet.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who do 'they' think they are??

So I read a blog the other day, and it hasn't left me yet. In fact, it just keeps irritating me more. An author was talking about other authors choosing cutsie pen names. Saying that she doesn't take their work seriously, because someone who picks a less than respectable moniker - by her standards - isn't someone who could produce good work. And even if they did produce good work, she wouldn't read it because of their pen name.

It irritates the heck out of me. Honest to goodness. It smacks of superiority and completely unnecessary us vs themness.

Who the heck is this woman to say that someone else's name is 'less than'? Who is she to call out someone else's creative choices? She has no idea how or why people came up with these names. From her post, I would believe that she doesn't even pick up the books to look at the copyright and determine if it's the author's given name or not.

Have you HEARD of some of the given names out there? Seriously. A little boy born in 2005 named "Adolf Hitler," a little girl in New Zealand named "Talula Does The Hula In Hawaii." I mean seriously people. And someone has the nerve to call out an author for going with an eye-catching name in such a tough business?

These are authors who have gone through the same trials as she did. They sat down in front of their computers and sweated out a story, they spent weeks creating a query letter, they faced rejection after rejection, they found an agent and then got to face more rejections from a publishing houses, they went through the laborious editing process at each stage of that... and this woman is pointing and laughing at their names? They deserve her respect. Who does she think she is?

I'm just kind of disgusted. It is really the epitome of judging by superficial standards. I can't help but imagine all sorts of character flaws about the woman who posted this. Flaws I won't post here because I'm sure she's not really as awful as I imagine her to be.

Ugh. I really can't find the words to express how bad a taste she left in my mouth. I've been spitting for days.

Currently reading: Love At First Bite (the first two stories only)
Just finished: Unleashed
Just finished: Lean Mean Thirteen
Just finished: The Switch
Just finished: Lover Eternal

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why, why, why?

Why didn't I finish my book today?
I woke up today with every intention of going out to write. And then, once again, I convinced myself that I could stay at home and get the same amount of work done.
I took a shower. I got dressed - I even wore a bra! and I had a cup of coffee. I even, eventually, sat down to write.

And what did I do instead? I watched TV. It was good TV, but good TV doesn't get a book finished. Then, when the scripted shows were finished, I watched the late night talk shows. And then, when those were finished I surfed. I've been surfing for an hour and a half. It is almost 2am.

Now I'm blogging. Do you see a pattern here?
There is a tiny problem though. I thought I finished the book last night.

That is, to say, I wrote the last scene of the book from my heroine's perspective. She had learned what she needed to learn (the right guy will Be There for you), she had said what she needed to say, she'd experienced true love and wasn't going to go back. She was looking at the world with new eyes, and though things weren't perfect, she knew that with her man by her side it would all be all right.

That was it. But it didn't feel finished. I didn't feel like I was satisfied with the ending. But it's not really about me, is it? It's about my H&H. So I went to bed with a vaguely uncomfortable feeling. Before I slept though, I realized the problem. My hero wanted his say as well. He wanted a chance to crow like a peacock at the wonderful love that he'd found, he wanted a chance to stand back and bask in the glow of her love. So, fine.

I sat down tonight and put pen to paper and waited for him to speak. Lil bastard clammed right up on me. I got 75 words out of him. Like it or not, he will give me another 25 words before I let go of the MS for the night. Maybe if I sweet talk him he'll give me another 250 or so....

So. Once again, it's my fault. I should have left the house and the ebil TV and even ebiller Internet behind. I need to learn that I can only hear my characters when I turn off all the other characters around me - and turn up the music.

But I really wanted to finish tonight.

Currently reading: Night Game

Friday, December 12, 2008

serial writing

The book that I'm writing now is single title. At 400 pages or so, there's no doubt about it. But remember - my goal is to be published - so my next book is going to be a category romance. I WILL get my foot in that door.

Like many romance readers out there, I cut my teeth on the category romance. Starting with those old '70s Mills & Boon before I hit my teens and graduating into Harlequin Blaze of the new millennium right before grad school. When I went back to reading, it was all about the single title.

But let's be honest here, because this blog, if nothing else, is about my honest feelings regarding writing in this industry--the formulas that have served categories so well bore the avid reader. Interestingly though, I don't think Harlequin et al is especially interested in the avid reader. They are interested in delivering a good enough romance to the occasional reader who will come back for more, hoping to find that one story that gives them butterflies in their stomach... just like that other book did four months ago.

Keep delivering Good Enough and the occasional reader keeps coming back. I keep coming back, and I am the avid reader. But now I'm coming back for a reason. I'm trying to dissect these books, deconstruct the formulas so I can replicate them for myself, only 'harder, better, faster, stronger.' However, now that I'm reading so many of them, I find myself doing a lot more editorial reading and a lot less enjoyable reading, simply because category romances are less enjoyable in bulk.

Oddly, I don't find this with single title books. I can read them hand over fist and not get tired, so long as I move from author to author. But the voices in the various series are so watered down and so pushed into a mold, that it's getting harder and harder to find that fresh new author where you just want to glom their entire backlist because somehow, within the formula, they still manage to say the same damn thing in a whole new and intersting way.

In the past 3 weeks I've started two books in Silhouette's Romantic Suspense line that I simply couldn't stand to continue reading. The first one had a heroine's son kidnapped by the big, bad guy who thought he was the daddy. The heroine had been abused by the guy during her time with him, had run from him, was in hiding from him, and when her son was kidnapped, she went back to him. I don't like to say this, because I know that I will have to resort to some sort of weak plot twist myself eventually, but why didn't she CALL THE DAMN POLICE??? So what if her ex is powerful? Grow a pair and demand your rights. Ugh. I was so glad that was a library book and I hadn't spent money on it.

The other Romantic Suspense I started had a cast of characters of over ten people on the page before Chapter One. I am not a stupid woman. I am not so casual a reader that I can't keep a hero, heroine, and the important people in their lives separate for a mere two-hundred pages. But apparently this author is ... okay, let me take that back. I don't know if it's the author or the editors, because it's not the first time I've seen an introductory cast of characters. So let me say it this way instead - if the writer cannot intoduce the character in such a way that we know who they are, why they matter and what relevance they have to the story, then maybe the work needs to be attended to a bit longer before it goes to publication. I lasted fifteen pages. (skimming ahead, they were still on the same night the book started on by page 145 - it was a good choice to bail)

Shouldn't Romatic Suspense hook you from page one? I (try to) read them because I'm not the best plotter, I need to see how successful authors create a tight plot, drop their clues, flash their red herrings. But it's also a romance, I want to care about the chracters, I want to be rooting for their HEA. In the two books mentioned above, I could not possibly have cared less whether those two characters found love in each other. That's a shame. I wonder if maybe suspense just doesn't belong in category format?

I've been reading a number of Silhouette Desire books as well. God I used to love them. They've changed. Ahem. I'm trying to see if the Blaze line will work for my writing style. If not, I have a few Special Editions in my TBR and a box of books purchased second hand that contain Presents and Americans as well. Somewhere in there will be a line that I can win over.

Currently reading: All or Nothing
Currently reading: Forbidden Pleasure

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oy & Vey

There comes a time in the life of every creative person where they look at the product they have created and are 100% sure it is utter crap and they are wasting their lives.

I know you're not surprised to learn that I had that moment. In fact, as the book draws to a close, I am besieged by more and more moments like that. Will my ending be satisfying? Will I have drawn together all the necessary threads that I had so much fun casting into the ether? Can I even draw together those threads successfully? Will my readers believe it?

I'm a pantser. I didn't know I was a pantser until I went to my first RWA meeting, but I knew I wasn't a plotter. I am the sort that sits down with pen and paper (yes, really) and allows my characters to tell me what they want to do and how they plan to get there. Some things are as much a surprise to me as I hope they will be to my readers.

Through the course of writing this book I have discovered that I cannot tell my characters what to do, because then they stop talking to me and nothing gets written. It's actually a great way to write. Very fun, very engaging and you get to know your characters very well. What isn't great though is that at the end of the book, where a smart plotter would know exactly where to go and how they've gotten there, a pantser is standing in the middle of a roundabout watching the cars whizz by in all directions and hoping the one she jumps on will take her to the right exit.

You know what else isn't fun? When the pantser realizes that some of the elements she'd included early on need to be changed. Timing needs to be lengthened, the big reveal needs to be a smaller reveal, because a bigger reveal is waiting just around the pike. That accident where everyone was going to be fine? Not so much - now peeps lives are in jeopardy.

I was trying to explain it to a friend of mine, and I'm not sure she got it, but I'm going to try again here. It's like when you're at work, and you've completed a project, your supervisor is satisfied with your work, and the client is too - but here's the thing - that route you took to get from A to B? We need you to take a different one. No, no, no, we're happy with where you started at A, and we're thrilled with where you ended at B, but that part in the middle where you zigged, we're going to need you to go back and zag. And yes, we realize that one zag will require you to change the direction of all the rest of your moves in the middle, but it's really quite essential. Thanks.

I knew editing would be an essential part of the writing process, I was even looking forward to it. But I was kind of hoping it would wait until the book was finished. Now, though, because of the 100% Pure Crap conviction I have slapped on myself, the desire to edit and fix all my mistakes is getting in the way of my writing.

They say that every book is written at least twice. I was hoping to write this one once first.

Currently reading: Fortune's Vengeful Groom
Just finished reading: Wolf Tales

Just finished reading: Immortal in Death

Sunday, December 7, 2008

everyone wants something

Just a short one today.
I read an agent's blog about the stupidity of an author who was trying to sneak past her slush. The agent was flabbergasted that anyone who put their professionalism on the line to do something so patently dishonest. I was simply surprised that she was surprised. It can't be the first time someone's faked a request in order to get their work read.

But once again--the subtext. See, there were a bunch of replies, and hidden in them was something unsaid. It took me a while to figure it out. There was a lot of omg and loling, but it didn't strike the right cord. There was some highbrow 'ugh, they are so stupid', but that wasn't it either. And then, there it was. All the replies had an ass-kissing edge.

The authors who read her blog know what it's like to be desperate. They admire the dude's chutzpah. They wonder how many times it's worked in the past with an agent that wasn't paying attention, but they dare not say so, because that would paint them with the ugly brush too. So instead they jump on the agent's bandwagon and kiss her lovely hiney and tell her how awful it is to have to put up with such bad behaviour from such an idiotic peon. Thereby proving that they are the worthy authors who would never be so stupid and deserve a chance to be read and see, *nudge nudge wink wink* we're on your side.

Ass kissing at its finest.

I must mention, I don't know any of the players in the blog I just mentioned above. It's not a blog I regularly follow, I just stumbled upon it, and got a feel for the thing. I have no way of knowing whether or not the agent's hiney is indeed lovely, and no way of knowing whether the authors who jumped in to kiss said hiney already have secure publishing contracts or not.

Currently reading: Scorned by the Boss
(p.s. so much for short)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

the ugly trooth

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

The above has nothing to do with the below, except for the reminder that we're all human beings sharing the same planet.

I know that as a new black author, I sure as heck am not going to be writing black characters. Why? Because I want to get paid. I want my books to sell, not sit on the shelf looking "ethnic" while middle-america picks up the book next to mine on the shelf. I live in fear of the black couple clinch on my cover, because it seems to guarantee low sales.

Now, this is now an Obama-nation, things could be different. But methinks it takes a while for The Industry to catch up. I am planning an interracial romance in the future- but that's after publication. In fact, if things work out in reality like I'm thinking of them in my head - it will be my 5th book.

There's always blog talk somewhere about the lack of color on the shelves of the Romance aisle. And there are always a lot of well-meaning people --both reviewer and commenter-- saying they would read black authors and would buy black authors, but as a reader I haven't seen a greatly increased presence of black covers on the shelves, and I certainly haven't seen an increase of black characters in the books I read.

It's always a treat for me to find a character of color as the heroine (or hero) of a book. Even better when the author treats the character like a 3-D person with hopes and dreams and flaws. Let me see 'em, warts and all. In the past, if you had a character of color in the book it was almost always the all-wise best friend. She was beautiful with enviable "coffee colored skin", had a fantastic relationship, always gave sage advice, was never frazzled and was basically an angel walking this earth. How many people do you know like that? No wonder black characters got a reputation as unrelatable.

Now, just as a numbers game, I would have to assume that most of these characters were written by white folks. White folks who, for too long, have been caught between a rock and a hard place. They want to show they're not racist by including characters that look more like the world they live in - but they don't want to offend any readers of color by making assumptions. So they just leach their character of anything interesting put a bright, shiny lacquer on the character and push them out the door.

There are a couple of authors who have managed to sidestep that trap - at least in the recent books of their's that I read. Feehan in both her Dark and her Game series (I haven't read the other ones), Foster with her UFC guys and Kenyon has included a few in the Dark-Hunter series. They write their characters of color like any other character. I would like to think that many other authors have done so as well, but they're not coming to mind right now, and as someone who would notice that, it makes me think that the message is slow in coming.

One of the blogs I was reading talked about how a heroine that doesn't reflect *you* takes you out of the fantasy inherent in romances. That is to say, white women have never been black, so how could they relate to the bizarre and unknowable world of the black woman? It's a cop out. After all, they relate to the princesses and duchesses of historicals, they relate to the barbarians and highlanders of Ye Olde Scottlande. They relate to the male lead they have never been and they understand the motivations of the evildoers and murderers they have never been either (okay, that's just an assumption, but you have to give me that one).

I get it. I get the cop out. And I understand it - you know why? Because I don't read historicals. I used to - when I was wee. I worked my way through some fabolous bodice rippers, but then I grew up, and I started to get a grasp on history. And I looked in the mirror. The history that these authors are writing about, that place in time, those people... they would have wiped their feet on me. I'm a black woman. I can't lose myself in that past. If I was transported back to those 'merry' times I would be whipped and told I was only fit to empty chamber pots. No, seriously. So I don't pick up historicals, but that's okay cuz they seem to sell well without my dollar anyway.

I give big, BIG points to Harlequin for having black folks out and proud on the covers of their series. No need to be scared dear reader, it's just a black man. Then I read one of the books and wanted to rip the author's head off for falling into the same leached-of-personality trap for her heroine. Worse, it was a black author. Worse than that, it was one of those publishing house sponsored series with multiple authors. Whoever thought of this concept should be shot. But wait, that's not what I'm talking about now. I'm talking about the world of romance looking more like the real world, on the outside at least.

That is all.

Currently reading: Talk Nerdy To Me

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What is it, really??

So I was talking with a friend tonight about books. She knows that I've been doing a lot of blog reading, and I mentioned to her that I see a lot of 'popular author' bashing on many sites. They go after authors with tongue in cheek, implying that if you don't think this author is low-brow and pandering to the LCD then, clearly, you are low-brow yourself and should just declare your love for the Billionaire Sheik Virgin's Secret Mistress's Bride's Baby book of the week and hide your head in shame.

The author who brought out this most recent round of vitriol is J.R. Ward. My friend loves her. I just read the first book of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series and loved it myself. But, I read the 4th book of the series, the infamous Vishous book first, a few months ago, and though I felt horribly betrayed as a reader, I could still see that this woman had the chops of a damn good writer underneath it all. Based on the 5th book, I glommed her entire backlist and am reading it slowly. My TBR is so big, I have the luxury of doing that.

Now, on the blogs, what I read is a lot of behind the hands snickering about Ward, they make fun of the hextra shilent h's. But there's something more there. There's a mean-spiritedness behind it. And I can't quite get a handle on what they object to. Is it the plot? the world she's built? her characterizations? is there too much going on? not enough backstory? TSTL heroines? bad writing? What is it about her books that inspire such backyard bullying?

I've been thinking about it for a while, and I think the answer is a depressingly simple one - jealousy. The blogs and sites I read are populated by mid-list authors. That's not to say these authors are bad (or good), they simply haven't broken out yet. They publish, but they don't need a press secretary. Their publishing houses don't market them any more than the average Joe (the plumber) and they are never featured on mass e-mailings by b&n or borders. These authors are good at their jobs and they work on the craft of writing, but they don't enjoy the super-star status--or its literary equivalent--of the authors they pick on.

J.R Ward has found herself a hook. She's got a popular series going on, and she's got a very large following. I notice a few things in her writing that I'm not crazy about myself, and I'm going to be stupid enough to name them.

-She takes me right into the head of the bad guy a bit too often. When I read a romance, I don't want to be icked out. However, I give her credit for unabashedly doing so.
-She follows multiple storylines at the same time, which can push her books more into the literary genre than the romance category, but she weaves them together well, so I'll go with it. It does dilute the power of the romance itself, but that's her voice. I'm not going to quibble with it. The woman sells for goodness sake. I should be so lucky.
-In Vishous' book I got bogged down in backstory. And worse, the backstory was at a place in time that bores me. I don't read historicals, and once again, I don't like being icked out so the backstory was all an exercise in Not Fun for me.
-She makes up so many words, she needs her own glossary.

That's it. That's all I have to say about Ms Ward's books that I don't like as a reader. But I DO like her books. As a writer, I envy her imagination. I admire her plotting and good ol' macho men-loving *tee hee hee* alpha heroes. I admire how in touch she is with her muse. I admire her courage in breaking some covenants of the genre.

I would hope that six or seven years from now when I have my own ten-book backlist (ha! ha! ha!) that I don't take another author's success and bitch about them without being brave enough to say exactly why.

Currently reading: Talk Nerdy To Me

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's tacky, but I start with a pic of my cat.

The only thing that makes this different from every other pet post is that it's a pic of my 2nd cat, the beta cat, the one that makes me wonder why it's not legal to kill your pets. My alpha cat, the one I have power struggles with, the one that was so attentive (read: pushy) that I had to get beta cat, isn't going to get his own post for a while.

Beta kitty is Polly and she is the kneady one. Here she is waving "hi."
Actually I was trying to get a shot of her massive, baseball-mitt-sized paws. I don't know if it comes across in the picture, but it's the best I got.

Now, what this blog is really going to be about is my trials and tribulations as a newbie romance author, trying to get my novel finished, trying to write that first query letter, and *fingers crossed* getting my first publisher.

What lead me to blog? I've been reading soooooo much online written by fellow authors about what they do and don't like in the industry. Reading what critics think about current trends in the industry, about new books out there, and the neverending coversnark. I have also been reading assloads of books, absorbing good writing tricks and styles and hopefully noticing bad writing and deconstructing why. I just wanted to enter into the fray myself. Plus, I think my friends are sick of hearing me talk books, books, books in every single conversation.

As of now I am about 50 pages from finishing the book and then on to the first edit. After that, I'm going to need critique partners and my local RWA ain't being much help. I hate to have to walk the fine line between assertive and in-your-face but I fear I'm going to have to put my bitch out there.

But what's the REAL reason I started the blog tonight? It's all about procrastination, baby! I write longhand (for now) and that means that everything I create has to be typed up at a later date. Which is what I should be doing now. And am not. Because I got sucked into reading other peoples blogs and thought this is an excellent time to start one myself.

So, hi there. I'm your local, friendly romance writer.

Be good, y'all.

Currently reading: Dark Lover