Saturday, May 30, 2009

The paranormal is dead. Long live the paranormal!

If you read romance blogs for more than a week, you will come across this sentence:
I am SO over paranormal romances.

The reviewers mean it, some of the editors do too. They have had their fill, they never want to read about another pulsing fang or short-haired wolven fur coat. No more demons. No fallen angels, and for Godssake, live in the century you were born in!

The readers though? Not so much. The readers are still sucking down paranormals with glee.* There was a time when you couldn't find a paranormal if you sliced your wrist open and stood, waiting, at midnight on a busy city street. No one was willing to believe, no one was willing to buy (from agent to editor to reader). So despite the unheard minority clamoring for 'something different', there were nothing on the shelf for them to find.

The clamoring minority is now looking for contemporaries that go beyond the bounds of erotica, back to that crazy thing called "story." Interestingly enough, it's already on the shelves, and it's better than it used to be - you know why? Paranormals.

When the PNR wave hit the industry, heroes got bigger, and badder, and more heroically flawed. (The disfiguring scar being the most common.) Plots got tighter, moral ambiguity hit an all-time low and emotional development was ratcheted up to an excruciating level of life (love) or death.

Heroines had to develop too. No more TSTL ... for Godssake, in a paranormal, TSTL really means something. Heroines had to be mentally stronger to handle the lives their heroes chose and the traumas they'd been through. They were also allowed to be even more emotionally broken to match the level of fuckedupedness in their hero. They had to be physically stronger and learn to save themselves, because their hero was off fighting someone bigger and badder and more deadly than the threat facing her. You can't sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting to be rescued as a PNR heroine.

Action also plays a greater role in the PNR, and this is where the contemporary distinguishes itself. In a PNR they fight through character development, in a contemporary, they talk, misunderstand and plot through that same development. But the action still has to be there. The reader is now accustomed to hitting the ground running--not much down time for introspection and long odes to the quality of green in the grass outside the window. The physical battles lost and won in a PNR are the emotional battles the contemporary writer now delivers.

The rules have changed as a result of the Paranormal romance, and no matter your personal feelings on the sub-genre, it's not going anywhere--even if you don't recognize its newest incarnation.

Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV

* I will concede that new paranormal authors probably aren't seeing those gleeful sales because reader dollars are already spent keeping up with the multiple paranormal authors they're already following. I'm personally following at least seven series, but I'm not unwilling to start more.

Friday, May 29, 2009

No matter where you go, there you are.

I have people in my life who are moving, more than a few. A couple of them across country, one just moved across the state, one is thinking of moving back from out of state, one just wants to move across the damn street. I want to join the masses.

My apartment--this hermitage of a life I've created, even demanded, for myself--it's not working anymore. So I've been evaluating the things in my world; what I want to keep, what I am willing to give up, definite changes I need to effect, etc. The lists are fluid and, depending on the day, full of objects, actions, or self-hatred.

One day, about a month ago, I came home, and sat in the parking lot looking up at my home of almost nine years. It's a nice place on the outside. Sturdy, welcoming, well-maintained. On the inside it's less well-maintained and feels not so much welcoming anymore as overcrowded and cloying.

The fantasy of the perfect move popped into my head... you know the one. You come home from a day of shopping and a light lunch and find everything packed, and cleaned. Stuff you don't need has been thrown away, Goodwill worthy donations have all been picked up and you even got a tax receipt, furniture is being lovingly handled by a professional company who does the work for nothing but a smile of gratitude and a glass of cold iced-tea (a glass which they will wash and pack once said libations have been swallowed), and every box has been neatly labeled and packed in reverse order of usefulness so when I get to my destination (and they unpack for me) the stuff I need right away comes out the truck first. Hell, I'll even make them another pitcher of ice-tea.

Oh yeah, it was a good fantasy. But then, like a voice of doom, this thought occurred to me: no matter where you go, it's still going to be the same old you on the inside. Yikes.

ME is what I'm trying to get away from. My habits, my world, my life, all the stuff that's not working for me... it's still going to be there when I land. Will a move to Colorado really cure me of procrastination and inspire me to vacuum once a week? Not bloody likely. This rut I'm in is all of my own making and I'm still going to be me when I get there.

Cue: Depression.
Cue a yearning to turn the car back on, turn it around and drive anywhere else until I run out of gas and have left it all behind.
Cue: Deep sigh.

Then, a whisper from some heretofore willfully ignored part of my brain.
Could I maybe...? No. What about if...? No. How about...

Wait, wait... set up the inspirational music, I think she's about to get it. Do we have a shot of clouds parting? Right, in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . I can change starting now!

Whaaaaaaaaaat? The old psyche shouts.

Yessir, ladies and gentlemen. It's true. Step right up and see the Amazing Changing Lady in action! You never know what kind of show you're going to get from her, sometimes she changes at a glacial pace, grinding and rewriting the very landscape underneath her. Sometimes she succumbs to the erosive and sudden floodwaters of desire and influence, creating unexpected structures out of newly uncovered depths. Pay your bits and takes your chances.

A change is coming to town and it's starting right here!

Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV
Currently reading: Morning Glory
Currently reading: High Energy

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Here I go being a hypocrite again...

...but Ms Lamb is long dead, the book was published 30 years ago, and I just can't help myself!

I read Pagan Encounter the other night. OMG, it was soooooo good.

I picked it up for free from the library's Give Away pile. I don't know why. A couple of days later I saw this post, which led me to this post. And then, a week after that, I read this post while Pagan Encounter was sitting an arm's length from me.

I snagged the book, opened it and there went the rest of my night.

Now, this book was published in 1978. There are a lot of things that authors did in '78 that authors cannot do now-at least not without being thrown against a wall. I will confess that my mouth fell open in horror at some of the things I was reading. So there might have been a whole, "I can't believe she did that, what the hell is she going to try and get away with next" vibe to my reading experience. But it was more than that.

The truth of the matter is, the writing was just damn good. I tried to distance myself from it so I could absorb it better, but I didn't do that good a job of it. The story was too compelling. The characterizations were spot-on as well. She created a cold-fish heroine and an asshat hero, and neither of them really changed through the story. They simply found, in each other, someone who loved and appreciated that side of them.

Interesting things:

In that book they called "making out" "making love." So it caused a few eyebrow wrinkling moments when the heroine talked about her previous guy, and called it "making love." Yet, it was left ambiguous as to whether or not they truly did the big dirty.

The first time the hero kisses the heroine he has trapped her in the elevator against her will and forces his attentions upon her, even as she's shrinking back and saying no, and promising to scream the place down. Nowadays we call that sexual assault. In '78, apparently, they called that Sexy (with a capital S). Of course, she winds up enjoying the kiss, and there's no screaming - but any character who behaved like that nowadays would be characterized as Evil Creepy Stalker Dude with Severe Boundary Issues, not cast as the object of her affections.

The hero doesn't listen to "no" a chapter later either, and isn't too much concerned with consent, because, you know, he knows what's best for her. So they make out like little 70s bunnies (lots of kissing and a slipped towel, no oral sex) where she gets the benefit of all the good physical feelings, but none of the guilt because she did, after all, say no. However, when the heroine tells the hero that she confessed all to her ex in private, he is furious that she put herself in a position (blame the victim) where the ex might over-react and take her by force.

The hero slaps the heroine!! No, really. Seriously. My mouth hung open for a full minute. You just CAN'T DO THAT! But, we forgive him. You know why? Because she had already slapped him. Twice. And, she also made two other attempts to slap him, where he caught her hand and told her in no uncertain terms, "If you hit me, I'll hit you back." Go egalitarianism! (But seriously, he slapped her. On purpose. And I didn't hate him.)

At one point, she's being harassed by the hero and finds a cop. She tells the cop that the guy is harassing her. The hero tightens his hold against her shoulder, and tells the same cop that the little woman is just nervous about the impending wedding night. Then the cop and the hero exchange a wink and a nod and the cop goes off whistling. Any cop who did that now needs to have his badge revoked.

Ultimately though, the hero redeems himself in a few ways. He shows surprising tenderness when we least expect it, and because he's so wrong in so many other ways, we love him for those moments all the more. I'm telling you, this book was delicious. He was a complete asshat, but he was the perfect asshat for her.

Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I encourage you to do the same

I hit up the bookstore today. Oy vey! Like I need anymore books in my life (I also hit up the library and picked up five books on hold).

Not too long ago, I read this post, and it reminded me of something important--if we don't support each other, no one will be there to support us. So today I went to Border's (they're not doing as well as B&N or Amazon, and I wanted to throw my money their way) and I bought three brand-spankin' new books.

I don't have a lot of money, like most of you. This expenditure comes straight out of grocery money, but a book a month in exchange for skipping lunch is a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

I wanted to buy new from an author I haven't heard of before. Last time I did that was a month ago. The author I hadn't heard of then was Jacquelyn Frank. *rolls eyes* I'm not the most clued in chicklet some days, but that's okay. She had a few books on the shelf and the covers looked good so I thought I'd give her a whirl. I haven't read the book yet, but it's in my TBR and will gets its turn eventually.

In all of my Internetting and blog reading and Amazon.comming Ms. Frank's name has never made an impression, she wasn't on my radar. But clearly she's on someone's radar because she had four books on the shelf when I picked her up. Great! I thought, I get to start a new series (if I like the first book) and read someone who the publisher believes in enough to keep buying her books.

But ultimately, supporting someone with a built-in following wasn't what I felt like I needed to do. After all, 'new to me' isn't necessarily 'new kid on the block.' Today, however, I thought about it a bit more deeply. An author who I have never heard of who has multiple books on the shelf isn't a new author. And, it turns out, it's damned hard to find a book by a brand-new author on Border's romance shelves.

I probably spent ten minutes looking for a book I thought I'd enjoy by an author who didn't already have a long row of books under her name or who I hadn't heard of through some online buzz. I didn't want a historical or a romantic suspense, so that limited me even further. I found maybe three books that met my criteria.
1. I haven't heard the author's name.
2. The author doesn't have a row of books on the shelf.
3. It's actually a first book by a new author.
4. It's not a historical or RS - both of which I have limited patience for in my reading.

I think I hit the jackpot. I wound up with A Perfect Darkness by Jamie Rush. This is not an endorsement. I haven't read it yet, and even if it knocks my socks off, I'm highly unlikely to review it here. But I did my part today. I bought a brand-new book, retail, by a brand-new author. I encourage you all to do the same.

(For the reader who is paying attention, you'll notice I actually purchased three books. The other two are Too Hot To Handle and No Limits, both of which are books by established authors that I didn't feel like waiting on the library to read and have essentially cost me three more lunches.)

Just finished: Pagan Encounter
Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV
Currently reading: Midnight Rising

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I don't name names

I read a lot of books.
I try to read a lot of authors.

Somewhere in the mists of time, I seem to remember starting to read romances when I was about eleven years old... the timing may be as late as when I was thirteen, but I think it was earlier than that. I'm a couple of months shy of 37 now. That's twenty-five solid years of reading romance.

I've read categories, Bantam Books, historicals, Mills & Boon, pirate books, Loveswepts, westerns, Zebras, rape fantasies and scottish lords. I've read secret babies and time travel aliens and marriages of convenience and firemen, cops, and a thousand different versions of the rescue fantasy. Kidnappings and Cinderellas and more deflowerings than any sane woman should have in her head have all passed over my eyes and through my brain. I don't recall ever getting through a Regency--but maybe I just didn't know what they were filed under at the time.

My point is, when I talk about romance, I come to it with a fairly significant background in the genre and reading history. I know what I'm talking about.

I have also read books on How To Write (Plot, Character, Sex Scenes, etc.) in order to help me figure out how to write better for myself. Initially, after reading those books, it ruined my pleasure reading for me. I couldn't pick up a book without deconstructing it, watching how the author built problem / solution puzzles, noting the deliberate inclusion of a time-lock, seeing where the author included a flaw in characters to make them more appealing, or reading sex scenes for the emotional development instead of the hawt sexxoring.

As you can imagine, this had the effect of pulling me out of the story, so much so that I could no longer enjoy it for the escapist fiction I desire. Combine that with the demands of grad school, and I went off romance reading for about five years.

When I came back, I still had all of that technical knowledge in my back pocket, but I was able to bury it long enough to enjoy the story. This understanding has helped me tremendously in my writing, but more than that, it has really helped me identify why a story I'm reading isn't working for me. (To my chagrin, it doesn't necessarily help me know why a story is working for me, but I'll take what I can get.)

On this blog, I try very hard to respect the efforts of other authors by not naming names when something doesn't work for me. I mean, first of all, I'm going to be published myself*, so I don't need to invite that kind of negative karma, but more than that I don't see a flaw in a story as authorial failing so much as I see it in terms of story failure. It's something the editor (or agent) should have caught before letting the story go to press because it's her job to make the book as good as possible before putting it out in the world.

If I, an amateur, with nothing but a big brain and a love of stories can see how and why a book isn't working, surely an editor who is paid to address these things can see it. No, it's not the editor's job to write or re-write the story, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that it's the editor's job to tighten the story and address obvious flaws so that I, the amateur, can't point directly to the problem in a story and say, "this is why it didn't work."

There is no perfect story. There are no perfect authors. We're all just doing the best we can with what we have--be it time, knowledge or resources. It benefits no one for me to stand on my rickety high horse and point to another author and say, "You suck! And let me tell you why..." But I can stand on my reader high horse and say, "When someone (anyone) does that in a story it doesn't work, and let me tell you why..."

Hopefully, the latter approach, given in general terms, can help anyone who reads my tiny little slice of the web see what may or may not be missing in the book they're reading or writing. Thus far I've written about the Character Dump, the Perfect Hero (twice), the Hero Who Isn't Ready**, the Cast of Characters, the Multi-Author Series, Doing Right by Your Character (twice), and Inconsistent World Building (twice), as well as a dozen other little things related to building a good story.

I try to focus my critiques on things that can be avoided and fixed with a bit of attention to detail. I don't get hung up on character names, author names (I still can't believe anyone cares), plot bashing or even cover art. None of these things are about the quality of the story. The thing that I care about is execution. Did they do it right? If they didn't, it's to everyone's benefit to say why.

Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV
Currently reading: Breathing Room
Currently reading: The Reluctant Cinderella
Just about to start: A Hunger Like No Other

*No, I don't know when. I don't have a contract. But I am confident and I'm OWNING it, dammit!
**I broke my rule about not naming names there, but I hope Ms Ward will forgive me as I doubt anything I say will influence her book sales or ever come to her attention.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New characters are invading

I had this plan for my writing.

It formulated while I was writing the first book. I would finish the first book, a single title. Then write a 2nd book, category, while editing the first one. And then do the follow-up single title, (the second of the series,) another category, and then the final single title in the series.

A little chart might be easier to follow:
Book 1 - single title (1st in series)
Book 2 - category
Book 3 - single title (2nd in series)
Book 4 - category - related to book 2
Book 5 - single title (3rd in series)

It's a 5 book plan. I'm pages away from finishing the 2nd book, the category. But as I said here, I screwed up. EDITING! God help us all, editing. It takes time, who knew that? So now I have two books to edit, and books 3, 4, and 5 are knocking at my skull. I mean, they're shouting hard.

To be fair, book 3 isn't saying that much, but book 4 is forming in my brain. The heroine is chattering away. She's already revealed half her secrets, she's working with me, wants to get her HEA. She's been living with her pain for a decade and wants (sexual) healing badly. The hero has been watching her suffer and doesn't know what the hell to do about it but be there, they're a beautiful couple.

Book 5's couple is spicy. She likes challenging men, he likes women. BOY, does he like women. They want nothing more than to hit the pages and play with each other, discover each other's hidden tender spots and show their families and the world that they can make it work. They've been languishing in the background since book 1 and they don't wanna wait either.

Book 3's couple is more patient. He's confused, she's disappointed in life and frankly neither of them think it's going to work out, so they're not bugging me. Thank God, because I need to edit books 1 and 2. It was a bad idea to write book 2 before I edited book 1. *le sigh* Bad, bad idea. And now I have these new characters, chatting me up, flirting with my brain, begging me to record their stories and I have to close the door on them. I hate that. However, if I don't shut them down, I'll be five books and two years into this whole 'writing thing' and won't have edited a damn thing.

But they're whispering to me now, these new couples. They don't even have the decency to stay quiet until my current characters have finished their tale. And I'm worried that if I ignore them to deal with the business of editing and queries and polishing, they won't be there when I go back.

Obviously, the only cure for this is to write books that need no editing at all. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. I enjoyed that. Did you? I don't know what the cure is for my dilemma. I don't know if there is one. In the meantime, I have the work of ignoring six wonderful characters ahead of me so I can concentrate on the four fantastic characters who have already told me their story.

Just finished: Stolen
Just finished: I Do! I Do!
Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV
Currently reading: Breathing Room
Just about to start: A Hunger Like No Other
Just about to start: The Reluctant Cinderella

Monday, May 18, 2009

Can we give ourselves a break?

I was thinking today about our expectations for ourselves.

It used to be that women were putting the pressure on ourselves to be a harder, better, faster, stronger version of ourselves. We looked at the Jones', our neighbours, the airbrushed women in magazines, the public faces of our co-workers and thought, why can't I have everything too? Why can't that be me?

Then it came to the point where other women were looking at each other and judging. Expecting both friends and strangers to keep up with this external ideal. It wasn't enough to embrace our internal shame, it then became accepted for women to point out another woman's lack of. After all, what better way to show that you're superior than pointing out that someone else is inferior?

We accepted it. How could a woman deny that she should be shamed publicly when she's feeling the same fear and humiliation internally?

In recent years, I've noticed that we have been chasing this impossibility for so long, and, sadly, achieving some small measure of it, that men now expect this SupermomWonder-WomanBarbieDoll of us too. And we have done it to ourselves. We have changed their expectations to the point where it's not enough to be ourselves - we show them the glamorized version, and they now think that's normal.

Honest to goodness, there's so much more to being a woman than:
going to work - and building a career,
making enough money to support yourself and possibly the family,
taking care of the kids,
doing the laundry - no wrinkles, folded and put away,
cooking dinner - and breakfast and preparing lunch (all organic, healthy and prepared from scratch)
exercising regularly,
maintaining strong, healthy ties with your friends, parents, siblings, and grade school alums,
pursuing fulfilling hobbies,
managing a 401k,
paying the household bills,
dressing like a fashion plate, (on a budget,)
wearing the perfect shade of make-up (that's healthy for your skin),
being a chauffeur to the kids,
a sexpot for the man in your life,
taking care of the pets,
getting eight hours sleep - no bags under your eyes,
cleaning the bathroom (and kitchen and living room),
shaving your legs and any other body hair that society deems unacceptable,
maintaining our high school figure,
volunteering for a few charities,
getting the family to church,
tending the health of your romantic relationship,
planning and running the vacations (and birthday parties and anniversaries),
hitting the salon once a month (at least) to maintain hair, face, nails and waxing
and, you know, doing it all with a smile on our face.

I'm sure your personal list includes about a dozen more things.

And you know what? It's not that any of these things is unattainable individually, but expecting all of this, every day, of every woman is beyond ridiculous. Ever expecting it of ourselves in the first place was a sad commentary on our lack of faith in ourselves. We are good enough as is.

Pointing and calling out other women for being less than perfect was never going to make us feel better about ourselves. It may have felt good in the short term, but it was never going to sustain our need for acceptance and admiration.

But, letting men think that this level of balls-to-the-wall, full-throttle, never-a-hair-out-of-place energy is a normal and sustainable was detrimental to us all. There used to be a time when a man was happy to have the love of a good woman. Now, more and more I hear, "Is that all you've got?"

Currently reading: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra
Currently reading: The Groom Came Back

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Neither fish nor fowl nor four-legged beast

I read a book last week, maybe the week before. I can't remember exactly. It was not good. I wanted it to be good, I expected it to be good, but the author sort of forgot her Story 101 lessons and had a small flight of ego that cost me $7.99.

Yes, this was one of the few books I paid full price for as opposed to picking it up from the UBS or borrowing it from the library. She's generally a solid author, so even though this book was (IMO) a stinker, I wasn't too put out. Everyone has an off day.

However, it did bring home another thing that agents tell us and our egos want to ignore. If you "kitchen sink" your story and make it a paranormal-romance-western-murder-mystery with time-travel elements told in an overarching fairytale style, they won't be able to sell it because bookstores won't know where to shelve it. The other part of that is that readers won't know how to read it.

Now the book I read wasn't quite this bad, it wasn't a western. J/k :-) It was pretty bad though. Do you know how much set up time you have to spend developing any one of these elements? Now imagine trying to develop all of them while getting your plot going, developing your characters and engaging your readers. It doesn't happen. It's not even a matter of jack of all trades master of none, it's jacking around all the trades while the masters just laugh at you.

No element gets sufficient attention. No element is fully developed or delivered properly, and no element provides that satisfying 'happy book' feeling. This book was a mess from start to finish and I'm sure if this wasn't an established author, the book would have been turned down flat.

"You can't ride two horses with one ass." - Sweet Home Alabama (I think)

Strangely enough, I can think of a dozen books that seem to incorporate all these elements. But those books were successful whereas this one wasn't. I believe those authors knew that ultimately their story was going to follow a particular standard, whether it was romance, or mystery or urban fantasy... they all had a clear idea of what the story was and where it was going. The other elements were added to round things out, spice things up, give depth to their world or show depth in their characters. But they never let the secondary elements overwhelm the primary thread.

The difference is, those authors picked a horse.

There are things agents talk about that I don't understand. I'm still not sure what "high concept" is. I am never sure what a hook is in romance - isn't it just about girl meets boy in interesting but believable circumstance and then physical attraction helps speed up the bonding? Voice has become clearer. Plot is an neverending mystery. And characters are the sweet, wonderful, fascinating part that make it all worthwhile.

But that thing agents say about telling a single story? I get it. I soooooo get it now.

Currently reading: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra
Just finished: Living Dead in Dallas

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Too much reading

(not enough writing)

I went away for five days. I didn't get a lick of writing done.
While out of town I finished a book that I was halfway through and started another. Both of these books were stellar reads, not just good stories, but good writing that I learned a lot from. (I'm sure not a single sentence in either of them ended with a preposition.)

One book had very spare, clean writing, a story that took a while to build up, held me on a precipice and then took me higher with every chapter til the final HEA. The other book had very full, meaty writing, a story that took off with a bang and then dipped and ebbed and soared so I was clinging to the ride right up until the end.

I planned to write while I was gone. I always plan to write. But one of the reasons for being gone is to do other things. So rarely do my plans and my activities come together.

When I got back I had 200 odd posts in my google reader. That was Monday. I still have 200 odd posts. There was a time when I would have sat down and gone through every one of them. Now I pretty much keep the same pace as I did before I left. Why I ever felt the internal pressure to keep up to date on other blogs is beyond me. I'll catch up eventually, or I won't. I'll probably comment about the same amount too, but no one will see because I'll be a good week behind. Heh.

What really disturbed me is that when I came back, I didn't pick up my pen immediately. I realized that all of this reading had been getting to me, and not in a good way. Instead of learning from the books I was reading, I found myself comparing my writing to theirs... with me getting the short end of the stick. I don't yet have a critique partner, an agent or an editor. Of COURSE my words are not as polished as theirs.

Regardless, I still want the words that flow from my pen on the very first pass to be as brilliant as those that have been through several professional eyes, countless re-reads, and a dozen editing passes. In other words, I'm not being fair to myself.

Then, I hop on the web and read the blogs of reviewers whose job it is to poke holes in everything that doesn't work about a book--giving me anxiety before I've even finished writing my book.
, who tend to only post about that which they love or that which they hate--making me double-check my work to include the things that are universally loved and excise or justify the things that are universally hated.
, who are still struggling with their work even years after being published--remindng me that it never gets easier. Or promoting their books--reminding me I'm not yet invited to breathe such rarefied air.
who just want a good book and beg us authors to stop making the same damn mistakes again and again--reminding me that I make all those mistakes still (it's only my second book, give me a break!) and probably a dozen more that they never even see because it would have been rejected by any half-decent agent.
And, I read the blogs of agents, who are inundated with work from polished to half-assed authors, and don't really have much time to give to newbies who are not on their client list, but try anyway because they want to raise the level of quality for everyone--leaving me to wonder if I'm so late to the game that it's questionable whether I should even make a grab for the ball. Not to mention the rejections. Oh, the rejections.

This is my reading. So much reading. And it has left me doing not enough writing.

Yet, still, when I put pen to paper, as I did tonight, I know that the quality of my work has improved greatly from all the reading I've done. My characters are who they want to be, my plots are still a mystery to me until the book is finished, my grammar has improved and the basics of the craft come more easily. Yet I'm less confident about my writing than I was last year when I was writing my first book.

The beauty of the solitary nature of this work is that no one is criticizing, looking over your shoulder or saying what you should do from paragraph to paragraph. There's no teacher checking your work and telling you, "No, you can't do that." Your instincts for how to tell a good story are honed by the hundreds (hopefully, thousands) of good stories you've already read.

I made a mistake. I have mentally invited the critics into my work before it's ready for outside eyes. I'm reading "no" before I've ever given myself a chance to hear "yes." It leaves me in a quandary. The reading I've done has had the intended effect on the work I'm producing and an unintended effect on my psyche. Where's the line? What do I do?

For now, I shall continue reading it all, but try not to indulge my comparative side. No one is writing just for me alone (though wouldn't that be cool?) so why am I taking it personally? I shall absorb the good, deflect the bad, and learn, learn, learn.

And for goodness sake, I must keep writing. It's the only way I'll ever become one of those authors that newbies writers read years from now and think, I'll never be that good.

Just finished: Lover Avenged
Currently reading: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's been over a week since I said anything on here

I went out of town for a while, to a dance convention.
Unlike most conventions where people handle the business of their obsession before they get together (ie before they hit the convention they have already written the papers, watched the movies, read the books, done the research, etc.) at a dance convention you go to dance.

There are all levels of dancers there; beginners, hobbyists, professionals, wannabes and everything in-between. I'm somewhere in the middle. I have strong ties to the dance community, but have no desire to be A DANCER! I just like getting up there and shaking my body, following the moves and admiring the skill of those far more flexible and willing to practice than I.

When I first entered the dance world, I had stars in my eyes. Those pro dancers were everything I aspired to be--cool, good-looking, ass-kickingly great dancers, world travelers and crazy fit. But unlike most newbies, I slid in kind of sideways and knew the pros on another level before we ever shared a dancefloor. Imagine if you will that you'd never read a romance novel until you met and hung out with Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann on a cruise (Crusie). It sort of skews your perspective.

Instead of wading my way through some excruciatingly bad reads on my way to finding the gems, I started out at the top with nowhere to go but... down.

That's what dance conventions usually are for me now. A downer. I can still appreciate the mystery and mastery of the pro-dancers, but it's colored by a far too intimate knowledge of them. Imagine if you got together with your new cruise buddies and after a while it came to light that Brockmann* is a lousy tipper (and proud of it), Roberts** is addicted to pot (and "can quit any time"), and Crusie*** is just a callous bitch who puts on a good show in public and then gathers her cronies together and laughs at the fans. Would you want to grow up to be these people?

Just the thought of it sours on the tongue. On the other hand, I have had a whole stinkin' lot of fun being a dancer, pros notwithstanding. I've met good people and bad people and learned, again, in a whole new arena, what I appreciate about human beings.

I like loyalty. But not cloying, stupid loyalty eg, the kind that allows a heroine to take shit from her evil stepmother and turn the other cheek when her sister steals her man (who, if he will allow himself to be stolen is not worth the title of "man," nor worth trying to get back.) I like open hearts and kindness that see past a name or body shape into the humanity and love of the activity that we all share. And, I like humility - just because you're a good dancer it doesn't mean you deserve to win or that others aren't just as good or that you weren't bad once.

Like reading, the experience of watching dance is subjective. I can watch something that blows my mind and leaves my husband shrugging. Who is right? Both of us. His lack of enthusiasm can't take away my gasp of pleasure. I might be impressed every single time I see an attitude spin - right up until I can do one myself. He has been seeing them for years and would rather see a hot as hell break based on unexpected musical interpretation that I don't even notice.

However, knowing who the pros are before I decide where to focus means that I'm almost always guaranteed a good watching experience. Sadly, this also means that I'm missing out on stellar dances by couples whose names I don't know. (Bestseller vs midlist anyone?) Opportunity cost breaks my heart.

Like writing, one has to know the mechanics of how things should be before breaking all the rules. It's the combination of adherence to and breaking the rules that makes the performance of dance an art. If I always start a move on my right foot as I'm supposed to, and switch off to my left foot when you least expect it - somehow it's brilliant. But if I don't know where I'm supposed to start and move on the left, somehow it's a mess. And the reader / watcher can always tell if you know what you're doing. Always. ALWAYS.

The interested reader / watcher also gets used to your tricks, learns how to deconstruct them and adapt them for personal use. I once left a convention knowing how to do a one-legged spin. (!) I hadn't done one at the convention, didn't take a class, and had no personal instruction. But I sat and watched a gross of them from the cheap seats. Next time I got on the dance floor, I was able to do one. You could have knocked me over with a feather, and not because I was so badly balanced (though I was), but because I didn't realize the instincts of a two-year-old were still alive and well inside me. Monkey see, monkey do.

This convention I noticed I picked up a weird floaty foot moonwalk type of thing that has always eluded me in the past. Who knows if it'll stick. I don't think I care if it does. After all, I don't want to be A DANCER!, but I do want to be an author. And I learned something else this weekend in my reading--something that initially felt like a downer as soon as I discovered it in the book I was devouring, because I didn't do it in my own writing and then changed to a spark of appreciation.

I saw what the writer was doing, was able to recognize how she did it AND see how I didn't use the same trick (seeing the flaws in your own work is the trickiest part of creation) in my own writing and I know how to incorporate her skills into my projects. I missed the capstone of the convention. I got text messages while I was in my hotel room. "Where are you? This is the best part of the event!" The pros were performing, but I didn't care, I already knew their tricks. You know where I was? Curled up under the covers, finishing off that book and marveling at the new skill I had just acquired.

Just finished: Midnight Awakening
Just finished: Blue-Eyed Devil
Just finished: Simply Love
Currently reading: Do The Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra
Just about to start: Lover Avenged

* I'm sure Brockmann is a lovely tipper, consistently giving 30%.
** I'm sure Roberts never inhaled and has enviable self-control.
*** I'm sure Crusie is a sweetheart who kisses babies and hugs puppy dogs, even in private.

Monday, May 4, 2009

People Lie

We all know this.

We look at others with distrust and suspicion, expecting them to slip some untruth past us when we're not paying attention. That's certainly a possibility, and lord knows, in this world of con-men and thieves, we should be vigilant against those trying to pull the wool over our eyes. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the lies we tell ourselves.

We all have this belief of ourselves that we're good people who don't deserve the ills visited upon us. For the most part, that's true. Then there are people who know better and do wrong anyway. They use excuses like "temporary insanity" or "he made me do it." The excuses are just that, excuses. We knew our wrong when we did it, and we made the choice anyway.

Then, after the fact, we find a million ways to re-write history. We abdicate our responsibility and say that we never would have done it except such and such happened.

To which I say, some people's lives are nothing but "such and such." Have you ever heard the phrase: there, but for the grace of God, go I ? Have you ever really considered what it means? Life is circumstance. Life is consequences. It is context.

I hear so many people say they would NEVER... And to them I say, you would. You just haven't been tested to the end of your strength yet. Your nature is strong, but is it as strong as the horrific pall of nurture can be?
  • Would you dig through the trash for food? Never! What if you didn't have the benefit of a good education, didn't have a family to take you in and were turned down at every job application?
  • Would you cheat on a test? Never! What if passing that test was all that was between familial shame and a hundred thousand dollars of debt on minimum wage or a three hundred thousand dollar job?
  • Would you steal? Never! What if your family was starving--literally, not the figurative starving of "I forgot to eat breakfast"--and the butcher left his shop unattended?
  • Would you rape someone? Never! What if they recruited you as a child soldier, tortured your family and held a gun to your head saying prove your loyalty or die? *shudder* (that one hurt to even write)
  • Would you kill someone? Never! What if they're strangling you and you get your hands on a gun?
The news is filled with people who truly believed that they would never. Neighbors are in shock on the news every night, telling the world he was such a good guy and they can't believe he would ever.

I'm not in the business of excusing bad behaviour or saying we should all go around doing our worst and blaming it on a bad day. I'm simply saying that if you recognize the shades of grey in your own morality you'll be less likely to ignore others on the way to the blackness of their own breaking point.

But my point is, people lie. To themselves. Every day. Lying to ourselves is one of the worst things we can do to others, because it holds them to a hypocritical double standard that we have not yet faced. It prevents us from seeing beyond our morality into their circumstances. It prevents us from understanding and forgiveness and the true nature of reality.

The lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous kind. They prevent us from seeing the truth in others.

Just Finished: Bitten
Just Finished: Undead and Unappreciated
Currently reading: Midnight Awakening
Currently reading: Do The Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra

Saturday, May 2, 2009


It should be Thursday, because I just got over the hump.

The words to get through the minor black moment have been eluding me. H&H shut up and I could not figure out why. So, I was typing and reading and ruminating and just trying to do the best I could to get my words back.

It came to me in the middle of a marathon reading session. I thought, maybe he needs to jump the timeline and get back to her ASAP. And all I could hear in my head was, "YES YES YES!!" It's funny how eager he is to be back with her. He can't stand the time apart.

I already knew that. Every reader of a romance book knows that. But my poor sap hero had to shout it from the rooftops.

I got more words done yesterday. Not too many, because I was exhausted, but enough to get myself back in the game. Hero is willing to open up to me now because he knows he's going to get to go back to heroine soon.

Heroine, meanwhile, showed me an avenue out of the timeline jump that I'm happy to pursue. You know those nifty secondary characters? They're more than just flavour. Heroine wants to chat about her misery--leaving time in the plot for him to jump timeline while she delays it--putting them back in the same place and time about a week before I anticipated it happening.

No worries. They're going to make it work for themselves. I just find myself highly amused whenever I think of sending him back on the road to be with her, because no matter how I phrase it in my head or approach it from a different angle, all I can hear is him shouting, "YES, YES, YES!!"

Currently reading: B is for Burglar
Just finished: My Man Michael

Friday, May 1, 2009

switching it up

I write with a pen.
On paper.

It's ancient, but it's how I do it.

With my first book I was very conscientious about keeping up with my typing as I wrote--knowing that the typing was the first edit, but also knowing that going back to the story would keep my head in the various subplots I'd foreshadowed. (I usually typed some 20 - 40 pages behind my writing)

With this second book, I've slacked a bit. Okay, a lot. I wrote, and wrote, but I didn't type. I now have 145 handwritten pages, and only 30 of them typed in. Oy.

The problem is, haven't made my way past the minor black moment that ham strung me at the beginning of the week. It worries me. I hate it when the characters shut up, and usually it's because I'm taking them in a direction they don't want to go it. But hell, it's a black moment, no one wants to go there. So I don't know if they're not talking because they're pissed at being separated and mad / disappointed in each other, or if they're not talking because I zigged when they wanted me to zag.

Either way, this week I've focused almost entirely on typing and I'm seeing how my writing has grown even since the beginning of this book.

In the first book I noticed that I tended to mis-order my paragraphs. It was like I had a snapshot of what the scene looked like, and I crammed it all in, but I forgot the cause & affect nature of reality. So in editing the first book I spent a lot of time re-arranging sentences within paragraphs.

In this book, I've noticed finer craft related issues. Using "was" too often, throwing in more gerunds than necessary, telling when I have a prime opportunity to show. And frankly, I think I'm spending way too much time in their eyes. All of this matters, but none of it matters as much as finishing the damn book.

So I'm hoping that as I type in the beginning the story, the end of the novel will reveal itself.
Actually, I already know the end. I know the real black moment, I know the inciting incident. I also know how they're going to make up and what the HEA will look like. I just don't know what's going to happen next.

I need to know what happens next. They have to touch base, they have to test each other and they have to be together enough to be ripped apart again. Dammit. *sigh* Anyway, off to type. Wish me luck.

Currently reading:
B is for Burglar
Currently reading: Donovan's Promise
Just finished: Midnight Rainbow