Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm thinking of adopting again.

In late '08, in a fervor of patriotism, I adopted a military service person though an online website.

I got a snail-mail and e-mail address for this gentleman and proceeded to do my non-American best to send a little friendliness and gratitude his way.  In my head, I was one of those "nice women" who was doing her part to give back to those who were sacrificing for me.

The execution was a bit less than the expectation.  I am unemployed, but my 'contract' with the adoption agency called for a letter a week and a package a month to my service person.  The letter was no problem, the package a bit more so - sending something worthwhile took about $12 in postage.  But filling that damned box seemed to cost upwards of $40 every month.  Little things here and there really add up, and before I knew it I had a $50 hole in my budget.

But, no big.  It was a sacrifice I was willing to make for my service person.  Until I found out my service person was living a lot better than I was.  He lived in Hawaii.  Was already quite high up in his ... ummm, how do you say it?  service?  He was career military, had been in for 15 years or so.  He'd earned his stripes.  He went on two vacations in the first couple of months I was assigned to him.  He didn't need any of the crap that I was sending him. 

He seemed happy for the communication - we soon fell into an e-mail correspondence, which, again, sort of went against the tenets of the adoption agency.  Their big deal was that soldiers get recognized at mail call.  I've lived in boarding school, I know how important mail call can be.  So now, instead of my soldier getting a letter every week in front of all his buddies, he's exchanging e-mails with me in his little office.  And he's getting a package of "Stateside" crap that he doesn't need cuz he's living in the States.

But, somehow, I still think that I'm doing my part for this service man, until I realize that he doesn't even have need for my communication.  He's got a wife at home.  And three - or was it four? - little girls as well. 

So, now my fervor of patriotism has somehow devolved into sending Snickers and socks to someone who makes a very healthy salary and can easily purchase these items for himself at the corner Walmart.  It has become an exercise in communication with someone who has plenty of family to chat with already.  It has, sadly, (and before I knew he was wifed) become a flirtation between myself and this man that makes me uncomfortable because he can't seem to figure out if he's separated on the way to divorce or hanging in to work things out with his wife. 

In other words, my "nice woman" exercise left me feeling like I was bringing ants to a picnic.  I wasn't helping anyone at all.  About five months into my commitment, my grandmother died and the extra bills from trying to get home for her funeral sucked even that extra $50 out of my stretched budget.  Not being able to fulfill that part of the obligation was the last straw for me.  My service person said it didn't matter, but I don't like to welch on my promises - so I put him back in the pool of worthy adoptees and surrendered my "nice woman" position. 

The e-mails fell off almost immediately.  I'm sure I didn't explain myself well enough for him to know that I wasn't dumping HIM, I was merely resigning my commitment.  Further, I was more than willing to continue to chat with this almost friend I had almost made.  But I was unable to continue sending packages and therefore unwilling to "officially" keep him.  We stopped chatting.  The adoption ended, and last June or July I got notice that he is no longer on their rolls and has been sent home from his tour.  (Yes, he did eventually ship out.)

Now it's almost a year since my gran died, and I'm thinking of adopting again.  I've moved from Tucson, picked up a roommate (that's a whole other story) and have a bit of room in my budget again.   But I really don't want to be sending Skittles and scarfs to a service person in SoCal and stepping in to help out where my efforts are unneeded (and possibly destructive). 

On the other hand, I still think it's a worthy effort to make.  I still think there's some lonely, confused kid out there in a war zone who needs to know that there are people who just want to say thank you.  I'd still like to do my part, small though it may be.  I just don't wanna be the one carting in a truckload of insects to mess around at someone else's party. 

What to do?  What to do?


Currently Reading: Loyalty In Death 
Currently Reading: Now & Then 
Currently Reading: Undead and Unworthy 
Currently Reading: Sweet Discipline

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Seventeen worlds later...

I'm never at a loss for a book to read.  I may not be in the mood for any of the things I have available to me, but I am never looking around wondering what to pick up next.  Why?  Because I read series.

This does not make me the least bit unique among romance readers.  But perhaps what might put me a couple of standard deviations [that's for you, Janiece] above the norm is the number of series I'm reading.  Seventeen at last count.  With a few more to start in my TBR.

That's seventeen sets of characters in seventeen different worlds to keep track of.  It's like following seventeen different TV dramas and being expected to pick up right where the show left off months later and also remember all the names and quirks of every single character.  No TBS marathons to get up-to-date on the past four seasons, just that unreliable thing called "memory."

But it's not just seventeen main characters, because each world comes with its own orbit of stories--each called a book.  Some as few as three stories (Craig, Cohen), some as many as thirty (Robb).

One type of series only have a single couple or main character to follow, and with that, a few supporting characters to add weight and depth complexity to their world.  The series tends to be built around following the individual(s) as they solve a MOTW or kill a MOTW and the joy of reading them is in watching the author reveal layers of the main character(s) as well as see how evil is going to be defeated this time.

In Death (Robb)
Kinsey Milhone (Grafton)
Double Feature Mystery (Cohen)
Sookie Stackhouse (Harris)
Betsy Taylor (Davidson)
Mercy Thompson (Briggs)
Stephanie Plum (Evanovich)

The other series I read are more romance focused.  Each book delivers a new couple with new problems to conquer.  The supporting characters are often set up for new books of their own.  The depth and complexity of the characters lays in knowing how this particular protagonist has acted with the previous couples in series, then goes a bit deeper as this hero and heroine get their own story.  A lot of the satisfaction in these type of series is in watching the deserving side-character get their own HEA while the external conflict (evil) is resolved.

Dark-Hunter (Kenyon)
Midnight Breed (Adrian)
Psy/Changling (Singh)
Wolf Tales (Douglas)
Nauti (Leigh)
Black Dagger Brotherhood (Ward)
Immortals After Dark (Cole)
Dark (Feehan)
Divorced, Desperate (Craig)
Then there's a hybrid third that I don't know if I should count since only one book has come out, but it's a seven-book planned series which, if it follows the blueprint laid down by the first book, will follow a main character through the romances of seven different couples.

Fallen Angel (Ward)

I don't know how I wound up following so many series.  Oh! Yes I do.  I wanted to see how successful authors do it.  And do you know how a lot of them make a career out of writing?  By finding a good hook, or world, or character on which to build a series.

Plus what a way to build a readership, hunh?  Even if one or two books in your 15 story arc are sub-standard, people are still going to keep reading (buying) because they've already invested so much time and energy into the series.  They have to know how it ends. 

When I started reading romance (back in the dark ages) I don't remember series being like this.  They had an end, for one.  For another, there were fewer paranormals.  It was a matter of building interest in each side-character individually, and less a matter of populating (or, more accurately, coupling off) the worlds the authors have built. That's not a judgement, just an observation.

Authors back in the olden days mostly built series around families, wealthy families.  There'd be three brothers and a sister, maybe two.  The mom and dad would be loving and benevolent, and the person introduced to the family would be misunderstood and spunky or misunderstood and painfully shy.  She'd be mistrusted and have a big heart, he'd be after her for her money, then insist on signing a pre-nup and keeping his job.  There'd be a big misunderstanding, maybe an almost rape, and then a bit of groveling, followed by a big happy. 

Cue: Epilogue... a baby, maybe two, and unicorns dancing in the fields while fairies flit in the sky.

Ahhh, the good ol' days. 

I suspect the good ol' days are still around in authors that I no longer read.  The genre advanced while they did not, and they are still cranking out their stories in styles I no longer appreciate.  But they have built a very big following on that old-fashioned feeling.

I, however, took a long break from reading fiction (5 years), and when I came back the times had changed and I had changed right along with them.  I was no longer satisfied with sweet.  The tropes I'd cut my teeth on now left me feeling like I had a bad case of "been there, done that."  So I moved on to voices and tropes that are new to me. 

Strangely though, in every book I read, I'm still seeking that old feeling that had me falling in love with the genre in the first place.  That hitch in my heart when the hero says or does just the right thing.  That unexpected tear in my eye when the understanding between H & H is just so deep and you were rooting for those two all along, and now you believe they're gonna make it. 

The reason I get stuck on series is an issue of quality.  I need to read all kinds of books, good and bad, but more than any workshop, I'm going to learn about writing through reading.  I need to know how the successful pros are doing it now, soak it in through my eyeballs via the best kind of osmosis, and then give it back to the world.

Currently Reading: Loyalty In Death
Currently Reading: Now & Then
Currently Reading: Undead and Unworthy

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My toes are officially wet

When y'all weren't looking, I polished up the first 14 pages of Never A Bridesmaid and sent it off to a Senior Editor of a smaller publishing company who, in a fit of Christmas magnanimity, offered 15 page critiques to a number of responders on her blog. 

She's all about crime fiction and I'm all about the romance, but she said she'd take whatever we're working on and offer editorial feedback. I'm sure she regrets it now.

It took me 6 days to get back to her after she made the offer because I was spending my Christmas* Vacation** away from home and didn't have the concentration to polish a script and defend my brain from the 24/7 CNN news feed with which my aunt was trying to kill me. Plus, editing scares me.  But that's a story that's been covered before.  I only sent 14 pages because that's where the chapter breaks, but now I think I should have included that 15th page and stopped mid-sentence... just to build up the suspense dontchaknow. 

On Jan 3rd, I emailed my work off to her with a song in my heart and a birdy on my shoulder.  I mean, I know the moment she reads it she'll be blown away by the quality of my prose.  I'm sure she's already schlepped the pages out to all of her editor friends crowing about how well I turn a phrase and how she discovered me first.  In fact, if I'm not mistaken, she's probably talking with others in her publishing house about expanding their line to include romance, based on the strength of my pages alone.  She's checking the budget to see if they can offer me a 7-book deal based on a new series and hoping to preempt any other offers out there.


Ya.  So, I haven't heard back from her yet. 

Here's the pathetic, part.  (Yes, more pathetic than that paragraph above.)  She hoped to have the critiques finished by Jan 9th or 10th.  For those of you keeping score, that's 3 days ago.  I haven't heard back from her yet.  I check my e-mail about 75 times a day looking for that message from her.  When I wake up in the morning the Blackberry is already glued to my palm anyway, but it's not the text messages and regular emails I'm looking for.  It's the Gmail notification in the special icon off on the right side of my screen that I'm hoping to see.

When I'm going to sleep I drop whatever book I'm reading at 5 minute intervals and grab the BB to see if the little red light is flashing at me.  It may be the signal I've been waiting for.  The blessing from an editor.  The cyber nod in my general direction that says, "Yes, one day you will be able to give up your day job."*** 

Now I ask you, how the hell am I going to handle query season?  If three days is enough to put me on tenterhooks, months of waiting is going to drive me batty.  They say it's all part of the process, but Good Lord!  How do normal people survive this?

Currently Reading: Now & Then 
Currently Reading: Blood Bound
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales VI

*** No cracks from the peanut gallery about finding a day job first, please.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Discipline. Thy name is not Venus.*

I love my blog roll.

I love my 67 enthusiastic bloggers who share their world and their writing & publishing & querying tips with me.  I love them so much that when I get on my computer I spend so much time catching up on what they have to say that I never get around to doing the things I need to do... like write.

There's always one more opinion or post to read, one more comment to make.  I'm not very good at saying, "This is not important," and moving on.  Nope, I read it all.  Reviews aren't too helpful to me because I'm anti-spoiler, so I can skim those.  But I always check out the top of the post to see who is talking about which book, and I always check out the bottom to see if they liked the book or not.  I skip most author interviews too.  It's rare for them to catch my attention early enough in the interview for me to want to keep reading small variations in answers to the same questions.

And the agent blogs, they're less helpful now than they used to be.  Lots of reminders about following the rules, followed by lots of posts saying the writing matters more than any rule out there.  Plus, agent blogs usually wind up turning me on to other agent blogs, which, while interesting, don't help me much in the discipline department.

The writer blogs are often overrun with contests and less "run" with helpful writing information.  That probably has more to do with me than them.  The basic things that you can glean from a blog post are things I already know, and the in-depth things about writing that I still need to learn and practice are unsuited for a blog.

Then I have to factor in the 2cents philosophy.  I love adding my 2 to a discussion.  I've discovered that I usually pick up on a different thread or point in a post than many others do.  So I usually comment before I've read what everyone else has to say, and then I get e-mails from the rest of that discussion that I feel compelled to read all the way through as well.

By the time I'm through reading my daily blog roll, I've got a full mailbox, and another couple of books to find and read.  Those with discipline probably don't get it.  If it's wasting your time, you're smart enough to stop doing it.  Apparently, it takes the rest of us a bit longer.  *rolls eyes at self*

Today, I'm going to try an exercise in moderation.  I'm going to delete 23 blogs from my roll.
If you don't make the cut, it isn't because you don't entertain me, it's possible that you entertain me too much, or perhaps I feel like I've already picked your brain clean of useful information.  In some cases it's just that you're so prolific that to keep your blog around would undermine my needs.

Good Lord.  I can't believe I committed to that.  In public no less.

Here's to productivity!  Here's to discipline!  Here's to cheating and deleting blogs that never say much anyway.  hee hee hee...

Just Finished: From Dead To Worse 
Just Finished: Her Colorado Man 
Currently Reading: Wild Card 
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales VI 
Currently Reading: Some Like it Hot-Buttered 
Currently Reading: Sins of the Night

ETA... * My name is not Venus either--just in case anyone out there is confused.  Venus is a pen name and my real name is just for real life people. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

How I spent my Christmas* Vacation**

A week after I returned from Antigua, my aunt emailed me and said she's coming to town.  She has a love affair with the desert that I am happy to indulge.  I signed on as the Official Chauffeur of Tucson '09 and, last week, took myself off to the car rental agency to start my time in her service.

There's a certain mentality to island living.  It's not something you'd really understand unless you've lived through it yourself.  I'm told it's similar to coming from a small town, but I know it's more severe when you're from an island.  Island living requires sacrifice, you get beauty, you get a strong sense of community, you get safety (usually) and you get mega bragging rights.  People are always jealous you're from an island.

In return you give up lots of things too.  Space, for one.  The underlying knowledge of having the ability to get in your car and BE elsewhere is another.  But one of the biggest sacrifices is variety.  In a large manufacturing country like the US, variety is an expected and taken for granted option.  If you can't get a product in one store, you can get it in another.  If you don't like the colour or size or price, you can shop around until you find exactly what you want.  When you're on an island, you don't have that option.

Some inventory manager somewhere decides how many choices of deodorant a person actually needs.  Some international treaty written to protect interests that you've never cared about says that you can only get one choice of apples at your dinner table.  Some lazy customer service manager says, "we don't ship internationally," and you're screwed. The hell of it is, you can't shop around.  There's no going to the CVS because Albertsons costs too much, or hitting up Target because Kohls didn't have the lipstick colour you want.

What does any of this have to do with my vacation?  Shopping, baby!  Taking an islander to a Walgreens is like taking a kid to her first candy store.  You get joy in just watching her eyes light up.  You step back and let her take all the time she wants to poke around and discover new things they've only seen on TV.  You let her wallow in variety.  After 45 mins or so, you remind her that there are many other stores full of stuff where she can spend her money, and you happily escort her out while carrying half the bags.

But that was just the wallet-breaking part of the trip.  There were other parts, like restaurants, and driving.  So much driving...  But the best part was this:

And this:

Hikes through the scenic Sonoran Desert with a water bottle and camera in hand.  My 67 year old aunt was a trooper, and I tried to immerse her in as much wildness as her ankles would endure.  We sucked in untold gallons of fresh air.  We collected rocks.  We shivered under an indifferent winter sun, and it was wonderful.

I don't often have the chance to marvel at nature with someone who is willing to notice the small things with me.  We hunted baby saguaro, and found dozens of pincushion cacti instead.  We picked flecks of mica off innocent rocks, and, when Nature wasn't looking, we snapped her picture hundreds of times.

My aunt doesn't drive in the States, so I was responsible for every mile we covered, all 688 of them.  Through backroads and mining country, a trip down to Tombstone and dirt roads in the middle of the Saguaro National Park, I consulted the GPS and then happily get us lost knowing we'd always find our way back.

I love the desert.  I'm so blessed to live in it.

Just Finished: Seize The Night 
Just Finished: Hush, Hush 
Just Finished: Letters From Home 
Just Finished: Rock Star 
Just Finished: Moon Called  
Currently Reading: Wild Card 
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales VI

*I don't actually celebrate Christmas.  Neither does my aunt, we had to remind ourselves many times why businesses were closed, or roads were busy.  It's odd being a non-Christian during the holidays.

**Vacation? From what exactly?  I've been chronically unemployed for years.  But anytime I'm living out of a suitcase and sleeping away from my cat, I consider it a vacation from my life.  If only I could engineer a vacation from myself one of these days.