Saturday, April 17, 2010

So Un-PC

The other day I was thinking about what I like in books.

I like a good rescue fantasy.  The woman is in jeopardy, the man is all muscles and brute protection.  She's intelligent, but at her wits end, everywhere she turns is a dead end, everyone she turns to lets her down . . . then the hero swoops in, observes her agony, and finds a way to fix it.

Ahh, fantasy.

Of course, along the way she finds a way to save him too, but it's usually from some emotional trauma.  Sound just like Romantic Suspense, doesn't it?  But then, Romantic Suspense really doesn't do it for me. 

That's because I find RS tends to lean heavily towards the S and less towards the R.  I try to read mysteries to expand my reading vocabulary.  Straight mysteries do it differently.  There's a lot of meandering.  Someone dies, someone cares.  They drop a clue here and there, talk about the weather and the setting of every room.  Secrets are unraveled, red herrings are tossed around like pretzels (Go with it.  In my world, pretzels get tossed.) and in the last ten pages, it all comes together, makes sense, and a bad guy is captured. 

The thing is, RS often tries to follow the same blueprint.  But that blueprint doesn't work for a romance.  Romance needs plot.  Those random red herrings and weather-laden meanderings are an irritant in a romance. They waste my time when my eager eyes could be lapping up some sexual tension or my brain could be soaking in some character development.

Instead we get odd motivations from distracting side characters, or the murder's POV.  This is a romance people.  I don't wanna get the icks.  I don't wanna learn how the bad guy got so twisted, I want to see the hero and heroine work out their personal issues on the page, not chase idiotically after a sociopath.  Call the damn police!

But you know, if those authors changed the focus of that same scene from catching the bad guy to the couple protecting each other, or from ever more implausible plot twists to the couple building a team together, I'd be SO all over it. 

Is it too much to ask for a romantic suspense author who isn't afraid of the mushy stuff?

Just Finished: Servant: The Awakening  
Currently Reading: Six 
Currently Reading: Twice Loved 
Currently Reading: G is For Gumshoe  
Just About To Start: Judgment In Death

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The sweet rewards of failure

I mentioned before that I was reading some books for a contest.  I was given six books in one category and five books in another.  I started with the category I thought I'd enjoy less, and saved the others for a treat when the required reading was done.

What a mistake.

The category I read was awful.  Just mind-numbingly, eye-gougingly awful.  If these books were what anyone picked up as their first exposure to romance, no wonder we have such a bad reputation.  Four of the six books were almost bad enough as to be unreadable.  One was great, one was all right. 

But with the new work schedule and all, I wasn't able to finish reading those books until the day the judging sheets were due.  (The fact that 80% of the category was sooooo bad didn't help my reading speed either.)  As a result of taking so long to read the first category, the second category was removed from my grimy little fingers post-haste and given to someone who'd be able to read and judge those suckers in mere days instead of the month I anticipated it would take me to finish them.

So the books I had set aside as my reward were no longer available to read. 


The moment those books were taken from me I was irritated.  I felt under-appreciated for the work I'd done.  I mean, I sacrificed 6 weeks of my reading time to get through those awful books, and now that I finally have a chance to read the good stuff, they whip it out of my hands. 

Then, a really cool thing happened.  Freedom. 

I looked around at the books I had in my home to read.  I was down to one library book because I'd cut way back on my borrowing in order to accommodate both the work schedule and the contest books.  I looked in the corner of my bedroom ... even the anticipated "good" books were gone.  All that was left was my own TBR.  Books purchased by me for me.  Books that I WANTED to read that had been pushed aside for many months because I was bowing to the library's schedule or forcing my way through the contest reading.

Oh, sweet freedom.  In the week since I've been allowed to read what I like, I've gone through 3 and a half books.  Well-written books.  Interesting books.  Books that help teach me what to do instead of showing me so vividly what not to do. 

Sure there are lessons to be learned from bad books, but at this point in my writing, bad books are not what I need.  Thank heavens for that lovely silver lining provided to me by those horribly written books.  They freed up my schedule to allow me to read my own TBR.  They showed me (without a doubt) the importance of plot, not relying on crutch words, interesting characters, a compelling story, and side-characters who mean something.  And, as an added bonus, if I don't enjoy these books, I can sell or trade them for other, better books.  It's a win-win!

Just Finished: Her Best Bet 
Just Finished: Jude's Law 
Just Finished: Veil of Midnight 
Just Finished: The Cinderella Deal 
Just Finished: The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain 
Currently Reading: G is For Gumshoe 
Currently Reading: Six

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Holy Crow!

I am in awe of those of you who hold down a full time job and manage to blog every day.

It's been a while since I've been subject to someone else's schedule and I'm still getting used to the intrusion.  Don't get me wrong, I am VERY thankful to have a job, but working takes up so much more time than just being at work.

My new position is at a call center for a national glass company.  I'm in that big ol' warehouse eight and a half hours a day, smiling on the phone to people about repairing or replacing their glass.  I'm used to an hour lunch, but no such thing here.  It's a 30 minute thing and I need every second of it.  

Because we have so little time, I have to pack in my lunch every day, and because I'm glued to the phone, there's no such thing as dawdling over the water cooler while filching a doughnut and nursing a cup of coffee.  So every morning, like a good girl, I eat breakfast (oatmeal, coffee and a glass of water), and every night I make lunch and pre-prepare said breakfast.  Add in the commute and altogether I  am somehow spending an extra two hours a day on work prep.

Ten and a half hours a day on work.  Whew.  I'm used to a ten hour sleep days, followed by a light snack, a book, and maybe a nap.  The good ol' days...  Aaaaahhhh

No worries though, I'm adjusting.  The first adjustment consisted of an expanding waistline.  Ooops.  It seems snacking at every break to keep my energy up keeps my weight going up too.  Yeah.  Within ten days I switched to fruits and veggies for my snacks instead of cookies and a candy car.  Mmmmm cookies.  The second and third adjustments came in not writing (or blogging) regularly and reading only ONE book at a time.  Seriously.

It didn't help that in my first three weeks of work I had two out of town visitors who took up every other ounce of free time I had.  I was thrilled to see them, but honestly, couldn't they have waited until I was used to working and not having my two daily naps?

Today was my first full day off (no work or friends) in three and a half weeks.  I lolled in bed, finished a bad book, and watched TV.  Delightful. 

I'm looking forward to getting into a routine.  Back in the dark ages (1999) when I worked at an ISP I managed to write 100 pages of my first book in four or five months.  It was fairly simple, I promised myself I'd spend an hour working on the book every day, and I did.  Time to get back on that determination wagon.  I just need to figure out where to fit it in my day. 

Just Finished: Witness In Death 
Just Finished: Simon Says Mommy 
Just Finished: Devil May Cry 
Just Finished: He Calls Her Doc 
Currently Reading: G is for Gumshoe 
Stalled: Collide

Friday, February 26, 2010

"I'm gonna be there with you somehow"

Two weeks ago, the universe sent me a little message from an old friend.  Today, he sent me the same one again.

I was sitting outside, alone, at a different coffee shop, concentrating on my MS, MP3 player plugged in, pen in hand.  Everything I have written thus far has been typed in as I promised myself I'd get done by the end of this week.  Way back last year I felt like my hero wasn't telling me enough about himself and I didn't understand his needs, secrets or motivations enough to provide him with his own arc.  I had written a scene that felt out of order, so I snagged another notebook and tried to fill in the parts in between.

That notebook wound up containing about 40 pages and three scenes, and in it, my hero got weirder and weirder.  Instead of loving all over the heroine like he had been before, he became strange, Distant Guy.  And as I typed in my work I realized that one of the reasons I don't know what to do with him is because while he's great for her, she doesn't really bring anything healing to his world.

He's already normal.  Healthy.  Happy.  (That bastard)  And well-adjusted people make for boring stories.  Of course, I need him to be a good guy and good for the heroine but, to provide a satisfying story for the reader, I need her to be good for him too.

So I've got myself a structural problem.  And I'm aware of it.  And I'm sitting at a dainty little outdoors table writing it out.  I'm basically talking to myself on paper about my hero and his problems and whether this damn book can be fixed.

I write down: The question is, can this book be salvaged?  And the answer is yes.  I know it can.
I was just about to add: But I don't know how.
-when a woman stops by my table and interrupts me. 

She was riding by on a bicycle and says that she just got this urge, a compulsion, a "message from God" (or the universe),  to stop by my table and tell me to keep working on whatever I was writing.  She thought maybe I was writing a song (I confess to probably singing out loud.  I do that when my headphones are plugged in and I think I'm alone, so she's forgiven for thinking that I was working on music) but no, I was working on deconstructing - and reconstructing - my MS. 

She said she was nervous about stopping, so she circled around a few times, but she couldn't get the urge out of her head that she needed to talk to me and tell me to keep going.  She was worried it was going to be awkward.  She was a stranger and couldn't imagine that I'd accept, appreciate or understand the message to keep working on whatever I was writing.   We chatted for a few minutes.  I told her of my frustrations with my structure and my issues with getting my hero to talk to me.  Hell, we were already in a woo-woo space, I figured she could handle my being upset that an imaginary character wasn't talking to me.

She reminded me that that's exactly like real men, they're not so much for the communication.  Interesting.

After a few more minutes of friendly chatter, she hopped back on her bike and rode away, back to her life.  I turned my MP3 player back on.  This time, instead of the song Tony had once sent me, it was a song I once sent him.  A song that, to this day, makes me smile because it reminds me of when we were falling for each other and how I just wanted to be with him forever and ever.

Within minutes of my personal messenger riding off (and the song ending, because, of course, I had to sit back and listen to it), I had a nice little breakthrough.  My hero expressed his frustration in that ultra-male way that they do.  He picked a fight to defend his woman's honor.  Heh. 

So I'm gonna keep working on this MS.  I was planning to anyway, (I have a stubborn streak in me) but with the upcoming changes in my life it seems the universe, in its own special way, is also determined to make sure I get it finished.

Just Finished: Perfect Chemistry 
Currently Reading: Witness In Death 
Currently Reading: G is For Gumshoe 
Currently Reading Baby In Her Arms 
Currently Reading: Collide

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I suck

A few weeks ago I was, again, lamenting my lack of employment to myself.  It takes a hideous toll on one's sense of self-worth to be chronically unemployed.  I spent some mental energy cursing the world and thinking about all I had to offer an employer:

I'm whip-smart, customers love me, I'm lazy enough to prize efficiency, I have integrity out the yin yang, I always get my work done, I don't watch the clock, I'm reliable and I mind my own business.  After patting myself on the back about how wonderful I am, I had one of those lightbulb moments.

I am an awful employee.

You know that whip-smart thing above?  I'm often smarter than my boss, and while I don't rub it in, the way I keep my mouth closed seems to tip them off.  Customers love me and often wonder (to my face) why the boss is such a tool.  If a system is inefficient, I'll say so - I'll also try to fix it, which, for some reason, bosses take as an affront on their authority.

My integrity means I won't break the rules - even for the boss.  While he's nudge-nudging and wink-winking I'm sitting there saying, "But that's illegal."  Yeah I always get my work done and don't watch the clock, but to me that means if I arrive 10 minutes late and then stay 20 minutes late it doesn't effing matter so long as the work is done.  Employers, however, tend to frown on tardiness.  Sure I show up every day, but I don't always have the best attitude because frankly, I'd rather be sleeping.

And that minding my own business thing?  What it really means is I'm not interested in your boring stories about getting drunk last weekend or the big client you're trying to schmooze on the golf course.  Even if you are the boss, I don't want to know anything about your personal life and sure as heck I'm not going to share mine with you.

Within days after my epiphany, I got a phone call offering me a job interview.  Was that all it took?  Just admitting it to myself?  Apparently not.  Cuz I SO didn't get that job.

Recognizing this failing in myself did make me refocus on my writing, however.  The people who need me on their staff are highly unlikely to hire me.  It was time to get back to my plans for myself.  Last May I sort of fell off the writing wagon.  I've certainly worked on it since then, but not with the energy and determination it needs.  In the few weeks since my revelation I've once again gotten back to treating writing like the job it is. 

In the past two weeks I've typed in over 50 MS pages, editing along the way.  I can see where my story is losing focus and rambling in parts and am actively engaging my brain to find a fix for that.  By next Friday I plan to have everything that I've written all typed in and then start a second pass at edits the following Monday. 

Why the new stringent schedule?  Because now that I've decided that I'm a crapass employee, and now that I've made a conscious choice to go back to treating writing like a job (instead of looking for a job and treating writing like a hobby) I got a job!  I start March 1st.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed that I'm well into a healthy publishing schedule before my new bosses discover what a schmuck I am.

Just Finished: The Groom Wore Tulle / Conyn's Bride 
Just Finished: The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second (skimmed) 
Currently Reading: Collide 
Currently Reading: Baby In Her Arms
Just About To Start: Perfect Chemistry

Saturday, February 13, 2010

He still visits

Five years and nine days ago, someone I was deeply in love with died.

Actually, by the time he died, I was no longer "in love" with him, but the depth of my love for the man had only expanded as the in love part of it compounded and intensified into regular old love.  We met online and never met in person.  It was one of those odd chance encounters when you're looking one way and life kicks you in the head to get your attention.

We met late one night.  I sought him out to address some random comment he'd made and three months later, we still hadn't stopped talking.  He was the first person to ever make me feel truly loved and cared for.  The first one to ever convince me that I was beautiful.  My own personal cheerleader in all things great and small.  He believed in me and supported me and made me a better person just for knowing him.  I can only hope that my contribution to his life was similar.

I'd known him for about four years when he died, but I'd been mad at him for the past two.  The sort of angry where you know you don't have the right, but you can't help your feelings.  The last time we talked, he called me on my birthday in July.  We're both cancers, and I'd missed his, but he was extending the olive branch and I was happy to chat with him, but not too happy, because, you know, I was still angry.  I was also at work, and therefore couldn't talk to long... ten minutes?  five?  Not nearly long enough.

I told him I'd call him back.  I meant it and didn't at the same time.  I knew I'd get in touch eventually, but righteous anger is a bitch of a thing to overcome when you're a natural procrastinator anyway.

That October he was in a very bad car accident.  He wasn't wearing a seatbelt.  WEAR YOUR SEATBELTS, PEOPLE.  His passenger, and wife (see: anger righteous and otherwise, above) went through the windshield and became an organ donor.  He was trapped and crushed and never got any meaningful part of his life back.

In that accident he lost his wife.  He was paralyzed with only limited motor movement in his left arm.  He woke up on a vent, which helped him breathe for months.  He lost him home, as there was no one there to pay the rent.  And he lost his favourite dog, who, without him around, ran away from the person who was taking care of her and drowned.

Still, he lived on for four months in the hospital.  Once I got over my shock, I also got over my anger.  I wrote him every day.  Real letters.  On paper.  He never wrote back (see: paralysis, above) and we never talked on the phone again (see: vent, above).  But those last four months formed an even tighter bond between us.

My guy was a really popular fellow and the web was abuzz with updates on his accident, his wife's organ donation and funeral, his recovery and eventual death.  People who visited him told me he used to light up when he got that daily letter.  They read my personal communications to him while he breathed through a tube. They spoke my secrets out loud. 

In February, long-term care was ready to take him off the hospital's hand.  He was slowly getting better, one baby step at a time.  He'd gotten off the vent, but was only able to say a few words at a time.  I never got to hear any of them.  Arrangements were being made to move him when, in the middle of the night, he died.  His heart just stopped.  I think it was broken.

I cried every day for six months.  I'm crying as I write this.  The pain has faded, but the love hasn't.  Over the course of our friendship, we exchanged gifts.  Those few things I have from him are very precious to me.  One of his gifts was a mixed CD of songs we'd discussed or shared.  The night he died I took a long drive into the rural desert and listened to that CD while I stargazed and tried to absorb the loss.  And, as songs sometimes do, one of them spoke to me that night--carved itself in my heart and is forever associated with him.

Here's where it gets. . .improbable (for the unbeliever).  I felt him around me after he died.  His spirit honored that connection we'd made in life, and stood by me after his death.  It was both comforting and odd.  He finds a way from time to time to remind me that he's still there, my biggest cheerleader, watching over me, reminding me to believe in myself, my beauty, my worth.

Last night, that special song came on while I was out writing.  I took my fingers off the keys and sat back to allow myself to fully feel the joy of having known him.  While seating myself in that old love I let my eyes wander and noticed a man across the way.  I observed him for a bit, and then went back to my song.

When the song ended, the man I'd observed came over and started chatting with me.  He said that I looked so interesting sitting over there, and wanted to know what I was doing.  We fell into conversation and he talked about allowing oneself to be open to the universe, and the importance of travel and pursuing the things that bring you joy.  When he left he smiled at me and reminded me to get this book finished.  It needs to be done.

My Tony, he still finds a way to visit. 

Currently Reading: Collide 
Currently Reading: The Dream-Hunter 
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales VII 
Currently Reading: Healing Luke

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I had a miserable fucking day.

Then I bought Godiva.

Then I came home, crawled under the covers, and stayed there until the day was over and it couldn't touch me anymore.

Then I ate the Godiva.

It's over.

Just Finished: The Mistake She Made 
Just Finished: With Extreme Pleasure 
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales VII 
Currently Reading: Collide 
Currently Reading: The Dream-Hunter 
Currently Reading: Caitlyn's Prize

Monday, February 1, 2010

The lies we tell ourselves may be true

My old local RWA still has me on their e-mail list.

I left the Tucson at the end of September and before that I don't think I'd been to a meeting since March--suffice to say I'm not very involved in the chapter.  But I am on their e-mail list, and I do get a lot of messages from them that I'm sure they don't even know they're sending me.

One of the things they've been going on about lately is the "false stories" we tell ourselves that get in the way of moving forward with our writing careers.  I wasn't at the meeting where this was brought up (apparently to profound effect) so I have no clue about all the details.  But I garner from the resulting online discussion that the group was challenged to think about all the things that keep them from writing / revising / submitting etc. and acknowledge in their heart of hearts how many of these things are real barriers and how many are mere excuses.

I did a 100 / 100 challenge last year at this time.  I heard every excuse in the book from the participants.  Do you know how little time it takes to write 100 words?  Do you know how much energy it takes to actually talk yourself into giving over that time to writing instead of the forty-eight other things you could be doing?  It doesn't compare.  Still - I didn't make my 100 words per day on a regular basis.  I gave in to the excuses, and I knew I was doing so as I did it.  It was a lie I told myself, and I was prepared to believe so long as it got me out of doing that minuscule amount of work.

And now I'm thinking about these false stories that my old RWA is chattering about.  I have read and heard almost every story of writing and publishing adversity out there.  Most compelling to me is Sherrilyn Kenyon's.  That woman persevered.  Look it up yourself.  I don't want to check facts on her story, because so long as I believe she walked uphill in the snow both to and from school for the sake of her art--and then succeeded--it's good enough for me.  "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

I read a lot *points to the right side of the page* and some of what I get my hands on is DAMNED good.  Some of it, of course, is damn rot too.  Then there's everything in between.  I know my writing is good.  How do I know?  The same way I know that I dance and sing well.  People tell me.  No one who's willing to pay me for it, mind you, but no one who was otherwise required to render an opinion either.  I also know my writing is not as good as those "damned good" works I come across on a semi-weekly basis.

It is not, however, as bad as some of the damn rot that has been bound and published for my pleasure.  I have a relatively healthy ego.  Shocking, I know, but there nonetheless.  I have long been detached enough from my writing to stand criticism.  But that was before the prospect of publication.  Now, I want my work to be good.  Really, really good.  Because, like the Internet, once in print, it's gonna be there forever. 

So I don't write.  I don't work on my work.  I fear editing and revisions because, what if I never reach the pinnacle of "damned good"?  What if I am destined to sit in fair-to-middlin land forever?  What if my imagination isn't big enough?  My plots not tight enough?  My characters so shallow I can't even wet my toes in them?  Aaaarrrrrrrggghhh!!!!!

This isn't one of the false stories.  It's true.  I'm not good enough to be great.


Every book I pick up is a double-edged sword.  (Triple-edged? Quadruple?)  The first slice is an opportunity for me to learn.  Learn what I like, what I don't, what works, what I believe, what comes off as insincere...  The other side of the blade I take as a chance to castigate myself.  The doubts creep in like mealworms, trying to ruin me ... I tell myself, "I like what she did there.  I would never have thought of that." "Man that's a great idea.  My brain doesn't work that way, I'd have fucked it up if I tried it."  "Check out that plot twist.  I'd have totally gone the other way."

The third edge of that sword reminds me that it's time to put the book down and pick the pen up, and then that fourth cut to the gut is all about "Yeah, but this author is better / luckier / smarter / more ambitious / etc than I am."

How much of it is true?  I'll never know until I submit, will I?

Just Finished: Break 
Just Finished: Unleash the Night 
Currently Reading: Now & Then 
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales VII
Currently Reading: Dark Side Of The Moon 
Currently Reading: Divorced, Desperate & Dating

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.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Have you read those Sookie Stackhouse novels?  They're by Charlaine Harris.  Fun, light-hearted vampire novels that are the inspiration for the True Blood series on HBO.

In them, Sookie, our heroine, can overhear what people are thinking.  She's not really psychic, she's more like an unwilling eavesdropper.  That's how I felt during travel a couple of weeks ago.  I didn't read anyone's mind.  I didn't have to, people were putting their lives on broadcast everywhere I went. 

Now, I've heard some authors say they love nothing more than to be the unnoticed fly on the wall during a juicy conversation among strangers.  And, you know, I think I might agree with them.  But, the truth of the matter is, like Sookie's overheard mental snippets, most of what people say isn't that interesting.

I travel alone most of the time.  I am quite content with my own company, and aside from general pleasant and polite platitudes, I keep my mouth shut.  I have books, an MP3 player, my Blackberry and an active mind to fill my silences.  When I do engage in conversation (especially in public places) I am not the strident sail, I seek the attention of no one except the person with whom I am in conversation, nor do I share at length the banalities of my day or the privacies of my mind.

Apparently this puts me in the 99th percentile among travelers. 

A philosophy professor of mine once said, "You can't learn anything with your mouth open."  I took it to heart and attuned myself to listening, rather than being the one to spout off my "intelligences" to those who were only waiting for an opportunity to cut in and talk back at me.  The quote has served me well over life, but there are times when there's simply nothing to be learned from someone else's open mouth.

I cannot tell you how many boring, go-nowhere, mean-nothing, fill-the-silence conversations I was party to while a captive audience at the airports and in the airplanes.  It was enough to make me feel faintly homicidal.

Have you ever read a manuscript by a beginning author who feels the need to capture the reality of conversation?  They don't use dialogue as a tool for advancing the story, giving insight into character or expressing a mood.  Instead they put quotes around everyday conversation.

"It is nice to meet you.  What is your name?"
"My name is Sara.  What is your name?"
"I am Jackie."

It's English 101 taught in Herzegovina.  And it's enough to make you slam the book shut and turn the author around for a good ass-kicking.  That's what it was like traveling the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I was stuck in six different airports and on five different flights at one-time or another, and I swear to Joseph, nobody had anything interesting to say at all, and every one of them said it at length. 

My mother tells me I need to be more patient, she's probably right.  But instead I would rather people just shut the hell up.  If you don't have anything interesting to say, don't sit anywhere near me.

Just Finished: Bedded For Passion, Purchased For Pregnancy 
Just Finished: Black Silk 
Just Finished: Elizabeth's Wolf 
Currently Reading: F Is For Fugitive 
Currently Reading: Conspiracy In Death

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fat-Bottomed Girls You Make The Rockin' World Go Round

I am three days back from a 6 day stay in Antigua. 

I hung out with my mum and stuffed my face daily from the all-inclusive restaurant.  We drove, and beached, and met relatives, and got lost and got tanned.  Essentially, we touristed.

I tourist.
You tourist.
He / she / it tourists.

And we slept.  Man, did we sleep.  One day we got up, had breakfast, went to the beach for an hour, took a nap, had lunch, then sat in the back of a cab for three hours being driven around on a tour, took another nap, got up and had dinner, then went to sleep for the night.  Oh yeah, baby.  We slept.

Our room wasn't luxury, but it was completely comfortable.  Here's the view from my bed.

What you can't see is that between that patch of grass and that swathe of ocean is a tidy bit of beach.  It really was just that simple a matter of walking out of the room and wading into the ocean.

The best thing about the room, which my mother didn't seem to appreciate, and I didn't much think about one way or the other until I hit civilization again,  was that there was no TV, and no radio.  Just the sound of the waves hitting the shore.  (Oh, and the AC which mum insisted on having on 24/7)  And Lord, blessed, hallelujah - my Blackberry didn't work there either.  No texts.  No e-mails.  No phone calls. 

We could hear tree frogs every night singing to us.  During the day there was no canned laughter.  No whining about the political motives of this party or that.  No doom and gloom forecasts of how the economy / job market / church / world / you are going to hell.  Just, ocean.

The first TV I heard in the airport on the return trip was CNN talking heads, earning their shekels by predicting all of the above.  I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and scream LA LA LA LA LA to escape it.  No wonder so many of us are on anti-depressants.  We can't turn around without some expert telling us how bad the world we live in is.

To my regret I only had one pure beach day.  And I got me a little tan.  Here's me on the beach. 

See that big round thang bouncing up and down in the distance?  That's all me.  I know many women who would be mortified of shots of themselves in a swimsuit -- especially shots from the rear.  But this image just makes me smile.

Look at that!  One healthy, working body, out there on the beach.  Hair blowing, knees moving, flesh jiggling.  It's a good thing.  I have known far too many people who would happily trade places with me in order to have all parts of themselves work like God intended, and damn the extra fat.  Hell, I know more than a few people who would love to have the extra pounds too, so I'm gonna celebrate mine and share it with the world.

The shots from the front aren't as enlivened.  Further, they show my face--and since I've been on the net ('93) I've made a conscious effort to keep both my face and real name off the web.  So you won't be seeing any of those shots.  But how could I resist sharing that juicy bodonkadonk with all the other real women out there? 

Here's where we had breakfast and lunch. 

Migrating birds from the States joined us for every meal, but they were tiny little finches, not big bruiser pigeons, so it was very clean.

And here's the view from that spot.  I stood just outside the deck area for exposure purposes. 

I swear, no retouching.  It looked just like that.

I'll stop now.  I know there's very little in the world more boring than other people's vacation photos.  But I had such a pleasant time I couldn't resist.  I hope you all had a wonderful week after Thanksgiving too.


Just Finished: The Lovely Bones 
Just Finished: When You Call My Name 
Just Finished: Dead Girls Are Easy 
Just Finished: His Perfect Match 
Just Finished: No Limits 
Just Finished: Hummingbird 
Currently Reading: F is For Fugitive