Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Wizard of Oz Syndrome

Bet you thought I was going to post something profound - something different and interesting.

Sorry to disappoint you. The only reason I have WoO Syndrome is because the air conditioner in my house broke Monday night and I'M MELTING!

You've got to love Texas heat.

The repair people claim they will be at the house today sometime between sunrise and sunset. But will they have a part? If not, I'm seriously considering sneaking the pets into a hotel so I can actually get some sleep. And with 3 dogs and 3 cats, that's a heck of a lot of sneaking.

So no library book today - I'm at work now and don't have one and at home, I won't turn on the lights to see in my office because - you guessed it - it's too damned hot!

Hopefully we'll have air conditioning and I'll be able to function better tomorrow.

Monday, May 29, 2006

We interrupt this holiday.....

To say that my book is up on Amazon!!!!! I had to share - this is way cool!

Library Book #4

On Writing by Stephen King

So some of you may think "heck no, he scares me." And that's probably true. King is an absolute master at horror. But his book On Writing is fantastic. It tells of his journey to publication, explains his theory of "the writer's toolbox" and what he thinks you need inside and it delves into his philosophies on writing itself which contain many great things to remember.

King makes two statements that I particularly love. The first is "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." He insists there is no shortcut and I agree with him.

Then he goes on to explain that even for those that think they don't have reading time avaialable, there are creative ways to find some. This next comment is probably my favorite of all my writing books and all writers should adopt this as law and feel the luxury of living this way. He says "Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway."

Now does that mean as soon as your book is in print, you become the scourge on humanity? People cross streets to avoid brushing up against you, women cover babies and run screaming in horror? Of course not. But how many of you have written something you loved then wondered or worried about who it was going to offend?

Stop worrying. Be true to yourself and your art.

After receiving some truly odd contest scores once (perfect in preliminaries and lowest in finals complete with rude remarks), I asked a published author friend, Jane Graves/Sullivan, about this anomoly because it had happened more than once and the disparity was odd to me. She said "you are in the perfect place with your work - people either love it or hate it - but you're creating a strong emotion in them and that's what you want or you'll be a low mid-list writer forever."

WOW! That really opened my eyes. It was okay for people to hate my book because for everyone who absolutely detested my work, there would be people who thought it was the second coming of the great American love story. What a trade off! I can take a few tacky comments along with glowing praise. Who wouldn't?

Write your story your way, without concern for anyone else and what they think. Be true to yourself and your characters, your plot. After all, no one else has the stake in your writing that you do - don't sell yourself short when you can create huge emotion in your readers. Even if it's bad.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Library Book #3

I'm going to jump ahead here and make a recommendation for those recently published -

Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval

Let's face it, most writers don't have sales or marketing experience and the thought of doing PR for your own work is somewhat daunting. Do you know how to write a Marketing Plan? Do you even know what a Marketing Plan is? Well, Ms. Deval will spell it out for you in easy language to understand. Topics include: Book Marketing Basics, How to Write a Marketing Plan, Press Materials, Hire Your Own Publicist, The Print Publicity Campaign, Media Training: How to Give a Great Interview.

In addition to this book, I'd like to make another recommendation for those wanting to do their best to market their books but lacking the budget to hire a freelance publicist. You DO have the creativity to come up with your own marketing ideas. C'mon people, you just sold a BOOK. How can you not have an original idea? What you lack is focus/direction and an ability to know how to put it together.

My fabulous agent, Kristin Nelson, put me together with book promotions guru, Bella Stander of Book Promotion 101. Bella is SUPER nice and in two one-hour phone sessions, managed to get me thinking in the right way, threw out tons of ideas of her own specific to my book and market and told me to read Jacqueline Deval's book. I highly recommend you spring for a couple of phone sessions with Bella. It is WELL worth the money to get in a brief period of time what people pay thousands of dollars for a publicist to handle for them.

So if you're ready for this information - CONGRATULATIONS! You've sold a book!

Now get to selling it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Library Book #2

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

I cannot say enough about this book. If you are beyond the point of understanding GMC, then run, SPEED to your nearest bookstore and BUY THIS BOOK! It is fabulous. It covers everything - Premise, Stakes, Time and Place, Characters, Plot, Contemporary Plot Techniques, Multiple Viewpoints, Theme, etc.

Topic from book of the day - What Makes a Character Larger than Life?

Maas list these reasons and explains them in detail: Strength, Inner Conflict, Self-Regard, & Wit & Spontaneity. All valid characteristics of book heroines we admire. But he also takes it to a higher level with these words:

"....I would like to suggest that there are two character qualities that leave a deeper, more lasting and powerful impression of a character than any other: forgiveness and self-sacrifice."

Wow! When I read this years ago it was like I had been hit by a lighting bolt. Of course, those two items would make for a great heroine. It's hard not to like someone who is sacrificing for others without consideration of themselves. Look at the soldiers overseas, sacrificing their time with their families and sometimes their lives so that you and I can rest with our own families under freedom every night. Look at the fireman and policemen who rushed into the Twin Towers to rescue people, many losing their own lives in the process.

Now, I'm not saying your heroine needs to rush into a burning building or pick up a weapon and engage the enemy (although either of those is fine and I'd probably like to read it), but ask yourself in your current work - how can I make my heroine give up something important for the benefit of another?

My only caveat - and this is totally me, not Maass - make the recipient of the action worthy. If you have the heroine sacrifice for a total butthead, then some readers (definitely me) will think she's being foolish.

So what has your heroine done for others lately??????

Monday, May 22, 2006

My Writing Library

I get a lot of requests from newbie writers for reference material. So I thought I'd do something a little different this week and cover some of the books that are in my library and a bit about what each covers. I just grabbed the first one off the shelf this morning (I was in a hurry to get to work) and this is what I came up with for today:

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham

For those of you not in the know, Jack Bickham is also the author of Scene & Structure, the absolute bible of novel structures and explanation of scene & sequel - but we'll cover that later. Anyway, the point is, this guy knows what he's talking about. Sometimes people are put off by his phrasing, so I'm warning you now - he's not being condescending - he's a college professor and tends to write in pure academia language. It's not personal people.

38 covers tons of ground, from reasons to start and stay started all the way up to relationships with your editor.

Some of the chapters include: Don't Make Excuses, Don't Consider Yourself Too Smart, Don't Describe Sunsets, Don't Duck Trouble, Don't Lecture Your Reader, Don't Mangle Characters' Speech, Don't Forget Sense Impressions, Don't Worry About Being Obvious, Don't Give Up and many more.

The chapter I wanted to talk about a little bit more today is Don't Ignore Professional Advice. God, if I had a nickel for every time someone has received excellent advice from a published author and blatantly ignored it, well......back to that whole Dooney & Bourke comment from the last blog.

So let's assume you're in need of some advice - it could be on technique, time management, industry, marketing - whatever. You haven't found the answer in a book or in 1000 hours of online searching, so your next step is to ask someone. If you're really fortunate, you have a local writer's chapter with many published members. If not, you can always find published authors online. I am going to assume that you would NEVER ask an important question of an author you don't respect or admire, so we're going to also assume this person is competent in the field of writing for publication.

Then why on earth would you completely ignore everything they say????

Now, realize, I'm not about to imply that one writer can tell another exactly how everything should be done. But people who are doing it well enough to sell have obviously made things work. I believe the problem is many people talk to published authors and don't like the answer they get so they choose to ignore it altogether. What a waste. Please be open minded enough to consider the source, the viewpoint they are coming from and decide if what they are saying applies to you or is a fit for your situation. Maybe you ultimately decide it's not. Then pick another author with a closer fit for your genre/style, etc and ask again.

And please remember, just like in critiquing or rejection letters, if two or more knowledgable people are saying the same thing - there's usually a problem.

Don't let your ego or rose-colored glasses get in the way of your own progress.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Write What You Know?

As writers, we have probably heard the expression "write what you know" at least a million times. Okay, maybe a million and two. And I'm sure most everyone past their first wip or who has attended at least one local RWA chapter meeting understands the concept. I'm an accountant, but that doesn't mean I need to write boring dribble about number-crunching for the evil corporate giant. What it means is I need to take my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions about things and apply them to the characters in my books. It's what makes them human.

I recently found a copy of No Plot? No Problem! in my local Half Price and snatched it up as I had heard it mentioned before by different successful authors. I am really enjoying the author's voice and what he has to say. The author is Chris Baty and for those of you who don't know, he's the brainchild behind NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). There is one sentence in the book that caught my attention more than "wwyk" ever did and that's

"If you won't enjoy reading it, you won't enjoy writing it."

Wow! Simple, direct, truthful. Yet how many times have we heard authors say they're going to try writing ______ next because that's the current hot seller? If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone utter this phrase and I went on to find out that they'd never actually read a book of that genre, well, let's just say me and Dooney & Bourke would both be very happy.

I've met mystery writers who've never read a mystery and can't even follow a conversation with the word "cozy" in it. They don't know what a police procedural is and couldn't tell me if they're writing one. And the list of people attempting to sell a romance because they're "easier" to sell/write/plot/market than other books is simply long and sad. They're the same people that think adding sex to any story makes it a romance. Uh, hello? Since when did we become men and equate hot sex to love?

Maybe a better rule would just be "write what you read." That way you're guaranteed at least one fan.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Pancakes in Peace

FINALLY! I found a new breakfast place!!!! The food is great and I won't go bankrupt buying it, the service is practically invisible but my coffee never runs out.

The atmosphere is very comfortable - metal chairs, vinyl booths and covered tables. And most important - normal patrons.

At the "other" place, everyone eating seemed to be in some sort of meeting and definitely had an agenda. This would have been fine except that they all talked too loud and the conversations were never interesting. Basically, there were only two kinds of patrons - the businessmen and the churchgoers.

The businessmen were annoying because they spent all their time talking about how their (fill in blank with any item for sale) was the best (item) served in the state of Texas and they were sure of it because their wife had said so.

The churchgoers were annoying (and somewhat circumspect) because they consisted almost completely of groups of men whose religious discussions always seemed to center around how to make their wives obedient. I nicknamed them "The Stepford Christians."

The new place - so far, no businessmen, no Stepford Christians - at least not that I've overheard.

I did, however, overhear a very interesting conversation at a table of retired farmers, where one of them had apparently been offended by the offer (for $20) of a professional to mow his yard where there was a steep incline. He had refused and set out to do it himself. What he managed to do instead was stall his mower, then get it stuck in neutral, and roll backwards down the incline and into the lake. It cost his $100 to fix the mower and $150 for a new cell phone since it was in his pocket when he took a dip and apparently didn't think to jump off before hitting water.

Ah, there's no place like home.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Magical Shoes Revisited

I'll go ahead and admit it, my favorite movie of all times is The Wizard of Oz. I remember back in the day (don't I sound like your grandmother) of television antennaes and TV Guide, scanning the new listing every week after our grocery store run to see if this was the week that TWoO was on television. Of course, now we're in the day of on-demand everything so I can watch the wizard whenever I want. God, I always wanted a pair of those shoes.

Well, apparently I'm not the only one who wanted Dorothy's ruby, red slippers. Author Shanna Swendson has followed up her spectacular debut, Enchanted, Inc., with another big hit called Once Upon Stilletos - featuring a magical pair of red shiny shoes. What more could a girl ask for - oh wait, great characters, an intriguing plot, fantastic writing technique - well, it's all there.

And FYI, for all those mothers out there, Shanna and Ally Carter (see previous blog on Ally's newest release) both write very PG, so their books are suitable for younger readers.

So click your heels together, say "there's no place like a bookstore" three times and jump in your car to buy Once Upon Stilletos.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Lucky Unpublished

So my friend, Ally Carter, posted a blog about the green-eyed monster and gave a list of things that make her jealous and one of the items listed were unpublished writers.

I know this probably sounds ridiculous to those of you who aren't yet published and are spending sleeping, working and family time slaving away at the keyboard. But her statement really resonated with me because I feel the same way.

It wasn't so long ago that I was excited by the writing process. I had a fabulous idea and took all the time I needed to refine it to perfection, send it out for test reading, critiquing and entry into a couple of carefully selected contests. I read the books on technique and spent weeks applying one concept at a time to my work. The dialogue flowed from my fingers, my humor was dead on and never forced.

Now, don't think I'm implying for a moment that it was easy - writing is always hard, writing at a publishable level is incredibly hard. But I never felt the burden of producing my book. You see, I hadn't yet been labeled a "humorous contemporary romance/with mystery elements" author. I still had the freedom to be anything I wanted to be - write anything I wanted to write - and take as much time as I needed to do it.

Then THE SALE. And everything changed.

Suddenly, people were making comments like "genius" and "funniest ever" and "better than _____" and I felt the first wave of worry wash over me. What if I couldn't do it again? What if my humor left, what if I couldn't plot my next mystery elements to save my own life, what if my characters and setting (so entertaining in the SOLD book) turned out to be flat, one-dimensional and (gasp) boring?

Then life came into play - the day job exploded with overtime requirements, my husband and I moved and were left with one house to unpack another to ready for sale, and I got a pinched nerve that allowed me to type in fifteen minute increments for almost six weeks.

Not to mention the publishing requirements for the sold novel - writing a marketing plan, putting together a bio, author photo, dedication, acknowledgments, filling out the art fact sheet and praying that I got a good cover (It was fabulous, btw), then line edits arrived and not long after, galleys.

And all the while people were asking "how's the proposal for book #2" or "where's the propsal for book #2" and "the slots fill up pretty fast - are you working on something"

Yes, I was working. I was working my ass off, but the reality is, it just wasn't coming together. Whether it was the outside factors, my own fears or just Second Book Syndrome, for whatever reason, the propsal was kicking my butt. The first proposal was too catagory-like, not a good thing for a single-title author, the second was closer but when expanded was too bogged down in unnecessary plot and not my natural sarcastic humor.

So I unpacked boxes, hired contractors like a madman for the old house and burned the midnight oil until I was as caught up as I could get at the day job. And when I felt a tiny bit relieved, I sat down and started - for the fourth time since December, on my proposal.

And for the first time since I started with this concept (and I've always loved the concept), I feel like the story is coming together. Maybe it was just my time. Maybe my mind finally said "what the hell" and allowed me a break from all the worrying. I don't know and quite frankly, I don't care as long as it continues.

Because you see, even as good as I'm feeling about this proposal, it's only the beginning. Because a great proposal will (hopefully) get me a book offer, and with an October release date on my first book, the second would be due around the time of the first release in order to keep them close enough together for my reading audience to remember me. That leaves me five months to write the perfect second book - which in many ways, needs to be even better than the first. And when I think about how long it took to get the first as good as it is, that's a frighteningly short amount of time.

So I take a deep breath and try not to think about it. Because nothing runs off the muse (or the sense of humor) faster than the stress monster.

For those of you not yet published, don't rush the process. You'll arrive when you're ready (or quite possibly before) and writing will never be the same for you again. Enjoy your freedom of genre. Enjoy the luxury of time.

Selling is an awesome high, and an incredible responsibility.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Ketchsup Nazi's

I have two complaints this week - things that have been bothering me ever since I moved. I know they may seem completely trivial, but you know how something stupid can stick in your craw until you can't stand it anymore.

The first is my breakfast. Okay, you have to understand that for me, breakfast is a sacred event. It's the only thing I ever did religiously. When I lived in the old house, I'd eaten at the same breakfast place for over ten years - almost every day. I had friends there (and I still see them from time to time) the waitresses all knew me and knew how to serve me, I got GREAT work done at that restuarant. In fact, the entire rough draft of Rumble on the Bayou was written over breakfast. Well, that restuarant closed just before I moved and I've been in a state of flux ever since. I haven't found any place in the new town that I really like and the service is what has gotten on my last nerves.

I've been going in this one place for the past two months. They see me almost every day, yet I keep having to remind them not to seat me in the dark area of the restuarant because I need to see to read. I ALWAYS work during breakfast. So they put me at a four-top table, which is great and plenty of room for the Alphasmart, notes, etc. So I order food immediatley, which is not the norm, but the wait staff hovers until you do and I can't work so I just order. Now, I'm one person sitting at a four-top - there is PLENTY of room on the table for them to set my Cream of Wheat to the side and not disturb my writing. But every damned day they stand there, holding the bowl and looking down at me like I'm the one preventing them from doing their job. So EVERY DAMNED DAY I point to the half of the table that is completely empty and say "just put it there."

What is wrong with these people? Have they never had a thought so complex that they don't understand not interuppting someone when they're working? Do I really need to acknowledge the Cream of Wheat bowl for it to arrive at the table? See my old restaurant never, ever bothered me when I was working. They knew, they understood. They would hold food under the heat lamp until I looked up from my Alphasmart, then ask if I wanted it. Smart - great service. People who actually have a clue and are aware of their surroundings. The new place also has to ask you every time they pass your table if you want more coffee. Since my coffee is usually on the inside of the table, if it is empty and I have placed it on the far outside nearest the walkway - wouldn't that tell you I want more. Again - WHY are you speaking to me?

So I can no longer work on my books during breakfast and am having to adjust. Or maybe I need to try a different restaurant, but so far, I haven't liked the food at any other. (sigh) Please, if we have anyone who waited tables out there, let me know if I'm being a total bitch or if the wait staff is just sooooooo not getting it.

Next complaint: Can someone please tell me who told McDonald's employees to become ketchsup Nazi's? Now, I'm not a small girl - and neither is my husband - small OR a girl. And when we order fast food, there's plenty of it. So why in the world do they think two ketchsups for chicken nuggets, hamburgers and fries is enough for two people? Are we on a ketchsup ration? Is there a bigger shortage of ketchsup than oil and no one told me? And if you ask for more, they first pretend they don't understand, then when you insist, they get this agrieved look like you just ask for their firstborn to join a satanic cult with you and practically throw more ketchsup out the window.

Are these people bonuses on the ketchsup inventory? And if not, why in the world do they care how much ketchsup I eat? Like everything else they just handed me is healthy and the ketchsup is going to kill me.............I don't get it.

Okay, enough bitching for this Friday. Maybe I'll make Friday my "end of the week bitch day."

What's your bitch today?
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