Thursday, September 28, 2006

It Oughtta Be Called FanLITE!

More than one poster on the Avon FanLit forum has remarked upon its addictive qualities. When submissions and voting are in full swing, dust bunnies grow dust bunnies, refrigerators and cupboards grow bare, and we all forget to eat. It wasn't until dinner on Monday that I realized I hadn't consumed anything but one cup of coffee and one cup of tea. I've lost three pounds this week, and I'm not even on a diet!

So, this week in FanLit, I submitted one very silly entry oh-so-wittily entitled The Fairy Tale Fractures. It started out as an X-Files parody, but then wound up going in a rather different, more Shrek-like direction. In the end, it was neither fish nor fowl--not really a parody and not really a straight entry, either, but a little of both. However, as you can probably guess by the title and the Shrek/X-Files angles, it definitely headed into paranormal territory and therefore had zero chance of getting into the final round.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when several people (including the winner of the last round) commented in the forum that my entry was in their top ten lists. I was flattered beyond words. (Okay, I'm a writer. I was not flattered beyond words. But darned close!)

When the final ten were announced yesterday afternoon, mine was not among them. No surprise. Really, we are supposed to be writing a Regency novella, not a paranormal parody. I know people enjoyed my entry and I'm satisfied with that. As with A Regency Enterprise, even I wouldn't want to write the next chapter based on the one I submitted this time. So I'm completely cool with it.

But guess who did make the final ten? Our very own Lacey Kaye! She refused to state which entry is hers in her blog, so I guess I'm supposed to be hush-hush about it so as not to sway the voting, but I will say that it contains both a lot of purple and a lot of cats. As of this morning, her entry had also received a Player's Pick from the winner of the last round and Author's Picks from Cathy Maxwell and Victoria Alexander. Does Lacey rock, or what?

There were also great entries in the last round from the rest of the "gang". Lynne Simpson had both a straight entry and a time-travel parody entry which shall forever after be known as "The Viagra Entry". The straight entry was good, but the Viagra one was hilarious. Unfortunately, I read the parody first, which sort of spoiled the real one for me, LOL.

Darcy submitted two entries, the second of which she didn't even have time to write a "real" promo for. In an ironic twist, I think her hurried promo which read "Out of time - just read it! A duel, some witty repartee, it's kind of cute. I'm out of time!" was actually more appealing and intriguing than most of the ones people sweated over (including mine). I expect that one to finish in the top 30 if not the top 20.

Tomorrow afternoon, we'll know where all our entries finished and I'll post to links to all of them. In the meantime, cross your fingers for Lacey's entry, Sweet Deception. (Oh, shoot, I just gave it away!) I want to write purple cats in the next round!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Quick, Get Me a Paper Bag! I'm Hyperventilating!

Well, this has been a red-letter week for li'l ole me! Which is a good thing because when Hilary Sares knocks me down a peg or two in early November, I'll still have this little high moment to remember and savor.

A little over an hour ago, I received a couple of e-mails from a fellow FanLitter, Sarah Kirbo. Sarah, you are naughty because you provide me no way to link people to you! Update thy profile with a blog or somethin', says I!

I can, however, link to one of her FanLit entries, Bloody Rose, which finished a very respectable 28th. Better than my parody, come to think of it.

/me scowls

So, it seems Sarah e-mailed Teresa Medeiros, Avon author and self-identified Trekkie, and suggested she read my Star Trek parody. It seems there was "buzz" earlier in the week that Teresa herself might have been the author. At any rate, Teresa did read it and Sarah forwarded me her two e-mails praising my entry to prove it (I won't reproduce them here on the chance Teresa wouldn't want me to). Just suffice it to say she said words to the effect of "I wish I had written it," and I had another squee moment as a result.

I sent a nice e-mail to Teresa thanking her for reading my entry and being so kind about it, of course. But the really funny part of this is that when I saw the first few 5.0s come in on A Regency Enterprise, I had momentary delusions of grandeur in which I envisioned it finishing in the top ten just so Teresa could read it. Because I knew she is a Trekkie and I was pretty sure she'd think it was, at the very least, amusing. I never dreamed my entry would be (however incorrectly) attributed to her or that she'd enjoy it as much as she seemed to.

I am in awe.

And oh, how I wish we had more than 69+ hours left in which to craft the next chapter. Because I have a pretty good parody idea, but I just don't know how I'm going to find the time to write it!

My Friends Kick My Butt in FanLit!

Well, I may be a finalist in a contest with sixteen entries in my category, but my friends who submitted entries to the Avon FanLit contest whupped my proverbial hiney when the field was a whopping 513 entries. My parody did frighteningly well, finishing in the top 10%, but I'm sure that's only because it had a ton of reads because the promo was really clear and people needed a break from the standard entries! So I don't think its ranking strictly "counts" because it didn't follow the category premise and therefore would never have been selected as a finalist anyway, even if it had scored better, vote-wise.

Here's how we all finished:

13th Lynne's The Loom of Time
17th Lacey's Star-Crossed
34th My A Regency Enterprise
36th Darcy's The Lies That Bind
54th Lynne's The Loom of Time (Rewrite)
69th Lacey's The Husband Hunt
101st My Cherchez La Femme
155th Darcy's The Distance Enchanted

(And thanks to Lacey, from whose blog I stole the above--because she's faster than me, LOL--so I wouldn't have to redo the links.)

The really great news here is Lynne, Lacey, and Darcy all had legitimate entries that finished in the top 10%. That is solid, people! And I think it means I'm a pretty darned good judge of writing skill, since I loved all of their entries and thought every one of them was as good as or better than the ones that finaled (the top 10).

My very favorite entry, The Goddess of Small Things, did final but didn't win. The winning entry was The Wayward Wife, which I thought was well-written and a fun read, but which gave me zero ideas on where to go in the next chapter. Of course, part of the contest is that the panel will post a set of guidelines to tell entrants which plot points to hit in the next chapter, so maybe something will come to me once I read that. But if not, I may sit out the next round since I really, really need to get crackin' on Living In Sin.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

FanLit, SchmanLit! I Finaled in the Golden Rose!

Squeeeeeeeeeeee! (Where's an animated gif of a happy dance when you need one?)

That's right, folks, Living In Sin finaled in the single-title historical category of the Portland Golden Rose. (The entry is listed under my real name, not my pen name, which I didn't include in my submission because I was told it was moot. Wonder if I can get them to change that? Not because I'm trying to hide anything, but because it's confusing!)

The "prize" for finaling (at least as far as I'm concerned) is that my synopsis and first three chapters have a date with Hilary Sares, editor at Kensington. And to be honest, it was only because I hoped to get my manuscript in front of Hilary that I entered this contest in the first place. Of course, Hilary might hate it and knock me down several pegs, but I'm just so delighted to get the chance to be at the top of her pile!

Almost equally exciting, my critique partner Erica Ridley finaled in the Romantic Suspense category with Witness. That manuscript has the funniest opening chapter I have ever read, bar none, so I'm not at all surprised by her success. Congratulations, Erica!

So now, I really have to get cracking and finish writing this thing. The results of the final round are supposed to be announced in the first week of November, so the fire has definitely been lit under my bum to have the manuscript wrapped up by then, if only in first draft form (though calling any of my chapters a first draft, since they have all been past at least one of my critique partners already, is probably not completely fair).

The good news is that FanLit did seem to help kick something loose in my brain that allowed me to figure out how to replot the ending without writing out any of the secondary characters. It's just that instead of two sub-plots, I now really only have one. Everyone who shows up in the story with a few exceptions is somehow related to that one sub-plot so they can all tie up neatly at the end in one package.

I also came up with a new scene to add at the very beginning of the manuscript between my heroine and her brother that allows me to set up her GMC before meeting the hero. And I think that will give the first scene between the hero and the heroine a little more "pop", as well as allow me to cut some dialogue and narrative in later chapters that I currently need to explain her situation. Anything I can do at this point to cut into the backstory development in later chapters will help me get to the end.

In the meantime, I should probably let FanLit rot. Except I've made some friends there. (I've even had a few FanLitters come visit my blog in the last week and maybe they'll come back again.)

/me waves to all FanLitters (or does that sound too much like KittyLitter, LOL?)

Friday, September 15, 2006

All FanLit Up

If you are one of the few, the proud, and the brave who have not yet been swept up in the Avon FanLit hysteria, I applaud you. You are probably actually writing your real book and/or doing other forms of paying work. The rest of us, I'm sorry to say, are not being very productive at the moment, so good on you. Because we need someone to keep running the world while we're preoccupied.

I actually had no intention of submitting an entry (the category for submissions is Regency and I thought the story premise was a little ridiculous) or of voting on entries (except for those sent in by my critique partners), but alas, I am weak. About midway through the submission period, I caved. And now not only do I have two entries (more on the second entry in a second), but I am also in the top ten list of Top Players! (You are awarded "buzz points" for every entry you score, for leaving comments with your scores, and other site activity. I've no idea exactly how these points are determined, but I have earned a lot of them somehow, enough to be in the top ten.)

One of the more frustrating things about the way this whole fanlit thing is working, however, is that you really can't tell how your entry is doing. My sense is that my "straight" entry isn't doing very well--it gets ratings from 0 (the lowest) to 5 and everything in between, but more on the lower side than the higher, it seems. I've generally only gotten comments from folks who liked it reasonably well, however, so I don't know exactly what the majority of people who give it 0's through 1.5's are thinking.

A good average score at the moment appears to be anything over 3.0, but you only see an entry's average immediately after you score it yourself and these averages apparently don't take into account all of the things that will determine an entry's final ranking (like how many times a chapter's promo was skipped), so that average likely doesn't mean all that much anyway.

But the primary reason I have gotten caught up in this FanLit thing is that it is fascinating to watch from a psychological point of view. The period for submitting and preliminary voting for the first chapter is quite long (it began at the end of last week and doesn't complete until early next week), and for the last few days, things have gotten more than a tad cranky. People are getting sick of seeing the same characters (Damien, Earl of Coulter and the mysterious Countess Fraser) and scene (the Duchess of Alderman's ball) over and over again. There are complaints in the forums about "unfair" voting and general nailbiting/hairpulling over the whole thing.

Early in the rounds, there was a simply hilarious entry called A Time to Rake. It was a send-up of Snakes on a Plane featuring Lord Samuel L. Jackson and it had me absolutely in stitches. But some people were really put out by it, taking it as a mean-spirited satire of Regency romance. Suffice it to say that some of those comments made me think we were all starting to take this thing just a tiny bit too seriously.

So I came up with my own spoof entry. I thought everyone was in need of a little comic relief, so I selected something I was sure would not be taken seriously but would simply give people a needed break from the same old, same old. And now that Lynne Simpson has thoroughly outed me on her blog, I will state with pride and for the record that the entry entitled A Regency Enterprise is mine. As you might have guessed from the title, it is a Star Trek parody. Unfortunately, entering it in the contest makes it the property of Avon, so I can't post it here, but I can tell you that McCoy gets to say, "Damn it, Spock, I'm a doctor not a ballroom dancer." (And that line still cracks me up, a full day after I wrote it.)

Okay, so I put that sucker out there yesterday morning after having composed it in all of thirty minutes and within minutes, the darn thing was pulling in ratings of 5.0 and getting comments like this:

"You need a "beverage alert" in your blurb. My monitor just got baptized in Diet Coke. ;-) Loved your story! LOVED it." -- This was from Lynne

"Cap'n, I canna take any more mirth! My sides hurt too much from laughing at all the dilithium-um, delirium! Thanks for the laugh - and this was very well written, besides."

"Brilliant! Refreshing. It so engaged me that I forgot to look for picky errors. Alas, I believe Regency purists will be shocked, but I adored it. Great imagination! You got guts, spunk and true wit. Live long and prosper!"

And my all-time favorite:

Fantastic! Every word sheer genius. You definitely deserve some kind of prize: give this author a tribble!
I have also gotten a few comments that make me think some people believe I actually entered this with the serious intention of having it win. Mais non! It was all just for comic relief, I swear. I figured it would make people laugh and provide a little break from the tedium. I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would get high scores. I figured people would score it a 0 or a 1 or something, even if they got a kick out of it. A few of the comments seem a bit irritated because it's not a Regency, but really--it's a joke. Even I wouldn't want to have to work with this as the beginning chapter for the next round, peeps, and I wrote it!

So the final irony is that I am pretty sure A Regency Enterprise will wind up with a better average score than my real entry. Which serves me right, really. But honestly, I have gotten way more "bang for my buck" out of the spoof entry than out of the real one because I have obviously given so many people the pleasure of a hearty laugh. And what could be better than that, really? The idea of winning the contest actually pales by comparison.

I have no idea if I'll be able to sustain my wit into the next round, but I am now considering entering some sort of parody entry each time because it really has been so much fun. I've already been asked by some of my friends if I will please do one with Next Generation characters, and since that show is actually my favorite of all the Star Trek series, I may just do. And perhaps I can think of some other TV shows, movies, or books to parody along the way. There are six rounds, after all, and I think Star Trek may lose its amusement value pretty quickly if I stick only to that.

So if anyone has any suggestions for me, I'm all ears.

Friday, September 08, 2006

To Replot or Not To Replot: That Is Not the Question

I came to the painful realization earlier this week that if I stuck to my original plot line for Living in Sin, I was going to wind up with something approaching a 160,000 word monster. Yeah, I'm that far, plot-wise, from tying up all my loose ends. I have known for a long time that I have a lot going on in my story; I was just in denial that it was too much.

Alas, I am not Diana Gabaldon and therefore, I am not allowed to write 800-page epics.

So I've finally admitted to myself that it's time to take a hatchet to the sub-plots. And surprisingly, I'm not finding the process nearly as painful as I expected. In fact, if anything, it's almost as much fun to replot as to plot. Which is a good thing, I suppose, since it's entirely possible I'll find I have to replot this story yet again.

The fun thing about hatcheting subplots has been that the ones I've decided (with a little plotstorming help from my critique partner, Lacey Kaye) can go are exactly the opposite of the ones I thought would have to go. To my surprise, I've discovered some elements of the story that I always thought were absolutely essential can be dispensed with, while other elements I thought were more tangential, can remain. And the reason this is great is that I'm actually fonder of the elements I thought were tangential than I am of the ones I thought I really needed.

Since Lacey and I finished our plotstorming e-mail thread a few days ago, I've had a few more flashes of insight that will alter the storyline a bit more, but I'm excited about the changes. I believe it's a much better story with the changes than it would have been if I'd stuck with the original plot. A bit more character-driven, but still with plenty of sub-plot intrigue!

The not-fun part of hatcheting sub-plots is rewriting all the scenes you've written with the old plot in mind. Even though the replotted story can retain many of the original elements, there are still a few scenes that have to be altered or removed. Smooothing everything into the new plotline without missing anything is a tough business. Which must be why I haven't touched my manuscript for three days. (Although a couple of crush work projects and the head cold from hell have no doubt contributed to my complete lack of productivity!)

One of the reasons I'm resisting actually cutting into the manuscript or writing forward, however, is that I'm torn over whether or not to remove one of the secondary characters. I hate to cut her out because her point-of-view is so much fun (so much that I decided to make her the heroine of my next story!) and I think she serves some valuable purposes beyond the role I originally conceived for her under the old plot, but I'm not sure she can stay if she doesn't have a meaningful effect on the resolution of the externally-driven black moment.

So, I'm stymied until I either figure out how to keep her in the story or decide she has to go. Because if she doesn't go, she has to have a part in the story from this point forward. And if she goes, then she can't be in any future scenes to say nothing of those in the past. How can I write anything new until I know?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My Contest Scores

So, I got my score sheets from the Emerald City Opener in the mail two days ago. I still haven't been able to bring myself to look at the inline comments, partly because I'm chicken and partly because I've changed the first seven pages so much, I'll probably laugh at my own writing.

My scores averaged out to 85%, or a solid B, but one of the judges scores definitely seem out-of-whack compared to the others, as shown below:

Characterization: 3, 5, 5
Plot: 3, 5, 5
Situation: 3, 5, 4
Conflict: 2, 4, 5
Dialogue and Narrative: 3.5, 5, 5
Writing Techniques: 3.5, 4, 5
Mechanics: 5, 5, 5
Overall Appeal: 3, 4, 5

It's hard not to look at the first judge's score and suspect that she either just didn't get my story or that I drew the sourpuss judge who never gives anyone a 5. (Although I did get all 5's in Mechanics. I guess the frustrated high school English teacher in me has something to be grateful for!)

On the bright side, two of the three published authors who read my work liked it pretty darn well. And it's been improved since then. Although I'm probably going to rewrite that first scene from the ground up, anyway, to layer in a little more internal/external conflict for my heroine (which is the point I really suffered on, especially with the first judge). I'm not changing the overall mechanics of the scene, but I feel like I've revised it so many times and still haven't managed to make it really sing, it's time to scrap it and start over.

So, that's the upshot of my first contest. I'm glad I did it. In a couple of weeks, I should know about the second contest, the Golden Rose. I'll report when I hear!

Writing: Hobby, Vocation, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Last Sunday's sermon at church was about work, an appropriate topic for the day before Labor Day. Our minister is reminded us that we should do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, take all the vacation we're entitled to, and enjoy our lives outside of our jobs.

All of which I completely agree with.

But then he started to talk about "vocations." A vocation, he told us, can be your paying job or not, but whatever it is, you should devote yourself to it because the world needs your talents. Your vocation is the way you make the world a better place.

Now, not so long ago, I would have said that my paying job was my vocation. I like my job. Really. I'm always learning new things and I get to help other people learn new things. What I do feels useful and meaningful, albeit useful and meaningful to a very small sliver of the universe (people who happen to work for credit unions that happen to use our company's data processing software). I've always considered myself exceptionally lucky to have more or less stumbled into a job that lets me do the two things I always wanted to do: write and teach.

Obviously, however, my paying job is no longer my vocation. Or, at least, it's not capturing my interest the way it used to.

Alas, Writing Mania has possessed me. Every minute I spend not writing my book is a minute I wish I were writing my book. Every minute I spend writing or working on my book in some way (reading e-mail from my critique partners and writing-related loop and blog posts counts, right?) it is a minute I could or should be using to accomplish something of much more practical use. Like cleaning my house (its state is increasingly appalling), spending more time with my kids, spending time with friends (I do have some in real life, actually!), doing necessary household errands, etc., not to mention doing my paid job.

So, naturally, as I listened to this sermon about vocations and the value of pursuing them, I had to wonder whether I could consider writing a romance novel a vocation? Does the world really need my talents as a writer?

I'm not saying that I don't think romance novels contribute to a better world. I do. I'm sure there are people who would disagree, but I believe romance novels give readers pleasure and happiness, and it's hard to see how that can do anything but make the world a better place. Maybe the majority of them are not high literature that will be read centuries from now, but I'll bet a few will turn out to be. (Call me if you live long enough to find out which ones!)

But does the world need my romance novels? (I'm trying really hard to finish the one before I start any others, but I've got at least three more floating around in my brain.) Are mine that special?

Given the fact that so few authors ever get their manuscripts accepted for publication, odds seem pretty high that the answer is a resounding No! While I certainly hope to be published some day, the realistic side of my brain tells me that the chances of that are not great. But I keep on writing anyway.


I wish I could say that it's just a hobby and I'm doing it because I want to. That would be nice, because then it would mean I could stop whenever I want, too. Just a little hobby that I pursue in my spare time. Having a hobby is perfectly acceptable. It's something most people understand.

But as I've just admitted, I don't just pursue it in my spare time. (What is spare time, anyway? Is it like a spare tire, something I can store somewhere out of the way until I need it?) Worse, I can't just stop when I want to. I can't even stop my stories from keeping me awake at night, for heaven's sake! How could I possibly stop writing them when the characters, scenes, and words keep popping into my head and demanding to be set down on the computer screen?

It's not a hobby and it's not a vocation: it's a compulsion. And for people who don't have the compulsion, it must seem as incomprehensible as alcohol or drug addiction to someone who's never experienced it. Why, they must wonder, do writers want to sit all alone in front of a computer with their imaginary friends when there's a whole world of real people out there to experience?

Perhaps it's more understandable to people who are readers. After all, they are the ones who choose to spend their time with the imaginary people we writers create. But it's still not quite the same. Although there are some books that will simply demand I sit down and read them every chance I get, most are a bit less compelling. I enjoy reading, but I know the book will wait for me.

Writing feels very different. The story doesn't want to wait for me. It wants to get out now. Not an hour from now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

I didn't always have this compulsion. When I was in high school, I did. But I seemed to outgrow the writing bug in my 20s, and I gave it up for a long time. What made it come back now, I have no idea. All I know is that I can't not write. Even though there are times when I think I probably should. Because the other things in my life that should be my vocation (especially my family) are getting short shrift on account of my disease.

I'd found Writeaholics Anonymous, except for one thing.

I'm not sure I want to be cured!