Friday, March 30, 2007

Burning Down the House

No, this is not an accidental Lyric Thursday post featuring the famous Talking Heads song. I actually almost did burn down the house earlier this afternoon. I put a pot of beans on the stove to boil and forgot about them. You know what happens next! I was just lucky that the smoke became apparent before I left to pick the kids up from school.


I'm too busy. Busier than any absent-minded, disorganized person should ever allow herself to become. I'm going to have to ramp down a bit. More paying work, a little less writing work (not that there's been much of either lately). More family, less writing. More down time, less writing.

The question for today: How do you maintain balance? Or do you?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bank Job

So, this weeks Lyric Thursday is courtesy of the Barenaked Ladies' 2006 release, Barenaked Ladies Are Me. I luuuuuurve this album! It's got maybe three songs I skip over because I'm not crazy about them, but with 13 tracks, that's a high signal-to-noise ratio. (I see the second half, Barenaked Ladies Are Men, was released in February. Duly added to my Amazon shopping cart!)

I love the lyrics to this song in particular because I find them so funny. There is a particular point (which I won't give away) where EVERYONE I've ever shared this song with laughs. Until that point, they kind of furrow their brows with concern. But after that, they're always sold!

Bank Job
Steven Page and Ed Robertson, copyright 2006

It was an upset in two minutes flat
We were back on the freeway, foot to the mat
I can't understand it; we had it down pat
It's very upsetting, could we leave it at that?

We all had positions; we each had a role
We'd over-rehearsed it; we had full control
They can't teach you acting, it's there in your soul
It's the same with a bank job, and each thing we stole

So I don't need attitude
Cause you knew just what to do
We all did our best now
We all need to rest now
Leave me alone
Wait by the phone

I was the driver; you ran the show
You had the last word, the go or no go
I knew every laneway in Ontario
But it's not what you're sure of, it's what you don't know

It should have been filled with the usual ones
Throwing their cash into mutual funds
We all had our ski masks and sawed-off shotguns
But how do you plan for a bank full of nuns?

Well, I guess we panicked - we all have taboos
And they were like zebras; they had us confused
We should be in condos with oceanfront views
Instead we're most-wanted on the six o'clock news

So I don't need attitude
Cause you knew just what to do
We all did our best now
We all need to rest now
Leave me alone
And wait by the phone

Inside the police car you tried to explain
Your crisis of conscience; the voice in your brain
And now that the whole thing has gone down the drain
I think we all know who should shoulder the blame

Cause you made a choice there, almost sublime
I'm all for compassion, just not on my dime
You looked like an amateur, and that's the real crime
So I'll take a walk now, and you do the time

And I don't need attitude
Cause you knew just what to do
We all did our best now
We all need to rest now
Leave me alone
There's no need to phone

We all did our best now
We all need to rest now
Leave me alone
We all did our best now
We all need to rest now
Leave me alone
Leave me alone

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

First Pages

The first page of any manuscript is important, especially for the unpublished author who's trying to gain the (positive!) attention of an agent or editor. It's your first chance to make an impression. And if the impression you make with yours isn't a good one, it can mean your otherwise wonderful manuscript gets thrown in the slush pile with the rest of the ones that are getting form letter rejections.

I wrote the first few pages of A Scandalous Liaison a very long time ago. Probably more than a year ago. I've polished and perfected the entire scene over months, tweaking and adjusting, tightening here, expanding there. After all this time, I was pretty satisfied with the scene, in which the hero and heroine meet. At one point, I added an earlier scene between the heroine and her brother to provide the reader with more information about her situation before she met the hero, but after reading the feedback from the last contest, I realized that scene was a bit confusing since it introduced a hot, manly man who wasn't the hero! Um, duh? So I stripped that back out because it stole the hero's thunder.

Then on Monday, good old ballsy Erica cold-queried three agents on Trevor and the Tooth Fairy. Curious about the submission guidelines of the agents she'd queried, I started poking around. I discovered that quite a number of agents who accept e-queries wanted the first two to five pages of the manuscript added at the end of the letter.

So I pulled out ASL and read the first five pages. I tried to think like an agent receiving them at the end of a cold query. And the agent thought my writing was technically just dandy, but booooorrrring. Where was the action? The conflict? The sizzle? Oh, sure, there were hints of it, but it took forever for the writer to get to it. "Cut to the chase already,"I thought. "There's probably a story here, but the reader will fall asleep before she gets to it."

And then I had my epiphany. That first scene was holding my manuscript back. It was the reason I kept finaling but only managing third place.1 (Or maybe one of the reasons. I guess I should re-examine the rest for other boring scenes before I decide that's the only one that's a problem :->.)

After chatting with Erica and Darcy a bit, I came up with an entirely new way for the hero and heroine to meet that's much more fun and exciting than the original version. I've only written four pages of it, but I'm 99% sure it's a much better scene. And the first page (technically, the first 250 words) are far stronger than before.

So, just for fun, here are the two different first pages of ASL. I won't say whether I'm putting the new one or the old one first; you guess. But hopefully, you'll be able to tell right away which one is snappier and sets up the conflict more clearly. (If not, I may have to go back to the drawing board again :-.)

Rosalind Brighton reined in her cantering stallion at the crest of the hill overlooking the stables. An unfamiliar horse stood tethered to a post. The dark bay was not one of hers. Apprehension swelled her throat. The animal was too fine to belong to one of the villagers and customers arrived—when they came at all—in carriages.

If her brother had sent a manager without her consent, she would…

She would what? Her younger brother was the mighty Duke of Aylsbridge. She could do little to thwart his will.

Other than to send his minion straight back, she reminded herself. She did own this estate and Lionel could not force anything or anyone on her, at least not until April.

Pulling Canterbury up outside the building, she dismounted and wrapped the gray stallion’s reins around a nearby post. After marching into the stable, she surveyed the aisle between the long row of stalls, squinting to make out a human figure in the faint light. She saw only horses and few of those, as most were out for exercise and training at this time of day.


She frowned and pivoted on the heel of her well-worn riding boot, hoping to locate someone who’d seen the intruder. Only after she’d taken several steps did she hear the low, crooning voice behind her.

Brow furrowing, she spun around again. He must be in one of the stalls. Indignation burned her chest. What business did an estate manager have trifling with her horses? His job—which wasn’t his at all—was records and bookkeeping, not animal husbandry.

That's option #1. Here's #2:

“There’s a gentleman here to see you, my lady.”

Lady Rosalind Brighton looked up from her estate ledgers with a surge of excitement. “By all means, send him in, Mrs. Ellis.” If Rosalind could sell even one animal, she might stretch her funds another few weeks.

“Are you certain?” The small, trim housekeeper, who stood in the open study doorway, wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something unpleasant. “He’s Irish.”

Rosalind sighed. She cared about her horses’ pedigrees, not her customers’. “I’m sure Irishmen need horses just as much as Englishmen do.”

“Very well, my lady. But I don’t think he’s come to buy. He came alone and on horseback.”

Not a good sign, Rosalind agreed. Customers, when they came at all, arrived in their carriages with staff in tow.

Mrs. Ellis returned a few moments later with the caller. He was taller than average, broad-shouldered, and obviously well-muscled as evidenced by the close fit of his clothing. His dark trousers, waistcoat, and topcoat were of good quality fabric, clean and well-maintained, but without the refined cut and polished elegance an upper-class gentleman would demand.

His clothing notwithstanding, he was arrestingly handsome. Dark, wavy hair grazed the top of his shirt collar in devil-may-care fashion, and a cleft relieved his strong, square jaw of too much sobriety. He might have middle-class togs, but he certainly had first-rate looks.

Doing her best to ignore the unfamiliar hot, jumpy sensation in the center of her chest, Rosalind stood and crossed the room to greet him. Whatever his reason for coming, she wanted to hear it.

Actually, putting the two of them side-by-side makes me think the original version was better than I thought yesterday. Even so, I think I'm on the right track with the new one.

Today's questions: How much do you angst over your first few pages? How do you know when you've started the story both in the right place and in the right way?

1The results of CONNections, in which ASL finished third, have been posted. Although I was once again a bit disheartened to see that the first and second place finishers garnered requests, I was encouraged when I realized that the first place finisher, Elizabeth Stock, is a Golden Heart finalist, and the second place finisher, Christie Craig, has sold at least one manuscript. I was up against some talent, peeps!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Goals, Goals, and More Goals

If you're ever going to be successful in the writing business, you've got to have goals. And I don't mean vague "someday I'll be published"-type goals, but real, measurable goals with hard-and-fast deadlines. (Which, of course, if you're me, you will miss, but let's not go there now, 'k?)

So as of this morning, I have knocked off a bunch of small, but measurable goals I had for myself this year and I'm feeling really rather pleased with myself. To wit, since Friday, I have:
  • Written and posted my "back cover" blurb for A Scandalous Liaison and (new this morning) for Lady Libertine.
  • Bought my plane ticket to Dallas (non-stop both ways, round-trip for $233; I feel like I committed theft!).
  • Registered for the RWA National Conference.
  • Sent my manuscript to Lacey to burn onto a CD for me so I can send in my PRO application soonest. (I know, I know, get into the 20th century and get a CD burner already! On the other hand, I think RWA should get into the 21st century and take the file by email or ftp :->.)
  • Made reservations for the familial vacation during the second week of April. (Okay, I know this one is not obviously writing-related, but it was taking up space in my brain which was pushing out writing, so it is writing-related after all. Come to think of it, everything is, really!)

It didn't hurt that I got up extra early (before 6:00 a.m.) and knocked off a bunch of the small stuff before the kids got up for school.

So, what remains on my goal list? Since I like to keep my goals short-term (if the deliverable date is more than three months from now, it's not a goal yet--it's a wish *g!), here's what I still have to accomplish:

  • Read and critique a chapter for Nana, whom I met at the RWA San Diego chapter meeting, by tomorrow.
  • Select and post an excerpt from Lady Libertine to my website by Wednesday.
  • Write a blurb for Going Greek and post it to my website by the end of the week.
  • Submit PRO application by April 6 (the Friday before Easter). Of course, I'm relying on Lacey to get my CD burnt and back to me by then, so it could slip depending on her schedule.
  • Have a relaxing vacation! Do not think about writing! (Yeah, right!)
  • Finish revising A Scandalous Liaison by May 1 and query to several agents by mid-May.
  • Complete a polished partial of Going Greek and find an appropriate contest for it (no later than mid-May).
  • Complete the rough draft of Lady Libertine by my birthday (June 6).

The first five should be easy. The last three...not so easy. But having goals keeps me focused and focus is good.

Today's question: What are your short-term goals? And how do you motivate yourself to meet purely self-imposed deadlines?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Writing Blurbs: My Nemesis

When Darcy emailed her proposed website blurbs for her Black Bandit trilogy of books earlier this week (you can read them here), I:

a) Had serious pangs of envy; and
b) Begged her to write my blurbs for me.

I'm really bad at blurbs. I have a terrible time distilling my story down to a couple of paragraphs. Especially two or three paragraphs that are catchy and sexy and still manage to tell the reader something meaningful about the story. That's asking a lot, IMO. Especially of someone who has written well over 200,000 words in pursuit of a novel that will wind up being around 100,000 words long. Brevity, shall we say, is not the soul of my wit.

And yet, Darcy seems to do it with ease. I hate her :->!

Two other writers whose blurbs are so good, they make me want to weep are Annie Dean and Jody Wallace/Ellie Marvel. (Those links'll take you to their blurb pages. Read 'em and, well, weep!)

With a little help from Darcy and me (and mostly Darcy, since as I said, I suck at this!), Lacey also came up with a very kick-ass blurb for If You Asked the Devil to Dance. (She also has a great one for If You Asked a Rake to Reform, but the web page is screwed up for some unknown reason so you can't really read it.)

But, back to me (because we know it's all about me, right?) and my weak, stinky attempts at blurbing A Scandalous Liaison. (I haven't even tried to write one for Lady Libertine or Going Greek yet, although I know that writing the blurb is one of the very first things many writers do when they're exploring a new story.) After an afternoon of chat with Darcy followed by some email input from Lacey and more chat with Darcy, we did manage to come up with a tagline and blurb that I think is pretty darned good. You can read it here.

Now I just have to go through the whole horrible, stinking process again for two more books. A writer's work is never done!

Today's question: What's your writing nemesis? Blurbs? Synopses? Query letters? Or something else? Do share!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cry on Demand

Today's Lyric Thursday comes from the UK band Gomez and their 2006 album, How We Operate. (That link'll get you to Amazon where you can listen to a 30-second sample of this song, which I recommend doing. )

I admit, I'd never have found this disc if I hadn't heard the band interviewed on NPR. What a shame that would have been! For Darcy's benefit, I have to mention that this album is their first on Dave Matthews' ATO label.

Originally, I was planning to post the lyrics for Barenaked Ladies' hilarious Bank Job, but that'll have to wait until next week. (I figured it was well past time to start posting lyrics from songs recorded after the end of the 20th century.) I decided to post this song instead, however, because the heroine in Going Greek is listening to it on her iPod when she meets the hero.
Cry on Demand
by Gomez*, copyright 2006

I wish I could cry on demand,
Boo Hoo, Boo Hoo
Given all these troubles on my mind,
The tears won't come out.

I've been shaking, shaking in my boots
Every time I hear my telephone ring
It can't possibly be you,
You never call,
Not since my little accident.

I didn't mean to cause any trouble
I didn't know we were so serious
Yeah, I didn't mean to burst our bubble
It can only float for so long

Now I realise, I realise they were wrong,
'cos what happens in Vegas,
Don't take very long,
To travel accross continents,
And onwards overseas,
Onto our little island,
To our city, our home,

ButI didn't mean to cause any trouble
I didn't know we were so serious
Yeah, I didn't mean to burst our bubble
It could only float for so long

Sometimes I wish, I could cry on demand
Boo Hoo, Boo Hoo
Given all these troubles on my mind,
The tears won't come out.

I didn't mean to cause any trouble
I didn't know we were so serious
Yeah, I didn't mean to burst our bubble
It could only float for so long

Sometimes I wish, I could cry on demand
Boo Hoo, Boo Hoo
Given all these troubles on my mind,
The tears won't come out.
I wish, I could cry on demand
Boo Hoo, Boo Hoo

Given all these troubles on my mind,
The tears won't come out,
The tears won't come out,
The tears won't come out

*Gomez are Ian Ball, Paul Blackburn, Tom Gray, Ben Ottewell and Olly Peacock.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Dancing!

So, today you get a bonus post because my critique partner, Darcy Burke, just learned that she finaled in the Yellow Rose Chapter's Winter Rose contest. She let me know by chat a few minutes ago, right after she got the phone call.

I'll tell you, I got major butterflies and the shakes at the news. It was just about as great a high as finaling in a contest for the first time myself.

Since she's my critique partner, I must admit I feel nearly as invested in her book as she is. Of course, all my CPs have told me they feel the same about my work as I've been contesting it over the past several months, but I don't think I fully believed it until this moment. I'm so delighted she finaled. I realize I would have been crushed if she hadn't.

Anyway, now it's on to May Chen at Avon and the final round.

Good luck, Darcy.

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

I mentioned in Monday's frantic speed-post that I had loads of writing-related stuff to share and said I'd do so today. So I will.

Last Saturday, I attended my first ever, real-live meeting of an RWA Chapter (the San Diego chapter, to be specific). I've been a member of a number of online chapters for a while (including The Beau Monde), I haven't taken the plunge to join the San Diego chapter because their regular chapter meetings are at an incredibly bad time for me (the third Saturday of the month from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and I didn't figure it was worth the investment if I couldn't attend the meetings on a somewhat consistent basis.

However, last Saturday's slate of speakers included Sally Van Haitsma from the Julie Castiglia Literary Agency. (The photo there of Ms. Van Haitsma does not do her justice. She's much prettier in person...and very tall!) The topic was "What Agents Want from Writers" or something along those lines. Now, Ms. Van Haitsma (pronounced Heights-ma) doesn't represent genre fiction, so I knew I'd probably never have an opportunity to work with her, but I did want to hear about the query and pitch process from an agent's perspective. So, I took a morning away from my family (on the worst possible weekend, since Sunday was our Cub Scout Pack's Pinewood Derby and Saturday needed to be spent setting up and testing for it) to go hear her speak.

Even though I didn't feel like I learned much about how to query an agent properly, I did learn a lot of things I didn't know before. I share these now in no particular order.
  • Of the 12-15 or so writers in the room (of perhaps 50-60 attendees) who were published, only two or three had agents. That surprised me. I would have expected the proportion of published writers with agents to be much, much higher. It turns out, however, that many of the published authors have been small-press published, and because the small presses generally don't offer advances and have smaller payouts overall, many agents aren't interested in representing writers with "small press" books. In simple, mercenary terms, it just doesn't make financial sense because it takes just as much time and effort on the agent's part to pitch a project to as small press as to a large one with better payout.
  • Having been published, especially in small press, turns out to be not-very-helpful in getting an agent for future projects. That surprised me, too. I would have thought someone with a track record of having been published at all would have better luck getting an agent than someone unpublished. And while it's probably true that publishing credits help, it turns out not to help that much.
  • Of the queries she receives, Ms. Van Haitsma said that roughly 75%-80% were obviously either not ready for prime-time or something she knows she doesn't represent. A significant proportion of the "not-ready-for-prime-time" category are incredibly unprofessional (hand-written, addressed "to whom it may concern," full of grammatical errors or typos, etc.). I was really shocked to discover that so many writers are either sloppy/lazy or don't do their homework.

Ms. Van Haitsma also talked a bit about the marketplace for literary women's fiction (and apparently, erotic fiction can fall into this category; she said she'd like to read some erotica at any rate). Even though that's not what I've been writing lately, I realized that I do have some ideas for books she might be interested in. I really wanted to find a few moments to talk to her about one of them in particular (a historically-based story set in ancient Rome that I think is infinitely marketable because there's currently so much interest in all things ancient) just to see if she'd be interested at all in seeing the query should I ever actually write the book, but I had to leave immediately after lunch and didn't get the opportunity.

This book has been kicking around in my head literally for YEARS as a high concept, but I've never been able to attach a plot or scenes to it. However, thinking about it got me jazzed to write it just because I know it could be a winner if I did it well. The problem is that I need to do a lot of research to re-immerse myself in ancient Roman culture and history first as well as to find the plot and scenes to go with the fabulous high concept. So, I walked away with a new project to tackle, but no additional time in which to tackle it (typical!).

The other thing Ms. Van Haitsma mentioned that got my creative juices flowing (although I didn't realize it at the time) was that many publishers are looking for books in an as-yet unnamed category that's sort of a counterpart to ChickLit. Specifically, they want stories with romantic elements about older women (in their thirties and perhaps forties as opposed to the twenty-somethings of traditional ChickLit) and, ideally, younger men. Apparently, the initially proposed name for this category was MatronLit (horrible; it will never sell), followed by HenLit (better, but not appreciably so).

Ms. Van Haitsma's suggestion was CougarLit. I have since discovered that cougar is a slang term for an older, financially secure woman who dates younger men. (Man, I'm out of the loop!) I'm not sure I like the term, but it's better that the two previously proposed alternatives.

When I first heard this, I thought, "Nice idea, but I don't do contemporary so I'll never write anything remotely close to fitting that category." But then, on Sunday morning, an idea sprang into my head, full-blown, complete with plot, characters, and setting. I'm not entirely sure it will wind up fitting the CougarLit category, although it is about a woman in her late thirties who takes up with a man in his late twenties. It's just that the plot is much more typically "genre romance" than "literary fiction with romantic elements." It could also easily wind up being no more than category length. On the other hand, I expect it to end up being very hot, verging on erotica, so I'm really not sure where it will wind up fitting when it's done. But when an idea comes to me that fully formed, I know it's a message from my subconscious that I must write it.

So I am. You'll see a new progress meter on the right for it. The working title is Going Greek because much of the action (especially of the hot boinking variety) will take place in Greece. As Jody mentioned in her comment on my Unfinished Business post, I'm going to crack out a partial at least and get some feedback to see if it's worth pursuing to the end.

Does this mean I'm going to stop writing Lady Libertine or give up on my efforts to revise A Scandalous Liaison? No way, baby, I'm doing it all! Am I insane? Probably. Will I get anything done if I don't concentrate on one project at a time? I don't know.

I do know, however, that I have to go where the stories and the characters take me.

Today's comment questions: What's your approach to multiple projects? Do them all at once? Concentrate on one at a time? Do you ever set aside a project in the middle to concentrate on a new one? If you do, do you go back? Or does setting aside a project mean it joins the never-to-be-finished pile?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday Madness

I have way too much on my plate. So much that I shouldn't be blogging, but I usually blog on Mondays and I hate to disappoint my public. (Yeah, I know. Allow me my delusions of grandeur.)

Long story short, I just finished changing the template for this blog so that it matches my website a little better. I'm sure when Erica gets back from Costa Rica (:-P), she can 'splain to me how to get the graphic's resolution a bit cleaner. Right now, it's too pixellated and the original isn't like that, so I must be doing something wrong. I also updated my website a smidgen and finally got the www version of the website address working.

In addition, I want to point out the new link on the right side there under the header Manuscript Mavens. Darcy Burke is now officially in the land of cyberspacer! Yay! I've also moved my links to Lacey and Erica up there, since they round out the Manuscript Mavens quartet.

Of course, that barely scratched the surface of what I'm hoping to get accomplished this week. Writing-related stuff aside (and there's loads of that--I'll tell you more on Wednesday, I promise), I have to get the cats into the vet, enroll my youngest son in kindergarten, and clean the house. Oh, and I haven't had lunch or a shower yet. Guess I better get crackin'!

So, what's on your agenda this week, writing-related or otherwise?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Unfinished Business

In last Friday's post, Of Milestones and Manuscripts, I mentioned in passing that finishing A Scandalous Liaison was a major accomplishment for me because I had so many quarter- and half-written manuscripts littering my past. In the comments, Jody (aka meankitty aka Typing Slave) asked me to 'fess up as to how many in a blog post.

Well, the truth is, too many for me to be able to tell you how many.

The first piece of fiction I recall writing was a story about a fairy and a jack-o-lantern (hmmm, Erica, this is sounding frighteningly familiar!) back in the second grade. I don't think I want to tell you exactly how many years ago that is, but suffice it to say, it was quite a long time ago and the beginning of what I suspect will be a lifelong obsession. Even in the decade when I wasn't actively writing (from several years after I got married up to last February), I did write in fits and starts--bits and pieces of stories that never quite got up enough steam to get me to commit to them.

Of course, most of what I wrote when I was in junior high and high school (and even college) was craptastically bad. I took a creative writing class in college where the instructor took my stories apart with a gigantic red pen and left them as bleeding carcasses on the floor. At the time, I thought he was harsh and just didn't like my stories because they weren't "literary" enough, but now I realize it was just because they sucked. Oh, they had a few redeeming qualities (I'm pretty certain all the sentences were grammatically correct and accurately spelled), but other than that, I can't think of much that was good about them.

The only thing I ever wrote back then that had any real promise was a bit of Star Wars fan-fic set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I couldn't wait for the next installment, so I had to write my own. And I felt very sorry for Luke after he discovered Leia was his sister, so I gave him a love interest in the form of Emperor Palpatine's daughter. I thought Jedis should get a little up-n-down, too, ya know? Before I finished it, however, ROTJ hit the theaters and writing it became a moot point. Although it still didn't look like Luke was ever gonna get any hot girlie action... (I almost wish I knew where to find that piece now, but I don't. It was written long before computers on a manual typewriter, so it's probably decomposing somewhere in a landfill now along with most of the rest of what I wrote back then.)

Looking back, I suspect that the primary reason I didn't finish anything I started (with the rare exception of a few short stories and one very bad YA novella) was because I knew what I was writing wasn't very good. It was mostly mental masturbation, a way to entertain myself. I never shared anything I wrote with anyone else (at least, not until that disastrous college course that flayed me alive, LOL). And after a certain point, the stories always stopped entertaining me and I moved onto the next one.

So, what changed between then and now? I'm not sure, but I suspect it's a combination of factors. The primary one, though, is that I found a community of writers with interests similar to my own. (That group includes pretty much everyone who reads this blog, of course! So thanks to all of you.)

I do have to give the lion's share of the credit for the fact that A Scandalous Liaison is both finished and not a complete piece of crap to Lacey, though. That's not to say my other critique partners aren't fabulous! They are and have all contributed enormously to everything I've accomplished this last year.

It's just that Lacey was the first to work with me and she pointed out a lot of things in the first version of my manuscript that I didn't know enough to see on my own: passive constructions, telling rather than showing, weak stage direction, POV problems, etc. When I started to apply the simple pointers she gave me, the story got instantly more interesting and entertaining to me, and it seemed infinitely more worth the effort to finish it. (And it's more than a little humbling that she taught me this stuff while being young enough to be my daughter. I wasn't a bad writer when I was her age because I was young; I was just bad!)

So, today's question for ya'll is: What motivates you to keep working on a manuscript until you finish it? And how many unfinished (and possibly never-to-be-finished) books and stories are taking up space on your hard drive or in your file cabinet? Or in landfills?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

And the Winner Is...


She has won the prize in the 100th post on Jacqueline's blog contest.

In case you're wondering how I picked the winner, I put the names of everyone who posted on both my blog and Annie's into a spreadsheet and alphabetized them. Then I went to and used a tool there to randomize them by the number values for each position in the list. Erica came up first in the randomized list.

So, Erica, you know how to contact me when you want to do your next contest entry!

Get Started, Start a Fire

This gem is from Graham Parker's 1997 release, The Mona Lisa's Sister. I freely cop to being a Graham Parker fanatic. My husband and I went to see him at a small club here in San Diego back in the mid-90s. It was just him and a guitar. It was easily the best concert I have ever seen. Hands down.

I don't know exactly what it is about these lyrics that so delights me. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of the Mona Lisa, Marilyn Monroe, and Joan of Arc. Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy them!
Get Started, Start a Fire
by Graham Parker, copyright 1997

The Mona Lisa's sister doesn't smile
She tried to pose but only for a while
Leonardo sent her home
Since then she has lived alone
With her few belongings and a copy
Of a painting of herself unhappy
She is going to burn it when she's ready

Chorus: Get started, start a fire

Marilyn was lying all alone
With an empty bottle by the phone
Kennedy was not around
She was cold when she was found
But she'd gone where goddesses are sleeping
Where the molten tongues of flame are leaping
Or where the angel's hearts are heating

Joan of Arc was burning at the stake
Somebody had made a big mistake
She had lit a cigarette
In an aiport where you get
Your fingers taken off for smoking.
Meanwhile up the road a factory's choking
The ones who killed her work there I'm not joking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Characters with Minds of Their Own

First, a big thanks to everyone who posted words of encouragement after my bad writing day on Monday. They helped!

Also, welcome to Shelli Stevens and T.J. Killian, who kindly posted their first comments in the past week. It's always nice to have a little new blood around the old blog!

This post is going to have to be brief because the kids are screaming at me to go swimming and I always get some of my best writing done out by the pool. (That's because I don't have wireless Internet and so I can't fork around on blogs and reading email/chatting, so there's nothing else to do.)

But, as it turned out, the reason the scene wasn't working on Monday was because I was trying to make my heroine behave in a way that's completely antithetical to her nature. Once I realized that, it was easy to see how to fix it. The only problem now is I'm going to have to write a love scene much earlier in the book than I originally anticipated and they always take forever! I enjoy writing them, actually, but they're difficult to get right.

So, today's post question is: What do you do when your characters refuse to behave as your plot demands? Do you beat them into submission or change the plot? Or a little of both?

And now, the pool!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bad Writing Days

I just had one. Or actually, three. You see, I've been working on a scene for three days. My characters won't cooperate and do what they should. And they bored me to tears. So after investing hours and hours trying to get them to do what I wanted, I pitched the entire thing. I'm going to have to try something else. But I have no idea what. Nor do I have any scenes that come after it that are sufficiently crystallized for me to just skip ahead and write them.

Since I am feeling demoralized, I'll ask you: What do you do when you have a bad writing day?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Of Milestones and Manuscripts

Blogger is kind enough to inform me that this post is my 100th since I started this blog. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad one. It seems to me like I got to 100 rather quickly, which suggests I've been blogging rather too much and writing rather too little.

But either way, it's an exciting milestone and it got me thinking about a couple of other recently or soon-to-be-achieved milestones in my writing life.
  • I started writing A Scandalous Liaison a little over a year ago. (The file's properties claim February 19, 2006 as the creation date.) I hope to finish the third (and I hope both final and agent/editor submittable) draft by the end of this month. I'll be taking Candy Havens' Revision Hell course, starting March 19, in hopes of achieving this goal.
  • I found the Aspiring Romance Writers Yahoo! group and made my first post there on March 15, 2006. Through that loop, I met up with four of my critique partners, starting with Lacey and ultimately including Darcy, Erica, and Leigh. These ladies have all motivated and inspired me in countless ways. Without them, I'm sure I'd have given up on my first manuscript long ago.

All in all, it's been an amazing year. When I started writing Liaison, it was simply a compulsion. I had a story in my head and it had to get out. But then, about 40,000 words along, I started thinking, "Hey, this is pretty good. Maybe...just maybe...this could one day be a publishable book." And that led me to ARW, my critique partners, RWA, and contests. Contests I finaled in! Then, I actually finished the manuscript. (Oh, if you only knew how many quarter- and half-written books litter my past!) I was ballsy enough to query my manuscript to an agent. A little over a year after embarking on this journey, I'm eligible for RWA Pro status. In addition, I've submitted a manuscript to Ellora's Cave and, not to be beaten down by rejection, have already sent it on a wing and prayer to another publisher (Harlequin's Spice Briefs line is getting the next crack at it).

I know I still have a long, long way to go. But I feel I've already come an awfully long way.

So, on this 100th post day, I'm sponsoring a contest of my own. First, to be eligible for my prize, you must go over to Annie Dean's blog and comment on her 100th post. (She's offering either a $50 Amazon gift certificate or a box of Godiva chocolates--your choice--to the poster of the 100th comment, so there might even be something in it for you!) If you do that and post a comment here, I will enter your name in a drawing for my prize, which is to pay your entry fee for an RWA-chapter sponsored contest of your choice, not to exceed $35. We'll work out the details later!

Update: Lacey notes in her comment that I didn't specify a deadline for this little contest. Since Annie's already at 55 comments and counting, I don't think I can say it's closed when Annie gets her 100th comment. So, how about we close this next Wednesday?

UpUpdate: The winner of Annie's 100th comment contest was Carrie Lofty. I was number 99 and 101. How unfair is that? But you still gotta post on both Annie's blog and mine to be eligible for my prize.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lyric Thursday: Waves of Grain

I must be feeling more cynical than usual about truth, justice, and the American way after the Lewis Libby trial and the Walter Reed hospital scandals of the last week or two, because these are the lyrics that have been captivating me lately. Interestingly, I couldn't find these lyrics anywhere on the 'Net; I had to transcribe them myself. The song comes from Timbuk 3's Edge of Allegiance, released in 1989. I highly recomend both the song and the album. (I'm just listening to another song from it, Standard White Jesus, which includes the line, "Everyone wants to be on a postage stamp, but nobody wants to die." Freakin' awesome stuff!)

Waves of Grain
by Pat and Barbara K. MacDonald (Timbuk 3)

It was a nice clean assassination
The gunman slipped through immigration
Like the gentle wind that swept the plain
And ruffled over waves of grain

Sailing safely out of sight
On board the next connecting flight
The gunman smiled he felt no pain
So high above the waves of grain

Then someone snatched the video away
From the hands of a tourist at the gate
And soon a blast on board the plane
Sent it crashing into the waves of grain

A blown-up still told the story
Large as life in all its glory
The man’s face in the 29th frame
Appeared within the waves of grain

Now the pictures have been confiscated
The tourist was incarcerated
The drugs they gave him numbed his brain
Now all he sees are waves of grain

Now rummaging through the ravaged rubble
I wonder is it worth the trouble?
Does the slightest trace of truth remain
Running through the waves of grain?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Black Moments and Resolution

Before I jump into the meat of today's post, I have a few random comments and observations to make.
  1. Erica has finished the first draft of Trevor and the Tooth Fairy! I stand in awe. Not only did she complete this book in the amount of time it takes me to write a chapter (okay, not quite that much faster, but close), but it is just an amazing, incredibly special story. Funny, sexy, smart, and unbelievably original. If you don't see it on a bookshelf someday soon, I'll eat my words (and I have a lot of them to eat!).
  2. I'm getting ready to submit Carnally Ever After to Cobblestone Press's TrystTM line. I asked my CPs to take a look at my cover letter, but other than that, it's set to go. It should hit cyberspace today or tomorrow. They say their response time is less than 45 days, so we'll see how it goes.
  3. I have discovered chat. Chat is like crack. Chat can suck three hours out of your day before you even realize it's gone. I should stay away from chat. Alas, I cannot. My name is Jacqueline and I am a Chataholic...

So yesterday I said I would talk today about Black Moments and their resolution because I think getting these two elements "right" is one of the hardest things about writing a romance novel.

I had an epiphany about what makes a good Black Moment/resolution when I started thinking about the ending of A Scandalous Liaison as I prepared for my third (and Lord knows, I hope) final pass. The Black Moment itself is good. The hero and heroine agree that they simply can't be together if their marrying means she'll lose her estate. Based on their character arcs and internal conflicts, this is completely believable. It seems like the right and logical choice to them, even though I hope my readers see it's the wrong one!

But the way the story originally worked out, it actually seemed like this decision was the right one. And the whole point of a Black Moment is that decision has to be the wrong one. The resolution has to occur because the characters resolve their conflicts and realize they made the wrong choice in the Black Moment.

In the current version of the ending, the heroine's brother (who can seize her estate and refuse to pay her dowry if she marries without his consent) changes his mind regarding his consent to their marriage too quickly and easily. The heroine still has to go and rescue the hero from the nasty, evil bad guy, but she doesn't have to realize that her estate doesn't matter a hill of beans to her compared to her love for her man! Nor does the hero have to realize that in trying to protect her from one loss, he's forcing another, greater one on her. And that's just wrong!

To fix this, in the final version, my heroine's brother has to be a dick for a bit longer (although he's really not being a dick, but trying to protect her from what he perceives as her worst fear--marriage to a fortune hunter who doesn't really love her). It'll all work out in the end, of course, but she and the hero will both have to overcome their internal conflicts without a deus ex machina solving their problems for them. And that will make the story much more emotionally satisfying.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Retitling and Other Tidbits

If you pay attention to my silly progress bars (not that I expect you to, mind you!), you may have noticed that I've changed the title of Living in Sin to A Scandalous Liaison. I'd been toying with changing the title for quite some time, but I hadn't been able to think of anything I liked better. However, the feedback from my third place finish in the CONNections contest included a comment from one first round judge and the editor who judged the final round stating the book needed a better title. I found that motivating, especially since I've decided to enter the story in one more contest, this one with an agent as the final round judge.

Lady Libertine, which is a sequel of sorts to A Scandalous Liaison, may get a title change to A Dangerous Liaison. That was actually the title I originally liked best for ASL, but my critique partners felt the story isn't dark enough to support the word "dangerous" in the title, and I couldn't really disagree. I still kind of love Lady Libertine as a title, though, so I'm not changing it, at least for the time being.

Now that I've renamed the book, my goal is to finish my third revision pass by the end of this month (preferably sooner). I am looking to accomplish three things in this pass:
  1. Get the story down to 100,000 words or less. (Easy-peasy now that my critique partners and I have identified the superfluous scenes.)
  2. Add a few new pieces to make the story flow once the extraneous stuff is removed.
  3. Make the Black Moment blacker and the resolution of it more emotionally satisfying.

Speaking of #3, in tomorrow's blog, I'm going to be talking a bit about Black Moments and why they should be both black (not gray) and resolved by the hero and heroine's actions rather than circumstantial fiat. So please join me for that!

Monday, March 05, 2007

I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again

Of all the possible times to receive a rejection, the one I least expected was 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday. But that's just what happened: the rejection letter from Ellora's Cave for my short erotica, Carnally Ever After, popped up in my inbox last night when I was totally unprepared for it.

It was a very courteous form rejection letter. You know, "Thank you for your submission, but it's not right for us at this time." The sort of letter that can mean anything from "it's good but not our current cuppa" to "you can't write your way out of a paper bag." (Am I the only writer who'd actually like to read that in a rejection letter? I mean, I wouldn't be happy about it, but I'd feel the editor/agent was being honest with me, ya know?)

So how disappointed am I?

Short answer: Very. I didn't expect to get this story published, but I had pretty high hopes (which my wonderful critique partners heightened with their praise, the rotters *g!)

Long answer: I know there are lots of reasons they might have passed over my story in favor of others. They don't publish a lot of historical genre stuff, for example, and my story was Regency-set. I knew I was taking a chance when I did that because they publish a lot more contemporary and paranormal stuff, but I don't "get" contemporary or paranormal stories in my head, so going there wasn't an option anyway. Also, I'm sure they have plenty of authors they've published before who send submissions for these things, and obviously, it makes more sense to publish an author who's sold for you before than an unpublished unknown like me. And then, there's just that whole taste thing. There really is no accounting for it.

Mostly, it's just frustrating and disappointing. I know I wrote a darned good story. I know people would have enjoyed reading it. But because I wrote it for a very specific publisher with a very specific call for submissions in mind, it may not be very marketable elsewhere. I'm poking around for other epublishers who might be interested in a Regency-set erotica under 15,000 words, but it doesn't seem there are very many! Most epubs want at least 20,000 words, and frankly, I'm not interested in adding 25% to a story that feels complete to me at its current length. Maybe I'll feel differently in a few months and revisit it then, but in the meantime, I'd rather let it eat up hard drive space in its current configuration than mess with it.

Does this mean I'm giving up? Hell, no! The only way to get published is to keep writing. To keep trying. And to keep getting better.

Hence, the title of today's post.

Oh, and just so I don't forget what's really important, here's a photo of my now-5yo son opening his birthday presents on Saturday.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Five Years Ago Today... youngest son was born. I'm still a little shell-shocked to discover he's five already.

Of course, this means my day has been occupied not merely with my day job, but with getting ready for the big birthday bash tomorrow. I lucked out and finished my class before one o'clock and so was able to do a bit of party-related shopping on the way home, which means that's a bit of shopping/preparation I won't have to do tomorrow. But there is still oh-so-much to be accomplished before I can have a gaggle of small children here for three hours.

This kid's birthday always makes me feel particularly blessed, though. When he was seventeen months old, I came very close to dying as the result of a severe asthma attack. So every birthday of his I see feels like a huge victory. I might well not have lived long enough to have a real conversation with him, let alone see him go to kindergarten.

And so, in the spirit of giving thanks for what we have, I ask: what makes you feel especially lucky or blessed?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lyric Thursday: Sailing to Philadelphia

Not a lot of time for introductions to today's lyrics, except to say that the reason I love this song so much is that it has a basis in historical fact. Jeremiah Dixon and Charlie Mason really did come from England to the US to survey the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, thereby drawing the Mason-Dixon Line.

Sailing to Philadelphia
by Mark Knopfler, copyright 2000

I am Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie Boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To make my mark upon the earth...

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born
To chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the west country
Would join the Royal Society...

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
The Mason-Dixon line

Now you're a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you'll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty
How can America be free
A Geordie and a baker's boy
In the forest of the Iroquois...

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning is begun
Another day will make it clear
Why your stars should guide us here...

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
The Mason-Dixon line