Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Unmet Expectations

Miss Snark has a recent blog post about burnout, and I quote:

"There's an interesting article in the recent NewYork about burn out. The theory is burnout doesn't come from over work. It comes from unrealistic expectations and a reduced sense of effectiveness."

Oh, baby, I can relate to the reduced sense of effectiveness! When I was at my lowest ebb, one cause of my wallowing in the Slough of Despond was that I felt nothing I did was going to move me up the ladder in the publishing biz. Nothing. I worked and worked and wrote and wrote, trying a whole host of things, and yet my career seemed stalled. Believe me, this is a depressing and very uncreative place to be.

Were my expectations "unrealistic?" I don't think so, because I've certainly gone up the ladder since those dark days. However, I can certainly say I had unmet expectations, also known as disappointments.

Unfortunately, this is part of the business I'm in, and there's no way around it. For one thing, too much is out of my control -- changing tastes and media, book buyers for stores, the marketing department of my publisher, to name a few.

However, let's look at some my expectations, both met and not.

I want people to love my books. I know there are some people who truly want to appeal only to a small "elite." Sadly, I'm not one of them. I want everybody to love my books -- readers, reviewers, my editor, and I work hard to try to make it so. Okay, this one is unrealistic as well as unmet. But I still try. And getting my work severely criticized, either by rejections or harsh reviews or a nasty reader letter is, therefore, very upsetting. I can rationalize this until the cows come home (and have), but the fact remains, it hurts because I'm disapppointed.

I want a beautiful cover. Sadly, this is almost completely out of my hands. I do have some input in the beginning of the process, but that's it until I see the finished product. It's wonderful when I get a gorgeous one (and I've been most fortunate in that regard), but it's really upsetting when I don't. My expectations have not been met and so I'm disappointed.

I want lots of in-house support. I feel I have this -- there have been plenty of ads for HQN, and my book was used in a promotion. But I can appreciate how upsetting it is to other authors who don't. I call it the ol' "what am I, chopped liver?" syndrome, and yes, I've had that feeling in the past. This, to me, is what's really behind the recent series of blog posts about Anne Stuart's interview where she expressed dissatisfaction with her publisher (you can read about it here and here and here). Her expectations were not met. Disappointment ensued. Was she right to speak about that so openly? I think she perhaps might have been more circumspect, because talking about unmet expectations in public can sound a lot like whining. But it happens. And publishers know it happens. Does it make them work harder for you? Depends on the author and their history with the house, I think, and the language you used.

I want my books to sell like gangbusters. I work hard on the writing, but the rest of the process is out of my hands. If a book sells really well, hooray! If it doesn't, not only have my expectations not been met, neither has my publisher's. Disappointing -- and less money -- for all of us.

I want people who don't read romance to still respect what I do. Is it asking too much to expect people to treat you with common courtesy when they find out what you do and not mock you and your work to your face? Or to expect journalists to do something other than grab the nearest cliche when writing about romance and really try to find out why it's so popular? Although I've been disappointed in this many times, I continue to hope.

Learning how to cope with disappointment is one thing that we all learn on the road to publication. But then, that's also a part of life, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Last Stages

Right now, I'm printing up the Final Version of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT. Oh, joy, oh, rapture!

Yesterday, I was going through the Final Stages, and some things never change.

I always reach a point, right near the end, where it suddenly occurs to me that my editor might hate the book. Not elements of the book, or some scenes of the book, the entire book. I try not to dwell on that one.

I always find that spell check, while a wonder, can only do so much. In this particular book, I have these big, hulking evil mercenaries who arrive at one part. I meant to say several of them are "scarred." What I had was, "scared," which immediately gave me a vision of these huge, tough guys suddenly shrieking like little girls and dancing around exclaiming, "Oh, I'm scared! I so scared!"

And then there's grammar check. Ugh. It doesn't take voice into account, which means I do a lot of "ignoring." There was one part, though, that had me scratching my head. Referring to some furnishings, I had written, "They were nothing like those used by the steward." Grammar check turned that into, "The steward nothing like those used them." HUH?

One scene was apparently being enacted by bobble-head dolls. He nodded, she nodded, they nodded. Ooops.

Likewise, I realized that throughout this book, there was a whole lotta knowin' goin' on. He knew, she knew, everybody knew. I took several of those out.

I found a few places for "bonus bits," little additional details or dialogue. Since I'd decided to cut a little love scenette that, while charming, didn't fit, this was good. I actually added five pages to the final count.

I had set myself a goal for this book, as I do for every one. I tend to write dialogue-heavy books, so I wanted to add more activity. I think I accomplished that. I'm also still trying to find the balance between describing the characters' emotions, either by dialogue, action, or narrative, and leaving it up to the reader to figure it out, since I think that adds to their involvement in the story. The jury's still out on that one.

But all in all, I'm pleased. Or to paraphrase Mary from The Amazing Race, "I like it!"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Make yourself feel better...

So there I was, reading the NYTimes today, and I inadvertently discover a really good response to those people who want to denigrate what I do. It was in an article about Bryan Bennett, who came in second place in the World Rock Paper Scissors Championship, of all things.

The pertinent paragraph was this: "Mr. Bennett is enjoying his 15 minutes, though he says not everyone is totally taken with his achievement. 'You get some people who refuse to play, think it's stupid,' he said. 'If they want to make fun of me, fine. Make yourself feel better. I could care less.'"

I think one reason romance writers tend to get hot under the collar when people disparage our genre is that the censure seems to go beyond the writing itself. You like romance? You must be (a) stupid and (b) hard up for love and (c) if you like the erotic stuff? You're really beyond the pale. In other words, it feels like people are casting aspersions on not just our reading taste, but our intelligence and morality, and looking down upon us from a very high (and arrogant) horse.

Yet often when people cast aspersions, especially about something of which they're ignorant (i.e. people who criticize romance without having read one), it's not so much about the aspersion-inciting thing as it is about the people doing the casting. It's about their need to feel superior, to feel better about themselves. You can toss romance sales stats and examples at them all day long, but they will not budge from that high horse because they need to be there. It's a self-esteem thing.

So the next time somebody denigrates my genre to my face? I'll give 'em a big ol' "I'm rubber and you're glue and what you say bounces off me and sticks to you" smile.

And ask them if they feel better.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Nearly at the finish line....

The end is in sight! Last night, I started the final input of the changes on the hard copy of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT. Whooo hoooo! And then I'll print it up one more time, and it is out the door, safe in the hands of my good buddy, the FedEx Man.

And then...what will I do?

Well, for some wacky reason (actually, it's called not wanting a huge delay before getting the okay on the next book), I have a proposal due for the next book (KNAVE'S HONOR) on December 15. Not a whole lotta time there, but certainly doable. I've been ambushed by some ideas for that story lately, including one that I did not write down and now can't remember and it's driving me a little nuts. You know that "I've got it on the tip of my tongue!" feeling? It's like that.

I also have to get a start on the Mount Doom of Laundry. Clean clothes are good. When we were in Oxford University, England once -- we were staying in a dorm -- I went to use the washing machine. The instructions read "Put soap in dispenser." Now, in NA, my washing machine does not have such a thing. So I examined the washer, looking for the dispenser. I looked high, I looked low, I looked inside. I could see nothing that looked like a soap dispenser, or labeled as such. For about 15 minutes I stood puzzling and puzzling. And then I just gave up and threw the soap inside with the clothes (the way I do here) and started the machine. And then lo! From a panel at the front, water began to seep. And thus I discovered the soap dispenser. It was a drawer in the panel, like a secret drawer in some Victorian piece of furniture.

And thus I also realized if I ever went back in time? I'd probably just curl up in a ball and whimper at the unfamiliarity of, well, everything.

I also have to start buying Christmas presents. I actually have a couple already (yeah!), but there is much more to be done.

I have to clean my office. Many papers are strewn about -- notes, lists, various pieces of manuscript. I need to do some filing. I also have to gather up my research books and return them to the shelves.

I have several things to be mailed, so I have to get those ready and get to the Post Office.

I want to see the new James Bond movie. I'm not a Bond fan, but I thought Daniel Craig was really good as the priest-assassin in Elizabeth. I knew that guy wouldn't break under torture! He also has a great voice, and I love me a good voice. Unfortunately, my daughter has somewhat ruined it for me by saying Daniel Craig has "monkey lips." Which is, unfortunately, kinda true.

I will also start worrying that I have missed a Huge, Gigantic Plot Hole in THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT and my editor will phone me up and say, "What exactly were you thinking?" Or worst of all, "I found this a little slow..." Aaaaahhhhhhhh! And it'll be back to the drawing board again.

But that's okay. I wrote it, I can fix it.

And then, it's on to KNAVE'S HONOR and my Irish hero (that's a new one for me) and the free-spirited heroine. I can see her befuddling the Knave a whole lot because she doesn't act like any noblewoman he's ever met. I can hardly wait!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Speaking of TV....

Today's blog features a round-up of my shows -- what I'm loving, what I'm not, and what I'm giving up on.

The Amazing Race -- always enjoyable (except the ill-conceived Family Edition. Staying the same country was a big part of the problem for me there). As much as I love the Cho Bros, they were not savvy racers, and frankly, their attitude toward the other members of the six pack -- that they would be gone without them -- moved into Arrogant Territory for me. But overall, I thought they were great guys. I'm sort of meh on the remaining teams, though. Don't really like any of them, but don't hate them, either.

Survivor -- oh, my wonderful Aitu, how do I love thee? I want them to be the final four. Ozzy the Otter - part man, part swimming marvel. And Yul... You know how guys have that sexy librarian fantasy, where she takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair and va-va-voom? I think for women, it's the nerdy accountant thing. Takes off his glasses, then his shirt and reveals six pack abs. So when Yul said he'd never get another date this week? Oh, Yul, how wrong you are!

Heroes -- still got my interest, but not enough Hiro this week. Next week looks Hiro-centric, though. Wheeee!

Lost -- As sexy as I find Sawyer and Sayid, they've lost me. Too much weirdness, not enough answers. And the love scene? I was totally distracted by the lack of hygiene. This may sound strange coming from somebody who writes romances set in medieval England, a time not noted for good personal hygiene, but I look at it this way: if that's what you're used to, you wouldn't notice, so if the people live in the past, unless somebody's really filthy or smells really bad, they just aren't going to notice. Lost is set in the present, though. After eating those fish biscuits? I don't want to think about their breath.... The fact that there were cameras, too? Eeeeuuuwww. Also, not nearly enough Hurley.

Ugly Betty -- boy, does this show get the concept of the wow episode ending or what? Also, Betty is wonderful. Smart, surviving in the barracuda tank...I like her! I also find Daniel somewhat endearing. And the new nerd accountant character? Oh, yes!

Prison Break - I just knew T-Bag was going to lose his hand again. YUCK! They do know how to keep the story moving, but I still say they shouldn't have killed Tweener. Also, is it wrong that I find Kellerman sexy? I keep wanting him to leave the Dark Side and profess his love for Sarah. Instead of, you know, trying to kill her.

Battlestar Galactica -- So much happier now that Apollo's out of the fat suit. I'm finding the Baltar stuff kind of a drag, though. I'm not finding the stories so compelling, I must admit.

The Nine -- I had a choice of working or watching The Nine. I went with working. I've decided that because of the way it's set up (the crisis has already happened), every episode feels somewhat anti-climactic.

The Office -- I came very late to this (like, this year) but I gotta say, the whole Pam/Jim relationship? Has me on the edge of my seat. I think one reason I enjoy that part of the show is not so much because I write romance, but because I can see actually having such people in a real office. They're less like caricatures and more realistic characters. Unlike, say, Dwight. Don't get me wrong -- Dwight's a hoot and I'm sure there are people like him in offices, albeit on a lesser scale. I just prefer the Pam/Jim kinda characters.

My Name Is Earl -- I started watching this after listening to my husband laughing out loud during some episodes. And I'm glad I did. The relationship between Earl and his brother is both funny and sweet, and I think it's one thing that makes this show stand out. I haven't watched sit coms in years, until this one.

And now, it's back to the book! Until my lunch/Law and Order rerun break. Ah, Lenny. How wonderful a character you were!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wherein I swoon

I decided, while taking a revising my manuscript yet again (391 pages. Number of pages without changes? One...sigh....), to check the website of the new Robin Hood series on the BBC. Even though I can't watch it (yet), I wander by sometimes. Turns out there's a preview clip for the episode on the 25th.

That had me swooning. Yep, if you wanna know why I write romance, watch this preview clip. Oh, baby, oh, baby! Marion, ditch that Robin kid and become Lady Gisborne! You can save him! And wouldn't that be exciting in a variety of ways????

Whew, between that, and Jamie Bamber in People? What a week for male pulchritude and intensity!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't....

Now that I'm getting down to the wire on the current work-in-progress, and the story and characters are really coming together, I can say this book okay writing experience. It wasn't my best (those would be the three books that pretty much wrote themselves, or so it seemed), but it sure wasn't my worst. Since I'm kinda busy this week, I'd thought I'd share with you what I learned from My Very Worst Writing Experience.

This was originally written as a newsletter article, so if any members of an RWA chapter want to use it in their chapter newsletter, in its entirety, you have my permission. For anything else, please email at (Copyright does apply.)

Working Through Writers' Block

Margaret Moore

Over the nearly fifteen years I’ve been a published author, I never had full-blown writer’s block until last year. I’d had what I called “writer’s hesitation,” meaning I’d get to a certain point in the story and be unsure exactly how to proceed to the next scene or plot point. Usually that meant folding some laundry until the answer came to me, or if I was really hesitating, doing an outline. That would take a day or two or three. Then I’d be back on track.

However, I finally and regrettably experienced real writer’s block – or at least as real as I ever care to experience. I got about one hundred pages into my book and then…nothing. Nada. Despite what I’d written in the synopsis, I didn’t really know what to do next or how to get to the next plot point. So I revised up to page 100 or so, and got maybe another couple of pages done and then…nothing. Nada. I started at the beginning again, revising, got to about page 110 and then…you get the picture. Nothing helped. I did an outline; I had many file cards that I poured over like they contained the secret of eternal youth, trying to see where I was going wrong. For the whole miserable month of March, I got nowhere. It was so bad, I even got snippy with my mother – believe me, this was a Very Bad Sign, as we usually get along very well. Bless her non-writing heart, she blamed hormones – and I daresay there was a little of that going on, too. Later, I realized there were a couple of other stresses weighing on me that no doubt contributed in a subconscious way, including having had to do a major revision on the previous book I’d turned it.

But at the time, and even when I figured out some of these contributing factors, I was still well and truly blocked.

So what did I do? Since I had a contracted deadline, I had no choice but to put my butt in my chair and work, whether I felt like it or not, and whether I felt like I was writing pure dreck or not. With much angst and worry, I got the book done, and in on time.

If I had not had a contract, I might have given up on that book. Worse, I could even see myself giving up writing entirely. In the darkest days, I honestly thought my career was over. I was done. There was nothing left in the well, and never would be.

Fortunately, I stuck it out. Even better, the book turned out…not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, my editor really liked it, and raved over parts. I did have to do revisions, but they were quite minor, especially compared to the many and various revisions I’d already done on my own. The reviews were some of the best I’ve ever had.

I learned that every writer who’s ever said you just have to keep writing through writer’s block was right. You can do it, if you just do it. To be sure, HERS TO COMMAND (February ’06, HQN Books) wasn’t the most pleasant writing experience I’ve ever had, but let me tell you, now that it’s over and the response proved to be positive, it has become one of my most personally satisfying.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My "Typical" Day

One question I get asked with some frequency is what constitutes a "typical" writing day for me. This is a poser, because I really don't have a "typical" day.

For one thing, it depends on what stage of creation I'm at. If it's a first draft, I write at the computer maybe an hour or two a day. Then I wander around. Do some housework. Some laundry. Email. I've usually just finished a book, and it takes awhile for the ol' gray matter to get up to speed again. Also, there are a LOT of decisions with the first draft, and I need to contemplate them.

With every subsequent draft, I spend more time on the writing itself, either at the computer or making changes on hard copy. This time, I used a purple pen. I've used up one whole purple pen and am on #2. Also a whole pad of lined yellow newsprint paper for additions, although I also write on the back of my hard copy. Par for the course.

Some days, I don't get any writing done at all. I have other commitments. Sometimes, I'm waiting for the furnace guy, say, so I can't concentrate as much as I'd like to.

However, the closer I get to my deadline, the more I work, either at the computer or making notes. My aching back will attest to this. But it's also because I can get through more of the book before I feel the need to take a rest break.

I have to confess, though, that I really don't quite "get" this question. I don't understand why it matters to anybody how I organize my writing time. Unless we have exactly the same life, I'd expect you to organize your time differently. You have different obligations, different commitments, a different way of writing.

I suspect some people want to hear that I spend at least ten hours a day chained to the computer. Or get up at the crack of dawn and work through until dinner. They want to believe I can devote hours and hours to writing. They don't have that kind of time, so of course they can't write as much.

Here's the thing: now I can spend hours a day writing, if I so choose. However, when I began, I had one hour a day while my daughter was at pre-school. One hour a day. Nothing on weekends. I still managed to write books.

I don't think writers should pay any attention at all to how other writers use their time. They should just use the time they have.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Now comes the Giddy Stage....

I've reached yet another milestone in the writing process. There's still work to be done on my manuscript before it goes to New York -- what some folks would consider quite a bit, I suspect, but for me, it's par for the course, since revising is as much a part of my process as writing new material.

BUT oh joy, oh rapture! I didn't find a "Oh my word, this isn't working at all!" spot. Whew. Also, the very last scene works better than I recalled -- big relief there. So I'm feeling...giddy.

Despite waking up in a refrigerator because at some point in the night, our furnace stopped working. BRRRRR. I was having some Bob Cratchit moments this morning -- literally. I had a candle on the table to keep me warm until the furnace white knight appeared.

And then. And THEN! The Sexiest Man Alive issue of PEOPLE magazine arrived. I'm taking a break and, because I still have much work to do on the book, flipping through it rather quickly when I get to a page that makes me GASP!!! Out loud.

It's Jamie Bamber, who plays Apollo on Battlestar Galactica, and also portrayed the cute and doomed Mr. Kennedy on Horatio Hornblower.

Wow. Can all my heroes on all my covers look like him? Please? Pretty please?

And then I burst out laughing at my own reaction. Because really, it's just a picture, you know.

But I am now even more giddy.

Is this a good state, or a bad state, to be in as I'm getting down to the wire? you may wonder.

I'm thinking it's a heck of a lot better than being stressed out.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Seven Signs The End Is Nigh....

No, not the apocalypse. My book, THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT, which is due on November 30.

1. I wander around in a semi-permanent state of distraction.

For instance, I make a whole lot of mistakes in exercise class. More than usual, I mean. I'll be going along (grapevine, step, step, step) and then I'll be in medieval England and then...whoops. What? It doesn't help that we have a new instructor who doesn't use the same routine from week to week. She "wings" it every class.

And any question posed immediately after I stop work to do something else (see below re dinner and laundry) is liable to elicit a blank look, the sort that once prompted my daughter to inquire, "Are you thinking again, Mom?"

2. The pile of laundry in the basement grows to Himalayan proportions. Undies and socks take precedence. For anything else, good luck!

3. Making dinner becomes a recreational activity. Because I'm not working on the book. But there's also a risk. See Number 1 about distractions.

4. I get ambushed by scenes for the next book while supposedly thinking of the current book. Back, you idea, back! Not yet! Not yet!

5. The stress dreams begin. You know, where you're late for something and can't quite get there? Or you've forgotten something.

6. My fingernails become very, very short.

7. Even my mother starts to ask me how the book is going. She knows better than to ask that any earlier, because it's generally too difficult to explain to the layman ("Well, I think I've got the consummation scene too early, and maybe from the wrong point of view. And I think I need a new name for the villain, possibly his henchman. And that whole thing with the money? It's not working...")

What she's really asking here is, "Are you going to get it done on time?"

Right now, my response is "I think so."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Holy Spine Wrecker, Batman!

As the Christmas season approaches, the catalogues have been coming fast and furious. Today, we received a very glossy, fancy-smancy one for a bookstore. Okay, books are good. Books are most excellent presents. Bookstores want to make money.

But oh, my goodness, what brainiac decided to photograph the books open, text down? Yes, we can see the cover, but think of the spines, people! That's one fine way to wreck a book.

There's another picture where, in what appears to be an effort to raise the page for the camera, they've folded back pages. ARGH!!!!!

This is right up there with the fools who write in library books, and bend down the corners of pages of library books.

It's wrong, you people! Wrong!

(The hysterical nature of this post is brought to you by Chapters Nineteen and Twenty, and a looming deadline.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Love is in the air...

Part of an actual conversation yesterday:

Me: "Well, I'd better go. I've just combined two love scenes and I'd better make sure everything makes sense and the hero doesn't sound like some kind of sexual gymnast."

Now, I'm sure there are readers who would be thrilled to death if my hero was some kind of bedroom gymnast, but what I was really getting at was that I didn't want the reader scratching her head and thinking, "What? Where? How in the world...?"

Speaking of love scenes, here's a version of a handout I use if I'm giving a workshop on this particular subject. If anybody wants to use this in an RWA chapter newsletter, or anywhere else, please email me at I may want to, you know, revise it. (And copyright applies.)

Also, I'm not talking about sexual tension here -- that should be throughout the entire story, from the moment the hero and heroine meet. I'm talking about scenes of sexual intimacy.

AS IN ANY SCENE, a love scene should:

1. Move the story forward
2. Reveal character (and I'm not talking about their bodies)

How does a love scene move the story forward?

How has it upped the stakes in terms of the rest of the plot? The romantic relationship between your characters should be altered by the physical intimacy of making love. For instance, has it brought them closer together, made them more "us against the world?" Or has it added to their woes? (Possibly both!)

How does a love scene reveal character?

By demonstrating how your characters behave when they are alone with each other. There is nobody else to influence their behavior.

For example:
Does a supposedly arrogant, selfish man behave with unexpected tenderness? Does a woman determined to refuse his advances discover that all her preconceptions about a man have been wrong?

How many love scenes do you need?

There is no rule or formula for the number or placement of love scenes in any romance. It's up to the author to decide that, and then determine what publisher would be most likely to want that sort of story. If you really enjoy writing love scenes, try to think of characters and a plot that allow for more. If you don't, the opposite applies.

Eight Tips for Writing Love Scenes

1. Where are the characters in terms of the overall relationship -- the beginning, the middle or the end?

2. How comfortable are the characters with each other?

3. How is making love going to change the direction of the relationship between the characters and where is it going to go afterward?

4. What's the mood of the characters at the beginning of the scene? What has just happened to them? Are they relieved, happy, anxious?

5. The setting -- where are they? What kind of place? Furnishings? Time of day? Lighting? Think of the five senses. Bring as many into play as you can.

6. Don't neglect dialogue.

7. Don't reach too far for interesting, new descriptions of body parts or sensations or you run the risk of sounding ridiculous and yanking the reader right out of your story.

8. Try not to envision your mother or other relatives reading your love scenes. You are a fiction writer creating a story about two people distinct from yourself and this is one part of the process.

How I wish interviewers and other people with the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" reaction to discovering I write romance would realize that last point!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


So yesterday, I'm going along, thinking I've done the necessary "reshaping" of several chapters, when I realize that in adding a strand to the tapestry of the book, I've "dropped" another, relatively important one. Ooops. Which is why I was again working at 10:30 pm and not watching Day Break. Not that I was particularly interested in watching some guy relive the same Very Bad Day. Sounds too grim.

Anyhoodle, here's another of my articles about writing. As before, if anyone reading this belongs to a chapter of RWA and would like to reprint it in their chapter newsletter in its entirety, duly credited, you have my permission. Otherwise, for any other use, please email me at Copyright does apply.

Focus, Focus, Focus!

Margaret Moore

It recently dawned on me – and by that, I mean in the Macaulay Culkin slap-on-the-cheeks-in-Home-Alone way – that I’ve been a published author for a long time. In fact, I’ve had the fifteenth anniversary of my first sale. Once I recovered from the shock, I realized I’ve learned a lot along the way -- some good, some bad, some distressing, some amusing.

One of the most important things I’ve learned along the way is, focus on the book you’re writing right now.

There are so many different romance sub genres, it’s easy and tempting to flounder around, trying out various ones, when you first begin writing romance. For one thing, it’s all so…new! It’s like you’ve just stepped into a department store with your first credit card. Where do I go first? What do I want to write? But until you focus on one particular sub genre, you’re going to wind up with a lot of partials, and not much else.

At any stage of your career, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with news about what’s selling and who’s buying. I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to write something simply because I thought it would be easier to sell. When I began writing, my heart was really in medievals but I heard that medievals were a tough sell, so I tried my hand at short contemporaries. There may be editors at Harlequin still chortling over those efforts. As it turned out, my first sale was a medieval. I’m still hearing medievals don’t sell and I’m still selling them.

Does this mean I’ve never tried to write in other sub genres since that first sale? I have, including one effort that prompted my agent to remark that she thought I’d lost my mind (not something one generally wants to hear one’s agent say).

As time has passed, I’ve figured out that I’m most tempted to switch gears when I’m stressed about my work or career -- if I’m having difficulties with the new book, or I hear something about the business that makes me think my writing days are numbered.

However, I’ve also (finally) learned that what I ought to do when that happens is simply focus on the story I’m telling right now. I can’t control what’s happening in the industry, and too often rumors turn out to be just that.

If I do get an idea for something really different, I make notes. If it’s strong, it’ll linger and develop. So far, nothing outside of historicals has done that, which I take as confirmation that I was wise to leave those projects withering on the vine.

You should be aware of what’s happening in the world of the business you’ve chosen. If you haven’t yet figured out which sub genre suits your voice and the stories you want to tell, you do have to keep “trying them on” until you find one that “fits.” Sometimes, it is time to switch gears, and you’re right to heed the urge.

But I’ve learned along the way that I have to think about what’s really going on in my head when I get the impulse to try something totally different. It might be a great idea, or it might simply be a reaction to stress. Time will tell, and in the meantime, I should focus on the book I’m writing right now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

PR Pressure

As if writing a book isn't angst-ridden enough, I have now learned there is a new way to market your book -- trailers. Like movie trailers, only for books. On the internet, either at websites or YouTube.

Also, some folks feel that a place on MySpace is a good idea.

To be honest, my first reaction to these notions was "ARGH!!! Haven't I got enough to worry about? I have enough stress with the writing. Must I start worrying about a snappy trailer, too?"

The answer to this, really, is "no." I don't have to worry about this sort of thing. If I'm not comfortable with something, nobody is forcing it upon me.

But there is, in this business, a sort of PR peer pressure, even if much of it is self-imposed. You hear Annie Author has done this neat PR thing, and suddenly you think, "Oh! Should I do that?" And maybe Annie Author's book sells really well, so then you really feel like you ought to jump on that bandwagon. It isn't just about whether paranormals, etc. are hot or not, you see. There are all kinds of other things we writers can start wondering about when it comes to sales.

But the bottom line for me remains what it was when I wrote an article called "Not All PR is Good PR." Since I've discovered the back half of my book requires somewhat more work than I anticipated (ahem), I'm going to copy that article here. Please note that if anybody belongs to an RWA chapter and wants to use it in a chapter newsletter in its entirety, you may. For any other use, please email me at

Not All PR is Good PR by Margaret Moore

It’s a popular saying that “all PR is good PR.”

After my years in the published author trenches, I’ve come to the conclusion that this saying was probably coined by some PR person whose client was upset with their work. Don’t worry! All PR is good PR!

I don’t buy that.

I don’t think it’s “good” PR if I’m left feeling humiliated and very sorry I took part in an article, interview or event. Unfortunately, I can’t always foresee such disasters. Something sounds wonderful and I’m flattered to be asked, so I do my best to be witty and entertaining and promote the genre in a positive light, only to find out later that the interviewer or writer had his or her own agenda, and it certainly wasn’t to make me, or my genre, look good.

However, there are other times when something seems good on the surface, yet I get a “gut feeling” that my interests and those of writer or interviewer are very, very different. Maybe it’s the flippant way they talk about romance novels in general, or the sorts of things they want to know about my personal life or background. Maybe it’s the obvious focus of the piece – zeroing in on book covers is a sure sign for me that the people involved aren’t really interested in what I actually write. The PR value for me is likely going to be minimal at best, and the cringe factor may be high.

I’ve learned to trust those internal warning bells. Now I turn down some “opportunities.” Perhaps I lose a few sales, but measured against personal humiliation in a public forum? Not a tough decision. To be sure, my agent and editors may not be terribly tickled when I say no to something, but it’s not their names in the paper, or their faces on TV. It’s mine.

Giving workshops and speeches can be wonderful PR – if you enjoy it. I do. But if you’d rather eat dirt than get up and talk about writing, this sort of PR may not be “good” for you. Stressing over a future event can be death to creativity and a really nervous speaker can be difficult to listen to, even if his or her words of advice are excellent.

Book signings sound wonderful and exciting before you sell. After you’ve done a couple where you sit by yourself giving directions to the bathroom or other areas of a bookstore, not so much. Now I weigh the time a book signing will take from my writing, the location of the store, and whether or not I think I can make good contacts with bookstore employees who’ll be shelving my books (preferably face out once they’ve met me) before I agree to participate.

Writing articles like this is the sort of PR that I think all writers should consider. After all, writing is what we do. All we need is a topic and a venue, and we in RWA have plenty of both. Articles that appear in RWA newsletters can be shared among chapters. PR doesn’t get any easier or less expensive than that.

Print advertising is a tougher one to call. It can be expensive, but I doubt an ad would ever constitute “bad” PR, unless it was very badly done or in poor taste. It’s more a question of, “Is it cost effective?” I have NO idea. Nobody I know has any idea. I would say an ad’s effectiveness depends on (a) how much you pay and (b) what kind of result you expect. Will lots of print advertising get your book on a bestseller list? Not on its own. Will it increase traffic to your website? Much more likely, provided you include your URL in the ad. I advertise in Romance $ells because the price is reasonable compared to other venues, they tell you how many people receive it and they include the price of the layout in the cost.

What about a website? In this day and age, I believe a published author should have a website. It’s a wonderfully easy, effective way to provide your backlist and promote your upcoming books.

If you’re writing for young adults, you should really have a website. As I discovered, teens and younger kids have no hesitation looking you up on the web and emailing you. And they are one enthusiastic audience.

How fancy should your website be, and how much money should you spend? Like most PR exercises, this is very much up to the author and I don’t think there’s a definitive answer. I design and maintain my website myself because it’s less expensive, I enjoy it -- it’s a pleasant creative change from writing -- and I have the time to update it frequently. If I didn’t enjoy it or didn’t have the time, I would either pay someone to do it, or I’d have a simpler website.

I was told early on that when it came to websites, I should “update everything, update often” to ensure that people came back. The “update everything” would be way too much work, unless I wanted maintaining my website to be my day job. Updating often, however, is relatively quick and easy to do. There are plenty of things I can add, revise or delete on a weekly basis. My blog has a similar function – to remind people I’m “out there,” to keep their interest in my work between releases.

Does an author need a blog? I don’t think so, especially if you’re uncomfortable with that sort of intimacy with your audience (and any stranger who happens to come by) and don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on the computer.

What about bookmarks and/or flyers? This is another one that’s a little tough to call. I suspect (and have heard this from others) that they’re more likely to wind up in recycling bins than making a lasting impression. If I’m doing a major signing, though, I may decide it’s worth the time and money. When I do order paper products, however, I make them “generic” rather than specific to one title. Then they’re never out of date, and if I have leftovers, it’s no big deal. After all, unlike real leftovers, they won’t go bad.

There are other self-promotion tools out there. Newsletters, mailings, having contests and entering contests are a few that come to mind. Like many examples of self-promotion, their effectiveness is hard to measure, and they can be time-consuming and/or expensive. On the other hand, plenty of readers love them.

This is why PR remains, for me, one of the more mysterious and uncertain parts of the publishing business. Like writing, it’s not an exact science, and it’s very difficult to determine if one particular type of PR is more effective than another. Nevertheless, self-promotion is something most authors consider, and many do at least a little.

If a particular sort of PR works for you and doesn’t add a lot of stress to your life, then I’d consider that good PR. But if you find promoting yourself stressful, if it seems to be eating up a lot of your earnings and writing time, maybe you need to rethink its value. Perhaps it would be more worthwhile to put that time and effort into the book you’re working on. Because the one thing that’s definitely going to make a difference in your sales? Is writing a really good book.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tag, I'm it!

One of my fellow Harlequin writers, Cheryl St. John, tagged me. I'm supposed to add my own list of "Five Things You Don't Know About Me" to my blog. And then I get to "tag" somebody else. I'm tagging fellow Harlequin authors Sharon Schulz and Michelle Styles.

So here goes, Five Things You Don't Know About Me:

1. I played Puck in our high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

2. I am terrified of frogs and toads.

3. The first record I ever bought was of film scores written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold . He did Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, among others.

4. I don't like coconut.

5. My parents almost named me Judy.

And now, having hit one of those "What the heck?" places in the manuscript, it's back to work!

Monday, November 13, 2006

How do I know when I'm done?

People who know I revise my work a lot from start to submission will often ask me how I know when I'm done. How do I know when it's time to stop revising?

The simple answer now may be "Because it's due." But that isn't the only answer. If I felt a book still wasn't the best it could be, I'd ask for an extension on the deadline, and in all likelihood, given my long history with my publisher, I'd get it. I'm not talking more than a couple of weeks here, and I've only done that maybe once or twice in several years, so it's not something I exploit, but that possibility does exist.

So how else do I tell?

I can get through a chapter in less than half an hour. That means I'm making very few changes. I may actually have more than one page in a row where I don't make any - always a delightful surprise.

I start changing things back to what they were before.

Every scene feels in the right place, at the right time.

The pacing of every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, feels right.

I'm so familiar with the book, I can remember the location of individual sentences in other parts of the book. That also means I'm so familiar with the book, if there's a problem, I'm probably not going to see it. It's time for fresh eyes.

So I input the final changes, print the manuscript off, and it goes to my editor. I'm not sure what a "beta reader" is, but I'm assuming it's a friend/colleague who supplies "fresh eyes." I don't have one and never have. Nor does it go to my agent first. I represented myself and worked with my editor before signing with her so while we do discuss my career, etc., the writing is pretty much between me and my editor.

And then I wait, with somewhat bated breath, for my editor's opinion. Being Rosie Revision means I don't fear revision notes as much as some. I don't get offended. I may think, "HUH? That's just so wrong!" But I also know that my editor's usually right. That's what the "fresh eyes" do -- find the flaws I can't, and I wouldn't have if I worked on the book for another year or two. If I think she's wrong, it's my job to be able to articulate why and convince her otherwise. If I can't, then there is indeed a problem I need to address, and a-fixin' I will go.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Risky Business

I've said before that writing for a living is a not for the risk-averse. We gamble with every book, every proposal, every plot, every character -- sometimes it feels like every word. 'Cause if your editor and your readers don't like it? Your career is going to suffer.

But there are varying levels and kinds of risks you can take in the writing biz, some more risky than others.

There's the Big Risk. This is the one where you really go out on a limb. You try something totally different from what you, or anyone else, has done before or is doing. Why would anybody do this? To stand out. To break out. To move up. To sell. Or because you feel compelled -- the story and/or characters have grabbed you and won't let go. Sometimes it's a combination.

Sometimes this works (you sell and sell big-time), sometimes it doesn't (you get rejected or your book flops). Sometimes the result if a mixed bag. It gets your foot in the door, but then the general public isn't so willing to try something new, or the journey between great, innovative idea and execution of said idea falters along the way.

We hear about the big successes, the gambles that paid off. The writers who did this and got the brass ring are there to remind us. We don't hear about the flops, because those writers don't talk about it (and why would you?) or they go on to a different career.

Then there's the calculated risk. You try something new, but not too different as to make readers unhappy or dissatisfied. This can be called "putting a new spin on the tried and true" or perhaps you take a chance with a different kind of character, or maybe it's simply your unique voice that people like.

This is my usual brand of risk-taking. It keeps things interesting for me and hopefully my readers, but doesn't put my career in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, I think too many unpublished readers try for no-risk-at-all. They imitate the best-sellers, and try to figure out exactly what the market is doing and where it's going. If only they can find that magic combination that other writers have used, they'll sell. Either that, or they go WAY out on a limb, writing the "book of the heart" which is all well and good for satisfying one's creative ego, but may mean the book appeals only to a very select audience.

If I had to advise an unpublished author on one of these two approaches? I'd say go out on the limb, because if nothing else, you'll have satisfied yourself. And on a more practical note, I think your "writing voice" will be the stronger for it, so if you go to the Calculated Risk, you'll have something "extra" right from the get-go.

How much risk a writer is comfortable with is one of those things every writer has to come to terms with over the course of his or her career. And like so much else, there's no right or wrong. It depends on a whole host of factors unique to every writer. The one thing we all have in common is that we're willing to risk sending our work out into the big wide world in the hopes that it will (eventually) get published.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What did you do in the war, Dad?

Here are some of the stories my dad has told about being in the navy during World War II:

Spending an entire watch (that's four hours) chipping ice off the deck.

Nearly falling off a bosun's chair while painting the ship. (A bosun's chair is one of those things that looks like a swing -- seat's about four inches wide.)

Sleeping in with the torpedoes rather than in the mess because it was more quiet.

Going to the Wardroom to inform the Officer of the Watch that the mines they'd just loaded had no firing pins and the guy in charge of the loading hadn't noticed.

Some big wig's daughter shooting off a mine. In the harbor.

Stealing booze that somebody else had stolen from the Wardroom for VE Day celebrations.

Waking up on a park bench in Edinburgh after said celebrating. With his face painted. How, why, who? It remains a mystery.

Walking several miles home, taking all night, while on leave because he'd missed the last bus.

Having to get a note from his parents to sign up because he was only 17.

Am I proud of my quiet, stoic dad? You better believe it.

In-Your-Face Rejection

So, who else was watching Ugly Betty last night, and cringed when she got the in-person rejection of her article? I was, and boy, it makes you appreciate getting "impersonal" rejections by letter or email, or even a phone call, where the person doing the rejecting can't see your dejected face.

Here's the situation for those of you who missed it: Betty got the nod to write a review of very chic hotel, the kind of place I would hate to stay in -- I could certainly relate to the snooty person at the check-in desk, having encountered one of those in New York. Such people make me want to put on my best "rube" accent and ask questions like, "So that underground railroad thingamajiggy, how d'ya get on it?"

So Betty tries to write the review, in a style consistent with the (equally snooty) fashion magazine she writes for. She gets frustrated and rewrites it to sound more like herself. Unfortunately, while her boss thinks the piece is well written and does indeed "sound like her," it doesn't sound like the magazine. She gets the verbal equivalent of "While your writing has merit, your book isn't right for us at this time." In person. Youch!

The closest I've come to this is what I call The Book Club Experience. A friend of mine has a friend who belongs to a book club. Friend of Friend was apparently excited to discover Friend knows a writer of books. Friend of Friend asks Friend if I'd like to be a guest at her book club. Sure, says I, thinking if nothing else, it'll get me out of the house and perhaps I might even join, on the idea that it would be good not just to get out of the house, but also to meet some new people. Who like books. Cool. I even supply the books.

I get to the book club. Nice group of women. Chit chat ensues. Then they ask me questions about publishing (as usual they are shocked -- shocked! -- that I don't have cover approval) and impressed by how many countries my books are sold in, and various other aspects of publishing of which the public is generally ignorant. Once again, I'm reminded of just how much I know about publishing.

But then...but then...the woman who was apparently forced to hold her nose while reading my book, it stunk so bad, pipes up. Oh. My. Word. Now, I can take some criticism. Well, let's say I've been forced to get used to criticism over the years, but it's quite different reading a less-than-glowing review in the privacy of my own home, where I can then phone up my mother and snark to my heart's content until I feel better, wander around muttering under my breath to the cats and anybody else unfortunate enough to be home, and have some chocolate chips (just the chips, mind you, sans cookie) compared to getting the sneering treatment in person. Squirmalicious!

One thing that salvaged the savaging for me was that it was clear I could have written the best romance in the history of the world and this woman would have hated it. Because it was a romance.

Don't get me started.

The other was that Friend of Friend was absolutely mortified by Critical Reader's lambasting of a person's work when said person was, in essence, a guest. It was rather like going to a party and having somebody announce that they hate your clothes, your haircut and the way you talk, too. But hey, unless everything you write is universally adored by all, you learn how to get over these things.

But I didn't ask to join the book club. There are limits.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Stranger than Fiction -- you betcha!

I see Emma Thompson is in a new movie called "Stranger than Fiction," playing a writer suffering from writer's block whose thoughts/writing are suddenly in Will Farrell's head, while he's apparently a character in her book.

Now, wacky as this scenerio sounds, that's not what got my attention during the commercials. It's the fact that the writer is still using a typewriter.

I don't know a single writer who uses a typewriter, and in fact, unless she pays somebody to input her manuscript onto a computer disk, I don't know any writer who could use just a typewriter. My publisher requires a diskette. In fact, people are shocked to discover I still send in a hard (paper) copy of my manuscripts along with a diskette. Believe me, I wish I didn't have to. That's a lot of paper to FedEx, and costs accordingly. Many people are also gobsmacked to learn I don't submit electronically. To them, publishing is still in the Dark Ages, one step away from monks with quills.

Also, our gal Emma is apparently a social nincompoop. Ah, yes, we writers are a weird, lonely, anti-social bunch with bad hygiene. Volunteering at our kids' schools, working as nurses, lawyers, teachers, etc., going to writers' groups meetings and conferences, having booksignings... Doesn't happen. Nope, we sit in our offices fighting writers' block all day. Then we imbibe to excess while feeling sorry for ourselves.

Writers in movies also never make typing mistakes ever. They are all keyboard whiz kids! Not this writer, let me tell ya. And I've been making a living using a keyboard for nigh onto 15 years.

About the most realistic depiction of a writer's life I've ever seen in the movies is in Sunset Boulevard. Granted, William Holden is using a typewriter, but that's because PCs were a long way from being invented yet. I just know, if his character were alive today, he'd have a laptop. Also, when he's revising Gloria Swanson's manuscript, he has an editing pencil behind his ear, and he uses it. It may not be his own work he's editing, but at least he's editing. He doesn't just sit and type perfect prose the first time through. Yes, some authors do only one draft, so no, they don't edit on hard copy, but this is closer to my writing experience. Also, William Holden has friends and goes to a party, very nattily attired, too (albeit on Ms. Swanson's dime). Even at his most down and out, it looks like he cares about personal hygiene. He gets together with other writers at Schwab's to gripe about his career, or lack thereof. Anti-social? Not a bit.

The other fantasy about life as a writer is that writers can/must go off somewhere isolated to write. They rent a cabin in the woods (Misery) or a hotel suite somewhere and become hermits as they work on their magnum opus, presumably because they can't handle the interruptions/distractions of life and write at the same time. As one of many writing mothers I know, I believe the appropriate response to this is a snort of derision. Many writers I know have families, full time jobs and successful writing careers.

Generally, I find movies and TV shows depicting writers pretty much play into the happy fantasy that writers are glorified typists. We sit, we type out a perfectly drafted novel first time through, then drink ourselves into oblivion sucks? Trust me, if I could just sit down and type out a perfectly drafted story the first time through? I wouldn't be sitting around drinking. I'd be out celebrating.

Either that, or the writer has such terrible writers' block, it's hard to imagine they ever wrote anything ever. Maybe if the writer didn't have to write a perfect draft the first time, with no typos, they could relax and then bye-bye, writers' block.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I like it!

So there I am, rewriting the first scene of Chapter Ten after dinner. New setting, new beginning, new character, while salvaging some bits from other (now deleted) scenes. It's a Franken-scene!

I've also introduced, a few chapters back, a character based (visually) on Ray Stevenson, pictured here as his character Titus Pullo in Rome. I loved his character Pullo, and think ol' Ray's mighty easy on the eyes, too.

As I was working away, I thought of a nice little thing to happen to Robb at the end of the book. It came almost totally out of the blue (or my subconscious), and it's the kind of idea that makes writing exciting, even when I'm revising and my back is getting sore and I'm starting to get a little dazed and confused.

What exactly do I do when I revise? - Revised Version

Since I'm in revision mode of my work-in-progress -- that is, my revisions before the manuscipt is submitted, not revisions based on editor's suggestions -- I thought folks might be wondering just what I do when I revise.

I cut out the boring parts. I'm reading along, "La-la-la-la-la," and then "CLUNK!" Yawn.

How do I know it's boring? I can't really say. I just do. And by that, I mean it's boring/slow reading to me. What may be slow to me might be lyrical prose or emotional depth to another, so it's pretty much a matter of taste, honed by years of reading books I enjoy. I knows what I likes, and what makes me yawn, and if I'm bored, it's gone.

I add missing parts. Sometimes, I'll have jumped from Point A to Point C and realize I need Point B. This is best done at this stage. I once did that very late in the process and I gotta tell ya, I was beyond thrilled my editor let me do it. The thing is, it'd been nagging me but I kept telling myself the addition wasn't really necessary, and nobody said it was, but I continued to feel the lack. I was much happier when I made the addition.

I cut out repititions. When you're writing a book over the course of months, you can forget you've already said something (in my case, usually about backstory/motivation) already, and wind up saying it, oh, maybe ten times. So some of those have got to go. I also don't want my readers feeling like they've been hit over the head with a sledgehammer on a particular point.

The downside of this is, sometimes I think I'll have said something a gazillion times because I've read it what seems a gazillion times in the various drafts, so I take it out all ten times. Then a reader or reviewer will make some comment, and I'll be thinking, "But I said why!" Sometimes it's still there, sometimes...whoops, my bad.

OTOH, sometimes if I explain a thing only once, it's not enough, because people who read in a hurry miss the one part where the point's made clear.

I try to make the prose smooth and not "choppy." Unless it's a battle scene. Or other scene of high drama. Then I go for short sentences.

I try to make every character sound unique. One thing that totally fries my bacon is when a copy editor "corrects" my characters' dialogue. I personally don't speak with perfect grammar, and I certainly don't expect many of my characters to (see? I've ended a sentence with a preposition! Oh, the horror!). Copy editors are all about good grammar; I want my people to sound like people.

I try to get the grammar in narrative correct, watching for things like "it's" when it should be "its", etc. (as I had in this post earlier. D'oh!)

I cut out adverbs. Not all of them, because sometimes you need the modifier. But a lot of them.

So then I get hung up on dialogue tags (said, replied, declared, announced). A lot of times a lot of them go or get simplified to something less noticeable.

I try to ensure that it's clear who's speaking.

I look for continuity boo-boos. For instance, in the current book I'm working on (THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT), my hero has an issue with the heroine over something in Chapter Eight (or it may be Nine now -- I've moved a scene or two). Anyhoodle, he's upset and doesn't want her to do something. However, there was another part earlier on where she does something not dissimilar and he says nary a word.

Ooops. That argument has now morphed into more of a discussion, and I went back and added something to the earlier scenes to address the issue.

I add details -- clothes, setting, lighting, scents. I do some of this the first draft, but add more as I revise.

Sometimes I move whole scenes. I realize I've got something happening too early or too late, and I have to move it. If it involves the hero or heroine, this is a lot more work than if it's a secondary character scene, because moving a scene with the hero or heroine involved is going to alter the whole emotional structure of the book. But if it's not where it works best in terms of the development of the relationship or plot, moved it is. I think of my scenes as building blocks, and sometimes, I've got them in the wrong order and my structure is not as strong as it could be. So I move the blocks. And then repair.

Sometimes I'll change the point of view character in a scene. If that happens, I'll "strip" the scene -- take out all the internal narrative, leaving just the original dialogue and "blocking" (that's a theater term for actors' movements on the stage). Then I'll rewrite with new internal narrative for the different point of view character. Of course that isn't all I'll do -- I'll probably add or delete dialogue, and all the other minor changes I do to any scene.

I'll double check historical details. Or realize I've mentioned something, but haven't really made it clear what it is. I can't assume my readers will know what I'm talking about. "Quintain" comes to mind as something I realized I ought to describe more fully. It's one of those training dummies with a crossbar with a shield at one end and a bag of sand on the other that spins if the shield's hit. If I just call it a "quintain", lots of people will know what I mean, but likely some won't. I don't want anybody scratching their head wondering what a quintain is during what should be a fairly exciting/dramatic scene. I want them worried about what's going to happen to the person with a lance charging the quintain.

I think about individual words. Is that the best one? Is there some way to say a thing more clearly? Have I used the same word, especially adjective or adverb, really close together? Do my metaphors and similes make sense?

I'm not about fancy; I don't write to call attention to my style. I didn't become a writer because I love words. I became a writer because I love to make up characters and tell stories set in the past. So I'll sacrifice a metaphor or simile if I think it's too "pretty" or otherwise calls attention to itself, rather than clarifying the character's mood, for example.

I try to make my chapter endings interesting/suspenseful enough that the reader will want to continue. Every scene has its own dramatic arc -- inciting incident, rise to a climax, denouement. Generally, I try not to end at the end of the denouement, because that's not a really dramatic moment. Sometimes I'll end a chapter just before the climax of a scene. Sometimes just after the inciting incident of a scene. Sometimes during the build-up, before there's some exciting action. Sometimes during the exciting action.

However, because writing is not an exact science, sometimes I will end a chapter at the end of the end of the denouement. But if that's the case, I'm liable to do a little foreshadowing. Or at least hint at the inciting incident in the next scene to come. One thing I try never to do is end a scene with somebody falling asleep. Fainting, yes, nodding off, no.

I want to make sure it's clear what attracts the hero to the heroine and vice versa. Why do they fall in love with each other, and not anybody else?

I want to ensure my characters' actions make sense, given what I've said about their histories and their desires/goals, and the time in which they live.

There are probably a few more things I do that I'm not recalling right at the moment (woke up at 4:45 a.m. -- bad dream about a serial killer (!!!) probably because I watched Prison Break last night), but now you know why it can take me a day to revise one chapter, or sometimes -- alas! -- just a single scene.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I love libraries!

It occurred to me the other day, as I was walking out of the library, that I still get a huge thrill out of simply going to the library. I feel like a kid in the candy store. So many books! And it's all free! My heart beats a little faster, and I'm totally smiling inside. Perhaps not surprising for somebody who was called (affectionately) "little bookworm" by her Grade Two teacher.

I love walking down the rows and seeing if anything "jumps out at me."

I love opening hardcover books and holding them in my hand. I still get a "wow, I feel like a grown-up" kinda thrill. And I'm a few years past 21.

I love the smell of books from the library.

I love the crinkle of the plastic covers on the library books.

I love getting into bed, all cozy and warm, with my hot milk on the side table, and reading a library book.

The first time I saw one of my books in the local library, it was both exciting and strange. I couldn't quite wrap my head around it, in fact. There was my book.

In the library!!!

It was just so...NEAT!

Don't call me, I'll call you...

An interesting tidbit was picked up by our local newspaper from The Tampa Tribune in Florida: "Workplace psychologists say it takes 15 minutes for our minds to reach a state of full concentration on one project. (When the outside world seems to fade into the background.) That means any disruption costs us a half-hour: 15 minutes to start focusing, another 15 to refocus."

So, if I read this right, every interruption when you're at full concentration means it's going to take you about half an hour to rev back up to full concentration.

I can get behind this, and this is why I hate it when the phone rings when I'm trying to work. I lose focus and it takes me time to get back into the zone.

When I complain about this to non-writers and/or people who don't work at home, they'll say, "Just don't answer it then." But the ringing itself takes me out of the zone. It doesn't matter if I answer or not, or if it's one ring or five. I've already been interrupted, and if I don't answer, or at least look at the call display, I'll be distracted wondering who it was.

Then disconnect the phone, they say. We have seven phones. Also, I have kids and elderly parents and in-laws. What if there's an emergency?

I also can't concentrate fully if I'm waiting for somebody to come and repair something, and I've discovered the hard way that if they know I'll be home anyway, I apparently go to the bottom of the list in terms of urgency. So I now tell repair folks that I'll be taking time off work to wait for them. This is true in terms of how much I can accomplish, and it shouldn't matter that my office is in the basement.

This has turned into a bit of a rant, but truly, I wish people would understand that I am working at home. It seems no matter how many times and in how many ways I say it, some people just don't get it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thanks....I think...

Every so often I meet somebody, usually another writer or aspiring writer who, when they hear my name, says, "Oh, I've read your books!"

I'm never quite sure how to respond to that, and here's why:
It's kinda like somebody saying, "Oh, you got your hair cut!" And leaving it at that.

Maybe folks think that by telling me they read one of my books they're saying "and I liked it." Otherwise, they wouldn't have bothered mentioning it at all. I'd like to believe this, but in my heart of hearts, I don't. I think it might just be the shock of recognition, the equivalent of "Hey, I know you!" And what do you say to that?

I suppose I could respond with "So, did you like it?" but frankly, this would take a stronger hide than mine, because what if they didn't? I've had somebody criticise my work to my face, and believe you me, it was NOT pleasant, so it's not something I'm likely to encourage. Also, if they've just blurted out the equivalent of "Hey, I know you!" they may not appreciate being put on the spot and asked to deliver a critique of my work. And then they might lie to get themselves off the spot, and I'd realize they were lying, and then we'd both feel bad.

That's why, if somebody declares, "Oh, I've read your books!" I usually just smile.

Random Blog Giveaway!

Since the Christmas catalogues have started to arrive, and the Christmas commercials have started to air, and the mail will be getting busy, I decided to have a Random Blog Giveaway of a Harlequin Historical Christmas anthology no longer in print.

THE KNIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, out in 1997, contains "Kara's Gift," by Suzanne Barclay, "A Wish for Noel" by Deborah Simmons and "The Twelfth Day of Christmas" by yours truly. I remember having a lot of fun writing that novella, in part because it's about an older couple. No bonus points if you guess all three stories are medievals. :-)

I have four copies of THE KNIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS to give away. To win one, email and put "Christmas" in the subject line.

Later that same day: the books are all spoken for. Whew, that was fast!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Taking Risks and Writing Rules

To take a page from Oprah, here's what I know for sure about writing: it's not a profession for the risk-averse.

For instance:

I never know what my annual income is going to be. Not. A. Clue. Picture our financial planner's jaw dropping in shock.

I never know if my latest book is going to sell gangbusters, or languish on the shelves. I always think my books are swell, the hero and heroine fascinating and sympathetic, the villain well-motivated, and the plot interesting. But I also know that, despite my best efforts, other people may not.

I never know if this contract is going to be my last. (see above)

I consider these things the price I pay for doing what I enjoy. For being able to work at home, set my own hours, and be my own boss. This is also the nature of a career in the arts.

That said, I understand why people try to take the risk out of writing. They create "rules" and "musts" and "shoulds" as a means to try to increase the chance of getting published. They enter contests and join critique groups. They revise and revise and revise.

However, while rules, "musts" and "shoulds" may take away some of the perceived risk, I don't think they necessarily improve the chances of being published. Those rules celebrate the "tried and true," and while there are reasons for them, I think if you were to ask published authors, most of us break at least one or more "rules" all the time. Contests and critique groups, I fear, tend to reinforce the "rules." To be sure, they can help you to see and fix something that's not working in your story or with your characters, but they can also make you believe that what's unique about your work is wrong. Not different. Not interesting. Just wrong.

Revising too much can sap the energy right off the page.

I think the time you are most free to take risks with your writing is before you're published. There are no expectations, and letting your imagination run wild, breaking or ignoring some of the "rules," may actually increase your chances of getting an editor's attention and a sale.

Okay, let me draw back a bit. If you want to write a romance, there are certain conventions to which you must adhere, the focus of the story on the hero and heroine's relationship and ending with them together being the main ones. If you don't want to do that, you aren't writing a romance. Which is fine. Just don't try to sell it to a romance publisher.

And can't you cross a line between interesting and different to "What the--? Is this person nuts?" Sure, although nobody really knows where that is.

So I'm not advocating the wacky-for-the-sake-of-wacky here. I'm saying just don't think those "rules" are carved in stone. Unbreakable. Absolute. Or that you have to take anybody and everybody's advice about your story.

I also think you have to do what feels comfortable for you. If your imagination favors marriage of convenience stories set in Elizabethan England, go for it, even if somebody tells you Elizabethans don't sell. They may be right, but they may also be wrong. Your job is to tell the best dang Elizabethan marriage of convenience story you can, because your Elizabethan story might be "the exception that proves the rule" (a saying that makes absolutely no sense, if you think about it).

And if the only thing unique about your story is your voice, the way you tell the story? Nothing wrong with that at all. Just don't let anybody, including yourself, try to make your work "sound" like everybody else.

Now, for those folks who really like the security of rules, here are mine:

1. Be yourself. Tell your story the way you want. If you get a lot of feedback that your way isn't working from editors (ie people who can conceivably offer you money), then consider doing something different.

2. If a "rule" makes sense to you, use it. If it doesn't, forget it. Including mine.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dead Ends

One thing I always discover as I revise my first few chapters is what I call "dead ends," little snippets of prose that started me on a tangent of either plot or character that eventually went nowhere. I "dropped" the idea somewhere along the way, either because it turned out to be unimportant/not interesting, or else started to take the story somewhere it ultimately didn't go.

Very rarely do I think, "Oh, geez, this was good. I should have continued on the way." Usually it's more like "What was I thinking? Oh, ya. Never mind."

I found one or two of those last night I was editing/binging on Hallowe'en candy. Yep, I fell off the eat-healthy wagon big time. Fortunately, we had more trick or treaters than we expected. Otherwise? Yikes! However, I gather Dr. Oz on Oprah is going to tell me how to lose 10 pounds in a month on Thursday. I don't always watch Oprah, but I'm trying to get back on the rowing regimen, so I can do my rowing to nowhere about then.

Now it's back to work to see if I have more dead ends to delete.