Sunday, March 30, 2008

This writing business

April 1st Harlequin will announce the winner of their Instant Seduction contest. Yes, I entered along with lots of other writers. Frankly, I do not expect to win, place, or show. Despite this negative assumption on my part, I spent time crafting an entry that fit the requirements, making it the best I could. Consider it writing practice or fan fiction--it was a little of both.

I love Presents stories. The alpha males, the spunky heroines, the international settings, the passion, the emotion, everything about them, actually.

Each one is, in its own way, an instant classic. The retelling of favorite mythic tales of honor, conflict, and the triumph of love.

The story I’m working on at the minute began life as another (non-Presents) contest entry. However, when I’d finished my market research of that publisher’s current offerings I decided not to pursue either the contest or regular submission with the firm. This isn’t a derogatory finding of their editorial content. Just a bigger than I judge bridgeable gap between my story choices and theirs. Once the story is complete, I worry about where to send it.

Meshing of styles is not my sole criteria in deciding where to submit. Though a decent fit between the publisher’s style and my natural voice improves the odds for a long term, successful, business relationship. Those are the kinds I want to foster.

Each writer brings her own dreams and aspirations with her on the writing journey. I usually love reading. Some of the time I love writing. I always love having written. Even though I love much about writing it is not pure artistic expression, for me it’s a career choice. Writing has to pay its own way and more. It has to contribute to the ink, paper, and book budget.

When I started writing it was with an estimate of five years to get published. Sure, I hoped for shorter, but expected to spend time learning the craft. It was harder than I imagined and I will never master all of it. Perversely, it pleases me that writing is demanding and requires an on-going struggle from those who toil over the keyboard.

I estimated another five years before writing paid a decent wage. That’s the stage of the journey I’ve just begun. This spring I received my first royalty check. The amount was not impressive, but getting paid to write was a stellar moment.

What about your writing dreams? Are you thrilled with seeing your name on a cover? Aiming for the best seller list? Or toiling in artistic purity?

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Warning blatant commercial promotion ahead!

Do you ever wish for special powers? The ability to fly, become invisible, teleport, travel through space or time, see through walls, hear conversations held miles away, cast magic spells, know the future, cheat death, flex incredible strength, move faster than light, and more have all more been attributed to paranormal heroes and heroines.

There is a special appeal to the larger-than-life characters, hero or villain. The peril is more dangerous, the stakes are higher, and the action more exciting. And yet, it is his vulnerabilities that allow us to identify with the super-being and root for his success.

New Concepts Publishing is best known for its larger-than-life romances. Futuristics, fantasies, paranormals, shifters, vampires, and time travel books all have their own web pages.

Especially for those of you who like those super-strong, immortal, guys with fangs this Sunday, March 30 at 11 AM CDT there’s a Vampire Party over at the at the New Concepts Readers site.

Some of the featured authors will be Kathryn R. Blake, Charlotte Boyett-Compo, Kate Hill, Tracey H. Kitts, and Shirley Martin.
These talented women promise excerpts from their vampire romances with questions and prizes. The grand prize will be a print copy of Shirley Martin’s vampire romance, One More Tomorrow.

Now returning you to your previous scheduled programming.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Writing business

This is the conference season for romance writers. April kicks it off with the Romantic Times conference, followed in July by the National Romance Writers of America gathering. At least those are the two biggies that have crossed my radar. There are lots of regional conferences too. In fact, an ambitious writer with a generous travel budget could probably keep busy just conferencing. Having never attended any of these networking opportunities, I’m only guessing at the benefits.

Things I think would be fun, useful, or inspiring in no particular order:

Rubbing shoulders with or getting an autographed copy of a keeper from the legends

Meeting cyber-friends in real life

Listening to editors, authors, and agents talk about writing

Learning about craft and the publishing business

A chance to pitch, or simply get acquainted with, those in position to help further one’s writing career

I’m not going. Have I considered it? Oh yeah, that’s a nice list of benefits. But I’ve been writing for five years and I’ve invested enough money into this business. I’m willing to reinvest all writing income, for the next few years, back into the writing. Dues, subscriptions, promotion, classes, websites, books, and definitely conferences all come out of the same slim budget--writing income.

For me, writing is a business. In my case a fledgling business. But if a business fails to meet its own costs, after a start up period, then it isn’t a business--it’s a hobby. I don’t need, nor can I afford, another expensive hobby.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Writing life

Warning for those looking for inspiration or sunny reflections on the beauty of spring move on to the next blog. I’m feeling testy.

Just for the record I like spring--a lot. However, at the moment, I’m cranky.

The swamp creature, who serves as my muse, has been burping up story ideas like crazy. Why now, after I’ve taken a vow to finish projects instead of being seduced by the lure of new tale?

Fortunately, the current characters and their problems still absorb me. When I can fight my way through the distractions to actually work on their story.

Worry that some day the well of ideas might dry up compels me to at least write down the concept, sort of an extended blurb, but even that small nod to a story determined to bloom in my mind takes me out of the special world of the WIP manuscript.

Maybe that’s the reason I’m so disgruntled--it is taking me longer than usual to meet my daily writing goal--and I want to be outside playing in the sunshine. I succumb to spring fever for a couple of outdoor hours a day, which further delays writing progress.

There are days when writing flows and the word requirement isn’t a strain and then there are other days… Yet, I can’t imagine not writing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Writing life

For the past few days, I’ve been in this weird writing spot. The vision of the current story has shifted and wavered until I’m no longer sure where it’s going.

Personally, I love structure and word goals and regular daily writing from point A to point B all the way to the end. I’ve accepted the need for revising and polishing. However, in a perfect world I’d find the ideal words the first time through. Never happens. And, for me, trying to make it happen produces nothing but blank pages and lots of teeth gnashing.

The dismal desire for perfection is not the current problem. The current problem is the better plan syndrome. When I began the manuscript was a novella length erotic romance with a small suspense element. The little mystery’s only purpose was to underscore the lovers’ journey. As the story progressed, complications, which would strengthen the tale, began to niggle at me.

Forward progress ground to a half and I puttered about fretting for a day or two, tending to real life and thinking. Finally, I sat down and wrote a new synopsis, including the villain. At this point, I was halfway to accepting the story was going to be at least twice as long as initially planned and will require total re-plotting and fairly major revision of the first draft--which wasn’t even complete. Then further complications wriggled into my consciousness, whispering of how much better this could be…

I should never shortcut the plotting process. Always giving the story development phase its full measure of time, including letting the plan rest for at least a few days before eyeing it coldly. And certainly before investing any time in the actually writing.

When I first started writing it never occurred to me that the stories would need revision. I wrote happily from the opening hook to the mutual commitment with never a critical glance at the words on the screen. I miss that blissful ignorance. But knowledge, once acquired, can not be discarded. Awareness of story telling conventions, genre requirements, and a couple of thousand other details seeped into my mind. All of the lessons, to date, required multiple passes and a discouraging amount of pain.

One of the most important rules was the only one I knew from the start--finish every project. This was the motivation behind the new rule about never rushing the plotting stage. I have a bunch of projects in various stages of completion. All of them need to be finished. Starting with the one currently open.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reading and raving

I was going to whine about writing and my sad lack of patience. However, since I ranted about disappointing books it is only fair to rave about delightful stories.

After the wall bangers, I turned to a sure thing. This is really the sole justification for a well-supplied TBR (to be read) shelves. I picked up a Harlequin Presents by Lucy Monroe. I’ve not sampled her paranormals because that whole genre has a very low success rate with me, but all of the other Lucy books I’ve read have been reliably entertaining. I’m guaranteed a heroine to root for, a hero to drool over, heart-pinching conflict and a satisfying ahhh ending.

I could have picked up a Lori Foster title, she never lets me down either. An entirely different voice but all the same basic why-I-read-romance reasons are there. Or I could’ve read Maya Banks’ latest. Again an entirely different style but the same basic requirements are all met. These three authors have even more in common--they write emotional, passionate, character driven romance with an erotic edge and still manage to pair their hot romances with strong honorable heroes and heroines, who deserve the love of those hunky guys.

Since I’ve been so good about reading already purchased titles, there’s actually room on the shelves and I’ve placed a pre-order for My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne. I’m praying it is as good as her debut The Spymaster’s Lady. If it is she wins a place on the very select auto-buy list.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reading and ranting

Long before I considered writing as a career I was, and still am, an avid reader. I love books, I think most writers do. Every year there are thousands of titles released and still I struggle to find good books to read.

This week two titles hit the recycle bin. Both were books by an author I’d previously enjoyed--novels I opened enthusiastically. The first I read on for eighty odd pages before I began skimming. The story was marketed as a romantic suspense, the cover and blurbs all emphasized romance. The story itself? Not so I noticed. Perhaps it was a good story. It was well written, but it was a romantic suspense novel. And therefore I was not pleased.

Deliberately marketing the book as a romantic suspense, when it is in reality a thriller with a minor romantic element may work with some other reader. I can only speak about how I feel. I don’t like it.

If I buy a jar of crunchy peanut butter and arrive home to find I’ve been sold chocolate spread with a false label there is no way I’m digging into that jar with a happy smile, singing chocolate--yum! Not happening.

So if you want to write conspiracy thrillers fine and dandy I hear they’re doing well but let’s hope your publisher doesn’t market them as romantic suspense. Or that the rest of your fan base is more understanding and broadminded than I am.

I like a good thriller as much as the next armchair fanatic. However, I like my books to be as advertised. The only acceptable excuse is the debut novel in a new genre, there’s no good way to tell the browser what they’re getting without spoiling the concept.

There, rant all done. I feel much better.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Real life

Just a quick note to let you know home base is under construction (i.e. no internet) but getting lots else done. Miss you all. Back soon--I hope.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Travelogue continued (final)

The last evening in Munich it was back to our rooms to pack, checkout, and return to the, now familiar, train station to catch the commuter train to Stuttgart, and then night train back to Paris. We’re old hands at negotiating train stations and made the transfer easily. The car we’d been assigned to for the next leg of the journey had three sleeping occupants who obligingly scooted over. Soon we were all dozing fitfully as comfortable as we could be sitting up on the eight hour journey back to Paris.

About ten minutes prior to arrival at the Paris train station we stumbled out of our couchette accommodations car, bleary eyed to join the line of other passengers waiting with their luggage to get off the train. The train lurched to shuddering stop and the crowd of people and baggage moved toward the exit.

Bags in tow, we made our way to the exit and the waiting taxis where we encountered our first rude Parisian. The tax driver was upset by daughter’s luggage and used several words neither of us understood (no not those kind of words—we know them). There’s a strict que system for taxis so you’re stuck with whoever is up next—no shopping for a friendly face. After the rough start, he continued to mutter for the twenty minute trip to the next train station. He dumped our bags and returned less change than daughter believed we were due, explaining he’d charged extra for our luggage. I said, come on. A few euros isn’t worth an argument, and besides, we have another train to catch. As it turned out, we have time for a coffee. The hot drink improved our morning mood immensely. We’re once again cheerful travelers by the time we piled onto the train to Nice.

The train is a slow moving local that stopped at every tiny town along the way, but this is fine since the sun is out and the scenery is endlessly fascinating as we chug through wine country, and farms, and admire centuries old buildings. With each passing mile the sun grows warmer and the plants more tropical until we’re in the land of palms and exotics and the blue-blue Mediterranean Sea. Fishing boats and sailboats dot the picturesque horizon as we roll through Saint Tropez, Frejus, Cannes, Antibes, and finally into Nice Ville. Really—that translated to the Town of Nice but whenever I saw Nice Ville it made me smile.

Cote d’Azur and Nice run together in an extravagance of natural beauty. Although, more than one native assured me the tourists and greedy merchants have ruined the place. Even the ruins are lovely. Nice is one of those places where nature smiled and so did I the whole time we were there.

The taxi driver was young, handsome, and doubled as a helpful tour guide as he drove us from the station to our hotel. All along the short trip he pointed out places to see, bargains, good food, and where we absolutely must visit. The hotel is as pictured on their website.

Maybe it’s simply living in such a beautiful place, but everyone is pleasant and gracious and friendly. Plus the pace was slower. Businesses were closed from noon until two to allow for lunch and nap. Restaurants were close from three until seven. I had no problem adjusting to a more leisurely pace.

Now that we’re back in France the food was amazing. Our first meal was at a local bistro, a warm goat cheese salad, poached white fish, new potatoes, a platter of vegetables with an oil, shallots and anchovy dip followed by apple tart with homemade ice cream and dustings of cinnamon-sugar. Each dish was beautifully plated. Each bite a poem.

I’m convinced that one would have to work at finding bad food in France.

The following day we had room service breakfast, lovely café au lait, melt in your mouth pastry, fresh squeezed juice, and as a nod toward nutrition, yogurt (really great yogurt). Then we wandered off to explore, purchasing more food (it was irresistible) at a local farmer’s market and supplementing that with too many delicious things from a gourmet deli. Carrying way too much for two women, we headed for the beach and parked ourselves on part of bulkhead and enjoyed the sun, the sights, and, of course, the food. Sun-dried tomatoes in oil, fragrant apples, peasant bread, brie, flavored soft cheese and bottled water. When we couldn’t hold any more we shared the leftovers with remarkable hungry birds.

During our too brief stay we squeezed in a trip to a local garden and viewpoint. After trudging up the twenty plus flights of stairs to arrive at the top I learned there’s a road. I got over it, exercise was a good thing--especially considering how delightful eating was. However, I did find it humiliating to be passed by white-haired grandmother’s who scampered up the steep stairs like mountain goats. At the top was an extensive garden with territorial views. We explored ruined cathedrals from the middle ages, mosaics depicting Jason and Argonauts’ adventures, exchanged smiles and greeting with lots of other park visitors and eventually descended back to ground level in search of more sustenance.

On day three, we galloped down the coast to explore more small seaside cafes and tour a local candy factory. Our guide at the factory popped sweets into our mouths at every station. The confections were not only mouth wateringly tasty, they were works of art. Carnival was beginning two days after we left and the candy makers were frantically producing chocolate masks in different sizes for the occasion. No two of the treats were the same, each was hand-decorated and detailed. The glistening jewels of candied fruit take a month and half from first syrup bath to completition. After seeing the work involved in producing the sweets, the prices were easier to accept.

At last it is time to leave, fortifying ourselves with a last trip to local patisserie, we climbed aboard the night train back to Paris.

Traveling via sleeper car was not nearly as glamorous as it looks in the movies or perhaps there are different levels of comfort available. At the time we made train reservations it was a challenge to find space at all. We luckily got two top bunks in the same car. There’s little head room the mattresses are better than cots, and sleeping seven feet off the ground is disconcerting. Restrooms are at the end of the car and eerily similar to airplane facilities. Still, for an eleven hour journey, it was much better than the couchette alternative of sleeping sitting up.

We arrived in Paris dring morning rush hour with two hours and fifteen minutes to make our flight to New York. We raced to the line of waiting taxis. Fortunately, getting a friendly driver who spoke no English but understood our need for speed. Our bags grew heavier during our stay and we’re grateful to check them. We wind our way through security, finally strapping on our seat belts with seven minutes to spare.
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