Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I think every muscle in my body now hates me. That exercise class turned out to be kind of a killer. It gave whole new meaning to the "quivering thighs" romance novel cliche. The class takes a lot of ballet moves and puts them in an exercise class format. I thought I was in decent shape. I can keep up with the NYC Ballet exercise DVD, which is essentially a ballet class, with no lingering soreness. But wow. And ow. On the bright side, by the time the class ends in May, I should be in really good shape, especially since I'll have to force myself to exercise during the rest of the week in order to keep up with the class.

One other good thing is that I pass a large variety of take-out food places on the way home, for those days when the thought of cooking after that workout makes me cry. I was good last night and got Chinese food, which contained actual vegetables, bypassing the multiple fast-food burger places along the way. The good take-out Chinese place now also serves Indian food, so I'll have to give that a try, too. Even better, they show the Sci Fi Channel on their big-screen plasma TV. I love that place.

After my "Too Stupid to Live" rant yesterday, I realized I was verging on leaving myself open to that accusation with The Current Monstrosity. I'd reached a point where there was no reason for a character not to share what had been going on. Her spilling the beans actually didn't change anything, but if she hadn't told, it might have been possible to claim that things would have gone better if she had told. And that meant rewriting a couple of chapters. Sometimes I worry that I'm not making much forward progress on this book because I keep having to go back and fix things, but I suppose that just means revisions will be lighter. Maybe. I hope!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Too Stupid to Live

Thanks to everyone for all the anti-cold tips. Now I just need a trip to test them out on! (Though I may start with just leaving the house here.) I still have a few sniffles, but I suspect that the current climate conditions are making things ripe for allergies.

Tonight I'll finally get to start my exercise class, as I don't seem to have seen any news reports about yet another disaster on campus. I've washed my good "yoga-like" sweatpants (the instructions said to wear comfortable exercise clothes) and even did a bit of an emergency pedicure, as the class is done barefoot. In this case, "pedicure" simply meant removing the last remnants of old polish from toes that haven't been exposed for months except in the shower or in bed.

I got word over the weekend that one of my workshop ideas has been selected for the RWA national conference this summer. I'll be doing my "Jane Austen: The Mother of All Chick Lit" workshop along with my agent. The Kristin and Shanna show can be highly entertaining. We'll also be doing a workshop together at the Dreamin' in Dallas conference in April.

Speaking of agents, it seems like lots of agents are getting into the blogging game, giving anonymous (or semi-anonymous) insight into the biz. On the "naughty" side there's Miss Snark, who pulls no punches as she explores industry nitwittery. Now on the "nice" side, there's Pub Rants. I've seen theories as to the true identity of Miss Snark, and I had to agree that the writing styles matched (though as it's not anyone I know, I've promptly forgotten who it was). As for the nice agent behind Pub Rants, I have a very, very good idea that I know exactly who it is (she's not really trying to be totally anonymous).

Now for my Writing Pet Peeve of the Day: The Too Stupid to Live (TSTL) character.
This is a favorite complaint among reviewers, readers and anyone who likes to snark about books. I think there's even a web site out there that gives a TSTL award. These are the characters (usually the heroines) who don't behave in a way that any sane, logical person with half a brain would, and who therefore get themselves into all kinds of trouble. You wonder how this person managed to survive to adulthood. When I read a book with this kind of main character, I spend the whole time wanting to smack her silly, and I lose any respect for the hero who's willing to put up with her. The one that triggered this rant has managed within the first few pages of the book to do the kind of thing that most people know is a very, very bad idea, and then do even more stupid things while trying to get out of the situation. Yeah, people really do this thing, but they tend to die while doing so, and I don't want to read a book about them.

The problem is, though, that not everyone agrees on what TSTL means. Yeah, there are the obvious Darwin Award candidate bonehead maneuvers ("Gee, there's a serial killer on the loose and I just heard a suspicious noise coming from the basement. I'd better go down there by myself and check it out without letting anyone else know where I've gone."), but then there are personal quirks. I tend to be calm and logical in a crisis, so I'll groan and label a heroine TSTL if she freaks out and has a hissy fit and is utterly useless. Meanwhile, I'm notoriously independent, to the point I won't ask for help even when I need it (I guess I never got over the toddler "I'll do it myself!" phase). I've caught myself telling store clerks that no, I don't need any help finding anything, even though at that very moment I'm getting frustrated because I can't find something. I tend to write that flaw into my characters at times, so I'm bound to get a few TSTL accusations from people who say, rightly enough, that the characters could have avoided all that trouble if they had just asked for help. I had a friend whose heroine was labeled TSTL by some readers and reviewers for going forward with her long-planned trip to Italy, even after learning on the way to the airport that the hero really did love her, after all, while I would have called the heroine TSTL if she'd stayed behind. If he loved her, he'd still love her after she saw Italy (and airlines and hotels aren't very forgiving financially when you just don't bother to show up).

I guess the way to avoid a real TSTL character is to have those flaws be part of the character while also showing that the character does have a few brains in other areas. And maybe wait until after chapter one before you show a character making a TSTL maneuver. If that's the first impression, the rest of the book could be about her curing cancer and discovering faster-than-light travel and she still couldn't quite get over that TSTL stigma.

Now I'm about to plunge into the end-of-book marathon. I tend to take months to write the first three quarters or so of a book and then write the last 100 pages in about a week. Well, I'm within the last 100 pages, so I can feel the burst of speed building.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

More Perils of Air Travel

As mentioned previously, travel tends to tire me. The other side effect of air travel is that I always seem to come down with a cold within a week. The sniffles started a couple of days ago, and today was the coughing and shivering. I ended up spending much of the day in bed. As long as I was in bed with the covers up to my neck and the electric blanket on, I was fine, but if I so much as sat on the edge of the bed, I'd start coughing again. Fortunately, TCM was programming just for me and I enjoyed the rare luxury of watching TV in bed (usually that TV just serves to help program the secondary VCR). They showed It Happened One Night and Roman Holiday back to back, and those are among my all-time favorite movies. Now I seem to be back down to just sniffles (even after the ending of Roman Holiday), so maybe the worst is over.

I've heard people talking about some kind of homeopathic remedy that's supposed to help you prevent colds when you fly (called something like Airborne?). Has anyone tried it, and if so, does it really work? I'm verging on desperate here. I can't afford to take to my bed after every trip.

Barnes & Noble finally has Once Upon Stilettos listed here. No other info yet, and it doesn't yet reflect the new release date, but yay!

And now I may take the laptop to bed and snuggle under the electric blanket to get some work done. I wouldn't want to rush my recovery too much.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mark Your Calendars

For those of you who've said you can't wait until Once Upon Stilettos comes out and waiting for May seems too long ... well, I have good news.

The release date has been changed to April 25. Yeah, it's only a month earlier, but hey, it's a whole month earlier!

Apparently another book that was slotted for that release fell through, and the powers that be decided to move me up.

I'm still getting my head around the new timeline and will have to take another look at all my promotion plans to see how this changes things. I guess a month earlier is better than a month later, so even if there's still info with the old release date out there, people can be pleasantly surprised by stumbling on it a month earlier instead of going in search of it and not finding it there.

Mark your calendars, and all that.

I got a reminder this morning of how far I've come when I got a call from a former client with an offer of freelance work, and I was able to turn it down. There was a time when I'd have been eager for the job, but now I have books to write, an essay to write, promotional things to do, and while I'm not rich I'm also not so desperate that it's worth adding stress to my life to take on anything else. I really am making a living as a novelist, and that's something a lot of people dream about but not so many achieve. Go, me!

Meanwhile, I think I may have figured out the source of my odd attack of Target Angst yesterday. I blame the relentless onslaught of Valentine's Day merchandise. I don't really care much about Valentine's Day itself because I know it's mostly a meaningless commercial construct. I'd rather someone think of me because he's thinking of me, not because of multimillion-dollar ad campaigns on behalf of the chocolate, flower, jewelry and card industries (though I will accept gifts of chocolate at any time). But the pink and red hearts all over creation do seem to sink into the psyche and remind me that I'm not in love and that there's nobody who loves me in a non-friendship/non-family way. Most of the time that's not something I worry about, but every so often something comes up to remind me, and thus that odd sense of yearning that eased soon after I escaped the vicinity of all the cupid paraphernalia.

And finally, speaking of romance and all that, a big happy wedding anniversary today for my parents. I won't say how many years (mostly because that would require math), but it's certainly been an enduring marriage.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Existential Target Crises

I'm proud to announce that in spite of my tendency toward hibernation, I've now left the house three days in a row (oooh!). I didn't go out Monday, even though that was the day of the exercise class I signed up for as a way of forcing myself to go out, because there was a water main break on campus and all classes were cancelled. Tuesday I had to run to the grocery store because I was out of milk and sugar and almost out of tea, so it was a real crisis situation (well, I was out of one kind of tea, but I probably could have survived a few more weeks on other teas, though not without milk and sugar). Wednesday night I had choir practice, and today I went to Target to get supplies for my personal "Yay! It's raining!" party I'm planning to have tomorrow, based on the forecast and today's cloud cover.

But while I was in Target, I was struck suddenly by a strange, strong sense of yearning, like there was something just out of reach that I desperately wanted and needed, and that having it would make me happy, but I had no idea what it was. I thought I might have found it on the salty snacks aisle, but then I remembered that I hadn't eaten lunch and might have just been hungry. It wasn't on the cookie or candy aisle, either. And it didn't involve shoes, but that could have been because the entire shoe section seemed to be on clearance, so all they had were fives and elevens. I finally convinced myself it was a yearning to get this book written, so I came home.

I seem to have all of my existential and emotional crises in Target, and I don't know what that says about me. If you're ever in a Target and come upon someone standing in front of the lip gloss display, weeping and saying, "But what does it all mean?" that's probably me.

I took my first steps toward promoting the next book today, buying an ad in a publication that goes to booksellers and librarians. That required writing ad copy (well, actually, just modifying the catalog copy for the book). Then I set about trying to get an artwork release from the publisher so I could get bookmarks printed. That ended up being enough drama that I remembered why I never got around to professionally printed stuff on the last book. Both publisher and printer tend to go into extreme CYA mode. Meanwhile, I've started receiving requests for review copies from magazines, so that's kind of cool. They aren't necessarily magazines I've heard of, but if someone other than Mom reads them, it can't help but expand the number of people who've heard of me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Back in the Swing

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I made a quick trip to Chicago over the weekend to get together with friends. In spite of it being a relatively lazy weekend, I managed to come home exhausted. Travel in general tends to tire me, but I always thought it was because I usually overdo it. If I'm in a new and different place, I want to explore every inch of it that I can. Now I'm starting to wonder if part of it is due to my extreme introversion, where forced proximity to people -- as when you're shoved together on an airplane for hours with strangers invading your personal space -- drains me. To make matters worse, on my return flight I had an aisle seat, but it was across the aisle from the flight attendant's fold-down seat, and there was turbulence that required the flight attendant to stay seated for much of the flight, so it worked out that in effect I had a middle seat since I was trapped on one side by the flight attendant.

Then again, the fact that we stayed up until around three in the morning both nights and I have a harder time going back to sleep when I wake up early in a strange place could have something to do with the travel exhaustion.

I should use the scientific method and alter individual variables to see what causes the travel exhaustion. That means that I need to take a trip where all I do is laze around and be pampered, and then I need to take a trip on a private jet where I have personal space while I travel. Then I can see what, exactly, makes me so tired after a vacation that I need a vacation to recover from a vacation.

But I'm now back in the swing of things. As I was falling asleep last night after yet another late-night writing session I realized that I needed to fix something earlier in the chapter. I'm coming to learn that if I don't know what should happen next, it's probably because I missed something that should have happened earlier.

One thing I did while traveling was get a lot of my Rita book reading done. I don't really have a new writing pet peeve, just something I've learned about my personal reading taste. One of the categories I'm signed up to judge is romantic suspense. I'm a big mystery reader, and I love spy and action-adventure type stories, so it seemed like something right up my alley. Except I forgot about the psycho stalker serial killer books, which for some odd reason seem to be very popular in romantic suspense (I guess serial killers are hot in general, given all the flavors of CSI on TV). I must be an anti-serial killer bigot because I really don't like those books, especially the ones where the killer is obsessed with one of the main characters (usually the heroine, but I have read one where it was the hero, and that was actually even freakier).

For one thing, they really freak me out. I'm a wimp. I don't like to be scared. And because I tend to be rather solitary, the idea of a crazed stalker killer guy getting into my house or following me around can really wig me out. I saved my psycho stalker serial killer book to read on the airplane when I was surrounded by people because reading it at home alone would mean no sleep for me that night.

But another reason I'm not crazy about these books is probably the difference between mystery and suspense. In a mystery, the big question for both the reader and the main character is "who did it?" In suspense, the reader and sometimes even the characters may know who did it and the question is how (or even if) they'll stop him. In a mystery, the reader usually doesn't have any more or less information than the sleuth has (one reason a lot of mysteries are written in first-person or in a single point of view), and part of the fun is matching wits against the sleuth. Can you figure out who did it before the detective does? But these suspense books actually put a good amount of the story in the villain's point of view, so you know who the killer is, how he's doing it and what his motives are. In the psycho stalker serial killer books, you also get a little too much info about how this person's mind works and quite often a good dose of kinky, deranged, sadistic sex (the villain often gets more sex scenes than the hero and heroine, even in a romantic suspense). I don't really like having to be in a villain's head. Plus, when you know exactly what the killer is up to, it's easy to start seeing the heroes as idiots. It may be a case of vivid hindsight, but knowing the killer and his motives and methods sometimes makes the solution to the problem and all the clues painfully obvious to me as the reader, so I get frustrated when the heroes don't see what I'm seeing. I guess that makes me a mystery reader more than a suspense reader.

Even though I avoided most of the wig-out by reading the book in a public place, there were some residual effects. I got an unexpected UPS package yesterday from a gift company, and it was quite obviously a Valentine's gift. Given that I'm not dating anyone, that made me instantly a little apprehensive (the psycho stalker serial killer always seems to start by sending gifts to the object of his obsession). It turned out to be from my editor. She'd found these really cute frog prince chocolates and couldn't resist sending them to me. They may be too cute to eat, but they're dark chocolate truffles, so I imagine I'll get over that pretty quickly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Laurie Stolarz

I'm back from a quick weekend trip to Chicago, where I greatly amused the locals with my childish (and I do mean "childish" rather than "childlike") enthusiasm for snow, and am still trying to catch up and recover. Fortunately, it's Girlfriends Cyber Circuit day, so my guest, Laurie Faria Stolarz, gets to do most of the work today.

Laurie is the author of a series of teen paranormal thrillers about heroine Stacey Brown, whose predictive nightmares keep her on the lookout for the marauding maniacs that seem to find her wherever she goes. The folk magic she learned from her grandmother helps protect her and her friends from things that go bump in the night. However, she longs for the quiet life of an ordinary, hormone-plagued high-school girl. The series started with Blue is for Nightmares and continued with White is for Magic and Silver is for Secrets.

In the latest book, Red is for Remembrancce, nothing has been the same for eighteen-year-old Stacey since her boyfriend Jacob died. For months she stayed at the beach cottage they shared before Jacob's tragic accident, refusing to give up hope that somehow, somewhere, Jacob was still alive. But Stacey knows she can't put off rejoining the world forever. Lucky to have a full scholarship to prestigious Beacon University, Stacey hopes she can finally put her past behind her. Trying to get through her first week of college as just another normal student, Stacey is devastated when she starts having more disturbing dreams. And keeping them secret is not an option when the college president calls her in for a private meeting-and reveals that his daughter Porsha is having nightmares too. But while Stacey dreams of a ghost, Porsha is dreaming of a murder she's convinced hasn't happened yet. Porsha's fragmented nightmares foretell a brutal murder, and may also shed light on a shocking revelation that could change Stacey's life forever. Together the two must decode their dark dreams to save a life – a risk that may cost them their own.

And now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this series?
I first started Blue is for Nightmares in an adolescent fiction writing workshop at Emerson College. I knew I wanted to write a mystery/thriller. I loved suspense novels as a young adult and I really wanted to write something that would have appealed to me at that age, adding in elements of humor, romance, and drama. I wanted my main character to be relatable for teens; I wanted her to be flawed, to have secrets, and to have lots of opportunity for growth.

When I started the novel, I had no idea I would delve into the world of magic and witchcraft. That is until I did a free-writing exercise in my workshop class. I had no idea what I wanted Stacey, my main character to do, so I had her meditating in front of a blue candle, looking for answers. Because I had made Stacey originally from Salem, MA, like me, people in my writers group made the witchcraft connection with the candle. They encouraged me to go in that direction. That one scene ended up being the inspiration for the novel and now the series.

Even though I grew up in Salem, I didn't know too much about the formal practice of the Craft, though I had heard growing up that my grandmother had experience with the sixth sense. I started doing research and asking lots of questions. I learned a lot this way. I learned of passed down home remedies, interesting family superstitions, tea readings, card readings, and specific experiences with the sixth sense, some of which find themselves in the novel.

I also researched the more formal practices of Witchcraft and Wicca, as well as other folk magical practice/home remedies that pass down within families. Having done this research and seeing the way that Witchcraft is so often negatively portrayed in the media, I wanted to show the true peaceful nature of this earth-based religion, without the hocus-pocus. I wanted to weave an education into the story, using Stacey Brown as a reflective, self-empowering young woman.

After writing Blue is for Nightmares, I knew I wanted to create a trilogy, which I did, however, I also knew that the ending of Silver is for Secrets begged for a sequel. That is how Red is for Remembrance came to be.

Describe your creative process.
I use an outline. I didn't initially. When I was writing Blue is for Nightmares, I had no idea what was going to happen next. The result? I ended up having to rewrite it four times (completely), throwing away hundreds of pages. Now I use an outline that guides me. I can discover/change things along the way, but the outline, for me, is the glue.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I work whenever my toddler is napping or at play group. Right now he's at play group and I'm eating an everything bagel and drinking orange juice, but I'm very flexible and love black coffee.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I think we're a lot alike in some respects. I was close to my grandmother the way she is. My grandmother had some experience with the sixth sense and gave me her amethyst ring. I don't have premonitions and I'm not a practicing Wiccan, but I do love candles, home remedies, and aromatherapy. Stacey and I also think a lot alike; we're both very reflective.

What are the biggest challenges to you in writing a series about the same main character?
Continuing to challenge myself as a writer.

Chocolate: dark or milk?

(I haven't tallied the results, but it does appear that dark is the predominant choice of writers.)

What are you working on now?
The companion book to Bleed, my next project which comes out in September.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Just that I'm so grateful that I was able to write it. If it weren't for the support and enthusiasm of my fans, this series would have stopped at two books.

For more information, you can visit Laurie's web site.

We're approaching the first anniversary of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, and while we have many new members, we're also going to start having second tours by the founding members, which means I may need to come up with some new interview questions. Let me know in comments if you have any burning questions you'd like to see authors answer about their work and the process of writing it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

If I Were a Romance Heroine

I thought, given some of my discussion lately, that this was rather appropriate:

Oh dear, you are Bookish, aren't you? You are a
highly intelligent and witty bluestocking,
whose beauty is hidden behind spectacles. Your
dress sense is eccentric and a little
unfashionable, and you consider yourself plain.
You have very little use for men, who find your
knowledge of Shakespeare, interest in politics
and forthright speech formidable. You are
undoubtedly well-off. The only reason for your
presence in a novel of this kind (which, I
might add, you would not dream of reading,
although you have occasionally enjoyed the
works of Miss Austen), is your mother, who is
absolutely determined that you will make a good
marriage. Rather than defying her directly,
you are quietly subversive, dancing with anyone
who asks you, but making no attempt to hide
your intellectual interests. The only person
who can get past your facade is the man who is
witty enough to spar with you, and be amused at
your blatant attempts to scare your suitors
away. While you will, no doubt, subject him to
a gruelling cross-examination to find out
whether his respect for your intelligence is
real or mere flattery, you may be sure that he
is your match, and that you, he AND your mother
will all live happily ever after

The Regency Romance Quiz: What kind of Romance Heroine are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

I got my contract for The Current Monstrosity and its sequel this week, and in going over it, I discovered that my deadline is a month later than I thought it was. I'll still probably get it in ahead of that, but it's nice to know I have a cushion. My goal is to finish a draft by the end of January, let it rest a few days, do a fairly fast read-through/revision, then get it to my agent before Valentine's Day. The final book isn't due to the publisher until May, so that gives me time for rewrites, and then I can still probably get it in early. And then I can start on the next book, which is due in September.

I've also passed the minimum word count. The contract specifies that the work should be around 80,000 to 100,000 words, and it's currently over 80,000. But the contract also specifies that it has to be of acceptable publishable quality, and at the moment it doesn't qualify for that because it's kind of lacking an ending. The nice thing is, this means that since I'll be well, well over the minimum word count by the time I'm done, in revisions I can kill anything I don't love that isn't absolutely necessary for the story.

And now it's dinner time, after a busy day spent actually getting stuff done (like all my errands). I even registered for that community college exercise class, so I'm committed now and will be forced to leave the house more often.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I learned last night that Rachmaninoff does not work as writing background music. It's wonderful for working me into a specific mood, but I can't write while listening to it because I'll just sit and listen (or, oddly, choreograph mental ballets to go with it).

And also, while I'm tracking processes and patterns, I'm seeing that I tend to have an on-again, off-again pattern. If I make a lot of progress one night, the next night I won't get as much done, no matter how long I sit at the computer.

I'm now officially past the three-quarters mark of my original word count goal, but I may not be three-quarters of the way through the book because I don't know how long the book will be. Right now, I'm in the middle of a scene that came out of nowhere. I didn't see it coming, and I think it's going to be crucial. So that's one more thing on my list of stuff that has to happen before the end. I have figured out most of the masked ball costumes, though. I think. For all I know, when I get there, people will show up in stuff that totally surprises me. I'm almost starting to feel like these people exist in some parallel universe, and they've chosen me as the conduit between universes to tell their story. When I'm stuck, it could be because it hasn't happened yet for them to tell me about it. (And lest anyone feel the need to remind me that it's fiction or call in the nice boys with the pretty white jackets with really long sleeves, I'm not being serious about that and I'm not hearing voices from a parallel universe telling me to do stuff.)

I don't really have another pet peeve from my judging reading, just a kind of nagging disappointment that I'm trying to analyze. I'm finding that the books I'm reading don't give me the feeling of falling in love, and isn't that what a romance novel is supposed to be all about? I may be kind of cynical and practical when it comes to real-life relationships, but in fiction, I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm getting books that are telling me the characters are falling in love, but I'm not feeling it.

I really want to love the book I'm reading now. It's dealing with a setting and situation that have become rather unfashionable in publishing these days, so that alone makes me want it to succeed. I like the characters. I love that it doesn't fall into the Strong! Instant! Attraction! pattern that I get so very tired of in romance. Instead, the characters have so much going on in their lives that they barely notice each other at first, and the awareness builds slowly. I'm a huge fan of the slow build, and this looked like it might be one to build really slowly until the tension becomes almost unbearable. By midway through the book, the characters had each decided that the other was nice and they'd mentally acknowledged the other person's attractiveness, but with no more thought or emotion than I put into my "hot, not, not, maybe, not, hot, depends on the personality" assessment of other patrons when I'm killing time in line at the post office. And then suddenly they're ripping each other's clothes off (the characters, not the post office patrons) and saying they love each other, and I check to make sure I don't have a defective book that's missing a few chapters because I've got a bad case of emotional whiplash.

What happened to the falling in love part, the stuff that comes before you're admitting your true feelings to each other, that dizzy, scary, exciting phase when you're intensely aware of the other person but not sure how he feels about you and are terrified that he doesn't feel the same way? I'm not saying that sex in books is bad, but I'm afraid that too many writers use it as an emotional shortcut, like they're saying, "See, they're making love, so that shows you they're in love!"

Romance does have some structural constraints to it, such as the need for romantic conflict beyond just that "does he feel the same way?" issue, which is one of the reasons I migrated over to chick lit as a reader and as a writer. There you can deal with the "falling" part of being in love without it being part of the main story conflict, and there's no requirement for a sex scene at any specific point within the book, so the relationships have a chance to develop more organically instead of meeting genre expectations. But even chick lit has been disappointing me lately because too many I've read have fallen into the pattern of "they both realize their true feelings, they head straight to the bedroom, the end." Come on, you're skipping the fun part of a story and a challenging part of the relationship, that scary, wonderful, exciting transition from the heady highs of the "falling" part to dealing with how it's going to go when you realize it might really be happening.

Psychologists refer to this phase as limerence. It's the stage of the crush, the infatuation, the "falling" part of falling in love that happens on the way to love. It isn't love in and of itself. It's not a phase that can or should be sustained indefinitely. It's all emotional and superficial and far too often unrequited. But let's face it, it's fun. It's the heady stage of mingled excitement, euphoria and uncertainty before you're sure of how the other person really feels about you. There are even people who can't get into real relationships because they get such a high out of this phase and move on to the next crush instead of facing the transition of limerence to love. That transition itself is a scary, rocky one as the initial high fades and you start to see that other person for who he really is instead of the ideal of your crush. Talk about story material! But I'm not seeing it in too many places, very, very seldom in books. I've read LiveJournal entries from ordinary people talking about their lives who capture and convey that feeling better than most books I've read.

I know that it's very, incredibly hard to write -- probably even harder than it is to deal with it in real life -- but that's what I'm missing from the books I've been reading.

And now I have something else to be paranoid about in my own writing because I have no idea how well I'm doing in that respect. I suspect that, much like in my real life, I'm great at dealing with crushes and terrible at translating that into a growing and developing relationship.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mixing it Up

No pet peeves today, as the book I'm currently judging hasn't really pissed me off yet. There is some unnecessary point of view switching, in my opinion, but that's a matter of personal taste. I write first-person, so my entire book is in a single point of view, and that tends to make me overly sensitive to switching in third-person books.

Since my usual writing methods, patterns and habits don't seem to apply to the current monstrosity, I've decided to try deliberately shaking things up and see what works. I've already learned that my time of day is different for this book. My work style is different. I'm working better in a different location. Normally, I'm more productive when sitting at my desk, like my brain then knows it's time to get down to business. On this book, I seem to do my best work when taking the laptop to the chaise in the loft/library. Normally, I need absolute silence to write. No music at all. Even instrumental music will sidetrack me, and I'll find myself staring into space, listening to the music. Well, last night I thought I'd give writing to music a try. I'm not sure it was an improvement, but it didn't seem to be a distraction. It's possible that it may have helped me focus. Oddly, the music that worked best was the soundtrack to the TV series Battlestar Galactica (the new version, not the 70s version). It's music written to be background music, so it isn't too distracting, and it has an odd, dreamy, abstract quality to it that seems to put me into a good writing trance. It's definitely not the typical dramatic score full of swoops and surges. I'll have to try it again tonight and see how it goes.

I'm more or less at the three-quarters point. Maybe. I usually aim for around 400 formatted manuscript pages, but end up with about 100,000 words by the computer word count. This book may go longer because my list of things that have to happen before the end is pretty long, and I'm not sure how many scenes earlier in the book can be cut or significantly trimmed (I can think of one I can trim part of, but I'm sure my agent will find lots more). I've been told to keep it under 800 pages, but that was sort of a joke (though I do have a copy of a book my editor edited that came from an 800-page manuscript, which was the source of the joke, so it's not entirely unreasonable). I'm going to aim for under 125,000 words. I topped 300 pages last night and am just under 75,000 words. My subconscious continues to throw curve balls at me. I may kill the Shakespearean play theme for the New Year's party and just go with a general masked ball. Last night I was trying to think of what costumes my characters would wear, and none of them fit the theme.

Amazon now has the cover up for Once Upon Stilettos. No other info yet, but the page is here if you're interested or want to pre-order, or something. Barnes & Noble still doesn't have it listed at all. I'd have to dig through my archives to see when the last book showed up there, but that would be an exercise in extreme procrastination. I'll probably do it tomorrow.

And now I have to venture outdoors to go to the post office to pay my quarterly income taxes (ugh). We're having a coldish snap, which means temperatures are in the high 40s instead of the 80s, but it's really, really windy, so the walk is going to be fun. If the wind gusts were in the right direction, I'd be tempted to take an umbrella and see if I could Mary Poppins over to the post office. Unfortunately, they seem to be a bit too unpredictable in nature. And my umbrella would probably just turn inside out instead of working as a sail.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pet Peeves

I'm still plugging away, sort of. Word crashed on me last night, but I only lost a couple of paragraphs and they weren't particularly stunning paragraphs, so I got over it. It's kind of cloudy today and even rained a tiny bit (there was much rejoicing), so I may try to trick my brain into thinking it's late at night so I can try writing more. I learned this morning that FedEx doesn't close on federal holidays like the post office does when the FedEx guy rang my doorbell shortly after ten. I was still in my fuzzy pink robe, so I grabbed a tissue out of the pocket and faked a good cold when I answered the door so the FedEx guy wouldn't think I was horribly lazy to still be in my bathrobe. And then I remembered the holiday and hoped he thought I was just enjoying the holiday. And then I remembered that all the stuff I get from FedEx is either from a publisher or a literary agency, so maybe he'd realize I was an eccentric writer and forgive my odd door-answering attire. And then I realized that he probably doesn't care and won't even remember me (though the UPS guy does recognize me even when I see him in other parts of the neighborhood).

One thing that comes at this time of year that doesn't help with the usual insecurity and paranoia of being a writer is judging books for the Rita awards. For those who aren't familiar with the inner workings of the romance genre, the Ritas are essentially the Oscars of the romance industry (or so the Romance Writers of America like to claim -- I haven't seen that they have the kind of career impact you'd get from an Oscar). As a member of the organization and a published author, I get the privilege of receiving a box of books every January that I have to read and rate by early March. The top scorers in each category become finalists, and then those books get judged by another panel of judges. The winners are announced in July at the RWA national conference at a big, splashy (and usually a bit boring unless you're sitting with my agent) ceremony.

Most of the time, it's an interesting process, especially here lately. You used to get all books from a single, specific category -- all historicals, all romantic suspense, etc. -- but now you get to opt out of categories you don't want to judge and then you receive a mixed selection of books. As in a lot of cases where your reading choices are determined by someone else, that can have mixed results. You may discover something you might never have chosen for yourself that you end up enjoying. Or you may get stuck reading something you'd never in a million years choose to read, and if you're like me, you feel obligated to finish the book in order to judge it fairly.

When I was struggling during my long career dry spell, I kept wondering why I put myself through the torture. If a book I read was really, really good, I'd feel insecure and think I didn't stand a chance. But more often, I'd read something that I couldn't imagine got published, and then I'd either think the editors were crazy or I'd think that my books must really suck if they chose these books over mine.

Now, though, it causes a different kind of anxiety. For one thing, my own book is entered this year, and I'm still not sure whether or not that will do me any good. They now have a "novel with strong romantic elements" category as a catch-all for chick lit, women's fiction and other types of books that seem to be branching off from the romance genre but that don't meet all of the usual definitions of "romance." Unfortunately, "strong romantic elements" isn't all that well-defined. Some people take it to mean that there is a romance, but it's a sub-plot instead of the main plot, while others take it to mean that issues relating to romance come up in the book, even if it doesn't follow the typical romantic structure. In asking groups of people I know about Enchanted, Inc., some said they didn't think it had strong romantic elements because it doesn't have a full-scale romance as a subplot while others thought it totally fit. I guess it boils down to the five individuals who read it for the preliminary round. My agent ended up being the one to more or less twist my arm to get me to enter because, she said, what could it hurt? And besides, given the strongly positive response I'm getting from readers, there's always the chance that I'll luck out and get five judges who respond that way.

Since I'm entered, this year I'm required to judge, and that brings up a new set of anxieties because I start noticing my Novel Pet Peeves, the things that seem to happen in too many romance novels (well, really, in a lot of novels in general, but most of these things involve relationships, so they're more prevalent in romance novels), and once I start noticing these problems in other people's books, I get all paranoid about whether or not I'm making the same mistakes and am just not conscious of it.

So, here's a start on my running list of pet peeves:
1. Plot twists that rely on characters jumping to out-of-the-blue conclusions, with little to no evidence, and then acting on those conclusions. Otherwise known as "Oh, so that woman I saw with you in the restaurant was your sister. Maybe I should have talked to you about it before canceling our wedding" syndrome. Sometimes occurs over time instead of over one single incident, but ultimately it comes down to one person deciding to think the worst of the other person, in spite of any evidence to the contrary. I can see coming to the wrong conclusion about how someone else feels about you if you're getting mixed signals or if the signals are ambiguous. If the character has good reason for misinterpreting the evidence, that also works if the author shows the character's mindset and reasons ("Yeah, you'd think that's what it means when someone acts that way, but the last person who screwed me over acted exactly this way, so I can't be so sure anymore."). The book I just read was a really bad offender and had me wanting to bang the characters' heads together because they were ignoring not only the evidence they saw but also what the other characters' best friends were telling them the other person actually said about them. ("She says she doesn't love her ex anymore, she's become good friends with her ex's wife, the ex says there's nothing going on between them, she can't keep her hands off me, she bends over backwards to please me and show me she appreciates me, she goes out of her way to be nice to my friends and family, and her best friend tells me she says she's crazy about me. It's too bad she's still so much in love with her ex that she'll never love me." That, folks, is just plain being dense.)

And then what really pisses me off is when the truth comes out (the "oh, that was your sister?" part), all is forgiven, and they're so grateful that the other person now believes them. I'm sorry, but if I'm ever in a relationship again (which may be one of the signs of the impending apocalypse), if the guy ever does jump to that kind of "you're cheating on me!" conclusion by taking something out of context and ignoring the kind of person I am, I'm not going to just laugh off the misunderstanding. If that's what he thinks of me, and if that's the kind of person he thinks I am, than he's not someone I want to be in a relationship with. Can you imagine dealing with that kind of paranoia for the rest of your life? So, if a plot has relied on that device to maintain tension, I have a hard time believing the relationship will last. I will admit that I've found chick lit to be as bad a violator of this as romance. It seems like if your plot is running out of steam and you need some tension, it must be easy to let your heroine see her boyfriend out in public with another woman so you can have a big misunderstanding to keep them apart a while longer.

2. The relationship ultimatum. Otherwise known as "It's either your job/the burning building/the fate of the free world or me" syndrome. I may be a traitor to the female sex, but I can't seem to sympathize with romance heroines who pull that "your job is too important to you, so if you don't put me first right now, it's over" routine. They always seem to pull it at a time when something really serious is going on in some other aspect of the hero's life. If he has a big presentation to make that will affect the future of his entire career, that's the day she'll urge him to blow off the day at work and just spend time with her, and if he chooses to go to the office, then he's chosen work over her. Yet it's usually written so that you get the feeling you're supposed to sympathize with her and feel put out that he doesn't think she's that important. The happy ending comes when he realizes that she really is the most important thing in his life, and so he sacrifices the other thing to cave in to her ultimatum and be with her. Romance certainly isn't the only violator of this. It was a main reason I found myself rooting for a terrorist with a properly placed bomb during the second season of the spy series MI-5, when the super spy's girlfriend would decide to pull the relationship ultimatum stuff while he was rushing to save the free world -- the "if you don't come home right now to talk about this, then there's no point in talking anymore" routine while he's racing against time to stop the terrorists from blowing up the summit meeting of all the major world leaders (at least he chose well, but he was heartbroken about it instead of celebrating his escape from the psycho bitch).

This may make me terribly unromantic and may be a reason why I can't seem to sustain a romantic relationship, but I don't think that the relationship or even the other person in a relationship is automatically the number one priority in every situation. It all depends on the context. In general, I'd hope family would come before job, but if it's the all-important presentation that will determine the future of the company (and his future earnings, which would mean it does affect her, too) vs. her just wanting a little more attention, the presentation wins. They can have a picnic on the day when he doesn't have anything major scheduled. A relationship is supposed to be a two-way street, and if she loves him, wouldn't she want him to get what he wants? If she's in a life-or-death situation, she wins, but if it's someone else's life-or-death situation vs. her wanting to spend more time with him on that particular day, the life-or-death situation wins. If you're going to get in a relationship with a spy, soldier, doctor, police officer, firefighter, etc., then you have to realize that there will be times when someone else's good may have to come before your own. The heart transplant, burning building or terrorist plot will probably take precedence over having a picnic that afternoon, and if you ask him to choose, if he's any kind of a man, he's going to choose to save the life. When a heroine in a book pulls that, I want to throw the book against the wall and tell the hero to run while he still can because that's going to be a miserable life if he gives in. It only works if her ultimatum involves something illegal, immoral or dangerous to him with no greater good involved. "If you kill that person, it's over between us" or "It's either the drugs or me" work.

I may sound sexist here, but I don't think I've ever read a book in which a man demands that a woman declare her priorities on the spot or demands that he choose between the most important day on her job and an ordinary day with him. The only fictional situation in which I can recall anything like that happening was near the end of Sex and the City when Carrie's Russian artist boyfriend expected her to drop her life for his, and I didn't like that, either, especially when he demanded she skip her own book party for his gallery opening (although at least he was expecting her to choose something that was important to him instead of asking her to blow off her book party just to go out to dinner and hang around in Paris, which is usually the kind of stuff female characters seem to demand).

I don't think I've used the misunderstanding or wrong conclusion to further a plot. I have had a character misinterpret the other character's actions, but I showed the thought process and logic behind her interpretation, I made sure that both the right interpretation and the character's mistaken interpretation would logically fit each of the other characters' actions, and people who knew the other person agreed with the way the character interpreted things. Plus, my character didn't take drastic action based on the misunderstanding and probably wouldn't have behaved very differently if she had known the truth. If a problem could be solved by two characters talking about it, I like to show a valid reason why they aren't talking about it. Sometimes it is true that the most important things are the hardest to talk about, so I don't believe all problems can be solved by just talking about them if you want to be true to the characters or realistic, but you do have to show why these people aren't talking.

As for the ultimatum, I hate that so much in books and in real life that I don't think I would ever use it. In fact, I tend to enjoy subverting it. I like to set up a situation where you expect the heroine to throw a hissy fit, but instead she tells him good luck saving the world and then goes on with the stuff she has to do. But because I also like setting up puzzles and dilemmas for myself, I may see if I can try to create a situation where this kind of thing absolutely has to happen for the story, and then see if I can make it work in a way that doesn't make me want to kill the characters.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Process Emerges

I'm starting to realize that with each book I may have an entirely different process, and that's okay. The trick is figuring out what the process is going to be, and then finding a way to maximize it.

One example: On the last book I wrote, the magic hour at which my brain seemed to kick into gear and decide to write was three in the afternoon. No matter how much I tried to work earlier than that, nothing of value got done until three. Then I wrote until after six and maybe some a little later in the evening if I felt like it.

On this book, I've figured out that the magic hour seems to be ten at night. I seem to be able to revise, edit, brainstorm and rework other stuff earlier in the day, and I can even force myself to write, but the words really start flowing at ten. That might explain why in the early going I was struggling so much. I was sitting down at three to write, thinking that was work time, and nothing was happening, and then I'd get frustrated and call it a night. I was getting ready for bed and reading or relaxing at the time when my brain was ready to work (which could also explain why I've been having such a hard time getting to sleep -- my brain had tipped over into work mode).

I guess I'm a little bit mired in the corporate mindset and the old "early to bed, early to rise" work ethic, because I still catch myself feeling bad about sleeping as late as I have been recently. But you know, if I'm working until one in the morning, sleeping until ten isn't excessive. And why should work done in the morning be any more diligent or superior to work done at other times of the day? It's not as though I'm reporting to anyone or supposed to be at a meeting. I'm not missing anything.

The only problem is that this is messing up my eating schedule. When I sleep so late, I'm certainly not ready for lunch at the usual lunchtime, which comes fast on the heels of my breakfast. Which then means I'm starving at dinnertime, and then hungry again very late at night. I guess that's okay, too. I've started cooking actual big meals at dinnertime to make up for the light-to-non-existent lunches. Last night I made German food -- or as close as I could get to German food using American ingredients and vague recollections of processes. I suppose that actually made it Norwegian food, since I'm Norwegian and I was cooking it. In a way, everything I cook is Norwegian food, which means I can make a killer Norwegian lasagna. (Technically, I'm more Irish than Norwegian, in spite of the last name, but "Norwegian lasagna" is funnier than "Irish lasagna." And I've just realized that I don't know the first thing about Norwegian food, but I can make good Irish soda bread. Mostly, my native ethnic food would be Southern.) So, anyway, I had schnitzel and fried potatoes and I even had some German wine.

Back to the processes ... I've decided to just go with it. I'm going to stop getting frustrated when my brain isn't working at three because I know it will kick in later. I'm going to continue tinkering with the book as I go instead of writing straight through, because that's how it's happening. I'll even keep eating breakfast, dinner and late-night snack as my three meals of the day.

Last night I rewrote a lot of chapter eleven, revised chapter twelve and moved the chapter break around, finished chapter thirteen and started chapter fourteen. I think thirteen may be one of those that gets rewritten a lot, but at least I've got a placeholder in there now. I suspect the beginning of fourteen will have to be jazzed up some, but first I have to get the basic dialogue in before I can add action and funny. Then I reached the end of what I knew to do, and my headlights refused to reach any farther, so I'm going to have to do some thinking and planning today. I may also have to flip through my Shakespeare: The Complete Works because I'm trying to plan a themed New Year's Eve party and haven't decided if I want to go with The Tempest or A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Weird, in spite of knowing all that stuff about how I work, I'm still getting that "I need to get to work soon!" voice in the back of my head as I see three approaching.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Insecure Writers

I didn't plan to pull off a late-night writing marathon last night, but that's kind of what happened. I was in the middle of a scene that I was writing by the seat of my pants. I had no idea where it was going, and I kept getting to the end of what I knew would happen, so I'd think, "It's late, I'll call it a night and dream on it to see if I can figure out what will happen next." Then just before I shut the laptop, the next line or paragraph would pop into my head, and I'd figure I'd better write it before I forgot it. From there a little more of the story would flow. And then I'd reach a point where I didn't know what would happen next, so I'd get ready to shut down for the night, and again, the next line or paragraph would come to me, so I'd write it. That went on for nearly two hours until I really couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. Plus, I'd reached the kind of turning point you'd find in one of those "choose your own adventure" books, where I could see the rest of the scene playing out in two different ways, and I wasn't sure which one I wanted, so I knew I needed to try them out mentally first.

And, of course, soon after I went to bed I realized that the revised ending of the previous chapter wasn't how I should have ended the chapter, after all. I think this one will just take moving the chapter break, but then that affects the flow of the next chapter.

On another note, this seems to be "writers are insecure people" week. First, apparently it really is (or so someone has declared it) Delurking Week, in which people who read blogs regularly are supposed to delurk and comment so that the bloggers will know you care. Meanwhile, there's a bit of a kerfluffle (hm, spellcheck doesn't seem to like that word, and it's one I've only heard out loud, so I'm not really sure how it's spelled, but it's the perfect word for the situation so I'll go with it) in certain circles about Amazon reviews. Apparently, some author saw an Amazon review that she thought misrepresented her book, so she asked Amazon to remove it. And that started this whole discussion about whether or not authors should be allowed to censor even the cruel or clueless reviews, and that led to a discussion on the validity of reviews.

I am aware that there are some not-very-nice people who get their jollies or work out their jealousies by posting mean reviews at Amazon. I'm equally aware that there are authors who post glowing reviews of their own books under fake names (sometimes multiple fake names) and who encourage their friends and family to rush in and post glowing reviews the moment a bad one appears so they can dilute the effect of the lowball rating and shove the bad review off the first page.

But I was a little surprised to see comments from a number of people who automatically assume that a book with lots of five-star ratings at Amazon must really suck, based on the logic that if there are that many five-star ratings, then the author must have felt insecure about the book and had everyone she knew flood Amazon with glowing reviews. Um, okay. I'm sure there may be some like that out there, but I know Enchanted, Inc. got a lot of very high ratings and good reviews at Amazon (there may also be some really bad ones in there, but I quit looking a while ago for the sake of my own sanity), and as far as I know, there's only one person with a review on there who I know for sure is an existing friend. And he's one of the top-ranked Amazon reviewers who reviews a lot of stuff (and he just happens to be a friend of mine). I never actively solicited Amazon reviews from readers, beyond a mention on the "how can you help" section of my web site that if you like a book, it's nice to post a good review at Amazon or B&N. So I find it kind of scary that there would be people out there who assume that all those five star reviews mean the book sucks.

I think the skewing of ratings to either really positive or really negative is mostly a reflection of human behavior. I don't bother talking about an average book or one that I thought was okay. If I really, really loathed and detested a book, I might dish about it privately with friends or with Mom. We can spend hours analyzing what went wrong with it and what could be done to fix it (which sometimes gives me story ideas). I probably wouldn't bother to post a review anywhere unless I felt it was so horribly evil that people needed to be warned against it. For the most part, though, it's the books I really, really like that I want to talk about everywhere I go, that I want to make sure everyone knows about. I haven't ever posted an Amazon review (you seem to have to register to do so, and I resist web site registration if at all possible), but if I were going to do so, it would be because I wanted to talk about a book I really loved. I doubt I'd be posting too many three or four-star reviews. If I bother to post a review, it would probably be only for books worthy of five stars.

It's also the time of year when a lot of web sites are taking nominations for favorite/best books of the year and best blogs of the year in various categories.

And you know what? I'm not offering links to make it easy for people to vote for me or campaigning or any of that. I won't ask people to delurk so I'll know you're reading this. I'm not asking for Amazon reviews or B&N reviews or any of that. If the spirit moves you, go for it. But if I'm going to get any kind of positive feedback like that, I'd like it to come honestly because people are thinking of me, not because I begged, whined and pleaded. I'd hate to never be sure if something like that was because people really did like me or if it was only because I threw a big virtual hissy fit.

Of course, that may be about as effective as my decision not to wear makeup through much of high school because if guys were going to like me, they should like me for who I was naturally (and surprise! They didn't! In my defense, though, this came from a conversation with a guy where he insisted that guys really preferred it when girls looked more natural, and I pointed out that all of the girls with boyfriends wore about an inch of spackle on their faces, so to show him I stopped wearing makeup and said if he was right, I should start getting tons of dates. Even he didn't ask me out.). Or the year I decided not to pass out candy when I was running for student council because candy had nothing to do with student government and I wanted people to vote for me based on issues, not based on the candy I gave them (I lost). I just don't have the energy to find links and campaign and all that. I have a book to write.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Sheila Curran

I'm happy to report that I wrote an entire chapter yesterday. Unfortunately, as seems to have become my habit with this book, as soon as I finished writing the chapter, I realized that the last scene in the chapter was all wrong. Fortunately, this time it didn't mean deleting that scene but rather putting a different scene in before it, so I actually have a head start on the next chapter. Since either due to Book Brain or bear-like winter hibernation I've been sleeping ridiculously late whether I go to bed at ten or at midnight, I've started just staying up late and writing so I'm getting more work done.

Now, since I have work to do, I'll leave the heavy lifting for the day to today's Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest, Sheila Curran, author of Diana Lively is Falling Down. Diana Lively is a talented British architect who builds dollhouses so she can tend to her three children and overbearing husband. Stranded in an unhappy marriage by what she perceives as her children’s best interests, Diana must find a way to reclaim her power while holding fast to duty, honor and housewifely sanity. When an Arizona tycoon enters Oxford’s gated halls with the offer of a year in America, Diana’s world is turned upside down and inside out, with surprising effects.

And now for the questions:

What inspired you to write this book?
I was living in Oxford, England, where the novel begins. One night, at a fancy dinner in one of the colleges, I was told by an older faculty wife that it was a good thing my husband’s last name was different than my own. “Why is that?” I asked, since older women don’t often applaud such things. “Fellows aren’t encouraged to bring their wives to High Table,” she said. “They may bring their mistress, or their homosexual lover, but not their wives.”
“How does that make you feel?” I asked.
“Well, I thought about it and I realized that the purpose of High Table is the exchange of ideas. Women who are home with children all day, what could they possibly add to the conversation?”

This comment was made by a bright, articulate woman in her seventies. That evening, after observing a few of the world’s most pompous academics, and reflecting on the way in which women appeared either invisible or unwanted, I went home and started thinking about a character who is a mother of three, whose husband is one of these pedants, and whose own career has been sidelined by her husband’s “more important” work.

As icing on the cake, having felt my American accent had raised a few eyebrows, I asked myself , “What would these people think of someone from Arizona named Wally? Someone who had lots of money, a big heart, very little education and perhaps an unseemly profession?” And so entered Wally Gold, Arizona’s Ammo King, who brings the couple and their children to live in Arizona for a year.

Describe your creative process.
I try to plot and end up writing by the seat of my pants. Many days were spent with a piece of paper and a drawing of an arc and not much else, and then it all came together at the end, though I was never able to pin it down to an outline. I tend to revise along the way, going back to the parts I like and trying to move forward from there.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I am a morning person, through and through. I sit in a wing chair with an ottoman, laptop on my lap (who knew?) and drink coffee. I can’t listen to music while I work, or do much of anything else. I am easily distracted by company in the house or the phone (which I try not to answer in the morning) or by mood swings, but I tell myself I’ve done well if I just sat there and tried.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Lots in common: professor’s wife, trailing spouse, lived in Oxford, felt the tug between my own professional dreams and the need to be there for my kids. Detest insects, have actually wanted to wear a raincoat in the shower when I had to delouse my daughter’s hair (oh the hidden pleasures of Merry Olde England). I do not have lovely dark hair, a vile husband or aristocratic connections. Nor have I ever taught fencing or feared swimming pools, though I do remember almost drowning as a child.

Chocolate: dark or milk?

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel set in a small southern town near the beach. What interests me about the characters is how enmeshed they are with each other’s lives, and how they reckon with questions of their own individuality versus their cohesion as a group. I’m also plotting a sequel to Diana Lively is Falling Down.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I tried to write this book while living in England. In five months, I had a first draft. I returned to the States, and left it alone while I wrote grant proposals. Once I returned to it, I hated everything but the first chapter, which I loved. So I threw everything out but the first chapter away, and started over. Whenever I got stuck, I’d return back to the beginning and try and intuit whether what I was writing fit with the tone and voice of the beginning. It took me five years to finish, though I wasn’t able to write full-time, having bills to pay, children to raise and a move from Arizona to Florida to fret over. If I had a dollar for every day I sat there in tears thinking I would never make it as a writer, I’d be able to fly back to England first class. So I guess I’m saying to your readers, as corny as it sounds, don’t give up.

For more info on Sheila or her book, visit her her web site.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Very Stylish Me

So, I did leave the cave yesterday, got all my errands and grocery shopping done and even (finally!) finished chapter eleven. I didn't even have to resort to going to the bookstore to work. Instead, I took the laptop to the chaise lounge on the loft, well away from the DSL modem but not quite so comfy that I was tempted to fall asleep. It's amazing what getting out and about did to jolt my brain out of the doldrums.

I think a true Target Experience helped. One of the best things about Target is the random stuff you can find. Like on the clearance endcaps. I got a couple of holiday gift sets of various bath and body stuff at extreme discounts, including a cute little caddy of assorted Mediterranean-scented Boots body butters for under $4. As dry as it is, with my skin flaking off, that should come in handy. It's funny how a little bit of pampering can really perk you up.

Oh, and for you Target fans, they were setting up another Global Marketplace section while I was there. I may break down and mix up my decor a little. I've only been in this house eight years. Why would I need to change anything?

I've also found that eating actual meals helped my mindset. Maybe vitamins really do help you think better. Or it could be that cooking helps me think. Last night I grilled a pork chop and had it with broccoli and a baked sweet potato. Tonight I think it will be something with pasta.

Now that I finally have laundry detergent again, I'm catching up on a ton of it. I just have to let this last load finish before I can run to the post office to get the new stamps. Isn't my life glamorous? It's not all red carpets and drinks at the Algonquin.

Speaking of red carpets, the February issue of Lucky has a feature where they shot pictures of people they thought were particularly stylish or innovative around town, and then they showed how you could create a look like that. One of their looks wasn't too far from what I wore to the movie premiere. The colors I used were different, and my skirt wasn't as long, but the general idea of a skirt, camisole/tank top and long scarf was what they considered a more elegant approach to the casual evening look. Who knew I was so stylish? And that chick didn't even have the killer red stilettos.

Today, however, I'm stunning in navy blue sweatpants with an oversized grey sweatshirt, with "Southwestern Medical School" printed on it in navy lettering (see, even my sweats are color-coordinated -- I'll be on the best-dressed list before you know it).

Monday, January 09, 2006

Leaving the Cave

I may have officially turned into a bear, with all this hibernating I've been doing. The strange craving for honey was the final straw, and so now I am going to force myself to go out today. I will run the errands I've been putting off. I've been bad about scaling back my plans until I have no plans at all, and it's not like I'm getting much done when I'm at home.

Besides, I need food. My freezer is full, but I'm almost out of milk for my tea, and we can't have that. I may be in real trouble if the shelf-stable milk they have in Europe catches on here. Then I'd be able to cut my trips to the outside world even more, and that would not be good for my mental health.

I'd thought about going to a movie today to really bust myself out of the cave, but I figure baby steps are better. For one thing, when I go overboard on the getting out, I tend to respond by withdrawing even further, and for another, I really do need to work. I can do errands today, then take in a movie later in the week to reward myself for getting work done, and that will establish a pattern of leaving the house.

In other news, I was notified today that I've been selected to speak at the Plano Book Festival in March. Stay tuned for more details. I know that will include a booksigning on site. If you're in the North Texas area, consider dropping by. See, I'm starting to schedule non-cave stuff. The red shoes may or may not make an appearance (it depends on the weather and on what I decide to wear).

So, now to put on outside-the-house clothes and brave the wilds of Target and the grocery store. I might even resort to hauling the laptop to B&N and working there as a Pretentious Coffee Shop Writer. If I have an audience, I'll feel compelled to type instead of staring into space.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


It's hibernation time again, the time of year when you pretty much have to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of the house. I've been putting off a certain set of errands for three days now, and have just decided they can maybe wait one more day (besides, if I wait another day, the things I need at Target -- which aren't currently on sale -- may go on sale). It's been more than a week since I've been in my car.

Which is why I think I'm going to enroll in some kind of class or activity that will force me to get out every so often. I've found a couple of options. One is an exercise class at the community college down the street. They call it "balletone" and it's supposed to be a mix of exercises drawn from dance, Pilates, yoga and related disciplines. That would both get me out of the house and force me to exercise. But there's also a community chorale that could be fun. They're about to start rehearsals for their spring season, and so they're open to new members. While they don't technically overlap, the chorale rehearsals start about half an hour after the exercise class ends, and it's at least a 15-20 minute drive from one place to another. That's doable, but it wouldn't really be nice to subject the chorale people to someone all sweaty after a workout. And it would eat up an entire night to do both. I do need the exercise motivation, but odds are that the chorale would open me up to meeting a broader range of people (somehow I doubt too many men will be taking a "balletone" class). Still, I think I'll go with the exercise class for now, since it ends in time for me to still get a night of writing in and I've got such close, tight deadlines for the spring, while the chorale rehearsal fills up my prime evening writing time. I can still look into the chorale in the fall, depending on my schedule.

I'm happy to report that my experiment of taking the laptop to bed and huddling under the electric blanket was a success. I got more done than I usually might, due to the lack of Internet access and due to the fact that I was so comfy I didn't have the urge to jump up and do anything else. The main downside is that it becomes far too easy to drift off to sleep when I get stuck and spend a little time daydreaming to figure out what happens next while I'm nestled up in the featherbed and leaning against pillows. That's generally not a big problem when I'm sitting at my desk.

One of the errands I needed to run was buying more laundry detergent. I think I have just enough left for one load. Trying to decide which one load of laundry to do isn't quite in the realm of Sophie's Choice, but it is making me consider my priorities. I do have clean underwear, so that's not a problem. But which do I need more: clean sheets, clean towels, brights, darks, whites? At the rate I'm procrastinating these days, I may just decide I don't need any of them right now and I can wait until I buy new detergent.

For now, though, I think I'm going to force myself to take a walk so I can experience life on the other side of the front door for a little while.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Relative Temperatures

Still plodding along, one scene at a time coming to me, and then later I'll think of something that needs to go in a previous scene, so while I may not make much forward progress, I'm not sure I'll have to do much revision after I'm done. At least, that is, until my agent gets to it.

We're back to a little closer to normal, temperature-wise, which means I'm FREEEEZING. I don't know how I'll cope if we do go back to something that resembles winter because just dropping down into the 30s (but above freezing) at night with highs in the low 60s during the day is feeling so cold to me. It doesn't help that my house usually feels colder than it is outside because I only get morning sun exposure (in the summer, that's a real positive) and I try to avoid using my heater because it's noisy and because it gets things too hot and dry. It seems my house is either too hot or too cold, and with too cold I can bundle up or drink something warm. I'm sitting at my desk, wrapped in a blanket. I have to run a few errands this afternoon, but for my late-afternoon writing spurt, I'm seriously considering taking to my bed with the laptop and turning on the electric blanket.

Come to think of it, that would cut off my Internet access, so I'd get more done. Sounds like a plan.

And then it's Sci Fi Friday tonight, with new episodes for the first time since September. It's a sad commentary on my life how excited that makes me. But I'm feeling a little behind because I can barely remember where we were when we last left off. I never rewatched that episode of Battlestar Galactica, and it was the one that came on in my last hour of wakefulness during The Very Long Night of the Red Shoes, so I'm not sure how much I really absorbed. That may be my lunchtime viewing today, although I also really want to rewatch last night's The Office, which broke my heart in a million tiny pieces, thanks to what may have been the longest meaningful, awkward silence ever on a network sitcom (someone clocked it at 27 seconds of two people just staring at each other with emotions naked on their faces. Whew.). Maybe I'll wait and watch the last BSG with tonight's sequel in a row tomorrow.

So now for lunch, then bank/post office/Target/recycling center and finally an attempt to do actual work.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Everything's Coming Up Roses!

I'm getting a slow start today because I was up a little late last night and then didn't sleep all that well, thanks to the fact that TEXAS WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!!! (can you tell I'm a wee bit excited?). And it was a real nailbiter of a game, too, though I did try to prevent actual nail biting by doing a cuticle treatment during the game, instead. Today I'm wearing a vintage Texas sweatshirt (if 1986 counts as vintage), but I'm thinking I simply must get myself some t-shirt or sweatshirt commemorating the championship.

One thing I did to distract myself when the game got a little too tense for me to take was brainstorm a bit on the book (might as well use all that tension to good purposes). Alas, I realized that I needed to go in a different direction with the last couple of scenes, which means that everything I wrote yesterday and a lot of what I wrote the day before now has to be trashed. Ugh. But it will be better when I'm done (I hope).

I also flipped through the notebook I've been taking to writing workshops and conferences for the past few years, reading the notes I've taken. I found a wonderful quote from Susan Elizabeth Phillips (at least, I think it was her -- Jayne Ann Krentz was in the same workshop and my notes aren't always clear as to who was speaking) that made me feel a lot better about all my doubts lately about this book:

"Good writing is done on the edge. Uncertainty comes with that. If you're feeling confident and secure, you may be writing flat."

So the fact that I'm a basket case may actually be a good thing!

Back to the game, the thing I may be the most proud of is that although people in Austin swarmed out into the streets to celebrate, there was no violence, no destruction, no cars burned or any of the other stuff that tends to happens when teams win championships. I remember when Texas got into the basketball Sweet 16 my senior year, and as soon as the game ended to secure that, the dorm just emptied into the courtyard. I was a broadcast news major, and I happened to have a camera in my room for an assignment, so I ran down 11 flights of stairs to get to the courtyard to shoot the celebration. I still have that tape. That night would have been nothing compared to last night (although the dorms would be empty right now during the winter break).

I may give myself a break on taking a walk today because it's a little chilly (well, compared to 80 degrees) but very, very windy, and I think I got enough exercise jumping up and down last night. So, now off to work!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Time's a Wasting

I finished chapter ten last night, so if I follow my usual 20-chapter structure, that means I'm halfway through with the book. At this point, though, I'm not sure how long the book will really end up being. There's so much more to fit in that I suspect this one will go longer than usual. Or the first draft may end up long, I'll realize it's a bloated mess, and go back in and trim it, maybe cutting out a subplot or two.

Needless to say, my productivity does seem to be improving. It's only a few days into the new year, but I am managing to stick to most of the goals I set. I am taking a daily walk, and I am wearing shoes more often. I've also been doing little bits of house cleaning. Not that the house is anywhere near clean, but it's getting gradually better. And I'm getting more work done.

Because I've noticed that while I feel like I'm too busy to do anything but write, yet I don't usually spend more than a couple of hours a day writing, I've been trying to keep track of how I'm spending my time. At first I was just tracking the amount of time I spent on various work-related projects, like I used to have to do when I worked in the PR agency world. But then I realized how little of the day I was spending actually working, even if I tried to stretch the definition so that I counted posting on online message boards as "marketing" time (with the justification that I have my web address in my profiles on those boards, and if someone likes my posts, they might just click through and find my web site and learn about me as an author. Yeah, I know, it's a stretch.). That brought up the question of where my time actually goes, and I'm starting to suspect alien abduction because I seem to have a knack for losing whole hours.

I'm not a particularly structured person who has to schedule every moment or make use of every moment. I'm a firm believer in down time and relaxation. But my problem is that I can't recall what I did with those lost hours as I try to list what I've done for a particular part of the day. I'd be fine if I could note that I was reading a book or watching TV or even lying on the bed and daydreaming. It's those gaps where I can't think of what I might have been doing other than hitting the "receive mail" button on my e-mail program in case someone sent me an e-mail in the five seconds since I last checked that bother me. That's time when I'm not being productive, but I'm also not enjoying myself. I've found that those times are most likely to happen when I'm preparing to start writing, when I tell myself that I'll check e-mail one last time, and then I'll get to work. Once I get to work I enjoy myself, but starting is the hardest part. So now I'm working to cut back on that wasted time so I can get my work done and have more time to do other things.

And now I guess I'd better get to work because I know I won't be writing tonight. I'll be watching the Rose Bowl and keeping my fingers crossed for the Longhorns. I actually have a short attention span when it comes to football and am usually bored by the last half unless it's a really tight game (in which case I tend to get stressed and need distraction). That's why I like that college football is usually played on Saturdays, when there are four crossword puzzles in the newspaper, including the terribly hard diagramless puzzle (you not only have to figure out the clues, but you have to figure out how the grid comes together). I may have to keep a book handy tonight to keep myself busy, except that the book I'm reading right now is about the ballet world, which kind of clashes with football (hey, I'm well-rounded).

Anyway, Hook 'em!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Big Mouths

I think I may have solved my plot point dilemma by finding a loophole in the rules of my universe and a motivated reason for the characters to do something to create that loophole. We'll see how well it works when I get there.

This book is a bit darker and more serious than the first two, I think. It's delving a little deeper into the characters and showing them in different settings. Then again, the really funny stuff almost always seems to come in rewrites for me. I have made use of the time-honored way to add humor when the rest of the story is more serious: comic relief characters. I've only written a few pages with my new characters, but I already love these guys. It's one of those rare cases where a character jumps fully formed into my head, name, speech patterns, behavior and all. There was no character development involved. They just showed up on the scene as complete beings, and I have no idea where they came from. That's one of my favorite things to have happen when I'm writing.

On the publicity front, now that the holidays (and the transit strike) are over and the publishing world is back at work, my editor is getting ready to do a "big mouth mailing." It's a way of generating some word of mouth by sending advance copies of a book to certain people who are famous, influential or otherwise have some kind of forum through which they can talk about books. This is aside from the media. A mailing like this usually targets other authors or people in the publishing business, celebrities, people who are known to have expertise or influence in a certain area, etc. I'm probably on the lower tier of this, but I've received a few books this way (all from my own publisher). Normally, this is done with the finished book right around the time it's published, so the word of mouth can start spreading when the book becomes available. We're doing something a little different with this because it's a series. We're sending out a finished copy of Enchanted, Inc. with the pre-publication galley of Once Upon Stilettos, with the idea that it might take time to read two books, the first book is currently available, and it could generate buzz leading up to the second book. My editor and I are researching ideas of people to send books to -- people who might be interested in this sort of thing and who might be in a position to spread the word to other people who might be interested. It's totally bonus if a celebrity is photographed or spotted with a book cover visible and it's a celebrity my target audience cares about.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many of the frequently photographed celebrities can actually read, and if they do get themselves photographed with a book, it's usually some snobby literary work to make them appear smart and intellectual (regardless of whether they actually read it or if they just carry it around with the cover visible). It's all a long shot, but it can pay off in huge ways. My editor knows of an author who happens to live in the same apartment building with Sarah Jessica Parker. The author gave SJP a copy of her book. SJP happened to have it in her bag one day when they were shooting an episode of Sex and the City that called for Carrie to be sitting in her apartment, reading a book. SJP pulled that book out of her bag and used it in the show. When that episode aired, sales of the book shot up. Since then, my editor has been trying to send books to actresses in the target demographic or to people who produce TV shows that appeal to the target demographic. She hasn't had much luck because they all seem to think she's shopping the book for film rights, and she has to explain when managers call back that it's just a gift, something for them to read if they care to, like the book equivalent of all those handbags and sunglasses they get sent. Apparently, the idea of reading a book just to read it is a foreign concept in some circles.

I'm not going to share the preliminary brainstorming list we have going because it's likely to change, and in the age of Google, you don't want to go listing people's names for something like this (wouldn't want them to get their hopes up!). But I'm curious, does anyone have any ideas of celebrities or other influential people who might be interested in something like Enchanted, Inc.? (And no fair naming yourself just to get an advance look at the next book, unless you're famous or are closely associated with someone famous.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Writing Without a Net

I finally finished chapter nine. I'm more or less halfway through the book, but at this point I have no idea how long the book will end up being. There are a lot of things I don't know about this book (such as the title).

One thing you're fairly sure to hear when you're in a group of writers is the plotter vs. pantser discussion. A plotter is a writer who plots books before writing. She outlines character arcs and turning points, stages of the heroic journey, the three-act screenplay structure, or whatever way she uses to organize her work. Some go so far as to plan what will be in each chapter. This kind of writer almost can't start writing the book without knowing what the ending is. A "pantser" writes by the seat of her pants. She may start a book knowing little more than an image, a line of dialogue or a character. Everything else unfolds as she writes. This kind of writer hates to have to write a synopsis before the book is finished because she doesn't know what will happen or how it will end until she writes that part of the book (and quite often, if she does figure this out while writing the synopsis, she's no longer interested in the book).

I usually fall somewhere between the two extremes, but leaning toward plotting. I almost never start writing a book until I know how it will end, and I have to have my outlines of at least the major turning points and the character arcs. But then a lot of the book comes to me as I write it. Even if I know what the event will be, the way it happens may be something I dreamed up during the writing process. I don't have a problem writing synopses and would write them even if they weren't required, just as a way of organizing my thoughts. The finished book generally sticks pretty closely to the synopsis (though my synopses tend to be fairly short and high-level, so there's not a lot of detail to stick to).

But in this book, I'm afraid I'm veering closer to the "pantser" end of the scale than I've ever gone before, and it's scary. I feel like I'm working without a net. I normally have seen a movie version of the book in my head before I try to write a synopsis -- like those really annoying movie trailers that are essentially a condensed version of the entire movie so that unless what you saw in the trailer was so captivating that you want more, you don't have to bother seeing the movie to find out what happens. This time around, I threw in a bunch of stuff to give me enough story to sell the book, but I hadn't seen anything other than a few of the major scenes. As I write, I'm moving further and further away from the synopsis. While some of the same events are happening, they're happening in different places and in different ways than I planned. Meanwhile, random new stuff keeps popping up.

For instance, last night I dreamed up two entirely new characters I never planned on. They just appeared in my head and took over my dreams, and now I think they've insinuated themselves into the story in a big way (like I needed more supporting characters!). And now I'm starting to seriously doubt the viability of one of the major plot points in the story. The more I think about it, the less it fits, and the less I can think of how it might work in light of the "rules" I've established for this universe. The problem is, it was a major, major turning point that sets up the run to the big finish, and I have no idea how to replace it or modify it.

I suppose I'll worry about that when I get there. Right now, writing is like driving at night. I can only see as far in front of me as my headlights reach. I can only see maybe a scene or two ahead of where I am, so there's no telling what will be going on by the time I get to that part of the book.

I don't think my editor will mind me straying from the synopsis as long as the main story elements and themes remain the same (they are -- so far) and as long as the finished book is good (I have no idea yet).

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Welcome 2006

So, it's 2006 and thanks to the hot, dry, windy weather, I'm enjoying a fun mountain cedar attack. That particular allergy has a weird effect on me. Yeah, there's the sniffling, sneezing and coughing and itchy, watery eyes, but there's also this strange fatigue that makes me feel like someone turned the gravity up to "high." Needless to say, I haven't exactly been a party animal. I did stay up to see in the new year, and I made sure I was writing at the stroke of midnight. Maybe it's superstitious, or maybe it just sets a mental precedent, but I'd like to think that the way I began the year will have something to do with the way the year progresses.

Today, though, has been a little lazier. I read the newspaper and worked the Sunday crosswords -- even finishing the New York Times puzzle in spite of the fuzzy mountain cedar brain. I cooked the traditional black eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread, then settled on the sofa for a bit of cultural whiplash. TCM was showing To Kill a Mockingbird, followed immediately by the original The Producers. I'm trying to imagine two less thematically compatible movies, but it's not coming to me.

Tonight's plan is to get some more writing done and finally finish chapter nine (I had a great brainstorm about it last night), then relax a little with a book and maybe a bubble bath. And then tomorrow I'm really going to try to kick in all those clean-slate new behaviors. I know it's a holiday for most, but I can't afford to give myself the day off, as much work as I need to get done. I will watch the Tournament of Roses Parade in the morning (gotta see the Longhorn Band come down the street), but the afternoon will be devoted to work (really).