Friday, March 31, 2006

Drive-by Post

I can already tell that this is going to be one of my scattered days. I have to pick my agent up at the airport this afternoon, and then we're going to a conference for the weekend. In the next couple of hours, I have to get all my stuff together for the conference, pack, wash my hair and get my car loaded.

I've already cleaned out my car. The other day at Target I found a cute little red stiletto air freshener, and I couldn't resist it. The problem is, it's kind of strong. I've had the windows down in my car while it sits in the garage, and when I went this morning to wipe down my windshield, the whole garage smelled like this air freshener. I'm not sure I'll be able to be trapped inside the car with this thing.

Progress continues on the revisions. I'm up to chapter seven. Sadly, I had to kill a few parts that I really liked but that don't fit into the book the way I'm doing it now. I had a really clever (I thought) riff on dating that turned out to be irrelevant to the story. I think I'll hang onto it in case I have a use for it in something else. I suspect I'm on the verge of another part that will require a lot of rewriting, and that requires some daydreaming.

But now I have to go get my act together.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Tanya Lee Stone

I have a book! It's real, and everything. This one even has my picture in it. :-) Plus, I did get the text of that review, and though they said nice things, they seem to have been confused about the plot because they got some details wrong in their summary. Still, they said nice things and gave it 4 1/2 stars, so I'm not going to quibble over details.

And now I've got a new guest on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. Tanya Lee Stone is the author of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl. Why are so many women attracted to the “bad” boy? You know him—you went to high school with one, and maybe were involved with that boy yourself. He’s the golden boy, maybe a star athlete, and always in the “in” crowd. And he is BAD with a capital B. But can being involved with the wrong guy end up being good for you? In this provocative debut novel, Tanya Lee Stone explores this idea and takes an honest look at love and sex. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl is the story of three very different girls and their relationships with one bad boy.

Now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
The title. I had been experimenting with my style, branching out from the things I had been publishing, when I attended a short story workshop. George Nicholson was talking about wanting short story submissions for an anthology theme of "bad boys" and I immediately scribbled my title, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, in my notebook. The title invoked so many questions for me, I was on a roll.

Describe your creative process.
For nonfiction, I outline heavily. For fiction, I am a plunger. I'm driven by character, not plot, and the fun part is finding out what happens. I outlined a plot for a novel once last year, and it was the end of the novel for me. I do edit as I go, being a former editor, it's an innate thing. I can't not edit. But that's not the same as revising a draft, so it's some of each.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I am known to nibble through a (large) bag of Wild Berry Skittles while I write. I often write very early in the morning, 5:30ish when the house is quiet and so is my mind. I listen to tons of music away from my computer, but music on while I'm actually writing is distracting to me.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
There are three heroines and, like the readers who have been emailing me, I find pieces of myself in all of them. I love hearing who sees themself in Josie, or Nicolette, or Aviva--and it's often parts of all three.

Do you really find the bad boys appealing, and if so, what is so appealing to you about them?
I found many a bad boy appealing when I was in school. I think it's less about them and more about learning about ourselves--testing our own boundaries to see where they are; see who we are.

(I guess I'm the oddball who's never been remotely interested in bad boys. I'm more likely to swoon over the boy next door who's a real Boy Scout type. In fact, telling me you're an Eagle Scout is a pretty good pickup line. Give me a clean-cut guy who's into all that duty and honor stuff. Yowza.)

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark. Milk. Caramel-filled. Pretzel-enrobed. If it's chocolate (unless it's covered with coconut), I'll eat it.

What are you working on now?

Biographies of Ella Fitzgerald and Ameliea Earhart--and the next novel.

(Ooh, Ella! My singing heroine! If I could make my voice do what hers does ...)

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I had the time of my life writing this book! It was important to me to present strong female characters who weren't afraid to express their sexuality, and who wouldn't be punished for it. I wanted to capture that heady time of first love/first times without heading into the territory of anyone suffering for their choices--no one gets pregnant, dies, or gets sick. There are emotional consequences to the choices some of the characters make, but I wanted the emphasis to be about the characters learning more about who they were, what mattered to them, and who they wanted to be. What's interesting to me is that the title can scare off certain readers at first; until they see what the book is really about. Then they want to buy it for their girlfriends, sisters, or kids. That's incredibly gratifying to me.

For more info, visit Tanya's web site.

In other news, I found a fun web site that's good for wasting time. Those of you who watch The Office (on tonight!! -- and if you aren't watching, give it a try) will especially get a kick out of Overheard in the Office. Too bad I can't submit anything to them. I share an office with a hibiscus, and it never says anything funny. I'm not willing to go back to a regular job just to be able to send in funny office stories, though.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Favor for an Insecure Author

Does anyone out there subscribe to RT (Romantic Times) Bookclub magazine?

According to their web site, Once Upon Stilettos got a four-and-a-half star review, which is getting close to the highest they give, but you can't read the review unless you're a subscriber and have a user name and password. Subscribers may also already have the May issue, but I don't think it's available at stores yet (and if it is, getting it would require leaving the house, and we all know what my position on that is). I'm dying of curiosity to know what the review says. I guess it must be pretty good, because they're not going to give something four-and-a-half stars and then say, "This sucks." My previous books, including Enchanted, Inc., all got four stars, so it sounds like they think I've improved.

So, if you've got a copy of the May issue or can get to the review on the web site and want to e-mail me with what it says at, I'd be incredibly grateful.

And yes, I am being a neurotic, insecure, needy writer, but at this stage in the game, in the middle of revising one book while another is about to come out, I need all the positive re-enforcement I can get.

Running in Place

I feel like I'm on the writing treadmill. I spent two hours working on revisions last night, only to end up in the same place I was after I spent a couple of hours working the night before. I'm losing count of the number of times I've rewritten chapter two, but I like where it is now and should be moving on today instead of running in place. At this rate, I may be through revising the book before 2007. Let's just hope there are chapters that don't take me two days to revise. Maybe I'll reverse the trend and get two chapters done in one day!

I got an e-mail from my editor this morning letting me know that Once Upon Stilettos has now been printed. She has a couple of hot-off-the-presses copies, and she's overnighting one to me. That means tomorrow I'll get to hold my book in my hot little hands. I've heard about authors who sleep with a copy of their book when they first get it. I've never done that. I just put it on my bookshelf in alphabetical order among all my other books, and then sit there and admire the fact that I have a real book. There's something about seeing it next to other books that makes it feel more concrete. Once I get my full box of author's copies, I'll end up with copies scattered all over my house -- one on the coffee table, one on the living room bookcase, one on my nightstand, one on the shelf in my office, one on my desk, one on the library bookcase. Not to mention the box on the living room floor.

I'm still getting my head around the fact that the first book was published. Acknowledging that there really is a sequel is kind of mindblowing.

I have a couple of errands to run today, and it's going to take a sheer force of will to make me do them because I have another killer case of the don't-wannas. For one thing, I need to clean out my car and get my oil changed. I'm picking my agent up at the airport on Friday, and I don't want to end up stranded on some roadside with her. I keep telling myself that if I get everything done today, then tomorrow I won't have to leave the house. I can spend the whole day working. I also ought to pick up some goodies for the booksigning Friday night while I'm out. Having chocolate at your table means someone might come talk to you, and if they talk to you, they might buy your book. When you've got 40 other authors in the room, you need every edge you can get. I learned the hard way when I was running for student council in high school that candy may have nothing to do with being on the student council (or selling books), but you may not be able to win without it. I'm not going to be dumb enough to stick to the principle of the thing and refuse to pander to the masses by passing out candy.

Besides, if the candy isn't enough to lure people to me and I get really bored, I can eat the chocolate.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where'd the Day Go?

I'm having another one of those "hey, where'd the day go?" days. I think it started yesterday when my attempt to nap didn't last long because I couldn't shut my brain off. I gave up and decided to get to work. I then checked my to-do list, and once I was through whimpering, I started to dig into all those little tasks that keep piling up.

Then last night, just when I thought I'd got the hang of that exercise class, the teacher changed things. As a result some of my muscles are no longer on speaking terms with me (or else they're speaking a little too much). I sat down after the class with a heating pad and my laptop and finally dug into my revisions. In this first chunk of rewriting, I managed to eliminate a couple of pages from the overall page count, between cutting and adding scenes. One of the new scenes isn't quite what I want it to be, so I'll have to come back to it for more work, but it's in the right place structurally. I'm considering cutting yet another scene that doesn't do a lot for me right now, but I'm going to hold off for a while until I'm sure of where I'm going with that particular subplot.

This morning, I crawled whimpering out of bed with the sad realization that I actually paid someone to make me hurt like that (but I'm on my way to having buns of steel -- well, steel that's been cushioned a bit). Then I got to work. I had another huge mailout of conference goodies, plus some stuff for my editor. Along the way, I had to go to the bank and get groceries. Next thing I know, the traditional workday is almost over and half my to-do list remains undone. Of course, my workday is anything but traditional, and I suspect it will be another late night for me. I still don't see how anyone can do this with a full-time day job.

Meanwhile, I've been re-reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, and as a result, I've got an overwhelming craving for donuts. I think she eats donuts in almost every chapter. Last week when I had to pass the neighborhood Krispy Kreme while running errands, I might not have been able to restrain myself if the "Donuts are Hot" sign had been lit. As it was, it was all cold and blustery, and by the time I was through with my errands, I was almost at the point of getting even cold donuts and taking them home to have with some tea. The only thing holding me back was the fact that the Krispy Kreme would have been on the wrong side of a difficult intersection for the way I'd have had to go to get back to it. Instead, I went home and made muffins, which wasn't exactly virtuous. I'd have had maybe two donuts, while I ended up with a dozen muffins. Then again, from what I've heard of the Krispy Kreme calorie count, that may have evened out. I'm pretty sure the muffins were less expensive than a couple of donuts would have been, and it's not like I ate the whole dozen right away. I still have about four left. See how dangerous books can be?

Now I have to go tackle the rest of the scary to-do list. The nice thing is, after next week, the worst of the menial little tasks will be gone and all I'll have to do is just write.

Monday, March 27, 2006

My wacky weekend

I survived one crazy weekend. Now I have many more to go. The author party that was on Saturday night and was at the Southfork Hotel, not the ranch (bummer) turned out to be kind of fun, mostly because of the company. I was sitting with a group of my writing friends, and that made the experience bearable and entertaining. Literary events like that can be uncomfortable when you write genre or commercial fiction, especially if you write romance or something that's associated with romance. I was a little appalled by the way my friends who were being featured as romance authors were introduced at the event, in a way that wasn't quite belittling or insulting, but that sort of was, like what they wrote wasn't to be taken all that seriously. Both of them are published by major New York houses, and one of them is a New York Times bestseller, yet the numerous self-published (in other words, they hired someone to print their books instead of being chosen and paid by a publisher) authors there were treated with more respect. With me, they just messed up my title, using the advertising tag line from the cover as the "title." I guess that's an understandable mistake if all you've seen is the cover, but to participate in this event, you had to fill out a form about yourself and your book, so the actual title was on the form. It was also in my bio and is on top of every freaking page in the book and on the spine of the book. Even if someone had just written my intro from the formed I filled out, they should have had my title right.

Then my friends and I got an attack of the sillies during the speaker presentations for the evening. One got up and made it sound like it was a rare thing to bring authors together because usually they're so competitive and hate each other and don't want to help each other. We all looked at each other and had to stifle laughs because our experience has been that authors are incredibly supportive and giving. Then the next speaker reminded me instantly of Michael Scott, the clueless boss from The Office. He had that same jokey, slick salesman demeanor, the kind of guy who thinks he's wild and crazy and fun and hilarious while everyone else is cringing behind his back. The moment I made the Michael Scott connection in my brain I got a case of the giggles because every thing he did after that reminded me even more of Michael. Finally, I had to share the fun I was having and whispered to my neighbor, "Do you ever watch The Office?" Her eyes went wide as she looked at him, and then she got a case of the giggles. It spread around the table. The speaker probably thought he was rocking the house. By the time the panel discussion started, we were hopeless. After the dinner, we adjourned to the hotel bar so we could properly rehash the event and talk about the industry in general.

Sunday was a blustery day, and the book festival was being held outdoors in tents. Anything that wasn't nailed down -- paper, cardboard, rocks, tables, tents, small children, pets -- was being blown down or sent airborne. I was glad I'd been too lazy to do something with my hair and instead had resorted to a ponytail. Otherwise, I'd have ended up with a truly spectacular Afro, probably with leaves, twigs, balloon animals and maybe a small pet stuck in it. We didn't have a huge audience for our panel, but I got to sit on a stage under lights and talk about things I'm interested in, so I was happy. I also didn't sell a lot of books at the booksigning, but I ended up chatting with the guys from Borders who were there, and that was probably the most beneficial thing for me. I want to go back and explore downtown Plano some day when you don't expect Mary Poppins to blow in. That city has a reputation of being a bland suburb, but the old downtown is really quite charming. It would be a good destination if I decided to buy a DART pass and just spend the day riding the train to see where it might take me.

And then I saw Phantom of the Opera at the Music Hall. I think this was the fourth time I've seen it. I'm not a fanatic who obsessively lines up to see it over and over again. I'm just a season ticket holder, so I automatically see it each time it comes through town. It seems like I'm in the minority in thinking the ending is totally appropriate and happy -- Christine gets together with her non-psychotic childhood sweetheart and the Phantom seems to have learned something and doesn't get caught. I don't know how many romance novels have been inspired by people wanting to rewrite the end so that Christine ends up with the Phantom. I guess I've never been drawn to the tortured, troubled, dangerous type. I don't go for that "I can heal him with my love" stuff. If he's not already pretty much okay on his own without my help, I'm not interested. Call me after you've been through therapy, okay? The childhood sweetheart/boy next door is right up my alley. But for a change, in this production I could see Christine with the Phantom. That's probably because the actors playing the Phantom and Christine were married to each other, and as a result they had some sizzling chemistry going on. Meanwhile, Raoul was played almost as if he'd be far more interested in the Phantom than in Christine.

And now I know I have a ton of stuff to get done, but all I want to do is collapse completely. Maybe if I nap now, I'll have some concentration for the rest of the day.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

One More Month!

One month from today, Once Upon Stilettos will be in bookstores. Actually, some stores may have it a little earlier and some a little later, but that's the official release date. As much as I need to do between now and then, I'm sure the month will fly by. I don't know why I'm so excited. I've already read it and I know what happens. I guess I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else thinks -- and then going into hiding when everyone wants to kill me (or is that book three? They're starting to blur -- yes, I am a tease).

So, now I have an author party to go to tonight, rather than last night, as my calendar and my brain seem to have been one day off. I'm not entirely sure how I managed to do that -- heck, I'd even looked at the event web site earlier in the day to get directions to the location and didn't notice that the party was on a different day than I thought it was. One possibility is that they started contacting me about this book festival back in the fall, before the web site was updated for this year's event, and I put the date from last year's event on my calendar.

Although I do feel a little silly, there was no harm done as I realized my error before I got dressed and left the house. It could have been much, much worse, considering the fact that I went through most of Thursday thinking it was Friday. I could have shown up on Thursday night, thinking it was Friday, for a party I thought was on Friday night that was actually on Saturday. Now I just hope I end up at the right place tonight, since when I was talking about it to one of my writer friends this morning, she thought it was at a different place. I guess there's a difference between the Southfork Hotel and Southfork Ranch (yes, I've lived in this area for as long as I have, and I've never been to Southfork Ranch).

Since I was at home last night, after watching Dr. Who I plunged into my revisions, then promptly had an anxiety attack because I realized I was going to have to cut a whole, huge chunk of the second chapter. I'm not sure why that freaked me out so much because it's not an incredibly great scene (one reason it has to go) and the scene that will replace it will move the story forward and be a lot funnier. I guess part of it is that "first cut is the deepest" thing and it was my first realization that this revision is going to take more than changing a few words (I knew it, but it's not the same as really facing it). Part of it is that I've already rewritten the scene in question at least once. In the proposal stage I cut out a scene, then added the one that's there.

Come to think of it, I always end up rewriting chapter two. I know how to start a book. It's transitioning from the opening to the rest of the story that sometimes gives me fits. The first chapter two rewrite was when I had only three chapters and wasn't sure how the rest of the book would go. This one is being done with the entire book in mind. I just hope my editor doesn't freak out when the first few chapters of the final book aren't much like the first three chapters she's already read. I'm sure she's used to that by now.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Wacky Week

First, a bit of a promo announcement for those of you in north Texas/southern Oklahoma. Everyone else can skip ahead. I'll be speaking at the Plano Book Festival on Sunday in downtown Plano. My panel is from 3:30 to 4:30, and I'll be signing books immediately afterward. The event is free (though you do have to buy the books. They're not free, though there might be booths where people are giving books away.), and there's a lot of other stuff going on, so if you like books and are in the neighborhood, try to drop by and say hi. Here's their web site for more info.

This has been a weird week, not because of anything in particular that's happened, but purely because of me. I am the source of the weirdness.

For one thing, I got my days all mixed up. I went through most of the week thinking it was a day later than it was. Even when I realized my error and reminded myself, it still felt like that later day to me. Fortunately, when you work for yourself, work at home and don't keep regular hours, you don't get depressed when you spend the day thinking it's Friday, only to find out that it's Thursday. You relax a little because that means you have more time to get everything done. It's still a bit disconcerting.

But mixing up days is nothing. I managed to mix up years. I was at the post office, and when I saw their sign mentioning that you can get passport applications there, it made me think of an article I read recently about some changes to passport policies. I vaguely recalled something about how it was beneficial to renew your passport before it expired instead of letting it expire and then having to get a new one. That sent me into a minor panic because I thought I remembered that when I got my passport, it was good for ten years, and mine was either about to expire or had even already expired because I got it for a trip where I left on April 1, 1997. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that it was currently 2006, not 2007. In my defense, I'm working on a book for 2007 publication, so part of my brain is already a year ahead.

Meanwhile, I starred in my own lightbulb joke this week (how many authors/Norwegians/red-state yokels does it take to change a lightbulb?). On Sunday afternoon, when I turned on the light in my bathroom, the light over the bathtub blinked out. It must have been a good bulb, as I've had this house for nearly eight years and haven't had to change that bulb. I wasn't even sure how to change it because it's in a recessed fixture. By standing on the edge of the tub (don't worry, it's a garden tub, so there's room to stand comfortably), I was able to play around with the fixture enough to figure out how to pull the facing away so you can access the bulb. I got the info on the kind of bulb, then stopped at Target the next day to pick up a replacement. They didn't have exactly the same thing, but what they had seemed close enough (it's a spot bulb and they only had floods), and it was the right shape, size and wattage.

Then the fun began. The person who designed my house is a sadist. In addition to the light over the tub, there's also a strip of vanity lights over the mirror, and both are controlled by one switch. It's an interior room with no windows. So if you don't want to be playing with a live socket while changing a lightbulb, you have to turn out all the lights in the room. I managed to get some light by turning on all the lights in the adjacent room, keeping the door open, and lighting one of the candles on the vanity. It took a little contortionism to get the old bulb out of the recessed housing and get the new one in, but I did it eventually with only a few cuts and scratches on my hands. Then I went to flip the light switch -- and nothing happened. I took the bulb out and put it back in. Nothing. Maybe the flood vs. spot thing was actually relevant. Or maybe, in a worst-case-scenario, it wasn't the bulb that burned out. What if something went horribly wrong with the electrical system? There's a similar fixture in my entryway with a flood bulb, so I took it out and put the new bulb in there, and nothing happened. I took that to mean I had a bad new bulb. I found the exact bulb match at Home Depot yesterday, and it went in perfectly and worked, so all's well, but for a while earlier this week, I was starting to feel like I was too clueless to change a lightbulb.

Meanwhile, I've been really busy with work. I don't know how authors with full-time jobs manage. It's not the writing itself that takes so much time. It's all the little business type stuff you have to take care of. I'm spending my business-day hours doing all that, and any writing gets done in what would be my "free" time (not that I've managed to get much done this week). I suppose if you have a full-time job supplementing your writing income, you can afford to hire people to do some of that stuff, but you still have to give input and make decisions. In fact, a lot of the stuff I was dealing with this week was outsourced, and I spent much of my time giving input and feedback, making decisions, following up on status, etc. For other tasks, like counting out stacks of bookmarks and stuffing envelopes, I suppose I could hire clerical help (like one of my neighbors' teenage daughters), but giving instructions, supervising and then making sure it got done would probably end up taking more time than just doing it myself, and I'm not sure I'd be able to accomplish anything else while someone else was around doing another task.

Now I have a few more errands to take care of, then an author party tonight, which means putting on nice clothes and acting human temporarily.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Booksigning News

First, some news. I've got my initial booksignings for Once Upon Stilettos set up. Yes, they're all in Texas, but I'm not quite at the level where the publisher is going to spring to send me on a nationwide book tour (but buy lots of copies of this book and get lots of other people to buy it, and maybe I'll be at that level for the next book!). This "book tour" will involve me putting lots of miles on my Saturn, staying with my parents and finding the cheapest possible non-scary motel in Austin.

I'll be participating in a group signing of local authors at the Barnes & Noble in Tyler, Texas, on May 6, 3-6 p.m. (I sort of count as "local" because I'm from that area.)

Then I'll be having a signing on May 7, 1-3 p.m. at the Borders in Uptown Dallas (the one in the West Village). The events coordinator at that store is incredibly creative, so I may work with him to see what we can come up with to make it even more fun.

I'll be coming to Austin for a signing (and maybe even a reading, if I get wild and crazy) May 13 at 2 p.m. at the Borders on South Lamar. You Austin folks have been nagging me, so you'd better be there with lots of friends!

I'll also be signing books at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in May in Daytona Beach and at the RWA national conference in July in Atlanta. If I plan travel for other reasons to other parts of the country, I may see about setting up events there.

Meanwhile, I got a bunch of bookmarks made, and they're fresh from the printer with that lovely ink smell, so sitting in my office is making me kind of loopy. I'm getting a lot of them out in the mail today to go to various conferences around the country, so that will help. A few lucky conferences are getting an advance copy of Once Upon Stilettos to go in a raffle basket, so if you're planning to be at a writing conference in the next few weeks, you might want to consider buying a raffle ticket.

We had March (and April and May) in January, but we're paying for it now with January in March. If I didn't absolutely have to go to the post office, I'd be tempted to cower at home. It's cold and blustery today. Once I get my errands done, it will be the perfect day to drink tea and write.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So Many Books

I know my brain must be back into writing mode because I haven't been able to sleep. My brain just keeps going and going until I finally give in to exhaustion. Then last night, just when I finally fell asleep, my heater kicked on (for the first time in weeks), and the noise woke me up. I know it was kind of cold, but not that cold, and it seemed like the heater was making things too hot, so I got up and turned the heater off entirely, and then it took me another two hours to get back to sleep. I guess I have incentive to finish these revisions if I ever want to rest again.

I was having trouble getting to work on much of anything yesterday afternoon, so I used things I tend to procrastinate about as a way of procrastinating. I loaded up some things I needed to mail (that I probably would have put off mailing for a day or two longer) and my library books in my backpack and walked to the post office, then to Walgreen's to drop off some film for developing and then to the library to return my books. As much work as I have to do, somehow books became suddenly incredibly appealing to me. I kept grabbing one after another, until I could barely fit them in my backpack for the walk home. There were so many things I wanted to read, and I had to remind myself firmly that they would be there some other time. Besides, it's not like I don't have a towering to-be-read pile and a box of books from my editor. It's a sickness, I guess (and I really don't want the cure).

The long walk alongside the flooded canals (so they looked like real rivers) was good for my creativity, though. I wasn't quite coming up with the logical planning I thought I needed, but I did start dreaming up scenes. Later when I sat down to do the logical planning, it became a case of finding the explanation behind the scenes. What would be going on in the background to cause such a scene to take place? That really got me started thinking, and now I have an even stronger understanding of how my magical world works in the background and who the real power players (no pun intended) are.

Meanwhile, that helped me figure out how one of my subplots tied into the main plot, and in a weird bit of synergy or serendipity or whatever you want to call it, that tied back to some research I did when I first had the idea for the first book. When all I knew was that I wanted to write about a magical company in modern-day New York, I started researching the kinds of businesses you might find in lower Manhattan that had been there forever and that possibly began in Europe before coming over to the US to use as a model for my corporation. I read this giant tome on the history of the House of Morgan (and felt very in-the-know when I was at a party at the home of a friend whose husband used to be the dean of the business school at NYU, and they had the very same book on their bookshelf in their home), but ended up going with more of a software company as the model for my business when I actually started writing the book. Now, though, I need a financial company, and I have all these notes on the House of Morgan. I guess I wasn't wasting my time when I spent a week or so one summer plowing through a book on the history of a bank.

Then I had another case of serendipity. I have a spiral notebook full of random character information, stuff like archetypes for villains and heroes, character ideas I dream up that I don't have a book for yet, etc. When I need a character to show up to deliver the mail or other "spear carrier" (from the opera world) roles, I can find a ready-made character to plug in. Quite often, that character comes to life and moves into a larger role. I was flipping through for some character ideas for what I imagined would be a brief walk-on part, and I was pretty sure it would be a man, but I flipped to the wrong page and hit a female character type and had a sudden burst of inspiration that then created a whole scene in my head, which solidified the subplot and added a layer to my "what's going on behind the scenes" ideas.

The problem is, I keep coming up with new scene ideas and haven't yet found anything to delete, and the book is already huge. There's one plot thread that I'm going to change, I think, and some of the new stuff may replace that. I guess I'll find out once I really start rewriting.

Meanwhile, when I was sitting on the chaise in the library/loft and working, my attention kept straying to the giant to-be-read pile on my bookshelf. I caught myself really wanting to dig into some of those books (in spite of the stack I just got at the library). I may set up a plan to try to read at least one of those books per month, with the understanding that if I can't get into it, it gets put immediately into a bag to be donated to a Friends of the Library book sale. It would still take me years to get through that pile, even if I don't add to it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Johanna Edwards

We're back on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit with Johanna Edwards, author of the new romantic comedy Your Big Break. Some of you may remember Johanna from last year, when I interviewed her about her bestseller, The Next Big Thing.

Danielle “Dani” Myers has become an expert at romantic breakups ever since she was hired to "facilitate" them for clients of Your Big Break, Inc. In other words, she dumps people for money. But company rule #5 (do not get personally involved) is getting harder to obey. One of her dumpees is turning out to be the kind of guy she might just want to pick up on the rebound. and a new client has just walked in, begging for Dani's help breaking up with The Big Jackass, who's been leading her on all this time-and now turns out to be married. It would be a routine job except for one problem: the so-called Big Jackass is married to none other than Dani's mother….

And yes, I do appreciate the irony of the last book being about revenge gifts, then following up with a book about a breakup service. Maybe they could go into business together!

Now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
Like most people, I've been through some truly hellish breakups. I think breakups are something everyone can relate to, and it was really amazing to get all of that down on paper.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with this heroine?
Like Dani, I tend to get personally involved in situations I should stay out of. It's one of my biggest flaws.

Do you have any creative breakup ideas?
I think it would be funny to breakup with someone via a singing telegram. But I'd never, ever do something that nutty.

(It sure beats the way most of my exes have broken up with me, which is to just disappear. I then have to figure out whether they're in a coma, abducted by aliens, or breaking up with me.)

How have things changed for you as a writer since your first book?
They haven't changed a lot. I try to be really involved in all aspects of the book process (promotion, etc.) I probably do struggle a little more with writing. It's a mental block, I guess. When I was working on my first novel I never worried about how it would be received -- mainly because I doubted it would ever be published! But now I find this inner voice nags at me as I write, saying things like "Oh, the Amazon reviewers will rip you for that!" or "What will your grandparents thing when they read this paragraph?"

Was it a deliberate strategy to have two "Big" books, or did it just work out that way?
It was my publisher's strategy, I think. I actually didn't choose the title for this book. I pitched several things but my editor didn't like any of them -- she came up with YOUR BIG BREAK.

What are you working on now (or, what's your next "Big" thing?)?
I'm working on my first hardcover title, HOW TO BE COOL, which will be published in Spring 2007! It's about a girl who works as a professional "cool instructor" (she transforms the socially inept from geek to chic) who is forced to move back in with her parents on the eve of her 30th birthday. Then she goes to great lengths to hide her dorky lifestyle from her clients and new boyfriend.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
It was the easiest thing I've ever written. It just flowed straight out of me, which was awesome.

For more info, visit Johanna's Web site.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The TV/Movie Blitz

Because we were having storms over the weekend, I shut down my computer and disconnected it from everything. We ended up not getting the bad thunderstorms, but we got the rain. Boy, did we get the rain. I was watching on the TV news where they had to close all the freeway exits near downtown because all the access roads and underpasses were flooded, and an SUV sitting on one of the access roads was submerged up to its luggage rack. As one meteorologist said, there's no such thing as "normal" weather in Texas. But today it's nice and sunny, and most of the icky pollen has been washed out of the air, so I'm almost breathing like a normal person again.

I spent most of the weekend on the sofa, reading and watching movies. I watched Gattaca, which had been recommended to me many times by a friend. And then because I found a lot about it kind of depressing (including the fact that Ethan Hawke went on to cheat on and ditch Uma Thurman), I followed it up with And Now For Something Completely Different. I'd been watching the "best of" Monty Python specials, and I think these sketches must have been re-shot for the movie because they looked different in a lot of cases from what they were showing on the TV specials. Then Sunday afternoon I watched Because of Winn-Dixie, which was really cute, but probably not a great idea when I already had a bad case of the sniffles. I'm guaranteed to cry during any movie involving a dog or horse, and you don't need to be crying when your nose is already running. I followed that up with Waiting for Guffman, which was hilarious, but with a melancholy undertone to it. I think I know too many people who could easily have been those characters. The rest of the day, I watched the live news coverage of the flash flooding, and then the Sherlock Holmes episode on Masterpiece Theater.

Meanwhile (because I can seldom just watch TV), I was outlining my publicity timeline and trying to draw a visual representation of the way the plot threads in my book interconnect. I also worked crossword puzzles, sewed the elastic straps onto my ballet slippers and gave myself a manicure.

I think today's task will be to put myself in my villain's head. That's the hard part of writing first-person narration. I only know what my heroine is doing and seeing, but in this book, the villain is up to a lot behind the scenes. I may have to outline the story from his point of view, and then see how it fits together.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Final Night of Freedom

I did my workshop this morning, and it was a lot of fun. That was a great group, and they had such insightful questions and comments that we really generated some good discussion. I also got to have wonderful Mexican food. I'd been worried about speaking because I've got a bad case of the sniffles. You know you're in trouble when they have to go to the second screen to give all the pollen counts on the TV weather forecast. I was sniffling right up to the point I got up to speak, and I was afraid I'd have to keep stopping and turning to a tissue while I spoke, but I got through it okay. And then as soon as I left, I was sniffling again.

Now I'm trying to decide how to spend my Saturday evening. It's a nice rainy night. I'm not sure if I want to make myself start at least charting the book so I can take a look at the various plot elements, or if I want to give myself one last night of freedom. If I give myself the evening off, do I want to curl up with a book or watch a movie?

Of course, the way I tend to be, I'll watch a movie while reading or brainstorming on the book.

The main thing I need to do in revisions is find ways to better tie the many plot threads together, and to do that I think I need to use colored markers on big pieces of paper so I can get a good visual. I'm thinking about picking up one of those Post-It flip pads so I can hang my charts on my office wall for reference, but I suspect that's probably just an excuse to buy office supplies. It's almost dangerous to let myself go to Office Depot.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The State of Chick Lit

I got my comments back from my agent on the Monstrosity, and I'm excited about getting back into the book. It's going to be a lot of work, but she managed to capture my nagging doubts and give me concrete suggestions for making it all better, so it's all for the good and I know it will make it an amazing book when I'm done. I still reserve the right to whine a bit about how hard it is and how much work I need to do. I'll probably let her comments sink in over the weekend while I put in some quality daydreaming time, and then I'll plunge into the work on Monday.

In the meantime, I have to give a workshop on chick lit tomorrow morning at a meeting of the North Texas RWA chapter. That's a challenging thing to do these days because the chick lit market is all in flux. It grew so fast that it got out of control for a while. There was a glut, and as with any glut, that led to quality issues and some sameness. Now it's in a bit of a reverse, with publishers doing fewer books and being much, much pickier. My agent says she's having trouble selling books that a couple of years ago would have been snatched up greedily. In some cases, publishers are even steering away from labeling a work "chick lit" where earlier they would have slapped a pink cartoon cover on it and played up every possible chick element.

Even though that's the market I write in and do most of my reading in, I don't think this is really such a bad thing. I don't think publishers will stop publishing books that are like chick lit. They're just going to quit labeling them that way, and that opens up a lot of fun possibilities.

What the chick lit boom did was show that there was a market for fun books about young, single women that weren't necessarily romances. Back in the Dark Ages before chick lit came along, books like that were few and far between. There were Sarah Bird's books, The Boyfriend School and Alamo House (subtitled "women without men, men without brains" -- you've gotta love it), but I had a hard time finding anything else like that. The only books that acknowledged the existence of young, single women were romances, and those women weren't really single. They were in a relationship, whether they knew it or not, from the moment the hero appeared in the book. The books weren't about finding the hot guy. They were more about dealing with the hot guy once he showed up. In my life, finding the guy in the first place was the real challenge. Meanwhile, most of those 20-something women in romance novels were more like 40-something soccer moms at heart. I was the same age as most of those heroines, and I couldn't relate to or identify with any of them. Outside romance, the books about women tended to be tearjerkers, things like dramatic family sagas, overcoming abuse, surviving disease or other tragedy -- your basic Oprah book content.

Then chick lit came along, and there was finally room for light, funny books that dealt honestly with what it's like to be a young woman today -- the struggle to find a guy who doesn't give you the creeps, the pain and/or boredom of an entry-level job, trying to maintain friendships as everyone's lives change, and adjusting to new roles in your family. But then like anything that gets a genre label slapped on it, there started being expectations, which led to some degree of sameness. The first few books about having to date a lot of Mr. Wrongs before finding Mr. Right were fun, but then that story got old. The fabulous gay best friend became a stereotypical stock character. There were too many scenes of girlfriends sitting around and chatting while drinking cosmos or lattes. It started to seem like every single young woman in New York had a job in publishing. Oddly enough, although there were a lot of criticisms about shoe obsessions, I haven't actually seen that in too many books. That criticism seems to come from people who watched Sex and the City and assumed that chick lit was just like that. There were, however, far too many book covers with shoes on them. The standard chick lit book cover either had a picture of a cocktail or a picture of shoes (and, yeah, I'm one to talk, since my next book revolves around shoes, but believe me, I gave it a big twist).

Now that publishers have recognized that the market exists, they'll probably keep publishing these books, but not necessarily as an identifiable genre. They'll just be another kind of book. They'll be packaged and marketed as appropriate, but each book will be considered on its own merit. I write for one of the few publishers that didn't have an identified chick lit imprint, so this is the way it's always been done there. The fun thing is that when you do away with the genre label, you do away with a lot of the expectations. You don't have to set out to write a chick lit book and be sure to incorporate any requirements. You just write a book. That's kind of scary because there's some comfort in guidelines and expectations. Just writing a book is like working without a net. But I think the book world will be better for it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Barney Days

The funniest thing I unearthed during my recent mucking out of the office also serves as a vivid reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing now, and why I'd fight tooth and nail not to go back to my old career.

I found a stuffed Barney (the dinosaur) toy.

No, I don't have preschoolers. Barney was the mascot for the PR team with my biggest client back in my PR agency days. These were the boom years for the and Internet-related industries. The client company did actually have a product, and did actually apparently occasionally sell it (unlike a lot of similar companies), but most of what we announced seemed to be strategic partnerships with other companies. I wrote a lot of strategic partnership news releases that went along the lines of, "This company and that company have formed a strategic partnership (or alliance) to better address a particular market niche." Then the CEO of this company would say something about how great it is to work with that company, and then the CEO of that company would say something about how great it was to work with this company. Only, neither of them actually said it because I wrote all the quotes. Sometimes the news release would actually go out, but more often it got held up in the legal departments of the various companies that were involved.

The PR director at my client started calling these "Barney releases." You know, "I love you, you love me." So Barney became our mascot, and the PR director even gave everyone on the PR team a stuffed Barney doll. I'm not a fan of Barney, but the doll really is quite soft and cuddly, and I found that I could better tolerate writing all those awful news releases if I did so with Barney sitting in my lap. It was also nice to be able to throw Barney against the wall when I had to re-write the same release for the hundredth time, often late at night.

The Barney thing did cause me some embarrassment at one point. This client company was holding a big event in New York, and I had to go there to be on stand-by to write news releases on the spot in case any strategic alliances broke out. I threw Barney into my suitcase to keep me company on the trip. You have to have your mascot present, right? Plus, I knew Barney would be hitting the wall at some point. I got to La Guardia, and my suitcase didn't show up. They were pretty sure it was on the next flight, but I still had to file the full lost luggage report. In addition to giving them a description of the bag, they wanted me to describe some things that were in the bag, just in case. I'd packed the usual business travel wardrobe that mostly consisted of black slacks and some sweaters. I couldn't remember anything in particular that would stand out to make it obvious that this was my bag. But then I remembered Barney. I sheepishly told the baggage person that there was a stuffed Barney toy in the suitcase. She gave me a funny look, so I went on to clarify -- The purple dinosaur? Like the kiddy show? She gave me an even funnier look, but I knew the explanation wouldn't make much sense, so I just shrugged it off as an inside joke for the event I was going to. I'm not sure she bought it.

Fortunately, the bag did come in on the next flight, and they delivered it to my hotel. That was really lucky because that flight was the last one to come in before they closed all the airports. There was supposed to be a huge blizzard on the way (which ended up fizzling out), and New York was battening down the hatches. The event we'd gone there for had to be cancelled, but we couldn't leave because of the anticipated storm, so Barney and I were trapped at the Plaza for a couple of days.

About a year later, that company moved to another agency, which meant I got laid off. That was when I decided to really devote myself to writing instead of finding another job. And here I am. Barney's back on the bookshelf where he belongs to remind me that no matter how bad my deadlines may seem, this is still more fun than writing tons of Barney news releases.

In other news, I'm wondering what's going on with the noisy next-door neighbor. Every time I've gone into my bedroom in the last couple of days, the radio has been playing -- mid-afternoon, early morning, mid-morning, midnight. I'm starting to wonder if she's out of town and left a radio playing so robbers will think someone's home or maybe if she's out of town and forgot to turn off her alarm on the clock radio, so it's gone off and is now playing non-stop. I guess she could just be home and listening to the radio a lot. Or maybe she's lying dead on the floor in there with the radio blaring (I may have read too many mystery novels). I know I'm going to be aggravated if it turns out I can't get any peace and quiet even when she's not home.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Continued De-Cluttering

The living room is now more or less clean! I still have some stuff to get rid of in the clutter on top of the wet bar (yes, I live in a 1980s bachelor pad -- I think the target potential original owner of my house was an airline pilot), and then some dusting and vacuuming, but the floor is clear and there's nothing on my sofa. The room almost looks naked. It's a bit disconcerting when I come down the stairs. I almost feel like I've fallen through a portal into someone else's house. To some extent, I think the clutter was a nesting instinct, a security blanket of sorts (and not too far from a hamster or gerbil building a nest out of shredded paper). When my living room is clean, it feels almost too open. The two-story vaulted ceiling doesn't help. I may rearrange furniture to make it feel more cozy. I'm currently using all of what's supposed to be a living room/dining room as a living room.

The office is also getting cleaner, thanks to lots of Battlestar Galactica podcasts last night. The floor around my desk is clean, and most of the top of my desk is clean except for a few things I'm working on or that need to be filed when I figure out how/where to file them. The new openness in my office is actually kind of refreshing instead of scary. I still have tons of boxes of stuff to go through from my ill-fated attempt to play Clean Sweep a couple of years ago, but I have a powerful sense of accomplishment at the moment. I may even be motivated to finish this project.

But today I have to go downtown to get my hair cut. My hair is funny in a lot of ways, but one of its quirks is that it will look fine for ages, and then all of a sudden one day I'll wake up and it's very much not fine. I can go overnight from my hair being okay to being desperately in need of a haircut. Monday was that day, and fortunately my stylist is very accommodating, so I can get it taken care of pretty quickly before I suddenly have a ton and a half of public appearances and don't want to be mistaken for Cousin Itt.

I had something incredibly insightful to say about writing, but I forgot what it was. Maybe I'll think of it tomorrow. For now, I have to wrap up a freelance project before I go to get sheared.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wardrobe Dilemmas (and other burning questions)

I didn't realize I was being prophetic yesterday when I said it wouldn't take much to be able to get the living room to the point of not being afraid to open the front door if a friend came to pick me up to go out. A friend from out of town called last night, said he was in town for business, and we'll be going to dinner tonight. So now it looks like I have to get the living room to the point of not being afraid to open the door when a friend comes to pick me up to go out. Unfortunately, the main thing you see when I open the front door is the staircase, and that's currently serving as my filing system. As I sort through the downstairs stuff, I sort it out on the stairs, with a step for each category. It all has to wait there until the office is in a state where things can be moved there and put into place, and that's going to take a while.

With all the events I have coming up, I have to start thinking about wardrobe planning. There's a strong possibility of overlapping attendance, so I have to be careful not to duplicate outfits. We're at the time of year in Texas when the weather is even more bipolar than usual, which makes it hard to plan ahead. For instance, last weekend we had highs in the upper 80s and sun, but this coming weekend the highs may be in the upper 50s with rain. You can only plan as far out as the five-day forecast. It's almost like in my long-range planning I need a warm-weather outfit possibility and a cool-weather outfit possibility. One downside of being known as a chick lit author is that you're expected to be rather fashionable (even if you're writing about a character who is anything but a fashion plate). I have to incorporate the Infamous Red Stilettos into a few of these outfits, since that's becoming something of a brand identity, especially with this book. I'm even pondering how much I should work that into my overall brand identity, as I do some redesigning of web site, etc. Do those shoes really reflect a sense of me as an author and my overall writing voice, or is it just something that ties into one particular book? Or is the shoe motif way overplayed in chick lit?

Yes, these are the questions that keep me up at night (along with wondering what happened in the missing time in Battlestar Galactica, what happened in the missing time between the Firefly series and the movie Serenity, which character will die next in the Harry Potter books and whether there was something I was supposed to have done that day that I forgot about).

Monday, March 13, 2006

TV and Brain Parties

I've now almost completely finished sorting through old magazines. The magazine table by my sofa has been emptied, then re-filled neatly with the more recent issues, in such a way that I may be able to find something I need in the future. I still have a couple of bins to sort through in my office, but I've cleared out enough that I could start filing the writing-related magazines I brought up from downstairs. Even better, clearing out the magazines in the living room means that I could have the living room in moderately company-ready shape pretty quickly. Not "dinner party" or "visit from mom" shape, but "not afraid to open the door when a friend picks me up to go out" shape.

I should be getting comments back on my manuscript in the next couple of days, so then I'll have to get back to work. I may only write a couple of hours a day in first-draft mode, but I tend to get caught up in revisions (unless they're so major that it's like re-writing) and plow through them quickly. That means I need to wrap up the last bit of business stuff that has to be done ASAP and prepare a speech for this weekend before I hear back from my agent.

Oh, and I have one other project to work on. More on that in a bit.

I've admitted before that I'm a TV fan. That's my audiovisual entertainment medium of choice, and in a roundabout way, that was what got me into writing. Having to wait a week between episodes got my brain going, and I'd find myself mentally filling in the empty spaces by coming up with my own stories about the stuff the characters did when they weren't doing things interesting enough to show on TV. I'd follow up on dropped plot lines or character threads in my head. A good season-ending cliffhanger could really set me off. I'd mentally write dozens of potential resolutions, to the point that I was usually a bit disappointed when the actual resolution aired (like the cliffhanger between seasons 2 and 3 of The X-Files -- total cop-out). I think that's one of the reasons I've remained so interested in the Firefly universe years after the cancellation. That early cancellation left so many empty spaces for my brain to fill.

Well, now the folks at Battlestar Galactica must be out to get me because they've given my brain so much to work with, right at the time when I've got my own stories to deal with, thank you very much. I won't get into details because I don't want to get spoilery, but previously, that show has been almost restful for my creative little brain. The episodes were practically in real time, to the point that for a while it was taking three or four episodes to get through a day. There were no empty spaces. I could happily watch each episode without feeling the need to fill in any gaps. And now they've blown things wide open. My brain thinks it's party time. I may go insane.

On the bright side, this now sort of technically counts as "work" because I've been invited to contribute an essay to a pop culture book on Battlestar Galactica. I'm now supposed to be thinking about it. Okay, so my essay has nothing to do with some of these more recent things that have my brain churning, but I will need to re-watch some episodes (and I can write the DVDs off my taxes!). I feel a little proprietary about this book because I was trying to persuade the publisher to watch the series way back when it first came on (and how this conversation grew out of talking about Jane Austen, I'm not entirely sure), and then we were brainstorming ideas while traveling to the Serenity premiere, so I feel the least bit like I somehow had a tiny role in its very existence.

Now to see if I can stir up something about The Office, and then I'll be able to give myself "work" credit for all my favorite leisure activities ...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Last Free Weekend

This has been my last free weekend for the foreseeable future, so I've tried to use it to both relax and try to get my house in order. On my last Saturday in which I won't be rushing out the door to get somewhere, I had a big, leisurely breakfast. I made scones, and since I had a bit of cream left over, I even made my own butter to put on them. I cheated and used the food processor instead of shaking a jar for half an hour like we did in kindergarten when we were learning about pioneer life. Now I'm afraid I'm going to have to make some bread so I can use the rest of the butter.

Then last night I went out to dinner with friends. I could make myself sound like a glamorous chick lit author if I said that one of my friends was a TV star, but I should probably confess that he was featured in a History Channel documentary about Iwo Jima, talking about his experiences there (he was on his way down the mountain when he passed the photographer who shot the famous photo on his way up). And we weren't exactly eating fancy cuisine and sipping cosmos. We were having barbecue, and the conversation covered topics like war stories, growing up in this area in the 1930s and 40s and rattlesnake roundups. In that group, I tend to just sit and listen.

Otherwise, I've spent the weekend sorting through my old magazines. I've been terribly lax at getting rid of magazines when they're outdated, so it's been kind of like time travel to flip through them to see if there are any articles I want to save. My life has changed so much in the past couple of years, and re-reading the magazines from back then has been a big reminder of that. I've almost emptied the magazine rack table in my living room and the magazine bins in my office. The hardest to let go have been all the travel magazines I got when I got free subscriptions to use up my Delta frequent flier miles. I finally forced myself to admit that I probably never was going to visit the kinds of places in those magazines, the information has probably changed since then, and if I am going to travel, I can get all the info on the Internet. The house actually looks messier than when I started cleaning, but that's because I had to take out so many things to sort through before I could start putting things away again. A future big sorting task will be to go through all those recipes I've filed to determine if I'm ever going to try any of them.

Now back to the painfully slow sorting process. I keep telling myself that if I ever get things organized so that it's easy to put things away in a way that I can ever find them again, it will be easier to keep the place reasonably clean. The last time I was able to do that was soon after I lost the day job when I used cleaning as an excuse for procrastinating with my writing.

As for the scary upcoming schedule:
Next Saturday I'm speaking to the North Texas RWA chapter
The following weekend will be wild, with the author dinner for the Plano Book Festival on Friday night, the Dallas Area Romance Authors meeting Saturday morning, and then I'm speaking at the Plano Book Festival and signing books that afternoon (then seeing Phantom of the Opera that night, but that's not work-related).
The weekend after that, my agent is coming into town on Friday afternoon, I've got a group booksigning that night, then I'm speaking at a conference on Saturday.
The following Thursday I'm taping a show on Dallas Community Television, then on Friday I have an authors reception for the Best Southwest Bookfair, and then I'm speaking at the Bookfair the next day.
I have Easter weekend off from work stuff, but I'll be plenty busy since I sing in the church choir.
Then the next weekend I have a meeting, and after that the book comes out and the fun really begins.

Friday, March 10, 2006


I have made not necessarily noticeable but still quite important progress in my effort to clean my house. In other words, it still looks messy, but I've cleaned out and sorted through some things so it will be easier to find places to put away the mess. I'm going to have to get some new hanging file folders to really make progress on my office, but I have opened up shelf space in the office closet that will soon allow me to clear off some desk space.

I found that the trick to getting this work done is to combine it with something I enjoy. I'm way behind on listening to Ron Moore's podcasts about Battlestar Galactica episodes. I seldom have time to just sit and listen. But last night I played a podcast while cleaning my desk and sorting through my files, and I got a surprising amount of work done. Today I'll be working on the living room while Sci Fi runs a Firefly marathon.

Meanwhile, I've been on a bit of a reading binge. Sunday and Monday I read The Botox Diaries. My editor is working with these authors now, and she'd sent me a copy of their last book last year, so when I saw their first at the library I picked it up. It's a fun, fluffy henlit book (though I think the two books by them that I've read had far too many plot similarities -- like they're writing the same book with different characters and with cosmetic situational changes). Tuesday evening I re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian.

Last night (really, very early this morning) I finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife. I'm still not sure what I thought about that book. I obviously found it compelling, since I stayed up very late to finish it. I thought the concept and storytelling style were fascinating. I like non-linear narratives, and all the bouncing around in time made the story far more interesting than it could have been if it had been told in a more straightforward style. I'm just not sure I actually liked the characters or how the characters dealt with the situation. I know I shouldn't have read the reading group guide at the end because it suddenly gave me high school flashbacks, and all those "what do you think the time traveling represents?" type questions sort of ruined the magic of the story for me. Maybe I'm not properly literary, but I wanted to take it at face value. If I have to start thinking of it being a metaphor for something, then it's like the time traveling represents someone who checks out of strongly emotional times when the people he loves need him the most, and that's definitely not a character I want to spend time with.

Reading a book like that does tend to make my mind work overtime. I have a non-linear story I want to tell, and I just haven't yet figured how to go about it.

I still have time to read something else before I plunge into revisions, but I haven't decided yet. I'm torn between re-reading a book by a favorite author (because I've noticed a pattern in her themes and that's the one book of hers where I don't recall it showing up, so I want to double check) and digging into the big box o' books my editor sent me at Christmas. Or getting something fun off my TBR pile. It's a dilemma.

Now off to clean house while watching Firefly. And then it's a big, supersized Sci Fi Friday before my last free weekend until goodness knows when.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Cindy Cruciger

I've learned that my agent will be reading the Monstrosity in the next couple of days. That means I'm back to work next week, which then means I have about four days to attempt to get my house in order. Fortunately, I've got a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest today so I won't have to think of anything clever to write.

Cindy Cruciger is the author of Revenge Gifts, which she describes as "a romance novel for the lunatic fringe."

Tara Cole specializes in revenge. In fact, she's an expert. Lace pillows filled with cat hair-for your least-favorite, most allergic relative; boxer shorts that set off metal detectors-for your cheating spouse; and her best seller at chocolates for your worst enemy, so you can watch gleefully as she packs on the pounds.

Tara's best friend warns her that all this revenge is damaging her karma, but Tara doesn't care about her next life-she wants to enjoy this one. Besides, her kitchen is full of cranky ghosts. Tara figures she'll be the same one day, when she leaves the mortal plane.

That might happen sooner than she thought, because someone has put a curse on her. A black cat, a black dog, even a black goat, appear, each followed by bizarre, almost-disastrous events. And it all started around the time Howard showed up. Howard says he wants to go into business with Tara, but it seems like he wants to go to bed with her. Unless he's the one who cursed her . . . .

Is this karma coming full circle-or destiny knocking on Tara's door?

Now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
My mother was complaining about how much a funeral cost and she was telling me to just cremate her. I told her I would not only cremate her, I would design the urns. I said since she never visits for holidays I would create Seasonal Urns and divide her ashes into Easter Eggs, Christmas Tree ornaments and a Halloween Jack O Lantern. I told her she was going to be a fire cracker for the 4th of July if she did not let go of the funeral talk. Thus was born.

Describe your creative process.
I am a computer engineer. I have it completely plotted out before I ever write a paragraph. I have a list of "threads" and I lay in those references and clean up loose ends as I edit. Basically I create a skeleton and build a story from there out to the skin and then dress it up for dinner out. That's when I write a novel. When writing an article I take a thought and twist it. I posted an example showing an original draft of an article I wrote for the local newspaper, the edited version and then the final copy that hit the front porches. Very fun. They are two completely different kinds of writing.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I usually write in the car. I use Via Voice (I am updating to Dragon soon) to dictate when driving and type when sitting and waiting for my son to finish soccer practice. Every now and then I will wake up at 4 am with a compulsion to write. About once a month I have an evening of quiet with a glass of wine to write by candle light. I have moods for different scenes and different writing.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
She and I both believe ghosts are real. Her computer programming and bartending are from my real life. Other than that? Not much.

What revenge gift would you recommend for a guy who acted like he was really into you, talked about things you could do on your next date together, and then fell off the face of the earth? (Not that this is for me. Just curious, of course.)
The beauty of cell phones -- and it's a fabulous feature -- is you can assign any name you want to a number. A guy like that would be named "Pernicious Squid" and given a ring tone like "I'm too sexy". Trust me, when he finally calls you will be laughing too hard to bother answering.

(Alas, the problem is the not calling. I'd never get to see "Pernicious Squid" pop up on my cell phone display. I mean, hypothetically, since this wasn't about me.)

Tara would say he's definitely a candidate for the Metallic Boxers; which are made of heavy silk with stainless steel mesh lining the inseams. There's no logical reason for pants to set off a metal detector. Strip search would be a given.

(Now, that I love. Can I buy them in bulk?)

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Both. Dark with Port and to drop into coffee. Milk with everything else.

What are you working on now?
The sequel to Revenge Gifts -- Envy.exe.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Only that I hate it when a book ends. I go through writing withdrawals if I'm not already into the next one immediately.

For more info, visit Cindy's web site.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Into the Wardrobe

I feel like I missed the blogging boat this week because I completely neglected to talk about the Oscars, but since I hadn't seen and really had little interest in seeing any of the nominated films this year, there wasn't much of a point in even bringing it up. I'm more of a TV person than a movie person. TV seems more like books to me in that there's more time to develop characters and build the plot instead of having to cram everything into two hours, which requires some pretty broad strokes. Movies usually leave me with a vague sense of frustration.

I used to see a lot of movies when I was hanging out with movie buffs, but these days I get around to seeing very few (the box office slump is all my fault, I guess). If I'm really excited about a film, I'll usually see it on opening day. If I don't make it on opening day, I may never get around to seeing it. If I really wanted to see it but didn't quite make it on opening day for whatever reason, I might get to the theater the last week it's playing first run. Some movies I may try to catch at the dollar theater. Otherwise, I just wait for them to show up on HBO.

I finally dragged myself to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yesterday. It was a movie I probably would have seen on opening day if that hadn't been the day after I got back from a trip to New York. Then I got caught up in the book and in life in general. I was afraid that this would be its last week, so I made a point of going, and now I'm glad I did. It's the rare case of the movie being better than the book, and since that's one of my all-time favorite books, that's saying something. The film managed to capture a lot of nuances lying on the fringe of the story that weren't actually in the book.

Really, that book is more of a transcription of an oral story than it is a real novel. It reads like it's a bedtime story or a tale told by the fire on a rainy night. When you're telling a story out loud, you can't get too bogged down with details of introspection or elaborately choreographed battle scenes that would be in a novel. You tell just enough to create a picture in your listener's mind, and the listener's imagination fills in the rest. I re-read the book last night, and I was surprised by the number of things I vividly recalled from reading it as a child that weren't actually in the book. In a way, the movie fleshes out those details that are sketched over in the book. One of my favorite things about the movie is the way that it really uses the WWII setting. It's there in the book essentially as an excuse to get the children into a big, old, unfamiliar house, and Lewis makes no mention of how the war actually affects the kids, what they think or feel about it. It's up to your imagination (especially if you're a kid really into WWII who is living in Europe while reading the books and you have old bomb craters in your backyard) to realize that kids who are in the middle of a war at home, who are in such a dangerous situation that they have to be sent away for safety, are going to react in different ways to finding themselves in another world at war than other kids might. The movie really used that to great effect, with Peter (the oldest boy) noticing the soldiers at the train station, and you could tell he was realizing they weren't much older than he was. If the war lasted much longer, he'd be in it soon, himself. That then resonated in his willingness to fight in Narnia.

Now I'd really love to see what these same people could do with Prince Caspian, another book I re-read last night and realized that most of my memories of it were purely from my imagination. For one thing, Lewis seems to have totally forgotten the war, even though this book takes place just a year later.

My agent has ranted at length about the overuse of portals in young adult fantasy literature, but I think they're a classic for a reason. What kid doesn't long to travel to another world that's full of adventure? It's not nearly as much fun for someone who's used to that world. Half the excitement is seeing the heroes adapt and wondering if you could do the same thing. I think I survived junior high by imagining what would happen if I got sent to another world where I was looked upon as something special. I've actually got a book started that involves kids from our world who have read all the books about portals actually having to deal with one, but I suspect it would give my agent an allergic reaction. That will have to go on my "someday" list of ideas. When I say "so many books, so little time," I'm not just talking about my to-be-read pile!

Oh, and this was the first movie I've been to in years in which nobody's cell phone rang! I did have the person behind me kicking my seat all the way through, so that I eventually moved over one seat when the Glare of Death had no effect, but at least it was quiet in the theater for a change (yet another reason I tend to wait for HBO).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blog Sluttiness

I think I've become a blog slut. I have a LiveJournal. I have a Blogger page. And now I have a MySpace page. I'm putting essentially the same content in each place. My sluttiness has more to do with taking advantage of the various networking and friend-of-a-friend aspects of each of these sites. It's all about helping build the word of mouth. These sites increase my chances of being discovered by people who haven't yet heard of me and who might discover me through whatever ways people meet people online. And then they might buy my books!

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that the main reason I joined MySpace is that's where the cast from The Office hangs out, and in order to see all their fun behind-the-scenes pictures and stuff you have to be a member. And if I was going to the effort to join to see that stuff, I might as well use the membership for promo (in my ongoing effort to find ways to reclassify my goofing off as work-related). To increase the "this is work, really!" factor, Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam on the show, is my current mental casting for Katie. I saw her on the Today show and on Conan O'Brien last week, and as herself, she's exactly what I've been picturing in my head.

The problem with MySpace is that it reminds me of high school all over again. You can see who's popular and who isn't because your "friends" are displayed right there on your page. I guess you can see how many "friends" someone has at LiveJournal, but you have to go looking for it. It's not right there on your main page, telling everyone "Yes, I am a loser, for I have no friends!" So, in the interest of making me feel popular -- or at least not like the troll outcast loser who can't get anyone to sit with her in the cafeteria -- if you have a MySpace account, please add me as a friend! My page is at

Oh, I just checked, and I now have three friends, and one of them is Jenna Fischer!!! I feel so very cool.

I'm feeling a little at loose ends this week because the book is with my very swamped agent and I've taken care of most of my business and promotion to-dos. I got caught up on my goofing off yesterday (some of which now counts as "work" -- look for an announcement soon), and today I have to run errands and may finally get out to see a movie. Then it's back to work. I have to find a good promotional excerpt for Once Upon Stilettos, start re-designing my web site, prepare a workshop speech or two. And, oh yeah, I should probably think about cleaning my house, huh?

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Tale of Two Books

I finally succumbed to the threats (that they'd visit me) and promises (barbecue!) and went to spend the weekend with my parents. It was a pretty calm, relaxing weekend. We ate, watched Sci Fi Friday, took a tour of the lawn to see all the nice springy stuff that's starting to happen, and sat around reading.

I had two books with me that probably fall at the opposite ends of the literary spectrum -- Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. Both were bestsellers, but there the resemblance ends. Life of Pi is a prize-winning literary novel and bookclub favorite (the reason I was reading it -- for the city-wide "bookclub" project) full of metaphor within metaphor about survival and the nature of faith. And a tiger (or not. Maybe.). The Undomestic Goddess is fluffy commercial fiction -- chick lit, even -- about what happens when a high-powered young attorney loses everything and finds herself in the process of becoming a housekeeper at a Cotswolds manor.

One of these books was written specifically to make people think and ponder the mysteries of life while the other was written purely for entertainment. And guess which one has stuck with me the most after reading it, which one has made me think. Maybe I'm a shallow person, or maybe it's that faith isn't something I have to be made to think about through the use of extended metaphors, but it was the chick lit book that had me thinking about the choices I've made in my life, how I spend my time, and what the tradeoffs may or may not have been. It made me realize that throwing yourself into your work to the exclusion of all else might be a bad idea even if it is work that you love. I'm not about to ditch my writing career to go cook for people, but a writer does need non-writing stuff in order to refresh the soul and have more material to write about.

This made me realize that most of these distinctions we make between literary fiction and commercial fiction are highly artificial. It's the readers who find their own meaning in what they read, and you never know what will touch someone in a way that makes a difference in her life. It's not for the author to decide what readers should take away from a book. The author can certainly set out to say something, but I think it works better if it's almost subliminal. The literary snobs really need to shut up and let people read what speaks to them instead of forcing the book equivalent of broccoli at people and insisting they read something that's good for them. Let people read, and they'll find their own truths and messages.

I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the process of reading the more literary book. It certainly had some thoughtful passages and beautiful language, but it didn't have nearly the impact on the way I look at my life that the lighter book had. Go figure.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Michelle Richmond

First, a happy Texas Independence Day! Next, it's time for another visit to the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. My guest this time around is Michelle Richmond, author of Dream of the Blue Room. First, a little about the book:

On a warm night in July, 32-year-old Jenny finds herself sitting on the deck of a Chinese cruise ship next to a charming but secretive stranger. In Jenny's lap is a tin containing the ashes of her best friend, Amanda Ruth, mysteriously murdered fourteen years earlier in a small Alabama town.

In this foreign landscape, filled with ancient cities that will soon be inundated by the rising waters of the Yangtze River, Jenny must confront her haunted past and decide the direction of her future. As the ship moves slowly upriver, from one abandoned village to another, Jenny journeys deeper into her own guilt and eroticism.

Now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
A trip to China in 1998 inspired me to write Dream of the Blue Room. I've always been drawn to water, and this novel is set on two rivers--the Yangtze in China, and a small river town in Alabama (based on a town near where I grew up). Three Gorges Dam, which was under construction at the time and which resulted in the inundation of thousands of villages, was very much part of the inspiration for the book. I was also interested in the prejudices of the small town South. The girl who is murdered is Chinese American.

Describe your creative process.
When I'm writing a short story, I just let it flow from sentence to sentence. With novels, I allow myself plenty of room for exploration and discovery, but I do have a pretty strong idea of where the novel will end. For example, I knew before I started Dream of the Blue Room that the present action would all take place during a two-week cruise on the Yangtze, and that flashbacks would tell the story of the murder, twelve years before, of the narrator's best friend in Alabama.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
Caffeine! And it has to be coffee--preferably French roast, preferably made at home. I only write at home, never in cafes or anything like that. Morning is best, but since I had my son Oscar (he's fourteen months now), I've learned to fit my writing in during any free minute I can find.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Jenny, the protagonist of Dream of the Blue Room, is 32 years old--the age I was when I was in the late stages of writing the novel. Like me, she is from Alabama's Gulf Coast. Like me, her childhood was marked by a kind of desperation to get out of Alabama and see the world. Like me, she's married. But the novel centers on two things--her friend's long-ago murder, and the current dissolution of her marriage. I've been lucky in the marriage department, whereas Jenny married a man with whom she ultimately has too little in common to sustain her marriage. However, one trait possessed by her husband, Dave, is taken straight from my husband, Kevin--Dave and Kevin both have a soft spot for women who have been traumatized in some way. In the novel, Dave is carrying on an intimacy (not an affair, but an intimacy), with a woman suffered severe burns to her face and neck during a car accident.

How did you do your location research for this book? Did you travel to China?
The book came out of a two-month stint I did in Beijing while working at a Chinese trading company. I spent a lot of time researching the Three Gorges Dam, its impact on the cities and villages along the Yangtze River. I also did considerable research into ALS, or Lou Gherig's disease, which afflicts one of the characters, Graham--an older Australian man with whom Jenny becomes intimate on the cruise.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Gotta be dark, no question.

What are you working on now?
My new novel, Ocean Beach, will be released by Bantam in spring 2007. I'm editing that, as well as working on a short story collection.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Many readers have talked to me about the sensual quality of the book--there is, after all, an affair going on through most of it (Jenny, the protagonist, becomes involved with an older Australian man on the cruise up the Yangtze.), so there's definitely a strong sexual component to the book. It's also very much immersed in landscape--that of China, this massive river in a moment of historical change, as well as the Gulf Coast landscape. The highest praise the book has received is the many readers who have told me that once they sat down with the book, they felt compelled to read the whole thing through. It's always so encouraging to know that your characters, and your story, are resonating with a reader.

For more info, visit Michelle's web site.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Word of Mouth

The e-mail in box is now under 700! Progress! I've also finished reading all my books for Rita judging. I'm now reading Life of Pi. My city is doing that "One City, One Book" thing, and that's the book. I wasn't high on participating, but then I was at the library and they had a copy on the shelf, so I decided I might as well give it a shot. Now I'm worried about how successful (or not) it will be, considering the book wasn't checked out or on reserve. I've only read the author's note at the beginning so far, but I think I like the author based on the note.

Most of what I'm doing these days is publicity work. Last year I was down on myself for not getting another book proposal together for a book outside my series, but now I'm kind of glad that instead I focused my efforts on publicity. Unless you've got the money to hire people, PR takes a lot of time (and even if you hire people, there's still a lot of work to be done). There's a lot of discussion in the industry about the best way to sell books -- do ads work, do reviews really accomplish anything, are bookmarks a waste of time and money, etc.

I've been doing a lot of reading about how trends spread, how word of mouth works and how people make buying decisions, and I've come to the conclusion that it's really a mix of things. In advertising, they generally say people need three exposures to retain any awareness of something from an ad. I've also heard other figures, like that people need to hear about something at least seven times before they retain awareness, and they need to hear about something twenty-five times before they make a decision to purchase. I think it all depends on when and where you hear about something. If you're in a bookstore and your best friend or a very knowledgeable bookseller puts a book in your hand and says you have to read it, you may buy it on just that one exposure. I've read reviews of books and made a decision to buy them just because the ideas appealed to me. I've bought books in bookstores with no prior knowledge of the author or the book, simply because the cover, title, or story line caught my attention.

But it is probably safe to say that more exposure equals more awareness, and awareness plus interest increase the odds of a purchase. That's why I decided to go through with having bookmarks printed. I don't expect too many people to pick up a bookmark from a conference goody bag and immediately decide to purchase my books. However, anything that's familiar tends to stand out against the unfamiliar. If you're browsing a bookstore, you're more likely to notice the books you've had some exposure to in any way, whether it's from seeing an ad, reading a review or even just looking at a bookmark. Word of mouth is effective, but someone has to be aware of it in the first place to be able to spread word of mouth, and the word of mouth may need reenforcement. You may hear about a book from reading someone's blog, which makes you more likely to notice a review, so that you take a second look at a bookmark, and then when you see the book in the store you pick it up to take a look and maybe buy it.

Now that big business is becoming more aware of the importance of word of mouth, they're trying to manipulate it or encourage it, and I'm not sure how effective that's going to be. In some cases, I don't think they get how it works. Case in point: Universal's dependence on word of mouth to promote the film Serenity. They did a lot of advance screenings of the film and promoted them to Firefly fans so these fans could then go tell lots of people about the movie. The problem there was that by targeting the already devoted fans, they were preaching to the choir. These fans were already telling everyone they knew about it. With the DVD set of the TV series, they already had something to talk about and something to show people. While we certainly enjoyed getting an early peek at the movie, I don't think it changed how much fans were able to spread word of mouth. The way to broaden that audience would be to show the film to non-fans, people who weren't already talking about it. To bust something out of an established fan base, you have to reach the people who are least like the existing fans but who are still likely to be interested.

And now there are companies trying to fake word of mouth. In one case (that I think involved the agency I used to work for), they had a pair of actors playing the role of tourists in New York. They went around to all the big tourist sites, then would ask people to take their picture in front of various Big Apple views, using their nifty digital camera. They'd give a brief demo while explaining how to use it to take their picture, then if the people were interested or commented on how cool the camera was, they'd give a fuller demo. There was some outcry about that, how it was dishonest because these tourists were really paid actors. I think it was a pretty clever idea, and since these people were total strangers whether or not they were paid, and since people did get a real demo of the camera, it wasn't like there was much trust being violated. On the other hand, there's now an agency that specializes in building buzz. They have a huge database of "agents" who can be selected for various demographic criteria. These agents are then sent product samples and asked to try them out and then talk about them and provide reports on their efforts. They earn points toward prizes for participating. That kind of bugs me because it seems like the people doing the real work of the campaign aren't being paid in anything other than prizes (while the agency charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for a campaign), but at the same time, these agents are using their relationships with the people around them to earn points by telling people about stuff. That messes with the key reason word of mouth is effective: you trust the word of the people you know over the word of some critic you've never met. But can you still trust your friends' advice and opinions if your friends are earning points toward a free iPod, or whatever, for telling you how awesome some product is?

It's a really fuzzy area, ethically. There's no problem with providing samples and hoping people will talk about things they liked, but attaching strings to the talk is where I have issues. It's one of many reasons I'm no longer working for a PR agency (well, aside from the fact that they laid me off, but I didn't want another agency job).

Anyway, to those of you who've helped spread the word about my book by talking about it to friends, e-mailing people, blogging about it, or whatever else, I'm truly grateful. You've done so much to help make books three and four happen. My editor remains astonished and pleased by the enthusiasm of my fans. We're gearing up for another push as the next book approaches, and I will be doing some things in the near future to show my gratitude. Sorry, no points toward a free iPod (I don't even own one), but I will be doing some drawings for books and other prizes from my mailing list or in other ways, so stay tuned (and sign up for the list -- I really won't spam you).