Saturday, November 28, 2009

Titillation for the Tiny Tot

Check it out! My niece has already ditched the G-rated books in favor of steamier romance reading. And she's not even 2 years old yet... I'm so proud!

My brother and I couldn't stop cracking up when his daughter made a beeline for the bodice-rippers. It made me wonder when she'll actually start reading romance... a question that already has my sister-in-law nervous.

I am not a parent yet. As both a high school English teacher and an aspiring novelist, I'm a big fan of free speech. I'm against censorship. I was also a pretty lucky kid with a truly awesome mom who never told me I wasn't allowed to read something. Consequently, I always felt comfortable telling her what I was reading. I wasn't forced to hide my romance novels under the bed. I never thought of them as soft-core porn or something shameful.

And yet... I'm not sure how I'd feel if I had a precocious 9-year-old daughter who wanted to read erotica.

So I want to know... what was your first romance novel? What are your favorite books to reread, and why? And if any of you are parents, how do you feel about your own children potentially reading romance someday?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Pert Turkey Recipe

Before I share my turkey recipe, I must first admit to (1) never having cooked a Thanksgiving turkey and (2) co-opting this recipe from my husband's Aunt Diane, who is not an American, does not live in America, and will not be cooking a turkey this week. Decide for yourself whether you want to risk this turkey. It will wake up your guests and bring the men-folks in from the television, but I'm not sure if you can serve it to relatives with heart conditions.

To delay the denouement, why have I never cooked a turkey? Because I am lucky to be a potluck goer and side-dish bringer, not a potluck hostess and turkey maker. Our families live far to the east so for many years the Dear Canadian and I have turned off our lights and gone to neighbors' homes or the community center. A college friend moved up near the Canadian border, and now they host Thanksgiving and we gladly drive. This year I will be making potatoes two ways, pumpkin pie, a test run of Christmas cookies, green beans amandine, homemade chunky apple sauce, and probably some sort of roasted squash, barley, hearty greens salad. While my sweet spouse loves to cook, this week he's painting our living room so I'm on the hook for the food. I'll be stirring with one hand and polishing TWO Golden Heart entries to be mailed Sunday night with the other. Yes, I work best when I'm crazy.

What's your Thanksgiving style? Are you a pot luck goer or a hostess? A side dish bringer, a beverage bringer, or a turkey roaster? What's your favorite dish and what can you skip?

Without further delay: one whole turkey, the largest lemon you can find, and a stick (or two) of butter. Cut lemon in half. Carefully, carefully, with a knife and your fingers, lift the skin of the turkey breast gently away from the meat and slip each lemon half under, peel facing away from the meat so the juice seeps into the turkey. Put about half a stick of butter in little pats under the skin. Rub the rest all over the outside of the skin, generously salt and pepper. Put in preheated oven and roast according to weight of turkey, etc. Baste every 15 - 20 minutes until done. It should look as perky as this bird:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Harlequin Brouhaha

If you follow many romance industry blogs, you're probably sick to death of hearing about Harlequin Horizons by now. It seems the denizens of Romancelandia have been talking of little else this week.

If you haven't heard, here's a quick primer: Harlequin Enterprises opened a new line called Harlequin Horizons. Unlike their other lines, like Harlequin Presents or Harlequin Blaze, this new line is a pay-to-play vanity publisher - instead of the publisher paying you for the right to publish your work, you are paying them to put it into print (just don't expect it to be stocked in bookstores).

Several aspects of this new enterprise caused a kerfuffle in the writing community. Brand dilution, preying on uneducated aspiring writers to monetize their slush pile, and the misleading verbiage on their sales pitch were all brought up as concerns by writers far and wide. (The thread at Smart Bitches was one epicenter of the discussion if you'd like to see various arguments re: HqHo. They were creeping up on 600 comments when I posted this.)

Romance Writers of America responded by announcing Harlequin was no longer considered an "eligible" publisher according to their definition of such, Mystery Writers of America threatened sanctions & Science Fiction Writers of America jumped into the fray with a statement of their own. Harlequin has now announced that they will be changing the name of Harlequin Horizons (perhaps because there is already a Horizons line in France?) to something less closely tied to their brand.

I'm sure there are still many developments to come and I predict that when everything shakes out, the effect of Horizons will not be as drastic as it originally seemed. Or maybe it'll be more drastic. What do I know?

My question for you is this: if you were a writer interested in publishing with a Harlequin line and you received a rejection letter which included a referral to a Harlequin vanity-publishing company asking you to pay hundreds of dollars to have your book printed, how would you feel? Would you be tempted? Insulted? Would it impact your willingness to submit to Harlequin again in the future? As a writer being targeted by what some are calling predatory business practices, would you feel preyed upon? How do you think Harlequin Horizons will impact Harlequin's reputation in the long run, if at all? Anyone care to speculate?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Tortoise & the Hare

With NaNo going strong and aspiring writers making that last push before sending in their Golden Heart entries, I've heard a lot of people talking about and comparing word count productivity this month. If that motivates you, awesome! If not, never fear. Writing doesn't have to be a sprint.

I've got a lot to do this week, writing-wise. What's "a lot" you may ask? Well, here's the thing. I could tell you exactly what I have to do, but that wouldn't mean anything because you wouldn't have the context of what I normally achieve in a week. No two writers are going to have the same goals, because no two writers are going to write at exacty the same rate. So the vagueness of "a lot" means more than the specificity of "first draft 20,000 words, final edits 23,000 words, revise 25,000 words, tighten synopsis, compose query letter & hit send".

It is easy to fall prey to comparing ourselves with other writers. How long does it take them to write a book, how many times do they have to revise, how many people give them feedback on their work? As writers, we often compare notes on our processes, but I think it is invaluable to remember that your process isn't a competition. Whether you write slow or fast, draft once or seventy times, you have to do what works for you.

I've heard people say, unapologetically, that they write slow, but it was a real revelation to me when I heard someone say, with the same unapologetic air, that she wrote fast. No bragging. Just a flat "I can't do it any other way."

Me too!

I write fast. I have to. I need the momentum and I need the pressure of a looming deadline. And if I don't go fast, I get stuck rewriting every word I've written and I never get to The End. Others need time for deliberation and thought, but if I'm not writing from the gut, I won't finish. Is my way better than anyone else's? Hell no! But it's my way. I have to be me.

Are you a tortoise or a hare? Do you write like the wind, or does slow and steady win the race? Whatever your speed of choice, odds are you have a writing-rate comfort zone. Whether you're a thoughtful plodder or a neck-or-nothing speed-racer, I'm here today to say: Embrace it!

Find your pace. And if you want to challenge yourself, don't worry about competing with someone with a different pace. Try setting your own goals for 10% higher than your usual productivity. But whether you're a tortoise or a hare, the important thing is crossing the finish line, whenever you get there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writerly Gift-Giving

The holidays are coming up, which means that we're probably all scrambling to buy gifts for our loved ones. There is nothing more delightful than giving or receiving the perfect gift, the one that says "I know you like no other, and here's something that will improve your life/make you smile/fit perfectly with your style."

Now, I don't know about you... but I always feel guilty when I'm forced to give the generic gift. You know, the "oh, crap it's almost Christmas and I'm obligated to get you something but have no idea what you want." Depending on gender, I usually give the generic someone a Best Buy gift card or set of vanilla-scented bath products. I feel like what I'm really giving them is a big sign that says "Hi, I didn't really make the effort" or "I guess I don't know you all that well."

Does anyone else have this problem?

As I grow older, I'm becoming less enamored of gift clutter--both the giving and the receiving. I'd rather spend time than money. Goodness knows, Mr. Marvelous doesn't need yet another electronic gadget (whatever it is, he'll buy it for himself whenever the whim strikes him). Instead, I usually gift him with some sort of vacation or super-extravagant date... something I know he'll enjoy, something that won't collect dust in our home.

He, in turn, honors my specific starving artists qualities. In order to support my writing, he hired a maid service for a year. He also gave me a Patricia Kay writing class. Receiving these gifts made me so glad--which may sound obnoxiously materialistic, but it was more than that. It was the fact that Mr. Marvelous so clearly knows me, loves me, and wants to support my dream.

So, here's my question: what's a good writerly (or readerly) gift that you've received in the past? Alternatively, what's a gift you're excited to give this year?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Writerly Book Rec

Tonight I finished Bob Mayer's book, Who Dares Wins. It was an excellent, eye-opening read... and I strongly recommend it to all writers out there.

This isn't a book about craft. It won't tell you how to write a break-out novel or edit more tension into your scenes. Instead, it will help you to clarify your vision. To improve your habits of mind. To force you to confront some of your blind spots and flaws and recognize what it will take to change them. Big undertaking, no?

As Mayer states, reading the book is "most likely the equivalent of trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant." (183) No kidding! I get the feeling I'm going to be re-reading this constantly in the years to come.

This book helped me narrow down my goals and consider the fact that they have to align. Yeah, maybe this sounds like a no-brainer to the rest of you, but I'm the girl who once tried to finish up a semester's worth of grading, write two chapters, and make a three-course meal from scratch... all in one night. (Hey, Kate! There's this really cool place called reality. You should try living there sometime.)

So, I've looked at aligning my goals for the rest of 2009. I'm leaving my day job every day at 5pm and resisting the urge to bring grading home. I'm going to eat dinner at the table with my husband every night. And I'm going to write (or at least stare frustratedly at my Word document) for one hour every weekday.

Check that out! Alignment! I rule.

I'm sure in the weeks to come I'll have updates (confessionals?) about my progress or lack thereof. And don't worry--I'm still hard at work on the promo/writing separation experiment. More soon!

For now, I'd love your input. What are your favorite writing books? What's one goal you hope to achieve before the end of 2009?