Friday, September 25, 2009

Cake Time! Train Cakes!

Last week was my Big Boy's sixth birthday and we walked him to school with cookies shaped like the number six. It's great his teacher allows kindergarteners to bring class treats and greater that my sweet husband made them all, as well as this knock-me-over cake designed after LINK, Seattle's new light rail.

Perhaps my domestic bliss is why I don't read "mommy lit." I'm not interested in reading about the work vs. stay home conflict, having made and lived with my choices with open eyes. Lots of the other perceived staples of mommy-lit (self-sabotaging women old enough to know better, tooth and nail competition over stupid stuff, carpool angst, doofus spouses) have zero appeal to me as plot points. What's your opinion of "Mommy Lit"?

This week I found the first mommy-lit-light book I'm enjoying, Saving Face, a free on-line serial at Slate Magazine by my favorite writing lawyer, Dahlia Lithwick. Read past the first chapter (school pickup angst - almost stopped me reading. I hate the "I can't do anything right anymore because I've become a flabby loser with kids boo hoo" whine). After the first chapter it gallups into grown-up friendship, how easily the internet can dominate your life, and the lure of being snarky with strangers. These I like to read about. (Full Disclosure: I too am a former lawyer who misplaced her black suit - but it wasn't Armani - and I can't get my post-baby feet into my amazing red suede hiiiigh heels.).

In Saving Face Dahlia Lithwick harnessed her loyal readers' efforts for chores like naming characters, one of the the hardest parts of writing. In my first novel I named characters after San Francisco BART train stations because names are soooo hard. For my current book I used the social security database to find popular names in certain decades - workable but boring for given names. But surnames? If you write, how do you decide on those?

Dahlia poses reader questions at the end of each chapter and incorporates answers into her writing, letting her fans do the research. Amazing collaboration and yet the work is her voice. Read it and come back and tell me what you think. Want to help with Warrior's Hilt? Even though it's "finished" I have a few less-than-inspired names for secondary characters and I need a New Jersey suburb location, among other things. If you're interested drop a comment and I'll post more details.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Insider Tips on the Golden Heart!

The 2010 RWA® Golden Heart Contest opens for entries TODAY! Are you unpublished with a completed romance manuscript just itching for industry recognition? This is the contest of contests in the romance writing world. Are you one of next year's big winners? Get ready for Nashville, y'all. GH2010 is here! Click here for contest details.

And if you're interested in getting a jump on the competition with some insider info from those who've been there before, the 2009 Golden Heart class, The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, is launching a blog today at All during this month there will be daily giveaways - from mugs to manuscript critiques. Join the Ruby Sisters as we navigate the lions and tigers and bears of the romance writing industry and its biggest contest.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fan-Tastic Procrastination

Well, I managed to survive the first week of school. Goodness! I'd forgotten how exhausting it can be to run herd on 150 teenagers every day. Then there's the grading, the planning, and the interaction with colleagues and parents...

In short, a teacher's work is never done. And neither is a writer's. I was staring at my calendar for the upcoming school year, trying to figure out how I was going to meet all of my obligations for two demanding careers. Oh, and then there's that whole "friends and family" thing. My husband probably needs to spend time with me, not just looking at the back of my head!

Needless to say, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Happily, however, a friend sent me a lovely means of distracting myself. (Thanks, Martha!) I now know what I would look like if I went to Hogwarts (oh, and had impossibly long legs).

Here's the picture of Kate Diamond, at work and at play in J.K. Rowling's fabulous universe:

You should visit the website yourself! I'd love to see your own Doll Divine, whether you're dressing up as a Hogwarts student or trying on some warrior babe chic. Give us a link! And perhaps this is a dangerous request... but I'm going to go there anyway. What's your favorite website to visit when you're procrastinating and/or unwinding?

I hope you enjoy Doll Divine! Of course, those of us with dirty minds just might use the site to live out our prurient Potions fantasies...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Heroines & Life Lessons

First off, I’d really like to thank the Damned Scribbling Women for having me today. I love stopping by this blog for a laugh or a thoughtful blog post and am thrilled to be here today.

When I was getting my MFA in creative writing, my fiction professors always told me that a good short story or novel must make its readers think. It must have a message and characters that transcend time and race and culture and creed. It must be real. These are, of course, many of the same professors who scoffed at me when I told them I wanted to write romances. The same ones who told me writing genre fiction was a waste of my talent—little did they know how little their advice was going to end up meaning to me.

Well, here I am a number of years later, writing romance novels and loving every second of it. And while their advice about romance novels was complete idiocy (I’ve been reading love stories since I was in fifth grade and I certainly have no plans to stop anytime soon) a lot of what they taught me has stuck with me—including the fact that a reader should be able to learn something about the human condition from the books she reads.

Now, I write two very different types of books—erotic suspense and family oriented contemporaries, both of which will soon be joined by paranormals when my first novel of dragon shapeshifters hits the shelves next year. And though my books lend themselves to very different plotlines, language and heat levels, one of the things I’ve found has remained the same between my NAL Heats and my Harlequin Superromances, is my characters—and what I (and hopefully my readers) learn from them. Whether I’m writing a kick-butt police detective (my September 2009 release Tie Me Down) or a surrogate mother on the brink of emotional collapse (my June 2009 release From Friend to Father) I tend to gravitate to the same kind of heroines—strong, smart and self-assured. Heroines I can respect and heroines I can learn something from. So, with no further ado, here’s a quick look at some of the life lessons I’ve learned from the women I’ve written in the last year.

Genevieve Delacroix (Tie Me Down—September 2009) A tough-as-nails homicide detective, Genevieve survives the violence of New Orleans’s streets by staying in control at all times. But when she meets her hero, Cole Adams, she learns that some of the most important things in life—friendship, passion, love—can’t be controlled. Genevieve has taught me the value of spontaneity and that coloring outside of the lines is often more rewarding than doing the same old thing.

Sarah Martin (Heroine of From Friend to Father—June 2009): Mother of twin boys and surrogate mother for her best friend’s baby, Sarah has taught me the importance of hanging on to my sense of humor. No matter what life throws at her—from overflowing toilets to a deadbeat husband to falling in love for a second, scarier time, Sarah never forgets to laugh.

Serena Macafee (Full Exposure—January 2009) Serena’s been through the emotional wringer—when she was seventeen, she survived the brutal attack that ended up killing her twin sister. Ten years later, her sister’s murderer—and her own assailant—is being released early from prison and Serena must deal with the emotional and actual fall-out. With her past, she is scared to death of being vulnerable—to anyone, including her lover, Kevin Riley. But as the book unfolds, Serena realizes that being strong doesn’t mean doing everything alone. So from her, I’ve learned the importance of standing on my own two feet—and of asking for help when I need it.

Vivian Wentworth (A Christmas Present—December 2009) Vivian reminded me of the importance of keeping an open mind. An attorney who’s spent her career fighting for women who can’t fight for themselves, Vivian is shocked and upset when she ends up defending a seventeen-year-old boy accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend. But things aren’t what they seem in the case and Vivian must work with her client’s mentor and guardian to keep an innocent boy out of jail, even after he’s given up on justice and himself.

So, have you learned anything from a romance heroine—one you’ve written or one you’ve just liked reading about? Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of my June release, From Friend to Father.

The winner will be announced on Friday, September 18th, so be sure to check back!

Friday, September 04, 2009

What Makes A Good Book Good?

Earlier this week, I was having a hardcore wallow over the uninspired pap I was scribbling all over my WIP. I knew I needed the jolt of eagerness and excitement over the written word that I can only get from a Really Good Book.

My RGB of choice was Dogs & Goddesses by the divine Jennifer Crusie, deific Anne Stuart, and transcendent Lani Diane Rich. And it worked. Whammo! Popped me right out of my funk. I'm writing great gobs of goodness into my WIP and life is good again.

But then I got to thinking. What makes a RGB so good?

We could dissect it. Break it down into pieces and examine the parts, but a book autopsy only works on dead items and Really Good Books are alive to me. Please, let's not kill them. They are so pretty as a whole, must we suck the life out of them and hack them apart? Does it have to be the dialogue or the characterization or the plot arc? Could it possibly be some kind of magical alchemy? An X-factor that takes a good book with all those dry ingredients and adds a juicy slug of wow to the pages.

I don't think a truly excellent work of literary fiction is any more quantifiable than popular/genre fiction. Can you describe to me exactly what makes Dickens more enduring than his contemporaries? What separates Steinbeck or Alcott from theirs? Entire literary theses are written in the attempt, but those theses tell us as much about the reader and what they bring to the work as they do about the work itself.

In one of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books (RGBs!) - I think it was The Well of Lost Plots, but I can't be sure - he talks about how much work a reader does, what percentage of the book experience is fueled by the reader versus the words themselves. Words are just words. The reader is the one who makes them worlds and people and ideas.

I was lucky enough to see Jennifer Crusie speak while I was in Ohio a couple months ago. One of the things she mentioned was leaving enough room in the manuscript for the reader to get inside and make themselves at home. This really got me thinking about the accessibility of books. Some are thick and dense, with not a lot of wiggle room, and not terribly cozy for a reader to crawl inside. But sometimes those difficult reading experiences can be just as, or even far more, rewarding than the easy ones which throw out the welcome mat.

I'm kind of in love with that metaphor now - the book as a living space. I'm picturing some of the difficult ones as being cramped and having major electrical problems, so you're pressed up against the wall and get periodic shocks as the book jolts you into opening up a part of your brain you hadn't accessed before. Electro-shock-reading!

To me, a RGB is not any particular kind of book, but rather a reading experience. I love classic literature. (Well, some of it. My hatred for James Joyce is a living, breathing thing.) But I also read copious amounts of genre fiction. I tend to think that genre fiction exists to take you out of yourself (those wide open doors of the accessible book) whereas lit fic exists to put you back in and make you take a hard look around (and maybe shock open a few new neural pathways). And both are valuable.

You cannot force someone to love electro-shock-reading any more than you can force them to respect the "easy" read. In this article at Smart Bitches, Candy talks about mandatory reading lists and the cold war between lit snobs and genre slobs. Can't we all just get along? Why does one have to be better than the other?

Eloisa James told a story at the National Conference about the difficulties of being a genre writer in a family of literary snobs. She kept being asked when she was going to write a "real" book. (If you've never read Eloisa James, do it now. Those books are real. And utterly brilliant.)

I can understand her frustration, but (don't hate me!) I can also see the other side. I love romance. I love writing romance. But I want to write a Big Book someday that examines and impacts society in a way a happily-ever-after could not do. So I can't take offense when people ask me when I'm going to write something real. Yeah, it sucks that they don't respect what I'm doing now, but I understand that to them a RGB has to be electro-shocky and romance just ain't. One man's RGB is another man's uninspired pap (or James Joyce).

And now I'm off topic... does anyone remember what I set out to say when I sat down to write this post? Something about Really Good Books? And what makes them good?

My verdict: Magic. And a place for the reader to climb inside. Really, it's all up to the reader. Not to diminish the work writers do, but without the reader's imagination, where would we be?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Our own Kate Diamond is a DOUBLE FINALIST in the Emerald City Opener Contest!!! Congratulations, Kate, and loads of luck in the final round for both fantastic manuscripts!

Here's to your success!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Nerves, Nerves, Nerves

Yesterday I got an email pointing me to a great review for The Ghost Shrink, the Accidental Gigolo & the Poltergeist Accountant. Do you know what my first thought was as I read the heady praise being heaped on my undeserving head?

Oh, no.

Yep. No jumping for joy here. I actually thought Oh, no, she liked it. Quickly followed by: She's gonna hate the next one... (which hits the ebook stores October 27th) and really hate the one after that (which I am in the middle of writing).

Yeah. Way to think positive, Vivi.

I've been a nervous wreck for a few days now. On Wednesday I hit that point (that awful, awful point) in my WIP where the rosy glow wore off and I became convinced the entire thing sucked. It wasn't funny. It wasn't romantic. It was a big, sloppy, disjointed mess. My characters were inconsistent and unlikeable. My plot was plodding and unbelievable. In short, junk. All of it, junk.

It doesn't help matters that I'm in submission-waiting limbo on another manuscript and will-readers-like-it-waiting limbo on the October release. Stress piled up on stress and turned me into a walking basketcase. I'm visiting some friends at the moment and I actually gave one of them instructions to throw water in my face if I look like I'm stressing myself out about the writing crap. So far I've narrowly dodged a couple dousings.

I know I need to plod on through on the WIP. I need to push past my current welter of insecurities and get to the finish line. I can make it funny in revisions. I can make it romantic in revisions. I can make it good. Later. Right now, I just need to get to THE END.

Nerves suck. But they are part of being a writer. I worry that I won't be good enough to get published. I worry that once I'm published, no one will like my book. And I worry that even if they loved that one, they will hate this one. There is always fresh worry baking in the Andrews household.

My question for you: How do you get past your own insecurities and fears? How do you convince yourself that your current project (writing or otherwise) is worth completing? How do you silence that nasty doubting voice telling you it isn't good enough?