Monday, October 26, 2009

Bruce Springsteen, Romance Novelist

You laugh at my love for The Boss? I was a teenager in 1984, unlike my fellow DSWs, and that pair of faded jeans and the white t-shirt ... that inspired me.* I'm here to share my belief that my favorite musician is also a closet romance novelist under his guitar. Or could be.

Take the first song on Springsteen's latest Working on a Dream. Like a twenty-year old Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel you find at a used book store, printed when publishers trusted readers to have sufficient attention spans, Outlaw Pete is a ballad by a man who trusts his listeners to stick with him through a full eight minutes of music. Eight minutes, one song. Remind anyone of Diana Gabaldon? He's penned one of the classic Western romance plots: Very Bad Dude reforms, falls in love (with a Navajo maiden, no less) and starts a family. Then a bounty hunter shows up to remind him that a fresh start's not that easy. Bruce Springsteen, historical romance writer.

Queen of the Supermarket could be a perfect category romance if a publisher retitled it The Billionaire's Secret Checkout Clerk.

I take my place in the checkout line.
For one moment her eyes meet mine ...
I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket.
Though a company cap covers her hair
Nothing can hide the beauty waiting there.

You think The Boss can't tackle paranormal despite the night elements on the album cover? Try This Life. "Chained to this earth we go on and on and on ... This life, this life and then the next. I finger the hem of your dress, my universe at rest." No undead vampire lover ever said it better.

What musicians or songs remind you of romance novels? Post your own favorites in the comments. I'll reply after I finish cruising around with the car radio cranked to 28 (shocks the Dear Canadian when he has to drive my car; makes the kids yell at me.).

* Born in the USA cover. Seven Top Ten singles back when Casey Kasem mattered.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Identity Crisis

It's T-minus three days until the e-release of The Ghost Exterminator: A Love Story. I'm psyched, folks. It's my first book-length release from Samhain.

I like writing in a variety of different lengths - novella, novel, and epic novel - and each one is a little different. One thing I enjoy about the longer formats is the ability to delve a little deeper into the characters.

The Ghost Exterminator was fun for me because I got to really get to know my heroine, Jo Banks. She isn't your average romance heroine.

Though is there really an average romance heroine? We all want our characters to be unique and memorable, but at the same time easy for readers relate to.

Jo is definitely unique. She sees ghosts and exterminates them for a living. She dyes her blonde hair black and dresses up like a punkette, but she has the body of a Playmate and the disposition of a snarky cheerleader.

Jo is a mish-mash of styles and she's very defensive of her status as a rebel, but what really makes her real to me, what makes me love her, is the fact that through all her experimental phases, she's just trying to figure out where she fits in the world. She isn't sure who she wants to be - and it just might turn out that rebel-ghost-girl Jo Banks is really a soccer-mom waiting to happen. This story, and her relationship with her polar-opposite Wyatt Haines, give Jo the chance to figure out who she really wants to be. Whoever that is.

What makes your heroine unique? What do you love most & hope readers will love most about her?

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Dating Game of Publishing

Rejection. The Big "R". It's a part of every writer's life. Even Shakespeare got booed a time or two. There are beaucoup articles and blogs out there on the interwebz (like this one) telling you how to cope with rejection, from sources much more credible than lil ole me, so I'm not gonna do that. Instead, I'd like to talk about not just coping, but finding the good in the rejections.

Sometimes the good is in the critique - like five big agents all telling you in unison that your Knights-templar-time-traveling-space-opera-romantic-comedy-cozy-mystery-with-serial-killers-from-Mars idea might be a little difficult to market until you narrow your focus a bit more. When they're all saying the same thing, there's a learning opportunity.

I can, on occasion, be a bit of a Pollyanna. I tend to think things will turn out for the best. So I take each rejection as a "something better to come" notification, rather than a "you suck and should stop writing right this instant to save humanity from your crappiness."

Lately, I've been seeing a trend in rejection letters. This one sentence keeps popping up. "I liked X, Y, and Z, but I just didn't love it as much as I wanted to." I'm pretty sure this is just the kiss-off du jour, but I've been thinking about that phrase and it has me thinking about dating. (Stay with me, this is a good analogy, I promise.)

Let's say you date three guys. Bachelor #1: You meet, sparks fly. Zing, baby. It's all chemistry, all over the place. You're climbing on one another like a hero and heroine in a romance novel. But then, as you get to know one another, you realize you aren't compatible outside the bedroom. You're opera, he's punk rock. And opposites may attract, but what are you going to talk about? Eventually, the passion fizzles and you go your separate ways.

Bachelor #2: After the debacle with Bachelor #1, you let your mom set you up with a "nice boy". He's sweet. He's charming. He's educated. He cooks, he cleans, he wants three kids just like you and he already has your dream vacation in Bora Bora planned as a honeymoon getaway. He's perfect. But where's the zing? When you look at him, you feel nothing. Nada. Zilch. Kissing him is about as appealing as making out with an iguana. You like him. You really like him. Maybe you even love him a little... as a friend. Eventually, you have to pull Bachelor #2 aside and have The Talk. I'm sorry, darling. I love you, but I'm not in love with you. Can we still be friends?

Then comes Bachelor #3: He's the trifecta. Chemistry, companionship, and love. There's zing. There's conversation. And he makes your little heart go pitter pat. You're so glad you didn't cling to your zing with Bachelor #1. You're so glad you didn't settle for the stable friendliness of Bachelor #2. Bachelor #3 may not be perfect. He may leave the toilet seat up or track mud all over the house with his manly boots, but he's The One. You can see your fiftieth anniversary in his eyes. This one is a keeper.

So what does this have to do with rejection? Bachelor #1: An editor may love your voice, love your story, love you to pieces, but if he/she can't fit you into the market somewhere, that love is going to fizzle in a hurry. This is a business and don't you forget it.

Bachelor #2: All the elements are there. You have solid writing, you have a somewhat marketable premise, and it might actually sell a few books, but the zing, the passion, it's missing. The editor may like you, but the editor is also smart. They know Bachelor #3 may be right around the corner.

You know why I love this analogy? Because one woman's Bachelor #1 is another woman's Bachelor #3, and vice versa. We're attracted by different things and willing to compromise on different things. The same is true of editors & agents.

You keep getting rejection letters? Good for you! You're putting yourself out there. You're dating! You can't meet Bachelor #3 if you aren't on the market. I know it sucks to go through all those people who aren't the right fit, but the right one is out there. Keep submitting.

Your happily ever after may be just an email away.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Partied Out

On Monday, I was planning to do a recap of the Emerald City Writers' Conference. Clearly that didn't happen! Apparently you have to recover from a conference before you blog about it.

All week long, I've been in slug mode: lots of laying around, reading my new books (the swag was awesome this year!) There was also all that family stuff that fell by the wayside while finishing up my conference committee obligations. Today's been the week for calling back cousins and actually making dinner for my husband. (That's right. Mr. Marvelous subsisted on Cheerios and did ALL of the housework for two weeks--without complaining! I felt he deserved some super suppers in thanks.)

Happily, I am all rested up now and the husband has been duly fed. So, here is my belated recap!

The best part of conference is always the people: reconnecting with old friends (Shelli Stevens, Anna Richland) and making new ones (Chassily Wakefield). We were lucky to have some excellent agents and editors this year, and I enjoyed conversing with them. I also had my first conversation with the fabulous Cherry Adair, which was an unexpected treat. In addition to being talented and generous, she's also incredibly funny!

I was behind a desk for most of Saturday, but I did get to attend "Warrior Writer" with Bob Mayer... and now that I've sufficiently recovered from conference, I think I need to put some of those workshop ideas into practice. Details later--for now, I've got to get off Blogger and finish reading his book!

In closing, thanks to everyone who made it such a great conference. As a committee chair this year, I really appreciated all the support! As an attendee, I appreciated the fun. And as a shameless fan of kareoke, I appreciate the discretion regarding my rendition of "We've Only Just Begun." More and more, I'm coming to realize that I'm a social being in a solitary field. Going to conference always recharges my writing batteries, and this year was no exception.

Question: what inspires you to write? Alternatively, what is the most inspiring memory you have of a writing conference?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Promo or Procrastination?

It's Anneliese's week to post. For all you Ms. Kelly fans out there, I'm sorry to report that she won't actually be posting--I have bribed her and stolen her promo time! (The deal was that I'd take over her blogging duties while she completed a major editing request from me. Since I didn't give her nearly enough advanced notice for the editing, it seemed like the least I could do!)

This actually brings me to my topic for the day: the clashing hats we wear as writers. Lately I've been really good about wearing that promo hat. But it's been stuck on my head so long, I'm wondering if it's really about procrastination. After all, if I'm promoting myself then I'm doing legitimate "writing work"... all without actually having to write!

As she so often does, Debbie Ridpath captured this dilemma perfectly (click on the picture for a bigger view):
There have been several great articles out there about social networking for writers. I don't mean to knock any of them. And I certainly believe the excellent advice over at 1st Turning Point: in today's marketing climate, writers have to establish their identity before they're even published!

But the same people who've encouraged me to promote myself are also the same people who'd remind me that social networking is no substitute for actually writing. Nobody can buy your book if you're not writing. And nobody will buy your second book if your first book was a phone-in flop. In short, we must balance promotion with output!

I've been doing an okay job, but I feel that I could definitely improve. And so it is that, even as I take over for Anneliese this week, I'll be looking for ways to wear my writing hat more often. Here are some of the experiments I'll be trying this week:

(1) Keep off the internet during my writing time! I will set a timer. While the minutes are ticking down, I can only be working in Microsoft Word.

(2) Provide mental separation between writing and promo. I heard about this trick from a friend who worked at home! He was feeling incredibly unproductive and someone suggested to him that he get up every morning at a set time and then prepare as if he were actually going to an office (shower, pre-make lunch, pack a briefcase, etc). He'd do this, and then he'd leave the house, walk around the block, and come inside. It was no longer his home... it was, for the duration of his work day, the office. I'm going to try something similar in my attempts to draw that line between writing and promo. I'll let you know how it goes!

(3) Limit promo time. I'm going to bust out the timer again. Maybe I'll set goals for my promo (as many people do for their writing). That way, I won't be working over or under my goal... in theory, at least!

My experiment starts today. I'd love your support! Please post an encouraging word or two. Also, I'd love to hear how you manage your writing/promo time.