Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Years Eve!

Hope you're ready for 2008, 'cause the countdown starts soon! See you all next year... have a happy and safe holiday!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Comes but Once a Year

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd aren't we all glad for that?

As much as I enjoy the holiday season, I'm always relieved when it's over. When all the gift-giving has ended, all my loved ones have gotten at least one thing they desperately wanted, and the hurry-scurry of feeding and entertaining house guests gives way to the normal routine of feeding and entertaining only the people who live here.

Well, let's face it--it's a relief to have the "big one" over with. New Year's hasn't been a major holiday for us in ages. When asked what I was doing when the clock struck midnight, my usual response for the last decade or so has been, "Looking at the inside of my eyelids." I don't expect this year to be much different.

But I am still looking forward to the menudo at my mother-in-law's house on New Year's Day. Aside from the fact that she's a fabulous cook, the best thing about it is that it's at her house. (Would it be childish of me to say "Neener-neener" at this point?)

YOUR TURN: Are you glad or sorry to see the holidays go? What's the best and worst thing about Christmas (or whatever "big" holiday you celebrate)? And what are you looking forward to in 2008? Inquiring minds want to know!

P.S. Just got my best Christmas present. Waiting for me in my inbox this morning was a contract offer from Cobblestone Press for the novella I wrote last month, The Gospel of Love: According to Luke. Yay!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Cheer, brought to you by Amazon and UPS!

Maven Lacey KayeI've included a few Christmas images for your viewing pleasure. My family was very generous this year, purchasing lots of stuff off my Amazon wish list. (You, too, may purchase things off my Amazon wish list. Just go to Amazon, enter my name, and click Buy Now! It will ship directly to my door! Thanks! ;-))

As you can see, I got a preorder of Becoming Jane. (Yes, I intentionally folded her out of the picture. James McAvoy. Yum.) I know, I know, lots of folks were not impressed with this fictional account of Jane Austen's life. I say chill, people! It was fictional. It says so right on the back of the DVD.

I also received one of my most-wanted research books. Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World is a book I'd be devouring right now if I weren't blogging. Which reminds me, maybe I'll go do that. I desperately needed to read this to give my current manuscript that extra little something.

Did you get anything this holiday season you really, really wanted? Did you return something horrid for something you really, really wanted? :-) 'Fess up!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Boxing Day!

Maven Darcy BurkeToday is Boxing Day! Which we don't celebrate here. And why not? There are so many fabulous things to love: charitable activites (this comes from the Middle Ages when feudal lords boxed up supplies and/or food for their tenants), sporting events (a big yacht race starts annually in Australia and it's a huge football day in the UK), biggest shopping day of the year in Canada (and probably the UK also - they even have "Boxing Week"), and my favorite, second Christmas. What's not to like about a second Christmas?

About the only boxing day tradition I plan to engage in today is eating the boxed up leftovers. We had a partcularly tasty ham and gorgonzola au gratin potatoes. Mmmmm. I used to shop the day after Christmas, but not in a long, long time. And I don't think there's a yacht race anywhere local.

Though we observed a lot of British traditions, I don't recall doing anything special for Boxing Day (I sure don't remember a second Christmas - I'd have carried that one forward!). But then, do we need another holiday? Especially one that has apparently turned into another opportunity for gross consumerism?

What are your end of year plans? Family time? Something exciting? Cram some 2007 goals in before the deadline's up on December 31?

On a total side note, I have to share that we enjoyed a semi-white Christmas, which doesn't happen very often in our neck of the woods. The forecast said a chance of light snow in the late afternoon, but we got very steady snow for several hours, beginning before noon. Not quite enough to build a snowman (our neighbors with two acres were able to fashion a couple of little ones), but enough to make snow angels and make my little snow angel, Quinn, happy as a Christmas elf.

Peace to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!!

Maven Carrie RyanThis week I'm going a little "blog-light" as I'm having way too much fun with my family to think about writing :) However, Erica re-posted her wonderful post about goals that bears re-reading. I remember reading that post last year and sitting down and really thinking through my goals of 2007 and I plan on doing the same for 2008. I hope everyone will join me and together, we can keep each other accountable :) Plus, it's pretty cool to look back on all of your goals and realize that you reached a lot of them :)

OK, must run now -- Santa came last night and there's lots of fun to be had this morning :) Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Critique Partners as Crutches

Maven Jacqueline BarbourLast Saturday, I finished the novella I started writing at the end of November. I intended to jot down a few notes so I wouldn't forget the idea, but the story simply started to flow out instead, and I wound up writing 22,000 words in just over twelve days. 22,000 words that I really, really liked.

I was planning to send it out for multiple rounds of critiques: a first round to find the "big" problems, a second to take care of the layering and smoothing, and possibly one more after that, just be "sure." But after getting it back from its first round (thanks, Emma and Ericka!) with almost no red marks on it at all, I decided to just clean those tiny things up and submit the story to Cobblestone to see how it would fly.

Of course, now that I'm waiting for a response, I'm wondering it that was wise. Maybe I should have gotten more feedback before I sent it on. What if something is horribly wrong with it? What if it sucks? What if...

But wait a minute! Do I believe in the story I wrote, or don't I?

The answer is, I do believe in it. Is it perfect? No. But a thousand critiques won't make it perfect. And if there's really something terminally wrong with it, another critique probably won't help!

The truth is, I wrote this story very differently than I've written anything in a long time. I simply let myself go. I didn't send it to anyone scene by scene to "check" that it was okay. I tried not to second-guess myself for a change and simply told the story I wanted to tell, waiting until I got to the end to find out if it worked or not.

Doing that and then being brave enough to submit it to a publisher even though it had only been read by two other living souls made me realize how much I've come to rely on my critique partners' to write my story. And while I'm not for one single, solitary second bad-mouthing my fabulous CPs or the concept of getting critiques, I see now that my critique partners had become something of a crutch to me. Their input and reassurance absolved me of the responsibility to think for myself and trust my own instincts.

In retrospect, I'm sure that one of the reasons Unbridled finally ended up in the rubbish heap is that I had too much feedback on it. Too many cooks spoil the broth; I was trying to please so many different people and their idea of what the story should be that I lost my story altogether. (And here, I have allow Maven Lacey to crow, "I told you so!" She did, at least a year and a half ago, and I stubbornly refused to agree with her. Well, she was right! She's welcome to hit me over the head with the clue gun she tried to give me back then if she'd like.)

This isn't to say I'm giving up on having critique partners altogether. Mais non! I wouldn't dream of it. I just know I need to be more judicious about when I get feedback and from how many people. I'm going to keep smacking myself on the hand until I learn to wait until after I've written "the end" to hit send!

YOUR TURN: How/when do you get feedback from your critique partners? Do you feel you need someone to read the story as you go so you know your plot isn't based on an unbelievable premise, your hero isn't a jerk, and your heroine isn't TSTL? Or are you able to write your story all the way through to the end and then turn it over to your CPs, knowing full well they may tell you that you've just written 90,000+ words of complete garbage that can never be redeemed?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cue End of Year Panic

Maven Lacey KayeWe had a lot of "Writer Life" posts this week, I notice. Here I was going to blog about goals but that seems boring in comparison. Maybe instead I will tangent into the mysterious, often terrifying world of Completing Those Nitpicky Tasks That Comprise 80% of the To Do List and Offer 20% of the Return.

Right? I mean, we don't get bragging rights for taking the trash out. Who but you cares if you finally vacuumed the floor mats in your car?

Man, I hate this nitpicky stuff. Things like moving websites over to hosts that don't suck or charge far too much for horrible, horrible service. (I'm looking at you, Netfirms.) Unexciting stuff like taking back 23 items to 27 different stores trying to return all the crap you promised yourself you'd return if it didn't fit/look good/work out/become necessary over the next three months. Really nail-biting issues like whether you can afford Christmas this year or if everyone should just get rocks, but then you decide rocks are actually pretty expensive when you think about it.

Chores like folding up folding tables and folding chairs. Watering plants that probably won't make it through New Year's. Cutting back cuticles. You know, the $%#^ we have to do to separate ourselves from the chimps.

Is anyone else scurrying to get things done over the holiday break? Or did you just say screw it, I'll get it next year? What's the one last thing you really, really want to do before Father Time pays a visit in, oh, a mere Twelve Days or so?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Oh Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Maven Darcy BurkeI was working in my daughter's first grade classroom last week when her teacher was reading a story. She announced that she'd be reading historical fiction. (Yes, in first grade they have learned to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction, and apparently subgenres. No, I did not explain the sub-genre of historical romance fiction.) Her teacher decided to read from one of her favorite books - Little House on the Prairie. I'm sitting over in the corner cutting out Christmas trees for an art project thinking, "Yay, Little House!" Laura Ingalls Wilder's books were among my favorites, as was the television show.

Which got me thinking. Were those the first historical fiction books I read? Perhaps. What did they have to do with my enduring love for history and historical fiction? Was it my ability to identify with Laura despite growing up in a different century? Was it the details of her historical life? Was I desperate to wear a long, pretty dress and wear my hair in ringlets like Nellie Olsen?

Probably all three. Another historical fiction book I fell in love with was called My Enemy the Queen. I looked it up because I'd love to have a copy. Not only to reread it twenty-some years later but to have that first book that I remember reading that made me love historical romance. Color me surprised that it was written by Victoria Holt! I remember reading Victoria Holt, but never realized this particular book was hers.

My love of British history is due in part to My Enemy the Queen (probably the reason I've had an interest in Elizabeth I--it's a book about Elizabeth and her cousin Lettice Knollys--since a young age and cite her as the person I'd most like to meet), but I would be remiss if I didn't give credit where it was due, namely to my British grandparents whose house was stuffed with all manner of British bric a brac, much of it detailing the 20th century history of the royal family. (Do you have a Queen Elizabeth II coronation commemorative ashtray? Neener neener.)
Are these the reasons I write historical romance? That, and because it's what I primarily love to read. History fascinates me and I can't elicit a specific reason beyond what I've already mentioned. I love, love (and have mad respect for) books that weave fiction and history so closely that you barely know what's real and what's not. I guess I'd love to do that some day.

Why do you write the genre or subgenre you write? Can you pinpoint something that led you down that path? Do you have a dream project or something you're dying to do some day?

Post-script to last week's post: I'm happy to report that my heroine from Beauty and the Bandit is holding up just grand. In fact, I wrote a scene Tuesday in which we're beginning to see the first curve of her arc. Exciting stuff!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What we learn from books gone by

Maven Carrie RyanJust recently I posted my "slush pile" story on Fangs Fur and Fey (you can read it here). As I was thinking back on all that I've written, I realized that which each novel attempt I learned something really important.

My first book was a western set romance -- an idea I'd come up with in high school and wrote when I graduated from college. After typing The End, I ran spell check, printed it out and read it out loud (my poor cat) on a Saturday afternoon. Sure I made some edits, but nothing major. And then I queried about 7-8 agents. While some requested fulls, nothing ever came of it.

What I learned: First, I didn't like the research. I didn't like having to figure out how far a horse could travel, whether they had shoe-laces, when the phrase "wait a second" came into being, etc. It was hard. Second, I learned that authors generally brand themselves meaning that, at least in the beginning, they build a readership by writing similar books. No way was I going to brand myself writing western romances (one big reason other than the dread research was that westerns were not selling!).

How I changed: I decided to write in worlds I knew and to write books like the ones I was reading and loving (the last western I'd read had been back in high school when I'd originally plotted that first book).

Taking all of this into consideration, my next book was a RomCom along the lines of my fave authors Jenny Crusie and Jane Heller. I got pretty much to the end, a lot of it not fleshed out enough, and then sat down to write the query letter. While writing the query letter I realized there was a fatal flaw that started on page one. This flaw dealt with not only the external conflicts, but also the internal and made the RomCom not quite so Com.

What I learned: First, I tend to write dark and had to really pull myself back whenever I felt myself veering away from light and fun. Second, know your conflicts and make sure they're solid and believable.

How I changed: I chalked that book up to experience and went to law school (taking four years off from writing).

Book number three was the oft mentioned YA chick-lit, Dead Bodies and Debutantes (I was reading a ton of chick-lits and less RomCom, hence the shift in focus). I wrote it out of order, thought I had the whole plot in my head, and accidentally queried too early (in my own defense, it was a pitch workshop with a fantastic agent and no one realized she'd be requesting pages). As soon as she requested pages from me, I polished up the first three chapters and sent them to be critiqued. CP said to cut, action started too late. So I cut Chapter 1 and then Chapter 2 and polished again.

But I also didn't want to send the partial out without the rest of the book written "Just in case" the agent asked for the full. So I tried to finish the book but spent a lot of time writing scenes out of order, trying to put them in order and failing, and whining. So I sent out the partial, sure I could finish the book in a week if necessary. It wasn't necessary -- DB&D was rejected.

What I learned: Finish the &%*# book!!! And once you finish it, don't just run spell check and read it out loud like I did with my first book -- really edit the sucker. Get in there and rip at it and make sure the motivations and conflict work and are consistent and ramp up the tension.

How I changed: I swore I would not, under any circumstances, query on my next book until it was done and thoroughly polished. No matter how close I felt I was from the end, no matter how little I thought I had left to edit, no matter whether a CP jumped the gun and pitched the idea to her agent.

I've read time and again that with every book you write, you grow and learn. I'm a big believer in that. Not only do you learn the types of lessons I talked about above, but you also learn the nuances of pacing, of dialogue, of story-telling and translating ideas from your head to paper. These are just examples of what I learned from some of my larger projects, but I learned from other "failed" writing as well.

From my attempt at a YA vampire book I learned not to chase trends, especially when you're heart's not in it. From my attempt at a Caribbean RomCom I learned that sometimes a great idea just doesn't translate and you have to set it aside. From my "descendants of Gods and Goddesses" book attempt I learned that even the idea you think is totally creative and hasn't been done, might have actually been done.

What have you learned from past writing projects?

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Two Hardest Words

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd no, I don't mean "I'm sorry."

I just got back from our elementary school's "Winter Program" performance. Our oldest son is in the fifth grade, and they were the last group to perform. As they were singing Let There Be Peace on Earth, it suddenly hit me that this is the last time I'll ever see this particular child on this particular stage. And I admit it, I got the teeniest bit weepy. Because I see the end of a phase in his life--in our lives--approaching.

I've been thinking a lot about endings in the past couple of days because I am almost finished with the novella I started a couple of weeks ago. In fact, with any luck, I should be writing the words "The End" on it today.

Yesterday, when I realized how close I was to the end, I realized that this will be the first manuscript I've completed since January (when I wrote another, slightly shorter novella in about two weeks). And although I do have a vague recollection of having finished a (terrible) novel when I was in junior high or maybe high school, the only other manuscript I've ever written through to "The End" is now gracing the Magical Mulch Pile.

What is it about endings? I seem to have an awfully hard time with them. It's not that I don't want to write "The End." But for some reason, it's something I find hard to do. Partly, perhaps, it's that I have so many stories I want to tell, I have a hard time sticking with one all the way through, but I don't think that's the only issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that the main reason is that I know when I finish the story, it's done. Over. Told.

Now, I know there is no first draft on earth that's really done. But still, there's something about seeing the characters through to their happily ever after that means saying good-bye to them. Their arcs are completed, their GMCs resolved, the plots wrapped up in neat little packages. All that's left to do (hopefully) is some tweaking around the edges and then send them out into the big, bad world (which, as we know, is a very subjective place fraught with peril).

So, just as it's hard for me to watch my oldest son growing out of one phase of his life into another (which is bound to be fraught with peril--we are talking about middle school here!), it's hard for me to allow my stories to grow up.

The good news is, I plan to write "The End" today, anyway, no matter how hard it is!

YOUR TURN: Do you find it hard to let your stories and your characters go? Or are "The End" the easiest two words for you?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Absent Middle

Maven Lacey KayeYesterday, Maven Darcy's post on character arcs got me thinking about my own love/hate relationship with C/A.

OK, as I write that I see the fallacy in my description. It's not that I hate C/As. I LOVE C/As. With the fire of a thousand Maven Darcy suns. What I hate -- hate, hate, hate -- is when the character changes through a process I can't see. So, for example, take the secondary character you love in Book Wonderful. You can't *wait* to read about him in the next book in the series, Book WonderfullER. But when you open BWII, the character you loved as a secondary character has (often) taken a tumble into a black pit of despair. The happy sidekick with the sexy grin (but not sexier than the hero's!) was beaten in a duel/spent the last year and a half of his life in an enemy prison camp/married and then lost some other wife you never saw/suddenly has pressing concerns never hinted at in the first book.

This seems to happen ALL THE TIME. Drives me crazy! I would guess that the author didn't have the character's full story in mind when she wrote book 1. He was a place holder, the friend or mentor the hero in book 1 needed. When she goes to write book 2, suddenly the character has no history, no depth to support a good GMC/conflict with the heroine. So she makes a Tragic Event occur in his past, and whammo, instant tortured hero.

KEEP THE CHARACTER THE SAME BETWEEN BOOKS!!! My thinking: if you want to make someone entirely new up, then make someone new up! Then I won't be disappointed the sidekick I loved isn't back to be the hero.

A variant on this is the hero who suddenly transforms by the end of the book for no reason. Most often, this is a function of the first time he sees the heroine at home and hearth. Suddenly, he recants his rakehell ways and determines to become a simple landowner. After all, she looked so hawt in her walking dress, sun-kissed cheeks and wind-blown hair! Nay, he shall never be a Society Sir again! It's corn and sheep from here on out!

Noooooooooooooo!!! Why do people have to change for True Love to exist? That's... well, it's a purely romantic thought. Obviously, I don't want my rakehell tossing up the skirts of anything in heels. But at the same time, why does his *character* have to change?

I believe working within the confines of the established character builds more conflict, not less. Take, for example, my rake-cum-landowner hero. It's ok for him to decide he wants to live in the country if there's a REASON. A good reason. Usually shown through some sort of conflict or problem he and the heroine work out together. Not because he had a houseparty, she showed up with her chaperone, and they got it on in the gazebo. Maybe because the rake secretly has a passion for roses, and the heroine can't stand large crowds. But just tossing off their old characterizations to embrace the family values of a quiet, private life wherein they shall boink like bunnies and make many generations of happy little dukes...I'd rather have them not change at all than make a mysterious leap in logic.

What about you? Do Epilogues often make you cringe? Have you ever hated a subcharacter you loved in one book the minute you found out he'd been beaten/imprisoned/impoverished/widowed just before his own story starts? What do you think is appropriate character growth? Do you prefer steep arcs or more gradual ones?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Maven Darcy BurkeI did two things Tuesday. Well, more than two things, but two things that led me to this post. First, I worked on incorporating Maven crits into the first 60 pages of Beauty and the Bandit. I did this now because I didn't want the scene crits to pile up too high (lesson learned from Glorious!) and because I wanted to read those first 60 pages and see how my story, and particulary my hero and heroine, are holding together. The other thing I did was watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. What do these two things have in common with arc? Wait for it.

My heroine in BATB is rather self-centered. Her arc will take her from a narcissistic Society snob to a caring woman who will, oh heck, if I tell you, it'll ruin it. Suffice it to say she changes a whole lot. At least I hope she will. It's mapped out on the storyboard that way, and time will tell. It's a bit of a daunting arc if I think about it, so for now, I'm just writing away and trying not to think too much outside of the confines of the scene I'm writing. Now as I'm reading through several scenes together, I can see if her arc is matching the storyboard. And no, I didn't get through the 60 pages yet. I had a preschool board meeting tonight and, oh yeah, I had to watch Harry Potter.

Yes, had to. I'm a complete Harry Potter-phile. Love the books, love the movies. Even admitted Daniel Radcliffe has some pretty decent biceps in this latest movie (say otherwise, I dare you!). I'm taking the Maven Lacey route today, so bear with me, I'll get there. I'm watching this movie and completely appreciating J.K. Rowling's mastery of character arc. How on earth does she manage Harry's arc over seven books? Seven books! There are no spoilers here, so don't worry if you haven't read all of the books. All I'm going to say is that when you look at his arc and the overall theme of the books, you will be awed. (Again, I dare you to say otherwise!)

Managing your character's arc is tricky business. To do a really good job, you've got to know your character better than they know themselves. And since you created them that should be easy, right? There are lots of tools you can use - character interviews, information sheets, a storyboard. One thing I'm trying in conjunction with the storyboard is tracking character emotion/state of mind in scenes, whether it's their POV or not. In BATB, I'm finding that the hero's and heroine's voices in BATB are very strong, which is helping to keep their arc on track. At least I think it is. I'll let you know for sure.

What tools do you use to track character arc? How do your character arcs play into your theme? Do you gut-check your arcs as you're writing the story on the first pass?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One opinion in a highly subjective business

Maven Carrie RyanAs y'all know, I was out of town last week on vacation (it was unbelizable!! -- seriously, did you expect me not to use such a fab pun?) When I got back I had two fun bits of mail waiting for me. The first was a form rejection from a literary agency I'd queried 5 months ago. The last line echoes what so many form rejections say -- this is a subjective business, another agent may feel differently, and keep trying.

And they're totally right because you know what the second letter was? My first advance check from my agent. Ironically, a similar thing happened when I sold my book. I floated home from work with stars in my eyes and Publishers Marketplace announcements swirling in my head to find a form rejection letter waiting for me.

I have to say, these were the two best rejections ever. Because they were both a flat out (yet polite) "No!" from very respected agents (who I really thought would love my project). And yet, clearly their opinions differed from other agents and other editors because, well, my book sold :)

When I first started querying, I used to read that line "this is a subjective business" on so many form rejections and think "sure it is, but that doesn't mean you're not supposed to love my work!" And yet, I can't think of a single writer who didn't get a form rejection on a project that went on to sell (yes, I know they're out there, but my mind is tired tonight).

The authors at Fangs, Fur & Fey have been posting about their paths to publications (mostly from the slush pile) and it's fascinating reading. So many form rejections, so much dedication and perseverance.

I know how easy it is to get a form letter and think "the agent hated it, I stink, I'll never make it." But I'm here to tell you that one agent's form rejection is another agent's sale. At least, that was the case with me :) It really is a subjective business.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sometimes, You Have to Admit You're Beaten to Defeat Defeatism

Maven Jacqueline BarbourHow's that for a crazy, convoluted title for a post? I promise that I'll make it make sense before I'm done, though.

You see, since last summer, I've been battling with the dilemma of how to fix my first manuscript, Unbridled. I'd written the first draft through all the way to the end, but I knew there were places that needed a lot of work. The Black Moment and its resolution weren't quite right. There were scenes that needed to be cut or reimagined to improve the flow of the story. And then, there was the problem of "the beginning."

The irony of the last problem is that several different versions of the first 20-25 pages of that manuscript had finaled in various chapter contests. So what was the problem? Well, it kept finishing third, for starters! But the bottom line was that it just didn't snap and pop the way I knew it needed to in order to get the attention of an agent or editor.

I reworked the opening (more times that I want to admit). Over the summer, I came up with a new version that I liked quite well. The first 35 pages were absolutely rock-solid. Funny opening line, good internal conflict for both characters, good setup for the romance. And then? Then, I got stuck.

Badly stuck.

I couldn't figure out what came next. I brainstormed. I wrote a synopsis that, on paper, made sense. But when I tried to write the scenes demanded by the synopsis, they felt forced. The sexual tension was non-existent, and the sub-plots were taking over like kudzu.

To make an already long story short, I reached the point where I realized the time had come. I'd been fighting to salvage a manuscript that simply wasn't salvageable. Writing it--or, more often, sitting there staring at the computer screen and not writing it--was making me depressed and even more neurotic than usual about my abilities. (See, none of the Mavens has a corner on the neurosis market!) I was starting to feel like a no-talent loser/hack because of this one book, and it was threatening to keep me from writing anything at all.

And so, with some reluctance, I consigned Unbridled to the Magical Mulch Pile (that's an Erica coinage, BTW, in case you didn't know) once and for all. Almost instantly, I found I was able to write again. A lot. And while what I wrote wasn't even close to perfect, it didn't feel like utter dreck, either. I'd gotten back to telling the stories I wanted to tell, and that made all the difference.

The lesson? Some stories just don't pan out. Some manuscripts just can't (or shouldn't) be fixed. And sometimes, it's better to admit when you're beaten and move on than to keep revisiting a failure. Besides, we learn from failure. I know I will never consider having written Unbridled to have been a waste of time. I'm a much different--and I like to think, much better--writer as a direct result of every mistake I made writing that book.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever put a manuscript in the Magical Mulch Pile? Why? How did you know it was the right decision?

P.S. In a final twist of irony, I heard on Wednesday that Unbridled finaled in Launching a STAR. But I am resolved. Even if it were to hit the jackpot by winning and getting a request from one of the final judges, I won't be tempted to pick it up again.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Power of Perception

Maven Darcy BurkeHappy Thursday Mavenland. I'm veering into unchartered territory here. I spent all day Tuesday in a legal proceeding (my husband is an attorney) and found myself thinking about truth.

What is the truth? I looked it up in my ginormous Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary. I won't bore you with all of the definitions. But number 6 is interesting: an obvious or accepted fact, as is number 9: agreement with a standard or original. Now, what is obvious? Obvious to me or obvious to you? Obvious in the way that Speedos are completely unflattering? (Wha? That's not obvious to you?) And, what is "accepted?" Accepted by all or by a majority? Accepted by a five-year old or accepted by a Harvard professor? It is generally accepted that necessity is the mother of invention. Do you suppose whoever invented ice cream had some urgent need for something sweet and cold and creamy? Hmm, I think I digress…

We talked several weeks ago about the senses. We use our senses to perceive the world around us. Our world is our truth. And not all of us will deduce the same truth based on those senses. Maybe you have a pair of socks you swear are black (and they probably were once - don't you hate when they go navy on you?), but someone else says they are blue. Or you say the wine tastes like licorice and cherry and someone else says currant and tobacco. To you, your color or your taste is the absolute truth.

Are there some things that are indisputable facts? (Another of the definitions.) Absolutely, but even they are debatable by some (ask anyone willing to engage in a discussion of evolution - I'm so not doing that here). My point is, everyone has truths for better or for worse, for right or for wrong. We can't help the filter by which we perceive everything around us. In fact, it is what makes us.

Now what does my rantgent (that's a rant-tangent and yes, a new Mavenism) have to do with writing? We talked last week about point of view and perception plays into that big time of course. Perception is also why one person loves a book and another hates it - perhaps even for the same reasons.

So, how do we reconcile the truth with so many perceptions out there? That's my question to you. Oh, and while you're at it, give us the truth about Speedos.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

No Rights Make a Wrong

Maven Lacey Kaye

No, the Mavens aren't trying to mess with your head by mixing up the days we post. It's actually Wednesday...perhaps either to your disappointment or joy (if you had a sudden panic attack wondering where Hump Day went).

I think the first week of December must be the last week people think they can schedule stuff and still have you "be" in 2007. Is it busy this week or what?! Maybe it's just me. Hm...let's see if I can tie this into my post somehow...

(It just wouldn't be Maven Lacey's day if we didn't wander around looking for the point, I'm thinking.)

Anyway, in the spirit of this week's pseudo-topic, I want to talk about mental roadblocks. Some uber-devoted followees might know I recently was offered a leadership position at work.

No, I'm not going to blog about work!

/Lacey ducks from Maven Erica's bat

Ok, I'm sort of going to blog about work. Like Erica says, I only know me best. My point here is that some really, really uber-devoted followees might recognize the position I was offered as the same position I meant to take when I launched last year's Lacey Plans to Take Over the World plan on my blog. (There's no link because that one really *was* about work and I decided to take it down.) But let's pretend you saw my 10-step plan for World Domination.

(This was before I hooked up with my "friends" who had the same goal... What's that about keeping your enemies closer?)

So I had this plan for how I was going to finagle my way into this lead position. It was a great plan. Completely foolproof. I started out pretty gung-ho about it. w00t, have coffee. w00t, get one step closer to World Domination. But after a couple of months -- right about when I started seeing some real progress -- I got out the excuse brakes and started applying them. Hard. Appeals for me to complete certain things went procrastinated. I started to hide from high-visibility projects. I put off a super-major milestone on my list -- for NINE MONTHS -- because... because... because... Uh.


Why'd I do that?

Oh, right. Because I was afraid to succeed.

I knew I was afraid to succeed. My master plan was moving me along with a little more momentum than I'd expected, partly because it was even better than I'd predicted (muah ha ha ha) and partly because other people removed roadblocks for me. I knew that as soon as I got to my first deliverable, I'd be swamped with responsibility i.e. work. And wait a minute...I have other goals besides World Domination. Like, uh, writing. Becoming an author. Selling lots of books. Touching people's lives.

Okay, so now you're thinking that I put on the brakes at my day job and threw myself into my writing so I could catch up to where I wanted to be if I wanted to balance out my progress. And you would be wrong. Because think about it: If I suddenly sold, what would happen? Contracts. Revisions. Copy edits. Galleys. Promotion. Marketing. Promotion. Writing more books -- ones even better than the first, but in way less time. Promotion.

As I watched the writers around me drop like flies (flies with Good Deals), I started to panic some more. What if I sold? What would I do if one day I woke up and I had so much responsibility i.e. work I didn't know where to start?

I said this to someone the other day and it made her laugh (I think; darn you, Yahoo!), but whenever I start to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of new responsibility I look back at some of the things I never thought I could do, didn't know where to start, wasn't sure how it'd end, but did anyway. Like thermodynamics. WHAT was I going to do with that class? Was it *really* necessary for me to take that course? Was it *really* worth 80 hours of my life? Was it really completely out of my scope of normal understanding, and have I *ever* used it...ever?

Truthfully, no. But if you count all the times I've ever held it up as an example of something I could acclimate myself to and be successful at despite all odds, then yes.

What is your thermo class? What do you measure your threshold against when you get to feeling a little overwhelmed with what COULD go right? Have you ever put the success brakes on to sit back and focus on...nothing? Do you ever remind yourself that we only live once?
(er, depending on various beliefs, I suppose :-))

Monday, December 3, 2007

Breaking Our Own Myths

Maven Carrie RyanA while back, I wrote about the myths we create about how we write. I just can't remember where to link to it :) Those of you who have read my blog before will get used to the fact that I'm sometimes repetitious either because the same thoughts are on my mind and I feel like expelling them or just because I can't remember that I've already blogged about this topic. Either way, this is what's on my mind so I'm going to blog about it again :)

What I mean by myths are things like "I can't write without X," and X being ANYTHING. Like plotting, purple post-its, music, quiet, hot tea, a computer, etc etc etc. Go ahead, think about it and fill in the following blank: I can't write without _____________.

For me it would be "I can't write without *the* first line." I don't mean any first line, I don't mean a first line that's okay, I mean *the* first line. It's like a shot at the beginning of a race: the first line enters my head and I'm outta here. Here are some of my former first lines:

From Pledged to a Stranger, my first completed romance novel:
"I won't do it, mother."

From Game, Set, Match (hate that title), my second completed-ish romance novel:
"It all began when Katie dropped William Peterson's liver on the white-tiled floor. 'Oh, damn,' she said against her surgeon's mask as she glared at her male assistant, Rodney, who was making no effort to quell his laughter."

From Dead Bodies and Debutantes, my incomplete chick lit YA:
"Truth be told, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be."

From The Forest of Hands and Teeth, "My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing towards you and then away."

What's funny is that the only one of those books I didn't ever finish (mostly) is Dead Bodies, and that's the only book where I changed the first line (I lopped off a few chapters). Coincidence? I can remember when each of those first lines entered my head. I remember the rush, the "this is it!" feeling I had, and how the words just tumbled out after this first line.

There's a part of me that loves this little foible of mine. But there's another part of me that thinks it's stupid, useless, unhelpful, and a myth that should be broken. Here I am, wrapping up edits for The Forest of Hands and Teeth and about to start on Untitled Book 2. I have the world, I have the characters, I have some idea of the thrust. But I don't have the first line. And I'm letting that stop me from writing.

And really, do we writers need another thing to keep up from writing? I think it is *so* easy to convince ourselves that there are certain things we need when we write. That we can only write in cafes or at night, etc. I think some of these things are grounded in reality (maybe you need to go to a cafe to get away from the kids, maybe you need silence because otherwise you can't hear the characters in your head). But sometimes we allow these things to become excuses. It becomes too easy to say "I need at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time if I'm going to write and since I only have 20, I won't spend that time writing," or "I have to warm up with my book's music playlist to get in the mood and since I don't have the songs on this computer, I can't write."

I know that I HATE writing by hand because I can't keep up with the words in my head. But then I remember when I was writing Game, Set, Match and how at night, when I was falling asleep I'd have these epiphanies and I'd scribble them down on pieces of paper. Maybe hand writing is not my preferred method, but I can still do it.

So I challenge all of us to break our myths, if only to prove that we can. To try writing that first scene even if the perfect first line hasn't arrived. To hand write or write with music or in a cafe or without that perfect name for our characters. I'm not saying we have to change forever, but just step outside our own comfort zone once in a while. Because as soon as we allow those myths to take charge, we start losing control of our own freedom to write. And eventually one of us is going to end up like a pro football player wearing the same unwashed mis-matched socks every time she writes because they bring her luck.

We make our own luck! So this week I'm on vacation in Belize and promise to write some on Untitled Book 2 even though I don't have the first line. And just in case that first line magically appears, then I'll write by hand a bit just so that I remember how! Happy writing everyone!

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens