Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I spit in my grandma's memory

So today is Memorial Day here in the U.S.

It’s a time for remembering military personnel lost in the line of duty, or for some, just remembering friends and family who’ve passed away.

I did this yesterday by spitting.
Yesterday's sacred spit
at Tumalo Falls.

Grandma Lucy – the woman in whose memory I performed this sacred act – would have approved.

Lucy was the queen of peculiar behavior. She met my grandfather at a garage where he worked as a mechanic and informed him that if he could rebuild a disassembled car in a week, she’d marry him.

He did, so she did, and they were married for more than 50 years.

And you thought my wedding was odd. At least I knew the guy.

One of Grandma Lucy’s habits was spitting over the edge of any bridge she crossed. It became something of a family custom, with my father, my brother and I upholding the tradition on bridges and scenic overlooks around the world.

So when Pythagoras and I went for a hike at Tumalo Falls yesterday, it seemed fitting to hock a loogie in honor of my grandmother.

Back in 2006, I wrote a humorous mystery set in the funeral industry. It’s the book that ultimately landed me my wonderful agent, and though it didn’t sell, it’s still one of my favorites. When I started that book, I wondered if I’d still feel like writing humorous scenes about funerals and cremations and death if someone close to me passed away.

Grandma Lucy died the same week I finished that book.

And I can say for certain that she would have wanted me to keep laughing. She had a knack for finding humor in the strangest places, and for making other people laugh – often without trying.

So Grandma Lucy – I spit in your honor.

And don’t think I haven’t noticed what you’re up to today. Everyone says it’s raining, but I know better.

Nice shot.
Grandma Lucy and my dad upholding the family tradition.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Defending pink wine and bodice rippers

The other night, I went to a dinner party with a 2004 Jardiniére Rosé Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

That’s a complicated way of saying I brought a bottle of pink wine. A damn good wine, but pink nonetheless.

There’s a stereotype associated with pink wines, and it’s not a good one. People think of the sickly-sweet rotgut sold in gallon jugs as “white zinfandel” and think pink=cheap. Unless you’re a starving college student, cheap is not a good thing in wine.

I was recently at Firesteed doing research for LET IT BREATHE, and the tasting room associate lamented this as he poured their fabulous 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé.
A most excellent Rosé.
“Wine critics love it, but the public is reluctant,” he explained. “People see pink and turn up their noses.”

It’s not hard for me to draw a parallel between that and the romance genre.

I’ll proudly tell anyone from my grandma to the paperboy that I write romance. Though most are supportive, I’d be delusional if I said I didn’t see the occasional sneer. It’s a look that suggests I’m either a sexual deviant, an inferior writer, or some combination of the two.

My instinct is to stammer something about how I write quirky romantic comedies that are way different from the stereotypical bodice rippers with Fabio on the cover.

And then I get mad at myself, because so damn what if I wrote bodice rippers? Is there something wrong with that?

Statistically speaking, the romance genre generated $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, and remained the largest share of the consumer market at 13.5 percent (thanks RWA for those stats).

And yet, as the creators of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books noted in their hysterical book BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS, “romance is easily the most well-hidden literary habit in America. Millions of dollars are spent on romance novels, yet few will admit to reading them.”

I’m not sure what’s behind that. Is it the desire to be seen as intellectual who would never read escapist tripe? Is it the fear of being branded a sexual deviant along with the author?

Or is it something else?

As the recipient of a degree in English Lit, I am qualified not only to serve Happy Meals, but to point out that romance is part of nearly every great work of literature. The Illiad, Hamlet, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina…frankly, you’d have a shorter list if you just tallied up the books without romance (and then skipped them entirely, because really, who wants to read anything without nookie in it?)

While most modern romance novels probably won’t find their way into the literary canon anytime soon, that doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect and admiration. The romance genre is popular, it’s enjoyable, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – for readers or for writers.

So on that note, I lift my glass of pink wine in a toast to everyone who loves romance. Cheers to all of you – the sexual deviants, the good and bad writers, and anyone who just craves a damn good love story.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The ecstasy of being wrong (thanks, Ms. Crusie!)

You probably think my highest point this past February was the call from my agent saying Sourcebooks was offering us a three-book deal for my romantic comedies.

You’d be mostly right, but that wasn’t the only swoon-worthy news I got that week.

Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie – the queen of romantic comedy, my total freakin’ IDOL – held a contest on her blog a couple days before my book deal came through. Her publisher, St. Martin’s Press, wanted reader quotes to share with booksellers about her upcoming release. They decided to give away 35 uncorrected manuscripts of MAYBE THIS TIME, (a book that hits shelves August 31).

The way it played out in my fantasy is that Jennifer Crusie invited me to lunch, and over a lovely spinach salad, asked if I’d take a peek at her new book. Then we hugged and braided each other’s hair and spent an hour complimenting each other’s writing skills.

OK, that wasn’t how it happened, though skill was involved. I had to type my name really fast in the entry form.

But suffice it to say, I got the book. I was stoked.

And I was nervous.

You see, I adore Jennifer Crusie’s writing with the same childish passion I once had for potato bugs. But I also knew what the book was about. (click here for a blurb)

There are two things I don’t typically like in romance novels – children and paranormal elements.

This book has both. I was terrified I wouldn’t like it.

But I set aside my prejudices and read. And read. And read. And read.

And you know what? I really did adore it. The characters were quirky and fun. The love story left me panting. The ghost story – the paranormal part I was worried about – kept me on the edge of my seat. Even the kids were entertaining.

In the end, I sent my gushing reader quotes to the folks at St. Martin’s and built a tasteful shrine placed the book alongside all the other Crusie titles on my bookshelf.

It was a good reminder to me that it pays to keep an open mind as a reader. Every time I find myself saying, “I don’t like books with THAT in them,” I try to find a book with THAT to see if I’m wrong. Sometimes I’m not, but many times I’m forced to eat my words.

I want to be wrong. I’ve found a lot of great books that way, from Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT to Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, and now Jennifer Crusie’s MAYBE THIS TIME – all books I was pleasantly surprised to discover I loved.

Am I the only one who does this? Is there something you think you don’t like in books, on your dinner plate, or in life in general? Do you ever try to prove yourself wrong? Please share in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re interested, I got the OK from St. Martin’s to post a more thorough review of the book a little closer to the release date. Stay tuned this August for more details.

And be prepared to have your socks knocked off by MAYBE THIS TIME.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In which I maturely do not say "hump" despite mentioning camels

Yesterday, the FedEx man brought my new iPhone.

I’ve never owned such a miraculous device before, and I sat for an hour gazing at it in wonder.

I showed it to Pythagoras when he got home. “See how shiny?”

“It is,” he agreed. “Do you plan to turn it on?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Does that require candlelight and soft music, or will I need to rub it?”

I’m only half kidding, because the fact is, I hate reading directions. Maps, too, are a mystery to me.

This is a key area where I differ from my husband, who would cheerfully consult a map to navigate his way from our kitchen to the bathroom.

When we were in Morocco a few years ago, our guidebook suggested that Marrakesh’s souks – the large, open-air markets – were a great place to get lost.
A souk in Marrakesh

To me, this sounded like an adventure.

To my husband, it sounded like a good reason to buy three maps and stay up half the night plotting our course.

As is usually the case in a solid marriage like ours, we spent the next few days bitching at each other compromising our varied approaches. I got to meander aimlessly, stumbling down hidden corridors discovering new sights and sounds and smells.

Pythagoras got to ensure we found our way back to our hotel instead of accepting the rug vendor’s invitation to share a bed with him and his four wives.

I keep thinking of this as I stumble my way through LET IT BREATHE, the third book in my contract with Sourcebooks. Every time I open the document on my computer, it’s like meandering down those spice-scented corridors in Marrakesh.

I start typing, and suddenly – hey look, there’s a camel!
I get to ride a camel into the Sahara at sunset.

(OK, technically, it’s an alpaca in my story, but it did appear rather unexpectedly in the manuscript one morning).

I know this approach would drive plenty of authors batty. Well-organized plotters like my critique partner, Cynthia Reese, would not take kindly to livestock of any sort showing up in their stories without an invitation.

And you know what? That’s OK. I don’t begrudge my husband’s need for a map or other authors' desire for a little more structure to their writing. We all have different ways of getting where we’re going. My method works great for me, just like a structured approach might work great for you.

And speaking of working, we did get my iPhone to function. We achieved it through calculated teamwork approach that involved me punching a lot of random buttons and Pythagoras frowning at the device and asking, “what the hell did you do to it?”

See? Compromise. It’s a beautiful thing.
Pythagoras figures out my new iPhone with some help from Bindi the Australian Kelpie.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Assume the position: on writing and yoga poses

Yesterday I returned to yoga class after a 10-month absence.

I secretly hoped it would be like riding a bike. Well, not exactly like riding a bike. I didn’t want my butt to hurt.

But I did hope everything would come rushing back – the poses, the breathing, the vocabulary, the flexibility.

After all, I had a steep learning curve when I first started. I fondly remember my initial attempt at “crow pose.”

For those unfamiliar, this is what it looks like when done correctly:
Crow Pose - Bakasana
© Barry Stone
Obviously that’s not me in the photo, because as I mentioned, it’s being done correctly.

The first time I tried it, I balanced precariously with my knees on my elbows, hovered for two seconds, and tipped forward. My head hit the floor with a THUD. Everyone in class turned to stare.

Not very zenlike.

Determined to get it right, I went home and practiced in front of Pythagoras. In addition to a degree in exercise physiology, my husband possesses infinitely more athletic prowess than I do. I demonstrated the pose for him. This time, I held it for three seconds before my head hit the floor.

Pythagoras nodded wisely. “Maybe you should wear a helmet to class.”

I’m nothing if not determined, so I practiced and practiced, enduring several mild concussions and a one-week period where I thought my name was Eduardo.

The day I finally got it, I squealed with joy.

And promptly fell on my head.

So you’ll understand the terror I felt yesterday when, 15 minutes into class, the instructor ordered us to assume the pose.

It was a bit like the times I’ve taken breaks from writing fiction. On several occasions – operating under the misguided belief that I shouldn’t waste time writing something new until I heard back from a prospective agent or editor – I simply stopped writing.

Sure, my day-jobs have typically involved writing in one form or another. But there’s a big difference between crafting a press release and creating characters and plot arcs out of thin air.

After every hiatus, there’s a moment of white-knuckle fear. Will I remember how to do this? Will I have to re-learn everything? Will everyone stare when my head hits the floor with a THUD?

And then, there’s that moment of elation. The instant I realize I haven’t forgotten anything at all.

That’s one valuable lesson I learned along my bumpy road to publication. Even if you take a break, you don’t forget the things you’ve already figured out. The skills you gain, the lessons you learn – you get to keep those.

I’m not suggesting you should take long breaks from writing. On the contrary, I’ve kicked myself each time I’ve done it. But if you do stray from your muse for a little while, rest assured you won’t start over from “see spot run.”

Oh, and you’ll be happy to hear I successfully assumed “crow pose” in class yesterday. I did not, however, manage to get my ankles behind my head.

We’ll save that for next time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Things that sound dirty but aren't

It snowed on Saturday.

Not a lot, but enough to convince us that when the sun broke a few hours later, we’d better hit the hiking trail fast if we wanted to do so without the aid of snowshoes.

You might think being surrounded by fresh air and beautiful scenery would lead to a lot of meaningful pondering about my current manuscript.
This is me pondering meaningfully.
You’d be only partly right.

As is often the case, every phrase Pythagoras and I uttered managed to come out sounding dirty.

Think I’m kidding? Here are a few gems from our Saturday hike:
  • “It’s too narrow to ride abreast” (me complaining about mountain bikers riding side-by-side on the trail).
  • “They’re cavity nesters – that’s why the box is like that” (Pythagoras explaining the nesting habits of wood ducks and the homes built for them by Forest Service crews).
  • “Get your nose out of that hole!” (me scolding the dog for chasing a ground squirrel)
  • “I hope they’re planning to trim the bushes” (Pythagoras remarking on the overgrown foliage along the trail)
  • Pythagoras: I’m worried the lava rock is really hard on her paws. Me: You said "hard-on."
  • “Are you coming?”(me to a dawdling Pythagoras).
On the bright side, there is actually some element of this in my current manuscript, so all is not lost.

How about you? Did anything about your weekend leave you giggling like a middle schooler? Please share in the comments.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get off the internet and start working on the manuscript.

I said "get off."

Friday, May 21, 2010

US vs. THEM: on writer cliques and bra-snapping

I’ve never been one of the cool kids.

Not in middle school where I capped off the eighth grade by throwing up in my underwear, not in high school where I completed my Chemistry exams by writing poems about sodium hydroxide.

I vaguely recall a period in middle school where I cared about scaling the mountain of Guess jeans and hair-sprayed bangs to become one of THEM. The chosen ones. The cool clique.

That got exhausting, and I pretty much stopped caring after that.

The reason I bring this up is that I’ve seen a lot of chatter online about “cliques” in the Twitterverse and the writing community – these published authors who think they’re too sexy for their shirts, and the pre-published authors who secretly want to beat them with a can of Aquanet.

And I’ve gotta say, I don’t get it.

Maybe I’m missing something, and there really are hoards of published authors roaming the halls stuffing the pre-published authors into lockers and snapping their bras.

But more likely, you’ve got a bunch of authors with book deals and deadlines and editors breathing down their necks. Authors who are trying desperately to be accessible to fans and failing. Not failing, exactly, but just not reaching everyone.

I have 15 months to go before my debut novel hits shelves, and I certainly can’t claim to have any fans yet. But I can say that I desperately want to strike up personal relationships with everyone who reads this blog, and it breaks my heart that the best I can do most days is the dialogue in the comments trail and a few random Twitter exchanges.

I’m trying, but I’m failing, and I’m sure I’ll fail harder somewhere down the line.

I do understand the tendency to be star struck by certain authors. I have a special dance-of-joy I perform on the days Jennifer Crusie responds to a comment I’ve made on her blog. (Note to self: consider altering dance-of-joy so neighbor doesn’t think you’re having a seizure).

But on the days Ms. Crusie doesn’t respond, I don’t curse her name and burn her books. And I especially don’t think less of myself as a writer because she didn’t send me a personal note asking if we can get together to have martinis and brush each other’s hair (Note to Jennifer Crusie: I would totally brush your hair).

Our value as writers is not determined by how quickly we get an agent or a book deal, how sizeable our first advance check, or how quickly we climb to the top of the bestseller list.

And though I think it’s crucial to be friendly and accessible to fans and fellow authors, the value of an author can’t be judged by how kindly she treats others or how others view her.

What matters is how you perceive yourself and your writing – apart from all the clutter about cliques and US vs. THEM and thatbitchdidntsmileatmeinthehall.

How you value yourself is the only part you can control.

Whether you’re cool or not is irrelevant. Being cool with yourself – or with your own lack of coolness – that’s the only thing that counts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to tease my hair and rock out to Poison.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Boobies & booties: My wild night with the girls

Last night was a wild and crazy evening with my girlfriends. There was a lot of drinking, some bare breasts, and even some upchucking.

A few years ago, a night out with these same ladies would have been precisely as risqué as I just made it sound.

But that wasn’t the case last night.

You see, one of the women recently had a baby, making her my only close friend to procreate. I know this seems odd, considering I’m 35 and the bulk of my friends are my age and married. But for whatever reason, most of my girlfriends have chosen to remain childless. This is my only friend to buck that trend, and since she moved to another state two years ago, it was my first time meeting the baby.

I was nervous.

Babies scare me a little. They cry and I want to cry, too, not knowing what they need. I’m terrified of that soft spot on top of their heads, and the idea that their little brains could be dented.

My friend – serene with the wisdom of new motherhood – offered sage advice. “Don’t poke her in the head.”

In addition to her new wisdom, my friend has now acquired the upper body strength of a prizefighter. I waited all evening for her to collapse from the sheer exhaustion of carrying a small human around the kitchen, but she never flinched.

Nor did she flinch when the baby suddenly did what babies do as we sat reminiscing about the night we got escorted away by concert security for clambering on-stage to dance with Loverboy.

The storytelling stopped as we watched our friend change a diaper with the efficiency she once reserved for polishing off a margarita and a platter of hot wings.

“You know,” remarked another childless friend, “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone poop that close to me before.”

It’s true, last night was not one of our former wild evenings on the town. But it was no less awe-inspiring.

There are times I feel pretty cool for getting to spend my days creating imaginary people, giving them names and physical features and character traits.

My friend just did that with a real person.

I may be able to drink her under the table now – blame it on the breastfeeding – but I’m pretty sure she now outranks me in cool points. By a long shot.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The curious case of the missing pants

“I can’t find my…”

These four words begin about 40% of the sentences uttered in this household.

I am not the one doing the uttering.

Pythagoras has always been absentminded, but a recent announcement gave me pause.

“I can’t find my pants,” he declared. “My favorite pants.”

“Um, OK,” I said, trying not to be alarmed about where my husband might have left his pants and how he arrived home without them. “When did you have them last?”

He thought about that a minute. “Maybe when we went to Greece. Or maybe a month after that, I’m not sure.”

I frowned at the calendar. “We went to Greece in June. You’ve been hunting for your pants this whole time?”

Apparently so. He turned the closet upside down looking for them. I searched the guest rooms, thinking maybe he’d overlooked them. We called my parents, thinking perhaps he’d left them there on a visit. We searched his workplace, thinking…um, actually, I’m not sure what we were thinking.

But the pants were gone. My overactive imagination ran wild. Had aliens abducted them? Had a badger eaten them? Had I somehow failed to notice a day my husband came home from work wearing only his shirt and shoes? The possibilities were endless.

We spent an entire day at the mall searching for a replacement. None were adequate. “These aren’t like the old pants,” he insisted.

“You do have three or four identical pairs though, right?”

He shook his head sadly. “The other ones were the best shade of gray.”

Fearful the grief might prompt him to go pantsless to brunch the next morning, I grabbed one of the identical pairs from the closet and hopped on the computer to see if I could find an online vendor selling them.

I searched for an hour, finally locating what I thought might be the right color, cut, and style. “Pythagoras,” I yelled. “Come look at these online and tell me if I should place an order.”

He wandered into the bedroom, looked at the picture on the screen, then looked at the pants in my lap.

“Where did you find my pants?”

I stared at him. “These are your missing pants?”

He nodded. “Where were they?”

I closed my eyes, realizing – not for the first time – there are reasons the female praying mantis bites off the male’s head after mating. “They were in Greece,” I told him. “I flew there this morning to get them.”

So my husband has his pants back. And at least for now, I have the assurance he did not leave them in the front seat of an ice cream truck driven by a transvestite stripper.

Because really, that was my next guess.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When life hands you lemons, add them to your vodka

Yesterday sucked donkeys.

There were a variety of reasons, but suffice it to say I found myself staring at the seven remote controls on the coffee table wondering which could fast-forward through my crappy morning.

But I write humor. On this blog, in my manuscript, in my tweets – I’m here to be funny. If I stopped making you laugh, you’d stop reading and I’d have to resort to telling knock-knock jokes to the cat and gauging his reaction by how enthusiastically he licked his butt.

The great thing about writing romantic comedy is that it’s easy for me to brand myself with tweets and blog posts that reflect the same humor I use in my books. I’ve talked to several authors who write more serious novels and find it tough to draw people in. I’m lucky to have cheap laughs as my lure.

So what happens if I’m not feeling funny?

Behold, I give you Tawna’s tips for writers (or anyone else) having a donkey-sucking day:

DO switch up the music you’re listening to
. If you’re on the tenth replay of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away,” it’s possible you’re contributing to your downward spiral. Switch to something you can dance to. Bonus points if you actually dance. Triple bonus points if you do it in your underwear.

DO interact with someone who makes you laugh. Turn to Twitter for a quick pick-me-up, or swap an email with an old pal.

DO interact with someone in-person. This is different than the last one because real face-to-face contact forces you to be animated and engaged. I work from home, so I have to get creative with this. It’s possible my vet wondered why I pleaded for a last-minute appointment yesterday, or why I hugged her when I left.

DO try to accomplish something. Even something small like doing the dishes or organizing a messy drawer will give you a sense of achievement to ensure the day wasn’t a total waste of lipstick.

DO take a walk. Fresh air does great things for your mind.

DO keep your troubles in perspective. Years ago, I worked in marketing for a large medical center. My computer crashed one afternoon, losing two weeks of work. When I griped about it to one of the nurses, he nodded supportively. “It’s been a bad day for me, too,” he agreed. “My patient died.” Suddenly, my woes didn’t seem so terrible.

DON'T wallow. It can be exhausting trying to pull yourself out of your rut, and the urge to lie down in the mud and smear it all over yourself can be overwhelming. Don’t do it. Get up, wipe off the slime, and get moving.

DON'T drink. I know, I know…I love wine as much as the next person. But alcohol is a depressant, and it’s like pouring kerosene on the flames when you’re already feeling down. Better solution? Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt straight from the carton.

How about you? What are your bad day pick-me-ups? Please share in the comments. I’ll be over here making damn sure today is better than yesterday.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My deepest, darkest confession

I’m toiling away over LET IT BREATHE, the third book in my contract with Sourcebooks, Inc.

One element of the story involves secrets.

Given the haphazard way I write, that element could be gone in a few weeks, but it’s there now and it got me thinking.

I have a confession. I don’t want you to think less of me, but I need to get this off my chest.

I’m a thief.

I actually didn’t realize I was a thief until a couple days ago when I went searching for a poetry book I acquired in high school. I hadn’t seen it for years, but there was a poem stuck in my head and I wanted to remember the last line.

(Incidentally, the last line contains a comma I don’t recall noticing before, and that single comma changes the entire meaning of the line as I remembered it. Let that be a lesson to all of us as writers!)

In addition to discovering the comma, I also discovered this:

Yes, apparently I stole the book. Back in 1991 at the start of my senior year in high school. I don’t remember consciously stealing it. I don’t remember diving beneath the anti-theft exit under a hail of gunfire or paying a man in a trench coat to slit the librarian’s throat so I could nab this book.

But here it is, evidence of my thievery. I’m not entirely sure what to do about it.

Since it’s been in my possession now for almost 20 years, the odds are slim the school librarian is still wandering the streets with a sniper rifle and a copy of my yearbook photo.

Still, I feel bad. Should I return it? Should I keep it? Should I go to my local police station and turn myself in?

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the cop would say to me. “You stole what?”

“A book of poetry, officer. Do you think there’s any way I can avoid the death penalty if I take a plea deal?”

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Or if you have confessions of your own, feel free to share. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m not your priest or your lawyer, so if you confess to murder, I might have to call the police.

Either that, or write about it in one of my books.

Friday, May 14, 2010

You're tougher than you think you are

Earlier this week, I was doing what critique partner Cynthia Reese refers to as “butterfly blogging” – flitting from one delightful blog to the other, sucking up delicious droplets of nectar.

Wait, why does that sound sweet when she says it but dirty when I do?

Anyway, I stumbled across a post from an aspiring author who had just received a rejection.

On one hand, I felt like weeping for her.

The other hand wanted to smack her on the ass and say, “you go, girl!” because it was clear she was already starting to pick herself up and stumble back onto the battlefield.

If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know my journey to publication was a bumpy one.

Every time my agent would call with bad news – or before that, when agents were the ones rejecting me – there was this moment where I’d just sit there. And wait.

Was I going to cry? Was I going to scream? Was I going to throw my computer off the balcony and go be a pirate instead of a writer?

And though I might have wanted to do all of those things at one time or another, I never screamed, I rarely cried, and sadly enough, I never got to be a pirate.

I was always fascinated by my own capacity for recovering from those crushing rejections. Each time, I’d think to myself I’m not sure I can take another one.

And every single time, I could.

There are a lot of skills you have to develop as a writer. You fine-tune your plotting and characterization. You get the hang of pacing. You learn to write good query letters.

But there’s nothing that really teaches you how to get back up and keep going when everything in you is screaming enough already!

It’s just something you learn to do – to look down at yourself and see the bullet holes and recognize them for what they are.

They’re not life-threatening. They’re a sign of courage. Of your ability to persevere.

And the fact that you’re probably a lot tougher than you think you are.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stick that thing in me and I guarantee I'll scream

A lot of authors talk about fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, even fear of success.

I don’t get the last one, and to be honest, the first two aren’t a problem, either. Rejection sucks, no doubt, but it proves you’re trying. Ditto that for failure, which gives you the added bonus of never being the jerk at a writers’ conference who gets lynched in the bathroom for describing the book deal that fell effortlessly into his lap.

I can relate to fear though. And I will confess right now that I am utterly, freakishly, terrified of needles.

This is where you say, “but they don't hurt,” and I explain that the phobia isn’t about pain. I once had a cavity drilled without Novocain just to avoid the needle.

Pain is not a problem.

I’ve tried hypnosis, sessions with a shrink, and a staggering array of anti-anxiety meds. I can occasionally handle an injection, but an IV? I just gagged when I typed those letters.

So when my doctor ordered an exploratory surgery that required an IV two years ago, I explained my phobia. More accurately, I described the degree to which I was likely to FREAK THE F**K OUT if they tried to stick me while conscious.

“No problem,” he said reassuringly, and sent me home with a prescription for a drug labeled for management of severe anxiety and sedation of aggressive patients.

That sounded about right.

I was instructed to take one pill an hour before the procedure, and the second if I was still feeling anxious when we left for the hospital. The third?

“At your size, you won’t be upright after the second,” the doctor assured me. “The third is just for emergencies. We’ll decide when you get here, but that dosage could fell a horse.”

The first pill made me slightly dizzy. The second was tough to swallow because I was hyperventilating. I gulped the third in the car on the way there. By the time Pythagoras steered me into the lobby – trying hard to pretend I was a homeless person he’d found on the street – I was a sobbing, shrieking, shaking, slobbering mess.

“What happened to her?” the receptionist asked.

Pythagoras looked at me. “She’s actually doing pretty well.”

They marched me into a little room where the doctor took one look at me and determined there was no way anyone was touching me – much less trying to stick me with a needle.

That’s about when the hallucinogenic properties of the drug started to kick in.

“Look!” I slurred to Pythagoras as I crawled on the floor. “The shapes are moving. Pretty!”

“Please don’t lick the linoleum,” he urged. “Come on – get up. You don’t know who’s peed on that floor.”

“But it’s fluffy.”

“It sure is.”

Things got a little hazy after that. I remember being dragged into a room and taking a half-hearted swing at a nurse before passing out.

When I came to, Pythagoras was there. “Good news,” he said.

“I’m healthy?”

“Oh, they don’t know yet – but if they ever do this again, they’re just going to gas you.”

Alas, that’s not a viable solution for dealing with the daily fears of most authors, but it’s still a great source of comfort to me.

So what are your fears? Do they pertain to writing, or are they ridiculous like mine? Do share in the comments. Just know that if you use those two letters, I'll throw up a little in my mouth.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why I’m allowed to lust for other men

In the last eight years, I’ve had torrid affairs with at least a dozen men.

I’ve gazed into their eyes and clutched their biceps and raked my fingernails down their backs.

My husband is supportive. In fact, he encourages it.

That’s probably because the men aren’t real. They’re the heroes in my novels, and every time I create a new one, it’s like falling in love all over again.

Or lust, if you want to split hairs. Usually, the two go hand in hand.

I’ve had people ask me if I have a favorite hero in any of the books I’ve written, and I always have to think about it. I mean really think about it. I picture them lined up in a row, all different ages and hair colors and body types and then I usually get a little dizzy and have to go lie down for awhile.

But the real answer to the question is that I always love the hero I’m working on at that moment better than any of the others.

Getting to know him is exhilarating and leaves me feeling tingly and breathless. I want to hear everything he’s thinking. I want to learn exactly how it feels to twist my fingers in his hair or sink my teeth into his shoulder. The deeper I go into the book, the more enraptured I become.

In those final pages, I am completely convinced that I’ll never adore another imaginary man this much.

And then I start a new book. And it starts all over again.

The last romantic comedy I wrote was BELIEVE IT OR NOT – the second in my three-book contract – and I remember falling so hard for Drew that I was sure I’d never write another hero who could compare. I loved his dry sense of humor and rumpled hair and cocksure attitude and his hands, ohmygod, his hands.

But then I met Clay. He’s the hero in my new book, LET IT BREATHE. And while he couldn’t be more different from Drew, I’m crazy for this guy. He’s rough around the edges and beautifully flawed, but with a sweetness even he doesn’t realize is there.

And I’ll be honest, he looks so good in a T-shirt that I don’t think I’ll dress him in anything else for the entire book.

Pythagoras came home the other day to find me gazing at my manuscript with a dreamy expression.

“You invented another man to lust after?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Isn’t it great?”

“Totally. Want to go for a bike ride?”

Is it just me? Am I the only one who falls so head-over-heels in lust with men of my own creation? Tell me in the comments.

I have to go lie down now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Friendship without pillow fights in your underwear

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of an in-person meeting with talented writers Debra Schubert and Kristina Martin.

Three months ago, I didn’t know either of them existed.

When my agent urged me to join Twitter earlier this year, I read enough books and articles to recognize Twitter as a necessary networking tool for a debut author.

But what I didn’t know is how quickly I’d form friendships that didn’t involve putting anyone in a headlock and demanding they buy my novel.

There were no headlocks last Friday evening. No pillow fights in our underwear, either (I think we’re saving that for next time). It was just a fun chance to connect with two terrific women – one who flew 2,900 miles to get there – for great food, wine, and laughter.
Debra (@dlschubert), me (@tawnafenske),
and Kristina (@quickmissive)

I’ve swapped 140-character notes with them for only a few months, and we’ve already filled each other’s wine glasses and admired each other’s lipstick. And though it was a blast, it reminded me that meeting in-person isn’t a requirement to forging lasting connections in writing communities.

Michelle Wolfson has been my agent for over two years. She’s propped me up after rejections, squealed with me over our shared successes, and coached me through a phone call with an editor in which I was fairly certain I’d either cry, puke, or accidentally spew dirty jokes.

But I’ve never actually met Michelle. Not in person, anyway.

And it’s been six years since I first connected with critique partner Cynthia Reese when we were both unpublished authors on the Harlequin message boards. We’ve worked together through book deals and failures, through good manuscripts and bad ones, through bleak times where we both said, “Screw it, I’m quitting writing to become a lap dancer.”

(OK – maybe that was just me).

And though we’ve shed real tears for each other through both personal crises and writing ones, we’ve never met in person.

I thought of this the other day when I heard an author lamenting the difficulty of finding someone local to critique with. It reminded me how lucky we all are that we have the ability to connect with other writing professionals using only a few mouse-clicks. Lurking online, you can find critique partners and beta readers, build support systems with other authors, even stalk interact professionally with agents.

I can say with absolute certainty you can forge amazing connections even if you never actually meet any of these people in-person.

OK, there is one advantage to the in-person meetings. Check out what Kristina brought me after reading this post I wrote last week:
A backhoe of my very own, courtesy of Kristina! Just like the real thing. Pretty much.
Yeah. My friends kind of rock. How about you? Have you forged any great online relationships with other professionals in the writing world? Tell me in the comments, my fine friends!

Monday, May 10, 2010

My one-hour Mother's Day cabbage pregnancy

Yesterday, we went for a ride on the tandem bike.

On our way home, Pythagoras spotted a sporting goods store and couldn’t resist the urge to stare at $5000 time-trial bikes.

Since I’d rather cut off my pinkie toes and soak my feet in grapefruit juice, I walked across the street to a small produce stand. Once there, I decided to make German red cabbage for dinner.

I selected a small purple cabbage and a Granny Smith apple and approached the cash register. “Excuse me,” I said to the clerk as I lifted my sweatshirt and turned to reveal the pockets on the back of my cycling jersey. “Do you think these would fit?”

He looked at me, looked at the cabbage, looked at the pockets. “Um, I guess I could try.”

“No, no – I don’t need you to put it in for me. Just wondering if it would fit?”

We weighed the cabbage, considered its dimensions, inspected my pockets, and eventually determined it was too large. “That’s OK,” I said finally. “The apple can go in the pocket, and if I cinch up the bottom of my sweatshirt, I can stick the cabbage in the front.”

I tried it out just to make sure it would work. Then I paid the clerk and walked across the street to find my husband.

When he saw me, he stared.

“How do I look?” I asked.

“Like a pregnant woman with a bobtail.”

“Excellent. Ready?”

So off we went on the tandem bike, earning a few strange looks from bystanders, and one shouted wish for me to have a happy Mother’s Day.

Then Pythagoras spotted another sporting goods store. We parked the bike and headed inside, Pythagoras studying me as he held the door open.

“Maybe you should take the produce out of your clothes,” he suggested.

“Wouldn’t it be weirder to walk around a sporting goods store carrying a cabbage and an apple?”

“I’m honestly not sure which is weirder.”

Once we were inside, Pythagoras became less interested with weirdness and more interested in overpriced bikes. I wandered around honking horns on the tricycles. That amused me for about five minutes. Then I was bored and ready to leave. I walked to the back of the shop where Pythagoras was talking to the clerk.

“We should go now,” I said, rubbing my cabbage belly through my sweatshirt. “It’s starting to kick.”

Pythagoras looked at me. “Want me to kick it back?”

The clerk was clearly horrified until I lifted my shirt and revealed the cabbage.

Then he just looked confused.

“It’s what all the cool cyclists are doing these days,” I informed him. “Cabbage in the front, apple in the back.”

“OK,” the clerk said, suddenly very interested in helping a customer at the other end of the store.

We eventually made it back on our bike and back home, with several fellow cyclists yielding the right-of-way upon seeing my delicate condition.

“I should ride like this all the time,” I told Pythagoras.

“No,” he said. “You really shouldn’t.”

“You’d better be nice or I won’t give you any cabbage.”

“Why does that sound dirty when you say it?”

Friday, May 7, 2010

How my mom nurtured my dirty mind

I'm hanging out at my parents' house in Salem for a couple days to attend some Romance Writers of America functions and drink wine with engage professionally with fellow authors.

(Incidentally, how many non-Oregonians know Salem is our capital? Most assume it's Portland, including whoever decided this city should have no commercial airport or TV networks of its own. It has vineyards, though, so what else do you need?)

With Mother's Day coming up this Sunday and my mom hovering around offering to feed me every five minutes, I've been thinking about some of the ways she fostered my creativity.

My parents never bought me coloring books as a kid. This was partly because my lack of patience and artistic talent meant I viewed coloring books as something to be completed in under two minutes, but there were other reasons.

"I didn't want you to feel like you had to stay in the lines," my mom told me later. "I always gave you blank paper so you could be as creative as you wanted."

This did have its drawbacks, like the time my brother and I got in trouble for drawing dirty pictures (though even our mom admits they were creative ones).

When I was older and had to do an art project on THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, my mom didn't bat an eyelash when I used modeling clay to create anatomically correct figures of Huck and Jim floating naked on a raft. And she was prepared to defend me to anyone who raised an eyebrow. "It's right there in the book," she agreed. "Not a stitch of clothes on."

These days, I rely on both my parents to proof my manuscripts when I need fresh eyes outside my pool of critique partners and beta readers. Considering the risque nature of some of my scenes, this isn't as awkward as you might think.

"There's a typo on page 112 in the third paragraph of the phone sex scene," my mom informed me on a recent read-through of a manuscript. "I think you meant 'thrust' instead of 'trust.'"

So how about you, dear readers? How did your mother foster your creativity as an author? Give her a shout-out in the comments.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to see if mom has a better word for "purple-headed warrior."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

To tell or not to tell? Er, what was the question?

Yesterday, I got my hair trimmed.

I went to the same hairdresser who gave me the purple stripe ten weeks ago to commemorate my three-book deal.

She’s trimmed my hair every ten weeks for the last decade, which means we have one of those relationships that falls somewhere between “friend” and “I’m embarrassed to admit I still don’t remember your husband’s name.”

After the preliminary chit-chat about my hair, we settled in for the usual questioning that occurs between two people who see each other five times a year.

“So where can I buy your books now?” she asked, scissors neatly snipping my split-ends.

“Well, you’ll be able to buy them anywhere,” I replied. “Barnes & Noble, or probably most of the indy bookstores in town, but not until August 2011.”

She frowned at me in the mirror. “But you got a book deal, right?”


“And I can’t get the books until this summer?”

“Er, next summer, actually,” I admitted, keeping one eye on the scissors poised dangerously above my left ear. “August 2011. It’s a pretty slow process.”

As she continued to snip, I explained once more how everything in publishing moves at the speed of a slug on Valium.

The thing is, she knows this. She’s watched me struggle for eight years, so she’s aware that the path between “I wrote a book!” and “I have a book deal!” can be a long and treacherous one.

But I don’t blame her a bit for not remembering the details or for not being an expert on publishing. Hell, sometimes I wish I could forget.

And sometimes, I wish I’d never told her I’m a writer. Not until the day I was able to walk in and announce, “I have a book deal, I must have a purple stripe!”

I know I’ve said we’re ALL real authors – everyone who’s ever attempted to craft a book. And while I believe that with every fiber of my being, deciding whether to tell anyone is another matter.

Do you tell your close friends and family? I think so – you’re going to need their support.

But what about the casual acquaintances you see a few times a year? Your mechanic? Your babysitter? Your hairdresser?

I don’t know about you, but I spend a long time in that chair every ten weeks, and discussing how to get cat puke out of carpet can only carry the conversation so far.

Writing is such an all-consuming process that it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to tell everyone who asks what you’re doing.

But it can feel like a little twist of the knife each time you encounter a well-meaning acquaintance you haven’t seen for months, and you’re forced to rehash your rejections. “Nope, not yet," you’ll say with forced cheer. “I know we had great feedback from that editor last fall, but it just didn’t happen.”

Deciding what to tell and to whom you tell it is a choice each writer must make at some point. As someone who’s been down that road, I can only say that I wish I’d spared myself some awkward cocktail party conversations.

How about you? Who knows you’re a writer? Who doesn’t? Do you exercise caution when details with people who wield sharp objects for a living, or is your hairdresser on a first name basis with your main character?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fueled by lust for big engines & good wine

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I’ve spent the last couple days ogling the construction workers next door diligently researching the construction trade for my current manuscript.

Actually, it’s not the construction workers that enthrall me (OK, it kinda is).

But my real lust is for the heavy equipment.

I love bulldozers and backhoes, trenchers and cement mixers. My life’s ambition through most of my formative years was to drive a garbage truck.

My fascination with the compactor at the landfill led me to write an entire book about a heroine who loses her office job and ends up working at the dump.

(Let’s all pause for a moment and cross our fingers – or any other available body parts – that my wonderful agent has the same good luck selling GETTING DUMPED as she did selling my romantic comedies!)

In last week’s blog chain on writing process, I touched briefly on the fact that story ideas don’t seem to come as easily for me as they do for some authors. While many of my peers seem to have a constant stream of plots and concepts flooding their brain, I operate more like an attention-deficit eight-year-old.

“Big, spiky wheels!” squeals my inner third grader at the sight of a landfill compactor. “Maybe if I write about it, they’ll let me drive one!”

(Sadly, they did not, though I did get to spend a lot of time crawling around inside them).

And though my inner third grader is not legal drinking age, it was my fascination with wine – plus my urge to drink some and get paid for it – that prompted me to propose LET IT BREATHE as the third book in my recent three-book contract with Sourcebooks.

Oh, and for the record, the love interest in that book is a construction foreman. See? I told you the ogling was research.

I’m always curious about where authors get their story ideas. Do yours come easy for you, or is it like pulling teeth? (Hey, there’s a story idea…)

Please share your experiences in the comments trail.

And while we’re sharing, allow me to share the highlight of my week. I wore a tight shirt used my exemplary powers of professional persuasion to convince the guys next door to let me sit on the backhoe. Alas, I didn’t get to drive it. But they did let me make growly engine noises and that beepy sound to suggest I was backing up.

My life is complete.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What the @#$% is that? I reveal it, along with the winner!

So yesterday, I introduced you to a new blog feature called What the @#$% is that?

I also introduced you to this:

I loved reading your guesses about what this mystery object might be. Some of you are pretty darn creative and some of you…well, you might want to consider therapy.

Before I reveal the object’s true identity, I’ll tell you about the first time I ever saw one.

It was the first Valentine’s weekend after Pythagoras and I started dating, and he was working as a ski school director in a town a few hundred miles away.

He came to visit that weekend, and after the preliminary greetings, gave me a funny little smile. “I have a Valentine’s present for you.”

One half of my brain was delighted.

The other half said, crap, I didn’t get him anything.

But neither half of my brain was prepared when he pulled that thing out of his overnight bag.

“Um,” I said, struggling for the words to properly express horror and fake appreciation. “It’s very – uh – big.”

He gave me a few seconds to consider fleeing before offering what he thought was a reasonable explanation.

“It’s an oversized race-base with a competition hinge,” he informed me.

“Of course it is,” I replied, having no idea what that meant, but pretty sure I didn’t want him coming near me with it.

He tried again. “It’s a base for a flex gate used in ski racing and it screws into the snow—“

“The snow?” I felt relief flood my body – some parts more than others.

“And you can’t really have it,” he continued. “I just wanted to see your reaction.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

So there you have it, a charming tale of romance and courtship.

And in case you’re as perplexed as I was about what Pythagoras is talking about, here are a few more photos:

The object, along with the drill bit that's used to make the hole in the snow.

See how it bends?

A gate anchored in the snow with a race-base for a Giant Slalom event.

So all you perverts who thought this was anything other than an object used for winter sporting events…uh, yeah. I’m right there with you.

And now, I must pick a winner.

You were all so funny and creative that I couldn’t possibly choose on my own, and after my elaborate winner selection process for the last blog contest, I knew I needed to do something different.

My friend Larie and I came up with this idea last night over a bottle (or two) of excellent Gewürztraminer, so I’ll admit that when I woke up this morning, I was skeptical about whether it would work. But I was willing to give it a go.

First, I wrote down all the names on pieces of paper:

Then I loaded them into the hose for the Shop-vac and located the “blowing” end. Did you know Shop-vacs had a blowing end?

Next, I attached the hose and flipped the switch. The entries (and a whole lot of dust) went flying out the end of the hose.

I had decided that whoever traveled the furthest distance would be declared the winner. As it turned out, the winner ended up in the fountain in my entryway. The fish who lives there was not amused.

Who could the winner be…?

Congratulations to Carrie Kei Heim Binas (also known as CKHB). You are the winner of New York Times Bestselling Author Laura Kinsale's recent novel, LESSONS IN FRENCH (a new release from my fabulous publisher, Sourcebooks). This was the first Kinsale novel I’d ever read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Carrie, email me your address and I’ll get your copy in the mail ASAP.

Thanks to everyone for joining in. We’ll play again sometime soon!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What the @#$% is that? Tell me and WIN!

If there’s one thing every writer must do, it’s celebrate achievements. Cheer-worthy accomplishments can be anything from selling a novel to remembering to capitalize the first word in each sentence.

Since this blog marked its three-month anniversary over the weekend, I decided to celebrate by introducing a new feature called What the @#$% is that?

It’s a phrase I’ve found myself muttering a lot over the past 12 years, which – coincidentally – is how long I’ve been married to Pythagoras.

If you haven’t picked up on it in previous posts like this and this and this, Pythagoras marches to the beat of a different drummer. That’s a polite way of saying he’s a little wacky.

In a good way.

Being absentminded in addition to wacky, he has the tendency to leave things lying around the house. Unidentifiable things.

So to kick off this new feature, I’d like you to take a look at what I found on the coffee table this weekend:

Intriguing, is it not? And maybe just a little disturbing.

Tell me in the comments trail what you think it is. You can guess for real, or you can make up an amusing story. I’ll reveal tomorrow what the object really is.

In addition, I’ll pick one commenter to receive a brand new copy of New York Times Bestselling Author Laura Kinsale's recent novel, LESSONS IN FRENCH (a new release from my fabulous publisher, Sourcebooks. I recently read and adored it, and so will you!)

So have at it. What the @#$% is that?