Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why I love the quickie: my new affair with #1k1hr

Author Patrick Alan recently introduced me to the quickie.

No, no – there’s no need to warn Pythagoras or tattle to Patrick’s wife.

I’m talking about a writing quickie, otherwise known as 1k1hr. You can read about it here on Patrick’s blog, or if you’re on Twitter, you can skim tweets under the hashtag #1k1hr.

Here’s the basic idea as Patrick spells it out:

The object is simple. Sit down and write until you have one thousand words and one hour has passed. You have to accomplish both. The challenge isn’t to write 1,000 words in an hour. It’s to write for at least an hour and at least 1,000 words.

I learned of it a few weeks ago on Twitter when Patrick tweeted that he was about to start and invited others to join. Several of us did, and the result was a fast flurry of words, tweets of encouragement, and probably a few glasses of wine.

I’ve tried it at least half-a-dozen more times since then, often with different writers who play along and help motivate each other. I can spend most of an afternoon slowly plodding along in my manuscript, but my 1k1hr time is when I really feel my engine rev.

Here’s what I love about it:

Like any quickie, it’s fast & furious and still rewarding. You get the satisfaction of seeing your word count climb without committing a huge block of time to the endeavor.

It forces you to switch off the internal editor. Instead of nitpicking your word choices and tweaking sentences as you go, it allows you to throw words on the page without obsessing. Yes, you’ll probably have some cleanup work to do later, but you’ll also have more words than when you started.

It provides the motivation of a challenge.
You can do it by yourself (snicker) and make it a personal challenge, or you can do it with other authors (double snicker) and push each other. It’s important to remember you aren’t racing each other or even the clock. The goal is to get words on the page, and to use a specific time frame and word count goal to stay focused.

It works for writers at all levels. It doesn’t matter if you’re a multi-published author or someone working on your first manuscript. It doesn’t matter if you’re a slower writer or a speedier one. You can pat yourself on the back whether it takes you two hours to hit 1,000 words or if you do double that in the one-hour time frame.

Want to play? You can watch for a #1k1hr challenge on Twitter, or issue your own. If you’re not on Twitter, you can still set a stopwatch by yourself or prearrange a time to write with several others.

Any questions? Want to play? Are you already doing some variation of this on your own? I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

And feel free to join me sometime for a quickie.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why I'm proud to sleep around

Yesterday, I updated my résumé.

(Sorry if I ruined your fantasy of authors becoming magically wealthy upon inking a book deal – alas, ‘tis not the case, but that’s an entirely different blog topic. Go here for an interesting article by Sabrina Jeffries on the subject).

But instead of talking about money, I’m talking about skills I take pride in, yet never put on my résumé. Sleeping around is one of them.

I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, in a matter of seconds. I don’t need darkness or silence. I don’t need a bed. I don’t even need to be reclined.

Pythagoras has long envied me in this, as he struggles with regular bouts of insomnia. He once had a narcoleptic girlfriend (a medical condition that causes people to fall asleep at random, and a word I always confuse with necrophilia, which is an erotic attraction to corpses – not quite the same thing).

I don’t suffer from narcolepsy or necrophilia, but I am capable of falling asleep in some of the most challenging situations. When I was younger, friends liked to drag me to parties. I’m not a very social person, so I was usually tired and bored within an hour. Since my friends were just getting warmed up at this point, my best solution was to find a nice place to curl up and sleep until they came to retrieve me.

They once found me fast asleep in front of a speaker blasting heavy metal music. Another time I conked out sitting upright on a sofa in the middle of a conversation with eight other people.

(Surprisingly, alcohol played no factor here – I rarely drank in my 20s).

There are a few drawbacks to my skill at sleeping around. I have a habit of nodding off in meetings, and often resort to removing an earring and stabbing the back of my hand repeatedly to stay awake. If you’re ever in a meeting with me, you can judge how dull I find it by how many holes are in my hands when it’s over.

Even so, I’m proud of the fact that I never have to count sheep or drink warm milk or stand on my head and yodel in hopes of putting myself in a more relaxed state.

Do you have any unique talents that don’t get included on your résumé but still make you swell with pride? Do share, I’m always looking to expand my skill-set.

Sometimes, a girl's gotta do more than sleep around.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Found: one nasty pair of underwear
(plus a few good stories)

Yesterday afternoon, Pythagoras and I ventured out for an eight-mile hike on one of the trails snaking through the Deschutes National Forest.

The weather was lovely, the dog was wagging her tail, and I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t have a tail of my own to wag.

We had only gone half a mile when I spotted something tangled in the twigs beside the trail. I stopped in my tracks and stared at it. This is what I saw:

“Hey, Pythagoras,” I called. “Need some new underwear?”

He glanced at the tattered tighty-whities on the side of the trail and kept on hiking. “Thanks, I’m good.”

We continued hiking in silence for a few minutes. Pythagoras was the first to speak. “You’re still thinking about the underwear, aren’t you?”

“Of course. How do you think they got there?”

He shrugged. “Some dude was out mountain biking, had to take a dump, didn’t have anything to wipe with, so he took his underwear and—”

“Gross, never mind.”

“Well where do you think they came from?”

I thought about that for a second. “I think a couple was out hiking and she couldn’t stop staring at his back and at the muscles in his shoulders and thinking how she’d like to dig her nails into them, and he turned around and noticed how beautiful she looked with the sunlight in her hair, so they stumbled off into the bushes tearing each other's clothes off as they went, and in the throes of passion, didn’t notice the bear that ran up and grabbed his underwear.”

Pythagoras nodded and kept hiking. “That seems likely,” he agreed. “And this is why you’re the writer.”

I thought about that as we continued on down the trail. His mind had gone right to the practical – and I’ll admit it, most likely – scenario.

He’s a guy, and a fitness freak at that. If he says men in the wilderness will resort to such measures when faced with a lack of toilet paper, I’m inclined to believe him.

And while my overactive writer’s imagination is certainly part of what prompted my theory, I think you could more accurately say it’s a product of the type of stories I write – namely, romance.

Would a thriller writer have concocted a scenario involving a terrorist plot and an underwear bomb? Would a paranormal author have envisioned something that featured disintegrating werewolves with bad taste in underwear?

I’m curious about this. What was your first thought when you saw that picture? Tell me your theory, and then tell me what genre (if any) you write.

Oh, and if those are your underwear, go get those nasty things. And maybe wash them before you put them back on. I think my dog peed on them.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The special way I used my pen(is)

So who wants to take a guess what I did with this yesterday?

OK, stop guessing now. And stop staring at it. Really, knock it off.

Here is what I did with my very special penis pen.

That's right, I signed my three-book contract with Sourcebooks, Inc. Four copies of it, 15 pages each, packed full of sentences like:

The benefit of the Author’s warranties and indemnities shall extend to any person, firm or corporation against whom any such claim, demand or suit is asserted or instituted by reason of the publication, sale or distribution of the Works as if such representations and warranties were originally made to such third parties.

Incidentally, I'm going to find a way to use that line in the next love scene I write.

In all seriousness, you probably assumed I signed that thing ages ago, right? After all, it's been almost exactly four months since I announced the sale.

But that's not how publishing works. This is one of many reasons people tell you over and over "don't quit your day job."

And that's certainly not to say anyone screwed up or dragged his or her feet. On the contrary, my amazing agent, Michelle Wolfson, and equally amazing editor, Deb Werksman, have both done an incredible job hammering out the details and thinking of things I would never in a million years dream up. Like who pays for it if a pterodactyl eats all the copies of my debut novel before it can be shipped to bookstores? I'm pretty sure there's a clause in my contract that covers it.

This is why I'm endlessly grateful to have such smart, talented people in my court. I didn't actually realize what a superstar Deb is in romance writer circles until I went to my first RWA meeting and my new chapter-mates gasped, "Deb Werksman is your editor?" with same tone they'd use to ask if Angelina Jolie is my best friend (FYI, she totally is).

And I don't have to tell you how much Michelle rocks. Having her fighting for me and my books every step of the way makes me weep with gratitude that she's my agent.

And also that I'll never have to face her in a cage match.

So there you have it. The contracts are signed, they're going in the mail today, and apparently there's some mysterious object called an advance check that might make its way to me sometime in the coming months.

Rumor has it they might actually be PAYING me to do this.

Oh, and I have a penis pen.

Does life get any better?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On soufflés, writing challenges, & topless book club

It’s my turn to host book club tonight.

In less than 12 hours, my home will be packed with women guzzling wine, chattering about books, and possibly removing articles of clothing.

(You think I’m joking, but I’ve been with this group for 10 years and once watched our founder rip off her shirt in the throes of a hot flash and spend the rest of the meeting discussing literary symbolism wearing only her bra).

Though I can accuse Pythagoras of being the one to overdo things in almost every other aspect of our lives, book club hosting the one area where I freely admit I make things a lot more complicated than they need to be.

The other day he caught me poring over dessert recipes.

“What do you think?” I asked him. “The dark chocolate Grand Marnier soufflés or a red wine & raspberry sorbet with homemade fudge sauce?”

He stared at me for a few beats, then shook his head. “Can’t you just buy a cheesecake at Costco?”

This suggestion actually borders on helpful, since his real solution would likely involve passing around a box of Pop Tarts after the meal.

But no. I am making the soufflés, because they seem like the best dessert to follow the tilapia fillets broiled in dark cherry vinaigrette and the other carefully chosen side dishes I have planned.

I can mock myself for overcomplicating things, but the truth is, I enjoy it. I love cooking, and it’s not every day I get to feed a houseful of longtime girlfriends with voracious appetites for good food, good wine, and good books.

I also like the challenge.

Long before I started writing, I used to get annoyed when a band I liked would put out a new album that deviated wildly from whatever had made me fall in love with them in the first place. My inner spoiled child would stomp her feet and whine, “but I liked what you did before – why couldn’t you do that again?”

I get it now.

I love romantic comedy, don’t get me wrong – I don’t see myself getting tired of it ever, and I’m settling in for a nice long career writing it. But since there are only so many ways to tell the “boy meets girl” story, it’s fun to twist things up a bit and experiment.

I talked last week about some of the risks involved in writing LET IT BREATHE with a divorced heroine and a reformed bad boy hero recently out of rehab, but there’s another aspect of the story that adds an interesting dimension.

My hero and heroine already know each other, and there are some skeletons in that closet they both have to deal with. I’ve never written a story before where the two love interests are already acquainted, and I like the challenge of exploring that dynamic.

Maybe I’ll even find a way to use that homemade fudge sauce somewhere in the story.

How about you? Are there areas of your writing or everyday life where you overcomplicate things? Is it a good or a bad habit?

Discuss among yourselves. I have to go see if it's too late to have that stripper pole installed in the living room. If shirts are coming off again, I want to be ready.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How sex, bike rides & writing are the same

A friend of mine suffers from low libido.

(If you’re new to this blog, you’re nodding smugly and saying to yourself, “sure, sure – a friend. Right.” If you already know me, I’m sorry you choked on your coffee just then).

Eager to make her husband understand her feelings, my friend offered him the following analogy:

You know how you feel about going for a bike ride, honey? It always sounds like more effort than it’s worth, and you have to change clothes and get all sweaty and it just sounds a lot easier to sit on the couch instead. Of course, once we actually go for the bike ride, you usually end up enjoying it, and thinking “why don’t we do that more often?"

That’s pretty much how she sees sex.

I laughed for a good week when she told me that, and then asked her to write all my future novels because really, I can’t top that.

I can relate though. Not to the sex part, and not even to the bike ride (though I don’t generally do both at once – the seat is just too small).

There have been several times in recent weeks where I’ve found myself looking at writing that way. I know I like it. I know it’ll feel good once I get going, and even better at the end.

But the thought of trudging into the other room, stripping off my clothes, and exerting all that effort just sounds so cumbersome at times.

It isn’t always like that, and certainly there are moments where I’m hurling myself at the computer in an urgent frenzy, murmuring words of passion as I stroke the keyboard with desperate yearning.

But there are moments I think there’s a fortune to be made in the author’s equivalent of Viagra.

It helps to think of the bike ride (OK, I’d rather think of the sex, but I’m trying to be PC here). I sweet-talk myself into doing it, secure in the knowledge that I’ll have a good time once I get going. I’ve loved it before, I’ve loved it the majority of the time, and if I just push myself past the “I don’t wanna” stage, it won’t be long before I'm saying, “oh yeah, baby!”

Do any of you deal with this? I’m not talking about your sex lives (though I guess you can share that if you want to). I’m talking about writing, or really any task that requires an exercise in self-motivation. What tricks do you use to prompt yourself to get naked and sweaty (metaphorically speaking)?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve piqued my own curiosity. I’ve gotta go see if there’s some way to pull off that naked bike ride thing with a laptop on the handlebars.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How not to be an email goober

I’ve been known to do stupid things with email.

Shocking, isn’t it?

My offenses have ranged from typos to a smart-ass rant about the boss sent to a coworker (and subsequently viewed by the boss, who happened to be standing behind my coworker when she opened it).

My most recent faux pas occurred last week, and fortunately, wasn’t too embarrassing. Well, not unless you consider it embarrassing to extend a dinner invitation to a gentleman you’ve never met living 2,500 miles away with a salutation that begins, “Hey, bitches – you owe me wine.”

That one was more amusing than mortifying, but when you’re querying agents or crafting other professional correspondence, it’s important to avoid looking like a dork.

Here are a couple tips I can share:

Don’t fill in the “to” field until you’re certain it’s perfect.
I do this with important messages to avoid the embarrassment of accidentally hitting “send” before spellchecking, proofreading, or removing the note-to-self that reads add something smart here.

Ditch the emoticons and exclamations.
Lord knows I love a good smiley from time to time, but when your email message looks like a minefield of exploding happy faces, you’ve gone too far. Ditto that for exclamation points or goofy abbreviations like LOL or BTW or WTSAGP (duh, that’s Want to Split a Grape Popsicle?)

Watch the formatting.
Back when I was querying agents, it seemed like a good time-saver to copy/paste a query I’d sent to one agent and use that as a starting block to personalize a query for another. Um, no. I couldn’t see it on my end, but that’s a good way to introduce all sorts of weird formatting. I discovered this when I looked in my “sent” folder and realized it looked as though I’d tried to demonstrate my creativity by inserting random paragraph returns in the middle of words.

Sleep on it. I know what it’s like to reach a point that you just want to SEND THE @#$% MESSAGE ALREADY. But when you’ve been staring at the words all day, you’re less apt to notice that you’ve misspelled an agent’s name or extolled the virtues of your extensive background in “pubic relations.” Come back later when you have fresh eyes.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are a few ways I’ve found to minimize the number of times I look like a goober in a given week.

How about you? Got any embarrassing email mistakes you can share, or tips to help the rest of us avoid those mistakes? Please post in the comments!

I need all the help I can get.

Monday, June 21, 2010

And the winner is…(it's all about balls)

Well that was another rousing round of What the @#$% is that? with several of your guesses making me giggle, and some just making me glad you don’t know where I live.

In case you missed it, here’s the mystery object from Friday's game:
In order to identify it for you, I'll share the conversation that took place when I found the object on the kitchen counter.

Me: What is this?

It’s a transverse colon.

Me: I see. And why is it on the kitchen counter?

Because I had to move it to get to the pyloric sphincter.

Since that was clearly the only explanation required, he wandered outside, possibly to bury a dead body in the backyard.

For those of you who are curious, this is where the transverse colon came from:

I’d like to say the whole thing would be less weird if you knew what Pythagoras does for a living, but it really wouldn’t.

Nevertheless, it’s time to pick a winner. I’ve gotten the feeling you guys tune in more for the winner selection process than for the actual contests. If you’ve missed some of the previous ones, go here and here.

For this round, I started off by creating a list of all the entries, making sure to double up for those of you who earned extras from Thursday’s blog.

Then I gathered up a whole lot of balls.
Balls, balls, everywhere balls.

Every ball got a number that corresponded to a name on the list.

To see how things unfolded from there, you’ll have to watch the video below. You might want to turn up your sound a bit to compensate for the windy conditions and the fact that my camera sucks. Alternately, you can go straight to YouTube and watch it there, since the quality is sometimes better.

So congratulations to Danica Avet, a regular blog commenter, and author of paranormal and contemporary romance with a touch of Cajun spice! Danica, email me (address is in the sidebar at right) with your address and I’ll get your bounty of writer snacks out to you right away!

Thanks so much to all of you for playing! We’ll do it again the next time Pythagoras leaves something weird lying around the house.

Scratch that. We’ll do it again in a month or two.

Friday, June 18, 2010

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

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

You can go here to check it out, or here to see how I selected a winner

Or if you’re lazy like me and don’t like to click links because you’re afraid you’ll never find your way back, allow me to recap.

Pythagoras can be a bit absentminded. As in “I can’t find my pants” absentminded. This, combined with the fact the he has a variety of unusual hobbies, habits, and interests, means I frequently find unidentifiable objects lying around the house.

Here’s the latest:

Any ideas what it might be? I’d love to hear your guesses – silly or serious. Leave one in the comments and you’ll be entered to win a lovely array of writer snacks (some of which were featured in yesterday’s blog post). Don't worry -- those of you who earned an extra entry or two with your comments yesterday have already been added, but play today to get another entry.

Win snacks to fuel an author's mind!
I’ll close the contest at noon PST on Sunday, June 20, which should give me ample time to come up with yet another ridiculous method for selecting the winner. I’ll post that here on Monday, June 21.

Good luck! Now tell me, What the @#$% is that?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What writers put in their mouths
(please share!)

I’ve always been teased about eating like a bird. It’s basically true if you figure birds eat constantly and consume half their body weight in a day.

I never eat much in one sitting, which is probably where the teasing comes from. But I’m incapable of sitting down to write without stuffing my face while I type.

Here are my favorite staples:

Ice water, tea, and wine. I drink water all day long, probably gallons of it. In the morning, I also sip hot tea. By evening, it’s a glass of whichever wine accompanied dinner. With that much liquid intake, I'm slowly wearing a trail between my office and the bathroom.

Sen Sens.
For those who don’t know what these are, here’s a link. They are an acquired taste, and tough to find – I order big boxes of them online. Friends who don’t share my fondness say they taste like a mix of black licorice and soap. I adore them. My consumption escalates under stress, so Pythagoras knows to steer clear if he comes home to find me with a black tongue.

Fruit and veggies. I know the chocoholics among you (hi, Patty!) will gasp in horror, but given the choice between a chocolate bar and a couple carrot sticks, I’d take the carrots any day. It’s not a health-nut thing, that’s just what I prefer. Dried fruit like mangoes and bananas are tasty without being messy, and a little pile of frozen peas makes for great for nibbling when I’m editing.

Nuts & popcorn: I love raw, unsalted almonds and roasted pumpkin seeds, but my true passion is air-popped popcorn. A friend gave me my air popper as a gift 10 years ago, and it is my second favorite appliance in the house. I make a big bowl of popcorn almost every afternoon around 3:00 and devour it with just a little spritz of butter.

So how about you? How do you fuel your mind and body when you’re writing? Please share in the comments, I’m always looking for new snacks!

Oh, and just a heads-up that tomorrow we’ll be playing another round of What the @#$% is that? Want an early start? The first person to correctly identify the book referenced in my T-shirt below will get two extra entries in tomorrow’s game. If you aren't the first commenter, you can still earn one entry by telling me YOUR favorite book from childhood.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On lube mishaps and gender roles

When I was 16, I swore I would never learn to cook.

It was a misguided feminist idea about traditional gender roles and cooking as “women’s work,” which meant I needed a husband who would dress in an apron and prepare Coq Au Vin while I sat on the sofa and scratched myself.

That’s not how life unfolded.

As it turns out, I love cooking. I’m damn good at it, and it allows me to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, prepared how I want it.

My 16-year-old self might have bristled at the division of labor in my household now, but my 35-year-old self is happy to forgo changing the oil and mowing the lawn in favor of ogling my husband while he does it (without a shirt, if I’m lucky).

There was a point early in our relationship when Pythagoras indulged my desire to master “men’s work” by teaching me to change the oil in the car. I was eager for the lesson, picturing myself as a badass with a lug wrench in my pocket and a pack of candy cigarettes rolled up in my shirtsleeve.

We purchased the necessary supplies and got down to business.

“See this cap here?” he asked as he crawled under the car. “This is your drain plug.”

I joined him reluctantly, wondering if this was a bizarre new form of foreplay.

“Ick!” I said as he unscrewed the plug and sent the dirty oil trickling into a pan.

As the oil drained, Pythagoras stood up and began explaining oil filters and viscosity. The lesson was mostly lost on me as I giggled over words like “lube” and “nut.”

Finally, he handed me a quart of motor oil. “Here. You do the honors.”

He showed me where to pour the oil, and stood back to watch me do it. I dumped it in, waited a moment, then peered under the car.

“How much do we need to pour through?” I asked.


“How much oil do we pour though to clean things out before we put the plug back in?”

My question was met with a colorful string of curse words and an understanding that this was not the way an oil change should work. As Pythagoras scrambled to put the plug back in, I decided my fantasy role as a female grease monkey was not all I’d imagined.

I haven’t changed the oil since. Though I could probably do it if I had to, I’ve ceased caring about “men’s work” and “women’s work” the feminist implications therein.

I’ve been considering this as I write LET IT BREATHE, which features a heroine who is the Vineyard Manager at her family’s winery. Though I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some amazing women in this role over the course of my research, it’s a job traditionally held by men.

I’m curious if my heroine thinks about this as she’s out there with a lug wrench adjusting the sprayer on the vineyard’s tractor. Knowing Reese, I’d say gender roles don’t cross her mind very often. She does the job she needs to do without much thought given to whether a penis is a required tool for the task.

How about you? Are gender roles a factor in your story or your everyday life? Please share in the comments.

I’m going to stare helplessly at the sink drain until Pythagoras shows up to fish out the giant hairball plugging it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bad boys & the risky business of writing

I never had a thing for bad boys.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire the aesthetic as much as the next woman. I’ll gladly gawk at the tattooed beefcake with the bedroom eyes and the police record.

I just never wanted to date him. Maybe I lack the “rescuer” gene that draws many women to men like that. Maybe I just found more appeal in good boys – or more accurately, in being the one to make good boys do bad things.

I blogged last month about the thrill I get writing many different heroes, but I have to admit, the guy in my current manuscript is throwing me for a loop.

He’s a former bad boy who’s gone to rehab and cleaned up his act. My heroine – who was married to the hero's best friend and knew him well when he was a self-destructive drunk – is doubtful he’s changed.

It’s an interesting dynamic, and I’m having fun with it. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge. Not just the fact that I’m writing a divorced heroine and a recovering alcoholic hero, but that I have to tackle those issues sensitively while still making you laugh hard enough to piddle down your leg.

That’s a handful.

I can find comic relief in secondary characters – the alpaca who likes to head-butt men in the gonads, the pink-haired grandmother who's in a motorcycle gang, the over-amorous parents who never stop groping each other.

I think I’m striking a decent balance, but it’s too soon to tell. I might just be crafting a document my husband will eventually hand over to our family physician as evidence I should be heavily medicated.

Only time – and my critique partners – will tell.

I knew this story was a risk when I proposed it as the third book in my contract. To be honest, I was surprised my editor picked it out of four other ideas I offered. It was the one I most wanted to write, but also the most challenging.

There’s some comfort in knowing it’s already sold, but also some panic. What if they hate it? What if I hate it? What if my mother-in-law reads what I wrote above about making good boys do bad things and decides to backhand me for corrupting her son?

Writing is a risky business no matter where you are in your career. There’s the risk of pouring your heart and soul into a book that agents and editors might not love. There’s a risk in every decision you make – from what genre to pursue, to what kind of car your heroine drives.

But the risks are also the fun part. They’re what keep us from writing the same book over and over until our eyes glaze and we topple unconscious from our chairs and hit our head on the floor and bleed to death and end up being devoured by the cat.

Hypothetically speaking.

What risks are you taking in your writing? Do you enjoy it, or do you just want to hide under the bed? Please share in the comments, I’m curious.

And I’m also braced for that backhand.

Monday, June 14, 2010

If you're gonna do it, do it right
(right, Bill Cameron?)

On Saturday, I got to meet mystery author Bill Cameron.

It was a dignified gathering of two professionals discussing important things like smelly naked people on bicycles writing craft and publication.

I bought several of his books for myself and friends – including new release DAY ONE – and Bill kindly signed them for me there at Murder by the Book in Portland, OR.
Me with Bill Cameron (and yes, I do notice the camera flash apparently made my top semi-transparent. Classy. I tried to Photoshop it, but it made me look like I had a mutant nipple.)
What fascinates me is that this meeting would not have taken place without social media. In fact, I might not have bought Bill’s books at all.

This has been on my mind a lot in the wake of recent online discussion about the value of social media like Twitter and Facebook for authors. First came Chip Macgregor’s post discussing whether these tools are a worthy use of authors’ time. Then there was Maureen Johnson’s post on how some authors believe “branding” means smacking people on the forehead with your book until they fall to their knees and beg for the throbbing to stop.

Both make some terrific points.

Prior to my recent three-book deal, I spent the last 10+ years working in marketing and corporate communications, which means I’m as full of hot air as the next guy I have a decent grasp on the principles of marketing.

Here’s one: it typically takes seven points of contact to prompt a consumer to act. That means you have to see the bologna commercial seven times before you get off your sofa and trudge to the local market for some wholesome meaty goodness.

I believe it.

I’ve been a devout reader of Janet Reid’s blog for eons, and since she’s Bill Cameron’s agent, I’ve heard a lot about his books over the years. I always meant to read them. I even added one to my Amazon cart once.

But I didn’t make the purchase. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m easily distracted. Probably both.

What prompted me to buy Bill’s first book was simple – I followed him on Twitter. He followed me back. We swapped some 140-character tweets about bacon and murder.

And suddenly, he went from being a nameless author to someone I knew.

That’s the idea behind social media. People want to conduct business with someone they consider a friend.

Within a few days of that first contact, I hustled out and got Bill’s first two books – LOST DOG and CHASING SMOKE – and sent him a quick tweet asking which I should read first.

And get this – he replied within a few minutes.

A far cry from the days I licked stamps and crossed my fingers the author of TRIXIE BELDEN would respond to my fan letter before the time came for me to select a retirement home.

Bill Cameron never once told me to buy his books. He never put me in a headlock and forced me to listen to a detailed description of his branding strategy.

He was just a funny, engaging guy who made the effort to connect. That’s how social media should work.

Regardless of what stage you’re at in your writing career – whether you’re querying agents or peddling your twelfth bestseller – there’s a lesson in there.

Be friendly. Be real. Engage with agents and editors and potential readers in online communities in ways that show you would do so even if you didn’t want something from them. Remember it's a dialogue and not your personal soapbox.

Oh, and since Bill Cameron is too gracious to give you the hard sell, allow me. His books are amazing. Stop whatever you’re doing now and go get one. I loved LOST DOG, am devouring CHASING SMOKE, and can’t wait to read my new copy of DAY ONE.

Buy now. Don’t make me use the headlock.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The number you don't want to know

It sucks when they come in waves like this.

No, for once I’m not making a dirty joke. I’m talking about rejections, and the fact that two author pals just got hit with them. The sort of rejections that take the wind out of your sails and the gin out of the cupboard because you’re hoping a stiff one (nope, still not dirty) might take the sting out.

But the gin doesn’t help, because let’s face it – rejection sucks. Even the positive rejections, the ones cushioned by praise and flattery and “almost there” cheerleading.

I hate the idea of standing here with an amazing agent and a recent book deal trying to say something wise and comforting. Frankly, I might’ve thrown rocks at someone like that a year ago. Or four years ago. Or six years ago.

And that’s when I start thinking about the numbers. About the fact that somewhere in the great unknown is a list of every author and the number of books he or she must write before getting a big break. For some, it’s one. For others, it’s 20.

When I first started writing fiction in 2002, I heard the average is seven. Six books that don’t sell. I remember hearing that and laughing. That won’t be me. That could never be me.

I was wrong.

The counting gets tricky since my sixth and eighth full manuscripts sold as part of my three-book deal, but that doesn’t count partials, and then there’s the mess with my third manuscript selling and getting canceled (go here if you don’t know the story).

But my point is, this: I am eternally grateful I didn’t know my number beforehand. If someone had offered me a crystal ball and given me a peek, you can bet your sweet assignat I would have looked.

And that would have changed everything. Maybe I would have been discouraged by all the dead book corpses. Maybe those earlier stories would have been infused with the hopelessness of knowing they would never be published. Maybe I would’ve missed the important lessons I learned in writing them.

I honestly don’t know.

I know rejection is hard on everyone (nope, still not dirty). But the thing you have to cling to is the belief that THIS BOOK MIGHT BE THE ONE.

Maybe it won’t be, but that’s not the point. Hope should be the thing driving you every time you open a new Word document and type “once upon a time.”

Not knowing how many tries it will take allows you to get everything you possibly can from the experience of writing each book. It lets you savor that thrill, to truly keep your eye on the ball in front of you.

And for every writer, that is the only ball that matters.

(OK, I kinda meant the last one).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The monkey business of social media

Social media is a serious networking tool for serious writing professionals. It allows you to build a readership, discuss craft and technique with fellow writers, and establish your brand identity as an author.

It also allows you to discuss feet.

This is what author/blogger Sierra Godfrey and I bonded over the other day when we realized we both have bizarrely agile toes.

Since it is obviously crucial to our writing careers that we explore this issue in depth, we began swapping stories of what we can do with our toes.

Check out her blog to find out what she's capable of, but here’s my list:

  • Pick up a dropped razor in the shower. No need to bend over!
  • Make my bed. I tried this when I was 10 to ensure I was prepared in case I ever lost both arms in a freak badminton accident.
  • Write my name with a pen. I’m considering doing this at future book signings.
  • Pull my husband’s leg hair. This is probably why he started shaving it.
  • Type poignant love scenes in my manuscript. Don’t believe me? Here’s what I wrote yesterday:
Jmnglkiffooljyjyoinh grtrflrfol.rfrrejirooror

It’s clearly a very tender and moving scene, though Pythagoras was not particularly moved to find me with my feet on the keyboard.

Being serious writers who always strive to grow and improve, Sierra and I challenged each other to broaden our skills. Since she has a degree in art, I wanted to see if she could use her toes to edit a picture in Photoshop.You can see how she fared over on her blog.

Meanwhile, Sierra challenged me to embrace the spirit of the Monkey Toes Club by peeling a banana. Here’s how it unfolded.
Grasping the banana caused toe cramps at first, but I persevered.
Once I got it started, the peeling itself was fairly easy.
After peeling and devouring the banana, I went outside to swing in the trees.
So as you can see, social media is an important way for authors to forge valuable connections with fellow professionals.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my agent to let her know I’ll be writing my next book entirely with my feet. Pretty sure I can dial the iPhone with my toes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Who are you & why are you looking at me like that?

So yesterday, I conducted an experiment.

That’s not nearly as cool as it sounds, since I didn’t get to wear a lab coat or blow stuff up in test tubes.

I was experimenting on you guys, the readers of this blog. Since the delightful Harley May gave me a day off with her roast, I deliberately didn’t mention my own blog on Twitter yesterday.

(Sidenote: being able to use the phrase “tweet my blog” is my favorite thing about Twitter).

Because I’m a stalker, I already know a good chunk of my daily blog hits come from Twitter. I tweet something silly saying I’ve got a new post up, people click my link, and maybe a few kind souls even retweet that.

On a good day, I might get 300 visitors. On an average day, it’s closer to 150. Prior to yesterday, my theory was that if I simply didn’t tweet my blog (snicker!) on a given day, my visitor volumes would plummet.

I was wrong.

And as is often the case, I was happy to be wrong.

While it wasn’t one of my highest-volume days, it wasn’t one of my lowest, either. There were still over 100 unique visitors. Roughly 17% of those were first-timers, and the rest were return visitors.

I’m intrigued. Where did you come from? What made you stop by? Google Analytics only tells part of the story. For instance, I can see many of you get here via my blogger profile, but how did you find that?

I’ll admit it, I’m a lazy blog reader myself. I have a few I visit daily whether I’m prompted to or not, but in most cases I’m like a squirrel with something shiny. If a tweet catches my eye, I click the link and visit the blog. Very rarely do I remember to return again the next day, even if I really loved the post.

I assumed everyone operated like that, but apparently that’s not true. You still showed up yesterday, even without me jumping up and down on Twitter yelling “Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!” like a neurotic cocker spaniel.

So I really am curious – who are you? How did you get here? What made you visit me today? Even if you aren’t a regular commenter, I’d love to hear from you in today’s comments. This is a highly scientific experiment, people – I need information!

I also need that lab coat. And maybe some little white mice.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I am delicious with a side of red potatoes

Several weeks ago, the hilarious Harley May asked if she could roast me.

I thought it was some kinky new sex thing and I was very excited of course, I declined.

Then I remembered laughing my butt off at her earlier roasting of Sean Ferrell (author of NUMB, which will be released by Harper Collins in August). That roasting is here, and it’s hysterical.

Naturally, I was game for the same treatment. Harley May was kind enough to give me a sneak peek at what she’d written, and since Pythagoras features into the wild tale, I let him read it, too.

He sat there staring at the computer screen for a minute after he’d finished reading. “Writers are weird.”

I beamed with pride for all my brethren. “So that means you like it?”

That’s pretty much how Harley May took the feedback when I shared it with her.

On that note, I’d like to direct you to her tender roasting of yours truly. Go here, and enjoy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

My first time - no handcuffs required!

After 35 years of leading a crime-free existence, I am tarnished. Forever shamed.

My weekend unfolded normally, with me pestering a cop into providing a tour of the Newberg, Oregon police station.

Behold, the drunk tank at the Newberg, OR police station.

It was research for the third book in my contract, and it was a lot of fun.

Well, except the part where I asked the cop if I needed to be handcuffed to see the holding cells, and he stared like I was some sort of sexual deviant (at which point I reminded him I’m a romance author, which totally excused the sexual deviancy).

Little did I know, my tour of the slammer was a hint of what was to come.

I’ve been operating an automobile for nearly 20 years, and would say I’m a slightly below average driver. In spite of this, my only prior brush with the law occurred in Montana right after they repealed the speed limit. Apparently, the cops were bored.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the Montana cop asked.

I considered the question. “Was it the body in my trunk?”

He didn’t smile. “Your rear license plate isn’t attached correctly. It’s supposed to be attached on all four corners, and yours is only attached on three. Also, you have to use wing nuts to attach the plate, and you’ve used wire.”

“Wing nuts?”

“That’s correct.”

I frowned. “I was going 80 miles an hour. How can you see my wing nuts?”

He ignored the question. “I’m going to let you off with a warning, but in the future, be more cautious.”

And I was cautious – for the next 10 years, I made sure my license plate was properly attached.

Speeding is another matter, which is how I found myself exceeding the limit as I drove home from an RWA meeting on Saturday.

When I saw a car pulled off the road and a man kneeling in the dirt with a gun aimed at me, my first instinct was to duck.

It should have been to slow down. It was a radar gun, and I was busted. Unlike the Montana situation, I knew I’d done something wrong.

In my mind, I had played out this scene a million times. I would cry. I would beg. I would smile so sweetly the officer would shake my hand and thank me for making his day.

That’s not how it happened.

I managed to roll down the window. That’s as far as I got.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asked.

I shook my head mutely, fumbling for my driver’s license.

“You were going 70 in a 55, plus there’s a construction zone on the other side of the highway.”

I still couldn’t seem to find any words, so I widened my eyes with what I hoped was surprised remorse, but probably looked more like I was choking.

The cop gave me an odd look. “Let me have your license and proof of insurance.”

I handed them over without a word, and he studied them for a moment. “Don’t go anywhere, OK?”

I shook my head, solidifying his suspicion that he’d just pulled over a woman born without a tongue.

The cop retreated to his car, which gave me a few moments to contemplate whether I should work up some tears, remove my shirt, or attempt both.

Instead, I just sat there. It was like that dream where you want to speak or run away, but your foot is stuck in a barrel of melted saltwater taffy and the purple troll is pinching your lips together with asparagus tongs. You know that dream?

Eventually, the cop returned. “Because of your exemplary driving record,” he said, “I’m not indicating this is a construction zone. That reduces your fine by $100. The instructions are on the ticket. Have a nice day.”

He stared at me for a few beats, providing me one last opportunity to prove I wasn’t mute. I nodded and made a noise somewhere between a squeak and a belch.

The cop walked away, shaking his head.

So that’s the story of my first speeding ticket. Not really how I imagined it, and also not how I’d planned to spend $190. Chalk it up as one of those unplanned costs of writing.

What’s your story? Do you have an interesting tale of your first brush with the law, or are you still untarnished? Share in the comments. I’ll be over here practicing my speech for the next time I get pulled over.

“Wow, officer – I really like your pants.”
Me with my very first speeding ticket. Oh, the shame.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wanna get lucky? You've gotta play the game

I like to win stuff.

I'm not talking about soccer games or writing competitions or anything that involves actual skill.

I adore winning contests based on dumb luck. Over the years, I've won concert tickets and books, cash prizes and CDs, goldfish and gift certificates. I once won a frozen turkey by catching a paper bird dropped from the top of a crane.

And of course, you already know I won my wedding.

My most recent victory was on the hilarious blog of YA author Jamie Harrington. She gave away mermaid mark tattoos to commenters who told fish jokes. My tattoos just arrived in the mail, and since I'm visiting my parents at the moment, I shared with my father.

Dad and me with our mermaid mark tattoos. Pretty!

Given my habit of winning contests, a lot of people have made comments over the years. "You're so lucky," they say. "I've never known anyone who wins so much stuff."

It's true that I win a lot, and it may also be true that I'm lucky. Certainly I feel that way in light of my recent three-book deal.

But I win contests because I enter a butt-load of them. Plain and simple, I fill out the entry forms, buy the raffle tickets, stick my quarter in the slot machine, and hit speed-dial over and over and over until DJs at my local radio stations know me by name and give me prizes just to make me go away.

It's the same thing with writing. Luck is a big factor in whether you ultimately land a book deal. Bigger than skill or timing or sleeping with the right editor.

But you've got to do your part for luck to work in your favor. You have to write the manuscripts -- sometimes many of them, sometimes terrible ones. You have to draft the queries, pile up the rejections, and jump through enough hoops to make you want to spit into your morning Fruit Loops.

Even the best luck in the world won't help if you don't do everything in your power to make things happen for yourself.

What are you doing right now, right this second, to make damn sure luck knows where to find you?

Me? I've been wearing my lucky socks for a week straight, hoping to win that 10-pound bag of freeze dried brine shrimp eggs. You never know, right?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

3 tips I won’t share with writers’ groups

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of requests to speak to writers’ groups, something I find both flattering and surprising.

I’ve been brainstorming with event organizers to determine what participants might want me to talk about. Writing tips and discussions on craft are popular, while discussions on toenail fungus are not.

It got me thinking about what’s appropriate. If you’re reading this blog, you’re unlikely to be offended by tales of fake car sex and phallic wine stoppers. If you’re offended, you’ll stop reading. Writers’ group attendees won’t have that option (though they will have the option of pelting me with rotten fruit).

In the interest of (a) not offending anyone, and (b) not coming off as a drunken pervert with kleptomaniac tendencies, there are a few tips I’m unlikely to share in my talks.

But it’s a shame for them to go to waste, so allow me to share them with you now:

TIP 1: Drink. I’ve seen a quote attributed to Ernest Hemmingway, and while I’m not sure he really said it, I agree with the concept: “write drunk, edit sober.”

You’d be a pretty crappy writer if you could only perform with a fifth of Jack in your system, but there’s a benefit to occasionally subduing your internal editor. I can spend an entire day producing a handful of polished pages, but my output quintuples that evening if I sit down with a glass of wine. Why? Because I let the words flow. Because I’m not stopping every five seconds to mull whether “licked” or “laved” is the better word.

Even if the sentences you produce are mostly gibberish, it gives you a skeleton to use for the prose you’ll produce when you stop guzzling bourbon.

TIP 2: Steal ruthlessly.
If I find myself hopelessly stuck in a manuscript, I’m not ashamed to pick the brains of loved ones and steal their good ideas. When I hit the middle of my debut novel MAKING WAVES, I was still struggling to figure out what made my heroine tick. I lamented this one evening at a dinner party. “I can’t even decide what she does for a living,” I whined to a friend. He began listing random careers, and something clicked in my brain. “Oh – not one of those things, but all.” And that’s how my quirky, job-hopping heroine started to come together in my mind. (No, not that kind of “come together” – that doesn’t happen until later in the book).

TIP 3: Thou shalt lust. I write romance, so it’s my sworn duty to ogle as many men as I can. It’s research, right? And if I find myself staring at a picture of a scruffy looking Daniel Craig and pondering how beard burn would feel against my stomach, it’s possible those thoughts will find their way into my manuscript. You do what you’ve gotta do to infuse your writing with the right amount of sexual tension (unless what you’ve gotta do is chain Daniel Craig in your basement as your personal sex muse, in which case you might want to check with your spouse first).

So there you have it. The inappropriate writing advice you won’t hear me share with any writers’ group.

Got any tips of your own to share? Leave it in the comments. I have to go check on Daniel refill my tea.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How I hurked in my underwear

A couple weeks ago, I made a passing blog reference to the day I threw up in my underwear.

Ever the astute reader, my agent was on it immediately. “Is that true?” she tweeted. “Sounds like a story.”

It is indeed, one I’m pleased to share for no other reason than it’s a drizzly Wednesday and I feel like laughing and I’m generally the easiest target for my own mirth.

During my middle-school years, the confluence of wonky hormones in my system made me prone to crippling migraines that hit at the most inopportune times.

The most inopportune time of all was the last day of 8th grade. I was dressed up for the occasion in a stretchy lavender miniskirt and matching top with my bangs teased to terrifying heights.

I looked hot. Well, as hot as an awkward adolescent with braces and bad hair can look.

I made it halfway through the school day before disaster struck. My first clue a migraine was coming was the fact that my classmates were all missing their heads. I tried to pretend it wasn’t pre-migraine blurred vision, but was soon forced to accept the fact that decapitation wasn’t a class prank.

I hustled to the restroom thinking green linoleum and a quick pee might somehow prove to be the migraine cure my doctor hadn’t discovered.

There I sat with my knees tethered together by my underwear when the first wave of nausea hit.

It wasn’t unusual for a migraine to make me nauseous, but it was unusual for it to happen without warning – and to do so when I was seated upon the only appropriate vomit receptacle in the vicinity.

I hurled. Not just a little ladylike “urp,” either, but the product of a hearty school lunch.

And then I sat there in horror at what I had just done.

I had a few options available to me. Drowning myself in the toilet seemed most appealing, but the thought of my parents claiming my body in a school restroom was not the tender scene I’d envisioned.

Hitching up the puke-filled panties and pretending everything was normal was also not an option, or at least not one I wanted to consider.

Discarding the evidence seemed most logical, but then what? I was a 13-year-old self-conscious adolescent, so the thought of parading around the school in a thin miniskirt sans underwear didn’t hold the same appeal it would if I’d been a drunk pop singer.

But it had to be done. Thoroughly disgraced, I mopped up the mess, wrapped everything in toilet paper, and carried it to the trashcan by the door where I buried it deep beneath a mound of wet paper towels stained with Wet-N-Wild lip-gloss.

Then I trudged to the office to phone my mother for what would prove to be the first in a series of awkward calls she received during my school years. Though admitting I’d puked in my underwear was more mortifying than later admitting I’d lit my hand on fire, I was at least able to provide a more satisfying answer when asked if I’d done so intentionally.

Finally, I did the walk of shame out to the curb, careful not to sit down or stand in any direct sunlight.

And though I missed the ceremony, I feel confident I have a more interesting graduation story to tell than any of my classmates.

So that’s how it all happened. Aren’t you glad to share in my humiliation? If you feel like offering your own embarrassing story in the comments, please do so.

No sense in me being the only one to bare all, right?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's fun playing doctor, but I must cut the cord

So I think we’re going to do it.

No, not do it – get your minds out of the gutter. I think we’re finally going to cut the cord and get rid of our telephone landline.

We’ve contemplated it for years, but finally sat down the other day and determined how often we use the landline. On average, about 50% of the calls we get are not for us.

Pythagoras and I do not share a last name, as I kindly allowed him to keep his when we wed. He does, however, share a last name with a local physician. That means we’ve spent the last 12 years serving as the good doctor’s second line.

The first time it happened, I was confused.

“Yes, I’d like to schedule an appointment,” a caller informed me one afternoon.

“To do what?”

She snorted with annoyance. “For an exam, of course.”

I surveyed the assembly of pets in my living room, trying to remember who was due for shots and when our vet started making reminder calls. “I guess we could do it later today. Is this for rabies?”

“What? Why? Is there a local outbreak?”

Eventually, we got it straightened out, but the calls didn’t stop there. At least once a week, my eardrums are subjected to the screech of someone’s fax machine. Occasionally, this is followed up by the screech of a pharmacy employee calling to demand we turn on our fax machine.

“I think you have the wrong number,” I told the last caller.

“Well give me the right one, dammit!”

I hesitated for a moment, then rattled off the number I saw on my phone’s caller ID.

“Wait – that’s our number,” she snapped.

“It is,” I agreed. “Enjoy having the fax machine redial you every 30 seconds.”

Pythagoras is kinder about it than I am, often listening sympathetically to a caller’s symptoms while he looks up the correct number.

“That sounds really painful,” I overheard him saying as he thumbed through the Yellow Pages. “So wearing the helmet to bed hasn’t helped?”

As much as we’ve enjoyed receiving these calls for the last 12 years, it’s time to move on. We’ve got our cell phones, and it’s unlikely the world will end if we cease accepting calls for the good doctor.

How about you? Do you still have a landline? Can you think of any compelling reason we should continue to pay $40 a month to have ours? Tell me in the comments trail, I’m all ears.

Well, as soon as they stop ringing from that last fax call.