Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another thing I didn't get right on the first try

On Friday I got a handful of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) for Making Waves.

Once I stopped dancing around squealing and kissing the cover, I realized I had a job to do. I needed to sign my first copy.

This is for the blog contest we held in March where readers helped pick a title. My editor, Deb Werksman, selected blog reader Allie Sanders to receive a signed ARC of the book. Though we never actually specified who’d be doing the signing, I suspected it was me.

I sat down at my desk and stared at the book long and hard.

Once I finished giggling over “long and hard,” I went to my bookshelf and inspected the signed ones lurking there. I had no idea where I was supposed to sign my own book, but a quick survey of my collection suggested the title page was a good place to start.

A smart author would have taken a moment to practice what she wanted to write and assess the allotted space.

I spent ten minutes hunting for my penis pen.

Then I summoned one of my twenty-something male housemates.

“Can I get you to take a picture of something for me?” I asked.

He looked uncertain, but took the camera like a trooper. “What’s that on your pen?”

“Exactly what you think it is.” I held it up for him to inspect.

“Do all romance authors get those?”

“Yes. They hand them out in romance author school, along with our feather boas and slutty stilettos.”

We both looked down at my feet. I was wearing leopard-print Dansko clogs.

“The slutty stilettos are at the drycleaners,” I assured him.


I sat down at my desk and picked up the pen. “I just need a photo of me signing my first book. It seems like one of those milestone moments I should capture.”

“Do you want to move that big pile of papers or the dental floss or that silver thing that looks like you bought it at that special party you just hosted?”

“It’s a neck massager.”


So I moved the neck massager and the rest of the clutter and my housemate picked up the camera again.

I grabbed my pen and hesitated. “I’m not sure what to write.”

“Aren’t you a writer?”

“That’s pretty much how it works.”

In the end, I got the book signed and got a few pictures in the process. None of it is perfect. My writing is a little cramped and squiggly, and the photo makes me look inebriated.

But hey, it’s a starting point. There’s always room for improvement, which is pretty much like writing itself.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Guess what's in my hand?

It's Memorial Day in the United States. Since many of you are probably out barbecuing or camping (or if you live in Central Oregon, shielding your tomato plants from snow) I'm guessing blog readership will be slow today.

In the interest of being lazy commemorating this important holiday, I'm giving us all the day off.

I do have one thing to share, however. Guess what I got to hold for the very first time on Friday when a package showed up on my doorstep?
I might just hold it all day and call it my own personal Memorial Day celebration. I'll even caress it from time to time and maybe kiss the pages when I think no one's looking.

So what are you holding to celebrate the holiday? Please share!

And don't forget to wash your hands.

Friday, May 27, 2011

It makes me feel sorta funny

One of the most unexpectedly weird experiences of my writing life has been taking place this week.

On Wednesday I told you about Book Expo America and how all the coolest people in the book business are there this week.

That obviously means I'm not in attendance, but my book has been having a lovely time.

I knew Sourcebooks planned to give out a number of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of Making Waves at BEA, though I wasn't entirely clear if they were meant for book reviewers and booksellers or for homeless people wandering through.

Young adult author Trisha Leigh isn't any of those things, but she is a longtime Twitter pal.

I found myself unexpectedly stunned when she tweeted the following:

For those of you who don't speak Twitter, I'll translate. She used the #BEA11 hashtag to indicate she's attending BEA, and she used Twitter handles for my agent and me so we'd be sure to see what she was tweeting.

And what she was tweeting was a picture of Making Waves.

My agent tweeted back quickly to clarify, and Trisha replied with the following:

Wait, she's reading my book? RIGHT NOW? And TWEETING ABOUT IT?!

Sure enough, she confirmed how she acquired it and how she came to be reading it RIGHT THAT MOMENT.

I don't know why, but it was one of the weirdest feelings I'd ever experienced. I tweeted something to that effect, and my wonderful agent quickly shot me a message reassuring me that Trisha would love it, as would everyone else.

The thing is, my weird feelings weren't necessarily panic about Trisha or anyone else not liking the book. That's certainly a part of it, but it's mostly just an odd sensation I can't quite name.

I'm wildly ticklish. The problem with being ticklish is that you giggle like a maniac when someone does it to you. Giggling normally signifies joy and pleasure, and while that's sometimes a reaction to tickling, it usually isn't. But the tickler doesn't always know that, and keeps tickling to keep the person giggling, and pretty soon everyone's sitting there in a big puddle of pee feeling embarrassed.

That analogy just went way off the deep end, didn't it?

I guess what I'm saying is that my freakout response to having someone read my book isn't necessarily terror about whether the person will like it. It's something else entirely, but it's so unfamiliar I can't quite name it.

Nevertheless, I felt it again this morning when Trisha tweeted under the #fridayreads hashtag, a common way Twitterfolk let people know what they're reading:

Someone else in Trisha's Twitter circle responded, and I watched the exchange with that weird feeling welling up in me again:

So she likes it? Well that's good. That's great, in fact. If I ever meet Trisha in person, I want to pick her up and give her a great big hug and a smooch.

Maybe we'll even have a tickle fight.

UPDATE: OK, I wouldn't normally mess with a blog post several hours after it's already gone live, but these two new tweets from Trisha were too wonderful not to share:

And then there's this one. It might have made me cry a little:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is the room spinning or is it my head?

There are many things I love about having a three-book deal, not the least of which is that I get to say, "Hey, I have a three-book deal!"

But there are aspects of it that make me dizzier than a blonde on a roller coaster with a head injury and a bottle of tequila.

Take this week, for example. I spent Monday editing the third book in my contract, working to incorporate ideas my agent and I brainstormed together.

On Tuesday she called with the thrilling news that the first book in my contract will be sold at Walmarts around the country. Much merrymaking ensued, and continued through Wednesday.

This morning (still a little dizzy from the merrymaking) I got a 6 a.m. call from my agent that my editor would be calling in 30 minutes to discuss some major revisions on my second contracted book. I listened and nodded and got up and brushed my teeth and then listened and nodded and took notes until I thought my hand might fall off.

Now I'm sitting here trying to remember if I'm supposed to be editing the third book or squealing about the first or fretting over the changes to the second.

And then I remember I'm not supposed to be doing any of those things because I still need to get a blog post written this morning (the merrymaking having thrown last night's schedule into a tailspin, you see).

I'm not complaining about any of this. I wake up every morning eternally grateful for this book deal and for my amazing agent and fabulous editor who would both maim puppies if they thought it would make my books more successful.

Fortunately, puppy maiming won't be involved in any of what I have to do these next few weeks.

But I'm still a little dizzy.

And I welcome any tips you might have for dealing with the yo-yo effects of lurching between projects like a drunk sailor. How do you keep your sanity when you multitask? Please share!

I'll just be over here duct taping my head to the desk to stop the spinning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Walmart (and my agent) made my day

Yesterday was an exciting day.

In New York City where all the cool publishing people hang, Book Expo America (BEA) is taking place this week. For years I've heard it touted as the biggest publishing event in North America, and I've watched from the sidewalk with my nose pressed against the window making unpleasant smeary streaks on the glass.

This year, I got to be there.

Well, not in person. But Tuesday morning, author pal Dan Krokos was kind enough to email me this photo of an advance reading copy of Making Waves on display at the Sourcebooks booth:
Not to be outdone, my amazing agent, Michelle Wolfson, stopped by the booth and assembled the Sourcebooks team for a group photo I'm considering enlarging to gargantuan proportions and framing on my bathroom wall:
From left to right, my incredible editor Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks Sales God Chris Baurle, Amazing Senior Associate Editor Susie Benton, my brilliant and talented agent Michelle Wolfson, and uber-fabulous Sourcebooks Editorial Director Todd Stocke.
I was still swooning with excitement over that when Michelle called with even more delightful news.

Sourcebooks has arranged for nationwide distribution of Making Waves at Walmarts across the United States.

I never thought I'd find myself thrilled to the point of tears at the idea of being in Walmart, but trust me – this is huge.

Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted the book is already available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Powells Books and Borders and IndieBound. I click those links at least once a day and then pinch myself so I know it's real.

But shelf space at the world's largest public corporation? The biggest grocery retailer in the United States? That's priceless, particularly for a no-name, debut romantic comedy author like me.

And with the gorgeous cover Sourcebooks has given me – a cover that practically screams, "grab me! I'm a fabulous beach read!" – I can't even begin to guess what impact that might have.
It does make me contemplate the impact of screaming "grab me!" in public places though.

But I digress.

I'm swooning. I'm elated. I'm so damn grateful to my amazing agent and the ridiculously fabulous team at Sourcebooks, without whom none of this would be possible.

So if you're in the mood, I invite you to swoon with me. On the count of three...

One, two, three...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Finding the funny balance

There aren’t a ton of authors writing romantic comedy, which is a damn shame.

I have a handful of idols in my genre, and one of them is Kristan Higgins. She’s a
two-time winner of the RITA (the Academy Award of romance writing) and a USA Today and New York Times bestseller. She makes me laugh and cry and even pee myself a little when the two reactions happen to coincide.

Her seventh book, My One and Only, hit shelves recently and like the devout fangirl I am, I ran out and bought it.

I’m just a couple chapters from the end, but I can confidently say I adore the book and rank it as one of the top three she’s written.

But here’s the thing – my VERY favorite book she’s written is Just
One of the Guys. On the humor spectrum for Higgins books, I’d argue that one is her funniest.

My One and Only – while charming and engaging and entertaining – isn’t as humorous. There are plenty of scenes that made me laugh out loud, but the overall tone is more somber.

But still, I love the book. It’s sweet and funny and I adore the characters so much I want to pat them on the head and stuff them in the trunk of my car. Adding more humor wouldn't make it better because it's nearly perfect the way it is, and tossing in more laughs would likely cheapen the book's emotional oomph.

In a way, it’s a relief for me to realize I can love two books from the same author when there’s a fairly significant difference in the humor of the two.

It’s something I’ve fretted about in my own writing for sure. The three books in my contract have a lot in common in terms of humor and style, but they’re not carbon copies of each other. Where my debut, Making Waves, feels more like a comedy with added romance and drama, the book slated as my August 2012 release (currently dubbed Let it Breathe) feels more like a romance with added comedy.

I’ve been working to bring them more in line with each other and worrying about what will happen if I fail to do it well. Will readers get to the third book and assume I’ve developed a crack habit? Or perhaps they’ll like the third one best and wonder why I didn’t write the other two exactly the same way.

I honestly don’t know.

Much of this will be up to my editor in the long run, and I trust she’ll raise any concerns she may have about continuity and crack habits.

But for what it’s worth, I love Making Waves just the way it is.

And as I edit my way through Let it Breathe, I realize I’m pretty happy with the tone of that book, too. They aren’t the same, but is that such a bad thing?

What’s your opinion on authors whose books fluctuate with humor or heat or tension or whatever else you’re looking for from that author? Please share, I’m truly curious.

And please check out Kristan Higgins if you haven’t already. Gotta give some love to the romantic comedy genre, know what I’m sayin?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kind acts, evil doers, and everything in between

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of random acts of kindness.

It started Friday when I was grocery shopping and a gentleman approached me.

“Can I pay you a compliment without offending you?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied, intrigued by the idea of compliment capable of offending me.

“If you have an old man who doesn’t tell you every single day how fine you look, get yourself a new old man.”

OK, so it wasn’t one of those acts of kindness like carrying my groceries to the car or helping a kid cross the street, but it still made my day.

From there, I dashed off to pick up a new pair of prescription sunglasses. The very next day, I dropped them facedown in the gravel. I almost cried when I saw the scratches on the lenses, and I drove back to Binyon Optical with a heavy heart.

“Is there anything I can buy to fill in the scratches so I don’t spend the whole summer thinking my glasses are covered with bugs?”

The customer service rep took a look at them and shrugged. “We’ll go ahead and make you new lenses, no charge.”


“Sure. You’re a loyal customer, and you just bought them yesterday.”

A cynical friend suggested my recent lack of a wedding ring – coupled with the fact that both kind deed doers were male – was to blame for both acts of kindness. Call me naïve, but I don’t think that’s it.

I was at the dog park yesterday when I spotted a sign on the bulletin board. A dog owner had typed up a statement about her canine’s bad behavior, offering an apology to a couple whose dogs her pet had apparently harassed and noting that she’s working with a professional trainer to correct the behavior.

The other dog owners must have seen it, because scrawled at the bottom was an acceptance of the apology and a note wishing them good luck with the training.

None of them had to leave those notes. They could have just gone their separate ways grumbled privately about the humping or lack of humping or whatever the canine crime was committed.
But the fact that both parties went out of their way to make things right with the other warmed my heart and reminded me that deep down, people are generally pretty kind.

I think that’s why I get annoyed when I read books with one-dimensional villains who are evil without a trace of attempted decency. Unless you live in a cartoon, bad guys aren’t generally jerks just for the sport of it. Even misguided sadists tend to believe deep down that they’re doing something good for someone.

It’s something I’m keeping in mind as I work through edits in my third contracted book. I can’t tell you much without giving away some surprise story elements, but suffice it to say, it's critical to make sure all people doing bad things have enough kindness in their characters to allow readers to relate to them.

Even if they do deserve to be punched in the nose.

What’s the last random act of kindness you performed or had performed for you? Do you share my frustration with one-dimensional bad guys? Please share.

And while we’re at it, please join me in pledging to commit at least one random act of kindness this week. Go ahead and hit on someone in the grocery store. Tell them I put you up to it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Am I the pervert or are you?

Comments from blog readers always make me smile, but one yesterday had me grinning extra big:
Anonymous Danielle Spears said...

OK, this is off subject here. Well, sort of. But is it just me, or did the object to the left of the computer on your blog image above just appear? No wonder you're in a good mood. If that's what I think it is. :)

Now you're all glancing up at the header, but I'll go ahead and paste it here just to save you the eye strain:
The quick answer is no, the illustration has been exactly the same since I launched this blog in February 2010.

But it's worth discussing because, believe it or not, this ties to author branding.

I put a lot of thought into the look and feel of this blog before I launched it. I'm a passably good designer, so I purchased a variation of that image above to use as a starting point for what you see now. After removing the city skyline outside the window, changing the woman's hair color to match mine, and adding the pencil to anchor her chignon, I started adding those little "details."

The words on the computer screen. The handcuffs to her right. And yes, the object to her left.

I knew I was pushing it with that last one, but it was a very deliberate choice to use it.

If you recognize what it is, you've got a dirty mind and you're not likely to be offended by it.

If you don't recognize it as a vibrator, you probably think it's a lipstick. Or more likely, you don't notice it at all.

Either way, I get to step back, blink innocently, and say, "What? I didn't say anything. If you took it that way, looks like you're the pervert."

Or something like that.

The humor I use in my books or in my blog posts or even in my day-to-day life relies heavily on euphemism, innuendo, suggestion, and subtlety. It's seldom blatant, and it always stops short of a line that's very clear in my mind.

In other words, I'll casually set a vibrator on the desktop and leave it to you to notice, but I'm not going to post an image that shows someone using it.

I was explaining this the other day to a friend who recently began reading my blog. He wanted to see just how clear the line was in my mind, and began peppering me with rapid-fire words, raunchy phrases, and risque jokes and asking whether I would or wouldn't say it on my blog.

For the record, this conversation was not held in the children's section at my local library.

In every single case, I could say instantly if something was blog-appropriate. I may not have spelled out the rules in a user manual I keep on my desktop, but I know without question where the line is. I might push it from time to time, but I don't cross it.

So there you have it – a little insight into the creation and maintenance of an author brand.

Where do you draw the line on risque humor? Are there certain topics or phrases that are off limits. Er, this is one of those discussions that could quickly deteriorate, so try to keep it subtle if you can. Consider it a challenge!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting myself in the mood

For the last couple months, I’ve received a certain type of message three or four times a week.

It’s usually from a long-lost college pal or a Facebook friend or a regular blog reader who happened to be spelunking the caves of Slovenia when I announced my divorce.

I’m so sorry, the message will start.

I didn’t hear about it until just now.

How are you doing?

There’s usually a paragraph or two of wonderful, heartfelt sentiment – a personal experience with divorce, a virtual butt pat, a reminder that things will get better.

I appreciate the messages more than you can imagine, and I’m touched each time I open one.

I don’t mean I have someone under my desk waiting to grope me while I read my email, though that is on my personal fantasy list.

No, I mean I’m emotionally moved by the arrival of one of these notes. They mean a lot to me.

And yet, they’re always a little jarring.

The truth is, I’m doing great. Ridiculously, joyfully great.

I won’t lie, things were bumpy there at first. I’ll also admit there are days I’d rather stick my hand in a blender and hit pulse than deal with the details of deciding who gets the sofa or whether the dog counts as an asset or a liability.

But for the most part, I feel stupidly happy 98% of the time.

I’ve also grown a little protective of that feeling. I want to nurture it, coddle it, make sweet-sweet love to it in a room filled with sage scented candles and Barry White playing on the iPod.

A co-worker once described me as the least moody person she’s ever met. Years later, I still consider that one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten. More than anything, it’s due to momentum. I make up my mind to be happy, and if I put my head down and keep plowing forward, I pretty much stay that way.

I think that’s one reason I’ve been procrastinating this round of edits on my third contracted novel. For those playing along at home, this is the romantic comedy I was writing while my marriage was falling apart like a cheap sex toy. Given those circumstances, there was no way the story wouldn’t end up with a more melancholy tone than the first two.

My three critique partners and three beta readers did a fabulous job of kicking my ass and whipping the story into shape so it might make readers want to laugh instead of drown themselves in the toilet. By the time it got to my amazing agent, she assured me she would feel more than confident sending it to my editor as-is.

And yet…and yet….something was still “off.”

She knew it, I knew it, and we spent a long time on the phone trying to figure it out.

And now I’ve spent a month just marinating on those notes.

I say “marinating” because it sounds a lot less lazy than “procrastinating,” but that’s certainly a part of it. The truth is, I’m a little afraid to dive back into that story. I was in such a dark place when I wrote it, and I worry that diving back in will put me there again.

On the other hand, isn’t this the best time to do it?

Let’s all pause and snicker and point out to ourselves that it’s always a good time to do it.

Seriously though, the story needs an injection of joy and humor and confidence and flirtation. In my new-and-improved state of mind, shouldn’t I be able to bring those things to the manuscript instead of fearing the manuscript will drag me down like some medieval sea creature with a taste for virgin flesh?

One way or another, I'll find out this weekend. I've carved out ample time to sit my butt in the chair with my hands on the keyboard and the manuscript spread open before me like a willing hussy. I'm determined to conquer her and she may be determined to conquer me, but somewhere in the middle, we'll probably meet up and ravage each other to the point of blissful exhaustion.

What impact does your mood have on your writing? Are there times you just can’t bring yourself to write the sort of scene or story you need to be writing? A happy day when you need to craft a dark and dreary death scene, or a gloomy funk while you’re writing about a wedding?

Please share!

And for the record, I don’t own any sage scented candles or Barry White music. Perhaps I should remedy that?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to scare your new housemate in 100 words or less

Yesterday afternoon, I rented a room in my house to a 27 year old young man who just moved from out of state.

Those of you who read my previous post about taking in a tenant just realized I now share my home with two twenty-something males. If I have to get creative to pay the mortgage, I might as well enjoy the scenery.

The second I had the signed rental agreement in hand, I remembered something I needed to share with my new housemate.

“You know how I told you I’m pretty quiet and don’t have a lot of houseguests or loud parties?”

He gave me a wary look, probably wondering how binding the rental agreement would be if he tore it up and ate the pieces. “Yeah?”

“That’s all true,” I assured him, “Except for this Thursday night.”

“What’s Thursday night?”

“A party. With a lot of women. One men aren’t allowed to be at.”

He frowned. “What sort of party is that?”

How does one explain the concept of a Pure Romance Party to a strange man one has met mere hours before, and who, for the next few months anyway, will be sharing the laundry room and the good skillet?

“It’s sort of like a Tupperware party,” I said carefully. “Only instead of salad containers, think of sex toys.”

“Think of sex toys?”

“Not right now,” I added. “I mean, you don’t have to think about them now, or ever, really, but they will be in the house on Thursday evening. So will a lot of women consuming large quantities of wine and passing the sex toys around for perusal and purchase.”

I couldn’t read his expression. That’s probably because we’d exchanged a total of eighty words at this point, and seventy of them had to do with rent and background checks. I honestly wasn’t sure if he was preparing to flee or preparing to look under my sofa for the hidden camera.

“The thing is,” I continued, “men aren’t allowed to be present for these things, so you probably want to hide in your room or go to a movie or something. And I can’t guarantee your safety if you show up in the living room and get swarmed by two dozen women hopped up on estrogen and Pinot Noir.”

I gave him my best smile and handed him a house key. “So here you go. And welcome. I’m really not a pervert or a party animal.”

I’m pretty sure he knew I was lying about at least one of those things.

Nevertheless, he took the key and retreated to his room, where he’s probably busy installing a deadbolt as I type this.

It's possible I'm the worst landlord in history.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What did you just call me?

Yesterday was my grandmother’s 80th birthday. As I scrolled through my phone to find her number so I could call and congratulate her on turning 24, I didn’t look under “G” for grandma or “D” for Donna.

I looked under “H” for Hot Lips.

I can’t say for certain when I began calling her that, but I remember it had something to do with wanting her to feel fun and sassy after her divorce from my grandfather.

The nickname has stuck so powerfully in my mind that I forget most people don’t refer to their grandmothers as Hot Lips. I can’t imagine addressing a piece of mail to her that didn’t include that label (nor can I imagine her mailman’s disappointment if I ever did).

I’ve had a lot of nicknames in my life. For much of my childhood, my father called me Buzzard Snot, or simply “Buzz.”

I pretended to be annoyed, but secretly loved it. It said a lot about the dynamic of our relationship and my father’s unique sense of humor.

In my adult years, I’ve been Tawnanananana, TF, Tawnita, and my personal favorite, TnA. Each of those makes me think fond thoughts about the person who dubbed me that, and I’ve been known to sign email messages with the appropriate (or inappropriate) moniker.

In my third contracted romantic comedy, my main character is named Riesling. Her family owns a vineyard, and the name comes from a variety of grape that produces wines ranging from extremely sweet to bitingly dry.

A bit like the character.

The only person who calls her by her full name is her ex-husband, and he does it to tease and annoy her. To most people, she’s Reese, Reesey, Peanut Butter Cup, or Hot Tits.

You can blame her grandma for that last one.

Each of those nicknames says something about the person who calls her that and the relationship they have with Reese. It was a fun dynamic to explore, and one of those subtle ways to “show” characterization instead of “telling.”

Do you have a nickname you’re willing to share? Do you tend to use nicknames in your writing? If so, do they serve a purpose in characterization, or are they just for fun? Please share!

And let me know which name you’d like me to use if we ever meet up at a book signing. I'll be practicing the "Buzzard Snot" signature, just in case.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My mad skillz you'll never witness

I am the best singer in the universe.

This becomes apparent each time I'm alone in the car like I was this past weekend. Seven hours of round-trip driving for an RWA meeting in Portland, and each of those hours was spent singing along with my iPod in such perfect harmony, the angels were weeping.

It's possible I misunderstood the reason for their tears.

It's also possible I'm not the best singer in the universe. You see, this isn't a theory I'm willing to test. I would sooner remove the skin from my own forearm with a carrot peeler than sing in front of anyone. Deep down, I realize I am most likely tone deaf. I recognize that when the dog leaves the room after I burst into song, she's not doing it because she's deeply moved by my musical talent.

The thing is, I'm perfectly OK living the rest of my life without having my singing ability confirmed or ridiculed by an outside party. I don't need to sing for an audience to enjoy myself immensely on long car rides. If I keep my skills to myself, I can continue to believe for the rest of my life that I might just be fabulously talented.

I've thought about this as I've attended RWA meetings and participated in various online writer forums and realized there are some people who never seem to finish a book. They might go to meetings or join discussions of craft, but they avoid critique groups like herpes and don't seem to feel any real urgency to submit their work to agents or editors.

On one hand, I can respect that. Whether it's shyness or self-preservation, I have to trust that most writers have a sense of when they are and aren't ready to share their work with others.

At the same time, it makes me sad. What if they really are ready? What if the feedback they might gain from sharing with others would be the thing those writers need to catapult them to the next level?

Sadly, I know this isn't the case with me and my singing skills. I can accept the fact that a music career is not in the cards for me, and I believe every stray cat in the neighborhood just breathed a collective sigh of relief that I have no desire to perform outside the confines of my automobile.

Do you have any skill (and I use that term loosely) you prefer to keep to yourself for fear of having your shortcomings revealed? Have you ever felt that way about letting others read your writing? Please share!

And don't worry, I won't be sharing my singing. You can thank me later for that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Things I never thought I'd yell

It’s disturbing how often I find myself shouting, “Stop biting the vacuum cleaner!”

I posted something similar to that sentence on Twitter Thursday morning. Within minutes, I had replies from oodles of Twitter pals offering similar phrases they never thought they’d find themselves yelling:

  • Get your butt out of my face!
  • Stop licking the carpet!
  • Don’t eat that!
  • Stop dominating her!
  • Quit biting your tushy!
At a certain point, it occurred to me none of us actually specified we were talking about pets. Perhaps some of us weren’t.

Nevertheless, the whole thing made me giggle, and made me post it on Facebook just for more giggles. (For the record, if you think I make this stuff up for cheap laughs, behold the reply on Facebook from my young roommate noting how he overheard me yelling the vacuum thing that very morning. It’s true, people. Except when it’s not).

What are some phrases you’ve caught yourself shouting to pets, kids, or significant others that make you shake your head and mutter, “is this really my life?”

Please share! We could all use the laughter.

Also, don’t forget to drop by The Debutante Ball today where we’ve been chatting about writing advice all week. Today, I tell you why you should ignore me.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do you click your books or grope them?

I got my first eReader last summer as a surprise birthday gift. Though I adore the Kindle with every fiber of my being, I still haven’t gotten the hang of it.

I don’t mean that in an “I can’t turn it on” way (Please! Can you really picturing me uttering that phrase under any circumstances?)

I mean that while I dearly love my eReader, I don’t picture myself ever giving up actual hard-copy books. The Kindle is great for travel and for drunken book purchases at 1 a.m. when I desperately believe I can’t wait another six hours to own that text on advanced botany. The hard copy books are great for holding and loving and groping and caressing and loaning to friends.

But there’s a lot of crossover, isn’t there?

Take Kristina McMorris’s debut novel Letters from Home. She’s a chaptermate in the Rose City RWA group I belong to, and I’ve been looking forward to her book since last fall when she gave an amazing conference presentation about selling a book that’s a hard sell.

I pre-ordered her book for my Kindle the second I was able to do it, and it downloaded to my device just after midnight the day it was released. Pretty cool, right?

But I just realized something. This weekend I’ll be going to my first RWA meeting since her book came out, and I’d desperately love to have her sign my copy. Do you think I should have her autograph the screen on my Kindle, or that section right under the keyboard?

I wrestled with the eBook vs. paperback decision again recently when Kristan Higgins’ new book My One and Only was released. She’s one of my favorite romantic comedy authors, and my book club is reading her new release for our next meeting.

“You should buy the hard copy,” one of the other members said when I mentioned I couldn’t decide between eBook or paperback.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because then I can borrow it.”

Which may be true, but is that really the right thing to do? Don’t I want to encourage people to buy their own copies and support a fellow author?

In the end, I bought the paperback. I know Kristan Higgins will be at RWA Nationals in June, and how cool would it be to stalk her in the bathroom to casually run into her and ask her to sign my copy?

Do you have an eReader? If so, how do you decide when to buy hard copies and when to go for the digital download? Please share!

I’ll be testing out Crayola markers on the Kindle. Do you think Kristina McMorris would rather sign in pink or green?

4 reasons to give as good as you get with critique partners

It’s easy to get a little selfish in love or critique partner relationships. Who doesn’t fantasize about lying back against the pillows while someone strong and skilled and devastatingly gorgeous does all the work and you just savor the feel of…

I’m sorry, where was I?

Critique partners. Right.

I have three, and through some bizarre twist of timing, I haven’t been called upon to read new work from any of them for at least six months. They’ve all done critiques for me in that time, setting up a slight imbalance that’s all take and no give.

Not that I’m complaining about being the taker.

When I saw the new file in my inbox from a critique partner last night, I confess I felt a tiny stab of disappointment. It was the end of “it’s all about me.”

Or was it?

Truth be told, there’s a lot to be gained from being on the giving end of a critique partner dynamic. Here are four things I can think of:

Reading is a good thing
Whenever I’m asked for the best advice I can give writers hoping to improve, I tell them to read. Read fiction, non-fiction, novels, magazines, and cereal boxes. Reading new material from a critique partner fits the bill, with the added perk of forcing you to read more closely than you might if you were merely studying the back of the Lysol can in the bathroom.

Do it to yourself
Show of hands for those of you in critique partner relationships – how many times have you torn up a partner’s chapter and then opened your own manuscript to discover you’re guilty of the same damn offense you just nailed someone else for? Whether it’s plot holes or “telling” instead of “showing,” we’ve probably all done it. There’s something about nit-picking another person’s work that sharpens your ability to see similar errors in your writing. Use that to your advantage and turn your finely-tuned critical eye back on yourself.

Give a little, get a little 
One of the best things about working with other writers is that no one does it quite the same way. The critique partner who sent me her work the other night is a neurotic plotter, while I take the seat-of-my-pants (pantster) approach. Our individual strategies work fine for us, but we can always learn from each other.

In plotting her new cozy, my critique partner created a Q&A document to answer important questions like “Who is the murder victim?” and “What motive does the heroine have for wanting him dead?” and “Who is the real killer?” She’d already answered most of the questions for herself, but since she’d left the last one blank, I took the liberty of joking that half the fun of being a pantster is finding out whodunit at the same time the other characters do.

Then I found myself looking at her Q&A chart with envy, thinking, “hey, that might make life easier the next time I write a cozy…”

It’s fun to swing both ways 
Brainstorming together is a big part of my process with any critique partner. Sharing ideas about writing gets your brain chewing on crunchy nuggets of story ideas that may not all fit into one manuscript. While I’d never suggest stealing anything from a critique partner’s work, it’s unlikely all the tidbits you brainstorm together will be used in a single story. If an idea gets tossed in your partner’s trash bin with no hope of resurrection, there’s no shame in asking if you can dig it back out, dust it off, and fit it into your own story.

What do you gain from being on the giving end of critiques? Is it better to give than receive, or is the balance what makes things gratifying for all involved? Do you prefer to lie back and take, take, take, or do you find satisfaction in giving, too?

Is it hot in here?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What the hell is Semach?

If given a choice between leaving my house without clothing or without some sort of list, I’d be naked before I even got in the car.

I’m incapable of running any errand without a list to guide me. Sometimes it’s a collection of stopping points scrawled on the palm of my hand, and other times it’s a grocery list on a piece of scratch paper.

I know, I know…my iPhone surely has a way to streamline this process, but old habits die hard.

Yesterday afternoon, I scribbled a note that was half grocery list, half recipe. I wanted to make beer cheese soup and needed a few items from Trader Joes.

I grabbed the first few things on the list and then stood there on the wine aisle squinting at my own handwriting.

Semach? What the hell is Semach?
I retraced my steps through the store, hoping something might jog my memory.

No luck.

I stared at the list some more, thinking the scratched-out word or the surrounding items might provide a clue.

Nope, nothing.

I whipped out my iPhone and tweeted about it, hoping one of my Twitter followers might have an idea.

“Samiches?” someone suggested.

“Eeeeew,” tweeted someone with either a filthier mind than I have or a genuine distaste for Semach.

Dejected, I finished the rest of my shopping and headed to the cash register.

“Did you find everything you needed?” asked the friendly cashier.

“Actually, no,” I said. “Do you have any idea what Semach might be?”


The volume of his voice and the fact that it sounded like he’d just shouted “semen!” at a paying customer caused several people to turn and stare.

I thrust my scratch paper at him. “It’s on my list and I can’t read my own writing. What do you think it says?”

He frowned at it. “That says Semach, all right.”

“Thanks.” I took the paper back and watched as he continued ringing up my purchases.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me.

“Spinach!” I yelled as he grabbed a bag of it from my cart.

He looked at my spinach. “Yes. This is spinach.”

“No, no! Spinach is Semach. See?”

He looked at the list and shook his head. “Whatever you say.”

Satisfied the mystery was solved, I bagged up my groceries and headed home to make a meal that, as it turned out, included neither spinach nor Semach.

Incidentally, this is why I’ve never followed that common author habit of keeping a notepad on my nightstand and writing down brilliant ideas as they come to me in the middle of the night. If I can’t read things I’ve written in broad daylight with a clear head, I suspect any notes taken in a dark room with a sleep-addled brain would drive me to the brink of insanity the following morning.

Are you as neurotic about lists and notes as I am? Do you ever have trouble reading your own writing? Have you ever jotted anything brilliant in the middle of the night and later ended up writing about it? Please share!

I have a Semach salad to make. What sort of dressing do you think that calls for?

Monday, May 9, 2011

A post-Mother's Day message

It's been a bumpy weekend dealing with divorce drama. I'm staring at the blank screen trying to come up with something funny or inspirational to blog about, and I've gotta admit, I've got nothing in me.

Hey, look – a dirty joke I didn't even intend. It's nice to know the naughty innuendos come so naturally. Speaking of coming naturally...

Never mind. Sometimes it's just too easy.

Now that I've embarrassed my mother with my filthy jokes, I want to take a moment to thank her publicly for being the most amazing mom anyone could ever hope for. Her humor, beauty, support, and unconditional love make me want to be a better person every single day. She's the wisest most amazing woman I know, and every good quality in me I owe to her and my dad.

Thank you, Mom, for being my rock and my inspiration. I'm truly the luckiest daughter on the planet.

If any of you want to argue and tell me why YOUR mom is the best, feel free to share. I'll know you're wrong, but I'm willing to hear you out.

Happy (belated) Mother's Day, everyone.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A cover! A title! Oh my!

For a couple weeks now, my book cover has been up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A few of you noticed and pointed it out to me, but I've had to refrain from making an official announcement about it. There was still some discussion happening behind the scenes at Sourcebooks, and a slim chance the title might change.

But the discussion has concluded, and the cover and title are both official.

And I have to tell you, I'm so freakin' thrilled with both that I literally cried when I first saw them. After years of hearing author horror stories about bad cover art, I feel ridiculously lucky to have gotten the most gorgeous, perfect, squeal-worthy cover for Making Waves.

Yes, that's the name of the book. And without further delay, here is the cover:
Most of you haven't read the book, so you'll have to trust me when I say I couldn't possibly envision a more perfect cover for this story. Seriously. I've been staring at it for two weeks now, afraid to blink in case it disappears.

I also got to see the official cover for the ARC (that's an advance reading copy – it's what goes to reviewers and book sellers and the occasional lucky contest winner). It's being printed right this moment, and here's what it looks like:
You should be able to click on either of those images to make them bigger. Personally, I'm planning to make them as big as possible and wallpaper my bedroom with them.

So what do you think? After over a year of buildup, was it worth it?

It certainly was for me. I think I need to go lie down now.

Don't worry, I've taped a copy of the cover to my ceiling for just such an occasion.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Let's do coffee...or not

I don't drink coffee.

Odd, considering how often I utter the phrase, "let's go grab coffee sometime," when suggesting plans with a girlfriend. So far, no one's ever complained that my beverage of choice ends up being tea.

There's been some complaining from my parents, avid coffee drinkers who were disgusted to discover that the small coffeemaker I picked up at a garage sale was capable of producing about two tablespoons of brown sludge per hour. Fearing for their health and safety, they packaged up one of their old coffeemakers and gave it to me during a visit.

So I have a coffeemaker. That doesn't mean I have any idea how to use it. When coffee drinking guests stay with me, I dig through the cupboard until I find all the things I think might be involved in the production of coffee.

"What's this?" asked my brother during a visit. He held up something that looked like a stack of paper bra cups.

"Coffee filters," I replied, though to be honest, I wasn't sure.

"These don't go to this coffeemaker."

"They don't?"

"No. They're the wrong kind. Don't worry, I'll try to make them work. Do you have any coffee?"

Pleased to answer in the affirmative, I produced a small container of coffee grounds. Wiping the dust off the top, my brother gave me a dubious look. "How long have you had this?"

I shrugged. "Four or five years?"

By the time my brother finished brewing his coffee, he was left with a cup of something he said tasted a bit like liquefied sawdust. Since that's always what I think coffee tastes like anyway, I considered it a success.

But I've vowed to be a better coffee-producing hostess since then, perhaps even learning to make it myself.

I had an opportunity last weekend when I took my car in for an oil change and the friendly chap there offered to charge me all sorts of extra fees for add-on services I may or may not have needed.

"Just the oil change," I said.

He frowned. "You really do need to have the corrosion cleaned off that battery."

"I'll get right on that."

"Tell you what," he said. "I'll give you an insider's trick. Take a big pot of black coffee and pour it carefully over the battery. Scrub it with a wire brush to get all the corrosion off, and then wait for it to dry before you spray it with some sealant."

"Coffee," I repeated. "Sealant. Got it."

I had no idea what sealant was, though I suspected I wasn't supposed to use that special spray in my bathroom cupboard that smells like cantaloupe and claims to seal hair cuticles while adding body and shine. I decided to skip that step, but the coffee I figured I could manage.

I went home and pulled out the coffeemaker. My new 20-year-old housemate and his brother wandered through just as I was plugging it into the wall.

"You're making coffee?" he asked in the same tone he might have used to ask you're removing your own spleen with a grapefruit spoon?

"Trying to," I said. "Anyone know where the on switch is?"

The three of us fumbled around for a few minutes, mimicking the punchline of a joke that begins, how many monkeys does it take to make a pot of coffee?

Eventually, we got the coffee grounds in the right spot and found the switch to turn it on. We stood there staring at it, waiting for coffee to come streaming out. After about three minutes, my housemate's brother scratched his head.

"How much water did you put in it?"


So I added water, and lo and behold, something resembling coffee began a slow, pitiful trickle from the machine. A few minutes later, I was standing in my driveway, proudly pouring my first pot of coffee over my car battery. A neighbor walked by and stared at me.

"Morning!" I called. "Want some coffee? I made it."

He shook his head. "Um, thanks. I'm good."

So now I have a clean car battery and a newfound skill making coffee. Sorta. I don't suggest drinking it, but if you need your battery cleaned, I'm your girl.

Are there any seemingly simple tasks you know you should have mastered by now, but for whatever reason, you've failed to do so? Please tell me I'm not the only one.

Also, please tell me where the off switch is on this coffeemaker. It's not supposed to be smoking, is it?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Getting hitched" sounds dirty if you say it right

Last week, a friend informed me she needed to get up at 4 a.m. for a wedding.

“What the hell kind of wedding happens at 4 a.m.?” I demanded. “Tell me you at least get to wear pajamas.”

“I’m wearing a tiara,” she said. “It’s a party for the royal wedding. William and Kate?”

I frowned. “Is that the couple that got drunk at your Memorial Day party and tried to light farts over the barbecue?”

She stared at me like I had lizards coming out of my eye sockets – which, come to think of it, would be pretty cool.

Apparently, I was the only person on the planet unaware that Prince William was marrying Kate Middleton in the British royal wedding. Over the course of the next few days, my friend attempted to educate me about this momentous occasion. As the date drew closer, speculation grew.

Would Kate wear a tiara or a veil? What would the dress look like?

Much to my disgust, I found myself actually caring.

What is it that makes people so nutty about weddings? By “people,” I suppose I mean “women,” though I do know a guy – a perfectly straight guy – who was researching recipes for scones and clotted cream to serve last Friday morning.

I’ll admit it, I wanted one. Not badly enough to get up at 4 a.m., but close.

Still, it wasn't the scones giving everyone wedding fever last week. It was the pomp and circumstance, the hopefulness of it all, the promise of happily ever after. Who wouldn’t feel at least a little warm and tingly about that?

It wasn’t very long ago that a marriage proposal was a requirement by the end of most romance novels. Certainly the first one I wrote 8+ years ago had a betrothal, along with a lot of other abysmal clichés I’d prefer to forget.

Now that I’ve got three books scheduled for publication, there’s nothing in my contract requiring anyone to get down on one knee by the end of the story (OK, who wants to take the dirty joke on that one – Matthew? Sarah W? Malin? Linda G?)

Even so, two of my three upcoming romantic comedies include a proposal by the end. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have a clue with any of those three books whether there would or wouldn’t be an impending marriage. I was as surprised as the heroine when the hero popped the question.

Even when there’s no official proposal, it’s often implied in romance novels. Most readers assume the heroine doesn’t high-five the hero at the conclusion and say, “it’s been great knowing you, but I think I’d prefer something powered by AA batteries.”

What? It was for The Debutante
Ball. I needed it.
OK, show of hands – who watched the royal wedding? Who will admit to smiling a little at the sight of the dress? For those who read romance novels, do you have a preference whether the book does or doesn’t end in a proposal? Please share!

I have a phone call to make. I just remembered I need to get my damn tiara back. I want to wear it tomorrow night while I sit on the sofa in my pajamas drinking wine and reading smut.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wait, was that a compliment?

I was out with friends the other night to celebrate a pal’s birthday.

I bumped into a close girlfriend who’s been a great support system through my recent drama. She was with her husband, a nice guy I haven’t seen for a few months. We all chatted a bit before moving on to more interesting pursuits like beer and macaroni.

When I visited with my girlfriend the next day, she mentioned something her husband said after I left.

“I hardly recognized Tawna, she looked so ridiculously happy.”

The comment made me smile. It still makes me smile, because I know it was well-intentioned and because, in my opinion, being told I look happy is a much higher compliment than being told I have nice shoes or a great ass.

OK, maybe not the ass thing.

While I was basking in the glow of the compliment, I had to admit there was a flip-side to it. It was unintentional, to be sure, but was he suggesting that in recent months, I’ve looked like a depressed hag?

Hey, it’s possible that’s true. It’s also likely that’s not what he really meant, but isn’t that how backhanded compliments sometimes work?

One of the weirdest compliments I ever got was from the professional advisor at my college newspaper. I was working as the features editor and had known the advisor for several months when she addressed me in a staff meeting.

“You know, I didn’t think I was going to like you when we met,” she told me. “I thought you were too pretty.”

Um, what?

I suppose it’s a flattering thing for her to have said, though perhaps not a flattering reflection on her character. Is it really all that different than saying, “I thought I wouldn’t like you because you’re ugly?”

My most recent compliment-that-wasn’t-a-compliment was yesterday at the grocery store. I was buying a bottle of wine when the cashier asked for my ID. Grinning, I pulled it out of my wallet.

“Thanks so much!” I said, feeling young and spunky instead of 36 and entirely too eager to devour the wine while sitting at home alone in my pajamas. “No one ever cards me anymore.”

She shrugged. “I card everyone. Even if they look 60.”

Hey, at least the wine was good.

What’s the weirdest compliment you’ve ever received? Have you ever tried to give one and realized later that it might have a backhanded implication you didn’t intend? Please share!

Oh, and if you’d like to share the love, I encourage you to compliment one of your fellow commenters here. Let's start with lucky commenter #1, shall we?

Nice shoes. Great ass. You look ridiculously happy!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Check out my new hole

I knew I'd picked the right place when I walked in and saw this sign on the wall:

For nearly 20 years, I've contemplated piercing the upper part of my ear. I've had my lobes pierced since I was 10, but a cartilage piercing in the upper ear is a bit more complicated. It was one of those things I always figured I'd get around to doing when I had something special to commemorate – maybe an anniversary, or perhaps I'd have it done while traveling in some exotic locale.

OK, so divorce isn't exactly what I had in mind. It still seemed like a good excuse, so I marched into the nearest piercing studio on Saturday afternoon and handed my credit card to a woman with so many holes in her face she could double as a sieve.

Some of you are aware of my acute needle phobia. It's true that I'm terrified to the point of hysteria of IVs and blood draws, and I'm not overly fond of vaccinations, but there's something different about piercing. Don't ask me to explain the distinction, because then I'd have to think about it and I'll be forced to acknowledge that my phobia has more to do with some sort of weird vascular hangup than with an actual fear of sharp, pointy things, and then I will have typed the word "vascular" and I'll have thrown up a little in my mouth.

Regardless of the reason, I wasn't afraid of the piercing. Good thing, since it kinda hurt. Here's a look at the process and the end result:

I'm rather fond of it. It's still a bit tender and I'm a little terrified of catching it on my hairbrush. Overall though, I'm pleased with this small gesture to commemorate a major life event.

When it comes right down to it, most of my treasured possessions have some sort of tie like this. Nearly every painting or piece of artwork in my home is something I picked up while traveling.

Open my jewelry box and you won't find a lot of flashy, expensive stuff. What you will find is the inexpensive necklace I bought myself to commemorate my first big manuscript rejection. The delicate little pearl earrings I'm wearing in the photo above were a gift from two of my beta readers when I left the company we all worked for and took a job that would allow me more free time for writing.

Do you tend to collect sentimental objects or experiences to mark major life events? Please share!

I'll be busy shopping for sports cars. Isn't that the next step in the divorce process after body mutilation?