Friday, July 29, 2011

When authors come to dinner, hide the good silverware

I've been part of the same book club for 11 years now, and though we've been lucky enough to chat with a number of authors on the phone, we've only had two join us in person and live to talk about it.

Last night, we had the divine pleasure of having mystery author Bill Cameron make the seven-hour round trip journey to eat bacon chat with us about his most recent release, County Line.
I should start by saying I'm a huge Bill Cameron fan, and have read all his releases. For the rest of my book club, this was the first. Technically, County Line is the fourth in a series, though all the books stand alone just fine even if you haven't read the others. Because County Line has a strong female point of view I knew the group would enjoy – and because the book is so fabulous it makes me dizzy – it seemed like an excellent starting point for book club.

No one was disappointed (unless you count my dog, who felt she didn't get a fair share of the bacon-filled appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts we'd prepared in Bill's honor).

I was most fascinated by the kinds of questions the group members asked. Some wanted to know how certain characters were created. Others wanted more details on back-story. One member even challenged a part of the book that referenced female basketball players dunking (to which Bill responded with a surprising amount of research on the subject).

I knew I adored the book before our little Q&A, but I came away loving it a hundred times more after getting the inside scoop from the author himself. It's a good reminder to me as a newbie author contemplating how many guest blogs and interviews and book signings I should pack into my schedule. Does it really matter? Does anyone care what I have to say?
Toasting with bacon, in Bill's honor.

Speaking only as a reader who was tickled pink to chat and dine with an author whose books I enjoy, I can say the answer is yes.

Do you find your response to a book changes if you get a chance to interact with the author? If you got to ask one question of any author (dead or alive) who and what would you ask? Please share, I'm curious about this.

Oh, and please do yourself the favor of picking up one of Bill's books as soon as possible. Lost Dog is a natural starting point, but every single one of his books is packed with great mystery, fascinating characters, and a whole lot of wonderful Portland flavor.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A doggie-style love affair

My dog is in love.

She wasn’t looking for it, and her head-over-tail passion for my 26-year-old male housemate caught us all by surprise. She follows him around the house with her tongue hanging out, accompanies him on long hikes, and sleeps in his bed whenever he’ll let her.

He’s smitten, too. I catch him cuddling with her on the couch, talking to her when he thinks no one can hear.

But theirs is a doomed love affair.

As much as I appreciate the fact that the housemates’ presence allows me to pay the mortgage for now, I know they won’t always live here. I don’t picture myself in the kitchen with them when I’m 82, bickering about whose turn it is to buy eggs.

Which means my dog will eventually lose her boyfriend. I know this, and I wish there were some way to explain it. To let her know she shouldn’t get her furry little canine heart so tangled up in this ill-fated romance.

But then I think better of it.

When it comes to love or writing or really anything worth pursuing with passion, you don’t avoid throwing your whole self into it just because things might end badly.

What kind of world would this be if everyone who’d ever lost love or racked up a rejection pursued all future attempts with a half-hearted, half-assed approach? If you knew things weren’t going to turn out the way you hoped in the end, would you really want to miss the tail-wagging thrill of enjoying it while it lasts?

So as usual, I think my dog might be smarter than me.

Well, except for the butt licking thing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If you see my head go bouncing down the street…

I always expected the weeks surrounding the release of Making Waves would be a bit hectic. What I didn’t count on was the degree to which I would feel like my head might actually spin off my body if I didn’t routinely reach up and hold it in place.

The fact that the book shipped early from Amazon and Barnes & Noble threw me for a loop, as did reports that Making Waves began appearing in bookstores across the country a full two weeks before the intended August 2 release date. 

Not that I’m complaining, and not that it’s unusual in the book world. Still, I have to admit I literally squealed in shock when I spotted my book at the Bend, Oregon Barnes & Noble this past Sunday. Every bookstore patron within a 20-foot radius turned to see who’d been stabbed.
There’s been a lot of other excitement, too. I’ve already mentioned the 4.5 star review in RT Book Reviews that noted, “This delightfully witty debut will have readers laughing out loud,” and the article in Writer’s Digest that praised Making Waves at one of ten “notable debuts.” I think I forgot to tell you about last week’s news that Booklist magazine wrote a wonderfully glowing review that included the line, “Fenske’s off-the-wall plotting is reminiscent of a tame Carl Hiaasen on cupid juice.”

Which is great, since I adore Carl Hiaasen, and I also adore how deliciously filthy “cupid juice” sounds.

Let’s see, what else is making my head spin? All the wonderful, amazing pictures people have been emailing and tweeting and posting to Facebook as they receive Making Waves. This one of my cousin’s five-year-old was particularly adorable:

Then there's this photo from regular blog reader, Jason, proving that not only do male readers enjoy Making Waves, but so do dogs:

Then there’s the amazing series of posts and pictures assembled by Teri Anne Stanley. You may recall, she won a contest on this blog to receive an Advance Reading Copy of Making Waves by promising to show it a good time. Her posts spanning July 18 through July 26 prove she took the job very seriously. I’m particularly fond of this photo:

Thanks to everyone else who’s sent wonderful photos and notes as you’ve received and read the book. It means the world to me!

Um, what else?

Oh, yeah. There’s still time to get a free bookmark (plus a chance to win a great prize package) for sending poof that you pre-ordered the book. Details about that are right here. Deadline is July 31.

I’ve also been hearing from a lot of you about wanting me to sign your copy of Making Waves. I’m sure smarter authors have a better method than I do, but here’s what I’ve done in the past when I wanted an author to sign a book for me: I buy the book, take it to the post office, and I mail it to the author. Weird, right? Mailing the author his/her own book? 

But before I seal up the package, I have the postal worker weigh the book and a return envelope I’ve addressed to myself. I slap the postage on that bad boy, stuff it in the package with the book, and mail the whole thing to the author. That way the author has a pre-paid envelope to send the signed book back to me.

I swear it makes sense if you’ve had a couple glasses of wine. If you want to give it a shot, feel free to mail your book and your self-addressed, stamped package (snicker) to Tawna Fenske; PO Box 573; Bend, OR 97709.

OK, what else am I forgetting?

Right. Breathing. And eating. And sleeping. And sex.

Kidding, obviously. 

You know I wouldn’t forget that last one even if my head did fall off.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What slips in when you don’t notice?

The other day, someone asked my mom if she’s a terrible cook.

The question caught her off guard, and it took her a moment to realize the person was referring to the first chapter in Making Waves. In it, my heroine’s mother is casually assembling the world’s most disgusting Jell-O salad. It’s intended for comic relief, and not autobiographical in any way.

For the record, my mother is an excellent cook.

But it did get me thinking. There are plenty of people who’ll read my books and look for nuggets of my real life in there. In most cases, they’ll be barking up the wrong tree.

Then again, I’m sometimes surprised at what slips in unexpectedly (um, no pun intended. Oh, what the hell – it’s totally intended).

Not long ago, someone I don’t know well read an early draft of Believe it or Not, the book now scheduled as my second release.

“So you have a hand fetish, huh?” he asked when he’d finished.

“Um, what?”

“A hand fetish,” he repeated. “It’s totally obvious you’re obsessed with men’s hands.”

And dammit all to hell if he wasn’t right.

I hadn’t realized how thoroughly I’d revealed myself until he pointed it out, but there it was for all the world to see. Yes, I will admit it – I am driven to the brink of lust-fueled insanity by a great pair of hands.

Another time, one of my critique partners picked up on an unexpected pattern. “Do you realize at least four books you’ve written have sexually-charged scenes taking place in or near a shower?”

I went back and looked, and sure enough, there they were – a makeout scene that starts with two characters inspecting mold on a shower curtain, a phone sex scene when the heroine answers a call in the middle of showering, an actual sex scene on a bathroom counter, and of course, the much-buzzed-about shower scene in Making Waves (the only one of those aforementioned books currently out there for public consumption).

The whole thing made me wonder. Do I have a thing for showers? Should I seek clinical help, or just install some sturdy handrails and a skid-proof shower floor?

I’m not sure about the answer to any of those questions, but I’m not too worried about it. While I do follow the old adage to “write what you know,” that’s certainly not all I write. That would either be really boring or grounds for arrest.

How much reality slips into your writing? Does the line tend to blur? Do you worry that people will think something’s autobiographical when it isn’t (or recognize it is when it is?) Please share!

I’ve got a sudden urge to find someone with really great hands and make a beeline for the shower. What? It’s research.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bizarre burglars, clueless housemates, and one blog contest winner

When I decided to rent out rooms in my home during my divorce, there are key reasons I chose to take in two twenty-something males. Surprisingly, none of the reasons involved cougar-themed fantasies.

The main thing I craved were housemates who'd leave me alone. I didn't want buddies who'd want to cook meals together and talk about our feelings. I wanted to come and go as I pleased, with housemates who'd do the same. The arrangement has worked well for the most part, though it became apparent the other night we could stand to improve our communication skills.

Saturday was a whirlwind of activity, with my ex dropping by to claim a hodge-podge of possessions decreed to him in the divorce agreement. I saw one of the housemates in passing and mentioned the situation to him before a friend dropped by to pick me up for a concert.

It wasn't until much later I realized the other housemate was in the dark. My first clue came in the form of a voicemail:

Um, where is everyone? All the cars are here, and the motorcycles, too. Something weird is going on. Call me.
I didn't get the message until nearly midnight when a friend brought me home from the concert. Everyone was sound asleep by then, and after a quick tour around the house to make sure it wasn't on fire or in danger of being overtaken by poltergeists, I turned in for the evening.

The next afternoon, I came home from shopping to find the housemate in the kitchen.

"Dude," he said. "What happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"I got home from work and no one was here – not even the dog. All the cars were here though."

Before I could point out that I'd gotten a ride to the concert and the other housemate had likely taken the dog for a walk, he interrupted.

"That wasn't the weirdest part though," he said. "I went to make dinner and all the silverware was gone. Then I looked in your office and your desk was gone, but there's a new desk in there. And that cowbell over the fireplace is missing."

I wasn't sure whether to praise his observation skills or ask whether he really believed someone had broken into the house and stolen the dog, the silverware, a cowbell, and my desk (which, as he noted, the thoughtful thief had replaced with a different desk). Then he noticed the big box of silverware in my hand.

"Oh, cool," he said, reaching for the box. "It comes with ten steak knives."

I never got to explain anything else, but at least he's pleased with the new silverware.

Later that evening, I found him on the sofa drinking beer and watching television. I handed him a bowl filled with tiny slips of paper bearing the names of readers entered in Friday's blog contest. "Can you pick one?"

He dug his hand in the bowl and grabbed a slip of paper. "Rick Lipman," he read. "What's it for?"

"A contest on my blog," I replied.


"Right. I have this blog and – " I stopped myself, deciding it was probably best if he didn't know. "Enjoy your MacGyver marathon."

"Mmmph," he said, already tuning me out.

So congratulations to Rick. Send your snail mail address to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I'll hook you up with a signed copy of Making Waves. And super-huge thanks to the rest of you for all the wonderful suggestions and ideas on Friday's post. I owe you one!

Oh, and for the record, don't count on my housemates for ransom if you decide to kidnap me. We'll all be waiting awhile.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Helping hands (and other useful body parts)

One of my favorite features at the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books website is HaBO. Short for “Help a Bitch Out,” it allows readers to help others track down the name of a book when they remember a few details but have forgotten the title.

I’m feeling profoundly inspired by that spirit of teamwork and camaraderie.

Or maybe I’m just feeling overwhelmed and a little lazy.

Either way, you guys have proven similarly helpful over the 17 months I’ve been blogging, and I’m hoping you might be willing to lend a helping hand with a few things.

I’ll even make it worth your while.

There’s a bunch of stuff on my to-do list that I haven’t had time to research. My hope is that some of you have the answers off the top of your head. Give me whatever you’ve got – a web link or an idea or even just a good-natured “best of luck, bitch.”

I’ll choose one commenter to win a signed copy of Making Waves, and I’ll announce the winner on Monday. Fair enough?

OK, then. Do you know anything about…

Address labels
Cute ones, maybe even something that would allow me to add the Making Waves cover. Oh, and they have to be cheap. See, Wednesday’s promotion (which is still going) means I’ll end up mailing a whole bunch of bookmarks to strangers. As much as I adore strangers, I don’t always like giving them my home address, which is what would happen if I slapped my regular return address labels on the envelopes. I went out the other day and got a nifty P.O. box, which makes me feel a little like a spy. Now I need some new return address labels. Fast. Cheap. Cute. Did I mention cheap? I welcome any suggestions you might have.

Signature stickers 
You know those fancy little stickers you see on the cover of books that say “signed by author” or “signed edition” or whatever the hell they say? I want some. Anyone have a good resource?

Amazon tags
I keep hearing about Amazon tags, and I think I managed to add a bunch of them to the listings for Making Waves the other day. I’m actually not certain, since I had a big glass of wine in hand at the time. It’s possible I just downloaded porn. Anyone know anything about Amazon tags?

I finally got around to creating a Goodreads profile the other day. That’s good. I don’t know what the hell to do with it. That’s bad. I actually don't understand anything at all about Goodreads. Any tips would be much appreciated.

When I joined last fall, my plan was to put up a personal page, make lots of friends, and eventually transition to a fan page when I felt like I’d done something worthy of "liking." I haven’t done the fan page, and I’m not sure I want yet another thing to maintain. Thoughts?

Those are the main tasks weighing heavily on my to-do list right now, but feel free to advise me on pretty much anything. With Making Waves already landing on bookshelves and in mailboxes, life’s going to be pretty hectic for me for the next few weeks. I might just need you to tell me how to get dressed in the morning.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The things we don't want to know

When I lived in Venezuela after college, I met a lot of interesting people from around the world. One was a girl from Sweden whose longtime boyfriend was a famous magician.

I was fascinated.

“Does he tell you how all the tricks work?” I asked her.

“I don’t want to know,” she told me with a smile. “It would ruin the mystique.”

I’ll admit it, I thought she was crazy. I’m the sort of person who opens Christmas presents early and reads online spoilers to learn how this season’s Bachelorette ends even though I’m not watching the show.

But the issue bubbled to the forefront of my brain yesterday morning when several of you told me Amazon was indicating only a few copies of Making Waves remained in stock. Was it really going to sell out? What did that mean? Did I need to start photocopying pages and mailing them off to Amazon?

The short answer is no: Amazon has plenty of books to sell.

But the whole thing set off a chain of conversations between my agent, me, and various execs at Sourcebooks about how sales totals are tallied, how many books are sent to different outlets, and how many copies have actually sold so far.

And that’s the part where I found myself wanting to put my fingers in my ear and hum. As it turns out, I don’t want to know.

It was a surprising sensation, but true. At this point, I can’t do much to control whether Amazon decides to ship the book two weeks early or how that might impact my first-week sales stats. I can’t control what the reviewers are saying. When presented with numbers about how many books have been printed or sold, all I can do is bite my nails and fret.
You may be surprised to know biting and fretting isn’t very productive.

The way I figure it, I already have plenty of things to worry about in my day-to-day life. There’s not much sense adding to the list with stuff I can’t do a damn thing about right now. I guess that’s why I find myself whimpering, “don’t tell me anything.” While ignorance may not be bliss, it at least keeps me from lying awake all night wondering if one more blog post about hurking in my underwear might’ve made the difference between my book becoming a bestseller or fading into oblivion.

How do you feel about surprises? Would you want to know how the magic tricks are done or how your book stats look once it’s out of your hands? Please share.

Oh, and if you know any good magic tricks, share those as well. I should have another skill to fall back on in case this writing thing doesn’t pan out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My plea to headlock required

You know how I’ve made it a point never to put anyone in a headlock and scream “buy my book!”

It’s because I believe wholeheartedly that social media works best when sales pitches are kept to a bare minimum, and I try to be bare as much as possible.

But today I’m making the plea – BUY MY BOOK!

Or more specifically, pre-order it. Like, now.

See, books are judged heavily on the first week’s sales. Pre-orders count toward that week, which is why you see a lot of authors dancing topless in exchange for pre-orders in the weeks leading up to release day.

I’m not saying I think I have a snowball’s chance in hell of hitting the New York Times list my first week out, but I always believe in giving any long-shot my best effort. Even though I know odds are slim Daniel Craig will leave his new wife to make wild, passionate love to me, I still Fed-Ex him locks of my hair every week.

So here’s my plea:
  1. Pre-order the Making Waves by Sunday, July 31. You can order at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Powells Books or IndieBound.
  2. Send an email to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com with the subject line “Hell yes I pre-ordered!” In the email, include either an electronic copy of your receipt, or if you already received the book due to Amazon's early shipment, a photo of yourself with the book.
  3. Include your snail-mail address.

Follow those steps by Sunday, July 31 and I’ll mail you a signed Making Waves bookmark. Those of you reading the e-book version will find it makes a lovely coaster for a really narrow drink.

Everyone who participates gets the bookmark. In addition, everyone will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Making Waves (hey, you can give your unsigned one to a friend) as well as a signed Advance Reading Copy of my second contracted romantic comedy, Believe it Or Not when it’s available. Not a bad package, right?

I said “package.”

So there’s my plea. No headlock required, right?

If you have any questions, leave ‘em in the comments. Otherwise, I’ll be over here hitting “refresh” on my in-box over and over and over and…

Holy cow, you guys! Um, talk about speedy response! Amazon is already showing limited quantities in stock (it said six copies just ten minutes ago, and now it says two). My amazing agent scrambled to touch base with the publisher and make sure there are plenty of books available. They've assured us there are, and that if anyone does happen to run out, printing more is a speedy proposition. So keep ordering, and thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The words that turn us on

There’s a line in Making Waves that my editor loves with a blinding, white-hot passion that borders on obsession.

I can’t actually tell you what the line is, because those nine words give away two of the book’s major plot twists.

I will tell you that while the line was meant to be funny, I’m pretty sure no one else finds it as hilarious as she does.

Nevertheless, I’m flattered by her passion for anything I’ve written, even if I am a little flummoxed by her command that I give her something similar in all future books.

No pressure.

It’s a terribly good reminder of two important facts in writing:

1)      It’s all subjective. Whether you’re talking editors or agents or your bikini waxer, few people will have the same reaction to the words you write.
2)      The simplest lines can have the biggest impact.

I’m a passionate believer in the first principal, but since I’ve hammered that home so many times it actually has its own label in my blog archives, I thought I’d touch on the other one for a minute.

A lot of people who’ve gotten their hands on advance copies of Making Waves have emailed to tell me what they like about the book. I love this more than you can possibly imagine, and there’s one line readers consistently praise that I can share without giving away any major plot points.

The line is spoken by the book’s hero (Alex) in response to a question from the heroine (Juli) about his biggest turn-on:

Anytime a woman does anything with her mouth anywhere near my neck, I lose it completely.

It appears several more times in the book, and I can’t actually take credit for it. I borrowed it from a pal who’s well aware I used it, and who, for the record, has never had my mouth (or any other body parts) anywhere near his neck.

But I do understand why the line resonates with readers, particularly of the female persuasion.

Part of it is the context. At the point in the story that Alex says it, he’s already established he’s a fairly take-charge, sexual guy. There’s something sweet and disarming about having his biggest turn-on be something so simple and innocent.

For Juli, it’s a heady feeling being handed the key to making someone else’s toes curl. Even better, it’s something easy to execute. I doubt anyone would be as excited if Alex’s weakness was having a woman eat beluga caviar out of his navel while executing a downward dog yoga pose.

There’s also something charming about the fact that Alex trusts Juli with this detail about himself. True, he’s not revealing some embarrassingly kinky fetish, but he is giving her a fairly intimate piece of information. The fact that he’s willing to do that – and the way she chooses to respond to it – says a lot about the dynamic between them.

Are there certain lines in your favorite books that resonate with you more than others? How about in your own writing? Please share.

And please don’t attempt that caviar thing at home. I take no responsibility for injuries or carpet stains.

Monday, July 18, 2011

There's more than one way to shave a cat

If a guy offers to shave your kitty, he doesn't necessarily deserve to be slapped.

As it turns out, not everyone has a filthy mind. As it also turns out, it takes more than one person to groom an ill-tempered cat.
Blue Cat before the big shave.

For months, I've been meaning to give Blue Cat a summer haircut. Besides having extremely long fur that's prone to matting, he has a fondness for rolling in dirt and cheatgrass. We reached a point that I felt like I was holding a filthy hippie with foul-smelling dreadlocks, only this hippie drools when he purrs. I knew something needed to be done, but the idea of doing it by myself was as appealing as rubbing wasabi in my eye.

A good friend who's either exceptionally kind or mildly suicidal offered to lend a hand, so we corralled Blue Cat in my downstairs bathroom and gathered all the necessary supplies. For the first thirty seconds, Blue Cat just thought he was being petted by someone with a vibrating hand.

Then he looked back and saw his fur coming off in clumps. That's when I lost the first layer of skin off my forearm.

As Blue Cat yowled, the dog whined on the other side of the bathroom door. When I slipped out to grab a pair of scissors, one of the other cats went skittering under the guest bed, convinced his turn was next.

Blue Cat took a swipe at me as I came back in the room. I wrestled him to the ground again and tried to make him see reason.

"You'll feel so much better when it's done," I told him.

He hissed and bit my hand.

In a way, I could relate. How many times have I tackled a set of revisions the same way? I know it's for the best. I know how great it will feel when the whole thing is over. Even so, I approach the endeavor with so much snarling and spitting you'd think someone was removing my kidney with a pair of pliers.

Are there tasks you undertake like this? How do you move past the shrieking and hissing and into a realm of acceptance? Please share.

And while we're sharing, here are some photos from the great cat shave of 2011. It'll be just like you were there (minus the claws embedded in your shoulder).
It takes several hands to subdue the vicious beast.

Blue Cat escapes mid-way through the shave and sulks in the bathtub.
Almost done...

A big old pile of Blue Cat.
Purring happily on my lap now that the trauma is over.

Friday, July 15, 2011

When is a release date not a release date?

You know what I love best about you guys?

I mean besides your sultry, sexy voices and firm but gentle hands (er, go to the Debutante Ball today if you want to see me explore that subject in more depth).

No, what I really love is that you keep me from being completely ignorant about my own book.

As I shared yesterday, I had no idea the September issue of Writer's Digest magazine contained such a lovely piece listing Making Waves as one of 10 "notable debuts" until a bunch of you emailed to tell me so.

When I opened my inbox last night to a flood of messages from friends and strangers alike, I felt another flutter of excitement. Were you writing to tell me I'd been nominated for president? Was there a warrant out for my arrest? Or maybe a sale at Pure Romance?

It wasn't any of those things, though it was almost as exciting as discounted sex toys. Apparently, Making Waves is being released a couple weeks early. Here's the text of one of the emails someone forwarded me from Amazon:

That was news to me, so I did a little sleuthing. Friends who pre-ordered the Kindle version of the book from Amazon didn't get that message, so it's apparently just the paperback. And I haven't heard from anyone who ordered from Barnes & Noble or Borders or Powells, so I'm not sure if those will ship early as well, or if it's just an Amazon thing.

I have no idea if it's some sort of shipping screw-up or a deliberate, strategic move from my publisher. I'm waiting to hear from my editor on that one.

When I shared the news with a close friend last night, I could tell he was worried I'd be upset. After all, the August 2 date has been marked on my calendar in lipstick since December, and burned into my brain even before that.

But honestly, I've never expected this grand, sweeping, drum-roll moment where the book is released in some elaborate ceremony and the angels sing from on high.

OK, I might've imagined that, but I didn't expect it.

I always assumed it would be more of a slow trickle. A few books appearing on the shelves of some suburban Barnes & Noble in Peoria a few weeks before they're supposed to, or an indie bookstore in Tampa not getting around to shelving them until December. Unless you write books that contain the words "Harry" and "Potter," it's my understanding that there's not a lot of fanfare or certainty in a release date.

So that's what I know right now. If you pre-ordered a paperback from Amazon, it looks like it's coming early. Heck, you could probably pre-order right now and get it next week (unless, of course, this IS a mistake and someone shuts it down now that I've blogged about it).

I'm intrigued by this date thing though. Do you get thrown for a loop when something you've anticipated for months ends up changing at the last minute? Do you get attached to specific dates like birthdays and anniversaries, or are you one of those people who can say, "want to celebrate Groundhog Day early this year?" Please share!

And please let me know if you've gotten any messages regarding date changes on a pre-order, I'm curious!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writers is smart

The congratulatory emails started Tuesday morning.

I wasn’t sure why I was being congratulated, but I’ve found it’s sometimes best to play along until I figure out what the hell is going on around me. When you spend as much time as I do being clueless, you learn to operate that way.

Finally, I gathered enough puzzle pieces to figure out that someone had written something about me in the September issue of Writer’s Digest magazine. The mystery was enough to send me scrambling over to the library.

I tried to explain to the librarian what I was after, but my words came out in a jumbled torrent of excited adjectives and the occasional “holy crap!” That’s probably why she seemed intent on keeping her distance as she led me toward the magazine racks and pointed out the latest issue of the publication.
I leafed frantically through it, cursing at the thin pages and dropping the magazine twice.

“You’re sure it’s in there?” she asked.

Translation: Are you sure you’re really a writer? Because I think of writers as being kind of smart. Like at least smart enough to operate the pages of a magazine and maybe even read the sign on the front door that says pull instead of standing there like a moron shoving at it.

Or maybe she didn’t see that.

Anyway, I finally found the page, and jumped up and down a few times squealing. The librarian didn’t jump or squeal, but she did offer to photocopy the page that listed Making Waves as one of “10 Notable Debuts.”

I should point out that when I attempted to tweet and Facebook that headline, it took me three tries to spell “notable” right. 

Anyway, here’s part of the article. I won’t show you the whole thing, because obviously the good folks at Writer’s Digest want you to buy the magazine. Hey, I want to buy the magazine. As soon as my local bookstore gets it, I plan to buy at least a dozen copies.

I might even learn to turn the pages by myself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The sounds of bliss

One of my housemates is a born-and-raised Southern boy.

That means he's required by law to deep fry at least 60% of his food and cover the remaining 40% with butter, bacon, sugar, salt, or some combination of all four.

After a bacon-wrapped meatloaf incapacitated him for 24 hours, I took pity and offered to make a batch of healthy stuffed peppers with lean ground turkey and oodles of nutritious veggies.

He made a giant batch of french fries to accompany it.

I felt my arteries hardening as he dropped the fry basket into the sputtering grease, but he just sighed with pleasure.

"That's one of my favorite sounds in the whole world."

In a weird way, I could relate. Though the sound of hissing grease makes me mildly nauseous, there are certain sounds that give me instant bliss. I was reminded of that just the other day during a frantic morning of edits and emails and so many deadlines I had to wrap my head in a towel to keep it from exploding.

In the middle of it all, one of my cats hopped on my lap, turned in a circle, laid down, put his paw on my arm, and began purring loudly.

It was the auditory equivalent of Valium, and improved my mood by at least six-million percent.

In no particular order, here are some other sounds that have the same effect on me:
  • Popcorn bouncing around in my air-popper
  • My dog sighing in her sleep
  • My mom humming while she performs mundane household tasks
  • Friends cracking up over a shared joke
  • Rain pattering on my back deck when my window is open on a warm summer night
  • A hot guy singing cheerfully in the kitchen while cooking me breakfast
  • Birds chirping in the morning
  • A favorite song I haven't heard for years that randomly pops up on my iPod
  • Any combination of moans, sighs, or pleasure-prompted gasps (I should specify that's only when I intend to elicit that response from someone, though I do enjoy a good prank call as much as the next girl)
  • Water in almost any form, from a rushing river to ocean waves to the taps running in my tub
I'm sure there are a million other good ones, but those are my favorites. What sounds are guaranteed to give you instant bliss? Please share!

I'll be waiting by the phone in case that heavy breather calls back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

3 tips for reclaiming "alone time"

Last Thursday, I came home to something eerily unfamiliar –silence.

It was the first time in over a month I’ve been alone in my own home. Though acquiring two twenty-something male housemates during the divorce has helped me pay the mortgage without selling animal porn online, “alone time” has become a distant memory. Even Thursday night’s reprieve was short-lived once a housemate came home with a six-pack of beer and a plan to play guitar on the deck all evening.

For introverts like me, “alone time” is a crucial part of recharging your batteries. Even extrovert writers require it to some degree, and that's challenging when you share your home with spouses, friends, children, or celebrities seeking asylum after faking their own death.

Though locking them in the basement can be tempting, the law tends to frown on this. Here are a few things I’ve found that help when “alone time” eludes me.

I’ll admit it, I’m a social media whore. It’s easy to justify Twitter and Facebook and blogging as vital elements of book promotion, but how much energy do I burn pausing in the middle of a manuscript edit to check just one email? How long does it take me to get back into writing a chapter after stopping to send a pithy tweet about chewing a sliver from my toe?

Jonathan Fields recently blogged about what a drain these things can be when it comes to creativity and productivity. I’m seriously considering having this post tattooed on my forearm. Read it, and then remind yourself that it’s OK to miss phone calls, ignore tweets, or not respond immediately to that important email about discounted nipple tassels.Limiting your human interaction – even the virtual kind – can go a long way toward giving you quiet time you’re craving.

Be assertive
The housemate arrangement is new to me, so I’ll admit that when the boys settle in on the sofa for a movie marathon and a meatloaf the size of a Chrysler, I’m reluctant to ruin their evening. Likewise, friends with small children tell me it’s tough to turn down a toddler’s plea for attention, even when it comes at the expense of carefully planned writing time.

But I’m learning it’s OK to close the office door from time to time. It’s even OK to let others know you’ve got a scheduled window of time for productivity, and that while you appreciate their urgent need to play Electroplankton on the Nintendo, you need a little peace and quiet for an hour after dinner. As long as no one’s bleeding and nothing is on fire, it’s OK to safeguard some “alone time” for the sake of your own sanity and productivity.

It's not always practical to muzzle housemates or tell your spouse to go sit on the porch all night so you can finish a chapter. That doesn’t mean you can’t reclaim your “alone time” elsewhere. How about a quick bubble bath or a trip to the closest coffeehouse with your laptop? For me, the quickest battery recharge comes from taking a nice hike with my dog. Picking up poop in a baggie is a small price to pay for a bit of exercise and an hour with someone who doesn’t talk to me about whose turn it is to buy dish soap.

Those are my tips for reclaiming “alone time.” What are yours?How do you recharge when the demands of human interaction get to be too much?Please share, I need all the tips I can get!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wallowing in the happy stuff

You guys cracked me up all weekend long with your comments about how you'd show the Making Waves ARC a good time.

As a newly-single girl, I've gotta admit I'm jealous of my ARC. The last time someone asked me on a date, it was an invitation to go shopping at the Dollar Store.

My amazing agent and I pored over the responses and had a tough time picking just one winner.

So we didn't.

As it turns out, Michelle has TWO advance reading copies of Making Waves, so we got the pleasure of choosing more than one winner. It was still difficult, but it came down to the following fabulous responses:

Blogger Teri Anne Stanley said...
I feel kind of like a contestant on The Dating Game!

I would like to take your ARC on a tour of Richwood and Union, towns in Boone County, Kentucky. Why? Because these are all real places:

We'll start of with a bang at Big Bone Lick State Park (the home of American Paleontology, honest), which is located on Beaver Road, and around the Corner from both the Beaver Lick Church of God and the Big Bone Baptist Church.

We will drive down Frogtown Road on our way to Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, although the mayor, Junior, a laborador retriever, passed away not too long ago. Not sure if they've yet sworn in the horse to replace him. But we can stop at the General Store to ask. Rabbit Hash is also a weekend destination for lots of bikers, so we can totally pimp you there.

Unfortunately, the street sign for the town of Sugar Tit keeps getting stolen, but we can maybe find a copy of an old map to prove we've been there.

Gosh, I only just realized it, but I guess we could get metaphorical with "Richwood" and "Union", too, if we wanted...

Michelle said that response had her humming the Dating Game theme song all weekend, and I was particularly fond of all the delicious innuendo.

And then there's this entry, which won us over both for its romantic allure (engagement!) and for the whole boat thing (which is obviously a big part of Making Waves):
Jess said...

I think I'm a little late, but I had to try because geez, the only book I want to take on vacation is MAKING WAVES!

I'll bring the ARC on a week-long cruise to and vacation in Bermuda. We'll soak in the sunshine, take walks on the beach, go snorkeling (well, MAKING WAVES will have to wait on the boat), and rumor has it that it might even witness me getting engaged!

Congratulations to both Teri Anne and Jess. Email me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com with an address where you'd like the book sent and we'll get those out ASAP!

On an unrelated note, it dawned on me over the weekend that I never shared some exciting news we got a couple weeks ago. Blame it on forgetfulness, or on the fact that I'm a little uncomfortable with things that involve tooting my own horn (unless "tooting my own horn" is a euphemism for something dirty, in which case I'm totally OK with it).

Anyway, the big news we got a couple weeks ago is that RT Book Reviews magazine gave Making Waves a 4 1/2 star review in the August issue. I'll confess, I didn't know much about the publication, so I didn't realize at first what a big deal that is. For starters, I was the only contemporary romance author this month who received that many stars. Secondly, they don't actually give 5-star reviews, so that 4 1/2 doesn't mean "you suck by half a star."

And apparently, RT Book Reviews is a pretty big deal. I keep getting congratulatory email messages from other authors who are positively giddy on my behalf, which is making me giddy in return.

I'm probably not allowed to reprint the whole review, since they want people to actually buy the magazine, but I can probably share the first couple swoon-worthy lines:

This delightfully witty debut will have readers laughing out loud at the antics of this dysfunctional pirate crew. Cookie, the All-Pro tight-end chef, is a riot, the secondary romance is a terrific bonus, and the chemistry between Alex and Juli is palpable.

You know what's weird? Having people talk about my characters like they exist someplace beyond the dented walls of my brain. I guess they do now, huh? I can't quite get used to that.

Anyway, congratulations to the contest winners, and thanks again to everyone who entered.

And thanks for squealing with me in unison about that review. Ready? One, two, three...

Friday, July 8, 2011

CONTEST: My parents showed my ARC a good time. Can you?

A few weeks ago, blog readers made a compelling argument for my mother to receive one of my Advance Reading Copies of Making Waves.

As it happened, Mom was summoned for jury duty shortly thereafter. Ever the savvy marketer, she tucked the book in her bag and headed off for a long morning of thumb-twiddling with a hundred other potential jurors in a cramped waiting area. She had only been holding my ARC a short time when – just as Mom expected – a bored fellow citizen asked what she was reading.

"Well, actually..." Mom began, and launched into her Making Waves sales pitch.

I laughed 'til I snorted when she told me that, and requested photographic proof. Not only did she provide it, she and my father began a quest to show their ARC of Making Waves an all around good time. Check it out:
Mom reads Making Waves in front of the juror entrance.
Then she takes Making Waves out to dinner with her girlfriends.
Not to be outdone, Dad takes Making Waves for a cuppa joe at Starbucks.
I appreciate marketing savvy behind the public laughter with the book cover prominently displayed.
Next up, Making Waves goes golfing. Fore!
Wow, Dad can't even put the book down long enough to take the shot!

Impressive, no?

Well here's the cool part. My amazing agent, Michelle Wolfson, managed to get her hands on another ARC of Making Waves. We'll give it away to the reader who pledges to show the ARC the very best time. Where will you take it? What will you do for fun? Can my ARC be arrested in your state of residence?

Tell us in the comments where you plan to take the ARC. No fair making stuff up – we're going to expect photographic evidence later, so if a trip to Uranus is in your plans, you might want to consider the logistics.

(And please don't delve too deeply into that Uranus thing. Eeew.)

Leave a comment describing your plan for showing the Making Waves ARC a memorably good time. We'll pick a winner from all the comments left by noon PST on Sunday, July 10. The winner will be announced Monday, and the ARC shipped out right after that. Any questions? Fire away!

And get ready to show me a damn good time.

Um, my book. Show my book a good time. That's what I meant.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I am a cunning linguist

Several years ago, I was sitting in restaurant with my grandfather (a man I’ve affectionately called “The Old Bastard” for as long as I can remember).

He was scowling, an expression he wears even when asleep, so I didn’t think to ask what was troubling him until he made a grunt of disgust.

“What’s wrong?” I whispered.

“Mexicans,” he muttered, nodding toward a family sitting nearby. “Jibbering and jabbering in Spanish all the time. I know they’re talking about me.”

It just so happens I’m reasonably fluent in Spanish, so I paused a moment to eavesdrop. Then I turned back to The Old Bastard.

“They’re talking about a sale on socks.”

“Mmph,” he replied, clearly dubious about my translation.

“Now they’re talking about whether the mashed potatoes are instant or homemade,” I continued. “The woman says they’re instant, but the guy says—”

“Mmph,” grandpa replied again, effectively ending the conversation.

As much as I joke about his somewhat narrow-minded view of the world, I have to admit it can be disconcerting not to know what someone’s saying about you in a foreign language.

A couple months ago, I got an email from the publisher of LoveLetter magazine, a monthly print publication for romance readers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I have no idea how she heard about me, but when she asked if I’d be willing to do an interview, I said yes.

I typed up my replies to her questions, sent the requested photos, and didn’t think much about it until last week when a package arrived at my New York hotel room where I was attending the national conference for Romance Writers of America.

I opened the envelope and saw this:
Click to make it bigger. Wow, everything should work like that!
I knew right away what it was, so I began to skim for something recognizable. The picture, I’m certain is mine. The words…well, I can only assume:

A closer look, just so you can see the text

I took the magazine to one of my housemates who speaks a little German. He opened it on the kitchen counter and began translating passages.

“It says you have one brother,” he reported. “And you grew up in Salem, Oregon.”

“Right, right,” I prompted. “Does it say anything weird? Like that I enjoy having sex with camels?”

“Not that I can tell.” He frowned. “Then again, I don’t know the word for camel.”

In a way, I don’t want to know what it says. Though it’s likely just a translation of what I originally wrote, I want to pretend it might actually be something better. Like maybe I’m a whole lot funnier in German than I am in English.

Do you have any funny lost-in-translation stories to share? Please do!

And in case you appreciate translation humor as much as I do, I encourage you to check out one of the most hilarious websites I've encountered, If you don’t laugh at least once by the time you hit the bottom of the first page, you’re dead inside.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Are you expecting to lose?

On my last night at RWA Nationals in New York , I attended the award ceremony for the Golden Hearts and RITAs.

It’s pretty much like the Academy Awards for romance writers, though I was disappointed to discover attendees did not receive schwag bags stuffed with diamond tennis bracelets.

We did have the pleasure listening to 22 authors squeal and sob with excitement over winning the prestigious awards. It made me proud and joyful and a little sniffly to watch the whole thing unfold.

But it also made me oddly uncomfortable.

I’ll preface this by saying I’ve never stood in the shoes of an author accepting an award like that, and I’m well aware that the first words out of your mouth as you step up to the mike may not be what you mean to say. If I’m lucky enough to ever win a RITA, I'm certain my speech will begin with copious amounts of cursing and a declaration that I forgot to don underwear.

Nevertheless, I was disheartened that well over half the award recipients chose to begin their two-minute acceptance speeches with some variation of the following:

“Ohmygosh, I totally didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t prepare anything to say!”


Maybe it’s a form of modesty. Certainly it would be off-putting to have someone grab the mike and shriek, “you guys, I totally knew I'd kick everyone’s ass!”

But what I fear is that they really didn’t expect to win.

That makes me sad.

Believe me, I know the urge for self-preservation when it comes to rejection. I’ve been there many times, hoping for an offer from a agent, or eventually, a call from my agent to say the book deal was finally, FINALLY going to happen. I know the feeling of not wanting to believe the good thing might happen because it would make the letdown that much harder.

But no matter what, I always hoped it might happen. That hope was generally enough to drive me to imagine what I might say, do, and drink when presented with honors ranging from a book deal to a Nobel Prize.

That's not to say my imaginary speech would go off without a hitch. I'm certain the cursing and stupid comments would come spurting forth like man chowder from a pork sword.

But the one phrase I can never imagine myself uttering is “I didn’t expect this.”

Shouldn’t we always expect it, at least a little? If you don’t plan the details of your future success, aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?

Feel free to disagree with me on this. I certainly don’t mean to disparage any of the award winners, and lord knows I don't claim to always say the right thing. Just see the “man chowder” comment above for evidence of that.

So what do you think? Er, not about man chowder. Have you heard people accepting awards with the caveat that they expected to lose and therefore, didn't prepare anything to say? Have you done it yourself? What prompts this? Please share, I'd love to know.

And for the record, I am wearing underwear. At the moment, anyway.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sleeping with strangers in strange cities

Attending RWA Nationals in New York City was an expensive endeavor, so most authors unwilling to sell kidneys or children on the black market opted to buddy up on hotel expenses.

As a result, many of us wound up not only sharing rooms, but beds.

Not a bad way to get to know someone.
Based on attire, Jeffe's party looks more fun!

I’d arranged in advance to room with sci-fi romance author Marcella Bernard and erotica author Jeffe Kennedy. Though I’d met Marcella once at a conference in Seattle, I had never actually met Jeffe in person.

Marcella and I got there first, so we each claimed one of the two double beds and turned in for the night. Jeffe arrived late, so our first introduction to one another involved me blinking sleepily up at her.

“Hey, it’s great to finally meet you!” I said as I crawled out of bed to give her a hug.

“You, too!” she said, setting down her suitcase to hug back.

“Did you have a good flight?”

“Not bad, how about you?”

“A little long, but tolerable,” I said. “So who do you want to sleep with?”

So much for foreplay.

I have a tough time imagining many men having conversations like that, but none of us thought twice about it as Jeffe donned her nightie and crawled in next to me. She was a perfectly lovely bed partner who didn’t hog the covers or steal my pillow.

It was a scenario replicated in rooms all over the hotel, as many authors found themselves bedding down with strangers in the interest of saving a few bucks.
Hanging with Jeffe and Marcella in Central Park.

But keep in mind, RWA is an organization comprised mostly of female authors. How many men would feel comfortable with it? Probably the same number who’d look forward to snuggling under the covers with someone of the same gender while sharing a bottle of wine and a bag of pistachios and critiquing the third roommate’s wardrobe selections.

“That one’s nice, but try it with that other bra!”

“Here, wear my choker! It'll look great with that neckline!”

I hate to generalize, but most guys I know would sooner sleep in the mini-fridge.

It’s worth thinking about this in terms of writing. I ask male friends to read each manuscript I write just to flag things that sound off.

“A guy would never say this,” is a frequent note made in the margins next to a questionable piece of dialogue. I believe it. Men and women are wired differently, with different taboos, comfort zones, and ways of speaking.

When I got home from the trip, my two twenty-something male housemates were deep in conversation about motorcycle repair. After the preliminary hellos, they cut right to the chase.

“So how was it sleeping with that other chick?”

I almost felt bad not embellishing the story for their entertainment. I did see their eyes light up at the word “erotica,” and it's possible I described a pillow fight that never happened.

Are there other things you do comfortably that you can’t imagine someone of the opposite sex doing without the threat of torture? Please share!

And while you’re at it, how about sharing your bed? Might come in handy if I have to go on book tour.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What happens in New York stays in New York...Unless there are photos

I'm home from the national conference of the Romance Writers of America, and I've gotta admit, barely functional. I feel like I could sleep for about three days straight and still not be caught up.

The experience was great though, and I'm glad I went. Rather than blathering on for pages and pages about what I saw and did, I'll show you a few of the highlights...

After 3.5 years of having Michelle Wolfson as my agent, I finally, FINALLY got to meet her in person. She was every bit as fabulous as you might imagine (plus she made me feel tall, which is tough to do since I'm not quite 5'4").
Wait, is she tweeting about me?
Taking a carriage ride in Central Park with authors Jeffe Kennedy (center) and Marcella Burnard. These were my two roommates for the week. They're very nice to snuggle with and don't even hog the covers.
I got to see Bert and Ernie in Central Park. Bert dropped his head, and Ernie (the sadistic bastard) just laughed.
After the carriage ride, I got to feed the horsey. Go ahead and make a crack about the provocative way I'm holding the carrot or how pleased I look to be doing so.
Just to prove we clean up OK (both food and in appearance) here's Michelle and me out on the town.
I got to meet lots of great author pals I'd previously only known online. (Left to right) Jeannie Moon, Patty Blount, Marcella Burnard, me, and Jeffe Kennedy.
Enjoying fruity drinks with author pals Cambria Dillon (left) and Karen Amanda Hooper.

Karen thoughtfully created this lovely promotional piece for me using a Making Waves bookmark and a tropical drink. I agree with her suggestion that everyone who buys a copy of the book should get one of these.

I also got to meet my editor, Deb Werksman, at the Sourcebooks author dinner. We were picked up in limousines and given copious amounts of great food, strong drinks, and praise for being brilliant authors.
Author Carolyn Brown's husband had the best outfit of all for the Sourcebooks author dinner.
In case you're picturing a couple of porn stars groping each other at the dinner table, this is author Carolyn Brown. Both she and her husband were two of the most delightful people I had the pleasure of meeting.
And speaking of delightful, how cool is it that Michelle and I ended up matching during the last day of the conference? This is us with the fabulous Bria Quinlan, another online author pal I was thrilled to meet in person.
I got to meet my idol, Jennifer Crusie, on a couple different occasions during the conference. When I wasn't delirious from swooning, I couldn't help but notice she was speaking beneath a light fixture that looks disturbingly like a giant, glowing butthole.
All dressed up for the RITA awards ceremony with Jeffe Kennedy and Laura Bickle.

So that's a pretty solid recap. I promise to be back to regularly scheduled blogging within the next couple days. Until then, have a wonderful Fourth of July holiday!