Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Burning up, and I kinda like it

For the last week, I’ve been walking around with red eyes, a slight headache, and clothing that reeks of smoke.

No, I haven’t been hanging out in a hash bar.

This is Central Oregon in the summertime, where a weird convergence of dry, desert landscape, big trees, and frequent late-summer lightning storms results in an abundance of forest fires each year.

Currently, more than half-a-dozen fires are burning over 60,000 acres. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually a pretty slow fire season for us.

There are obvious downsides to having everything around you in flames. Aside from the occasional risk of, you know, BURNING TO DEATH, you deal with runny eyes and noses, occasional breathing difficulties, hazy skies, and hair that smells like you’ve been rolling in an ashtray.

But there’s an upside to all the summer forest fires. Every year, I make it a point to pour myself a glass of wine, retreat to my back deck around 8 p.m., and revel in that upside.

Yes, the forest fires make for excellent sunsets. The smoky haze creates an incredible filter for the slowly sinking sun, sending up bursts of technicolor orange, yellow, red, and a whole lot of other colors seldom found in the Crayola box.

Even after a few glasses of sunset-enhancing wine, the metaphor isn’t lost on me. No matter what sort of lousiness life might throw at you, there’s always something positive you can take away from it. Even when everything goes up in smoke, there’s an upside somewhere. Always.

You just have to look for it.

That’s true whether you’re talking about natural disasters, setbacks in your writing career, trauma in your personal life, or walking face-first into a door at work and breaking your nose but being kinda glad you did it because you didn't get stuck in that boring 10:30 meeting.

Hypothetically speaking.

My first book deal that fell through in 2006 when Harlequin canceled the Bombshell line?

I'm so glad now that book never hit shelves. My writing has improved and my voice has changed to the point that I almost don't recognize that story as something I produced.

The unexpected divorce that gobsmacked me earlier this year?

I would never have known how much happier I could be if I hadn't been hit squarely between the eyes by that two-by-four.

Can you think of a time you were surrounded by crummy stuff but saw a silver lining anyway? Is it generally tough or easy for you to do? Please share!

And if you’re having trouble coming up with something, I’d like to humbly invite you to my back deck this evening.

I’ll supply the wine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who reads this smut?

Me with Kristina McMorris and
Elisabeth Naughton (in the background
trying desperately to warm her ears)
Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of taking part in the 2011 NW Author Fair in Lincoln City, Oregon.

The Sourcebooks publicist arranged for me to be there, and I was giddy at the prospect of hanging out on the Oregon coast with 60+ authors who are much cooler than me.

Besides, nearly every reviewer has called Making Waves a “beach read.” What better place to sign it than at the beach?

OK, so the Oregon Coast isn’t exactly Barbados. I might have lost a few toes to frostbite. It was totally worth it to huddle up with fellow romance authors Kristina McMorris and Elisabeth Naughton and gush to strangers about each other’s books.

Within the first hour of the event, something became pretty obvious. If a customer over the age of sixty strolled past our little romance writer threesome, she was most likely to make a beeline for Kristina’s World War II love story.

I’ve read Letters from Home myself and adored it in spite of the fact that I’m not currently a member of AARP. Still, it’s not tough to see why older readers would be drawn to it.

Pretty soon, I began watching for my stereotypical reader. It took awhile to figure out what she looked like, but I soon found myself perking up at the sight of a woman in her late 30s or early 40s. She was often accompanied by another woman joining her for a girlfriends’ getaway at the coast, or maybe a teenage daughter in tow.

Either way, she had that hungry look in her eye. The look that said, “I need a good, fluffy beach read or a strong cocktail. Maybe both.”

As for Elisabeth – who writes dark, steamy paranormals – I noticed she seemed to catch the attention of anyone with a cool, edgy haircut or more than one piercing. Double bonus points if the piercing was someplace besides the earlobe.

But you know what? We often guessed wrong.

There was the woman in her late 60s with an appliquéd sweatshirt who buzzed right past Kristina and snapped up all of Elisabeth’s titles. There was the middle-aged gentleman who talked to me for a good ten minutes about the evolution of romantic comedy before snagging a copy of Making Waves. There was the woman who made a disparaging comment about “bodice rippers” before buying a book from each of us.

All that to say, you can’t judge a book by its cover – not the books themselves, nor the people who read them.

Well, OK, I might be a little judgmental of the woman who brusquely asked to take a picture of me, “in case you’re famous someday."

Still, since the release of Making Waves, I’ve been endlessly surprised at who’s buying it. Did I expect male readers to love the story, or grandmothers to giggle over the giant purple vibrator, or teen readers to relate to my 37-year-old heroine and 42-year-old hero?

Not really, but I’ll take ‘em. It’s a good reminder to me that even if I have a “target audience,” I’m wise to keep an open mind and remember that readers can come in all shapes and sizes.

Do you have a stereotype in mind when you picture readers of a certain genre? How does a sci-fi reader differ from a memoir fan? Who’d win in a cage fight between a YA reader and one who loves thrillers? Please share your stereotypes.

Then tell me about a time you got it wrong. It doesn't have to be with readers – it can be any stereotype. Surely I'm not the only one?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Way to work that wood

Every now and then, my parents get a chance to remember why I shouldn't be allowed out in public.

They got to rediscover this on Friday at the Oregon State Fair when we stumbled upon the nation’s premier lumberjack competition, the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series. The event is touted as, "wood-chopping, saw-slicing, heart-pumping lumberjack action."

You already see where this is going, don't you?

I sincerely wish I'd had an audio recorder or a notepad with me to record the running commentary from the ESPN announcers. As it was, I missed a lot of the play-by-play because I was on my knees howling with laughter as tears ran down my face and my mother simultaneously pretended not to know me and not to be every bit as amused as I was.

Here's the gist of what had me in stitches:

Announcer 1: Let's talk a little bit about the wood out here today.

Announcer 2: Yes, definitely! You know, a lot of people don't realize the hardness of the wood makes all the difference when it comes to a competition like this one.

Announcer 1: And believe me, this is some hard wood these guys are dealing with!

Announcer 2: Well, it's not just the wood, but the way the guys handle it. Stepping up to the platform now we have Floyd Jones. Now this man knows how to work the wood!

Announcer 1: Indeed he does. Watch the power behind that motion! He's really putting some muscle into it.

Announcer 2: You really have to appreciate the technique when he's working it from the front like that. A lot of people don't realize the force you need when you come at it from above.

Announcer 1: Oh, things are really heating up now! Look at the precision when he moves around to get at it from behind. That wood is about to give!

Announcer 2: And he's down!

We only got to watch one round before my parents decided we might be better off in the livestock barn.

If you've ever seen ram testicles, you already know that was a severe miscalculation on their part.

So how was your weekend? Any good wood whacking or other forms of unintentional risque humor? Please share!

Friday, August 26, 2011

You ARE a real author, dammit (still! always! yes!)

I've found myself at a lot of book signing events lately. The most perplexing thing about that is that I'm the one doing the signing.

I still can't wrap my brain around that, but if you happen to be in Oregon and you're craving a trip to the coast this weekend, I'd love to see you at the Northwest Author Fair on Saturday, where more than 60 authors from around the region will be hanging out hoping it doesn't rain on us.

The fact that I've been allowed out in public with my author hat on a lot lately has me thinking about a blog post I wrote 16 months ago – just a few months after my agent landed me this amazing three-book deal with Sourcebooks. I was responding to the way people began treating me differently once they learned I had a book deal.

Now that the book has been on the shelves a few weeks and seems to be getting a lot of very lovely buzz, I'm noticing it even more. For that reason, I want to resurrect the post.

I'm editing a couple words from the original to reflect a change in marital status, well, it's my blog, and I can do stuff like that. And I suppose I should change my age from 35 to 37. Oh, and I guess I have to knock a few pounds off my weight because going through divorce means you eat a lot of cold cereal and frozen peas for dinner.

But otherwise, it's the same damn post that ran last April. I still believe every word of it.

So should you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

You ARE a real author, dammit

There’s a list of questions you aren’t supposed to ask a woman, and I’ve never minded answering any of them.

I’ll cheerfully tell you my age (37), my height and weight (5’4” and 113 pounds), or the reason I never had kids (I didn't particularly want them).

But until eight weeks ago, there was one question I truly dreaded:

How many books have you published?

Though the answer now is the same as it was eight weeks ago (none, yet), I can at least follow up by giving details of my upcoming releases.

But I still hate the question. Because let’s face it, the reason the person is asking is to determine if they’re talking to a “real author,” or…well, something less than that.

And that’s an implication that makes me uncomfortable even now that I have a three-book deal that apparently entitles me to carry the “real author” license.

It’s not just people unfamiliar with the publishing industry who seem hell-bent on distinguishing between “real authors” and whatever the opposite of that would be (unreal authors?) We do it ourselves as authors every time we sell ourselves short and allow people to make us feel inferior for the mere fact that we haven’t yet reached that next stage.

I guess this is why I find myself bristling now when someone suddenly treats me differently upon learning about my book deal. There’s a certain level of respect that comes along with that, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

I know I sound like an ungrateful bitch, but that’s not it at all. The thing is, I’m the same damn author I was eight weeks ago. Or eight years ago.

If you want to split hairs, two of the three books in my contract started with partial manuscripts I wrote nearly three years ago under a previous agent who just wasn't interested in them. These are the same damn books my current agent adores and my new editor recently gushed over, saying, “everyone here is just in love with your voice.”

So I haven’t changed, right?

But I have, at least in the eyes of writers and non-writers alike. In some ways, this makes my heart swell like a boner in a bad porn.

In other ways, it makes me angry. I’m angry on behalf of every author who’s ever felt sub-par because the magic wand of dumb luck hasn’t yet waved over her head and granted her an agent or a book deal or the level of respect she deserves just for trying to break into publishing.

Writing books is hard work. Everyone who’s ever attempted it deserves the “real author” label and all the respect that seems to come with it.

Whether you’re a brand new writer with distant dreams of publication or someone who’s lost count of the number of weeks spent on the New York Times Bestseller list, you’re still a “real author.”

You have to remember that. The world is primed to make the unpublished author feel inferior, and that can kill your self esteem even more than a bad critique or an outright rejection.

You are a “real author.”

Now go write some real books, dammit.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do you fake it when you just can't finish?

Sometimes you just can’t finish. You desperately want to, and you try ‘til your eyes roll back in your skull, but there’s a point you know it’s just not going to happen. Then shame sets in, and you wonder if you should admit it or just go ahead and fake it with a gratuitous, “wow, that was really great.”

I’m talking about books, you perverts.

When I was young, I felt it was my duty to finish any book I started reading. It didn’t matter how boring I found the story or how uninspiring the characters. I had to keep going. I owed it to myself, my parents, my library, the author….well, I wasn’t actually sure who I owed it to, but I knew failing to finish a book was a failure of the highest magnitude.

I’ll never forget the first book I gave up on. It was about ten years ago, and no, I won’t name it here. I will say it was a popular bestseller that just didn’t make my toes curl. I felt bad about that. Other people were panting with ecstasy over this book. Why couldn’t I?

But there was something liberating about that first unfinished book. Since then, I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve given up on dozens of books. I’ll usually try for at least 50 pages, but if I’m not feeling the love, I don’t feel the need to keep going.

And yes, I’ve been known to fake it. Come on, we’ve all done it to spare the ego of the person breathlessly waving the tattered paperback and gushing, “I know you’ll love it, it’s my favorite book in the world.”

Sometimes that noncommittal murmur of shared pleasure is all it takes to get the person off your back.

I guess the reason I’m thinking about this is that I did it again yesterday. I didn’t hate the book, and I probably could have kept going, but why should I? I didn’t like the characters, the plot was sluggish, the dialogue stilted, and my to-be-read pile is teaming with other books I’d much rather read.

But I’ll admit there’s still a little guilt involved. Maybe it’s that the book is in the romance genre, so there’s a slim chance I might someday be asked about it. Do I fake it? Or do I perform the, “it’s not you, it’s me” dance and blame my own lack of response instead of the author’s failure to stimulate me?

What do you do in these situations? Do you ever give up on books when they fail to rub you the right way? Please share!

Oh, and congratulations to Judy, Judy, Judy for winning a signed copy of Making Waves in Tuesday’s Fake Q&A contest. Her answer made me laugh, plus I figure the use of multiples in her name should counter-balance the bad climax karma I’ve generated by talking so much about faking this week. Judy, Judy, Judy (yes, yes, yes!) send your snail mail address to me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I’ll hook you up with that signed copy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Drunk guys say the sweetest things

On Saturday, I attended the Bend Brewfest. It’s a three-day event featuring more than 80 fine beers from craft breweries across the region.

In other words, a great place to get sloshed.

Not that this was my goal. While it’s true I enjoyed my share of delectable adult beverages, I always find it more entertaining to watch other people get hammered.

I hadn’t been there more than twenty minutes when I found myself ravenously hungry. I wandered over to the food court and selected a tasty gourmet sausage made with curry and lemongrass. They served it to me on a stick, so I carried my treat back to the common area to search for my friends.

Within seconds, a strange man in a stained blue t-shirt staggered up with a glazed expression and a mug he struggled to hold upright.

“You know you’re driving every guy here totally crazy,” he slurred.

I looked behind him to see if there was an angry mob forming. I didn’t see one, nor could I recall having done anything to impact the gentleman’s sanity.

I looked back at him. “Come again?”

He closed his eyes and groaned. “Yeah.”

He opened his eyes and nodded at my snack. “You with that sausage. You’re so f**king hot.”

It finally occurred to me what he was getting at, and I tried to discretely wipe sausage juice off my hand to avoid additional comment.

“Sure,” I said as I backed away. “I’m sure it’s especially hot the way I just bit the end off and chewed it into a million little pieces.”

He laughed like that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Then he fell over in the grass.

I continued on with my evening, consuming a whole lot of good food and beer and watching as everyone began looking a lot more glassy-eyed. I excused myself at one point to visit the porta-potties. After making use of the facilities, I emerged to discover the hand-washing station had run out of water and paper towels.

Naturally, I didn’t discover this until after I’d soaped up my hands.

A guy beside me made the same discovery, and looked at me with a tipsy grin. He held up his hands for my inspection. “Can I dry them on your shirt?”

“No thanks,” I replied as I focused on pumping a few meager tablespoons of water from the portable sink.

Undeterred, the guy grinned wider. “You want to dry your hands on my pants?”

And just in case I hadn’t understood the offer, he thrust his pelvis at me.

“That’s very kind of you,” I said, backing away. “How about you wipe your hands on your own pants?”

He looked down, probably assessing whether that was an acceptable substitution. “Hey, my fly’s down.”

“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “I hear that’s what all the ladies find charming.”

“No shit?”

I wandered away and returned to my evening of excellent beer and food. Still, none of it impressed me quite as much as the creativity of those alcohol-saturated Romeos. Though I doubt either gentleman remembers his romantic gesture, they can rest assured I do.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard a drunk person say? For that matter, has someone ever informed you of some pearl of wisdom you’ve offered up after a few too many? Please share.

I’ll be over here deciding whether my dinner sausage would be best accompanied by Pumpkin Ale or Pineapple Wheat Beer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Win a signed copy of Making Waves for a fake Q&A

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It's possible it's an oncoming train, but I'm hopeful it's actually a sign that I'm nearing the end of the Virtual Book Tour that's been devouring my time this past month. I'm also hopeful life might slow down just a bit after this week when my year as the Friday blogger at The Debutante Ball comes to an end.

For now though, I'm still in the thick of it. I wish that were as filthy as it sounds.

Since I'm getting a little loopy answering interview questions these days, I figure I might as well share the joy with you guys. I should probably also share a prize, which is a signed copy of Making Waves.

Here's your task:

  1. Write an interview question. It can be a question for me, for yourself, or for anyone you've ever wanted to interview. Be sure to specify who you're aiming your question at when you leave it in the comment trail.
  2. Answer your own question. Feel free to be as silly or as serious as you want.
That's pretty much it. I haven't decided yet how I'll pick the winner, but I'll announce it on Thursday's blog. Any questions? Leave 'em in the comments and I'll try to answer.

Otherwise, commence mock interviewing in 3, 2, 1...

Just to clarify (since I was probably ridiculously unclear in my original instructions, your interview question doesn't have to be for me. Like, yanno, for example, if you wanted to ask Daniel Craig if he's ever considered leaving his wife and running away with a hot romantic comedy author, that would be good. Hypothetically.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The screwy evolution of author fears

It wasn’t long ago I spent an inordinate amount of time hating my mailman.

OK, I didn’t actually hate him. I hated the sight of him.

Those were the days when a lot of agent queries happened via snail. Each time I saw that battered mail truck creeping along my street, I had a sick feeling he was bringing another rejection. While my natural optimism had me picturing sunshine and rainbows and good news most of the time, there were still days I wanted to shoot out the tires of that truck with a dart gun.

Those days passed after I got an agent, but a new set of fears arrived after that. When we began submitting my work to editors, I got nervous each time I saw my agent’s name in my inbox or on my caller ID. It was still a fear of rejection, but a different sort. I fretted that each time an editor said, “no thanks,” it pushed my agent that much closer to wondering what drugs she’d been taking when she signed me, and whether she could acquire enough to endure the misfortune of keeping a dead-weight client around.

After the book deal came through, I began wondering what my next big fear would be. Bad reviews? Poor sales? A disturbing fungus contracted during a book signing at a nudist resort?

I actually hadn’t put words to my current fear until Friday afternoon when I was getting ready for an event at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. I mentioned to my agent that I was nervous, and she asked why.

She probably expected me to express a fear of public speaking or that no one would show up. I probably should have feared those things, given my foot-in-mouth tendencies and the fact that most people have better things to do on a Friday evening than drive to a bookstore to listen to an author yammer.

But what really bothered me was knowing I wouldn’t be able to spend quality time with the people who did show up.

Having survived a similar book signing event before, I already knew the difficulty of trying to connect with everyone. As much as I want to hug all the attendees until their eyes bug out, there just isn’t time (nor does everyone enjoy being mauled by strange authors).

I want to make eye contact with people when I’m reading or answering questions, but I get distracted and end up staring at the weird guy in the back row wearing a fedora and an apron.

I want to chat for hours with everyone who hands me a book to sign, but I can’t seem to pull it off. I’m not saying I’ve got giant lines of people winding halfway down the block, but even a handful of people can get bored and meander away if the author spends too much time gabbing with others about traffic and giant purple vibrators. When I see people leave the line, I panic. Do they hate me? Do they think I’m a snob?

Or more likely, did they mistakenly believe it was the line for free popsicles and now they’re forced to make a hasty exit before things get awkward?

When I was at RWA Nationals, an author pal with a fairly recent book deal was approached by another writer who wanted to go out for drinks. Exhausted and overcommitted, the author politely declined.

“So you think you’re too good to hang out with unpublished authors now?” the other writer snapped.

That story breaks my heart because I know with absolute certainty that’s not how the author was feeling. I know what it’s like to be exhausted to the point of delirium, and I know that’s the state she was in that evening.

But I also know how things can be perceived, and I hate the thought of people perceiving me that way. Am I a snob because I seldom respond to blog comments like I used to? Am I a bitch because I’ve dropped the ball on a handful of interview requests in recent weeks?

Er, don’t answer that. There’s seldom a right answer to a question that begins “am I a bitch?”

I am curious about the subject of fears. What was your biggest fear a few years ago? How has that changed today? How do you expect it to change in the future?

Please share!

I should probably go apologize to the mailman for the dart thing, huh?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Untidy thoughts from a filthy mind

Because I blog every Friday at The Debutante Ball, it's the one day a week I cut myself some slack here on this blog and write my post in the morning instead of the night before.

I went to bed last night thinking I'd get up this morning and organize all my thoughts into a nice, tidy, Friday morning blog post.

But the tidiness isn't really happening in my brain right now, which I'm sure you can either attribute to a filthy mind or the fact that my brain actually exploded sometime back at the beginning of August and I've been operating these last few weeks with something resembling butterscotch pudding between my ears.

So today, you get a scattered blog post.

Since I mentioned The Debutante Ball, I should point out that this week's post on the topic of characters marks my second-to-last appearance at this amazing group blog that chronicles the debut year of five authors from different genres. I feel a funny sense of nostalgia and relief – it's been a crazy one-year ride. One thing that makes me very, very happy is that my beloved agency sistah, Linda Grimes, snagged one of the coveted slots for next year's Debutante Ball class. You guys, she's fabulously funny, and you're going to love both her Debutante Ball posts and her hysterical debut novel, In a Fix, which comes out July 2012.


Speaking of posting in other places, my Virtual Blog Tour continues to surge along. Check the column over there to the right to see where I've been and what I've been blogging about in random, wild places. Most of them involve giveaways, so go win some free books!


This was a funny week of "yes, this is real" validations. First off was a conference call chat Monday evening with the amazing women of the Bookhungry Book Club. I had a great time answering questions and blathering nonsensically, though I suspected at several points they wanted to demand I shut up and put the real author on the phone – preferably someone much cooler and funnier.

Anyway, several of those ladies also reviewed the book on their blogs (which is part of the fun of being a member of a virtual book club). You can check those out those posts at the links here:

Patty Blount
Kelly Breakey
Abby Mumford
Karla Nellenbach
Cynthia Reese


Another "yep, it's real" moment came yesterday afternoon when the Sourcebooks Publicity Goddess called to tell me Library Journal gave a starred review to Making Waves and noted, "Great fun from an inventive new writer; highly recommended for all libraries." You can read the whole review here. While I've adored every single review I've gotten, there's something particularly validating about the ones like Library Journal or Booklist (the latter is the one that said, “Fenske’s off-the-wall plotting is reminiscent of a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice.”) Part of me has this expectation that librarians are only interested in real books, and then I have to hit myself with a ruler because DUH, I've written a real book. When is that going to sink in?


Yet another surreal author moment came yesterday afternoon when I was typing away in my office for the day job and the front desk guy came back and knocked on my door. "There's someone here to see you," he told me. "He says he was your teacher a long time ago."

And lo and behold, there was my fifth grade teacher – a guy I haven't seen for at least twenty years, and who lives in a town 2.5 hours away, which is why it was especially odd to see him standing there in my office acting positively giddy that one of his former students has published a book.

I should note that of all the teachers I've had through grade school, middle school, high school and college, this guy was hands-down my favorite, most memorable, most influential instructor. Part of me couldn't believe he'd bothered to track me down to congratulate me about the book, and part of me wanted to reassure him that someone else wrote all the naughty parts.

Anyway, here's a pic of Mr. Baker and me with his two copies of Making Waves:

And last but not least, just a reminder to all my friends near Portland, Oregon that I'll be signing books and trying not to make an ass of myself at the Beaverton Powell's Books this evening at 7 p.m. I'd love to see you there! Details can be found here.

So what are you doing this weekend? Who was your favorite teacher? Is there one in particular you'd love to have read your book someday (or on the flip side, that you quiver in fear will read your book someday?) Please share!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I am weeping, can you help?

I know I have a number of male readers, and I’d like to stop you here and suggest this might be a nice day to skip my blog and check out the Chainsaw Blog or Mustaches of the 19th Century.

(Sidenote: I was originally being a smart-ass with those suggestions, but a quick google search revealed an unexpected plethora of blogs about chainsaws and mustaches. Who’da thunk?)

Today, I’d like to talk with you about mascara. Specifically, about Marathon Mascara by Covergirl. This is the mascara I began using when I was first allowed to wear makeup at age 12. I’ll admit I made a number of questionable grooming and cosmetic decisions at that age (blue eye shadow? Big plastic earrings? Overestimating the pressure required to shave my legs and carrot-peeling a strip off my shin?)

However, my relationship with Marathon Mascara is one that endured through middle school, high school, college, and well into my adult life. The stuff was bullet-proof. Literally, I once deflected a hail of machine gun fire using only my eyelashes.

Fine, that’s a lie, but I could have.

You could participate in a 20 mile swimming race, sob for six hours over your loss, and then punish yourself by spritzing your face with olive oil and rubbing sandpaper over your eyes and Marathon Mascara still wouldn’t come off.

As a chronic eye rubber and occasional bawl baby, I loved the stuff.

The fact that it required a chisel to remove was a plus to me, but apparently not to those who speared their eyeballs with said chisel. Covergirl discontinued the mascara nearly two years ago, and I’ve been weeping ever since.

Which sucks ass, because I’ve gotta tell you – no mascara I’ve tried since then has been able to withstand the weeping.

I’ve experimented with at least a dozen other brands of mascara, from the insanely expensive makeup counter brands to the drugstore variety. Nothing compares.

I even caved once and purchased an unopened vial of Marathon Mascara on eBay, where clever hoarders began hawking the stuff for $20 a tube. But now those are going for up to $65 apiece, and that’s just too rich for my blood.

So my first question of the day is, do you have any suggestions on waterproof, sweatproof, bulletproof mascara that won’t require me to resort to a career as a jewel thief to fund the purchase?

And my second question is, have you ever had a product discontinued that left you high and dry and lonely and lost and pretty sure you could cry your eyes out if only you had a decent mascara?

Please share. Please. I’m desperate. Did I mention the weeping?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dude looks like a lady

I was standing in a downtown boutique yesterday when a paunchy, balding man walked by wearing neon-pink tights, a black miniskirt, an ill-fitting t-shirt, and platform heels so high he had trouble keeping pace with the large dog he was walking on a bright pink leash.

Beside me, two women began to chatter quietly.

Woman 1: He needs to buy some new pantyhose. Those ones have rips in the back.

Woman 2: I think that’s on purpose. He’s making a fashion statement.

Woman 1: What’s the statement? Check out my crown jewels peeking out from under the skirt?

Woman 2: Something like that. He really should learn to walk better in those heels.

Woman 1: And work on his comportment. Last week I saw him spit on the sidewalk.

Woman 2: No!

Woman 1: Yes! I told him a lady wouldn’t spit in public.

What I loved most about the conversation is that the women were intent on critiquing his manners and fashion sense, but not particularly concerned with casting judgment on the fact that this was a man parading down the street in women’s clothing.

Their chief concern was the clothing itself.

It got me thinking about one of my characters in Making Waves. In case you haven’t read it, one of the guys who becomes part of the dysfunctional pirate crew is a former NFL football player turned laid-off corporate reject turned gourmet chef on a high seas diamond heist. Though he’s first introduced as Cody, he makes it clear once they’re out to sea that he wants to be known as Cookie. There are a few references to cross dressing, and his over-the-top affinity for cooking and cross-stitching makes him seem a bit effeminate.

But never once does the book make any reference to his sexual preference. Even so, I’ve seen at least two or three reviews refer to the character as gay.

None of the reviewers have been snarky about it, and no one has pointed it out as a negative aspect of the story. I don’t fault them for making the assumption, and a large majority of reviews have cited Cookie as a favorite character.

Still, I find the whole thing fascinating. For the record, Cody/Cookie wasn’t gay in my mind. Effeminate, yes. Conflicted, sure. Quirky, definitely. But not gay.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t be gay in your mind, and if that’s how you want to read the character, I don’t have a problem with it.

I’ll confess I’ve done this more than once as a reader. It wasn’t until I saw photos from the casting of the Hunger Games movie that I realized Rue was African American. It wasn’t how I pictured the character when I read the book, but when I went back and read it a second time, I realized the descriptions made that pretty clear.

Do you ever catch yourself making assumptions about a character and then realizing you’ve filled in the blanks in a way the author may not have intended? Do you think it matters? If you’ve read Making Waves, what was your assumption about Cookie? Please share, I’m fascinated.

And please let me know where I might find a pair of neon pink pantyhose in size XXL. I really ought to help that guy out.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why query letters matter

Over the years, I've heard many authors snivel about having to write query letters.

Some complaints are the sulky, "I don't wanna!" variety we can all relate to when faced with a task we don't much like, but will eventually master.

But other writers struggling to write a compelling, succinct query letter will snarl endlessly about how it's a useless task designed solely to make authors jump through silly hoops for the amusement of agents and editors.

While I can't speak for my agent when it comes to stating how amused she is by the sight of authors leaping around like trained poodles, I can speak to notion that learning to write a query letter is a useless task:


Learning to cleverly, succinctly, compellingly describe your own work in a few short sentences is one of the most important tasks an author can master. Almost as important as writing the damn novel in the first place. Don't believe me?

Here's an illustration. The paragraph below is taken word-for-word from the "pitch letter" my agent and I crafted for her to use when presenting Making Waves to editors. Though I was already represented by Michelle Wolfson at the time I wrote Making Waves, I wrote the following paragraph precisely the way I wrote my descriptive paragraphs when I was querying agents in the first place:

When Alex's company kicks him to the curb after a 20-year career in the shipping industry, he takes to the sea with three colleagues hoping to regain their pensions and their dignity in a modern-day pirate mission targeting their boss's illegal diamond shipment. But none of them counted on a quirky blonde stowaway with a mountain of skeletons in her closet, a perplexing array of talents, and an intoxicating romantic chemistry with Alex. And while Juli Flynn certainly didn’t plan to be a part of the most dysfunctional pirate mission in history, it seems like a viable career option after her own job goes up in smoke. Before she knows it, Juli has found her place with the misfit crew – and found her way into Alex’s heart.

I wrote that paragraph in November 2008, more than 15 months before the book actually sold to Sourcebooks.

Now here's the paragraph I use today on most websites and blogs when I'm asked to provide a brief description of my novel:

Juli’s lost count of the number of jobs she’s held, but she definitely never applied to be a pirate. Or a stowaway on a pirate ship. But when fate lands her on boat captained by Alex—a man whose unscrupulous boss kicked him to the curb after 20 faithful years—Juli finds herself in the middle of a revenge-fueled Caribbean diamond heist with a crew more suited to the boardroom than the poop deck. Alex didn’t plan to be a pirate, either. He just wants to recover his dignity, pension, and something resembling a normal life. But normal flies out the window when Juli enters the picture—a twist Alex wishes he didn’t find so exhilarating. The two soon discover that while normal is nice, weird can be wonderful.

It's been flipped to offer the heroine's point-of-view first, and the whole "normal is nice, weird can be wonderful" marketing hook is featured prominently, but a lot of the language is the same. So is the basic breakdown of events – boy and girl find their lives in upheaval, diamond heist ensues, boy and girl get thrown together and end up playing hide the salami.

Now here's the copy that appears on the back cover of the actual printed version of Making Waves:

Juli has trouble fitting in, though she'd prefer to keep the reasons to herself. But when she mistakenly stows away on a ship of misfit corporate castoffs, her own secrets become the least of her concerns.

But Alex isn't feeling very normal when his unscrupulous boss kicks him to the curb. Meeting Juli doesn't do much to restore normalcy to Alex's life either, but it sure is exhilarating.

As Alex and Juli bare their secrets – and a whole lot more – they find that while normal is nice, weird can be wonderful.

Compare the three. You can see the evolution, and you can see the similarities. Most importantly, you can see how each of those descriptions strikes a balance between providing a plot summary and providing enough titillation to make an editor, agent, or potential reader ask, and then what?

Whether I'm writing copy for my own website or being interviewed by a reporter about my debut novel, I need to have that language so solidly ingrained in my brain that there is zero risk I'll answer the "what's your book about?" question by stammering, "well, there's this guy who does some stuff, and then things happen."

Being able to describe your story well doesn't just help you. It helps your agent. It helps your editor. It helps your reader.

Trust me on this – it's a skill you'll need for the rest of your writing career. Learn it now. Learn it well.

And write the damn query letter.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What dumb things have you done lately?

I would like to hire someone to reside under my bathroom vanity and punch me hard in the face every time I think it’s a good idea to wax my own eyebrows.

No matter how many times I end up looking like a badly groomed hedgehog with mange, I never seem to learn my lesson.

Besides having no brow waxing skills, I have no common sense when it comes to the timing of things. The fact that I have a big book signing coming up at 7 p.m. Friday at Powell’s on Cedar Hills Crossing in Portland should have deterred me from taking major cosmetic risks at this point, but it’s actually what convinced me the grooming effort would be a good idea.

So now I have mismatched eyebrows with random patchy chunks missing. I’m also waiting to see if I end up with a black eye from stepping on a rake in my garage the other day. I’ve seen the rake sitting there for weeks, and it crossed my mind more than once that I should turn it around so I wouldn’t end up smashing myself in the face with it.

But the face smashing occurred, and my cheekbone still aches. I don’t see any noticeable marks so far, but I’m half expecting to wake up with some sort of delayed-onset black eye.

It can happen. Well, if it can happen, it will certainly happen to me.

Then there’s the sunburn I got yesterday by forgetting to ask someone to put sunscreen on my back until after I’d been out on the lake for more than three hours. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be too noticeable at the book signing unless I decide to take my shirt off. Given my questionable judgment recently, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

Make me feel better here – what dumb things have you done lately? Please share, I need to know I'm not alone in this.

Oh, and if you happen to live near Portland and are planning to attend the Powell’s event on Friday, can you let me know in the comments? They’re trying to get a ballpark head count so they know which room to put is in.

I’m thinking the one with the padded walls would do nicely.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mozart and the skate punks

One of the things I love best about my day job is the opportunity to spend my lunch hour gazing out over this:

I snapped that yesterday from a lovely little courtyard where I like to sit and read on warm summer days:

Besides being an attractive place for a marketing geek/romance author with an hour to kill, the courtyard also serves as a magnet to area skate punks. The skate punks take turns lounging on the benches, spitting, smoking, cursing at each other, and occasionally attempting skateboard tricks (a process that involves several of the aforementioned activities).

During the months I’ve been visiting the courtyard to read, I’ve grown surprisingly fond of the skate punks. In my mind, we all belong to a gang.

This became the running joke with a girlfriend who owns a handbag boutique nearby. Since I generally stop by her shop en route to my reading spot, I make sure to keep her apprised of my gang activities.

“Sorry, can’t stay long,” I told her a few weeks ago. “My gang is teaching me to give tattoos with a safety pin and a ballpoint pen.”

“I understand completely. Make sure they show you how to hack those big loogies that stick to the sidewalk.”

“Will do. You want me to call you when they start the lesson on using a switchblade?”

And so on.

I was just starting to regard my gang as a vital part of my afternoon entertainment when everything changed.

Apparently, not everyone enjoyed the skate punks like I did. Tourists, in particular, weren’t fond of the spitting and cursing, so the downtown business association devised a plan to chase the skate punks away. They didn’t use police or pellet guns or tear gas.

They used Mozart.

The first few days after they started piping loud classical music through a state-of-the-art sound system, my gang looked confused. They sat on the wall with their chins in their hands seeming a little glum.

After a few days of that, they moved on. I’m not sure where they went, but apparently loud blasts of Bach weren’t creating the right mood for skateboarding and spitting.

I’m a little sad to see them go, and also reminded of how crucial music can be in setting the mood for anything.

As a writer, I need a constant stream of music to keep my butt in my chair and my fingers clicking away at the keyboard. When I’m focused on a particular book, I’ll create a playlist of songs that inspire certain scenes.

Life was a little less than ideal when I was writing the third book in my contract, Let it Breathe. The book came together while my marriage was coming apart, a process that (not surprisingly) resulted in a romantic comedy that wasn’t particularly romantic or funny.

Don’t worry – I whipped it into shape with the help of my fearless critique partners, beta readers, and amazing agent. There’s still some tweaking to do, but the book is in good shape now.

Recently, I was thumbing through the original iTunes playlist for Let it Breathe on my iPod. Halfway through the mix, the pal in the car with me frowned. “This music is kind of depressing.”

And damn if he wasn’t right.

Certainly my mood at the time I was writing the story impacted my musical choices, but it also stands to reason my musical choices impacted my writing.

I still have some tweaking to do on Let it Breathe before I hand it off to my editor, and you can be damn sure I’ll add some more upbeat songs to my playlist before that.

How does your mood impact your musical choices? How do your musical choices impact your writing? Please share!

And please let me know if you’ve seen my gang. They left without saying goodbye, and I really wanted to learn how to do an ollie on my longboard.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

And furthermore...

I promise I'll be back to normal blogging tomorrow (or just as soon as I scoop my melted brain out of the keyboard and find a way to return it to its rightful place between my ears).

But just to follow up on yesterday's post on my Virtual Book Tour, I took my fabulous agent's suggestion and added dates to the little column over on the right. Pretty, no? Now you can check out what's new, what you already saw, and what you didn't really care to see.

There are new new blog posts on the list today – one over at the Sourcebooks Casablanca blog where we're having my official launch party, and the other at the Love, Romance, Passion blog where I'm discussing the modern pirate hero. Both blogs are giving away copies of Making Waves, so it's worth a visit just for that.

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled broadcast soon, I swear. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This blog is temporarily out of order...or something like that

The other day, my agent told me I was being a dumbass.

OK, she didn't actually say that. She didn't even imply it, but she would have been right if she had.

As she lovingly pointed out, Sourcebooks has gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this rather hefty "virtual book tour" for me.

As she also pointed out, I've gone to a lot of trouble to write all the required guest blog posts and interviews.

Wouldn't it be swell if I...oh, I don't know...MENTIONED IT SOMEWHERE?

Um, yeah.

So I created that nifty little sidebar you see over there on the right. It's a list of links to guest blog posts I've written, interviews I've given, and fun little fiction pieces I've crafted in support of this virtual book tour.

There's a lot of fun stuff there, and a helluva lot more coming. In case you've ever wondered how many blog posts it's humanly possible to write in one afternoon, I've been experimenting. If I drop dead, you should count up all the posts I've sent to the publicist in the last 24 hours and then subtract one. There's your answer.

Anyway, that's my message for you today. Go check out some of the virtual book tour. Many of the sites are even doing book giveaways for Making Waves, so there's a chance to score an extra copy.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do I sound like a moron to you?

This past Sunday I had my very first book signing event.

It goes without saying I was nervous. The event took place at my local Barnes & Noble and was heavily promoted as a combination book signing, author reading, and Q&A.

No one actually told me this, but I suspected the reading was supposed to be from my book. I also had a hunch I was supposed to be the one to read it.

This might not seem like such a novel concept to most of you. Many, many articles of writing advice will tell you that an excellent way to gauge the flow of your own prose is to read passages aloud to yourself.

Despite having heard this wise tip for years, Sunday's reading was the first time in my life I'd read my own fiction out loud to anyone.

I suppose that's sort of like testing out new recipes on house-guests instead of your own family. People say it's a bad idea, but who among us hasn't done it anyway?

It was a fascinating experience. For those of you who've read Making Waves already, you'll know what I mean when I say I read the Newlywed Game scene starting and ending with Alex's point-of-view.

There were points where I expected people to laugh and they did.

There were points where I expected people to laugh and they didn't.

There were points where I expected no one to laugh, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when complete strangers started cracking up.

It was actually a damn good lesson for me. Not just about the subjective nature of humor, but the fact that any sort of writing sounds different in your head versus my head versus my ears versus your ears.

Don't even get me started on other body parts.

In all seriousness, Sunday's reading convinced me I probably shouldn't keep ignoring all the advice that suggests writers read their own work aloud. It certainly gave me a different perspective, and what writer can't benefit from that?

And speaking of lessons learned, it's possible I should pick a scene without so many curse words when reading to a large group that includes several children under the age of six.

I'd love to know if you've ever experimented with reading your own prose aloud. How did it change things for you? What did you gain from it? If you haven't done it, what's stopping you? Please share.

And in the spirit of sharing, here are a few pics from Sunday's event, courtesy of photographer Craig Zagurski:

P.S. I'm already getting lots of email messages and tweets from people wanting to know where I got the shirt I'm wearing in the pictures. That is my lucky t-shirt, and you can get your very own (along with tons of other great writer-themed gear) right here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Where the @#$% is my book?

The messages began even before Making Waves was officially released. They arrived at odd hours, and they confused me at first:

I'm at WalMart in Booneville, Arkansas and it's not on the shelves. Freaking out!

The time difference meant it was 3:30 a.m. where I live, and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what someone might desperately wish to purchase at WalMart at that hour and why they thought I needed to know about it.

Once I stopped mulling personal hygiene products, I realized the person was talking about my book.

The messages kept coming via Twitter and Facebook and email and sometimes even text message. Often, people were letting me know the book was at their local WalMart or Barnes & Noble or Powell's, which delighted me to no end. The pictures made me swoon every time I saw Making Waves sitting there looking perky on the shelves of a bookstore in New Jersey or Montana or Ohio.

But the "it's not here!" messages made me nervous. As an author, I have almost no involvement in the process of getting my book from the publisher to the bookstores. I know, more or less, where it's supposed to be, but I have no idea how or when it's getting there. I like to imagine a giant pterodactyl swooping around dropping books haphazardly on bookstores around the country. The fact that pterodactyls have notoriously bad aim explains why the books haven't reached some locations yet.

My parents recently decided to take matters into their own hands. They hopped in the car on Friday afternoon and proceeded to drive around Salem, Oregon hitting every bookstore and WalMart in their area. If the book wasn't on the shelves – either because it was sold out, or because it hadn't been stocked yet – they asked to speak with someone in charge so they could request it.

The process led to a number of interesting conversations, including one where the clerk insisted a family member of the author came in and bought all their copies, and my mom tried to get the clerk to describe the person so she could figure out who it was (we still have no idea).

Obviously, my parents' approach is a bit intense. I certainly don't expect blog readers to strap on their SWAT gear and embark on a vigilante mission to ensure Making Waves is properly stocked in all stores within a 100 mile radius.

Still, I do want to ask that if you happen to be in a bookstore or a WalMart and you notice my book isn't there – ask for it.

Er, don't ask me. Ask the store manager. Ask the person in charge of stocking books. You don't have to fling yourself to the ground and beat your fists on the floor while wailing, "why? WHY?!" though if the urge strikes you, I won't discourage it.

But do let it be known that you're aware the book exists and that you'd kinda like to see it at your local store. It would mean a lot to me.

And to the pterodactyl. His aim improves when he has something to shoot for.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A boy's eye view of Making Waves

Back in December, I wrote a blog post titled This One's For the Boys.

I expressed surprise at the number of male readers visiting this blog in spite of the fact that I'm a romance author and this blog, well, pink. I wondered how many menfolk would actually end up reading Making Waves, and how their reactions might differ from my more likely female readers.

I'm pleased to report I have an answer.

Since the book hit shelves, I've seen a delightful flood of messages from male readers informing me that in their opinion, the book does not suck. Females clearly make up the majority of my readership and have been wonderfully kind with their praise, but many have shared that their husbands and boyfriends ended up reading Making Waves after demanding to know what was so funny.

I love this dual-gender perspective!

Curious to know more about the male response to my book, I enlisted the help of a trusty friend to share his insights. Without further ado, I give you a guest post from Mr. Mark Simpson, a regular blog commenter and, to the best of my knowledge, possessor of a penis...

Singing about my feelings, not that I have any.
Okay maybe just cool ones–like anger.
Who is this person and why are you reading this instead of Tawna's latest batch of dirty-fun penis euphemisms? Because I genuinely enjoyed Making Waves, apparently bending some unwritten man law in the process. So for men everywhere, Tawna asked me to explain why.

I'll preface by disclosing that even though I've seen her but once in fifteen years—yes, I do in fact know Tawna. At Montana State I was a sportswriter while she was editor of the school newspaper. So yes guys, Tawna was and is sexy. It's not just good marketing. I even recall her once winning a ski-bikini contest.

And I’m a guy’s guy. I watch the entire length of Lonesome Dove at least every couple of years for spiritual guidance. My heroes also include Han Solo and Josey Wales. At different points I’ve been a big-game hunting guide in the Alaskan bush, lead guitarist in a very loud rock band, college athlete, and even once fared respectably as Mark “The Shark” Simpson in a Toughman tournament.

In other words, I am not her target market.

And I don’t hate romance novels; I’d have to actually read them in order to hate them. It’s just not my usual bag. I know this can be a tender subject for Tawna, but just as she won’t apologize for writing romance, (nor should she) I won’t apologize for seldom reading it.

But I am a big believer in the idea that all excellence is equally difficult, and that principle applies to romance writing as much as it applies to quantum physics or darts. Of course I was looking forward to reading Making Waves mainly because I know the author, and while I did expect to enjoy it—it turns out I enjoyed it more than expected.

It’s in our nature to try to quantify and analyze why something works or doesn’t. But with art this is a tricky game as individual appreciation is so subjective. But there’s an old saying in music, “If it sounds good it is good” —or in this case, if it reads good. The unmistakable fact is Tawna can flat out write, as you probably already know or you wouldn’t be reading her blog in the first place.
The 2nd amendment and problems with authority–
chocolate and peanut butter

No it isn’t Wuthering Heights (thank heaven) just as Angus Young isn’t Joe Satrioni. But I can tell you what I’d rather listen to—give me three chords and explosions on stage any day. I believe far more skill lies in creating something new and interesting from proven fundamentals than in one more failed attempt at reinventing the wheel.

And that is exactly what Tawna has done with Making Waves. It has well-formed and interesting characters, fluid-yet-bouncing prose, intriguing-without-being-too-outlandish plot formation, hilarious surprises punctuating a steady flow of dry wit, and yes—lots of sex. It occurred to me while reading one such scene the irony that while guys love porn, most of us wouldn’t be caught dead reading a romance novel. I have no answer for that. 

Making Waves stands on its own two feet even without the sex because it has the basic elements needed for a quality read in any genre. There’s good reason Star Wars is such a classic while dozens of other space sci-fi adventures have long been forgotten. Yeah, it’s about the lasers and x-wing fighters, two foot tall snow walkers in powdered sugar that legitimately seem fifty feet tall... but that's not why it worked. It worked because Han, Leia and company are compelling and interesting characters. This is also why the later prequels with all their CGI movie magic and ballooned budgets left nerds everywhere sobbing with disappointment.

You know how there’s always a couple songs on stations other than what you usually listen to that you actually like? Even people who never tune in to country music have that one they’ll pause on. It’s called the exception to the rule—and that’s what Making Waves was for me—a great change up pitch with universal appeal. Indeed, if it reads more gooder than it is more gooder.

So nice job, Tawna. Making Waves definitely does not suck. I’m officially giving it the Mark “The Shark” Seal of Approval.

Thank you, Mark, for your insights and your very kind words. Er, most of them. Use of the word "porn" will make me mighty popular with the spammers, but what's new?

For the rest of you, I'd love to know more about the role gender plays in your reading choices and responses. Please share!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The very wet life of a romance author

I stumbled out my front door yesterday morning with a mug of tea and a slight hangover from the previous night’s book launch party. I was already ten minutes late for the day job, so when I looked up to see a geyser in my front yard, it didn’t seem like a good sign.

I stared at it for awhile, wondering if it was a new decorative water feature one of the housemates had installed. After a few minutes of that, I set my mug and keys down and shuffled into the garage to find the control box for the sprinkler system.

Using my vast knowledge of lawn maintenance and irrigation, I attempted to troubleshoot the problem. By that, I mean I punched buttons at random and cursed loudly. When that had no noticeable effect, I walked back out to the wayward sprinkler-head and stomped on it.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Within seconds, I looked like the losing competitor in a wet t-shirt contest. The geyser continued to spray, now angled toward my car.

Discouraged, I walked inside where both of my twenty-something male housemates were eating breakfast.

“Anyone know anything about irrigation systems?” I asked.

They both turned and took in my bedraggled appearance and the puddle I was making on the dining room floor.

“I know they aren’t meant for showering,” one of them offered helpfully.

Once they’d finished laughing at me, they followed me outside and stared at the geyser. One of them walked into the garage and began punching buttons on the sprinkler system controls, while the other walked up to the spouting sprinkler and stomped on it.

Unsurprisingly, he stepped away drenched.

“I could have told you that wouldn’t work,” I offered.

“But you chose not to tell me?”

“I thought it was worth another shot.”

Meanwhile, the other housemate yelled to us from inside the garage. “Is it off yet?”

“No,” we chorused.

He punched a few more buttons, then ambled around the house where we were studying the geyser. He looked at it for a minute, then moved toward it. “Maybe we could just stomp it back into place—”


But of course, we were too late. All three of us stood there dripping in the driveway as the sprinkler continued to jet toward the heavens.

“I guess I could call the landscaper who installed it,” I said.

So that’s what I did, and as luck would have it, he was working on another job just a couple miles away. Ten minutes later, he pulled up and got out of his truck.

“Sprinkler’s broken,” I called as he walked up the driveway.

He looked at the three of us standing there in a puddle beside the geyser. “So you decided to play in it?”

“We thought stomping on the sprinkler-head might help,” I offered.

“Replacing it might be a better idea,” he said. “And shutting off the water.”

So he proceeded to do those things while my housemates and I retreated into the house and changed clothes. My hair was still wet and my eye makeup smeared when I marched into the office a full hour late.

My boss looked at my appearance and grinned. “Good time at the book launch party?”

“Yes,” I  muttered. “The glamour never ends for romance authors.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A rerun for a reason

Last night was a late evening of merriment and too much wine responsible drinking in a perfectly adult fashion at book launch party for Making Waves.

That's one reason for the rerun blog post I'm about to give you, but it isn't the only reason.

The single most common feedback I've been hearing from people reading Making Waves is something along the lines of this:

I normally don't like romance novels, but I loved yours and laughed all the way through it.

It's one of my favorite compliments to receive, and I'll admit I'm proud of the fact that so many non-romance readers seem drawn to my book.

But there's a tiny part of me that feels defensive on behalf of my genre. That's the part prompting me to resurrect a post I originally wrote last May. Maybe you already read it, maybe you didn't. It bears repeating in any case, so without further ado, I give you...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Defending pink wine and bodice rippers

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

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

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

I was recently at Firesteed doing research for LET IT BREATHE, and the tasting room associate lamented this as he poured their fabulous 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé.

A most excellent Rosé.
“Wine critics love it, but the public is reluctant,” he explained. “People see pink and turn up their noses.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or is it something else?

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The beauty of ball-peen, and why surrender was never an option

In the early days of this blog, I was neurotic about replying to every single comment. Sadly, it came down to a choice between continuing to do that versus sleeping and eating.

I still read every comment, and often something will catch my eye as a potential blog topic.

Like this comment posted last Friday by Valentina Hepburn:

Both excellent questions I'm pleased to be able to answer easily because I'm lazy like that.

I knew a few days before Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 that Sourcebooks editor Deb Werksman was presenting my book to the editorial board that day. I tried to keep myself busy with important tasks like brushing the cat and counting my toes, and I knew when the phone rang around 4 p.m. that it was my agent calling with news.

She tortured me for a few minutes with idle chit-chat before excitedly announcing, "Sourcebooks is offering you a three-book deal!"

Part of me wants to pretend my gut response was something humble and ladylike. I don't remember what I said, but I'm sure it was reasonably modest with a squeal thrown in for good measure.

But the truth is, my very first thought was, "It's about damn time."

If you aren't familiar with my bumpy road to publication, you might think I'm an impatient bitch. Sometimes I am, but in this case, it took many years of struggle and rejection to reach this point.

And I also want to clarify that I was never impatient with my agent. She did an amazing job kicking in windows every time a door closed, and generally believing in me and my books even when we racked up enough rejection letters to wallpaper the inside of a medium-sized brothel.

But even if none of that were true, I think my gut response to a book deal always would have contained some element of that reaction. Deep down, I was always certain I would succeed.

And in a way, that answers the question of whether I ever felt like putting down my pen and crying, "enough already." Sure, there were moments during that eight-year struggle when I thought beating myself in the forehead each morning with a ball-peen hammer would be a smarter way to spend my time.

Then I'd usually get distracted snickering over the term "ball-peen" and would forget about my negative thoughts for awhile.

But I can honestly say I never once considered giving up. I never once stopped believing it was going to happen.

And I can tell you with absolute certainty that belief in myself is the single biggest factor in why I got my book deal. It wasn't talent or smarts or a nice pedicure, but persistence and the certainty my hard work would eventually pay off.

I remember one particularly brutal rejection from an editor back when I was with a former agent. The agent urged me not to take it personally, and I assured her I wasn't.

"I know getting published is more about persistence and luck than it is about talent," I assured her. "I'm not mortally wounded here."

She paused a long time. "I wish more writers understood that."

I never forgot that, even after I ended my relationship with that agent and teamed up with the amazing Michelle Wolfson. The fact that Michelle believed in me with the same ferocity I believed in myself is undoubtedly what kept us both going when other writers or agents might have thrown in the towel and said, "screw this, screw you, screw them, I'm outta here."

Even without a smart, savvy, encouraging agent behind you, the number one tool you have in your arsenal is the ability to keep believing in yourself even if no one else does. Sometimes it's tough, sometimes it seems futile, but that certainty will keep you fueled during the times you feel dangerously close to setting fire to your laptop and throwing it off the balcony.

Can you think of anything you've felt certain about despite all kinds of odds that suggested you're crazy for doing so? Anything you believed in so fiercely, you may very well have willed it to happen? Please share!

I'll be busy willing Daniel Craig to show up on my doorstep with a pizza and a bottle of Chianti. What? It could happen.