Thursday, December 20, 2012

There’s no checkbox for “bed buddy”

At a recent business dinner with multiple strangers and a few vaguely familiar colleagues, the conversation turned to relationships.

“You’re single, right, Tawna?”


I choked on the word, or maybe it was the roasted cauliflower.

“I’m in a committed relationship, but not married,” I replied. “Maybe eventually. I mean I’m not opposed to marriage. I was married for thirteen years, but that ended a couple years ago and—”

I stopped talking as twelve pairs of eyeballs fixed on me and I realized I’d offered a ridiculously complicated response to a simple yes or no question.

But is it really that simple?

You’ve all seen me refer to my gentleman friend. I use the phrase not because I’m protecting his privacy, but because I can’t stand the word boyfriend.

Boyfriend is the guy who pulls your pigtails under the monkey bars. Boyfriend is the guy whose name you scribble on your Trapper Keeper in third period algebra.

So gentleman friend is my chosen phrase, but it doesn’t solve everything. Filling out a routine form at the doctor’s office recently, my gentleman friend was asked to select his marital status from a list.

Married. Divorced. Single.

He picked divorced, prompting a curious response from the doctor who blinked at me and asked, “who’s this then?”

“I’m just some chick he picked up in the parking lot,” I replied. “I heard you were offering free rectal exams.”

I understand the confusion, but I’m not sure how to avoid it. Most casual conversations and routine paperwork don’t offer an easy way to describe a committed relationship in which both parties share an address, a life, and bodily fluids, but no wedding rings.

We were delighted by a recent insurance enrollment form that offered us the option to select domestic partners. Our excitement waned when the company assumed we were in a same-sex relationship.

Sometimes I just give up and lie. Writing an email yesterday to inquire about a snowshoe trip for my gentleman friend’s offspring, I referred to them as my stepson and stepdaughter. It seemed simpler that way, but I was startled when the reply referenced my son and my daughter.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. My gentleman friend is a copywriter, and crafts hundreds of blog posts for major international companies. Most are posted anonymously under corporate headers, but last week a company requested his real name and bio.

“I referred to you as my wife,” he said somewhat sheepishly. “It sounded more professional than saying I live with my kids and my girlfriend.”

“I appreciate the warning,” I said. “Though I would have preferred the term concubine.”

“I’ll remember that next time.”

Am I the only person flummoxed by the words and phrases used to categorize relationships? Please share!

I’ll be researching tax benefits for concubines.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The dirty-talking stranger in my house

I was surfing porn writing diligently in my home office when the doorbell rang Friday afternoon. Expecting a Christmas package for my gentleman friend, I flung open the door and frowned with disappointment.

"You don't have a package," I said to the man standing there. "For Christmas, I mean. I'm sure you have a package. And I'm sure it's perfectly adequate. Not I'm suggesting I want to see it or –"

Seeing the look of terror on his face, I stopped talking. Then I pasted on my best I-swear-I'm-not-crazy smile. "How can I help you?"

"We're doing free cleaning demonstrations and would like to clean one piece of furniture and one area of carpet totally free, no obligation, did I mention it's free?"

Hearing only the magic words free and cleaning, I gladly opened my door to a stranger.

Of course, the whole thing turned out to be a sales pitch for a $3,500 vacuum he insisted would last forever and possibly do my taxes.

"Do Kirby vacuums really last forever?" I asked.


"Good. Because I bought one at a garage sale ten years ago for $15, and it's working great. I'm happy to know I'll never need to buy another."

He wasn't happy to hear this, but since he was already in my living room with his hose in-hand, he figured he might as well stick around and provide the promised cleaning.

In hindsight, I might've been annoyed the whole process ended up taking more than four hours. But how can you complain about a man who not only offers FREE CLEANING, but talks dirty to you while he does it?

Here's a small sampling of the filthy words he uttered as he cleaned cat fur off my staircase:
  • "Where should I unpack my equipment?"
  • "It's the longest hose you can buy, and look – it doesn't kink when you twist it."
  • "I promise, you've never seen suction like this."
  • "You can also push this button here to make it blow."
  • "It's a lot dirtier than you thought, isn't it?"
  • "I'm going to spread this out nice and even."
  • "Watch how fast it can suck it up."
I wish I could say I made all that up, but those are real phrases he used. Each one sent me scrambling for my iPhone so I could write down whatever he'd just said. He probably wondered why I kept giggling like an idiot as I typed, but maybe not since I told him I'm a romantic comedy author.

He was just finishing up when my gentleman friend returned home. "Why are all the covers pulled back on the bed?"

"That dirty-talking vacuum guy asked me to do it," I informed him.

He's known me long enough not to be alarmed by such announcements. "Now you're going to tell me about all this sucking that went on in our bed today?"

"Maybe. Aren't you glad I just changed the sheets this morning?"

"I suspect he's glad."

Me, too. And I also suspect he won't be returning to my house anytime soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The waiting game and other forms of torture

Last week I read through my critique partners' suggestions on my newest manuscript, made the necessary changes, and handed everything off to my three beta readers.

Then I began the arduous process of hitting refresh every 10 minutes on my email.

No matter how many times I do it, the "hurry up and wait" aspect of the writing game never gets easier. It doesn't matter if you're waiting to hear from a critique partner, a beta reader, an agent, an editor, or the judge processing the restraining order after you grabbed the mailman by the throat and screamed, "I know you've got a book contract in there for me, I know it. CHECK AGAIN!"


As most of you know, I work part-time as the Communications & Public Relations manager for my city's tourism bureau, and the rest of my time is devoted to touching myself inappropriately being an author. It's an ideal schedule most of the time, but today....well, not so much.

I'm not due back at the day job until next Tuesday, which means I have five solid days devoted to writing. You know, writing that manuscript that's currently in the hands of my three beta readers.

Not much I can do with that.

A responsible, career-driven author would be busy plotting her next book or updating her website. I'm sitting here pondering my paper-strewn desk and wondering if there's anyplace I could meet my gentleman friend for lunch where no one would notice I'm still wearing pajamas.

I thought about devoting a day to cleaning and organizing my office. Then a nasty cold sucked all the energy out of my body, leaving behind a lot of snot and a bone-gripping fatigue that takes hold if I fold more than two pairs of socks.

And really, I need to conserve my energy for hitting refresh.

How do you handle the waiting game, either in writing or in other aspects of your life? Please share!

And for the record, that mailman is a lying jerk. Hypothetically.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Garage porn at the kitchen store

By now you're all familiar with the sort of filth lurking in your garage, at the grocery store, or on the aisles of your local home improvement store. If not, I'd suggest you go back and read previous posts under the label "garage porn."

You'd think there might be some measure of good taste and decorum in a high-end kitchen store. On the contrary, I discovered a veritable plethora of perversion when I dropped by the other day to cash in a gift certificate.

When your three-ways start to feel a little ho-hum, isn't it nice to shake things up with an adjustable one?
Everyone needs a promiscuous garlic press.

I remember the health class lesson on dental dams for safe oral stimulation, so I guess this is the precaution for the manual variation. I'm not sure how I feel about the stainless steel, but maybe it's easier to clean
I was tempted to ask the cute guy behind the counter to demonstrate this one.

When you're looking for a little pump and grind, it's crucial to pick the one with single-handed, one-finger pump action.

I'm not sure which is more terrifying – the name of this device, or the thought of how you might use it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Grab me while I'm cheap & easy

What do you call it when two different publishers handling your books decide to do a sale the same week?

I feel like there should be a sexy punchline that uses phrases like "double-penetration" or "tag-team" but I can't come up with anything at the moment.

But I can give you the links for both amazing deals happening RIGHT NOW! (Er, that's assuming you read this post shortly after it goes live. If you're reading it the next day, the sales might have ended. But maybe I can offer a consolation prize of a free five-pound bag of freeze-dried brine shrimp eggs?)

OK, so first up, Sourcebooks is offering a 99-cent special on the e-book version of my second romantic comedy, Believe it or Not. This is the first time I've ever seen them do a sale on this title, and I have no idea how long it'll last (that's what she said)

So snag it now for your Kindle or Nook. If you've already done that, consider gifting it to friends or family members with e-readers. Where else can you get a fun holiday gift that only costs 99-cents and doesn't require you to shove quarters in a slot at the adult arcade?

The second sale is even better than the first, because it's FREE. Which isn't really a sale – it's more like a giveaway, huh?

No matter, Coliloquy (the publisher of my active fiction title Getting Dumped) is giving away the Kindle version of my first episode TOTALLY FREE. Obviously, it's a gimmick to lure new readers they hope will purchase the second episode, but who cares? It's a FREE BOOK! Those don't fall out of trees. And if they do, there's a big risk you'll be hit in the head, so obviously it's way safer to have the e-book.

In case you haven't read my previous posts on the subject, Coliloquy publishes "interactive fiction." They use the technology differently for all their books, but in the case of Getting Dumped, it's sort of like an e-book version of a choose-your-own-adventure. But with more groping and penis jokes and bulldozers and landfills a quirky mystery. Fun, right? And did I mention it's totally FREE?!?!

The Coliloquy giveaway for Getting Dumped ends at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, December 5, so you'll want to jump on this one fast (that's what he said).

So there you have it. Two ways to enjoy a little cheap & easy entertainment with minimal risk of contracting an STD. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Next to cozy pajamas and good wine, social media is an author's best friend

Every now and then I'm asked to give workshops to writers' groups on the subject of social media. After I've blathered for awhile about blogging and Twitter and Facebook, someone in the audience will raise a timid hand.

"It looks fun and all, but how does that sell books?"

It's a question I love answering even more than the one about how to have a steamy makeout session without messing up your lipstick (because frankly, I'm not sure about that one).

But the answer to the former question is that you have to redefine what you consider selling.

In the social media world, selling does not involve beating the consumer over the head with your product until he falls to his knees and throws his credit card at you as a means of self-defense. It involves forming connections and friendships over shared experiences, laughter, or what you had for lunch.

And because people like the idea of supporting their friends, they'll take it into their own hands to buy what you're offering and suggest their friends do the same.

If I'm organized enough to have a Powerpoint presentation prepared for my workshop, I'll show few screenshots that illustrate my point.

As soon as I saw this exchange on Twitter a few weeks ago, I knew I'd add it to my collection of favorite examples. It started with my blog post about people laughing at my new hat. I was delightfully surprised that a regular blog reader was kind enough to tweet about the post to her followers, and things unfolded from there:

And just like that, I have a new reader. Well, assuming she followed through. I've considered figuring out where she lives and peering in her windows to see if I can spot one of my books lying on the sofa, but my editor might frown on the negative publicity of having me arrested for stalking.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of social media, I also want to share this incredible video I saw last week at a marketing workshop I attended for the day job. The instant I saw it, I searched YouTube from my iPhone to find a link. I immediately emailed the link to three marketing colleagues, tweeted about it from my author Twitter account, and posted it to Facebook.

Talk about illustrating the point.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I've been Googling something besides myself

I'd been editing my manuscript for five hours straight when I decided to take a break to surf porn read mentally enriching news stories. I stumbled upon an article about a police investigation in which a suspect's Google search history was used to build a case against her.

It got me thinking. Not just about what police might conclude if they searched my browser history, but how long my jail term might be and the number of conjugal visits I'd be permitted per day.

It also sent me scrolling through my browser history to see exactly what I'd been Googling as I worked to finalize details in my latest romantic comedy. In no particular order, here are my top ten keyword searches performed Monday morning:
  • Dumb sex studies
  • Porcupine trivia
  • Fixing a bent rim on a mountain bike
  • Bizarre sexual practices
  • crudités versus canapés
  • How bicycle handlebar position affects female orgasm
  • Facts about badgers
  • Jiu Jitsu takedowns
  • Bankruptcy recovery 
  • Plumbing expressions that sound dirty
I think I'm going to suggest to my editor that in lieu of writing a blurb for this book, we simply print that list on the back cover. Surely that's enough to pique reader interest, right?

So what have you been Googling lately? Please share!

Oh, and since you're dying to know about dirty plumbing terms and handlebar position impacting orgasm, here you go:

Plumbing expressions that don't mean what you think

How a bicycle handlebar affects the female orgasm

You're welcome.

Monday, November 26, 2012

When the end isn't the end

Last week, I had the giddy pleasure of typing "the end" on my current manuscript.

Well, that's not exactly what I typed.

This particular ending was a long time coming, and I'm too exhausted now to point out that I just wrote "coming."

I haven't addressed this on the blog yet, but those of you paying close attention may have noticed the third book in my romantic comedy contract hasn't hit shelves yet. Though my publisher had initially slated the release for August 2012 and I completed the manuscript in plenty of time, they suggested it wasn't the right third book for my career. I was given the option to release it anyway, or to start from scratch with a brand new book and a different release date.

My gut and my brain had differing opinions about the best course of action, and they wrestled long and hard in a pit of cherry Jello while wearing sequined g-strings and nipple tassels.

Which is how I ended up writing a new manuscript from scratch, and how I ended up sitting at my desk last week staring at those words through a blur of happy/sad tears.

Once upon a time, I thought a book deal might magically transform me into the sort of writer who'd reach the final line of a manuscript, type "the end," and immediately hand a spotless draft over to my gleeful editor. This fantasy may have also involved several male strippers and a wine dispenser mounted beside my desk, but let's not dwell.

The biggest lesson I've learned since I first accepted this three-book deal in February 2010 is that my fantasy couldn't have been more off-base if I'd thrown in a gang of monkeys clanging celebratory cymbals.

Which, come to think of it, would be pretty cool.

But that isn't reality, and I know now that typing "the end" is only the beginning. I still have an absurd amount of editing to do before I'd even consider letting anyone outside a mental institution have a look at this manuscript. After that, I'll hand it off to my three critique partners who will lovingly tear it to shreds. Once I've implemented their changes, the manuscript will go to my three longtime beta readers, who will point out all the ways my heroine is unsympathetic, my hero is a sniveling weasel, and the fact that my unclear pronoun usage makes it sound like the heroine is licking her own neck. After their changes are made, the manuscript goes to my agent for another round of feedback and polishing before she submits it to my editor.

And after all that, I know it's entirely possible my editor will say, "'s not the right book for your career now."

I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know I can't let myself dwell on that.

I can choose to panic over the flogging my draft will take in the coming weeks, and the fact that it might be all for naught. Or I can choose to take this one step at a time, slow and steady, and to allow myself to celebrate milestones like typing "the end" without rolling my eyes and muttering, "far from it."

For the writers among you, how far is "the end" from "THE END?" For non-writers, what are some of the biggest lessons you've learned along the way in your chosen career path. Please share!

I have to see a man about a monkey.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Making people better and happier (no porn required!)

One of my favorite moments each day takes place between 6:30 a.m. when I wake up, and around 7:30 when my gentleman friend is roused awake by his blaring alarm and my icy hands.

No, this isn't one of those battery-powered moments (though I do treasure those). That special hour is when I crawl out of bed to throw on my wool socks and yoga pants and as many sweater layers as I can possibly don, and head out for a morning walk with my dog.

We vary our route each morning. Sometimes we walk to the park where I let her off-leash to scurry in the grass and bark until I throw sticks for her to chase. Other times we head north toward the irrigation canal, which is a lovely, flowing creek in the summer months, and a barren pit of ice and dirt this time of year.

My city isn't a huge one, but it's surprising how many people we encounter at that hour in our little corner of suburbia. Most mornings I pass two or three strangers out walking dogs, enjoying a brisk jog, or returning from a night of burgling neighborhood homes. Usually we nod hello, perhaps issue a perfunctory, "good morning" as we pass. I don't think I'd recognize any of them in a police lineup if it did turn out they burgled neighborhood homes.

The mornings are chilly this time of year, so I bought myself a new hat two weeks ago. The hat is wool, and features a large animal face complete with eyeballs, ears, a protruding nose, and an odd tuft of hair on top. I love my hat very much, and felt toasty-warm the first morning I put it on.

My dog and I set out like any other morning en route to the park. Partway there, we crossed paths with a woman wearing Lycra pants and high-tech running shoes. As we passed on the sidewalk, she laughed.

"Morning," she said, and continued on with her jog.

I didn't think much of it until we arrived at the park. I let Bindi off-leash and started my usual stroll around the wood-chip path circling the soccer field. Halfway around, we encountered a shaggy young man with a skateboard and holey jeans on the brink of sliding off his non-existent hips to reveal his shamrock boxers.

He looked at me, grinned, looked at my dog, then looked at me again. "That's a really great dog," he said.

"She is," I agreed, watching her trot obediently to my side in case Mr. Saggy Pants decided to beat me with his skateboard. She barked once, then scurried into the bushes in pursuit of an imaginary squirrel.

We continued on our way, not encountering anyone else until I stooped to re-leash my dog at the edge of the park. A young mother hauling a stroller and a panting golden retriever halted at the edge of the grass and pointed at me.

"Look, Austin," she said in a sing-song voice. "See the hat?"

I'm not sure whether Austin was the dog or the toddler, but I smiled and waved and said a quiet "ah-ha" to myself as I continued on my way.

The hat. That's the reason everyone was so smiley and friendly. I thought about it all the way home, delighting in the fact that something so small and ridiculous could prompt such a cheerful response from strangers.

There's a quote I've seen floating around the interwebs from time to time:
"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier."
It's credited to Mother Teresa, so I won't even joke about ex-rated ways to leave someone better and happier, or the fact that she said come. 

I love the idea of this even more than I love my new hat. What a simple thing it is most of the time to bring a tiny spark of happiness, good cheer, or humor into a stranger's day. How much lovelier would the world be if we all made an effort to do this at least a few times a week?

When I returned home from the walk, my gentleman friend was still asleep. As my good deed for the day, I refrained from putting my cold hands on his warm and dozing body. I suppose I could have come up with other ways to spread happiness, but we both had to go to work.

How do you make an effort to leave others better and happier than before you crossed paths? Can you think of a time someone else has done that for you? Please share.

And feel free to laugh at my new hat. I encourage it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

And for that, I'm grateful

At the start of November, pals across various social media channels like Facebook and Twitter began posting things for which they're grateful. I assume there's some connection to Thanksgiving, though it's possible everyone I know was infected by a rare virus that causes spontaneous gratitude, self-reflection, and anal leakage.

Not wanting to be left out, I've decided to share a few things that make me very grateful.

I'm grateful for my fellow-writers. I don't care if you're published or unpublished, if you're a longtime personal pal, or someone I've never met outside the online world. What I love most about the entire community of writers is the fabulous support among the tribe. Very few writers achieve success and say, "see ya later, suckers." There's always someone ahead of you on the career ladder who's still reaching back to offer a helping hand, a word of advice, or a glass of wine. Or even encouraging tidbits, like this post I spotted last week on Facebook at the precise moment I needed someone to remind me, "you are not the only writer who spends 95% of her time feeling like she has her head up her butt:"

I'm grateful for love and romance. Without these things, my career as a romantic comedy novelist would be going very differently. So would my personal life, which took several crazy turns in the last few years with my unexpected divorce and equally unexpected new relationship with my gentleman friend (celebrating 20 months together this Thanksgiving, thankyouverymuch). My gratitude for this relationship overwhelms me whenever we spend time together cooking dinner or walking the dog or working to make sure our new home reflects the best of both of us. Incidentally, this is what you get when a singer with a masters degree in theater and a fondness for whimsy creates a dining room with a romance author with an English Lit degree and a shared love of plants and animals:

I'm grateful for family. I'm thankful beyond words to have loving, caring, charming, funny, intelligent parents who've supported me every step of the way throughout my 38 years on the planet. And for my kid brother, who remains one of my best friends in the world, despite the fact that he occasionally defeats me when we play "name that butt rock tune in three notes or less." And my grandparents, two of whom are still alive and kicking (my grandmother kicking much more solidly since last week's total hip replacement, which I'm grateful went very well despite a drug reaction that caused her to be briefly possessed by Satan).

Obviously, these are just a handful of the many, many things filling me with gratitude right now. What are YOU thankful for right now? Please share!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Four years ago...

Tuesday night, I picked up my phone and texted a single word to a friend:
She laughed. I know this because she was sitting two feet from me when she got the message.

It's an inside joke that started four years earlier on election night when she sent me a jubilant message about the outcome of a particular campaign. This was only the second text message I'd received in my life, and my effort to type f**k yeah did not go as planned.

In case you're wondering, my first text exchange was with the same friend who sent a note to ask if our boss had arrived at work yet. I replied moss. It was supposed to say nope.

My texting skills have changed a bit since then, as has the rest of my life. I thought about this Tuesday as my gentleman friend and I sat on the sofa drinking pumpkin ale and laughing with my texting friend and her husband.

Four years ago, those two weren't married.

Four years ago, I was across town at another friend's home watching election coverage and drinking some wine my then-husband and I had just brought back from Spain.

Four years ago on another side of town, my gentleman friend and his then-wife opened a bottle of champagne to toast new beginnings. Three months later, they separated.

Four years ago, my agent and I were 10 months into our working relationship with no clue we'd endure 15 more soul-crushing months to land a book deal. And we'd wait 15 long months beyond that for the first book to hit shelves.
Bindi & me at Oregon's Painted Hills. Incidentally, my
gentleman friend snapped this on one of our first big
outings together.

Four years ago, my dog Bindi – my trustiest, most faithful friend through my divorce and beyond – wasn't born yet. Back then, the two dogs who'd shared my life for a decade were still alive and well.

Four years ago, I had no idea that divorce, disappointment, and death waited on my horizon.

But I also didn't know I'd experience the exhilarating joys of falling in love again – with writing, with pets, and with the guy who now shares my home and my six-pack of pumpkin ale.

As I watched the election coverage last night, I couldn't help but wonder what's in store for me in the next four years. What's waiting in my future that I can't begin to imagine right now?

I can't know for sure, but I can know this – I'm ready for it. Bring it on.

And pass me the pumpkin ale.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stephen King says I can't snuggle my pets today

I arrived home late last night after four days in Portland working a convention for the day job. Events like that are particularly draining for introverts like me, and today I want nothing more than to unpack my suitcase and crawl into bed with a good book and a few pets.

Or all six pets, if I can arrange it:

A rare moment captured by my gentleman friend – all five cats plus the dog gathered on the bed for movie night. For the record, we don't sleep like this.
Alas, there will be no snuggling with my pets or my gentleman friend or even random strangers today. I probably won't even have time to unpack my suitcase, which means I'll spend the next week sniffing the armpits of dirty shirts and convincing myself I can get away with wearing them one more time.

I'm in the home stretch on my current manuscript, and I need every moment of writing time I can possibly get. Even if I don't feel like it. Even if I'm exhausted. Even if I have a strong sense that my sleep-deprived brain is producing scenes that read as though they were typed by a dyslexic third-grader with a sugar-buzz and six missing fingers.

Which is why I really appreciate this graphic someone posted on Facebook a few days ago:

Thank you, Mr. King, for the reminder that writers keep writing no matter what. Even on days they'd sooner pierce their own genitals with a rusty fork.

And on that note, I'm off to write a love story.

How do you keep going when it's the last thing you want to do? Please share!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The value of being a year-round slut

Saturday night, my gentleman friend and I attended a wild Halloween party that included two live bands, fire dancers, tightrope walkers, and vouchers for unlimited adult beverages.

Because we're losers highly sophisticated introverts, we sat on a couch in the corner all evening and watched people.

"Do you notice a theme with a lot of the female costumes here?" he asked about an hour into the party.

"You mean the fact that everything has a slutty twist?" I replied. "Slutty vampire, slutty cat, slutty Wonder Woman, slutty witch, slutty giraffe–"

"Where's the slutty giraffe?"

I pointed out the group with the African Safari theme, and we both sat quietly for a moment and pondered the idea of a slutty giraffe.

"Is it more politically correct to say sexy instead of slutty?" I asked.

"When did you start caring what's politically correct?"

"Good point," I agreed. "For the record, I don't see slutty as a derogatory term. In the right context, I see it as synonymous with sexually empowered."

"Duly noted."

A moderately slutty ninja, and Dexter the serial killer.
We studied the crowd some more, more acutely aware of the number of women who'd seized the chance to appear in public wearing their bras. To be fair, I spied several men wearing bras as well.

"I think it's sad," I said.

My gentleman friend shot me a startled look. "How is it sad?"

"Women should be proud to be slutty all year-round," I said. "Not just Halloween."

"I think I saw that on a Hallmark card."

"It's true," I said. "I write romantic comedy, so it's not like I set out to deliver some big moral message with my writing. But if there's one soapbox issue I feel passionate about, it's that women shouldn't be afraid to be open about sex. To be able to approach it with enthusiasm and pride and a whole lot of humor."

Awhile back, someone asked me if there's any subject or theme I'd never write about in one of my books. Though I never like to say never, I don't believe I could write a romance novel with a sexually naive heroine who magically discovers her inner slut under the careful tutelage of the wise and experienced hero.

It's a theme I've read many times in romance, and I always have trouble wrapping my brain around it. I don't deny there are plenty of women – and men, too, for that matter – who are raised to feel shameful or embarrassed about their sexuality.

I can't relate.

In the little utopia that exists in the back of my romance author brain, there's a world where people of all ages and genders are comfortable with their bodies and all the magical things they can do. A world where everyone can embrace their inner slut 365 days a year.

Admittedly, that's not as inspiring as Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, but I'll take it.

How do you plan to celebrate your slutty self this holiday season? Please share! And please let me know if you find that phrase on a Hallmark card. I'd like to buy a case full.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The moments that leave you panting

Tuesday afternoon, my gentleman friend came home to find me in a disheveled state. My hair was tousled, my clothes rumpled, my cheeks flushed, and my pulse racing.

No, he didn't catch me doing something illicit. He needed to come home at lunch for that.

But he did discover me in the midst of one of the most breathtakingly giddy parts of my writing process. It generally occurs around the 70,000-word mark when I know I've hit the home-stretch and all the loose threads finally start coming together.

(Let's all pause here and giggle about "coming together" being an integral part of concluding a romance novel).

According to my contract, my romantic comedy titles should be around 80,000-90,000 words. I tend to fall a little short of that on a first draft, and add at least 5,000 words once my critique partners and beta readers finish beating me up.

That means I have roughly 10,000 words left to write. More importantly, the plot holes that have been gaping at me for months look less like craters and more like shallow crevices that are a true pleasure to fill.

(Who wants to make the crevice-filling joke?)

In all seriousness . . . oh, who am I kidding? I write romantic comedy, why would I be serious?

But in reality, this home-stretch of writing is one of the rare and precious times I don't feel like a complete disaster as an author. Writers often divide themselves into two categories – the "plotters," who carefully plan out their plot points prior to starting a book, and the "pantsters" who fly by the seat of their pants with no plan at all.

I am a pantster. I am the worst kind of pantster in that I honestly have no earthly idea who my characters are or what they'll be doing for 85,000 words when I begin a book. I could feed you some line about how this free-spirited approach lets my creativity flow more fluidly, but that's a lie. The fact is, I'm a pantster because I'm too damn lazy to plot a book beforehand.

Which means I spend an awful lot of time fretting that I've just written myself into a corner. If you saw an early draft of any of my books, you'd notice at least a hundred instances of "XXXXXX" where I've marked things I need to return to because I have no idea how to complete the thought.

But honestly, that feeling of cluelessness is worth it so I can enjoy the rush that comes when things finally, finally start to gel. When I can go back and begin lacing in red herrings and character traits and details I omitted during my first stumbling trek through the story.

Few things are more exhilarating than seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing I might get there walking upright instead of crawling on all-fours through a pile of broken glass.

(Anyone want to take the all-fours joke?)

Years ago when I first discovered the thrill of this stage in the writing process, I dubbed it, "the audible clicking of puzzle pieces." There's this moment where I truly believe I can hear those crooked jigsaw parts falling into place, and it's the best sound in the whole wide world.

If you're a writer, do you have a favorite stage in the process? For the non-writers among you, can you relate to the giddy feeling of hitting a turning point in your life or your career? Please share!

I'll be fiddling with my puzzle pieces and giggling like a giddy kid.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Body language sounds filthy if you say it right

Though I make it a point to keep politics out of my social media activity, I'm passionate about the subject (and not in a "presidential kneepads" sorta way).

Since my gentleman friend shares my political passion, we were disappointed to realize the 2012 U.S. vice presidential debate was scheduled in the middle of our road trip to Seattle two weeks ago. Attempting to view a live, televised program while driving slick mountain roads seemed unwise, so we opted for finding a radio broadcast of the debate.

The aforementioned mountain pass made for spotty radio reception, and the debate broadcast was punctuated by loud bursts of static and the occasional evangelical sermon. But we made the best of it, and the two of us enjoyed a rousing post-debate discussion of how things had gone for our preferred candidate.

It wasn't until we arrived at our destination and reconnected with modern technology that we got any sense of what the rest of the world was saying about the debate. Regardless of political persuasion, most seemed to agree that body language set the tone for the exchange. There was eye-rolling, smirking, head-shaking, wild gesturing, and possibly a wedgie issued by one candidate to the other.

We missed all of it. As a result, we had a very different perspective on the debate.

Regardless of whether that's a good or bad thing, it got me thinking about writing. Every year, I volunteer to judge a writing contest through my local RWA chapter. In this year's batch of entries, I came across one that was enchantingly well-written and clever. The dialogue in particular was fast-paced and witty, and moved the story along at a delightfully quick pace.

But that was also a bit of a drawback. The exchanges of dialogue were so fast and snappy, there were few words devoted to body language. There was very little scene-setting, and not enough context clues to inform the reader where the characters were sitting, how they were speaking to one another, and how they were impacted by each other's words.

Is she shouting or whispering? 

Is he surprised by what she's saying, or did he already know?

Is she sitting back in her chair, or perched nervously on the edge?

Is the room dim, or well-lit?

Is he hearing what she's saying, or distracted by her hair or her eyes or bad breath or a scar on her face or the button that's come undone on her blouse?

These are the kinds of comments I made throughout the manuscript. Though judging is always anonymous, the contest coordinator forwarded me a lovely thank you note last week from the author of the entry. The writer was grateful for the feedback, and expressed amazement what a difference the added detail would make in overall character development and scene-setting.

This did not prompt me to give myself a smug pat on the back or smirk over how I never make such a mistake in my own writing. On the contrary, it's easy for me to spot because it's something I fall prey to constantly as an author.

It's easy to get caught up in the quick pace of a scene and forget the need to show your reader what's happening. I'm not talking about injecting huge blocks of copy that slow the pace of the writing. Just a few small details giving someone's tone of voice or facial expression can make a huge difference in how the reader experiences a scene.

If you're a writer, how do you remember to show (rather than tell) the body language and interplay between your characters? Or for the non-writers in the group, what sort of difference does it make being able to see a conversation or debate, as opposed to just hearing the words? Please share!

And lest you think I forgot Friday's book giveaway contest, congratulations to C.L. who offered up this terrific idea for a Halloween costume:

A friend of mine created the best Halloween costume ever (IMHO) and one I think you'll appreciate. She was a "One-Night Stand." She wore a lampshade on her head and built a "table" out of cardboard which encircled her waist. The table had champagne glasses (plastic), condoms, handcuffs, Cosmo magazines and a lipstick tube glued to it.

Love it! If I didn't already have my ninja costume prepared, I'd totally steal this. C.L., shoot me an email to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com letting me know your snail mail address and whether you'd prefer a signed copy ofBelieve it or Not or a signed copy of Making Waves.

And thanks to everyone for playing!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Giving away a free signed book!

In what I'm fairly certain is a massive conspiracy, my gentleman friend's car died around the same time my computer decided to make the trip to laptop heaven.

Luckily, I have a perfectly functional car. And he has a very nice computer.

I also happen to have six straight days scheduled for supergluing my butt to my home office chair and working like mad on the end stages of my manuscript. I don't particularly need my car, and my gentleman friend doesn't need his computer while he's off at his day job.

I think there's an O. Henry story in there somewhere, but I'm too tired to think about it after staying up half the night fretting about broken cars, busted computers, battery-dead adult toys, and impending book deadlines.

In lieu of a real blog post, how about we just have a contest? Leave a comment sharing either your most creative pumpkin-carving idea, or your favorite Halloween costume.

I'll pick a winner sometime Sunday evening, and he or she can choose between a signed copy of Believe it or Not or a signed copy of Making Waves.

Alternately, you could just give me your car or your computer. Or a jumbo pack of AA batteries. Whatever.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Groping myself in mixed company

On the spectrum of "girls you take home to meet your parents" and "girls you fervently deny knowing when asked by a member of the clergy," I've always fancied myself among the former. Admittedly, I may have startled my gentleman friend's family with my post about his offspring finding an adult toy under our bed, but I try hard to be a respectable catch.

This past weekend, we journeyed six-and-a-half hours to Seattle to visit my gentleman friend's hometown. Family medical issues made this a somewhat somber visit, and I was conscious of my need to be on good behavior. I'm never certain what good behavior entails, but I know it doesn't permit licking my dessert place, telling penis jokes, or groping myself/others in mixed company.

The latter proved more challenging than you might guess.

Following a Friday night dinner at the home of my gentleman friend's parents, I was invited to tour the house. His father escorted us around the premises, ending up in his woodworking shop in the basement.

For the record, I did not snicker even once when instructed to feel the wood or admire the hardness of  various pieces.

As we stood in the shop studying the tools, I felt something tickle my right boob. I turned to glare at my gentleman friend, only to discover he was five feet away.

He's skilled, but not that skilled.

Since no one else was in boob-grab range, I turned my suspicions elsewhere. My long hair has the tendency to get caught in my bra, so I tugged my tresses over one shoulder as my gentleman friend's father described the lovely cedar chest he'd made. Fluffing my hair, I kept my eyes averted from my own chest.

Something tickled my boob again.

I squirmed, fighting the urge to stick my hand down the front of my shirt. What the hell?

Discretely, I pretended to scratch my back while tugging hard on my bra strap. A wayward wood chip, perhaps? A bizarre nerve twitch? I squirmed, hoping things would adjust themselves. Eyes watering, I made a valiant effort to ignore the situation. The conversation continued, with my gentleman friend handing me various blocks of wood to show the different textures and colors. I nodded enthusiastically, turning the wood over in my hands.

Something wriggled again in my bra cup.

"Aaack!" I yelped, and clutched the wood to my chest. Both men stared at me.

"It's um – very nice." I  handed the wood block to my gentleman friend with a tense smile.

"It is," he agreed, eying me oddly. He turned back to his dad and asked a question about wood grain.

Something poked my boob. Hard.

I couldn't take it anymore. Feigning intense interest in a collection of saw-blades behind me, I stuck my hand down the front of my shirt and scratched like a flea-infested lemur.

"Are you okay?" my gentleman friend asked.

"Fine, fine," I said, turning back around. "That's really nice wood."

He gave me a funny look and turned back to his dad.

At last we left the wood shop and headed back upstairs to join the rest of the family. I scurried to the bathroom where I tore off my shirt and bra so fast you'd have thought George Clooney waited for me in the shower with a bottle of olive oil. I studied my boob, locating a small, red dot that looked like a spider bite. Seeing no sign of the alleged spider, I scratched like mad, put my top back on, and returned to the living room.

"Is everything OK?" my gentleman friend whispered.

"Absolutely," I answered. "Can we see if your sister has any bite ointment for my boob?"

This may have been the moment he second-guessed whether I'm the sort of girl to bring home.

But we procured a tube of hand cream, and I felt much better after smearing it on the bite. I spent the remainder of the weekend trying very hard not to scratch the itch, but mostly failing. The bite is finally fading, and I'm hopeful any poor impression I made on the family will fade as quickly.

So that's why you may not want to bring me home. Anyone else have any embarrassing "meet the family" stories? Please share.

I'll be over here trying not to grope myself.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

When sexting isn’t sexy

Sixteen months ago, I visited New York City for the first time and met my amazing agent in person. The meeting occurred just two months before the release of Making Waves, and two months after I found myself in a new romantic relationship for the first time in fifteen years.

My agent and I discussed the strangeness of those life events colliding, and she offered miscellaneous bits of advice. “You should probably steer clear of sexting,” she suggested.

She was either joking, or making a sincere effort to safeguard my budding reputation as a debut author. Joking seems more likely, since I write romantic comedy. Where a sex scandal might damage the career of a children’s author, it would only pique public interest in mine. Not that I’m planning to release amateur porn videos (hi, mom!) but suffice it to say, I don’t fret about leaked text messages harming a reputation based largely on risqué humor and inappropriate sexual innuendo.

In any case, I can’t say I took the advice to heart. I love naughty text messages, especially the ones from potty-mouthed gal pals trying to get a laugh out of me.

Most sexy messages I send are meant for my gentleman friend, though admittedly not all reach their intended destination. A few months ago, I mistakenly sent my realtor a frisky lunch invite. Thoroughly amused when I cleared things up, she inquired if I might be free for a fully-clothed meal instead.

One of my best girlfriends told me recently about a sexy text exchange she had with her traveling husband. In the midst of their spicy correspondence, autocorrect issued a message from her declaring, “my piss is so wet for you.”

Her husband was not aroused.

My worst blooper occurred the first time I met my gentleman friend’s ex-wife. The meeting was arranged to ensure she felt comfortable with the new woman in their offspring’s life, and the mood was friendly but awkward.

During a lull in conversation, my gentleman friend tried to lighten the mood by texting me something hilariously filthy from across the table. Unfortunately, it was the precise moment I handed my phone to his ex to show her the cracked screen.

The look on my gentleman friend’s face is one I’ll remember ‘til I die.

I’m still not sure the ex-wife read the note, though I doubt she’d be surprised by her former spouse’s habit of easing strained moments with risqué humor. It’s one of the things I love best about him, and I doubt I’m alone in admiring the trait.

Do you have any awkward sexting moments you’d care to share, either intentional or unintentional? I’d love to hear about ‘em! So would my mom. It’ll take her mind off that amateur porn thing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Making time for Windex and moldy grapes

I am a horrible slob.

I cringe a little as I put that in writing, because I'm not sure my gentleman friend has realized this about me yet. We've resided under the same roof for almost a year now, but nine months of that was with the housemates. It was easy to point fingers at them as the root of all slovenly behavior in the household (though admittedly I had a tough time convincing him they were responsible for the lipstick on the milk carton).

But we've lived in our own place a little over two months now, and I suspect my untidy nature has become apparent. He hasn't fled yet, though that's probably because there's a large stack of books and laundry blocking the door.

When I'm cranking hard on a book deadline, I give up on even the most basic desk tidying efforts. A week ago, I sat mindlessly munching from a bowl of grapes while I typed with one hand. By Friday, the bowl was buried under a layer of papers with a dozen grapes shriveling beneath them and I thought, "those can stay there 'til I meet my Thanksgiving deadline."

It was getting pretty bad.

So when I headed down to my office for some early morning writing on Sunday, I felt the usual pang of disappointment upon seeing the housekeeping fairies had not arrived in the night to clean and organize my workspace. Then I steeled my resolve to finish this book in six weeks and then clean my desk. I shoved aside the withered grapes, a leaky tube of hand cream, and enough paperwork to make the world's largest papier-mâché phallus, and I got to work.

At least, that's what I tried to do. Within five minutes, I discovered my laptop had other ideas. It refused to start, no matter how many tech-savvy strategies I employed. (Note: My tech-savvy strategies include turning the computer off and on, unplugging and replugging all the cords, picking it up and shaking it, smacking it with the palm of my hand, and cursing at it).

When none of my methods worked, I was forced to accept that my computer was taking a good long nap. A close friend is a skilled computer repair guy, but he's out of town until Thursday. My last backup of the manuscript was over a week ago, but I tried hard not to dwell on that. For me, trying not to dwell involves staying busy.

So I got to work cleaning my desk. I filed papers, organized pens, dumped out moldy grapes, and even took a bottle of Windex to my glass desktop (a surface I hadn't seen for two months). By the time I finished, I was so pleased with the results that I got busy organizing the top of my dresser. Then I vacuumed the bedroom. Then I laid down in the driveway and took a nap (what? The concrete was nice and warm).

My computer still isn't fixed, but I've managed not to panic. My gentleman friend offered me the use of his computer for now, and we're both fairly confident mine is repairable. In the meantime, having a clean desktop has me feeling downright happy to walk into my office right now.

Why do I always forget that aspect of tidying? I get mired in the belief that I can't possibly spare the hour it would take to organize my workspace, and I completely forget how wonderful it feels to have a sparkling clean desk. To spend my writing days knowing exactly where to find that pen or that notepad or those research notes on the mating habits of porcupines.

Are you a slob, a neat freak, or something in between? Do you ever catch yourself thinking you can't spare the time to perform a task you know damn well will make a huge difference in your overall well-being? Please share!

I'm going to go curse at my laptop again. This time, it might just work.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stop the glorification of busy

Last week, I hustled into the building for my day job  running late   with wet hair   sloshing lukewarm tea all over myself   professionally-attired, five minutes early, and ready to begin my workday.

That's when I spotted this tacked to my boss's office door:

"Is this new?" I asked the boss, pointing at it as he passed me en route to  the refrigerator   the bathroom   an important meeting.

"It's actually been there a few weeks."

You could take that as a commentary on my poor observation skills, but I prefer to see it as a positive sign that my boss rarely has his door closed, which makes it less likely I'd notice anything tacked to it. There may be a coupon for a year's worth of free wine tucked below his nameplate, and I'd never notice.

That's a lie. I always notice free wine, but that's not the point of this post. My point is that the sign resonated with me, and not in a, "hey, my boss is telling me to slack off" sorta way.

On the contrary, our entire team works very hard. We all have packed schedules, and I can guarantee no one has ever uttered the phrase, "I'm bored" in our building.

But there's a difference between working hard for the sake of a goal, and working hard for the sake of impressing someone. There's a difference between being a good employee and being a martyr. There's a difference between being productive and being busy.

The latter was on my mind this past Monday in particular. Since I work part-time for the day job, Mondays are my day to stay home and focus on author stuff. When I'm in the middle of a manuscript like I am right now, I become neurotically focused on building word count. If I don't write at least 4,000 new words on a Monday afternoon, I feel like slamming my head in the garage door.

But this particular Monday was not a word-adding day, and I knew that up front. I'd had a hardcore brainstorming session with one of my critique partners, and I knew heading into Monday that it was a day for finessing, tweaking, and weaving delicate little plot threads together. A vital task? Absolutely. Crucial to making progress with the story? Of course.

But not something that was going to boost my overall word count by much.

I knew this Monday morning, and by the end of the day, I'd made a lot of really great strides with my plot. But when I looked at my word count, I still felt glum.

Then I wanted to slam my head in the garage door again, because seriously – WTF?

I need a copy of my boss's sign for my home office. I need to remind myself that "progress" doesn't look the same every single time. I need to do a better job accepting a certain flexibility in the tools I use to gauge success. Sometimes, moving forward requires moving backward, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I'm guessing I'm not alone in my constant need to remind myself of these things. Do you have an urge to be busy? Do you sometimes gauge your own success based on arbitrary measurements instead of less-tangible forms of progress? Please share!

I'll be  fleshing out this character arc   developing a new subplot  writing blog posts to support my marketing plan  sitting on the sofa thinking. It might be about writing, or it might just be dirty thoughts.

And that's OK.

Monday, October 1, 2012

STDs make lovely birthday gifts

My gentleman friend's offspring is celebrating his eleventh birthday today, an alarming fact considering he was nine when we began dating.

I'm going to leave that poorly-used pronoun so you can decide if I'm a creepy pedophile, or merely mind-numbed by the number of times I flagged awkward pronoun usage in manuscripts I judged for a writing contest this weekend.

For the record, my gentleman friend is a consenting adult, and his offspring is celebrating his second two-digit birthday. Since I'm still pretty new to this kid thing, I sought my gentleman friend's counsel on selecting an appropriate gift for his spawn.

"What about giving him crabs?" I suggested as I perused the internet a few nights ago.

My gentleman friend didn't look up from his computer. "Did you just suggest a venereal disease as a potential gift for my son?"

"No, hermit crabs," I said, pointing at a photo of a beautifully-decorated terrarium advertised for sale on craigslist. "They're pretty low-maintenance as far as pets go, and it might be fun."

He politely refrained from pointing out that we already have that brand of fun in the form of five cats, a dog, and two large fish tanks. In fact, he agreed it would be a fine gift for me to present his offspring, so I promptly emailed the man who posted the craigslist ad.

After a bit of haggling, we settled on a price and agreed to meet in the parking lot of a nearby fitness facility. I arrived first, and when I spotted the car he'd described on the phone, headed over to claim my new purchase.

"Are you the guy with the crabs?" I called as he opened his car door.

Two strangers entering the gym turned and stared. The seller frowned and glanced toward his trunk. "I have the terrarium," he announced loudly enough for the strangers to hear. "Also known as a crabitat."

"Right. A crabitat. I have the cash right here."

At this point, things started feeling a bit like a drug deal. Not that most drug deals involve shredded coconut husks and invertebrates with claws. As we retrieved the tank from the back of the man's car, he kindly shared tips on proper care and feeding of hermit crabs.

"It's important to keep things moist," he said. "Wetter is better."

"Absolutely," I agreed, trying not to snicker.

"Need help carrying it to your car?"

"Nah, I've got it."

I hoisted the large tank into my arms and got halfway back to my car before realizing the tie on the side of my wrap skirt had come undone. A smarter woman would have set the terrarium down on the pavement and retied the skirt.

I opted to bare half my backside to the patrons of Xcel Fitness. I finally got the crabitat loaded into my car, got my skirt retied, and headed home to request my gentleman friend's help in moving the terrarium.

"Did everything go OK?" he asked.

"Definitely," I said. "I showed everyone my underwear, but at least I got the crabs."

"Only you," he said, and carried the tank up the stairs.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Believing in just because

Years ago I watched the 1995 romantic comedy Forget Paris in the company of a female acquaintance. When the end credits rolled, so did her eyes.

“Why would we believe they’re going to live happily ever after now?” she asked. “They just spent the whole movie breaking up and getting back together and breaking up again.”

Her perspective startled me, though I knew she had a point. Why should we believe in happily ever after when the harsh nipple-tweak of reality shows us time and again how unlikely that is?

Do I need a smarter answer than, “just because?”

I think that’s what I told my acquaintance 16 years ago, and I’m not sure I’ve crafted a more intelligent response since then. But I do write romance novels underscoring the notion that happily ever after is a real thing.

I know, I know…show me the statistics suggesting half of all marriages end in divorce. I know about that firsthand.

But I like these statistics from Romance Writers of America instead: Romance fiction is consistently the largest selling genre, generating $1.368 billion in sales in 2011. In 2008, 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel.

That’s a whole lotta people believing in happily ever after. That’s a whole lotta people saying “just because” is enough for them.

This subject is on my mind a lot right now, since my current manuscript stars a character with some serious trust issues and a tough time believing in happily ever after.

And I guess you could say that theme landed in the manuscript as a result of what’s been simmering in my brain these past 18 months. I sure as hell didn’t expect to end up in a serious relationship so soon after my marriage of 13 years screeched to an unexpected halt.

But that’s what happened, and at least a dozen times a day, I thank my lucky stars for it. Still, I sometimes hear echoes of that old acquaintance’s voice:

“Why would we believe they’re going to live happily ever after now?”

As a recovering literature major and word nerd, I get poems stuck in my head the same way most people are plagued by earworm songs. When I started dating my gentleman friend that dreary spring, this poem bubbled around in my subconscious for weeks:

by Grace Bauer

March has come in roaring.
My dues are paid. I think
I'm in love and wonder
how I dare to trust the warmth
after living through so many winters.

Despite the dirty you bury
it under, the perennial
heart persists in breaking
through the cracks and into blossom.

Always counting on the odds
that April may be kind.

Lest I give the impression I’m a poetry snob immune to the allure of catchy love songs, I’ve got a playlist for my current manuscript that includes a song with a similar theme. The first time my Pandora station played “Crazy Faith” by Alison Krauss and Union Station a few weeks ago, I went scrambling to Google for a look at the lyrics.

These lines near the end of the song gave me goosebumps (not to mention a few ideas for character development in my story):

Love your losing, lose your love
Let the hawk fly from the glove
Do not search the skies above
Search your crazy faith

Love is lightning
Love is ice
It only strikes the lucky twice
Once so you will know the price
And once for crazy faith

I wish I could find a video of the band performing the song live, but this link will at least let you hear how chillingly beautiful it is:

Sappy? Perhaps. Brimming with foolish hope and crazy sentimentality? Definitely.

Sign me up, please.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why I love to suck

Saturday marked the second stop on the Crazy 8s Author Tour in Cannon Beach, Oregon. The next time I think it's wise to commit to two consecutive weekends of book tour driving at cities 400 miles apart, will someone please punch me in the crotch?

Now that we've got that out of the way, I'll say I've very much enjoyed being part of this group tour. As the lone romance author in a group of 28 writers ranging from poets to award-winning literary novelists, I sometimes feel like the chimpanzee crashing a party of swans.

This was apparent Saturday when two authors preceding me devoted their five minutes to discussing cancer, child abuse, and historical massacres. I kicked off my five minutes by squealing – literally squealing – about being introduced by Barbara Roberts, Oregon's first and only female governor and my longtime political idol. Then I launched into my five minute talk dispelling myths about the romance genre, a speech I begin by calling audience members perverts, sexual deviants, and lonely spinsters living in a fantasy world.

I capped it all off by handing my penis pen to a respected poet and asking him to sign a copy of his latest book.

But speaking of sucking (we were, weren't we?) I listened raptly to every word my fellow authors uttered during their five-minute talks. In her talk about the challenges of the writing process, author Ruth Tenzer Feldman said something so wonderful I snatched my penis pen back from the poet and scribbled the quote on the back of my own speech:

"Some of the words are no better than guano, but they serve to enrich the words that come after."

She was discussing the importance of continuing to write, even when it's rough going or the words flow slower than frozen KY Jelly. It's one of the toughest things for new writers to wrap their brains around. Why on earth would you keep writing when you know for certain you're producing absolute drivel?

I love Ruth's take on it – the notion that the crap fertilizes whatever crops you're planting after that. Though I love poop humor as much as the next person, I tend to think of my own lousy writing more like a skeleton. It's not too pretty to look at on its own, but it needs to be there so I can start adding layers of guts and skin and hair and sex organs.

I've seen other authors describe this as, "embracing your suckage" or "giving yourself permission to suck." Whatever you call it, it's an important part of the process whether you're a poet or a governor or a romance author prone to inappropriate public behavior.

How do you allow yourself to suck, either as a writer or in another professional capacity? Please share!

And if you're in Oregon, please mark your calendar for Friday, September 28 at 6:30 when the Crazy 8s Author Tour will make its way to Paulina Springs Books in Redmond.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A tribe of perverts and sexual deviants

Being the lone romance writer on a book tour of 28 Oregon authors is an odd experience. If anyone sees you smiling, they assume you’ve been doing something torrid.

They may have a point.

I’ve had a great time being part of the Crazy 8s Author Tour, and I’m stoked to head to Cannon Beach this Saturday for our next tour stop.

I couldn’t help noticing a common theme in the speeches given by my fellow authors at our first event last weekend. Many poked fun at themselves for using Facebook to procrastinate book deadlines. Some made reference to Twitter, and during the Q&A portion of the presentation we fielded several audience questions about writers’ groups.

Are we all a bunch of social media addicts with the attention span of a porn addict at a nude beach?

Possibly, but there’s more to it than that.

A few weeks before my agent landed me my three-book deal for romantic comedies, I was laid off from my job in marketing and corporate communications. I spent the next nine months living the dream of being a full-time, stay-at-home writer.

As it turned out, the dream wasn’t nearly as fun as the one where I’m flying naked around a room full of firemen.

Left to stew in my introvert juices, I’d go for days without leaving the house. As my volume of outside stimuli decreased, so did my creativity. During that lonely nine months, fellow writers in the social media realm became my support system, my friends, my tribe.

There’s something powerful about being part of a group of people who share your passions and creative quirks. It’s one thing I love about the work environment at my part-time day job, and something that fascinates me about the instantaneous chemistry that erupts when groups of writers get together.

It’s been said that writing is a solitary profession, but I’ve never believed that. Without other people around to stimulate my brain and offer a sense of belonging, my creative juices shrivel like a skin pencil in an ice bath.

Whether you’re a writer or someone with a slightly more sane profession, do you crave the camaraderie of other like-minded professionals? Do you sometimes have to work to find it? Please share.

And for the record, I probably am up to something torrid.

Monday, September 17, 2012

On souvenirs, poop jokes, and regrets

The kickoff of the Crazy 8s
Author tour in Baker City, OR.
Friday night's first stop on the Crazy 8s Author Tour went phenomenally well. Pretty much.

My gamble of calling audience members perverts and sexual deviants to kick off my talk about stereotypes in the romance genre produced the desired laughter. My jokes about hating another Crazy 8s author because his book wasn't released yet fell a bit flat.

No matter, there are more tour stops coming up, and I have a few more opportunities to pull my head out of my butt  improve my approach.

The best thing about signing on for a multi-stop book tour spanning far-reaching corners of Oregon is the chance to explore areas of the state I've never visited. This is a hard concept for people in smaller states to grasp. You can drive across many east coast states in a couple hours. To cross from the Oregon coast to the eastern border of the state would take you about nine hours and nearly 500 miles of driving.

Though I've lived in Oregon for most of my 38 years, I had never spent time exploring the northeast part of the state. The Crazy 8s stop in Baker City was the perfect opportunity to see areas like Wallowa Lake on the fringes of the state's largest wilderness area, and Hell's Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America (don't think I missed a single opportunity to make deep gorge jokes).

The new theater chair in our home office

My gentleman friend and I stopped in charming small towns along the way, pausing to explore antique shops and quirky little art boutiques. In one shop, we discovered a seat that had been rescued from an old theater and lovingly restored by an artist. My gentleman friend – who has a master's degree in theater – was smitten. He'd always wanted to own an antique theater chair, but this wasn't a splurge he'd budgeted into trip planning.

"You know the number one thing I've learned about traveling over the years?" I asked.

He smiled. "Check to be sure you aren't in someone's driveway when you pull off on a deserted gravel road to get frisky in the car?"

I splurged on a memento of my own.
Earrings made from real pennies
stamped with the word "lucky."
One penny is from 1997, the year
I moved to Bend, Oregon.
The other is from 2006 – the year my
gentleman friend moved here.
"Right," I said. "That too. But one thing I've learned is that you never walk out of a shop after purchasing a travel memento and think, 'I wish I hadn't bought that.' But if you leave to think about the purchase and end up forgetting, you'll always, always regret not buying that souvenir."

It's absolutely true, and the reason nearly every piece of artwork in my house has some special meaning from a trip I've taken. It's also true of life in general. I'm a whole lot more likely to regret the things I don't do than the things I do do.

And now I've gone and ruined this post with doo-doo humor.

Do you find your regrets tend to center more around things you haven't done than things you've done? When it comes to travel, do you ever regret souvenirs you don't purchase, or are you the sort to go crazy with the credit card in cute little shops? Please share!

Oh, and for the record, not every travel memento I bring home costs money or requires purchase in a shop. My gentleman friend's casually-snapped photo of me wading in Wallowa Lake will be taking my breath away for years to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is that an eggplant in your pants, or are you happy to see me?

I was gushing to a friend the other day about a salad I’d tried at a local restaurant.

“It was really good,” I said. “It had zucchini and artichoke hearts and roasted berenjena and the best balsamic dressing.”

There was a long pause. “Roasted what?”

I hit the rewind button in my brain and scrolled back through my statement.

“Eggplant,” I muttered. “Not berenjena, eggplant.”
It’s a mistake I’ve made more than once. I’m a native English speaker, born and raised in the United States.

But I studied Spanish from ages 13-23, and after college graduation, I lived in Venezuela for five months teaching English. During those five months, I grew increasingly experimental in my cooking. Each day on the walk home from work, I’d hit the produce stand and select some unfamiliar fruit or veggie. Then I’d scurry home and figure out how to prepare it.

It was my first real introduction to eggplant, which is how I came to know this funny, bruised-looking veggie by its Spanish name – berenjena (pronounced “bare-en-HAY-na,” in case you’re wondering).

It’s been more than fifteen years—not to mention endless exposure to this purple produce in grocery stores, restaurants, and that one unfortunate incident with the Vaseline and pliers—but I still can’t reprogram my brain to remember the English word for eggplant.

It’s a good reminder to me as a writer. I recently started reading a new book, and the heroine kicked off some of the early chapters with narrative that struck me as immature, whiny, and entitled. I’m sure the author has grand plans for a growth arc that will rehab her to something less obnoxious, but I can’t shake my initial, negative impression of the character.

Why yes, I did just make a jump from purple nightshade vegetables to whiny bitches. You still with me?

First impressions are powerful things. The word or attitude filtering through your brain when something new is introduced will be tough to change later. A writer may think, “I’ve got 350 pages to make you like him,” but the truth is, you only have a handful. Maybe ten or twenty pages before your reader chucks the book at the wall and wanders off to find a more satisfying way to occupy her time. 

Perhaps something involving purple produce.

Can you think of any instances where you’ve formed an early impression of something that you couldn’t shake later? Any occasions when you learned a word or phrase a certain way, and never quite fixed it in your brain even after you learned an alternative? Please share!

And is anyone else craving eggplant parmesan now?

Congrats to Lesleen for winning the signed copy of Linda Grimes’s debut novel, In a Fix. Shoot your snail mail address to me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I’ll get that out to you right away.