Monday, February 28, 2011

never alone...

This is my first post for the Rockville 8! It is an honor to be included in such talented and gifted company. When I was contemplating what I would write today I kept asking myself “What would X write?" "What words of wisdom would Z pass along?”

In asking those questions I had my answer. Community.

I belong to a fabulously talented community of writers.  I don’t know everything there is to know about writing. Whether it be about the hero's journey or the seven anchor scenes of a novel. There’s the goal/motivation/conflict of my heroine or the publishing industry at large. I struggle with my pacing, plotting, structure and voice. I HATE grammar, probably due to my post traumatic stress flashbacks of 7th grade diagramming at the hands of my middle school English teacher, Mrs. Loftus.

Even with all of these hurdles to overcome, I know that I am not alone.

Writing is a solitary endeavor at times, as I toil away in silence trying to create a world filled with beauty and wonder where happily ever after is a possibility. I can’t count the times I have stared at my computer screen ready to rip my hair out because of one issue or another. This is usually when I activate the Bat Signal, sending out my SOS. Before you know it I have received several messages of encouragement, steeped with information and suggestions. I am never disappointed with what comes back to me. If I don’t know it, someone else will.

My community is there for me to celebrate when the contest wins come through or the agent calls back. They are there when my participles are dangling and my hero is not cooperating. They are there for me when my real life is falling down around my shoulders and the thought of finishing my book is so daunting I wish to run away and hide and never, ever come back.

Lena Horne said it beautifully:
“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s how you choose to carry it.”

I choose to walk beside a group of woman who have supported, encouraged, critiqued, corrected, brainstormed and laughed...and laughed...and laughed with me over the last two years. Even when I was quiet for a time, I knew they were there when I was ready to jump back in. So, I take this opportunity to thank this community of writers for helping me carry the load.

Ladies, I raise my glass to each of you.


PS. If you are looking for a community to join check out Romance Writers of America or American Christian Fiction Writers.  There's a group for everyone no matter what genre you write!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Blog Post Has No Answers

There are big things going on in the world of publishing. If you're paying any attention at all you know who Amanda Hocking is and why unpublished writers of all genres are so avidly following her success.

But just in case you haven't been following all of it, the upshot is this: Amanda Hocking is an "indie" publishing phenomenon (aka self-published writer) who, according to a recent USA Today article, sold more than 450,000 copies of her ebooks in January. Just in January. Not through one of The Big Six traditional publishing houses (as J.A. Konrath calls them), but straight from her computer to digital bookstores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I don't know how to explain what she's done. I'm not sure anybody really can explain exactly how it happened. But the fact that she—and lots of other independently e-published writershave done it raises all sorts of questions. You know, little questions. Little easy questions like, Who am I? What am I doing here?

And my particular favorite, at the age of 48, What do I want to be when I grow up?

Questions I used to know the answers to.

Hi, I'm Yvonne and I'm a writer. Some day a publisher in NY will buy one of my books and bookstores will put it on their shelves and I will be able to hold it in my hands.

That used to be the answer.

For almost 40 freaking years, that was the answer.

But the economy sucks and publishing is adjusting and making cuts, just like any other business. And now you can self publish without having to buy cases of your own book and then selling it out of the trunk of your car.

 You can format it for digital platforms and upload it to Amazon and B&N where story-hungry readers are trolling for low-priced ebooks and depending on how much effort you put into promoting yourself, you too might become an indie publishing success.

The thing about answers, though, is that once you figure them out, once you've got them fixed in your mind, they're really really nice to hold onto.

And really really hard to let go.

That sound you're hearing out there in the world of writing, that low, sub-woofer-y, bone-rattling noise that you're hearing is the sound of our long-held dreams hitting the rumble strips as we take the exit ramps off the publishing highway.  We need to pull over and have a think.

Our dreams are in publishing. And publishing is changing. Do our dreams have to change with it? Or will the dream still, always and forever, remain the same?

We in the Rockville 8 are all—to varying degrees and in different ways—struggling with these questions. And so far, like the title of this post says, we have no answers.

What about you?

If you're a writer are you thinking about publishing straight to digital? Or is that too far away from your dream?

If you're a reader, do you pay any attention to who publishes the books you read? Would it make any difference to you if you found out the book that's been keeping you turning the pages wasn't published by one of the traditional publishing houses?

Inquiring minds want to know . . .

Image purchased from

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Voice and the Valentine

On Saturday, I had lunch with some chapter mates from the Washington Romance Writers. The subject of “author’s voice” came up – what elements go into crafting a story so that a reader knows who the author is after reading a single page. We agreed it was in part a series of choices an author makes from vocabulary to core story to setting to how a hero and heroine relate to one another.

Over lunch, I mentioned I was thinking of writing a vignette about two teens and their high school Valentine’s Day dance for my blog post today. As I sat down to write it, I started to wonder how some of my favorite authors might take this situation and make it their own. What elements would they combine to infuse the story with their voice?

Betty Neels would have made our heroine a bit of a wallflower, possibly bullied by her beautiful step-sister, and resigned to the prospect of staying home the night of the dance. The afternoon of the dance, our plucky heroine, in her practical anorak, would have rescued a starving kitten or a drowning puppy. The hero would have arrived just in time to help and later would make it clear to the evil step-sister (and the harpy step-mother) that our true-blue heroine was his intended and they’d just have to lump it.

In Jayne Ann Krentz’s hands, our intrepid and determined heroine would have pestered her reluctant hero into taking her to the dance so they could break into the office of the crooked high school principal. She’d be certain that the principal used his psychic talents against her cousin who went missing at the beginning of the school year. Our trusty heroine would know on a deep metaphysical level that, with the help of our brooding hero, their combined psychic talents would save the day, the dance, and her cousin.

Linda Howard’s bad-boy hero would make a point of coming to the dance in his torn jeans, maybe even roaring into the gym on his motorcycle. He’d lay a hot, sexy kiss on our smart-mouthed heroine and ride out, leaving her to get on with her life (and occasionally to wonder what-if) for the next decade before he comes rumbling back into town as an ex-Special Forces officer on the same Ducati bike, looking to rekindle their relationship. The make-up sex will be hot, hot, hot, but our heroine won’t make a permanent reunion easy for him as they race to stop the bad guys from winning.

Each of these authors has an extensive body of work that makes this exercise relatively easy to do. Betty Neels wrote over 90 books, mostly capable and compassionate heroes who recognized the true worth of often overlooked, overworked and underappreciated heroines. Jayne Ann Krentz (also writing as Amanda Quick) has developed a successful paranormal romantic suspense series in which her protagonists must work together as equal partners in order to overcome the bad guy. A Linda Howard hero is always the alpha in the room, if not always Special Forces, and her heroine does her damnedest not only to hold her own against him but to forge a link between them that is more than just passion. In the end, I still don’t have a great definition of voice. But I definitely know it when I read it.

I never did get to writing my vignette. But I’m pretty sure my heroine’s heart flutters whenever he’s around. She watches him when he’s not looking so her crush is not completely obvious. My hero’s hands sweat just a little when he’s in the same room with her. He teases her relentlessly so she’ll notice him but not guess just how into her he is. What, besides the standard teenage approach-avoidance tango, keeps them apart? A centuries-old blood curse.

Yeah. My voice tends toward the paranormal. Also often the quirky, the sentimental, the flowery, the obvious, the comic and the visceral. This is, in turns, deliberate, instinctive and subconscious. But always distinctly mine.

So, given this set-up – teenaged not-quite-lovers and the Valentine’s Day dance – how would you or your favorite author spin it? A happy ending? A dose of the macabre? A mystery to unravel? A peril to escape and defeat? Curious minds want to know!

Monday, February 7, 2011

How BattleStar Galactica let me down.

OK. It is true. I love a happy ending. It is satisfying. It has a payoff. For me, it makes the story a good one. It gives me hope. It makes me happy. Maybe this makes me shallow? Or anti-intellectual? Certainly, it would remove my cred from literary circles. (At least I assume so; not that I actually know any literary circles. It’s not like I live in NYC or Cleveland Park.)If it’s going to be unhappy, then, Writer, you’d better prepare me. Let me know going in. And give me something to make it all worth it.
By and large, my predisposition for a happy ending has led me to reading commercial fiction. Laura Kinsale made me cry when Christian and Maddy are parted in Flowers from the Storm – and cry more when they are reunited in that cold church yard. Susan Elizabeth Phillips made me angry when Dean treats Blue like the hired help in Natural Born Charmer but I kept reading because I knew SEP would show me just how steadfast both of them will become. Earth might be destroyed to make way for the hyperspacial express route through our galaxy, but Don’t Panic! because The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is Ford Prefect’s and Arthur Dent’s story.
Yes, it’s true. I am your audience, oh you happy-ending authors. I will buy you, I will read you and I will crow about you. So, what happens when you do me wrong? (e.g. male authors who subvert romance readers by promising a love story but instead of a happy ending, giving them death and separation.)
For the last eighteen months, I have been without network TV in my house. This whole digital television transition and converter boxes and the like only brought me a single Spanish-speaking network over the digital air-waves, and in protest, I’ve refused to pay the cable companies money to bring me what I should be getting for free. TV commercials and PBS. Now, that is an entirely different blog post, but in a nutshell, this means I’ve been borrowing and watching season after season of shows I never managed to watch when they originally aired.
One such was the newly envisioned Battlestar Galactica. I am of an age that memories of Dirk Benedict striding about in his cool brown uniform, laughing his charming Starbuck laugh and smoking his stogies are now nostalgically warm and fuzzy. Even then, I knew Apollo was a bit of an uptight prick, but there you go. Somebody has to be the goody-goody. My story-loving teeth were cut on the likes of BSG and Star Wars, David and Goliath, and the idea that a small ragtag band could essentially save mankind from the evil Emperor or evil Cylon.
I was a ready, willing audience. I loved the new Starbuck. And Apollo? He still had a stick up his ass, but hey, at least he was gorgeous. That Starbuck was cast as a woman in the new series was terrific. She’s brash and she’s free and she’s the best pilot in the fleet. She is flawed and she is vulnerable and I am right there, rooting for her all the way.
Well, nearly all the way.
ATTENTION!!! Please know that all that follows are ***SPOILERS***
So, what the heck happened, Mr. Ronald C. Moore? Do your viewers mean so little to you that you would do to Starbuck and Apollo what you did? Where is your shame? Why did you dabble in the glorious sexual tension between Starbuck and Apollo only to kill Starbuck off and bring her back as a flipping ghost? Why, when you have that beautiful parallel story of lost love between Adama and Laura, would you send Apollo off into isolation, away from his father, and never fulfill the promise dangled in front of us through some (let's be honest) very excruciating seasons?
Mr. Moore, you used your characters abominably ill, and not necessarily for the sake of story. Gaius was caught in his eternal default loop of cowardice and ego until the second to last episode. Don't get me started on poor Dualla. I actually liked what ultimately happened to her character, but the unbalanced pairing of her with Apollo was so unbelievable that is took me right out of their stories and provided me with many a beverage break.
And then we have poor, battered, abused, brave Starbuck. You never even told us what really happened to Starbuck at that baby farm – and no woman watching could simply dismiss that. Her character was abused as a child, made choices that would harm her relationship with the one man she truly loves and respects (Adama), tortured on Caprica, and because of her sense of duty, she left the man she (might) love behind. Over and over, she is pummeled and twisted and her character changed and softened and arced. And after all that, you scripted her death as though that were some kind of prize. Nice one. Good one. Quite the Bazinga! to your audience.
From the first episode, the sexual tension between Starbuck and Apollo sizzled, in anger and heat. You even gave us that boxing match. You even sorta gave us a love scene. And then you took it all back. Why? How did Starbuck's presence as a ghost/angel serve the story better than her returning alive? How did her simply disappearing from the new Earth, leaving Apollo to face this new world alone make a better story? What kind of survival of mankind was I to be given when my two favourite characters weren't even going to pro-create in it? Together?
And how can I ever trust you again?
***Spoilers (I think) finished. Read on.***
Yes, I do believe that a writer has the full right to write her story. I am all for an author trying new directions in his career. I am against the blasted marketing departments in publishing houses and their blankety-blank boards who deem whether or not an editor can trust her judgment and buy a book on a hunch. But I am also for readers (and viewers), and not using them to get numbers to then simply ignore their expectations.
Yes, a good author will torture her characters, some more graphically than others. This is how we create conflict and display character growth. This is what makes a good story. It is difficult to take two perfect people and make them the least bit interesting. I promise you. We do this to serve the Six Magic Words, to Keep The Reader In The Story. That’s correct. We do this for you. Really. Truly. You may not believe it, but at the end of our books, you will thank us by buying the next one.
And we know we have a contract with you, too. Maddy will not write her paper to the Friends and denounce her association with Christian. Dean will not abandon Blue, and Blue will not walk away from this new home and life she's opened her heart to. Ford and Arthur will not be destroyed with Earth.
So, I promise here and now, and even in public, to do my utmost to never do to you what was done to me by Mr. Moore. I will never taunt you or lie to you or make promises throughout a character’s life and story, and then not fulfill them in a satisfying manner. Their endings may not all be happy, but I will not make false promises to keep you reading. Your intelligence, your trust and your free time mean too much to me.