Thursday, January 31, 2008

Holy happy hour (chatting it up with Karen Neches)

Touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week is our fearless founder, Karin Gillepsie. Her new release, Earthly Pleasures,, which is being published under the pen name Karen Neches, is about a greeter in Heaven who falls in love with a mortal on Earth. Buzz is divine with nibbles on the movie rights as soon as the book was reviewed in PW. How does this girl stay grounded as her career continues to soar? Is it the red wine or the watermelon-flavored gum?

First, give us the backstory on the book. Hand of God or a deal with the devil?
Over three years ago, I had this sudden thought: Lovely Bones meets Bridget Jones. I was so excited, I felt like I’d discovered how to turn rocks into gold. Then I spoke with a publicist who said, “What a horrific notion.” She hated the pitch because the two books were so different Too late. I was already 70,000 words in. My agent hated it. My editor wanted to use it for kindling. I almost gave up on it. I cursed the novel many times but now it’s my favorite.

How did the celestial world of Earthly Pleasures evolve?
I’ve always thought of Earth as a school, but a rough-tough school similar to boot camp or Outward Bound. I wanted my Heaven to be a frivolous, touristy place, almost like Disney World. I chose the characteristics I’d like to see in Heaven so that’s why there are bathtubs that fill up with Perrier and rose petals, an unlimited supply of nonfattening chocolate and champagne without consequences. It’s a hedonist’s paradise, and yet, the heaven dwellers still crave a little gritty drama, which they get by watching mortals on Earth via the TV station “Earthly Pleasures.”

When and how did you know that writing is your thing?
When I was ten, a boy threw a rock at my head and I wrote an essay called “The Blood Curdling Experience” The kids were howling in the aisles. I thought “hmm, maybe there are something to this writing jazz.” I didn’t get serious about writing until ten years ago though.

I was VERY lucky. My first novel, Bet Your Bottom Dollar, was only the second novel I’d attempted. I’d gotten a lot of positive feedback at writers’ conferences so I queried widely and landed an agent after only a couple of weeks. After a few revisions, she sold it and it ended up being a lead title for Simon and Schuster.

And it’s been sunshine and lollipops ever since, I’m sure. Because being published means happily ever after…right?
I have a very humbling story about being a published author. Once I spoke at Cocoa Florida library and the crowd was sparse and composed primarily of elderly retirees. The librarian apologized for the small turnout. A retiree who was listening in said, “You should have been here last week. There was an author who had a long line out the door.”

“Who was the author?” I asked wearily.

“I don’t remember,” said the retiree. “I just remember the name of his book. It was called Overcoming Incontinence.”

This is a true story. On the other hand, actor James Woods once called me out of the blue and optioned the film rights for my first novel. Being a published author is a series of highs and lows and I’ve finally gotten used to them.

Why the pen name for this project?
Under the name Karin Gillespie I wrote The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel with Jill Conner Browne and three novels Bottom Dollar Girl series. All of those books are very, very Southern. Although Earthly Pleasures is set partially in Atlanta and Birmingham, but those settings aren't characters the way my setting was in my Bottom Dollar girl novels. It could take place anywhere. Karen Neches and Karing Gillespie have a few things in common. All my novels rely heavily on humor, quirky characters and twisty plots. (The plot in Earthly Pleasures kicked my butt. Took me two years to write and is very twisty and turny. I DARE you to figure it out. I double dog dare you.)

Let’s talk process. Are you particular about how, when, and where you write?
I write first thing in the morning after I’ve gone for a four-mile run. I keep persevering until happy hour, which hopefully occurs at 5 p.m. instead of say, 11 a.m. Diet Coke in crushed ice, never cubed. EXTRA gum on hand, watermelon flavor only. I sit in a chair with my laptop (so there’s no internet to distract me.) I also like it quiet. I can’t even to instrumental music when I write. That said, if conditions weren’t ideal, I can still write I’ll just be bitter about it.

I try to get the book out in less than six months, writing 1,000 words a day and I don’t edit myself. The book is a horrible, unreadable mess which takes me at least another six months to sort out.

The Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit, a virtual tour for women authors, got some great press last summer in the NY Times. Pretty proud of your brain child?
It was so exciting. We’ve also had a mention in the Village Voice. It’s been gratifying to connect with so many wonderful authors. It's almost four years old now. I got the idea from Kevin Smokler's virtual blog tours. His tours always featured literary authors so I decided to start one just for women. I've loved every minute of it and although I haven't met all the "girlfriends" I feel a connection to them through this tour. The main goal initially was promotion but now the relationship and support of so many great authors is much more meaningful to me.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

GCC Presents: Earthly Pleasures

According to the bard, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But would a bestselling novelist writing under any other name write as beautifully?

In the case of Karen Gillepsie (coauthor of The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel and author of the critically-acclaimed Bottom Dollar Girls series), the reviews say yes, yes, yes! Writing under the pen name Karen Neches, Gillepsie's new release, Earthly Pleasures, sounds like a real winner. Listen to this description:
Welcome to Heaven. Use your Wishberry to hustle up whatever you want. Have an online chat with God. Visit the attractions such as Retail Rapture, Wrath of God miniature golf and Nocturnal Theater, where nightly dreams are translated to film.

Your greeter might just be Skye Sebring who will advises her newly dead clients on what to expect now that they’re expired. “Heaven is like a Corona Beer commercial” she assures her charges. “It’s all about contentment.”

So different than Earth where chaos reigns. Unfortunately for Skye, she’s been chosen to live her first life. She’s required to attend Earth 101 classes, which teach all of the world’s greatest philosophies through five Beatle songs.

Skye has no interest in Earthly pursuits, until lawyer Ryan Blaine briefly becomes her client after a motorcycle accident. Just as they are getting to know each other, he is revived and sent back to Earth.

She follows his life via the TV channel “Earthly Pleasures” but discovers he has a wife as well as a big secret. Why then does he call a show for the lovelorn to talk about the lost love of his life?

In Earthly Pleasures (Simon and Schuster, February 2008, $14) great love can transcend the dimensions, narrowing the vast difference between Heaven and Earth.

Earthly Pleasures has been chosen to be a Booksense Notable for February.

"...Appealingly unorthodox... a heaven where angels lust, drink and follow terrestrial celebrity gossip… A tangled story of cold ambition and true love unspools. Neches’s funny and sweet novel shows that to err is human and angelic as well."

Publishers' Weekly

"What a treat! Earthly Pleasures more than lives up to its name. I was glued to the pages of this delightful little gem of a novel, and wish it could have been twice as long!"
-- Megan Crane, author of Frenemies

”Karen Neches' Earthly Pleasures is a rare treat. I laughed from the first page and cried in all the right places. Do yourself a favor and curl up with this book. Heaven knows, you won't be sorry!"
--Julie Kenner, author of Demons Are Forever

Here's a fun tidbit from Karen's bio:
Karen Neches was single for over twenty years. She used to tell people she was in the “hospice stage” of being single as she never expected to recover. Then at the age of forty-three she finally met her soul mate. Earthly Pleasures is dedicated to him. She maintains a web site at

Congratulations and best wishes on the new release!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Liar's Diary blog day brings us all a little closer together

Happy Oprah Winfrey's birthday! And my birthday! And a very special birthday for Patry Francis, who is celebrating the birth (rebirth, actually) of a bouncing baby paperback. When Patry, who is also my sister in survivorship, let it be known that her cancer treatment and recovery was going to prevent her from doing the moving and shaking we all need to do for the paperback release of her debut novel The Liar's Diary, friends and friends of friends and total strangers in the literary community agreed to blog her book today and give it the boost that simply isn't in Patry's energy budget right now. There is so much cynicism in this business, so much jealousy, snarkiness, and strife, I find this a powerful affirmation of what we all must remember: We're all just folks doing the best we can. And when we care for each other, show compassion and support our fellow artists, we are creating a finer, more generous world in which to write.

But let's talk about the book.

When the hardcover came out last year, Tess Gerritsen gave this bombastic blurb:
Nothing is as it seems in this masterful and twisty thriller about love, obsession, and poisonous friendships. When passionate and seductive Ali Mather joins the faculty of the local high school, she sets off a chain of events that rock the lives of everyone around her. School secretary Jeanne Cross is fascinated by Ali, who seems to be everything that Jeanne is not. Repressed and unhappily married, Jeanne is drawn deeper and deeper into an exhilarating friendship with this wildly uninhibited woman – a friendship that soon begins to threaten Jeanne’s already-shaky marriage. As the two women draw closer, Jeanne discovers that Ali is hiding secrets that have now come back to haunt her. Someone is breaking into Ali’s home, someone who is obsessed with her. As the threats escalate, and Ali’s terror grows, Jeanne discovers that everyone is hiding a secret, and that she cannot trust even those she loves. Patry Francis writes with a quietly intimate voice, subtly weaving her spell as the tension slowly but surely builds to a fever pitch. Packed with jaw-dropping revelations, LIAR'S DIARY still manages to save one last walloping shock for the end.

Peace, joy, and healing energy to you, Patry. And many, many more words in a row.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Are You Havin' Any Fun?

For another version of this song that I guarantee will leave you smiling, check out this rendition by the "Washboard Wizards" (at the fair!)

Every once in a while, it's important to take a deep breath, look up from your rush to deadline, your haste to edit, or your desperate search for the next great idea and remind yourself, "Hey, this is a great gig." Because as writers, we get to work in the realm of ideas. We get to noodle around wherever our imagination and the research lead us. We get to exercise our creativity and, when things go well, share it with an appreciative (mostly) readership. We're living the dream that burns so brightly a million hopeful hearts.

It's only fair that every now and then we take a few moments to grin over our good fortune before returning to the grind.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A very happy unbirthday to Lewis Carroll

According to Writer's Almanac, it's the birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.
Carroll read Pilgrim's Progress as a young boy, in part to prepare for a life in the ministry. But he suffered an attack of whooping cough at age 17, a late age to get that illness, and as a result he developed a stammer to go along with his natural shyness. After recovering from his illness, Carroll decided that life as a minister would be too demanding.

Instead, Carroll lectured in mathematics at Christ's College, Oxford, where he had also attended university. Carroll found the work dull and considered most of his students stupid, but he wrote seriously during this time. In 1855, he said, "I do not think I have yet written anything worthy of real publication, but I do not despair of doing so some day."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cleansing the pallet

This week I sent my son off to Cambodia and my manuscript off to my agent, and then I laid on the floor in my office, watching cardinals eat croutons from my window sill, feeling motherless and unemployed. As a full-on workaholic, I find it difficult to not work, but after a few perfunctory attempts to start my next project, I decided to spend the weekend doing the thing for which I have the least talent: resting. My plan (yes, I admit it, I even make a plan for resting) includes dog-walking, napping, puzzle assembly, a couple of movies, lots of music, and the reading of a few old favorites including The Wind Among the Reeds by William Butler Yeats.

From "The Song of Wandering Aengus":
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Are You Putting in the Time?

This hilarious little video on gym membership cracked me up... and reminded me of all those people who gas on about how they're going to write a book or working on a book (but it's still in the "idea stage").

Ya gotta do the work, dude, not just expound on how you're going to be brilliant.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Letting Go

Both Joni and I both have children in various stages of leaving the nest. We also, quite coincidentally, have both just completed manuscripts that must be sent off into the world to live lives independently, using the tools we've lovingly instilled.

Both offspring and novels may succeed beyond our wildest dreams, or they may fail entirely. In most cases, the outcome is somewhere in between. There will be some successes to celebrate, whether modest or great, along with some skinned knees and bruised hearts to mend. Sons and daughters will return at times, whether to visit or to lick their wounds. We'll shore them up and send them back into the world. Likewise, our manuscripts will drop in (also at the most inconvenient times) for editing or copy-editing, and finally in galley/page proof form so we can give them one final once-over before they trot off for their interviews with various reviewers and, most importantly, those readers who will judge them as worthy or flawed.

But ultimately, these creations are not us. They are meant to go forth and live their independent lives, with jobs to do and people to love them. Once we've sent them forth, we have other jobs... and in the case of the writer, other stories to nurture and bring forth into the world.

Do you find it difficult to "let go" of a manuscript and get onto the next story? What do you do to ease the transition?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Margarine, Icing, & Authors

Q. So what do margarine, icing, and authors have in common?

(No, dearest readers, it doesn't have a darned thing to do with leaving an oily residue or supplying the world with empty calories. But thanks a bunch, you snarkoholics who leapt to those unkind conclusions.)

A. We can all be spread too thin.

Authors, who are mostly competitive by nature (How do you think we got to be published?), have a tendency to do this to themselves. We convince ourselves that success lurks under the unturned stone and so drive ourselves to exhaustion attempting to do everything, especially when it comes to promoting our books. Early-career authors, especially, tend to find it impossible to say no, even to exploitative "opportunities." You want me to drive five hours to speak (for free, natch) and participate in a group signing at a vacant K-mart? Golly-yes, I'd be honored. What do you mean there's a fifty-dollar table fee? Well... okay. Along with invitations for appearances, online promotional opportunities are multiplying like bacteria in the proverbial petri dish. Some of them cost money; all of them cost time, and the results are rarely measurable.

Long-term survivors of the publishing game learn over time to value time as well as money as an important asset. To avoid burn-out or a breakdown, we start weighing self-promotional activities and picking and choosing those that work for us. Here are a few questions I ask myself whenever I'm asked to participate in an event or activity.

1. What's in it for me? This sounds really crass, I know, but I have books to write and bills to pay. If there's no real benefit, why should I do it?
2. Is this something better handled by my publisher? After all, they're better equipped and better funded to do a lot of the more meaningful types of promotional/placement than I am. And rumor has it they have a vested interest in my books selling well.
3. Is it something I'm good at and/or enjoy? For example, I'm a former teacher, so I'm well-equipped to do educational talks geared to aspiring/published writers. Not only that, I enjoy doing it as a way of giving back to the community that has helped me so much. I do have limits. I don't want to spend my own money on travel, lodging, etc. and I have to watch how much time I spend on this, so it doesn't undermine my obligation to actually write the stuff that keeps me more or less gainfully employed.
4. Has past experience taught me this is a good deal or a bad one? If an organization has treated you poorly in the past, mark it off you list. If you've had a great time, however, go for it.
5. Can I afford the money?
6. Can I afford the time?
7. Does the very thought of participating fill me with dread? If you hate book signings, skip 'em. Readers can smell the desperation, and you'd be better off staying home and writing.

So how do you ration your time spent on promotional activities? How do you know when to say when?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cast your vote in the World Book Day Search for Talent

March 6th is World Book Day in the UK, and two friends of ours have made the longlist for the World Book Day Search for Talent.

Joshilyn Jackson's Gods in Alabama was also a #1 Booksense Pick and won the Southern Independent Book Novel of the Year Award in 2005.
When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, she would stop fornicating with every boy who crossed her path, and she'd never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found.

Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old school-mate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene's African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he's gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption - and love.

Eliza Graham's Playing With the Moon is due to launch in February and is already getting some good buzz.
Shattered by a recent bereavement, Minna and husband Tom retreat to an isolated village on the Dorset coast, hoping to find the solitude that will allow them to cope with their loss and rebuild their foundering marriage. Walking on the beach, they unearth a human skeleton. It is a discovery which will plunge Minna into a mystery which will consume her for months to come. The remains are soon identified as those of Private Lew Campbell, a black American GI who, it seems, drowned during a wartime exercise in the area half a century before. Growing increasingly preoccupied with the dead soldiers fate, Minna befriends a melancholy elderly woman, Felix, who lived in the village during the war. As Minna coaxes Felixs story from her, it becomes clear that the old woman knows more about the dead GI than she initially let on.

It's a little tasky registering to vote, but both these fabulous authors won my support. The long list gets whittled down this weekend. Good luck Eliza and Joshilyn!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's your scarlet letter?

Saw the delightful movie Juno this afternoon, and it got me thinking. Much has changed for unwed mothers since the time of Hester Prynne, who was branded as a sinner in The Scarlet Letter. But as the Bard said, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While pregnant girls are free to continue attending most public high schools today, the experience itself still segregates them from their peers. The beauty of the Juno script is in the way the wise-talking misfit is changed, how she evolves, as a result.

It put me in mind of this passage from The Scarlet Letter, which has haunted and inspired me since I was a wise-talking high school misfit, entranced by the idea that being cast out meant being set free:
But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or legislators had established; criticizing all with hardly more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band, the judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the church. The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,--stern and wild ones,--and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.

So what's your passport to the regions others dare not tread? D for Divorce? G for Gay? C for Cancer? W for Writer?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Octopus Wrestling Is My Hobby (and My Job)

Rather than resorting to cleaning my office this morning (heaven forbid), I trolled the Internet and came up with this catch of the day from the fascinating blog Modern Mechanix which looks at visions of the future created in the past. This particular illustration came from a Popular Mechanix magazine issue of April 1949, from an article title "Octopus Wrestling Is My Hobby."

Mine, too, dude. Only instead of diving into lagoons to pummel poor, unsuspecting cephalopods, I'm doing battle every day with the many slimy tentacles involved in being a working author.

Tentacle One requires the author to continually feel about for new ideas and file them away for future projects.

Tentacle Two keeps the writer working away at the project-under-contract or the proposal-under-construction. This tentacle can go into spasm, locking up, or it can be wildly frenetic.

Tentacle Three has applied its suckers to a scene, a chapter, or a whole book in the editing/revision stage. This particular tentacle wraps itself around the writer when she least expects it, whipping revisions her way -- or galleys that must be turned around in no time flat. Poised to strike at a weak moment, these demands seem timed to coincide with a mad rush toward deadline, a much-needed vacation, or a major holiday.

Tentacle Four deals with the author's agent. Though agents exist (really!) to make the author's job easier, they make occasional demands that must be meant. Periods when the writer is seeking or changing an agent are especially stressful.

Tentacle Five (and a mighty tentacle it is) has to do with the author's publisher. Whether it's the task of finding one (huge), dealing with the editor, the publicity department, the art department or the head of sales, these needs usually require a lightning-fast, put-everything-else-aside response. After all, these are the folks paying you.

Tentacle Six involves keeping up with the industry. Authors accomplish this through networking with other writers and industry pros, attending conferences and meeting, reading blogs, and general schmoozing. This is a tricky tentacle that can get a stranglehold on your time if you're not careful or entice you to chase the market instead of following your passion, but you can't afford to entirely discount it either. Educating yourself about the business is an important sucker on this tentacle as well because it's not a smart thing to leave "all those contract thingamiggees" to somebody else's discretion.

Tentacle Seven involves dealing with one's readers. Some authors are far more active in this regard than others, but most of them make a real effort to connect through sending periodic newsletters, responding to fan communications (usually e-mail these days), or website/board interaction. Balance is important here. Not enough interaction and the dedicated few (since it's always an extreme minority of readers) who reach out will feel slighted. Too much and the writer will find her writing dictated by the most vocal few or (worse yet) will be tempted to respond (and respond defensively) to negative comments or criticism. Very bad idea.

The Eighth and Final Tentacle
may be the most important. It involves keeping one's balance as a person, finding the time to build and nurture relationships with family and friends, to enjoy the whole spectrum of life experience instead of getting completely consumed by chasing publishing success. If you don't get this right, you're going to eventually break down, maybe because you've turned to drugs or alcohol or some other addiction to try to cope. At some point you have to figure out that in the grand scheme, it doesn't really matter whether you turned out to be a big shot. It's all about joy you gained from wrestling this beast.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Agent Lynn Nesbit on the nature of the beast

Jofie Ferrari-Adler conducts an interesting Q&A with literary agent Lynn Nesbit of Janklow & Nesbit Associates in the current issue of Poets & Writers. Here's a soundbite:

How do you know when a book has you. Is it a visceral feeling?
Yes. It's about the voice. You think, "Oh my God. This is an arresting voice." To me, voice matters almost more than narrative. Because it shows an originality. Many people can write good narrative—actually not many people; it's hard to write good narrative. But to have a style? Voice is what makes Joan Didion a great writer. Andy Greer and AndrĂ© Aciman have it...

People have such romantic notions about the publishing world. To you, what are the things that ultimately make it special?
It's given me a fantastic life. I have met so many interesting people. I have gone to so many interesting places. It just continually opens doors for me. I just came back from George Weidenfeld's eighty-eighth birthday party in Berlin with Springer-Verlag. Angela Merkel gave one of the toasts. It's a wonderful life because you're dealing in ideas, with literature, with interesting people.

This is a great interview. Nesbit talks about the biz and about her agency's mega-name clients, including Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and more recently James Frey. Worth a read.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Too Many Cooks

To celebrate the completion of my book in the required nick of time (yeaaaa!), I asked Joni to join me for one of the coffee (or chai latte tea in my case) brainstorming/bs-ing/kvetching sessions that I cherish. Since we've both been completing manuscripts, soliciting critiques from trusted readers, and incorporating those suggestions that resonate, we got onto the topic of how much is too much in the helpful advice department. To both of us, having only one reader seems too little, two seems pretty good, three teeters on the edge, and more than three (not counting the editor, whose opinion is the one that counts) definitely constitutes "Too Many Cooks."

Once you've passed the TMC point, your original vision and even your authorial voice can get diluted. It causes you to lose confidence, since if given the chance, everybody and his dog will jump at the chance to "fix" your story. TMC-built manuscripts are often technically just fine, but somehow, they read as if they were manufactured by a large and faceless corporation. Instead of your grandma's homemade chicken soup, you're getting Campbell's (or insert-your-favorite-store-brand's) fat-free, low sodium version. A lot of these manuscripts end up doing well in contests and coming close to selling, but somehow, they lack that unique flavor that prompts the editor to make the buy.

Once you've completed a manuscript, do you have someone read it before sending it to your agent, editor, or perhaps a contest? If so, how many critiques do you generally solicit? Do you find this step valuable, as I do?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing

I just one-clicked Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing. I've had a dog-eared copy of the NYT article that inspired it posted on my wall for about five years, but I decided it would be worth it to have the bound, expounded, and illustrated version.

Since it's no secret what's in the book, I'll cheat you the ten rules and encourage you to hie thee to the library or bookstore to get the full Elmore experience.

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Leonard says his most important rule is one that sums up the ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

This is a great book, but for my taste, good writing doesn't have rules. Seems to me that if Elmore Leonard was a rule follower, he wouldn't be the amazingly delicious writer that he is. I posted that article years ago, embracing it the way Jack Sparrow takes the Pirate Code: "It's really more like...guidelines."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What is truth?

My new tattoo is going through this stage where it kinda feels alive with scorpions, which keeps the message close to the front of my mind. Be True. I've been contemplating the importance of being true to artistic vision and spiritual beliefs. Thinking about the old "True Confessions" magazines that reveal the flexible nature of the word. Wondering if anyone even cares about the truth when it comes to political campaigns. A brief visit to Bartleby's yielded these insights about the nature of truth.

Philosopher William James:
"Essential truth, the truth of the intellectualists, the truth with no one thinking it, is like the coat that fits tho no one has ever tried it on, like the music that no ear has listened to. It is less real, not more real, than the verified article; and to attribute a superior degree of glory to it seems little more than a piece of perverse abstraction-worship."

Author Willa Cather:
"Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is."

Novelist Herman Melville:
"Truth is the silliest thing under the sun. Try to get a living by the Truth—and go to the Soup Societies. Heavens! Let any clergyman try to preach the Truth from its very stronghold, the pulpit, and they would ride him out of his church on his own pulpit bannister."

My personal favorite, Jesus in John 8:31:
"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Monday, January 14, 2008

La vie en rose encore

I was so delighted to see that Marion Cotillard won a Golden Globe last night for her gorgeous portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. I became enchanted with Edith Piaf when I was a melodramatic tweenager, and paid my respects at her grave in Pere-Lachaise last fall. We met two Aussie girls on a scavenger hunt and led them to Piaf's tomb. Of course, they'd never heard of her, but they listened patiently while I gassed on about the French Resistance and how a the Little Sparrow sang her way from the street to the great stages of her day. While I labored through a tear-choked rendition of "Non, je ne regrette rien!", Gary snapped this photo, which I like to caption "La Vie en Polka Dots".

Tick, Tick, Tick... (Yikes!)

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
Douglas Adams
English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 - 2001)

For the record, I am not nor have I ever been in Douglas Adams' camp on this one. (Love his books, though!) Deadlines terrify me in a big way. I've never felt invigorated by them, although I have to admit they *do* motivate me, in the way a snapping, slavering Rottweiler on one's heels can inspire faster sprinting.

Someone needs to explain to my publisher that abject terror is no way to motivate the delicate creative psyche. (For the record, I'd prefer flowers, small but tasteful gifts, or perhaps a trail of large-denomination dead presidents sweetly coaxng me toward my goal.) But the trouble is, I can't really *blame* the publisher. Crazy as it seems now, I willingly agreed to the date circled in red on my calendar. All I can tell you is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The truth is, I've actually had the manuscript finished for a couple of weeks or more. I've sent it out for opinions and have spent many days going back over the corrections. A few more tweaks, and I'll be ready...

If only I didn't hear that darned clock ticking in my ear.

So what about you? Do deadlines motivate or scare you? When not on a publisher's or agent's deadline, do you set your own to get/keep you in the habit? Have you ever missed a deadline, and if so, how did you deal with it?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Grounding Your Story: A Mess of Methods

After reading Joni's post on the images and music that served as an anchor to her most recent manuscript, I thought I'd add some of the methods I've used for inspiration, particular in the thought-gathering, prewriting days before launching into a new project. Over the years, I've used a variety of methods, from creating a musical mix, which I've played over and over until my family wants to ship me off to Siberia to "webbing" the characters and their interrelationships on a huge sheet of butcher paper to, most recently, creating a collage of associated images.

Any of these can work, but I've found the collage to be especially fruitful. I first learned of this during a workshop given by author extraordinaire Susan Wiggs, who is as brilliant a teacher as she is a novelist. At the time, I had fun with it and found it somewhat useful, but I didn't try again until reading articles on the topic by two other authors I greatly admire, Jenny Crusie (the link will take you to the article detailing her method of collaging)and Barbara Samuel (this link will take you to a blog post and photos of one of her masterpieces).

The photos and description of these three authors' collages are beautiful. My results varied. Using pictures clipped from magazines, a few handy odds and ends, and a number of black marker arrows, lines, and notes, mine (for my latest release The Salt Maiden) was evocative but messy as all get-out, the slacker-girl's version of get-the-job-done art. (I'd post a photo, but, tragically, I recently trashed this "masterpiece.") Thinking back, however, I can see that I combined my old webbing strategy with images to make something that worked -- and worked well -- for me.

But that's the way of novel-craft. You glom ideas by the score, discard the ones that don't work with your particular, homespun methodology, and adapt the ones that resonate. Cobbled together and bound by sweat, tears, rubber bands, and Duct Tape, the results may be pretty or they might be an ever-expanding garbage dump, but they're tailor-made for you.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Anchors a way: grounding a story in images and music

The writing of a book is a circuitous journey that tends to take the scenic route (a la Moses through the dry land) and almost never ends up at the destination envisioned at the outset. Creatively, it's healthy to let the characters jump the turnstile, set off plot bombs, allow the debris to settle where it will. But there has to be some connection, I think, to the original vision. On the most pragmatic level, you can't have a character start out with blue eyes and end up with green, but beyond the basic continuity issues, there's a vibe that needs to be consistent from beginning to end.

By the time I finish a manuscript, whether it's fiction or a memoir I'm ghosting, my office is a clutter of images, artifacts, sounds, even smells that anchor me to my original vision. These sensory bookmarks aren't meant to be taken too literally. The anchor is supposed to tether the story to a specific place in my head, not drag it down to drown. It's not a shackle; I can change it if I want to, but I want that change to be a conscious decision, not mind-drift.

I rarely have a photograph of a person who represents a character in my head, but in the book I'm working on now, the main character is embodied by the image of Clara Bow above. Another character is anchored by this plaster Venus de Willendorf I picked out of the bargain bin at a little shop in Switzerland. I've been eating tangelos at my desk and keeping the peels close by for their particular scent. Cheerios on the outside of my windowsill keep a steady population of birds close enough for easy listening.

I wanted to create a very specific sense of place in this book -- the city of Houston as I have come to truly love it lately. Some days that requires a drive downtown, but most of the time, all I have to do is listen to "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells. It's a little bit funky, a little bit smooth, Southern but citified, hip but not hippie, happy but not naive -- it precisely captures the Houston vibe.

“Hi, everybody, we’re Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston, Texas, and we don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we want. In Houston, we just started a new dance, and it’s called the 'Tighten Up'. And this is the music we Tighten Up with…”

So what are your story anchors? Do you collage? Bake? Paint?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Shakespeare on my shoulder

Since we seem to be focused on revisions and alterations this week...

This morning I dropped off my ms-in-progress with critique partner Bobbi and headed downtown to Sacred Heart Studio to have my shoulder rewritten by the astonishingly talented and delightful Christina Sparrow (her business card reads "Tatooer -- Heartbreaker -- Painter"). Here's the cell cam quickie. I'll post better photos along with the whole backstory (ba-dum-bum CHH!) later this weekend.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Revision Matters

As I meticulously make my way through this set of revisions, I'm reminded of one reason so few people are capable of producing a publishable novel. A lot of folks are blessed with talent, and a fair percentage of them also have the required stubbornness (or arrogance, depending on how you choose to look at it) to persist through the submission-rejection cycle. Of these, an even smaller subset will read widely, study the industry, and get an accurate feel for the market segment they wish to target. That still leaves a lot of people, but of this group, even fewer will have the focus and attention to detail it takes to go through the same manuscript the number of times it takes to bring out its potential.

We used to live in a world that produced a lot more patient craftsmanship, a world that understood and valued the tireless pursuit of one's best effort. Today's faster-paced society, with its swift travel, lightning-fast communications, and emphasis on rapid-fire production, doesn't create as many individuals prepared for the arduous effort needed to pore through four hundred pages (and then some, in my case) of character arcs, plot elements, rising action, themes, etc. and attend to each detail. It's a shame, a real loss, but there are those of us who still enjoy it
-- or at least resolve to suffer through it -- to do our best by the story. Since we're flawed and human, the finished product will never be perfection, but even so, there's a quiet type of joy to be gained in the pursuit.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-changes: facing the rewrite

Had a long talk with my agent yesterday, and one thing I must say for this woman: she gives good critique. No smoke is blown; she's a realist about the industry, which is probably a healthy balance to my Pollyanna tendencies. I don't come away from these conversations with some pie in the sky notion that I'm going to be the next big thing, but I am left with a realistic expectation of income. Fame is not my objective. Neither is artistic masturbation. My goal is to continue making a living writing books I care about. My agent's goal is to make a living repping books she cares about. So it makes sense for us to have this conversation sooner rather than later, though I was nervous about showing her this rough draft before my critique home girls had cracked their whips over it.

Her surgically correct advice mostly confirmed issues I already knew in my heart I'd have to change. Colleen pointed out to me the other day that this is often the case. You hope you're going to get away with that flabby transition or that hasty bit of backfill (because big name authors get away with it all the time, frankly) but the moment you get called on it, you wonder why you even wanted to. In this case, however, my agent asked for a 180 on a major plot twist to which I'd given a tremendous lot of thought. This isn't a search and replace "Matthew" with "Edgar" kind of change. This is a move all the living room furniture, pull up the carpet, and install hardwood flooring change.

When I get the routine body scans that are part of the follow-up to my cancer treatment, the nurse always hands me two quarts of barium milkshake and brightly says, "Take as long as you need to drink this. But be sure you finish it in 30 minutes."

This felt a lot like that.

The reasons my agent gave for the change are inarguable, and the change will "serve both God and mammon" -- artistic integrity and marketability -- but knowing that doesn't make it easy. (Certainly not as easy as telling Colleen what she should change about her manuscript!)

Facing the rewrite is a process that begins with acceptance. There's a brief grieving for the words and work that will have to be sacrificed in the name of learning -- the so-called darlings that will have to be killed. Then there's the reality check. Exactly how, on a utilitarian level, am I going to make this work without ripping the rug out from under other elements of the story? Then comes the actual work. You have to erect scaffolding, identify and buttress other parts of the book that will be affected. You have to go to the place in the ms, score the passage or the chapter or whatever, and force that cursor up to those little scissors on the tool bar.

It helps to create a "killed darlings" file where you can store this because there might be bits and pieces that come in handy. And so you can pretend you're not actually trashing your golden prose. If you want to resurrect it later, you can. But I gotta tell ya, I always revisit the killed darlings file before I sign off on a ms, and I've never once chosen to reinstate anything from it. Once that dog's been walked, the new version has my total commitment.

Until the next round of rewrites.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Foreign cover fun: the sequel

I have nothing as chesty as Colleen's collection below, only this baffling vision of suburban Houston. Shouldn't there be a Starbucks in there somewhere?

Foreign Cover Fun: The Good, the Bad, and the Perplexing

Joni's been after me for a while to post some of my foreign covers. I've had some pretty good ones lately. Had to go back to my Gwyneth Atlee (my old pseudonym, used before I began writing romantic suspense under my real name) historicals to come up with some jaw droppers.

With foreign covers, anything can happen. Mountains can appear in the background of a Galveston, Texas island setting. Civil War era beauties can find themselves clads only in towels, and celebrated steamboats can come equipped with sails. Imaginative, yes. Accurate, hardly, but I'm thinking the bare chests counted for more than the historical details.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Even Wonder Woman Has Allies

This week, I'm heading back to the drawing board to do some tweakage on the manuscript that's due (gulp!) in less than two weeks. My brilliant critique partners, Joni and Bobbi, have given me excellent food for thought, each of them pointing out weaknesses or making suggestions so brilliant that they're bound to make me a look a lot smarter than I am. They're also both wonderful to begin by pointing out my manuscripts' strengths so I can capitalize upon them, which also opens me to actually listening to their suggestions. My editor (who never sees anything I haven't had vetted by these trusted allies) has the same excellent habit. In teaching, we used to call this the "two to glow, one to grow" strategy. Everyone, from the tiniest child to an adult seeker (as opposed to an adult who reacts defensively to all suggestions)) takes criticism better if she knows the critiquer cares for and appreciates her and has a genuine interest in her progress.

I don't give my manuscript to just anyone to critique. Too many cooks dilute the author's soup, for one thing, and besides that, it usually takes years to develop the trust and confidence needed to really let your guard down and listen to advice. The writer has to get past her natural inclination to argue and instead focus on deciding which suggestions resonate and which ones are at odds with her vision for the book. Because the buck stops with the name on the cover.

All I can say is thank goodness for all my writing allies! I'm grateful for each and every one of you!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Love Scene vs. Sex Scene: One Author's Take

Each of my romantic suspense novels details the development of one couple's relationship during a time of crisis. There's plenty of suspense, a full-blown mystery plot, and quite a bit of world-building, which includes the development of a number of secondary characters close to or at odds with the protagonists (a girl's gotta have her pool of suspects, after all). It's a whole lot of book to work into four hundred or so pages...

Which is why is annoys me no end when some rarely-seen acquaintance or relation (let's call him Uncle Walt) gives me an Ooo-la-la waggle of dandruff-flecked eyebrows and says something in the order of, "So, you still writin' those smut books?" Usually there's an associated elbow-nudge, apparently a holdover from junior-high days. Argh! Of course, it goes without saying that "Uncle Walt" has never bothered to actually *read* one of my books, a suggestion that is invariably met with a variety of pathetically-lame excuses (that mostly translate into "I don't read").

I've learned the best response (after the reflexive eye-roll) is to murmur something to the effect of, "I'm writing romantic suspense, if that's what you're getting at," and quickly shut down the conversation. Because it wouldn't help to explain that out of the 400 manuscript pages, maybe five or six (fewer than many brand-name, bestselling male authors include in their mystery, suspense, or horror novels) are spent detailing the characters' carnal relations. It wouldn't help to defend myself with awards won or reviews received or to attempt to educate a guy who hasn't "read" a book since high school and whose idea of great art is a rerun of King of Queens .

Because in the pea-brain's mind, I've copped to the word "romance." Only Uncle Walt doesn't hear romance at all but S-E-X, which to him can only mean porn. Which misses the point of romance *entirely* and makes me pity poor Aunt Tillie.

For the record, let me elaborate on the differences between a love scene and a sex scene.

1. A love scene illuminates some stage in the protagonists' emotional journey. It's revealing of character and conflict and sometimes even serves as a metaphor for some other aspect of the story. Sure, a love scene can be a turn on for the reader (might be worth noting, gents, that research has shown women who read romance enjoy more frequent and satisfying lovemaking with their partners than those who don't), but that's not its reason for existing.
2. A sex scene's primary purpose is titillation. The reader's physical reaction takes precedence over logic, characterization, or - heaven forbid - literary technique (although there are many excellent writers of erotica in today's marketplace, many of whom incorporate the emotional journey of a romance).
3. Love scenes should not be interchangeable. Since the characters are unique individuals at a particular stage of their relationship, each encounter should be distinctive and revelatory. Hot, of course, is an added bonus.
4. Focused on "the act," sex scenes can get boringly repetitive, so the author often resorts to alternate forms (toys, fetishist stuff, "taboo" types) to keep the reader from losing interest.
5. Emotion matters, first and foremost.
6. It's all about the T&A, baby.

Teenage boys often don't grok the difference between love and sex. This takes maturity and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, some men never come this far. Memo from your wife, Uncle Walt: please grow up (and do something about that dandruff in your eyebrows)!

Anyone else have something to add about the difference between love scenes and sex scenes? Or do you have an "Uncle Walt" story to share?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Literary Sex II: the Godiva factor

The real Lady Godiva was the beautiful wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, one of the most powerful noblemen in 11th century England. She was much younger than her husband and used her influence on him to divert support to the arts and religious orders, hoping to raise the consciousness of the common folks. In 1043, Godiva and Leofric founded an Abbey in Coventry. The town grew. Leofric initiated ambitious public works projects and levied taxes to support them. Suffering under the burden, the locals had little interest in aesthetics, so Godiva pleaded with her husband to reduce taxes.

According to legend, Leofric sarcastically pointed out that the ancient Greeks and Romans viewed the nude human body as a high expression of nature’s beauty. So if she really wanted to crusade for the sake of art, she could bloody well ride naked through the market-place at midday, and if she did, he would abolish all local taxes except those on horses. Much to everyone’s surprise, she did it. Flanked by two horsewomen (fully clothed), with noble posture and an expression of dignity and calm, she rode naked through the town of Coventry, and the taxes were repealed.

Or so the legend says. If it’s true, this was a courageous and selfless gesture, an incredibly bold political statement. If it’s not true, the story likely sprang up because of other courageous, selfless, and incredibly bold things Lady Godiva did. But what is she remembered for?

NAKED. Naked lady! Ah-OO-gah!

She is the icon for nothing but nothing on. How (must... resist... pun... agh!) revealing!

In my first novel, fire was a major theme, in my second novel, I used tornadoes. In my last novel, The Secret Sisters, I had the brilliant idea to make sex a central theme in what I thought was going to be a stinging indictment of fear-mongering politics and the media’s diversionary tactics that support a dangerous state of denial. Big mistake. I’m still digging out from under the hate mail and bashing reviews that accuse me of being a pornographer, a slut, an anal sex fiend, and… ((sigh)) et cetera. Turns out that while most readers readily see fire and wind as metaphors, they see two characters closing in, and it's all blah blah blah ah-OO-gah! ah-OO-gah! SEX! SEX! SEX! and then they fall back and light a cigarette before emailing you about what a pagan whore you are. (One outraged reader wrote, "You are sick sick sick! After reading this book several times, I still can't believe how disgusting it is!")

Not for a moment am I saying that this is a failure on the part of the reader. I really struggle with books that step out of my comfort track. All the Pretty Horses: I wanted to go there. I was willing. I'm smart enough, but dang it, I can't get comfortable with the lack of quotation marks. The readership I bring to a book just doesn't work with that. So I have to respect that the readership brought to my books by others as willing and smart -- or smarter than me -- is not always going to work with what I write.

In a previous post on literary sex, I pondered what is actually sexy or not sexy when set to words, but beyond that is the question of the purpose of sex in a story. If the purpose is anything other than character development or plot advance, the effort is most likely doomed, I fear. Not because of the way it’s written but because of the way it’s read.

It’s that Godiva thing.

If The Secret Sisters had gone through the rigorous shaking and sifting that my current ms-in-progress is about to get from Colleen and other critique partners, including my agent, I would have been alerted to the fact that only one in a hundred readers would get it. (My editor happened to be that one, and she supported my vision, God love her, focusing on pushing me to the highest literary standards of anything I’ve ever written. So I learned a lot, and that made the ensuing horse-whipping worth it, I guess. But I digress.) Would I have changed it, had I known then what I know now?

Earlier this morning, I would have said yes, but after doing a little research on the real Lady Godiva for the purpose of this post, I'd have to say no. I wouldn't change a word. She knew exactly what she was risking. So did I. That book says exactly what I wanted to say. It's good art, and good art sometimes makes people uncomfortable. (So does anal sex, apparently. Personally, I'm uncomfortable with Karl Rove, torture, and unnecessary wars. Guess we all have our little hangups, huh.)

So thanks, Lady G. I’m the one in a hundred who got it today. From now on, when I hear the name Godiva, I won’t think naked. I won’t even think naked chocolate. I will think art. I will think courage. I will think revolution.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"How far would you go?": Conversing with Colleen about reading and writing

I don’t want to jinx my blog buddy, Colleen Thompson, by saying so, but I think she’s about to become an overnight success. Her latest novel, The Salt Maiden, is turning out to be lucky #13: RT Top Pick, Reviewers Choice nom, and now off to a second printing after less than six weeks.

Quoth the PR: "The Salt Maiden is the story of a woman's quest to save her missing sister. With a child's life hanging in the balance, Dana Vanover refuses to let anything stop her, from rattlesnakes to small town hostility to her desert-hot attraction to the sheriff determined to run her out of town." One of the delicious elements in the story is a little game played by the Vanover sisters since childhood: “How far would you go?” The answer for Angie Vanover: As far as it takes. The Salt Maiden explores to what lengths someone would journey when the stakes are at their highest.

Colleen is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week, so I’m doing my part, plagueing her with a few questions about reading and writing.

The thing that’s always most impressed me about your writing is the evocative landscaping. How did you find this place in your head while the rest of you is living in the Houston ‘burbs?
Living in Southern Arizona taught me to appreciate the desert's stark, sometimes dangerous beauty. I spent some time there backpacking and came to appreciate the lengths to which the desert's plants and animals must go to ensure their survival. It's a hostile place to humans, yet it still draws people. The desert regions of West Texas I've found equally fascinating. The barren landscape serves as a metaphor for the most desolate stretches of a character's life and the lengths to which he/she must go to survive them. Those stories I've set in the desert, such as The Salt Maiden and Fatal Errorcould take place nowhere else. Or if they did, they'd suffer a real loss of resonance.

Having watched you journey through your last three books, I know you’re all about process, setting it up, breaking it down, making it work. Which phase is the most fun for you?
I love the brainstorming and proposal stage, where the idea is still fresh and malleable as I shape characters (though in many cases, they just show up and glare at me, *daring* me to try to change them) and play with various scenarios. This is the kid-at-Christmas stage for me. The rest has its moments, but entails a lot of very hard work.

Ten years after your last dip in the slush pile, you’ve got more industry savvy than anyone I know. Are there still surprises?
The Salt Maiden is my thirteenth novel (sixth romantic thriller; the rest were historicals written under my Gwyneth Atlee pseudonym), but the business continues to teach me new lessons all the time. With this book, I've been pleased and impressed that an editor's enthusiasm and in-house support can make such a difference. That and a great cover!

What writers have influenced your work?
I've been influenced by a number of writers: Dennis Lehane, who incorporates setting so brilliantly that it seems like a character in his books; Frank Herbert, a world-builder of the first order, and Michael Connelly, whose plotting and characterization leave me in absolute awe. I'm also a big fan of Larry McMurtry, who "gets" Texas, past and present, like no one else. I'd be honored to someday be mentioned in the same breath with any of these talented authors.

So what are you reading these days?
I'm currently reading and very much enjoying Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I'm also attempting to read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell but am struggling with this one. I adore many types of books, as long as they're well-written, but suspense would be my first choice. Some favorite authors include Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, and Linda Howard.

No pressure. Deep breathes. But how on earth are you planning to follow this up?
I'm currently completing Triple Exposure, another West Texas-set romantic suspense. This one involves sailplanes (gliders), fine art photography, and the mysterious Marfa lights, and I've been having a blast with it (especially with taking some glider flights for research).

"How far would you go?" Good question. Apparently, for Colleen, the sky's the limit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Salt Maiden: a story blossoms in the desert

Long before the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians ever dreamed of making mummies, nature had perfected her technique. First, take a corpse — a human’s, for example — and protect it from the ravages of predators and weather. Then find a quick way to strip the body’s tissues of all water content.

Dry winds do a fine job, providing the unfortunate’s final resting place is cold enough to discourage hungry insects. But even in a hot locale — say the arid country of West Texas — certain natural compounds serve the purpose quite as well.

One of the most effective substances is common salt, including the white crystals surrounding a body in a cavern so far beneath the desert’s surface, the coyotes and the turkey vultures never sense its presence. And neither do the searchers, whether they use horses, SUVs, or small planes in their hunt for one missing woman amid the hundreds of square miles where rattlesnakes outnumber humans and scorpions have outlasted every species since the dinosaurs.

Could she speak, our modern mummy might beg the searchers to look longer and look deeper. But of course, she’s been beyond that for some time.

That's the tantalizing opening of The Salt Maiden, Colleen's sixth romantic thriller, a Romantic Times BOOKreviews Top Pick and 2007 Reviewers Choice nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. This week, Colleen hits the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit to talk about the book that began with a trip to the middle of nowhere.

"Some novels begin with a character," says Colleen, "others start with a what-if question or a situation, but The Salt Maiden was inspired by a place I visited a few years back, a sunburned, sand-scoured desert community in the dead center of the least populated county in the U.S. With water too briny for human consumption and land too to support any but the hardiest of desert plants, it’s an eerily daunting landscape, one that made me wonder, What on earth would bring a person out here? Apparently my subconscious took it as a challenge, and came up with a Houston veterinarian, Dana Vanover, in search of her troubled missing sister, the birth mother of a child in desperate need of a bone-marrow transplant. In spite of her ambivalence about her sister, Dana braves heat, rattlesnakes, and hostile locals — as well as her attraction to the handsome sheriff who wants her gone."

More about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, how 'bout this buzz?

"Poetic use of language, intricate plotting and a wealth of fascinating details make Thompson's latest novel a masterful work of suspense. Readers will come for the action and stay for the three-dimensional characters and well-crafted narrative. This is a fabulous read!" ~ Romantic Times

"Fans of Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag, and Sandra Brown will adore this tale. Phenomenal!" ~ Detra Fitch, Huntress Book Reviews

"A great book filled with action of all kinds - from steamy love scenes to terror ridden suspense...The book touches on the complexities of mother-daughter and sibling relationships. If you want to spend some wonderful time being entertained, you need to invest the time and money in reading this book." ~ Dana Henderson, Romance Junkies

"Wait until you read the ending of this marvelous suspense thriller. You'll never guess and it will keep you on the edge of your seat. I have never missed a Colleen Thompson thriller and never will. [The Salt Maiden] is wrought with intensity, mystery, intrigue, passion and a roller coaster ride until the last page is turned. Take the ride; you'll be glad you did." ~ Suzanne Tucker, Fresh Fiction

"Colleen Thompson is an author waiting to 'happen'. Oh, she has been out there, is well respected as a growing talent. She has a solid backlist of amazing tales; only, she just has that presence of an author ready to have that break out novel. The Salt Maiden is that book. Her skill and flow of the prose marks her as a master wordsmith. She weaves an intricate plot into this eerie, sinister tale that kept me spellbound. This simply is Colleen Thompson at her very best." ~ Deborah MacGillivray, The Best Reviews

"...riveting suspense with an emotionally satisfying romance. The finely detailed characterization combines with an eerie exquisitely written landscape to make this novel a reading and re-reading pleasure...Colleen Thompson creates a romance that is reflective in tone through her portrait of the wasteland, adding a fresh intriguing vision to the genre." ~ Merrimon Book Reviews

Rock on, Colleen!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Is Your New Year's Resolution to Write a Publishable Novel?

If so, I *highly* recommend this class from bestselling novelist and acclaimed teacher Patricia Kay. I was fortunate enough to be taken under her wing years ago, and she's really made a difference in my career.

Eight Weeks - Beginning Novel Writing

Instructor: Patricia Kay

When: February 13 - April 8, 2008

Cost: $175 payable by check or PayPal

An eight-week intensive online writing class concentrating on the most important elements of good fiction: theme, characterization and dialogue, conflict and motivation, story construction emphasizing scene and sequel, and point of view. During the last week of class, a lesson on writing the synopsis and a sample synopsis will also be posted. With each lesson, homework is assigned. It isn't required, but it's recommended that all students do the homework as it helps you learn. In addition to discussion of the lessons and critique of the homework assignments, Pat will answer questions concerning individual projects and/or problems. At the end of the eight weeks, she will read and critique the first 25 pages of your novel as well as a synopsis of no more than five pages. Class size will be limited to what Pat feels she can comfortably handle so that each student gets individual attention.

Eight Weeks - Intermediate Novel Writing

Instructor: Patricia Kay

When: February 13 - April 8, 2008

Cost: $175 payable by check or PayPal

This class was designed to be the second class in Pat's novel writing series, with a prerequisite of completion of the Beginning Novel Writing class. However, if you are a writer who has taken writing classes before, who knows the basics, and who prefers to start with the intermediate class, you can e-mail Pat and the prerequisite may be waived. The intermediate course consists of some review from the beginning class as well as the introduction of more advanced writing techniques, with a concentration on
creating emotional intensity in your work. This is done with a series of lectures, homework assignments, class discussion, and feedback on individual projects. At the end of the eight weeks, Pat will read the first 25 pages of your work-in-progress. Class size will be limited to what Pat feels she can comfortably handle so that each student gets individual attention.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR: Pat is the USA Today bestselling author of more than forty-six novels of romance and women's fiction. She has more than three million copies of her books in print in eighteen different countries. She sold her first book to Silhouette in 1990 and her first mainstream romance to Berkley in 2000. That book, THE WRONG CHILD, went on to become a best-seller in Sweden and was nominated for a RITA. Pat is a former writing teacher at the University of Houston.

Here's what some of her students have said about her classes:

"As a beginning writer, this class provided the entire path and detailed directions for getting to the end of my story. I've taken many online and onsite classes, but none offered the complete scope of what is required for completing a novel. Your lectures were very instructional, your feedback/availabili ty was insightful and consistent, and sharing with other class members was very helpful. Thank you for providing this valuable class to the online writing community." - Elaine Gray

"Your handouts are so wonderful, Pat. I will be indebted to you for the rest of my writing life. Thank you." - Lynne Marshall -

"Out of all the writers I've listened to over the years, you're the one who has been able to explain things in a language I can understand. Since I first heard you speak about Scene & Sequel on the AskAnAuthorAlll e-mail loop, the aspect of plot has really been clicking for me. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting close to being able to put the whole story structure thing together. Yay!" - Sheila Seabrook

"I love this class. I can't sing its praises enough. And I'll tell anyone who's interested it's a great class to take whether you're a newbie or an old pro - you 'll get something out of this class." - Liz Webb

To register for either of these two courses, send an e-mail to Pat at classes@patriciakay .com.If paying by check, send your check for $175 to Patricia Kay, PO Box 441603, Houston, TX 77244-1603. If paying by PayPal, send your payment to pk@patriciakay. com.

Deadline to Register and Pay: Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Happy New Year!

Ring Out, Wild Bells
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.


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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.

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