Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stolen Moments

Let's find out if my boss reads this or not.

When do you write? I'm at home two days a week right now, so I spend most of those days working on the next novel (excerpts coming to the website soon!). But when the whole day stretches out before me, it's awfully easy to get sucked into another, and another, and another game of Freecell.

I find that I do some of my most productive writing in the stolen moments of the day. The half hour before I pick up the adorable toddler from daycare. While the hubby is giving him a bath. The 45 minutes after he goes to bed before I collapse in exhaustion.

And the five minutes here, ten minutes there I steal at work.

Now, I'm quite sure my lovely coworker Mary already knows I do this. For reasons that are beyond my technological grasp, we have to share the Word program on our computers, so it can only be open on one computer at a time. Needless to say, it's usually open on mine, and occasionally I have to shut it down so she can do real work.

The lovely Mary is one smart cookie, so I'm sure she has connected the dots.

But, while I (mostly) enjoy my job, it doesn't always require my full brain. The literary part tends to wander as I place art into text, or proof the same copy of the Constitution for the 5th time. (Yes, I did that yesterday. We publish educational material, remember? It's an election year. Lots of Constitutions running around the office.) So while I'm reading Article III (the Judicial Branch), my people are having conversations in my head. And sometimes, I need to write what they say down before it floats down my stream of consciousness and right out of my head. There's nothing I hate more than crafting a great line, only to sit down to type it in an hour later and having no clue what it was.

So I steal time. Five minutes here, two minutes there. I probably type on my books and my people a total of 45 minutes every day at work. And they are by far the most productive 45 minutes of my day. I get a lot of stuff - good stuff that needs very little editing - down in those condensed 45 minutes.

Don't get me wrong. I work hard at my job, and get my tasks done quite promptly. My boss has no complaints, and trust me, I'd know it if he did. But those 45 minutes are important to me. One of the reasons I didn't want that last job I interviewed for (and didn't get, by the way) was that I wouldn't be able to type in those floating lines. What I might make up in more money or benefits, I would lose in productive writing time.

Those stolen moments make up for the things I don't enjoy at work. (Pre-Algebra? Again? AIEEE!).

I don't think this is an uncommon thing. We all tend to zone out, take little mental breaks throughout the day. I just write novels in mine. What do you do in your stolen moments?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Hornet's Nest

Oh, Heck. Here we go.

I'm writing women's fiction with strong romantic elements. As best I can tell, that means that there is a lot of suffering, some really rewarding sex, and (eventually) a happily-ever-after. At least, that's what I'm writing.

And I find myself sitting here, wondering how to talk about the sex without sounding horridly cliched.

Backstory: I earned my Master's in Victorian Lit at the Ohio State University in 2000. The program operated on high rates of attrition, which eventually claimed me. But before I bowed out of the academia race, I struggled to find a niche where I could investigate new things to say about Austen to Dickens and everything in between.

This was during the end of Third Wave Feminism, where we were struggling to figure out what to do next. And the answer became: Pornography. This ranged from the "all sex is rape" position of Andrea Dworkin (may she, and her theory, rest in peace) to the full embrace of female sexuality that, sadly, gave rise to the likes of Paris Hilton (shudder, shudder).

I took a class in 17th and 18th c Pornography, which if you go back and read, isn't all so shocking these days. Analyzing representations of female orgasms in Fanny Hill as opposed to the Marquis de Sade (both written by men), looking at political tensions underscoring The Lustful Turk, noting how Victorian prudes were subverted in My Secret Life - I found a niche, and was briefly known in the English Department as the Porn Queen of Ohio.

Let's just say, after editing the papers for that class, my mother developed a very thick skin.

But back to the topic. 98% of what was considered "pornography" back in the day was written by men, from the Earl of Rochester, Sade (who was quite twisted), Wilmot, and countless anonymous writers. Heck, even the stuff that was proto-romance - Pamela (oh, so dull, so melodramatic, but you have to read it, because it was one of the very first official British Novels!) were written by men (and, I'd like to point out, mocked in satire by anonymous writers who were most probably women).

And there were three primary ways to talk about a orgasm. Dying and its corollary fainting were a popular option for female desire and orgasm. Animal spirits rushing down or taking over was popular for both sexes, and male orgasm was defined in terms of being a machine.

So, these days, 8 years out, when I stumble upon a woman 'dying' in a sex scene, I am forced to hoot in derision. But the sad thing is, it happens. A lot. One western romance I read recently said "She thought she might die, and then she did," for an oral sex scene. PLEASE!

Not much has changed in three hundred years.

Oh, we have so many euphemisms for having sex. I'm sure the numbers in the last twenty years (since I hit puberty) are in the thousands - doing it, knocking boots, so many that I don't even know since I'm over thirty - heck, anything said with the right intonation can be a euphemism for sex. Even Shakespeare had plowing fields.

And male orgasm isn't doing too shabby. I mean, one of my favorite rock groups back in the day was Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam!! Did you ever stop to think about that? Thankfully, my mother didn't.

But female orgasm? We're still dying.

There have been a few notable introductions. One I've seen a lot is 'being shattered into a million pieces.' Not a bad image, but the feminist English major in me wants to rip it to shreds for its implied violence and destruction. There are some standards like bells ringing (Have you seen the old British Movie Shirley Valentine? Great for the orchestra rising alone!) and fireworks exploding. In fact, explosions of one form or another seem to be quite in vogue.

So what's a women's literary fiction with strong romantic elements writer to do? I refuse to make my people die, and no one has animal spirits rushing around these days. Machines went out of style when Shaft did (yes, he says that in the original movie), and bells ringing is overdone. I've used explosions so far, in one form or another, but honestly, using any euphemism more than three times seems to be a cop-out to me.

It's time to come up with a new language, and I'm taking suggestions!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The waiting is the hardest part . . .

Okay, that's a blatant Tom Petty rip-off.

I promised myself not to obsess about waiting to hear from the editor. Promised. And actually, I was doing a decent job. Granted, I was obsessing about the number of views my blog is getting (and feel free to post comments, dear readers!), but I was keeping the fretting about editors to a minimum.

But then something wonderful happened to a friend.

She is in rarefied air these days - an agent signed her less than three weeks after requesting a full manuscript from the Chicago conference. I believe the correct description is "snapped her up," and is planning on shopping her novel around within the month.

I am absolutely thrilled for my dear friend! This is super exciting, even if she does need to remember to breathe. And what's more, soon she'll be back in the central time zone. Very exciting stuff.

But now, I'm obsessing. This agent moved quickly - very quickly. Which is great for my friend, because her writing is really spectacular, and I'm totally buying the Riesling the next time I see her. But knowing that these things really can happen almost overnight makes my personal wait that much harder.

So let's all use the power of positive thinking in the interim. We'll all envision her books go to auction, landing her a major contract and on the NYT list (at which point, she's buying the Riesling).

But for me personally? I'd like to think that it's going to go something like this.

The editor will request the full manuscript, finding the whole thing as good as the first three chapters. She will then ask to see what I've got on the second novel (which is really taking shape, thank goodness!). She will tell me to get an agent so that I can properly review the contract she's going to offer me. Agents will be happy to take me on, because I've already got a contract near the table. My agent (and volunteers are welcome here) will go to bat for me, hammering out a nice contract for at least two books with the editor. The editor will make suggestions, I will make changes, and in 12 to 24 months, Marrying the Emersons will hit the shelves with critics using words like "powerful," "moving," and "beautifully written." A few months later (because it's not that far from being publishable), The Best They Could will come out, stunning critics with its scope and depth. Hollywood will start to make some noises, the foreign rights will get snapped up, and suddenly I'll be a Book of the Month Feature while working on the next set of stories about my people.

Have you watched The Muppet Movie recently? Not everyone quotes Kermit the Frog, but he's big in our house these days. Anyway, Kermit sings at the end of the movie, "Life's like a movie/write your own ending/keep believing/keep pretending/we've done just what we set out to do."

I'm writing my own ending, and as long as I believe in it, it will come true.

I just have to be patient.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How much do you need?

So here's the question. How much support do you need to follow your dreams? (Yes, that sounds cheesy, but stay with me here).

Listening to Debbie Macomber and Eloisa James, and talking to other writers at the conference recently, I was struck by the different levels of spousal support. Debbie told everyone at the Gala dinner that, back when she was starting out, a stay-at-home mom with a passel of kids, she was taking money out, and her hubby (Wayne, if I remember correctly) said she needed to put money back in, but when it came down to her dream, he said go for it. (Obviously, he's the hero!)

Eloisa James said that her hubby supported her career because they had too much debt, and they couldn't have another baby until they got rid of the debt. Books erased that debt and led to her daughter (an amazing story in and of itself).

On the conference loop, people discussed spousal support - someone said they were bringing their spouse, because the more he was involved, the better it was for the writing. Another poster replied that, the more her spouse was involved, the worse it was.

Now, my hubby is pretty right brained. He's all about buying technology - very involved in the new laser printer purchase, happy to debate the merits of usb ports, etc. for the computer. And he went with me to the conference, because he goes to a lot of conferences.

Backstory: I stayed home for 17 months after the toddler was born. Then I got a job as an editor, which I mostly love. But this winter, economic downturn and whatnot, my hours were cut. By 40%.

I'm using the time to write, but it's come down to money. If I want a patio before 2010, I need either another part time job, or a new full time job. Or to get a nice contract, which won't happen today or tomorrow, maybe not for months. I've had a few interviews, and I'm waiting to hear back about a possible full-time position. And I can't decide if it would be a good thing or if it would be terrible.

The hubby thinks that, if they offer me the position, I should take it. It's a rock-solid company, with great benefits. And he has a point. Good jobs in an economic downturn should not be lightly discounted.

But I think I finally figured out what I want to be. I love writing in my little office that looks out onto the magnolia. It's very Virginia Woolf-ish, but I have a room of my own, and I'm doing something I love. Is it a coincidence that I've lost almost 20 pounds since I started this? Perhaps I don't need the food as much to fill the soul. Writing about my people does that for me.

Some days, I feel like he doesn't support my writing. But I have to keep reminding myself that he does, in a pretty typical guy way. His support is measurable (bigger hard drives, bigger jump drives) and concrete (new laser printer!). Not so much touchy-feely, you-go-girl stuff. And I love that he keeps his finger on our financial pulse. I don't have to think about it because he does, and he does a damn fine job.

So my question is, what support do you need? What support do you get? Is the compromise enough?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Nothing Ventured . . .

The die has been cast, the wheels are in motion, whatever metaphor you want to come up with, but I've officially emailed a query, synopsis, and partial to the editor.

I don't think of this book as my baby so much, but as my people. I've put my people and their heartbreaking, ultimately redemptive lives out there.

Let's all hope there is a great deal to gain.