Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Write or Rewrite?

To Write, or to Rewrite? That is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind's eye to revisit the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism . . .

Nope, the metaphor just died there. Sorry. The criticism isn't that outrageous. It's pretty spot-on, actually. 

I've noticed a trend in constructive criticism of my westerns. The short list is:

1. Heroines that are too vulnerable (read: weak); or 
2. Heroines that are too strong (read: angry) (for some unknown reason, the middle ground is unreasonably difficult for me);
3. Waaaaay too much backstory up front (backstory is exactly what it sounds like--the background story of a character. You know, stuff like where they went to college, when they first got drunk, when they first kissed a boy--all stuff I think about, but most of which bores the socks off readers when presented in one whole chapter while the rest of the world is waiting to meet the hunky hero on horseback);
4. Overbearing mothers (which, I'm sure, has absolutely nothing to do with that whole 'write what you know' cliche) (Hi, Mom!).

Right now, I have a book--Mystic Cowboy--that isn't on a shelf, but it's near one unless I get off my fanny and do some rewriting. Rebel and Madeline are anxious to get away from any and all shelves and start making the editorial rounds.

But, at the same time, I'm working on that category, Indian Princess. Dan and Rosebud don't want me to ditch them for Rebel and Madeline. They want to get to the good parts right now

Dan and Rosebud are winning. I tell myself it's because I'm getting some 'distance' from Mystic Cowboy, so that my eyes will be fresher when I go back to it. Also, I have some beta readers who are going to rip it to shreds for me next week--I should wait to hear what they say before I rip it to shreds myself.

But those are just excuses. The fact of the matter is that writing a book is always a better time than rewriting a book. Writing a book is all about exciting new characters doing exciting new things--some of which are surprises until the words hit the page. It is, well, exciting. (Yes, I have two degrees in English literature. That's the vocab you get on a Tuesday morning.) 

Rewriting means admitting that your stuff wasn't as awesome as you thought it was. I'm a typical oldest child. Ask my sisters, and they'll tell you, I like to think I'm always right. I hate to feel like I screwed something up, especially something I like to think I'm good at. I know I'm not supposed to take it personally, but try telling that to my ego. 

I know a lot of other pre-published authors struggle with this. Should I go back and fix, or just move forward?

Here's why you have to rewrite. The only great piece of writing that was ever produced without any editing whatsoever was Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," which he never finished because he was proving an opium-based philosophical point. Everything else in this world has had an editor, and everything else in this world has had rewrites. (Insert your own joke about the Ten Commandments here.)

For pre-published writers, rewriting is a chance to get elbow-deep in the process of learning from your mistakes (wear gloves, because it's going to be messy). That first book I wrote almost three years ago is still God-awful, but the nine months it took to revise and rewrite that thing taught me more than any class ever could. To write or to rewrite is really a trick question, because rewriting IS writing. Don't fall into the false dichotomy trap! (There, that was a five dollar word. Happy?)

The trick is to know take what you learned on the last book and carry it over to the next book (hence no more overbearing mothers!), with the ultimate goal of having to do fewer rewrites. With any writing, you've got to take the good, leave the bad, and walk on. 

Happy Rewrites!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Makin' a Presentation!

To recap, I made my first professional author presentation last Saturday at the Quincy Writers Guild's annual conference, Wordstock. My presentation was "Marketing Yourself to an Agent," or possibly also "Marketing Your Writing to an Agent." There was some confusion on what the darn thing was actually called, but far be it for me to let a little thing like 'topic' or 'title' to slow me down! After all, I'm a professional!

I made 20 copies of my handout, which was the query letter my agent signed me over. Then I got paranoid--after all, I am now also a famous Radio Personality--and made another 20 copies. Us famous authors can't be too careful, you know.

So, bright and early Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed and greeted my big day! And wouldn't you know it, my big day was snowing. A wet, messy snow being blown around by a snot-nosed wind that made styling one's hair pointless--and dangerous, if one had carelessly applied too much hairspray in an attempt to foil said wind. It was just one continual sneeze out there.

Okay. So the weather was hideous and sent me running to my closet (because there's no way in hell I'm wearing a skirt in the snow), but hey! Let's be positive--at least people wouldn't be wasting their time outside getting 'exercise' and crap like that. Right?

I said, Right?

Um, not right. A grand total of fifteen brave souls ventured out on slick roads to come to the conference. That included seven members of the Quincy Writers Guild, me, the other presenters, and my mother. Four people, in other words. Maybe five.

Okay! No problem! Always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, right? 

I was one of the two second sessions. So I waited for the previous presentation to end. And waited. And got hit on by a non-conference bookstore patron. I have to say, this is the first time I've been flirted with by someone other than my husband in . . . hell, it's been a long time. And sadly, all I could think was, Gee, The Kid would LOVE his hat, because it had a train on it. Sad. Truly Sad.

Finally, the preceding presentation wound down, mostly due to me standing in the back and frantically pointing to my wrist. I was able to start setting up. Seven people settled in to listen to me--eight if you count my mother.

Did I mention that the whole conference was inside a bookstore--with a functional coffee bar? I will say this--Coffee Off Broadway makes a damn good cup of tea. But this did mean I occasionally had to shout over a grinder. No problem--if you've met me, you know I can shout down a herd of elephants, or even a herd of four year olds. Let's Present!

Do you like the outfit? Suede jacket, white shirt, every piece of turquoise I own, blue jeans, and boots. Business Casual Cowgirl, in person!

All pictures in this blog are courtesy of My Mom. I swear, my mother was sitting in the back, taking these pictures, and repeating to herself, "My little author is all grown up now!"

Do you know what a conference hijacker is? A conference hijacker is an audience member who commandeers a presentation, taking control by verbal force. I had one. And to make it worse, she was a little old lady. Slacker teenagers? No problem. Unruly kids? Easy. Obnoxious little old ladies? Oy. It got to the point where I wished I had followed the example of my seventh-grade history teacher, a man in a wheelchair. A junior high teacher in a wheelchair needs all the help he can get, so this particular teacher wielded a yardstick with deadly accuracy. Just one crack of that thing on a desk sent the class into a still, tense silence as we all sat on our hands, just in case.

Still, my mom said I handled the hijacker well. The rest of the audience members were all lovely, and I'm not just saying that because they told me I was a wonderful presenter. Really. No, some of them--get this--took my advice and started blogs already! (Hi, Doc!) I have a heady sense of omnipotence going on over here just typing it.

Finally, I was on time and under budget, and had managed to avoid committing Audience Assault (for which I think I deserve a merit badge from Author Scouts or something). I'm already thinking of ways to make this presentation better so I can take it on the road to other conferences. And despite the weather, I had a good time at Wordstock. I'd like to do it again next year.

But you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to have a yardstick with me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Fling!

The Quincy Writers Guild's conference Wordstock was a success. I was going to tell you all about it, because, you know, I was one of the presenters and all, but it turns out there were some technical difficulties getting the photos and stuff ready for the blog--and I mean technical, people. As in, my mommy (Hi, MOM!) took all the photos and has since been visiting my Gram, a woman who still considers her 20-year old coffee maker to be a state-of-the-art technological marvel. In other words, all my photos are trapped in the Netherworld of Technology, also known as The Bottom Of My Mom's Purse (a truly dark and scary place). So we'll talk about that at a later date, possibly as early as Thursday or as late as next Tuesday (or whenever my mom excavates the camera from her purse). (No pressure, Mom!)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm already looking forward to my NEXT conference, Spring Fling! Perhaps you noticed that cute little pink button on the right, over there? The one that says Visit Spring Fling 2010? Yes, that one! You should go! You know why?

Spring Fling was the very first conference I went to, the very first "professional author" thing I attempted. I signed up to pitch agents and editors, printed up business cards, and made my stylists (aka my sisters) come up and style me. (I would like to point out that I still wear those clothes, too. They are excellent stylists. I might even consider possibly paying them at some point in the undetermined future.)

I did just about everything wrong (except for the clothes). My business cards were glossy on both sides, rendering them useless to take notes. I pitched a book I just knew was the next Great American Novel, only to be shot down by the agents and ignored by the editor. My elevator pitch was almost three minutes long. I scared another agent by telling her I loved her dress, and I frightened a Major Author in the bathroom while trying to network. (Tip: Do not network in bathrooms.) I added anyone who gave me a business card to my email list. 

Do not do any of these things. Especially the bathroom thing.

But I did a few things very, very right. I attended presentations by Blythe Gifford and Beverly Long (among others), and then personally thanked both ladies for the incredibly useful information they passed on. Ms. Gifford was especially kind to me in all my cluelessness, and has turned into a mentor for me (which is fun, being that she writes historically accurate medieval romance, and I write about hunky Lakota Indians on horseback). I made the acquaintance of a few other unpublished authors, like Andrea Dickinson and Courtney Milan, women I still keep in contact with today.

And more than anything, I learned from my mistakes. I took what I learned and figured out why the agents shot me down and the editor ignored me. I learned not to frighten Major Authors in the bathroom. I learned what the hell a good elevator pitch sounds like. 

If I hadn't gone to this conference, I would still be flailing around, thinking I was awesome (because my mommy told me so) and not getting anywhere. Now, two years later, I've joined the Chicago-North RWA chapter, had a book final in the Fire and Ice Contest, been signed by an agent (but you knew that, right?), and actually *become* a professional author (in every aspect but the paycheck).

So if you're sitting on some uncomfortable fence about whether or not to plunk down the money for conference fees and hotel rooms, I say this to you: If you are a professional author, you will go to a conference. If not this one (but you should!), then another one, romance-based or otherwise. You will not be afraid to make mistakes, nor will you be afraid to learn from them. Plus, you will not be afraid to itemize business deductions on your taxes next year, hint, hint.

Get the heck off that fence and sign up for Spring Fling! And come find me at the conference, okay? I'll be the one in cowboy boots.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Me and Texting

I don't text. At all. Ever.

Well, that's no longer a true statement. I took The Kid to my sister Leah's high-school production of "The Wedding Singer," which he loved deeply (but then again, he tends to love anything with singing, dancing, and men being dropped into garbage cans in it). But then I sent The Kid home with his loving Mimi, Pawpaw, and Gigi whilst I went out on the town (St. Louis) with both my sisters and some of their friends. My sister Hannah was driving, I had no child with me, and it was Saturday night. I had two, count them, 2, glasses of wine.

Then, on the drive home (at 12:30 at night--WAY past my bedtime), in the dark and rain, Hannah's iPhone buzzed. Her loving husband Steve was texting her. She handed me the phone and told me to text him back.

"Um . . ." I said, knowing disaster was in the air.

"It's easy!" she insisted. "Just tell him it's you, I'm driving, and I love him."

Easy, I say? You judge for yourself by attempting to read this actual, real, unedited transcript of my first time texting.

Steve: I'm heading to bed. Don't forget to spring forward. Love You. Good Night.
Me: Sarah hereo
      Driving home
      Manna says she loves youo
Steve: Sarah is your hero? And you're driving home?
Me: Ive never texted before
Steve: Who is Manna? Do I know her.
Me: Hannahpp
Steve: Hannah has to pee?
Me: Also. Had two glassed ofbeinnw
      Two gladses of wine
Steve: What the hell is ofbeinnw?
Me: I dint know
Steve: Ohhhh. Gladses of wine. Right right.
Me: Hannah is sorry she handedme the phone
Steve: I'm glad that Manna is driving then.
Me: So is she
Steve: Well this has been a hoot. But I'm tired. Gonna hit the hay. Tell Manna goodnight for me.
Me: Anyway she says night too
Steve: and remind her to spring forward!
Me: K

Steve: tell her "LYB" please. Thank You.
Me: Lyn backpack
      Lyn bbackp
Steve: I laffed at the Lyn backpack.
Me: Sorry
Steve: Dear Sarah, You can never get an iPhone.
Me: Jo

Yup. It made no sense to anyone, least of all me. I failed "Typing on a virtual mini-keyboard" in the first ten seconds. I kept hitting 'send' because the send button was in the same general location as the backspace button on my laptop. The phone kept suggesting 'better' spellings, but in trying to select those, I instead just deleted the option. Then Steve began to make fun of me, and Hannah began giggling as I read her the transcript, then I began giggling, which lead to even worse typing. "Lyn backpack" was supposed to be "LYB back," but I couldn't even get that right after three tries. And then Steve banned me from all texting, and rightfully so. I couldn't even manage to type one stinking letter in agreement. "K" came out "Jo." And then I gave up.

You can text me if you want. But don't expect an answer. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Category Romance

Programming Note: All you Midwestern folks, don't forget to come to the Quincy Writers Guild's Annual Conference, Wordstock, this Saturday, March 20, from 9 to 1, at Great Debates Bookstore in Downtown Quincy, Illinois. I'll be making my presentation, "Marketing Yourself to an Agent," at the 10:45 session, so come on down!

Okay! Back to Category Romance!

Which is what, now? Yeah, I heard you there, in the back.

What is a Category Romance? It goes by many names: Category romance, a.k.a. Series romance, a.k.a. churn and burns. These are the short romances, just over half what I usually write. They are usually published by Harlequin or Silhouette, usually with a label like 'Special Edition' or a part of a series. They come out once a month, every month. Libraries buy in bulk, as do book club members. They sell well, but they are only on the shelves for one month. Then they are gone. Sometimes, they reappear in a collective reissue, but their shelf life--literally--is short.

I hate to say it, but when a lot of people think of trashy romances with bodice-ripper covers, they are really thinking of category. In other words, category don't get no respect.

And some of that is well earned. I've been reading a lot category recently, and the greatness is occasionally . . . lacking. Because they are so short, some times character development is a tad too underdone for my tastes. The plots are simpler, with far fewer supporting characters. I've read a few really good ones, but it's hard to cram everything I value about a story into 50,000 words.

And now I'm going to write one.

My agent thinks I should. Because the publishing schedule for category is so much faster, and they publish so many more of them, it's easier to get one published than going straight for single title (which is the regular romance).

Why am I doing this? Because of the lousy economy these days, publishers aren't risking any money on someone who they aren't positive isn't going to make that money back--i.e. someone without a proven sales record. I am not published. I have no sales record. It's like applying for an entry-level job and being told you have no job experience so you can't have the job. You need the job to get experience. You need experience to get the job.

So I'm going to write me some experience.

The working title for this is going to be The Indian Princess, mostly because I totally suck at titles, but also because that's what the hero thinks when he first sees the heroine. Here's the back-cover blurb:

Dan Armstrong can’t tell if the figure in the trees is a ghost, an Indian princess, or a hallucination—until she takes a shot at him and disappears without a trace. With only the bullet hole in his hat as proof, he starts looking around for a beautiful woman with a grudge. Rosebud Donnelly fits the bill. She’s beautiful, she’s an Indian, and she’s the tribal lawyer suing his family over water rights. But does she really want him dead? There’s only one way to find out. As he gets closer to Rosebud, Dan can’t tell which is in more danger—his head or his heart.

What do you think? I have no idea if it's going to work or not. I usually consider 50,000 words to be around about 'halfway done.'  But, on the bright side, if I fail, I'll have another single title book, which isn't all bad. I'm going to write the best book I can, regardless of length. If it works, I hope it'll pry open a few more doors for me. Either way, I win!

So stay tuned for Category Updates!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

San Francisco Memories

We've been home from San Francisco for three weeks now. The weather has warmed the heck up out here in the Greater Midwest. Yesterday, it hit 68 degrees, which set off some impressive storms. It's now warmer here in Illinois than it was in San Francisco.

Still, I miss it. I miss the blistered toes jammed into cowboy boots. I miss the all-day burn on the calf muscles. I miss the food. No, really, I miss the food. You can't get food like that in Western Illinois. I even almost miss the fog.

Luckily, I brought back enough of San Francisco to keep me going through lightning and hail.

A mural from Alcatraz, now in convenient postcard form!

Perhaps I mentioned that Chinese New Year was going on? These are "red cards," which are absolutely beautiful little envelopes that people put gift money in. Red, if you didn't know, is the lucky color.

So, here's the story about the lantern. When I was a wee lass, my father had his own fishing lure business. I must have been about five when we 'negotiated' my terms of pay for packing boxes of lures to ship. I apparently refused to settle for less than $0.05 per box. I drove a hard bargain. So, I saved up my nickels, carefully waiting to find something that was worth my hard-earned silver. One day, we took my Mema out for Chinese, and there, in the display case, was a little lantern. I want to say that it was $3.75 or something like that. I bought it, and it was all mine.

I have no idea what ever happened to it--I'm tempted to blame the house fire a few years later, but may very well have just played with it until it 'disappeared' on day. I forgot about it--until I was wandering around San Francisco with my family on a lovely spring day. Happiness is not just a nifty cool trinket. Happiness is finding something that brings a long-forgotten memories of my first paycheck, my first independent-of-Mommy purchase, and, most importantly, of dinner with my Mema, God bless her soul. 

Moving on.

Oooh, pretty. 

I used to buy touristy t-shirts on vacations, but those unisex shirts are never good on me, so I decided some time ago that I was going to buy souvenirs that I would love. Enter jewelry!! I got both of these pieces from street vendors. The copper disks were hand-hammered by a shy guy, and the necklace was strung by a lovely Chinese woman. Souvenirs: $18. Fashionability: Priceless.

We bought a LOT of delicious souvenirs. Cowgirl Creamery cheese, Boudin Bakery sourdough bread, XOX truffles, Ghiradelli (in which we ate squares in a Square), and fresh fortune cookies. But the only one of all those delicious souviners that we have a reminder of is this:

Charles Chocolates. Man, oh, man, those were some good chocolates. We personally met Charles in his store, where he generously gave The Kid chocolate-covered Oreos and us some of these chocolate-covered almonds, which is why we had to get our own to come home with us. Divine, really. And any man who hands out chocolate samples is a friend of mine.

But above all this, my favorite keepsake is this:

I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco! It's only about an inch across, so it's perfect in and amongst all the other good luck charms that habitat my desk. And that's a whole 'nother blog.

I bought other things, but I doubt most of you loyal readers would be interested in a never-ending parade of book covers (correct me if I'm wrong). And of course, The Husband and The Kid each got their own memories-to-go. But these are mine. 

Ah, the memories. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Live on the Radio!

I did it!

If you remember my rather modest goals from last week:

1. Do not make a fool of myself (loosely defined as babbling incoherently, giggling uncontrollably, passing out, or making any unfortunate bodily noises);
2. Talk about my writing;
3. Get people to come to the conference;
4. Wish my Gram a happy 95th birthday (two weeks early) on the air;
and 5. Do not make a fool of myself (can't say it enough).

And I managed to accomplish most all of those goals!

I got there and was shown to the Green Room:
It wasn't green. But the couches were comfortable, so it was all good.

At the appointed time, I took my seat:
But I didn't take it very far.

We got underway. I'd met Mary Griffith at a Christmas party a few years ago, and she remembered me, so that was enough of an ice breaker to calm me down. 

Mary made the interview fun and easy--and she invited me back! I'm pretty sure that means I didn't make a huge fool of myself.

My fellow interviewee was Pollee Freier, who's written a book called Snickers, the Preacher Cat

Pollee had done interviews with Mary before, so she also managed to project enough calm that it wore off on me. 

Side note: Do you like that top? I had on jeans and boots with it. I consider that my "Business Casual Cowgirl" look. If there is such a thing as that.

We talked about the conference, and to top it all off, I managed to wish my Gram a happy early 95th birthday. I didn't get a lot of chances to talk about my books, but again, Mary invited me back, so I hope when I get signed by a publisher, I can go back and talk about just my writing.

I may have misunderstood about the podcast, so it may not be available, but otherwise, I think it went really, REALLY well! Thanks go to Pollee for inviting me, and to Mary for making me feel so welcome!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The month started off less than pleasantly here in Authorial world, which, unsurprisingly, tends to make Mom world a little rough, too. I was in such a bad mood that it infected The Kid. Suddenly, he was hysterical because he could only eat one fish stick. It was that bad.

And then, unexpectedly . . .


Unexpectedly, things began to look up. I swear, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and, well, it was a hawk, not an angel. But close enough. Something was singing.

Now, I'm not a religious person, but I 'm deeply spiritual. The beauty of the simple things on this planet--the sun setting over a glass-smooth river, a cardinal singing from a snow-covered branch--never fail to leave me awe-struck by a Power much larger than anything I'll ever understand. But nothing brings me closer to Earth than this:

Hi, there.

This is a spiritual experience for me. There's not a lot here, just a few green shoots that have made it past the frozen deadness of winter. I counted seven total. Next week, there might be seventy. In another month, there'll be hundreds. Thousands, even. I put a lot of daffodil bulbs in the ground because after a long, dark winter, I cling to the hope that Spring promises with big, sunny flowers. Spring. It's so close I can see it, growing right before my eyes.

This is my prayer.


*Programming note: Don't forget to read the last blog from Tuesday to find out more about my first-ever radio interview, next Tuesday!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wordstock and Interviews!

Tune in to AM 930, WTAD in the Quincy/Hannibal area on Tuesday, March 9th at 9:15 a.m. for the Mary Griffith Show (or click to find her podcast).

Why? Because I'm going to be giving my first professional-writer radio interview, THAT'S why! And, as we all know, this is an event of monumental, epic proportions! My first radio interview! I'm so excited! I'm so happy! I'm so . . . 

I'm so mildly concerned about what to wear!

Longtime readers already knew that. New readers: I'm sorry, but it's true. I heard radio shows often take pictures and post on the internets. AIEEE! Fashion choices! Man the battleships!

WHY? Yes, I hear you back there. You're asking why am I giving my first professional-writer interview to Mary Griffith (on March 9th, at 9:15, on AM 930 WTAD), and I am fully prepared to fill you in.

On March 20th, at 9 a.m., the Quincy Writers Guild is hosting their annual conference, Wordstock, at the Great Debates bookstore in downtown Quincy, IL. I'm going to be making a presentation entitled, "Marketing Yourself to an Agent," so of course everyone should plunk down the $5 conference fee ($7 at the door; students are FREE) and come here me and four other presenters talk about writing. I have to tell you, $5 is just about the best deal going for conference fees. Add a few zeros to that, and you have typical conference fees. 

Wordstock runs from 9 until 1, so you don't even have to get a hotel room. It don't get no cheaper than that. If you're interested in reserving your spot, leave your email in the comments section and I'll send you the info.

So, a QWG member is doing the interview, and she wanted to know what my info was so she could talk about it on the Mary Griffith Show. When I emailed her, she invited me along. We checked with Mary Griffith, and she said it was "Cool!" (Direct quote.) So I'm going. I'll be wearing cowboy boots. And probably some other clothing, too.

Here's the short list of what I hope to accomplish:
1. Do not make a fool of myself (loosely defined as babbling incoherently, giggling uncontrollably, passing out, or making any unfortunate bodily noises);
2. Talk about my writing;
3. Get people to come to the conference;
4. Wish my Gram a happy 95th birthday (two weeks early) on the air;
and 5. Do not make a fool of myself (can't say it enough).

So Tune In (literally!) and see if I meet my goals! And also, what I'll be wearing.