A snow-covered ROW80 check-in

I’m writing to you from Southwest Virginia, where I’m currently trapped in a snow globe–I mean, uh, snowstorm. And not really trapped, since the weather has been so mild and thus, the ground is fairly warm. So, from the sort-of winter wonderland, here’s my check-in for the week.

Spent most of the week writing and combing through Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3 of Made of Shadows. My initial rewrite of the “meet cute” for Zoe and Blake posed some problems (i.e., messed up the following parts of the plot, which were actually working just fine). Thanks to some stewing today, I’ve located the problem. Then I’m off!

I’ve been reading some of the 43 Light Street books by Rebecca York. I saw her speak at a Virginia Romance Writers meeting last year and learned a lot from her talk. Her books are really addictive and her plots are very character driven, so I’ve been reading some of her work (currently, Guarding Grace) to study how she allows the suspense element of the plot to drive the story forward, while providing plenty of space for romance. This approach actually helped me find the flaw in my meet-cute scene because I realized that’s not how a given character would react to a particular development.

My ROW80 goals:

  • I revised Chapter 2 and part of Chapter 3. I revised Chapter 2 a few times and am proud to have worked the kinks out before I move forward.
  • I’m spending more time on Twitter, taking breaks in the morning at work and before I write in the afternoon, but I haven’t carved out a space for Facebook check-ins yet.
  • Read a lot of awesome blogs this week, but always on the run, so I haven’t started doing regular “mash-ups of awesomeness” yet.
  • Need to work on bio critiques for my Team WANA1011 peeps and immerse myself in a few manuscripts I need to critique as well.

I am still looking for a place of balance, where day job, writing, social media, household management, relationships, social life, exercise/nutrition can all coexist. Looking at that list, LOL, it doesn’t look good. By year’s end, I plan to have not one but two manuscripts ready for query. I will get there. Whether I’ll find a sense of calm within the chaos…well, that remains to be seen. 🙂

Since tomorrow is President’s Day, I’m hoping to spend the day at home, doing a few random things for day job and plunging into Made of Shadows. We’ll see if my boss forces me to clean the snow off my car tomorrow.

How are your writing goals going?

The perfect brand is like the perfect pair of jeans.

Last night I came across a wonderful blog post about brand. Can you, the author challenged, sum up your brand in one word? (Check it out here.)

Can we? When I come across people who are skeptical about brand, I tell them that brand isn’t the entire you; it’s a gateway to you and your work. And I don’t care if you say you loathe brand, if you refuse to fit the mold or narrow yourself into a brand. You still have one. You might as well own it.

Brand for authors can be a difficult notion because we’re creative-types, artists, and, often, nonconformists. At one point, I might have been skeptical, too, except that my path as a writer led me to a gig in public relations. Through that job, I met a wonderful group of people—fiercely creative folks who are passionate about their roles in the promotion of our university—and that part-time gig was my gateway drug to brand.

The thing about brands is that they are alive, shifting, and dynamic. Authentic brands feel alive; they writhe with passion and buzz with electricity. Just like us. At our university, we really do live our brand. And no one has to tell anyone to do it. Our brand is not a contrivance, an artifice, or a sales gimmick. It emerges naturally throughout the course of the day, because as a community, it’s who we are.

Like a pair of jeans, your brand should fit like a glove and feel perfectly comfortable.

I insist that a good brand is one that fits like the perfect pair of jeans: snug and comfy. But it’s not so much that we feel comfortable. It’s that we feel confident. We find our stride because it’s just the right fit. Trying to find that “one word” is a great exercise in identifying our brands.

Since we’re writers, I’m going to pull from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” for an example. Kundera postulates that it’s the things that give our lives weight that make them meaningful. If we strip away those things, life becomes, he suggests, unbearably light. Each of our lives, as individuals and writers, has moments to which we attribute a great deal of meaning: the moment we knew we loved writing, the moment we knew we had to be a writer and damn anyone or anything that stood in our way, the moment we finished our first story. And often times, a theme runs through the milestones of our lives, our stories, and our writing journeys. The moments of our lives shape who we are, personally and creatively.

My word? Soulful. I want to write books with heart, with power, with soul. I believe life and art are a search for meaning. Sometimes I get pissed off at anything that stands in the way of my search for meaning and art. Life means something; art is the search for meaning. And I’m someone with a lot of faith, even if I don’t always know in what.

My blog in many ways is still searching for its shape, its meaning. I hope it helps people, and I’m still finding a way for it to do that. And brand is a part of all that, a taste of who we are, a way to help others understand what we’re all about. Yes, we’re complicated. Much as I enjoy the search for meaning in life, I also enjoy snarky comments, geeky jokes, and the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes. But yes, soulful. The word fits. Life can be hard, lonely, scary, and unfair. It can also be funny, crazy, wonderful, and amazing. I’m all about the journey.

Now, I want to know your word. What word fits you like a comfy pair of jeans? If you were to sum up your brand in one word, what would it be, and why?

A note about an upcoming conference:

In May, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Your Passion is Your Brand” at the first annual For the Love of Writing Conference, hosted by the Virginia Romance Writers, a wonderful group of fellow writers—some established and bestselling, others, like me, new to the biz—who have helped me find direction in the industry. It’s shaping up to be a great conference, so if you’re a romance writer, I hope you’ll attend. I’m also excited to share my insights into brand, to help fellow authors feel their way out. For many of us, brand is this new, scary thing. For some writers, it feels contrived. My workshop breaks the idea of brand into steps, helping authors create a personalized brand built on their strengths—one that feels comfortable and authentic. If you’re interested in gathering with a great, enthusiastic, and welcoming group of writers for a writing conference at the beach, here’s the link.

Stop knockin’ the romance novel

So I just read this post by contemporary romance writer Jeannie Moon, which, of course, made me feel all twitchy. Why, tell me why, are people always knocking romance novels? Tell me how a romance novel is “not a real book.”

What makes a “real” book? Plot, character, description, tone? Because romance novels have all of those things. And have the people who say such things actually read a romance novel? (Or, if they have, do they just skip to the dirty parts? Tsk tsk tsk.)

I just realized I’m preaching to the choir. *steps away from pulpit*

I was already feeling mildly irate because, in a writers loop I belong to, a fellow writer said that her boss called her books “silly romance novels.” Silly? Romance novels are silly? They’re not real?

Oh, wait, excuse me while…

Sorry. I’m back.

Jeannie, who managed not to turn into the Incredible Hulk, raised some valid points to put her particular naysayer/book snob in her place:

“I set out to bury Harpy with the facts. Facts about romance’s incredible reach, profitability and the most basic of all: that if the genre were to become extinct, 1.3 billion dollars in book sales would be lost. It would decimate publishing and all those “real books” wouldn’t have anyplace to go. I talked about academic work being done at major universities studying the genre as literature and I talked about how it made people happy. And in the end, that’s all that mattered.”

So here’s my piece. Why do I think romance novels are most certainly REAL books, and not at all SILLY? Because…

Books change us; all art does. Books help us understand the human experience. The last time I checked, romance, yummy parts included, is a vital part of that experience. And we’re never more alive than when we’re in love.

I could go on. And on. And on. But I think I’ve said enough.

And this whole thing has inspired me to blog about why I chose to write romance novels. But that’s a separate post for another day.

Why do you love romance novels? Why do you think people feel this way? And how can we help them see the light? Or, if you’re a hater, why?

Possibilities: The changing face of publishing in the 21st century

Writing in the 21st-century is bewildering, scary, amazing, and exhilarating all at the same time. Never have we had so many opportunities for sharing our stories, from e-publishers to the traditional NY route to self-publishing. Book trailers, audio books, and enhanced e-books offer new and exciting ways to engage potential readers and expand their experiences with our books.

But it’s terrifying in a sense to think that none of us really has any idea where all of this is going. We can quote statistics, such as the recent drop—make that an all-out nosedive—in mass-market paperback sales: 41.5% drop in sales in February. (See the Dear Author blog post here.) E-books, thanks to the number and affordability of e-book readers like the Nook, Kindle, and Sony E-reader, are becoming increasingly popular. And for romance authors, there’s more good news because romance novels are a fast-growing genre in e-book sales. (See the Romance Writers of America industry statistics.)

Despite all of the speculation, no one can predict the future (not even I, with my various tarot decks). Is the world of publishing changing? Without a doubt. But how is it changing? We can’t know, not fully, not for certain.

What is good is that people are buying books. At no time in our history can we claim, as a species, to have been so well read. Despite all of the many options in this world, from sporting events to concerts, from radio stations and television shows, from watching movies to walking in the park, people are still choosing to read books. That’s a good sign for those of us who feel called to a life in writing.

I’m not going to guess what the future holds or how the industry will change, but it has changed. And one of the great things about that change is how many more possibilities exist for authors.

We’ve never before had so many opportunities for self-promotion. From Twitter to Facebook, YouTube to Goodreads, writers have so many new avenues to reach out to potential readers. Readers have never had so many avenues to find and acquire books they like and share those books with friends and fellow book-lovers. Blogging and websites mean that readers can connect with authors whose work they might enjoy. We’re not just limited to what we find on the shelves in our local bookstore. Amazon, among many other venues, has leveled the playing field. To be sure, it’s a crowded playing field.

I’m reading Zoe Winters’ Smart Self-publishing: Becoming an Indie Writer, which offers a number of insights into writing and promotion. It’s useful regardless of whether you go the indie or traditional route, full of revelations and tips based on the author’s own experiences. From print on demand (POD) to audio books, Winters’ gives the aspiring writer a practical guide to understanding the field. She talks about the qualities that make a good indie writer. You have to be willing to take risks and to do your own promotion, for example. Now, if you’re a writer, you’re going to have to do both of those things regardless of your path. Even if you get a big contract with a big publishing house, you won’t be able to sit by and let your book sell itself—which is why I think this book is excellent reading for anyone.

I’m still not sure which path I will take, but I feel fortunate to have the options.

Self-publishing still has a stigma, and, to be honest, since part of my day job is reviewing books, I’ve seen plenty of reasons why. With no barriers, anyone can become a writer, and not everyone should. It’s not that I’m an elitist about art, but you have to be willing to be critiqued and edited, you have to be a damn-good self-editor, and you have to be willing to work hard to hone your craft and make plenty of mistakes and learn from them. These are not qualities everyone possesses. To be sure, many people have the interest and desire to write books. But modern life offers us plenty of choices, and writing isn’t an easy path. You basically work without getting paid for a few years (just a few, if you’re lucky) before you have the shot to become a published writer. It’s a long journey.

But the fact that there are successful indie writers out there is great news. There will always be self-published books out there that never should have been published. But there are plenty of good ones, too. The life of an indie writer certainly isn’t any easier than that of a published writer. It’s not an easy way out of revising, because if you don’t revise your story until it’s the best it can be, it simply won’t sell. Nor is it a way to avoid writing a query letter. (Seriously, if you can write a good novel, you can write a query letter. Going to all of the work of learning how to self-publish and doing it all yourself seems like a very complicated way of getting out of writing a letter.)

The number of avenues to publication is great news for all of us regardless of the path our writing journey will follow. Why? Because we have options. New doors are opening. We have new avenues for sharing our stories. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re trying to do? We’re businesspeople; we can’t lie about that. Writing is too much work and sacrifice to do it for free. Indie music has earned itself a reputation as being hip and edgy. I hope in time that indie writing can hold the same allure for new writers.

I don’t have a side. When it comes to NY publishing or indie, I think which one is better for you depends on who you are and what your personal goals are. Whether you’re fully print or fully e-book or a combination (I would speculate that the combo is where we’re heading, but that’s neither here nor there…), that’s your choice. And I think choice is a good thing. It’s a good thing for writers and for readers.

It will be scary and interesting to take this roller coaster ride that the industry is currently undergoing. Ups and downs, twists and hairpin turns, and a few loops thrown in, and we’ll see where we end up. And, like any industry, the world of writing and publishing will continue evolving.

One thing, I hope, we can predict. That the core of what we do will remain the same: We write because we love our stories and our characters and hope our readers will love them too. We read because books help us learn and grow as individuals. And writing will always be about that: the connection between people, writers bringing stories into being, and readers finding a sense of meaning and enjoyment in those works. Whatever our path, that’s the driving force behind what we do. Everything else is just a route for reaching that destination.

Boy Talk: Writing the Male POV

I’ve been writing fiction since age 12 (if not earlier), and I’ve almost always written from the female POV. In my early years, I attribute it to a couple things: one, a leaning toward “write what you know” (i.e., as a girl, I found it easier to write from the POV of my female characters); and, two, my desire for fantasy books featuring strong female leads. I had a strong hunger for novels by writers like Tamora Pierce and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I realize that I was writing the kinds of books that I wanted to read, and those books involved strong female leads.

Considering that I grew up with two brothers and am married to a man I’ve known more than a decade, I assumed writing from the male perspective would come more easily. I often find myself pausing to think, “How would this man (character) approach this situation?” Our cultural upbringing has led us to communicate differently; where one places value and sees importance, how one handles a given situation, how one approaches conflict or strong emotion is driven not only by personality but also by gender. It varies from person to person, and gender is a part of that equation.

Getting inside my guys’ heads is always interesting to me; I often worry that I might fall into the trap of writing a male POV in a female voice. Since my novels and short stories are written from both the POV of the male and female protagonist, I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing the man’s perspective in my female lead’s voice. I strive for the depth and complexity that I know is in each character; I want them to be alive—deep and rich and passionate and electric. I want each word and phrase to hum with the energy of that character.

Perhaps because my latest character, an elf-investigator in a short story, is so different from me, I’ve found him a more challenging character. This is perhaps what I love most about him, that he’s somewhat of a mystery to me, that he isn’t just telling me who he is and is leaving me to figure him out. I find myself following him through his life in his world, trying to discern what motivates him, what his pet peeves are, his mannerisms, his thought processes. More than any other character before, he makes me try hard to get into his head and find his voice, his spirit. It’s a great challenge. I find that he’s one of those characters who will challenge me as a writer and that, even if I only get to spend a short story with him, he’ll be in my head for a while.

Writers like Cheyenne McCray and Sherrilyn Kenyon have provided me with examples of strong, well-developed male leads with wonderful voices, so I’m sure in the days to come I’ll be pouring through the pages of some of their works. McCray’s Keir in Wicked Magic has always fascinated me; there’s something about the tough male character whose ability to work as a delicate artist (whittling in careful detail) hints at an inner gentleness. The edginess of Kenyon’s character Dev in “No Mercy,” his temper combined with an off-the-wall sense of humor, makes him a fascinating read (I never know what’s going to pop into that man’s head next!). So here’s to hoping that this character can speak to me with the same strength that I’ve seen in other works, and that I can have the same dialogues with him that I do with some of my female characters. *cough “Zoe” cough*