Friday, December 30, 2011

10 Things About Sierra and 2011

Every year as my last post of the year I do one called 10 things abut me in this year. You can read the ones for 2010 here and 2009 here. Obviously, those posts are of more interest to me than you, but if you're interested, you're sweet.

This year was kind of a mega year for me. I had a huge amount of change, and I go into 2012 with a lot of excitement.

1. I had another baby.
This was a huge one, and so it tops the list, because the resulting lack of sleep over the past 8 months has been really, really, really hard. And not just hard--but kind of mentally ruinous. The silver lining is I'm too tired to care. But the best part is all the fabulous guest posts for this blog:

2. I started a new career. 
Last year on December 31, I was laid off from my job at 7 month preggers. (Yeah, it's been a year of massive changes!) So I did what any completely unhireable person would do besides filing for unemployment and biting my nails to the quick over whether I'd still have health insurance so I could deliver my baby without racking up a $24,000 hospital bill. (That was what my 5 year old son cost in 2006; Rainbow Puppy, the baby, actually cost only $12,000. I didn't have an epidural--not by choice!--so it cut the bill in half. Can you believe that?) I embarked on a dream I'd had for years but was way too chicken to try it: I began freelancing. I freelance technical writing and copywriting, and graphic design...which leads me to #3.

Some of my actual work
3. I discovered I'm a graphic designer. 
Who knew? Well, I should have known. I do have an art degree. But somehow, I thought you had to have a graphic design degree to be able to do it, or you had to be on intimate I-was-with-you-back-when-you-were-in-release-2 Adobe Illustrator terms. Turns out, I actually had all the skills...and while I still freelance writing jobs, I do more graphic design jobs. Clients started asking me to do things like make logos for them. And then I got asked to do web design (and started Atmosphere Websites with my Wordpress build partner, Mike Chen.) Turns out, I could! And I love it!

4. I started lots of blogs.
I started a food blog, mostly to keep track of recipes I liked for my own reference, and I started a blog attached with my freelance business, called The Elements, which focuses on design, marketing, and usability. Then, I realized I had to pare down--what with no sleep and no time and all (pared down to just this blog and The Elements). I kind of reached a blogging plateau. I also uninstalled the Intense Debates commenting system from this blog--losing hundreds of comments--because it stopped letting people comment.

5. I began writing a monthly column on Roni Loren's blog Fiction Groupie.
This was exciting for me. Lots of people read Roni's blog, and my fellow columnists (we're actually just guest posters with a due date, but I like to use a schmancier word because it makes me feel...well, schmancy) are all published authors. So that makes me tremendously grateful to be included in such good company. So far, I've written on the All is Lost plot moment, Is it chick lit or women's fiction? with agent Sara Megibow answering some questions, and Creating strong female characters.

6. I started and then ended a literary magazine.
Remember Small Tales? It began with the greatest of intentions, at possibly the worst time. I was able to form an editorial board and get a blog up about it, but that's where the fun stopped. Man, running that kind of thing takes a ton of work--and that's before you start accepting submissions! Ultimately, we folded the magazine before it started because a) I was having a baby, b) another member was having a baby and c) none of us had the time to devote to it. As time went on, it became clear our passion for the project was dropping, as well. It remains one of my greatest disappointments that I couldn't see the project through--especially because I'm one of those people who sees pretty much everything through. But without a passionate love for the project, it wasn't going to survive.

7. I made tremendous progress on my WIP, and also very little.
I technically typed "Finis" in January, but have been revising ever since. Usually I don't revise a whole year, but there's the aforementioned baby interruption. And also, I did something I've never done before. I stopped and looked very, very carefully at the structure and the story of the WIP. And then I read the most amazing book I've ever read-- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which pretty much changed everything for me. It was a pleasure to realize I'd done most things right, and an even greater pleasure to correct minor niggling things thanks to the book.

8. I began to get rid of plastics.
This post I did about reusing sparked by an eye-opening anti-plastics posts by my friend Meghan Ward, kicked off a huge changed in my household. We are much more aware of the plastics we use with food and toys. I ditched all of my plastic containers in favor of glass ones. I got reusable snack bags. I save plastic bags and take them to a special recycling center in my area rather than throw them away to sit forever in a landfill, leaching poisons into the ground.

9. I got shingles. 
Yeah. The old person's disease. Turns out, people in their thirties can get them. Here's how they work: if you have had the chicken pox, then the virus never goes away. It lives in your nerve root, like a parasitic little bastard, and sits there until one day when you slam your son's finger in the bedroom door and the entire nail comes off and you have to go to the emergency room, and you're shaking so hard because you did this, and also your baby is in pain, and you've never been to the ER before and everything about it sucks. Also, your immune system happens to be low, and you haven't slept in 7 months. It's a perfect storm. And voila! Shingles! They went away after 2 weeks. And they sucked.

10. I discovered that I'm not as socially retarded as I thought I was.
Look, it's been a while since I had to go make new friends. So when the whippersnapper started Kindergarten this year, I was sure I'd alienate the other moms somehow. I'm not a warm, chatty person to people I don't know--I'm not that person who can chat up anyone, anywhere. But it turned out that I met some wonderful women and made some friends after all. It's been really nice. I have some more letting go to do (like asking them to hang out more), but I'm on my way.  I couldn't believe it.

There you have it. Happy new year! Let's kick 2012 in the rump!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I just called to say....

I was reading James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers (a great book for reading on the pot...but don't tell Mr. Bell please) and came across this gem: you should try to avoid having characters say "I love you." James (can I call him Jim, perhaps?) says your characters should show they love each other rather than every saying it.

Immediately my mind scanned my WIP, which I've been revising for many moons now. Let's see...dee dee dee...yep, oh man, shoot. Right there. Look:

“I have to go,” she said. ....
He stepped forward to pull her against him again. “I love you."
“I love you, too,” she said, meeting his lips. And she did love him. Marrying him might not be the worst thing in the world.

GAH! This is disgusting! This is terrible dialogue and they sound so wooden. He tells her he loves her to stop her from leaving, and she falls for it and volleys it right back like it's nothing. So I changed it to:

“I have to go,” she said. ....
He pulled her against him again. She met his lips and reveled in the chill that danced across her neck as he wound his hand through her hair. Marrying him might not be the worst thing in the world.

To me, this is better because now there's a question as to whether he loves her, and there's opportunity for her to find out whether he does or not. Now, she's thinking about what his status is, and that works for the story well.

Then I skittered ahead to the next questionable part-- the climactic event when my two lovebirds, apart for so long and after overcoming numerous obstacles, have finally met without hindrance. And, oh gross, it's just as bad. My male lead says:

“And anyway,” he said, “this is not really his moment. It’s ours. And barring any further ridiculously stupid interruptions, I’d like to tell you finally how very, very much I find myself in love with you.” 

Ugh! There's no mystery to that! I've just told you everything. Story over. Close the book! It's just boring to read. Not to mention melodramatic. When I removed it, things got much better, fast. Check it:

“And anyway,” he said, “this is not really his moment. It’s ours. And I want to be here with you.”

Then lots of smooching and other fluttery action happens, which demonstrates the characters' growing awareness of their feelings, and realizations of each other's feelings. It just worked so much better. If it didn't work better, well then I guess I would be saying "Ha! Ha, James - Jim - Scott Bell!" but you know that totally wouldn't happen, because that guy is a writing advice genius.

Think about it: isn't it way nicer when your loved one does something to demonstrate how much he or she loves you, rather than just saying it? Mr. Sierra, for example, listens to me. Listens to me! I know because he remembers things I say even when I don't. There are so many nice, loving, considerate things he does for me. He's a great demonstrator of love, but he doesn't say it a lot.

So, agree, disagree? Do your love interests say the words?

Monday, December 26, 2011

You guys are just awful!

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas yesterday, if you celebrate it. We all have the flu and I've lost my voice completely but I think you'll see from the below that I have a voice when it counts.

Last week, Tawna Fenske said this in one of her blog posts:
"Oh, and thanks to the more than dozen readers who emailed yesterday to alert me that my Wednesday blog failed to post, or to inquire if I had dropped dead following an all-night orgy involving Daniel Craig, George Clooney, and Lyle Lovett."

Immediately, I sunk into a spiky pit of depression, its maws of grey sadness pulsating and sick (and not just because Tawna included Lyle Lovett in her all night orgy fantasy). You see, *I* have never received any emails of concern from readers when I fail to post a blog post. Not one single person ever paused to email me and ask if Alexander Skarsgard has whisked me away to a private island for a weekend of nonstop romping involving raspberries, chocolate, and several pieces of Tiffany diamond jewelry strewn rather haphazardly across my person--that is, they became askew after the vigorous ministrations and love-filled gestures from Alexander to moi. Of course, Alexander decided that the weekend was far too short--it always is, isn't it?--and booked us into the place (pure luxury by the way, but one of those clever places built to look like a hut so that you think you're being all primitive when in fact you never see so much as a gnat during your entire stay) for a month.

Alex also let me sleep for several nights on end. He's so great. :)

About six days into the stay (which Alexander soon extends into three months because he can't get enough of me--he would have done six except he's got a filming schedule to stick to, you know), Joesph Fiennes arrives in a creaky old motorboat that's seen better days, operated by a toothless guide who initially eyes the luxury hut with a large dollop of disgust but soon changes his expression to one of joy when he catches sight of the pure love Alexander has for moi. Joseph is half-mad with grief and outrage that Alexander has stolen me away, and the two nearly come to blows when I interject and explain to Joseph, not without some regret,  that while I will always love him, Alexander just wins out. I do hate myself a tiny bit when a placated Alexander disappears into the all-stainless steel, marble countertop kitchen that has hosted some of our romps to make a mojito for me, because I whisper to Joseph that I'll see him again. I can't possibly stay away when faced with that face and those eyes, can I? No! No one would blame me either. Joseph, who shares the empathetic heart Alexander has, can't bear to be the means by which my moral fibre disintegrates, so he protests and sadly returns to the boat to hear promises from the toothless guide that he should not fear, for the careful man who plans wins, and if Joseph plays his cards right, he'll have his tropical-romp-six-month-love-nest day with me in the end. Joseph smiles sadly as Alexander returns with my mojito and runs the back of one finger along my jaw bone, returning my attention to him--not difficult since he isn't wearing a shirt (why would he?) and Joseph is--and the guide shoves off in dark waters while I remain behind, wrapped in the golden ASkars embrace.

Not a single person has emailed me about that. I'm terribly hurt!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • Meghan Ward has an excellent post on 8 ways to help someone in need. Meghan also had a really important post on models and sexual abuse--with some pretty heavy but good discussion in the comments. Kudos to Meghan for addressing this topic and also putting her own painful past out there for the greater good.

  • Roni Loren guest posts at Anne Allen's blog with excellent points on why it doesn't matter which method of publishing you pursue-- because it isn't a competition.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Books I read this year

This week there have been loads of very thoughtful posts in the writerly blogosphere, like Meghan Ward's 8 ways to help someone or....well, I'm sure there were more. Like serious, proper posts.

In keeping with the usual traditional of this blog, this post isn't one of those.

Instead, I thought I'd talk yet again about myself. (You know, in keeping with tradition.) So this will be about the books I've read this year, which Goodreads makes it easy to report using their stats tool. (I love Goodreads because I would never remember what I'd read otherwise.) Because I gave birth to my second baby, Rainbow Puppy, my reading was augmented by many nights in the nursing chair--a huge bonus in my book--but still Goodreads said I've read a mere 25 books this year --and I read 25 books in 2010 too. This was greatly disappointing, as I like to complete with myself. At least I didn't do a books-I-read-in-2010-post, so I'm still winning against myself. (I'm kind of a super lame Charlie Sheen.)

So here are some of the books I particularly enjoyed this year:

  • This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
  • The entire Game of Thrones series (or more accurately Song of Fire and Ice)
  • One Day by David Nicholls
  • The Hunger Games trilogy
  • Skipping a Beat by Sarak Pekkanen
  • The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen 
  • Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde (I specifically read this because there was such outcry against it, so I was pleased to support the book--plus it was fabulous)
  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  • Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
  • Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill
  • The three Save the Cat books by Blake Snyder (I so need to do a post about these, seriously)
I'm currently reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, which is fabulous. So I'm going to hurry up and finish it so I can be at 26 books, thereby totally smashing my last-year-self into the ground, ha HA! 

What book or books have you read this year that you loved? Let me know so I can add it to my list!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some holiday season whimsy

Sometime when I wasn't looking, Restoration Hardware --that store full of nice, "old" looking and generally heavy objets, overhauled itself into a "job creator" supplier of high end furniture and accoutrements. I shall explain. Remember when they sold fun little stocking stuffers like hand warmers and whoopee cushions? Remember when their stuff was really nice and you might even find yourself affording some of it, here and there?

The other day I heard a thunk on the doorstep and looked outside to see the mailman scurrying away. Rubbing my hands in anticipatory glee over an unexpected package--was it someone sending an early Christmas gift? A belated birthday present? A forgotten online order? From the sound of it, it was books. Lots of them. In hardback.

When I opened the door, I found a 1.5 inch thick Restoration Hardware catalog, so big that it wouldn't fit through our mail slot (which generally takes small packages). "Fall 2011 Sourcebook" it called itself, rather pretentiously, as though I would be inspired by all their room setups. This monochromatic catalog had articles, but by people I don't know, and on topics I don't care about. But the second page too my breath away.


I laughed. Honestly, bird cage chandeliers? Hung from 3-inch thick weathered marine rope? But they were--huge massive cockatiel cages trapping a pretty chandelier. For just $2195 for a small one, and only $2995 for the extra large.

So listen. If you're finding yourself stressed this holiday season, or stuck in your writing, take a moment to celebrate that some people are completely insane--both the company that sells birdcage chandeliers for $2995 and the people that buy them. (Of course, apologies if you are one of them.)

What's the most ridiculous thing you've seen for sale this season?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gift Buying Solved

The last two weeks before Christmas generally cause lots of panic in my house as we scramble to fulfill our gift giving obligations. Fear sets in and our eyes go wide like dinner plates as we contemplate the ratio of time, money, and number of gifts still to think up and get. Buying gifts for people is hard. But I have a plan this year. And I thought I'd better share it with you in case you are currently experiencing similar gift-buying paralysis. Below is a list of books I am either giving, or thinking about giving.

General Fiction

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park. I raved about this book already, and Sam was gracious about giving an interview here. It's a beautiful story and I really enjoyed it. Plus, Sam knows how to write a great opening line. I'm giving this book to a few family members.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. MAN what a great book. It's about magic, and love, and a totally rad circus that I would love to visit, if it existed. I love this book because I was convinced to buy it through the power of social media, and it it paid off.

The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill
. My mother is totally into this British mystery author so I immediately pooh-poohed him (even though I actually really like British mystery authors, and Scottish detective novelists). That was before I read this book, which was fantastic. Great, fast read about a wrongly convicted man's plan for revenge.

Middle Grade and Teens

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was just a fantastic, wonderful, and truly delightful read, even for adults. Surprising and fresh, with a lovely time travel twist. It sparked the very first 5 star review series here on the blog.

Treehouses of the World by Pete Nelson. Look, teens are hard to buy for. But when I saw this book I was immediately intrigued. The pictures are fabulous, and who doesn't wish they had or could build an amazing treetop retreat? Recalcitrant teen boy relatives are getting this from me this year. Word to the wise: Amazon sells this for $24.95 but I believe I paid $12.99 at Barnes and Noble (in-store).


Bad Kitty Christmas by Nick Bruel. I haven't actually read this yet but the title alone assures me I will love it--and so will my 5 year old. It's about, well, a bad kitty at Christmas. I mean, listen to this: "Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, not a creature was stirring...Except for BAD KITTY." DONE. Love it!

The Underwater Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta. All the alphabet books by author Pallotta are great, but we love this one in particular. It's just fantastic. The art is great and the short text is funny, for both kids and adults. Best of all? When I went to an aquarium with my whippersnapper, he recognized a ton of sea creatures because of this book.

Animal Masks: 15 Punch out Faces. Can't recommend this one enough. We have it and it's a great gift at $12.95. It comes with brightly colored, quite large animal masks you punch out (and keep in a handy folder at the back). Mask elastic is even provided. Best of all? Both the baby and the cats gave quite a start when I put on the fox mask and stared at them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sharing is NOT Caring

Last week I was walking home from
dropping off the whippersnapper at school. I had Rainbow Puppy in a baby pack, wearing him in front of me, and I entered a crosswalk. This car comes shooting down to the stop sign at the crosswalk, and rolls right through while I'm still in the crosswalk--in fact, barely half way across.

I turned and give the driver A Look.

The driver stopped the car, just past the crosswalk. She rolled down her window and asked,"Do you want to share about that?"

Oooh. I bleeping HATE it when people talk like that. Did I want to share my feelings, as though we were in group therapy and not me nearly being hit in a crosswalk by a driver who couldn't stop at a stop sign? Did I want to communicate my anger, and presumably talk about it in a rational way? Did I want to share like it was show and tell day in Kindergarten?

You bet I did.

"Yes, I want to share," I said. "Why don't you not go through crosswalks while people with babies are still in them?"

She didn't miss a beat. "I can tell by the look on your face that you're not happy with that. Would it make you feel better if I waited here til you're on the sidewalk?" This last was delivered in a SUPER patronizing tone, as though I was the asshole.

"No," I said. "What would make me feel better is if you actually stopped at stop signs, especially when people with babies are in the crosswalks."

She smiled a frosty little smile. I could tell she was trying to do one of those happy-bright-positive things, but it wasn't working because of the way she'd opened with the confrontational inquiry as to whether I wanted to share. And she'd probably ruined any possibility of any goodnaturedness when she'd chosen to roll through the crosswalk with me still in it. She said, "I'm sorry you felt angry. I'll try to remember to stop."

"That would be great," I said. "Have a nice day."

None of the above was said with any sincerity. We were two mean bitches, angry at each other and full of morning vigor. Although she was clearly in the wrong, and she was condescending and rude when she had no place to be, I was mad and righteous about it.

When she drove off, I was still angry. I didn't expect to be nearly run over and then confronted about it. She probably didn't expect (or like) being called out on bad behavior, and chose to confront me about it rather than apologize and move on.

Man, what a way to begin the holiday season!

We're all rushing these days and especially now up til Christmas. Here are a few reminders on navigating the season:

  • Please, please take a moment to slow down. Hurrying causes accidents.
  • Be courteous. Say you're sorry when you bump or transgress, and say excuse me.
  • When someone else pushes or bumps, try to restrain yourself from lashing out. Move on.
  • Have a hot cup of coffee and be glad you're alive and (I hope) healthy.
  • Don't ask people if they want to share. It's gross and smarmy.
Have a good week. And for goodness' sake don't ask people to share.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Google Reader Roundup - Not!

I have some easy Friday goodness for you (and me) today. Also, I decorated this post too at the bottom.


Why Author Websites DO Matter

On Monday I moaned about not knowing what makes a blog worth reading. This is all in connection to connecting with other writers and, someday, readers. This week, Anne Allen has a great post on how to blog, and it had a few points I responded to in her comments. But it seemed to have gotten lost in the ether, so I'm going to reproduce it here because I believe passionately in what I said. (This post is not meant as an argument with Anne--I just wanted to clarify some points.)

So, two important things about writers and websites and online presence:

Getting your name out there is Good; Relying only on Google rankings is Bad
Anne noted that, "The point is to get your name out there where the Google spiders can find you," and then quoted a publishing acquisitions editor who said this: "I don't read the query (sorry aspiring writers!) I look for two things: genre and word count. I then Google the author. I'm looking for the number of times the writer's name appears on the Internet. I'm searching for a website or any attempt to build a platform.”

Ha ha! "Sorry aspiring writers!" Wow.

Here's some news for you: The "number of times the writer's name appears on the Internet" can be fixed and faked. As I said in my lost ranty comment, you can FAKE THIS STUFF and so it all comes back to popularity contest. Several sneaky people have approached me to put links to them on my blog. At first I was all, "why on earth are you asking me? My blog isn't anything!" And then I realized that's the point (which was depressing). "Nothing" blogs are more likely not to care about linking back to you--and back links "up" your search rankings.

This is an echo of the perfidy of Klout rankings and how fake those are--which I discussed a few weeks ago.

I don't deny at all that a blog or the start of a social presence is important, however. Anne is right that you want Google to find you. But just remember that the metrics associated with such thing are unreliable--so if people only use those to see whether someone is a viable commodity or not, there's something sadly missing.

Having an author website accomplishes more than you think it is does
Second thing in Anne's post that I responded to:
That’s why a website you have to pay somebody to update for you isn’t as useful. People want to connect with you—not your web designer. The difference between a website and a blog is the difference between putting an ad in the Yellow Pages or personally giving somebody your phone number. Blogs are friendly. And if you have a blog, you don’t need an expensive website. Here’s what Nathan Bransford said about formal websites:

"The thing about author websites is pretty simple, in my mind. They're expensive. Are they worth the return on investment? I don't know. I can't think of a time I've ever bought a book based on a visit to an author's website. But I have definitely bought books based on author blogs. I know I may not be the average reader, but I still have a hard time seeing how it's worth the investment unless the website is really spectacular."

This set of commentary was a little confusing. I wasn't sure if Anne and Nathan meant you should never pay someone to update a website for you or not pay someone to design a formal website for you. Most websites you pay a designer to do for you are updated by you. If you're a big time author and can't handle updating your site or are too busy, there is still huge value in having the website. But I don't think Anne and Nathan were addressing big time authors with PR teams at their disposal. I shall explain below.

First, full disclosure: I design web sites for authors and other small businesses. Design only. Our clients update their owns sites. You definitely don't want to pay someone oodles of money for a formal website. But if you have no design skills and no clue on where to start for a website, but you know enough to know that a website that looks like a llama vomited all over the screen is going to harm you, then hire someone. It's possible to do it cheap. We offer it cheap.

Know that a blog is a social media tool, and appropriately fits into a website. Here's what you do with both:
  • Use your blog to engage in discussion with people
  • Use your formal website to inform and market to people
This goes for all businesses, not just authors. People visit websites primarily to verify that you are who you say you are. In other words, they want to see that you're real, legit, and worth buying into. In a world where there are way too many choices, that's really important. And then you use your social media tools (blog, Facebook, Twitter, whatever) to engage directly with those people.
I also discussed this in a post a while back called Author Websites: Not Just for Pubbed Authors, but I guess Anne and Nathan didn't see that post. :)
I welcome discussion about this. Thoughts about the Google rankings? The author website? One of the commenters on Anne's post said "Whew, I won't worry about a website for me then!" I hope I've clearly outlined here that a website does matter, and it does communicate other things than a blog does. But it's important to note that for the writer just starting out, you don't necessarily need a website yet. I always recommend getting your own domain name early, however.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Traits of a good blog - and do I match up?

I've been blogging for a few years now, and I have a horrible confession to make: I have never understood what makes a good blog. Other than great content, that is. There are differing opinions on the metrics of blog success--comments, followers, link backs--but what makes a blog good to read? (Note that when I speak of blogging, I mean writers who blog, published or unpublished.) Humor? Excellent writing advice? When I thought about it, I came up with the following traits of blogs I love reading:

1. I always learn something. Be it plot, characters, or finding ways not to use the word "because," I love writing craft blog posts. Blogs that consistently offer fresh takes on craft are always popular. Note that craft posts coming from unpublished writers are usually not taken as well--not by me--but in general. There are some notable exceptions to this.

2. Humor. I love a bit of silly, and bloggers who consistently offer humor are always visited in my list.

3. Honesty. Showing me a piece of who you are is actually really important when I thought about it. Everyone is human but no one likes to admit it--when you do it for us, we all feel better about our own struggles.

I'm sure there are more traits of interesting blogs, but these were the strongest for me. And also, I haven't slept in a long time--my 7 month old baby, Rainbow Puppy, is such a horrible sleeper at night that we usually only get about 4 hours of sleep tops a night now, so I kind of move through life listing to the right like a boat with a leak. So that was all the deep thinking I could do on that.

And like all shallow thinkers, I then turned the three good blogging traits onto myself. Did I do all three? Let's take a look. Because honestly, in the four years I've been blogging, I kind of thought I was doing a good job but actually I think I've been a little full of myself. Like, I've been righteous about what I post. What an ass I've been, actually! Check it:

- Do I teach something in my posts? Ha ha ha ha! Who cares what I have to say? Who am I? Well, sometimes my instructional posts are good (I was the only one surveyed though), but it's kind of hard to get over the fact that apart from having 15 years of experience as a professional technical writer, I'm not a professional fiction writer (yet). So me giving writing advice is not wonderful. Especially when I do like I'm an authority. Sheesh. Gross.

-Am I humorous? We all know the dangers of believing yourself funny. I crack myself up a lot, but as Mr. Sierra is constantly pointing out, I'm the only one laughing. Hey, at least I'm having a good time, right?

- Am I honest? At first I said yes to this. But actually, I realized I hide behind quasi-instructional posts that nobody comments on because I'm too...I don't know. Shy, embarrassed, afraid to be honest? I realized I rarely tell the truth about myself through posts. Here is the truth: I am a high strung mother of two young boys, just launched into a wonderful new career I never thought possible before of a freelance graphic designer (and it's working!), and I started writing fiction seriously four years ago. That's nice but it's not honesty. Here's the honesty: I don't sleep at night (4 hours tops) thanks to baby, and I'm exhausted and annoyed and I worry a lot. I swear a lot. I am frustrated that my mind is 85% oatmeal from it and that my current WIP is at least 6 months behind where I thought it would be because of the non-sleeping, and also, I'm sassy and sarcastic and caustic and no one likes that. I'm tired and I make a lot of mistakes. A lot. Sometimes I care, sometimes I don't. I hate it when people think badly of me. I can't stand it. I'm introverted. When talking with people, I almost always assign them a higher status in the conversation whether it's warranted or not. I don't know why that is. My rear end is wide but I sure as hell am not going to the gym. I'll walk but that's it.

I think when I can reveal my total failings as a human in my posts, then there will be some honesty (and since I touched on them above, I figure I'm good for a few months, right?). I don't tend to reveal my failings, but those are what really make blog posts good. Like writing failings. I never say what I've done wrong, only what I've done right. And that makes for boooooooorrring reading.

I don't know. I'm burned out on blogging. I'm tired of writing posts that I feel like I have to write. I want to write posts that *I* want to write. I'm just not sure what those are yet.

What do you think? What makes a blog worth reading?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • Agent Scott Eagan has a timely reminder for us to watch what we say when we're vying for representation or deals.
  • Nathan Bransford has interesting e-reader poll results for several years running--it's neat (and not surprising) to see how the answers have changed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lead Love Interest Inspiration

Mr. Sierra and I have been watching the entire True Blood series from Netflix and loving it. I especially have been loving Alexander Skarsgard, or Eric Northman on the show. It's gotten to the point where I'm despairing, because we only have two more episodes to watch of Series 3 and must wait for series 4 to be released on DVD.

"What will I do without my Eric fix?" I asked my friend/colleague Mike Chen, who is a primary source of my knowledge.

"Um, earth to Sierra," he said. "You'll have to rent Zoolander." (Link is to deleted scene in Zoolander with Meekus, still with his Swedish accent before he got it Americanized.)

No problem because ASkars, as Roni Loren and I like to refer to him, is HOT in that movie too. And if I'm really desperate, there's always the Lady Gaga Papparazzi video in which he's smoking yummo as well. AND kisses Gaga all up and down exactly the way you would like to be....mmm, this blog is getting a bit steamy.

ASkars and his hotness is very inspiring when it comes to writing a lead male love interest character. And watching him do his hot thing as Eric is really, really nice. He's got these gorgeous, muscular man hands and a really nice broad chest that you would beg to wrapped up in. He's sensual as Eric, too, so he provides lots of ways to describe a good love scene. My only problem is making sure that my male leads don't all resemble Nordic Vikings now.

The tinternets are full of great links and pictures for male character inspiration. One particular resources is Roni Loren's Boyfriend of the Week series on her author blog. (Incidentally, she's "done" ASkars here) If you need inspiration as to your male lead, her BOTW series is a treasure trove. She's has 31 guys listed. Go check them out.

And here's a link to the Melancholia trailer, in which ASkars plays Kirsten Dunst's husband. Oh, Kirsten. You lucky little minx.

Monday, November 28, 2011

That Important All is Lost Plot Point

Today I'm guest blogging over at Roni Loren's blog, Fiction Groupie on that important All Is Lost plot moment-- you know the one right after the midpoint of your story, when your character is kicked down low and you keep kicking her? Yes! Go read it if you're unclear.

How Low Can You Go? The Important All is Lost Moment

Friday, November 25, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I didn't, because I have shingles. Yeah, the older person's disease. As a result, I had to sit home alone while Mr. Sierra took the whippersnapper to the big family Thanksgiving do. (Rainbow Puppy went to bed early.) So I sat on the couch and wrote.

And my God, I was thankful for it!

Even if I did starve a bit and find myself forced (forced) to eat a few Trader Joe's Halloween Jo-Jos.

  • Jessica Faust at Bookends fields a question about long book it too long? how to cut down? You decide.
  • Bloggy friend Tahereh Mafi's highly anticipated novel, Shatter Me, is out and Tahareh was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly (she's big time, folks). I am including the link to the article because of the last line in it--Tahereh knows exactly how to hook a reader and her last line is the one that made me want to read the book more than anything. Check it out. See how she uses that tease so subtly, so well, and so engagingly.
  • What not to blog about and what crosses the line when it comes to social media, from Kill Zone's Clare Langley-Hawthorne.
  • Kristan Hoffman on what really matters for this Thanksgiving week (via Meghan Ward). Or, in other words, Kristan helps remind us about connecting with other authors and books.
  • And finally, I really love this list of things Tawna Fenske is thankful she was wrong about--with a wonderful last item on the list, which almost made her whole post as satisfying as a good romance novel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Success as an Anonymous Blogger

So on Monday I posted about how Klout scores matter to publishers and agents, to the dismay of writers who just want to concentrate on producing a great novel. Everyone in the comments (thank you for commenting and discussing!) seemed to agree that a) Klout doesn't matter and b) social media is about being social rather than numbers. I was heartened!

And yet, numbers do matter--and it turns out, they matter even when you're anonymous.

Also on Monday, The Intern's identity and bookdeal was announced on PW and her blog. (HUGE congrats, Intern!) The Intern has been blogging a long time, and always made it clear she was writing and publishing a book(s). I'm sure I'm not alone when I wondered how having an anonymous blog that had a huge following, hit count, and comment rate helped your book sales when you didn't say who you were.

Turns out it didn't matter. Here's the PW announcement:

In a six-figure, two-book pre-empt, Molly O’Neill at HarperCollins’s Katherine Tegen Books bought North American rights to Hilary Smith’s YA debut, Midnight at the Radio Temple. Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency handled the auction for O’Neill and said the novel, which is scheduled for summer 2013, is a coming-of-age story about a teenage musician who uncovers shocking family secrets during “an unforgettable summer of love and chaos, music and madness.” Smith was behind the now-defunct anonymous publishing blog, The Intern (, in which she chronicled toiling away as an unpaid laborer in the editorial department at a nameless publishing house; the blog became something of an industry phenomenon in 2009, drawing, at its height, 10,000 visits per month.
Congrats to The Intern/Hilary Smith! And congrats to her for using her blog popularity after all to her advantage. Maybe it is as simple as unmasking yourself to your legion of followers--in fact, how cool was that? We all wondered who she was and what her book was, and now we know. And we all paid attention when she revealed herself because we wondered.

What do you think? A depressing sign that matters number, a clever and successful marketing ploy, or....?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why querying isn't a popularity contest

A few weeks ago, Meghan Ward posted about the whole Klout thing, and how it became an unhealthy tool, and she stopped using it. Her post was partly inspired by a post from agent Rachelle Gardener, who suggested that agents care about your Klout score--and that you should include it in your query. (To be fair, Rachelle also said Twitter numbers and Facebook fans in the same sentence. She wasn't necessarily referring to unpublished writers, although that wasn't clear.)

But the notion of including social media following numbers in our queries annoyed me. Because most of those stats are a popularity game. You can fix those numbers if you pay people or trick them into following you (not to mention the overriding fact that having huge numbers of followers does not indicate a great social media presence, because you aren't able to actually keep up with 60,000 different people). The idea that what can essentially be tricking or paying for your popularity might make a difference in representation seemed unfair.

Then last week, John Scalzi has a great post on "de-Koutifying," or the process of ditching the morally questionable Klout.

Scalzi said,

In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit. And there you are, standing in the middle of the room with your lunch tray, looking for a seat, hoping to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids, trying desperately not to get funneled to the table in the corner where the kids with scoliosis braces and D&D manuals sit.

I clicked over to Klout’s “perks” section not long ago — “perks” being the freebie things the service wants you to market for them — and rather than being presented with a selection of perks available to me, I was presented a list of perks I wasn’t qualified for, because apparently I wasn’t smart and pretty and popular enough for them, although Klout seemed to suggest that maybe if I did my hair a little differently, or wore some nicer shoes (or dragged more people into their service, making myself more influential in the process) maybe one day I could get the cool perks.
No, no, no! Klout, No! If I had a virtual rolled up newspaper, I'd bap you on your nose! This is shameless and gross marketing, and as Scalzi says, "At which point I decided that Klout was actually being run by dicks..."

But let's get back to the whole popularity thing in queries. I understand where agents are coming from when they say they look at such numbers like Klout scores and blog vistors, I do. They're saying they want a marketable client, one that is attractive to readers. I get that! And of course agents want that!

But when it's a fixable score, we have problems. And as Scalzi says, Klout's scoring criteria is highly suspect.

In my opinion (and you can take this from my 15 years of experience in marketing and not as a writer who uses social media), here are the reasonable parts of social media for an unpublished, querying writer:

Twitter. If you have huge amounts of Twitter followers and you're an unpublished writer, then you should be a celerity or a successful business person. Otherwise, you should interact with as many other tweeters as possible, but not be focused on gathering followers. Followers come when you interact genuinely with others.

Facebook. I don't make my personal Facebook page public and I've stopped using a "public" one because it's against Facebook's rules. I could set up a fan page, but this might be just me---asking people to be my fan at this point is kind of crunchy. I'll save it for when I have news that needs following. Bottom line: have a Facebook page for more intimate connections (by "intimate" I mean photos rather than having affairs, gutter mind!), but don't do it unless you're comfortable with sharing your private info. Have a fan page instead if you feel ready to do so.

Blogging. Huge numbers of followers don't always result in tons of comments, but I would say that in general, the more followers you have, the more successful your blog. And yet, I also think longevity and content and frequency of posting are also equally important metrics. (Maybe I'm just saying that in my defense since I don't have a million followers, but I don't think my blog is a complete failure, either.) Bottom line: work hard on your blog. Interact with followers. Build your content. I think it matters.

Here's the sad fact of all this, though. Rachelle Gardener was right when she said publishers care about numbers. Of course they do! Numbers are what they deal with! But I also think that if you work at the outlets that do matter, you'll get there. Klout is not one of those outlets, not with questionable score metrics and "opportunities" to increase the score.

Thoughts? Do you have a Klout account? How do you use it? What social media outlets do you think are important for querying writers?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • Janice Hardy's plot points Friday addresses character goals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

4 Things to Do with Comments

On Monday I talked about the launch of my new website design + build business, Atmosphere Websites, and I said I would talk about why I think migrating to an all Wordpress web site ultimatley strated making sense for me--and I think the reasons for it are good for writers--but I'm totally not going to talk about that today.

Monday I was bummed to have to uninstall Intense Debates, my comment system, which meant losing over a year's worth of great discussion and making all my back posts look really pitifully silent. :( But Intense Debates had stopped working for a lot of people. I don't know what it was and I felt like there was little I could do, so it had to be emptied. The nice thing about Intense Debates was that it had threaded comments, so you could reply to a specific comment and thus actually generate a discussion--which is what social media is all about. I also liked that you were emailed when I replied to a comment, which meant that you would know for sure that I saw, read, and replied on a comment.

Comments on blogs are funny things. Bloggers covet them; they're the holy grail of blogging success in my opinion. Sure, 100 comments on a post could mean you have a lot of spam or people just going "great, yeah" so that their voice is logged, but 100 comments typically means you have great content that moved people enough to stop what they are doing and comment. And that is not a small thing.

The subject of getting comments is mysterious and I don't understand it at all. I suspect that commenting on lots of people's blogs means they'll come comment on yours. And, of course, have good content and you'll get comments. I mean, I don't know. I've never really known the answer to that. (If you know, please comment and tell me.)

But here's what I do know: how to act properly as a blogger when it comes to comments:

1. Read all your comments. Both Blogger and Wordpress have settings that allow you to be notified by email if someone leaves a comment. For goodness' sake, check that setting! Getting emails when you get a comment ensures you'll read them.

2. Reply when possible. You may not have time to reply immediately, and maybe the commenter will never check for a reply, but do it anyway. It's gracious. And it's nice. And it's social.

3. When you get a dissenting comment, rise above it. It's a great pity that I lost Intense Debates because one a post a few weeks ago I got a super flamey comment left by someone who apparently had not actually read the post and who accused me and all my readers and other commenters of not understanding grammar or marketing, which was funny because he used poor grammar throughout the comment. A thousand pithy and rather sassy retorts went through my mind, but in the end I left it and let its stupidity speak for itself. And besides, I didn't want to get into a public argument with someone who didn't get it.

In another example, someone (a reader who may recognize herself) once left a comment about a post that was critical. Not bad critical, but critical. I could have been a bitch about it but that wouldn't have served any purposes. I thanked her for the comment and said I'd think about her points. (Which I did.) And I think that resonated with her. (She said it did.)

4. Don't expect. Treat all your comments like what they are--people, taking time out of their day to interact with you and leave their thoughts. They're gifts. Don't get complacent. Love the one or two you get. :) I do.

Do you have any to add?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Author Websites: Not Just for Pubbed Authors

Happy Monday! Today I'm super excited to announce the official launch of my because my Wordpress website design and build business, Atmosphere Websites with business colleague (and trusted critique partner) Mike Chen. I design and Mike builds, and together we offer packages for small businesses, babies, artists, musicians, weddings, and authors.

So naturally I thought I'd talk a bit about author web sites. There has been much said on the subject of having a web site--by me in these posts, and also Roni Loren covers this topic really well. Last year I did a post about why I think unpublished writers should have web sites. Now seems like a good time to repeat those reasons:

  • A website shows you're serious and professional about what you're doing. Going to the trouble and expense of a web site means you're putting stock in the long term. Designing, publishing, and maintaining web sites is not easy and requires work and/or funds to put into it.
  • A website offers a window into who you are and what you write.Your blog can do this, too, but with the day to day ramblings, it's sometimes hard to keep that introductory information topmost. Your web site serves as your virtual business card.
  • A website can be static until you score that book deal. Then, you'll need it. And you might not have time to launch a whole branding effort, so having one in place sets you up for when your site needs to kick into gear and work for you.
At the very least, reserve your domain name now.

Looking long term, I've become convinced that it's better to have a web site that hosts your blog in addition to your web content. Roni Loren and I have had this discussion many times--it's best to host your blog on your own server space, but what if you started out with a Blogger or free Wordpress blog? How do you migrate all that stuff (not to mention readers) to your website? How do you integrate a blog on it?

On Wednesday, I'll be answering these questions and telling you why after many years with Blogger, I have become convinced that it's time to migrate my blog over to my website. It isn't an easy decision, and Blogger has been good to me. But even so, it's time. Come back Wednesay and I'll tell you why.

In the meantime, questions or thoughts on unpublished writer websites? Wordpress? The awesomeness that is Atmosphere Websites?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

Kristen Lippert-Martin tells us why it's so important to create likeable characters, with a great story that will make you hide your laser pointers when she comes near.

Roni Loren hosts a great guest post called A Polishing It Till It Shines Checklist from Mia Marlowe.

BookEnds outlines the stages of an edit.

Read why agent Scott Eagan is against NaNo.

Jody Hedlund tells how to market our books without feeling icky (a great post).

Really interesting post on the whole Klout situation and how it affects your standing as a writer (or not)--an update of sorts from Meghan Ward.

At Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman wonders if her advice about self publishing has caused writers to eschew responsibility for their work. (A question I have wondered frequently myself)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Romantic Elements: Humor

The other morning, someone tried to call collect to me on my cell. It was very odd. The message said, "This call has been prepaid by credit or debit card. From..." and the a robotic voice came on that said "jhsbdfiuhdfhv facility."

I refused the call, of course. I mean, I couldn't hear where it was from-- except that it was from a mysterious facility!

I struck me immediately after that it was probably Mr. Sierra, calling from jail. I called his cell phone, but worryingly, it went directly to voice mail. So obviously he was calling me on his one phone call via the pay phone. I don't know the rules of jail calls, so I figured they would probably let him try again in an hour or so. He should have called the house phone first anyway. Silly!

I figured that it was probably best for him to stay the night and learn his lesson. No schmancy bail bonds for him. I sent him a text asking if he was in jail calling me collect on the off chance he'd be able to see it. About an hour later, he replied with, "I'm not in jail. My girlfriend bailed me out."

And that right there is why we have a great marriage. No, not because he has a girlfriend (he doesn't, that I know of), but because he never missed a beat of my neurosis or the opportunity for humor.

This is the kind of thing I try to capture when I write two romantic characters. Inside jokes and genuinely funny exchanges of the intimate variety make me curl my toes with awww. You know it does you, too.

What kinds of things do you write into your romantic pairs? What makes you go "mmmm" with satisfaction?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Neighbors as future characters comment system, Intense Debate, has taken another dump on my blog. Several of you have reported you can't leave comments. I'm sorry, not the least of why because I love comments and also it must be hugely frustrating not to be able to leave one, and if it doesn't get fixed soon I'm going to uninstall again. Grrr. Please let me know if you're still having trouble -- tweet to me or drop me a line (sierra [at]

We have some really great neighbors on our street. It's a nice mix of long time residents and newer families who've moved in. My next-door neighbors have been in their house 40 years and they're dears. They refer to e-mail as “the stuff that comes through the Internet.” But they're dears, even their two massive, Cujo-lookalike pitbulls that they keep in their backyard. The pitbulls aren't dears, but their barking helps ward of burglars, and we benefit from the close-proximity barking in that respect. Silver lining.

Anyway, in our area there has been a spate of earthquakes lately (and all over the country). Like, two 4.0s in a single day, and then lots of other smaller but still uncomfortable aftershocks. We live near the Hayward Fault and they say (whoever “they” is; I like to think it’s city officials, but this somehow rarely seems to be the case) that it blows every 140 years. Okay, blows is a bit…explosive. What I mean, is, 6.0 or higher earthquake. And we’re like five years overdue or something. So many of us are rightly turning our attention to earthquake preparedness. (In fact my friend Meghan Ward is going to have an AWESOME earthquake preparedness post for you very soon if not today!--will update with link when she posts it) And none more so than my neighbors.

The other day one of their fugly pit bulls was barking repeatedly. I opened the door all set to give the dog a piece of my mind* . But the dog was only barking because my neighbor was out there doing weird things to his trashcan.

“What are you doing?” I asked over the fence. “What’s all that noise about?”

My neighbor gave me a weird smile, kind a cross between the Joker and a Jack-O-Lantern.

“Preparing for an earthquake!”

I looked pointedly at the barking dog.

“He gets excited when I clean,” my neighbor said. “I’m cleaning out our trash cans.”

“For an earthquake?” I asked.

“Yes. Shoring up our earthquake kits,” he said. “How’s the baby doing?”

“He’s trying to take his nap,” I said, hoping my point was made.

“Great, great! Okay, I’m nearly done here. Two big earthquakes in one day, you know.”

“I know,” I said. “Do you guys have lots of water stored?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “Tons.”

I wasn’t sure whether he stored the water in garbage bins or not. But I decided he would be a good source in the event of a disaster, so I nodded and thanked him and filed his weirdness away for my future gain.

My neighbor is clearly one of those quirky characters that I love putting in stories. And the incident, complete with the maniacal grin and strange use of garbage cans as the earthquake kit (I don't know where they're going to put their garbage now) made the whole exchange one of those crazy ones that you kind of just have to put in a story.

*Last summer and fall when I was pregnant with Rainbow Puppy, those bastard dogs would bark their heads off at 4 a.m. My neighbors were very sorry about it, especially after I played the pregnant-insomnia guilt card, but explained they didn't hear it because their bedroom is on other other side of the house. I had to resort to screaming obscenities out the window at the dogs in the middle of the night, and it worked. I called them by name, that might have helped. So telling them to shut up when they bark is something that generally works for me.

Also, there is a high fence between our yards, which quite frankly makes me bold.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Google Reader Roundup- Not

So yesterday we took our first trip to the emergency room for my 5 year old whippersnapper. His finger got caught in the bedroom door and took the entire nail off. There was blood and screaming and shock, and he spent a very tough three hours in the emergency room with wonderful and patient doctors who were kind and innovative. It was awful. He's doing great now--he's a strong, brave boy. I am also doing well, or at least better.

But I definitely don't have a Google Reader Roundup for you today. I do have a story from the ER though. While we were waiting to be seen, a guy walks in talking loudly on his cell phone to a friend. (I know it was a friend because he called him "dog" a lot. Either his friend or he was having a little convo with his super-intelligent and dexterous golden retriever.) He also had the most massive iPad I've ever seen. Like, easily the size of a flat screen TV.

He said, "I have to go dog cause I'm at the hospital. I got shot."

Then I noticed his bicep was streaming blood. The security guards rounded on him then, and the registration clerk asked him what happened. He said "Oh yeah, I got shot in my arm and in my leg." Then a police officer materialized magically and asked him what happened.

"I don't know," he said, although I'm certain he did. "I was walking down the street and someone started shooting at me. I was on the freeway and someone was shooting."


They ushered him in and then the security did a lock down on the ER which really didn't do much for my already rattled state of mind.

That guy, though. I'm almost certain he'll be making an appearance in a story sometime soon :)

Happy Friday!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Interview with Samuel Park

I'm so excited today to welcome Samuel Park to my blog, author of This Burns My Heart. I've known Sam in the bloggy sense for a long time and recently read his beautiful novel. I was swept away by the lush details and elegant storytelling. Sam has created a truly gorgeous story, and I hope you all read it. A bit about the book:

In postwar South Korea, a country torn between past and present, we meet audacious, beautiful, and strong Soo-Ja Choi. On the eve of marriage to her weak, timid fiance, Soo-Ja falls in love with a young medical student. But out of duty to her family and her culture she turns him away, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped by suffocating customs. Soo-Ja struggles to find happiness in a loveless marriage and to carve out a successful future for her only daughter. Forced by tradition to move in with her in-laws, she must navigate the dangers of a cruel household and pay the price of choosing the wrong husband. Meanwhile, the man she truly loves remains a lurking shadow in her life, reminding her constantly of the love she could have had.

And now, Samuel!

What kinds of questions did you set out to explore with Soo-Ja? (Beyond the question of "what if?")
Sam: Hi Sierra, thanks so much for having me on your blog! To answer your question, I wanted to explore father-daughter relationships. I'd always been fascinated by my grandfather's relationship to my mother, and how much the dynamic between them molded their personality. My mother's a very strong, independent person, and I think a lot of it had to do with my grandfather holding her in such high esteem as a child and teenager--very much the opposite of the norms in Korea at the time, which favored the oldest male son. But over the course of writing the book, I moved further and further away from this, so that the heroine's father is now only a secondary character. Ultimately, the initial premise wasn't what the book ended up being about. The book ended up becoming much more about Soo-Ja's relationship with her daughter.

How long did it take you to write and revise this book?
Sam: It took me about eight months to write the first draft. When I finished it, however, there were two glaring problems: in the second half of the book, the relationship between Soo-Ja and Yul didn't have enough "heat"; and Soo-Ja was a bit of a remote character, whose emotions were inaccessible for the reader. So I basically spent a year revising the book, describing Soo-Ja's emotions in more detail, and adding more scenes between Yul and her (about half of the scenes where they interact, like when they reunite in his hotel room, or when they wander around on their own through the streets of Seoul, were added at this stage).

One of the things I loved about the book was Soo-Ja's love for Korea. There is an opportunity for her and her family to immigrate--but far from the usual story of America being a better way of life, for Soo-Ja it isn't. This was refreshingly different, I felt. Can you talk a bit about the immigration theme for you?
Sam: A lot of that had to do with the structure of the book. The book, in terms of how I thought about it, was about a woman who loses her child twice and gets her back. So it's about going into this foreign world, and Soo-Ja is a bit like a classic hero from Homer or Virgil who has to fight the monsters to regain her daughter. Ultimately, once she regains her child, she has to go back home. The first time, she brings her daughter back from the streets of Pusan; the second time, she rescues her daughter from the even more tempting lure of California. But in both cases, the homecoming was an essential part of the journey, and so I knew Soo-Ja couldn't stay in Los Angeles; she had to bring her daughter home.

How was the agent and publication search for you with this book?
Sam: I sent out a lot of queries in the beginning, and got a few requests for partials, and whole manuscripts. It was an incredibly frustrating time, the first time I really doubted the quality of the manuscript. What I learned from the process is that it's a bit like matchmaking--and you need to get Nos from all the wrong people before you get to the person who's perfect for you. When I finally found Lisa, I got an instantly good vibe from her, and I especially liked the fact that she had a lot of notes for me, and I'm an obsessive reviser. A fun tidbit is that I asked her not to tell me when she submitted the manuscript; I didn't want to be on pins and needles waiting for the editors' responses. So when she called with news, it was a genuine surprise.

How has your life changed since the publication of This Burns My Heart?
Sam: People talk about how publishing a book won't change your life; how the writing life is not glamorous; how it can be even a letdown. That is all bullshit. Utter, complete bullshit. I roll my eyes when I hear that. Because it has *completely* changed my life. Having unfulfilled potential was an albatross around my neck; I felt completely frustrated that I had not achieved what I thought I could achieve. So when the book finally came out, and there it was--this tangible accomplishment--I could let out a sigh of relief. I hate when authors talk about how unglamorous it is--lies! I love seeing my book in an airport bookshop; I love flying to New York to meet my editor. Not being published felt like being stuck in a bad case of unrequited love; when the book came out, it felt like my lover was finally accepting me, embracing me. It became a two-way relationship, finally getting back as much as I was used to giving.
[Sierra's note: best answer ever! Thanks for being so honest here. I fully look forward to this feeling as well.]

Anything you would have done differently, either with the story or the journey to publication?
Sam: I might've let go of control a little earlier. My editor had to wrestle the manuscript out of my hands--I kept wanting to revise more. I also spent a lot of time emailing my publicist and marketing specialist to make suggestions, when in fact they had already covered all the bases. I think I worried unnecessarily, in the beginning.

What's next for you?
Sam: I'm working on my next novel. I tend to use my work as an opportunity to learn more about a subject, so I've been doing a lot of research and note-taking. Thank you so much for the wonderful questions! An honor to be a part of your blog. :)

Thank you, Sam, for taking the time. It is an utter thrill for me to hear from you after enjoying your book so much.

You can buy This Burns My Heart from:
Barnes and Noble
Simon & Schuster

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • I'm going to toot my own horn (tooooooot!) and give a link to my guest post at Roni Loren's blog this week on Chick Lit vs. Women's which I interview Roni's agent Sara Megibow. I've heard lots of positive feedback from this post so it's been great.
  • Ooh! Ooh! Edit! Posters for the Hunger Games movie have been released. Check it here to see Woody Harrelson as Haymitch (hmmm.), and the rest of the cast here.
  • Bookends' Jessica Faust wrote about the "archaic" query (don't get excited; she's saying why it isn't), and then Scott Eagan added his .02 to bring home the importance of a quick tool that sells you.
  • Rachelle Gardener tells us why a no is merely a no.A helpful post for those of you (oh whatevers, all of us!) who take rejections personally.
  • And in other NaNo prep, Alexandra Sokoloff gives us another epic post on the elements of Act 2 (part 1). (These NaNo prep posts are great for general craft, not just NaNo.)