Monday, April 30, 2012

What I'm Working On

A few weeks ago my friend Meghan Ward said I should talk a bit about my novel --what it's about, characters, etc. Although I usually relish any opportunity to go on about myself, I was a bit surprised at the request because Meghan read one of my very early novels in a critique setting and, I am fairly certain, threw up in her mouth. (No, Meghan. Do not deny it. You were kind in your critique when you said, "Set this aside a while and work on something else." She might well have added "And read a book on plot.")

Well. How can you resist reading about my current ms with an introduction like that?

A house in Raynes Park
very similar to the one
I use in the book. 
So my current ms is actually an idea I've had for a few years. It's your standard transformative journey story, but I take my herione to England and Scotland, sprinkle in cupcakes, and add a few deuling love interests. Oh, and a ghost who holds all the answers. My herione, naturally, has to work hard and ask the right questions, and of course by the time she figures out how to do that, she realizes she knew the answers all along.

I had a lot of fun with the settings. I start off in San Francisco. Then my girl gets on a plane to London and arrives in a small town that is part of greater London, to which I've given the fictional name of Harringdon Park. This is based on the actual small southwest London area of Raynes Park. Then she goes to Edinburgh, Scotland, which is one of my most favorite cities in the world.

Right. So where does the ghost come in? 

(Cause I know you want to know about that.)

I like a bit of ghost in my stories, I do. But only a little! I don't love the ghost taking over the whole thing and mucking the thing up, because it's not a ghost story, it's a journey story and a love story. Ghosts are strictly third-class citizens here. Anyway, the ghost sends my main character some stuff to lure her over to England, where she will realize all. Ghosts, obviously, hold the keys to all knowledge since they sit in a place that traverses both conscious and sub, and they have all the mystical answers to the world. Obviously!

This book is women's fiction. There are, in my view, many veins of women's fiction. You have your Nicolas Sparks, and you have your smart, sassy ones like More Like Her, Liza Palmer's new book (freaking fantastic by the way), and clever ones like Sarah Pekkanen, and fun mystical ones like Sarah Addison Allen, and then your Serious Issue ones like Jodi Picoult.  Anyway, I like to think I fall into a category somewhere in the neighborhood of Liza Palmer and Sarah Pekkanen, but this is akin to telling you I write wonderful, sure-fire fiction of the sort that everyone loves, and it smacks of grandiosity. So I refer you to what Kristen Lippert-Martin once told me, which is that I am sassy and I write sassy stuff. I think she said that. Could be more grandiosity on my part.

But there you have it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

I missed this a few weeks ago--sorry! I really am, because it's so lovely!-- but the Rejectionist has come out, following the grand tradition of THE INTERN, and revealed herself and her book deal. Yay! Frabjous day!

And while we're at the Rejectionist, who is cute, isn't she? I think she's cute, look at that mischievous little smile-- I was reading a few back posts and really enjoyed this one from her guest poster Meg Clark on women writers and how certain authors named Jonathan Franzen shouldn't remark.

You know what? The Rejectionist's blog has gotten really good over the years.

Rarely is it that I have time to read long NYT articles, but this one on one publisher who dared to cut off Amazon is scary, educational, thought-provoking, and just plain interesting.

I absolutely adored this edition of "How I got my agent" from author Delilah Dawson, who is a slush pile find and demonstrates very well how perseverance and preparation get you everywhere.

San Diego Professional Writers on why saving your best material for later may not be such a great idea.

The Passive Voice blog makes a convincing and passionate point for the total suckage that is Microsoft Word when it comes to using it for writing and editing and web publishing.

Fabulous guest post from author Sarah Pekkanen on Writer Unboxed on what she's learned about writing a novel.

Oldie but goodie: worst book covers. I especially liked "A good dad is a good lover." Ew.

The 7 bad habits of insanely productive people.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How to tell if your novel sucks using toenails

I'm sorry to have to have a second post about toenails, because the last one was so disgusting. But really, it's so relevant. You see, one of the things I think about is getting old. The year of no sleep from Rainbow Puppy aged me hideously, and in the past year I've noticed the emergence of a few insidious white hairs on the top of my head (which were promptly pulled). I would say that children are a bane in this way, but my five year old whippersnapper has proven quite helpful by standing on a stool and looking at the top of my head for me.

"I found another thick white hair the size of a bridge cable, Mommy!" he'll say, with the excitement of a treasure-hunter.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, toes. So when you get old, your toenails get increasingly disgusting. This is a fact. They say that nails are a good indication of your overall health. My aged cat (whose demise was discussed here, in reference to how good blogging relationships can benefit you in unexpected ways), died a few weeks ago of old age. It was a horrid, horrid business, but at least I got to be with her at home while she died. Anyway her claws were rancid. She had been skinny and unhealthy for some time, so you see, the claws were telling me that. I remember my grandfather, when alive, had multiple health problems like Parkinson's and other awful things, and my aunt-- his daughter-- hired a lady to come and cut his toenails. They were so heinous that my aunt wouldn't do it herself. (If she reads this, she will vociferously deny that, but facts are facts and a lady was hired.)

I don't think I could hire out toenail cutting services to elderly people. It is a noble, noble service but all the same.

Cripes, what was the point of this?

There wasn't really a point, it was a thinly-veiled excuse to talk about toenails. But I was thinking how nice it would be if we had a way to tell if our novels sucked by just looking at, say, the cover (if all novels had covers right away). Or something. Not an obvious sign, but there if you want to see it by pulling off the socks of your novel. Like this:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A year of baby and writing

Rainbow Puppy is a year old today.

He is just now starting to sleep through the night. It's been a hard year. I'm glad I kept blogging and writing. I don't think I really learned anything over the year because I was mostly a sleep-deprived zombie (I did make tremendous progress on my ms after he was about 9 months and I started waking up a bit), but a few things seemed clear and naturally I thought I would share.

1. All I was able to do after the baby was born is play jigsaw puzzles. I finished my ms three months before he was born; I took more than a year to revise. I wanted to work on it, but my mind just wasn't there. (In addition to puzzles, playing Animal Crossing on Nintendo Wii was hugely helpful owing to its mindless properties.) I had to really learn to accept this and let it be. Not easy when you're type A. I resisted hard, but in the end, the need for sleep was greater than my need to write. (Happily, the tables have returned to their rightful order.)

2. Babies suck. That friend of yours who is all laid back and happy and blissed out and never asks you advice despite the fact that your kids are older, because she knows it all, it just comes naturally, and she's perfect? She's a rotten, putrid mess inside. Babies suck. They cry and they don't give you a moment's break. Yes, they're lovely and soft and smell good and love you, but it's also hard hard work really hard going. Really, hard work. And my baby was an early walker (9 months) and displays amazing raccoon and goat tendencies. He gets into everything and eats everything. Everything.

3. Making it easy to read in the dark while nursing was essential. Dude, I finished all books in the Game of Thrones series in the first 6 weeks of RP's life because I spent so much time in the nursing chair. As this was mostly in the dark, having a lighted e-reader was, and is, essential. Before I had kids, one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn't be able to read anymore. Ha! Ha!  Last year I read more books than any other year according to Goodreads. Take that, RP!

4. Planning things in stages is the way to go. I did most of my freelance work and writing during his two glorious naps. I also often write blog posts in stages--for example, I began this last night and am finishing today because my mind is complete tapioca come 9 pm. My peak mental sharpness (if you can ever really call it that) is 10 am; after that it's a downhill slalom.

5. There are no big things. There are small things. Enjoy them. You know, 10 minute catnaps. Tickly giggles. Barking at each other. And wonderfully squishy baby thighs. These make it all worth it:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

But where are the self-pubbed books?

For Easter, we went to a scrumptious Easter brunch hosted by my cousins, who live in a gorgeous old Victorian in San Francisco. Their house is so nice that you just ask for a napkin upon entering it to catch your drool. And they cook fabulously, too. They're gourmets with a trunk full of certificates from various international cooking schools. Accordingly, for brunch we had ham with four kinds of chutney, scalloped potatos with sage and garlic, and grilled asparagus with olive oil and preserved lemon. For dessert we had a four layer toasted coconut cake and homemade vanilla bean ice cream, and of course the vanilla beans were from Fiji.

Mein Gott.

But I digress. Before brunch was called (not, alas, by a butler but you never know--their house has an old servant's staircase in addition to the main one), we discussed publishing today. One of the topics was, naturally, self-publishing.

I don't know how to find a self-pubbed book -- and none are biting me in the arse. There, I've said it. What I mean is, I'm not being marketed to. I have zero clue where to find self-pubbed books in the genre I want to read. You know where I find new books and authors that I want to read? Amazon's recommends. Goodreads. Social networking. Magazine book reviews. And none of those places highlight self-pubbed books. (Amazon does stick self-pubbed books in the "recommended" list, but in my case I've never actually seen any in my "recommended" or "others bought" lists.) I'm not saying this to be inflammatory. I'm pointing out that yes--while authors have many more choices in front of them for publishing, until self-pubbed books get face time with the masses in some way, I'm not going for it.

This month's issue of Writer's Digest has a huge article in it on the state of publishing today. One of the things said is that the self-pub route is easy, with lots of options, and has good margins. And that big-six publishing will be a long, hard, cruel road with little to no advance or else paid out in tiny droplets over the course of an ice age, and who cares anyway since they rarely take on new authors. Um, okay. While some of that is no doubt true, I don't believe it's impossible nor miserable, and guess what? Big publisher books get marketed.

My uncle Vince self-pubbed his novel, Blood & Chocolate. But I know it's been a challenge to market it. So my question is, as writers, how can we embrace self-publishing if the marketing is so tough? How can we get people to buy our self-pubbed books? In what ways can we market it? 

There are lots of books and tons of blogs out there to help with this question. But at the end of the day, I'll repeat: I have not been marketed to. I have no idea what books are out there to read in my genre that have been self-published. 

What do you think? Has your reading attention been caught by a self-pubbed book? Where and how? 

Monday, April 9, 2012

That bad place

Happy Easter week. I have been listening to a baby scream all night long, and all day yesterday, and in fact he's screaming as I write this. So my mind has disintegrated and I can't function. He does not like to be put in his crib and asked to sleep. He says "Neyt." He says "I don't think so, lady." Loudly. His sleep has gone from sleeping through the night to waking up and screaming 2-3 hours at night, and refusing all naps by screaming for upwards of an hour.

It's pretty bad.

It's so bad that it made me wonder if I can ever have a moment to myself again. I'm close to finishing revisions on my ms. But the screaming, oh the screaming.

It's enough to give me fantasies of throwing in the towel. Completely--as in, stop writing. Because you see, the screaming exhausts me mentally and physically (also the no sleep) and what happens is when I'm shredded mentally, I start thinking bad things like, I'm no good. The writing sucks. The novel is a joke.

Have you ever gotten to this place? I've always climbed out of that dank, smelly hole before and back into the sunlight of enjoying the process of writing fiction. I like to think I'll always be able to climb out of it, but the seductive serenade of "you're-not-good-enough" is gaining volume. What do you do to get the demons to stop whispering those bad things in your ear?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

You may or may not have noticed that I failed to post Wednesday this week. I just couldn't get it together. I was exhausted from baby (non)sleep and chasing a raccoon (that's the baby) around all freaking day. But also, I'm pretty sure no one minds when I post. While my page hit count has gone steadily up, my comment rate has gone steadily down. (Pssssst! If you like a post, comment! I am a comment whore! I have never admitted to being a whore before. Cripes. And it's still Lent.) Oh right! Happy Easter!

Anyway I'm only telling you this because one of the posts I saw this week had a fabulous post on ways you can improve your blog. Usually I don't read those kinds of posts because they almost always have some squirrely way of getting visitor counts by sneaky link backs or something--you know, underhanded crap that has nothing to do with engaging with others or writing useful content--but this post was great and one thing it said really stuck out at me: you're either blogging as a hobby, or as a business. If as a hobby, then why blog when you don't want to?


So, here are my links this week.

This week, Roni Loren donated a critique for auction (clean water donation). The auction has ended now but the site is fantastic and you can still visit it for other critique auctions.

Meghan Ward lists 8 secrets to a successful writer's group.

And the post that had the treasure trove of good stuff. In particular my favs were:

And finally, one of the biggest talked-about posts this week is the one on divorce in the Internet era from Nathan Bransford. Admit you read it or are rushing to read it because you want to hear about his divorce. Caught you! 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gross Things in Books

The other day I went to the doctor for something that was going on on one of my toes. I thought it was some wart or fungal thing, as the toe is swollen and red. So off comes my shoe and sock and the doc leaned down to have a look and touch it, and I froze in horror. "You might want to put on a glove!" I said. Almost as an afterthought--or to placate me--he put one on. He was seriously going to touch that toe with God knows what leprosy or other horror of a mutant fungal swamp parasite affliction with a bare finger! I couldn't believe it.

So he said, "Looks like an ingrown toenail." And takes off the gloves, types some notes up, and then--then!--touches the toe again, without the glove! I mean!! I stared at him, thankful I never wanted to be a doctor. Can you imagine the level of disgusting things you must bend over and look at, and touch? My little red ingrown toenail, which may or may not actually be an ingrown toenail, and in fact may very well be the starting point of an international plague, was hardly the grossest thing to come in his office I'm sure. But honestly.

Naturally, it got me thinking. We never read these disgusting details in books. If my doctor's office visit were in a book, it would have been all: "'Hi Sierra, let's have a looky-loo at that toe, my my my looks like an ingrown toenail,' said the brave doctor, using his thumb and forefinger to turn the toe this way and that to have a good look. Then he stood up, typed some notes, drank a glass of water, scratched his chin, wiped at his eye with his finger, and shook my hand goodbye."

No, no, no.

Look, no one wants to write about gross details, and probably no one wants to read them. No where was this more clear than when I was recently reading Roni Loren's debut novel, Crash Into You. Roni writes erotic fiction and I confess I've only read two other books in that genre (incidentally, both recommendations from her). But one thing that strikes me about the steamy sex scenes, including the ones in Roni's book, is that the ladies are a) never dirty or smelly (or if they are, the guys don't mind it), and b) never on their periods. If they are, I guess the story takes a break. It must be a veritable sex-fest when the heroine isn't menstruating.

(Important disclaimer before we go on. I am not asking for menstruation sex scenes. Repeat: not. Just saying, though, that it never comes up.)

It's kind of like when I read Twilight and Edward was constantly slavering over Bella and going "Arrgh I can smell your blood from ten miles away!" and every time he said that, I thought, mein Gott! What happens when Bella's on her period? How can Edward stand it? Pretty much she'll have to go far, far away from him for a good week out of every month! How's he going to protect her from the aggro angry vampires when she's on her period?

Exactly. Another mystery never solved.

You ever run across any gross details in books? Tell me! I'll get them on my reading list. :)