Friday, April 30, 2010

You say po-tah-to, I say eggplant:
6 authors share their methods

I’ve heard from a lot of aspiring authors lately who want to know my writing process.

While I’m flattered by the interest, I don’t want people thinking my formula is the ticket to publication.

Believing an unfamiliar writing technique is the key to your success is kind of like me believing that if I lick my own butt, I’ll be able to catch a Frisbee like my dog.

In the interest of showing multiple approaches to writing, several phenomenally talented authors agreed to share theirs. When you’re done with me, be sure to visit Sean Ferrell, Linda Grimes, Cynthia Reese, Nelsa Roberto, and Kiersten White to learn what works for them.

But here’s what I do:

Step 1: the idea. I’m not an author whose brain generates zillions of stories, so I grab little idea nuggets wherever I can. My debut novel, MAKING WAVES, began percolating in 2006 on an Australian sailing trip when I noticed there was something kinda sexy about a man steering a boat. (Honey, if you’re reading, it’s totally sexy when a man steers a station wagon, too).

Step 2: the pondering.
This lasts for days, or even years. It’s the part where my brain chews the idea nugget and either generates a story concept or spits it out like a bad jellybean.

Step 3: the beginning. Once I have some vague notion of the characters and setting, I dive in and start writing. I don’t do much plotting beforehand, so I seldom know how the story will unfold or which characters I might kill. The first three chapters are the toughest for me, and can take a couple weeks.

Step 4: the beating. After I’ve pounded my head on the keyboard enough to produce three chapters, I let someone else pound me in the head. It’s usually critique partner Cynthia Reese, and the exchange goes like this:

CYNTHIA: This part’s good, that needs work, this part is funny. Where’s the story headed?

ME: (long pause) Did you like the poop joke on page 12?

Then Cynthia will graciously suggest that while my characters are amusing, the story might benefit from a plot. And conflict. And I will go look those things up in the dictionary and have a glass of wine.

Step 5: let’s get serious.
Though I won’t have a concrete plot outline, I’ll usually have ideas for key scenes and I’ll know my characters pretty well. From this point forward, I don’t share pages with anyone but my cat. I set weekly word count goals, and achieve them through some combination of diligence and dumb luck. I pick up speed as I go, sometimes writing 75 pages a day near the end. Because I don’t map things out beforehand, I’m always adding details to the earlier chapters as I develop a plot twist or new character trait. I’m also rereading constantly, making tweaks to chapter 5 when I need a break from writing chapter 20.

Step 6: more beatings. Once I’ve finished and spent several days revising, I email the manuscript to critique partners Cynthia Reese and Linda Brundage. As fellow authors, they’re terrific not just at identifying problems, but suggesting how to fix them. After I’ve made their changes, I email my beta readers. These three women are voracious book fiends, and I trust them to tell me when my hero sounds wimpy, my heroine is unfashionably dressed, or a character has blue eyes on page 26 but green on 314.

Step 7: the home stretch. I do a final round of editing before emailing my agent, Michelle Wolfson. Then I hold my breath. Inevitably, Michelle will have another round of edits that make the manuscript stronger and/or more marketable.

Step 8: squeal and drink wine.
Oh, who am I kidding? I do this to celebrate all the other steps, too.

Step 9: panic. Because now the part I control is done, and my fate lies in the hands of my agent, the editors, and the readers who might eventually buy my books.

So now you know how my writing process works. Don’t forget to visit these amazing authors to see how they do what they do:

Sean Ferrell (literary fiction)
Linda Grimes (light paranormal mystery)
Cynthia Reese (southern romance/inspirational romance)
Nelsa Roberto (young adult)
Kiersten White (young adult)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Are all authors stalkers, or is it just me?

I am a stalker.

I’m not ashamed to admit this because I justify it in my mind as a legitimate career tool.

Years ago when I was agent hunting, I wasn’t content with the short bios on agent websites and at No, no – clearly if I could just determine an agent’s favorite ice cream flavor, I’d know for sure if we were a good match.

This was in the days before Twitter, and I’m a little ashamed to recall the fervor with which I gathered these shreds of information, googling for articles and blog posts and baby registries and poring over them like they contained all the secrets to writing success.

There’s no way I’d claim that helped me get my amazing agent. But I will say it provided a satisfying diversion during a nerve-wracking process that can make even the toughest author feel helpless.

My stalker tendencies didn’t abate once I had the agent. Instead, I turned my attention to googling the names of editors who had my work. By the time Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks offered my three-book deal, I feel fairly certain I had read every online article that included her name (including several written in Swahili).

Even with the agent and a book deal, I haven’t shaken the stalker habit. Now, I’ve turned my attention to my own website and blog. I use Google Analytics on both, and the amount of information available to me is a little staggering.

For instance, there’s clearly a value in knowing that five people from Minnesota visited my website yesterday.

Or that in the last month, people have accessed my blog by googling such useful phrases as “pythagoras had a pet,” “tawna sexy pictures,” and “what’s in your fridge for cooking.”

In all seriousness, the web stats can be fascinating. Three months ago, I knew when an editor visited my website because it was not only the sole hit I had from New York, but the sole hit I had all week.

Now, I’m flabbergasted to see that on any given day, 250 strangers visit my blog to see me blather about the hole in my jeans.

I won’t claim there’s an intrinsic value for authors in seeking out every shred of information you can find about an agent or an editor or your potential readers.

But being an author at any stage sometimes feels like stumbling along the highway with your hands over your eyes. Any peek you can sneak between your fingers feels delightfully empowering – even if it’s not particularly enlightening.

Are you a stalker? If you aren’t ashamed to admit it, tell me about it in the comments.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go figure out why my blog is suddenly so popular in Libya.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On crotch patches and dead novels

I made a difficult decision this morning.

It’s one that saddens me deeply.

Bidding farewell to a dear old friend is never easy, but we’d just reached a point where things couldn’t go on like this anymore.

I’m talking about my favorite pair of jeans. Red Engine, the low-rise Firebell style with boot-cut legs and a double-button closure.

It’s not that they don’t fit anymore. On the contrary, they fit like a glove.

Well, a glove with several substantial holes that leave me flashing my underwear at strangers.
Me and my poor, dead jeans.

I’ve had them professionally patched, but there are only so many patches a pair of jeans can handle before there’s not much denim left. Then you’re left waddling like a duck with chaffed inner thighs as you display inappropriate bits of flesh at the guy helping you try on summer sandals.

Feel free to supply your own theory about why it’s the crotch area that keeps blowing out.

As I’m retiring these jeans with the dignity they deserve, it got me thinking about old manuscripts.

Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my hard drive is the first novel I ever wrote. I haven’t looked at it for years, but I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it sucks.

A lot of authors will cannibalize old manuscripts, stripping out characters or scenes to use in other books with a better chance of seeing the light of day. It’s a smart thing to do.

I’ve written eight full manuscripts and six partials in the last eight years, and since my recent contract is for three books, you can do the math and figure I have a number of stories that may never see the light of day.

Some of them have terrific characters and clever bits of dialogue I wouldn’t mind borrowing for current stories.

But I just can’t.

There’s always that tiny voice in my brain saying, “what if?”

What if I become a runaway bestseller and someday look at that story with fresh eyes and the promise of a fat advance check? What if this book could be rehabbed into something new – something fresh and marketable and not suck-worthy?

So I can’t quite give up on those old books – can’t bring myself to strip out the good stuff and leave them for dead.

But I can ditch the jeans. I will retire them in a private ceremony attended only by close friends and family. There will be flowers and somber music, and maybe a team of hired mourners.

I will mention one bright spot in the whole thing. Guess what showed up in the mail yesterday? It’s the shirt I blogged about last week:
Jealous? To get your own, go here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Things that go bump in the night

I am a strong, independent woman. I shake hands with a firm grip. I’m not afraid of spiders. I can change the oil in my own car.

(OK, I’m not saying I do change the oil in my own car, but I could if I wanted to).

I also have a paralyzing, pants-peeing fear of scary nighttime noises.

I’m not talking about crickets chirping or the cat hurking on the floor (though the latter can strike fear in my soul).

I’m talking about the creak of a floor, a thump on the roof, or the rev of a chainsaw outside my window.

Pythagoras is a charming and companionable mate, but he could have six eyes and intense halitosis and I would still keep him around because when faced with a scary nighttime noise, he does not pull the covers over his head and cry.

That would be me.

Pythagoras, on the other hand, is a man. And also sane.

When our doorbell rang at 2 a.m. last fall, I woke with my heart pounding. “Someone’s breaking into our house!” I hissed.

Pythagoras flipped on the bedside light. “And they’re ringing the doorbell first?”

“Don’t turn that light on! They’ll know we’re here and will kill us!”

He rolled his eyes at me and started dressing. “We don’t lock our front door. Now you’re concerned about security?”

I didn’t answer him, mostly because I had my pillow over my head and was humming Ozzy Osbourne’s “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll.”

Pythagoras, meanwhile, thumped downstairs to look around. “Take a weapon!” I yelled.

I heard the muffled whir of something electronic.

“What’s that?” I whimpered.

“The drill I left on the stairs,” Pythagoras called. “You told me to take a weapon.”

I lay there for a moment, trying to decide how I felt about my husband maiming an intruder with a drill. I decided it would be OK as long as he was careful not to get blood on the fern by the front door.

Once Pythagoras completed his circuit around the house, he returned to the bedroom and set the drill aside. “Probably kids screwing around,” he muttered as he undressed to crawl back into bed.

I sat up and blinked at him. “Aren’t you going to call the police?”

“Nope,” he replied, snuggling under the covers. “Goodnight.”

And that was pretty much it. Well, for him, anyway. I lay there all night keeping a close eye on the drill. I had no idea how to operate it, but figured I could use it to beat someone over the head if the situation called for it.

I had actually forgotten the whole incident until three days ago when Pythagoras called while I was visiting my parents to do research for my current book. “Someone rang the doorbell again last night,” he said.

“What did you do?” I whispered, trying to picture the scene if I’d been the one home alone.

It wasn’t a nice picture, and involved changing the sheets and maybe throwing away the mattress.

“I went outside and looked around,” he said. “Then I got a flashlight, sat on the porch, and waited.”

“You were going to beat someone to death with the flashlight?”

“No,” he said with exaggerated patience. “I waited for the kids to come back up the street before I flipped on the light and scared the crap out of them.”


OK, so I’m not proud. I know I’m a weenie and my husband is a bigger man than I am.

But I did learn to operate that drill. That counts for something, right?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Research tip of the day: learn when to shut up

I spent three days last week visiting my parents in the heart of Oregon wine country.

It was a great chance to round out last month’s research for LET IT BREATHE by peppering wine industry experts with questions I neglected when I was too busy snickering over phrases like “bung hole” and “node pushing” and “head suckers.”

I’ve blogged before about my fondness for research, both the legitimate sort and the kind that requires my husband to have fake sex with me on the bathroom counter.

But there’s one tip I want to share with anyone doing field research for a book: learn when to shut up.

I know I’ve suggested formulating a list of questions and conducting interviews in a professional manner. But sometimes in the course of research, you’ll encounter someone so passionate about your subject that they’ll grab hold of the conversation and take off running in direction you didn’t anticipate.

And when that happens, be prepared to shut up and write. Fast. On the back of your notepad or your hand if you run out of blank pages.

Forrest Schaad explains dirt to my dad.
This happened to me during my visit to Sokol Blosser Vineyard and Winery in Dundee. I called ahead to arrange what was supposed to be a 20-minute tour and wine tasting.

It lasted over two hours.

Cellar Hand/Tasting Room Associate Forrest Schaad was like a walking wine industry encyclopedia. I learned what a “Sasquatch Harvest” is and how weather conditions in 2006 created one. And I learned how the wine produced then differed from 2007.

I learned how to use insects and bluebirds and feral cats to control vineyard pests. And I learned that Oregon’s state soil is called jory.

Seriously – a state soil. Can you name yours?

We strolled the vineyards and cellars and tasted wines in the precise spots Forrest insisted would bring out each wine’s best characteristics. As we stood beside the vines with a cover crop of clover and sweet pea under our shoes and the smell of damp soil and spring onion in the air and the wine swirling in our glasses, I had to admit – it did taste different.

By the end of our tour, my head was brimming with ideas, my writing hand was cramping, and I’d discovered ways to fix every issue critique partner Cynthia Reese flagged in last week’s read-through of my first three chapters.

After explaining the environmental importance of soy-based ink on wine labels, Forrest smiled a little sheepishly. “That’s probably a lot more information than you wanted.”

I shook my head in vehement denial. “I could suck your brain dry all day – you have so much great information.”

(As a side-note, I don’t recommend beginning a sentence with those four words when speaking with a man you’ve just met. Judging from the look of alarm on his face – followed by relief when he realized what I was actually saying – I probably could have found a better way to express myself).

So I guess the take home message (aside from not accidentally propositioning strange men) is that research is about more than just gathering information. It’s about unearthing the passion and the personalities in the world you’re trying to capture in your novel.

And with that, I’m off to write about mealworms.
Forrest shows us the bottling process at Sokol Blosser.

Friday, April 23, 2010

You ARE a real author, dammit

There’s a list of questions you aren’t supposed to ask a woman, and I’ve never minded answering any of them.

I’ll cheerfully tell you my age (35), my height and weight (5’4” and 117 pounds), or the reason Pythagoras and I don’t have kids (we don’t really like them).

But until eight weeks ago, there was one question I truly dreaded:

How many books have you published?

Though the answer now is the same as it was eight weeks ago (none, yet), I can at least follow up by giving details of my upcoming releases.

But I still hate the question. Because let’s face it, the reason the person is asking is to determine if they’re talking to a “real author,” or…well, something less than that.

And that’s an implication that makes me uncomfortable even now that I have a three-book deal that apparently entitles me to carry the “real author” license.

It’s not just people unfamiliar with the publishing industry who seem hell-bent on distinguishing between “real authors” and whatever the opposite of that would be (unreal authors?) We do it ourselves as authors every time we sell ourselves short and allow people to make us feel inferior for the mere fact that we haven’t yet reached that next stage.

I guess this is why I find myself bristling now when someone suddenly treats me differently upon learning about my book deal. There’s a certain level of respect that comes along with that, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

I know I sound like an ungrateful bitch, but that’s not it at all. The thing is, I’m the same damn author I was eight weeks ago. Or eight years ago.

If you want to split hairs, two of the three books in my contract started with partial manuscripts I wrote nearly three years ago under a previous agent who just wasn't interested in them. These are the same damn books my current agent adores and my new editor recently gushed over, saying, “everyone here is just in love with your voice.”

So I haven’t changed, right?

But I have, at least in the eyes of writers and non-writers alike. In some ways, this makes my heart swell like a boner in a bad porn.

In other ways, it makes me angry. I’m angry on behalf of every author who’s ever felt sub-par because the magic wand of dumb luck hasn’t yet waved over her head and granted her an agent or a book deal or the level of respect she deserves just for trying to break into publishing.

Writing books is hard work. Everyone who’s ever attempted it deserves the “real author” label and all the respect that seems to come with it.

Whether you’re a brand new writer with distant dreams of publication or someone who’s lost count of the number of weeks spent on the New York Times Bestseller list, you’re still a “real author.”

You have to remember that. The world is primed to make the unpublished author feel inferior, and that can kill your self esteem even more than a bad critique or an outright rejection.

You are a “real author.”

Now go write some real books, dammit.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Handling critiques with grace, skill & minimal bloodshed

I'm spending the next couple days at my parents' house (which, tragically, is smack-dab in the middle of Oregon wine country). My apologies in advance if I don't respond promptly to tweets or blog comments.

Yesterday, I had a 2.5 hour drive over here to mull the feedback I just received from one of my critique partners, Cynthia Reese. She's the one I rely on most in the early stages of a manuscript when I find myself staring in bewilderment at my screen muttering, "now what?"

As usual, she gave me plenty to chew on with her commentary on the first few chapters of LET IT BREATHE. We've been critiquing each other's work for five or six years now, long before either of us had a book deal or reached the grim realization that an author's "I have arrived" moment is not the day an editor calls with a contract.

There's an art to critiquing someone else's work, but there's perhaps a greater art to handling critiques without tears, bloodshed, or the unnecessary loss of other bodily fluids. Whether you're digesting feedback from you agent, critique partner, or the exotic dancer you picked up at the bar last night, here are a few easy steps to facing it without police intervention:

Step 1: Say thank you. This can be hard when all you want to do is take a tire iron to the skull of whoever suggested your hero is a weenie, but this person has just done you a big favor. Whether or not you agree with the input, you just received the invaluable gift of an outside perspective on your writing. Say thank you and mean it. Better yet, pick one or two observations the person made and share why they were valuable. Critiquing can be as thankless as the writing itself, and the person giving you feedback deserves to know what you appreciate most.

Step 2: Be pissed off quietly. No matter how glowing the feedback or how thick your skin, there will always be something in a critique that makes you want to moan, "she just didn't get it!" This is a dangerous thing. Your gut says you must defend your masterpiece, while common sense suggests that if you just mull the feedback for a day or two, you might discover you're the one who just didn't get it.

Step 3: Give yourself time to marinate. Even if you're revved up and ready to start hacking, wait. Take a day or more to mull the suggestions consider your best approach. You might be amazed at what your brain cooks up while you're busy swilling Chianti or walking the dog.

Step 4: Make the small changes first. Things like typos and awkward sentence structure are easy fixes, and they'll give you a sense of accomplishment while you prepare for the next step.

Step 5: Tackle the big changes last. These are the tough ones, and by the time you reach this point, the marinating you did in Step 3 and the confidence you gained from Step 4 will have you fully prepared for it. Maybe your ending is a hot mess, or your heroine bears a striking resemblance to Charles Manson. By the time you reach this stage, your brain will have switched from wanting to beat itself against the keyboard to thinking, "well, maybe this could work..."

One final word of advice: trust the person giving you feedback, but also trust yourself. This is one of those things that comes with experience, but it's a crucial lesson to learn. I've worked with the same two critique partners and three beta readers for many years, and would honorably surrender a glass of sub-par wine to any of them if they were really thirsty. Even so, there are times I'll read a critique and think, "are you smoking crack?"

That's one reason I make sure I get multiple viewpoints on my work. What rubs one person the wrong way might be peachy keen with the other four, and while I always hear feedback with an open mind, that doesn't mean I have to use it.

So how do you tackle critiques? Any tips or hints you can share? Please do so in the comments. I'll be over here swilling wine with my dad while my poor mother shakes her head and considers dumping us on the side of the highway.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My vacuum bag drug deal: why writers shouldn't go out in public

So apparently, vacuum cleaners require bags. Who knew?

Probably anyone who does more vacuuming than me, which is…well, most people.

Given my husband’s obsession with the Shop-vac, I don’t do a lot of vacuuming on my own. But recently, Pythagoras pointed out that (a) our Kirby vacuum cleaner has a bag, and (b) said bag was so full it resembled a misshapen piñata (though I was sad to discover it did not contain Tootsie rolls).

I went out to purchase new bags, only to learn that no one in our town of 85,000 has the same vacuum we do. Undeterred, I hopped online and found an eBay vendor who not only carried the bags, but lived right in our town.

What are the odds?

I fired off an email and received a response from a guy named Gary who said he didn’t have a storefront, but would be willing to meet me at the Moose Lodge.

Moose Lodge? I had never heard of it, but my friend Larie had. “Isn’t it that dark-looking building hidden behind the bushes down that narrow road past the Goodwill thrift store? It looks a little shady.”

Shady indeed. I showed up fifteen minutes before my scheduled meeting with Gary, pretty sure I was about to be kidnapped. I called Larie from my cell.

“I think it’s a setup,” I whispered.

“Cool. Can I have your peridot earrings if you die?”

I hung up and assessed my surroundings, looking for an escape route. Was that a mobster dressed in all black at the front of the building?

I squinted at him. OK, so he was about 75 and was moving with the aid of a walker, but still. That bulge under his shirt could be a pistol and not a colostomy bag.

I looked at the opposite end of the parking lot. Did that car just flash its headlights to signal the guy standing by the dumpster?

A man exited the building and aimed something at the car. I started to duck.

Then I realized it was a keyfob. The headlights flashed once more as the guy disarmed his alarm.

I looked back at the dumpster guy just in time to see him empty the trash.

By the time Gary showed up, I was on high alert. As his car glided to a halt beside mine, I fumbled for something I could use as a weapon. Carefully, I stepped out of the car and stood to face him.

“Are you Gary?”

He nodded, his gray beard brushing the collar of his golf shirt. “What’s the plastic fork for?”



He reached inside his coat and pulled out…vacuum cleaner bags.

What a letdown.

“That’ll be 20 bucks,” he said.

I pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to him. I reached for the vacuum bags, braced for him to grab my wrist and whip out a switchblade.

But he just gave them to me. I couldn’t believe it.

“This feels sort of like a drug deal,” I said, looking around the parking lot.

Gary stared at me. “Huh?”

“Nothing, I just – I’m a writer. Overactive imagination.”

“Right,” he said, taking a few steps back. “Well, I’m going to play Bingo now. If you need more vacuum bags, give me a call.”

I watched him retreat, wondering if “vacuum bags” was a code word for something. I looked down at the package in my hands.

Vacuum bags.

What a bummer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bribery & manipulation: the keys to writing success

I am not a very focused writer.

If there’s ever a contest for the world’s most easily distracted author, I will be invited to…hey look – a butterfly.

To counter this, I rely upon the fact that I’m very good at manipulating myself.

(Stop snickering, that’s not what I meant. OK, it was what I meant, but it’s not the point of this blog).

Viewing a novel as one huge block with the ending as the sole light at the end of the tunnel is a surefire way to get discouraged and spend the day shopping for python-pattered clogs on Amazon.

But if I set smaller goals for myself with rewards for achieving them, I find I’m a whole lot more motivated.

Just yesterday, I spotted a site called Romance Yardsale. It was created by authors Bria Quinlan and M.G. Buehrlen to raise funds so they can attend the national convention of Romance Writers of America.

The object of my desire from romanceyardsale
As I skimmed the list of items, my eyes landed on one of the T-shirts.

“Want!” screamed Flaky Writer Tawna.

“You have to work for it,” replied obnoxiously smug Responsible Writer Tawna.

So I decided that if I finished chapter three in LET IT BREATHE by the end of the day, I would reward myself with that shirt.

This may not sound like much, considering I was already in the middle of the third chapter, but the first 50 pages of any novel are always the toughest for me. I’ve been noodling these early scenes for weeks now, and was quickly nearing the point of deleting everything and writing about turtles.

Finishing the first three chapters is a big deal for me, and I deserve to be rewarded for it.

And so I wrote. And edited. And you may be surprised to hear it, didn’t have a single glass of wine until I achieved my goal (which one could argue is counter-productive when writing a book set in the wine industry, but I wanted that shirt, dammit, and nothing was going to distract me).

I placed my order at 9:52 p.m. last night, and now I will spend the next week neurotically clicking “track package” until my shirt arrives.

Or at least I’ll allow myself to do that as a reward for finishing a paragraph or a page or whatever I set as my next little goal.

That’s the key, really – they don’t always have to be big goals or big rewards. Sometimes even tiny things can motivate me.

“I want to floss my teeth!” Flaky Writer Tawna will say in the middle of a bit of dialogue isn’t flowing the way I want it to.

“Finish this scene, and you can have your minty-fresh Glide,” Responsible Writer Tawna will counter.

I can likewise be motivated by snacks, bathroom breaks, and of course, wine.

What are your tricks for motivating yourself as a writer? Do you set big goals or small ones? Do you bribe yourself with rewards?

Please share in the comments trail. I have to go click “track package” now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I don't know how you do it

I dearly love my cousin and his family, but I’ll confess – there were a couple times this weekend when I considered sticking my head in the oven.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with their two toddlers (ages 1 and 3). It’s just that Pythagoras and I have not been around small children…well, ever. We don’t know many people with kids, and we agreed very early in our marriage that we didn’t wish to procreate.

(As a side-note, ladies, if you’re looking for a thoughtful birthday gift for your husband, a vasectomy is not the right choice. Post-surgery, however, a pack of frozen peas will be met with great enthusiasm).
Ozzy with a look that means "gotta go."

Having two extra adults, two toddlers, and a teenager in the house for the weekend gave me a deeper admiration for the authors out there who do what they do with one or more children in the house. Agents, too, for that matter – or really any professional who juggles parenthood with a career that requires creativity.

My fabulous agency sistah Kiersten White frequently blogs about her wee ones, and our agent Michelle Wolfson often takes to Twitter to share tidbits about her own 1-year-old and 4-year-old.

After this weekend, all I can say is DEAR GOD, PEOPLE, HOW DO YOU DO IT?

The noises, the smells, the screaming, the messes, the blare of cartoons, the regimented nap schedules – and that’s just the adults.
Bindi and Matt snuggle prior to a wrestling
match that will require a referee

Seriously, I don’t know how authors with small kids can handle it. I sure as hell couldn’t, and I’m deeply grateful I’ll never have to.

Don’t get me wrong, my four-legged brood can be distracting. There’s Ozzy the slightly-incontinent old man dog whose hourly bathroom breaks can cut into my writing time. There’s Bindi the 1-year-old Australian Kelpie (i.e. herding dog on crack) who will spontaneously combust if I don’t get up and walk her. Even the cats make demands on my writing time, with Matt the Cat preferring to nap on my lap, and Blue Cat preferring to nap with his head on the power-strip (a situation that results in frequent, unexpected restarts).
Blue Cat naps on my power-strip.

But that’s nothing compared with what you parents of small children deal with. For that I raise a toast in your honor.

With a very, very strong drink.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why use a sledgehammer when a Shop-vac will do?

We’re anticipating a weekend visit from my cousin, his wife, their two toddlers, and their teenage Bosnian exchange student.

Though Pythagoras and I are ignorant about children, we had a sneaking suspicion at least one of our guests might be inclined to grab fistfuls of pet fur from under the sofa and eat them.

My money was on my cousin.

No matter, we needed to clean. I spent yesterday changing the sheets in the guest bedrooms and tidying bathrooms. When Pythagoras came home, he surveyed the place.

“The floors should probably be cleaned,” he said.

It was a task I’ve been avoiding for, oh – a year.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. When we built this house 5 years ago, I chose to cover nearly all 2,300 feet of floor surface with a tile the vendor called “African Batu Gray” and I called “dirty concrete.” It looks the same whether it’s coated with three inches of dirt or immaculate enough to eat ice cream off the surface.

I love this tile.

But Pythagoras was right. It probably needed to be cleaned in case our guests – operating under the mistaken assumption that we don’t live like cave dwellers – might attempt to walk barefoot, resulting in a foot fungus not treatable in the western hemisphere.

“Tell you what,” Pythagoras said. “If you corral the pets in the bedroom, I’ll do all the vacuuming and mopping in the rest of the house.”

I stared at my husband for a few beats, wondering whether he’d been drinking, and if so, why he wasn’t sharing.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re going to clean every floor surface with the exception of the bedroom, which is where I’ll be hanging out surfing the Web and napping with the pets?”

Then I saw the unmistakable twinkle in his eye. “Oh,” I said. “You’re going to use the Shop-vac?”

My husband’s affair with the Shop-vac is legendary. If he spills a teaspoon of salt on the kitchen counter, he will retreat to the garage, lug in the hulking black appliance, select the proper hose and nozzle, outfit himself with a pair of earplugs, and fire it up.

“Wouldn’t a dishrag be easier?” I’ll shout over the roar of the machine.

Doesn’t matter, that’s not the point. The Shop-Vac is technically a power tool, and power tools are cool.

Last weekend, I caught him vacuuming the driveway with it. He’s used it to drain my aquarium several times, and once I found him vacuuming cat fur off our sheets.

“We have a washing machine,” I informed him.

Well, I tried to inform him. He couldn’t actually hear me over the roar of the motor.

I really can’t complain. I hate to clean, and if the Shop-Vac gives Pythagoras a reason to enjoy it, I’ll happily stand aside and let him drag it through the house while dragging his knuckles on the floor and occasionally scratching himself.

Though I’m a big believer in the notion, “why use a sledgehammer when a scalpel will do?” I can also respect the need to occasionally pull out the sledgehammer anyway. Whether you’re cleaning a house or editing a manuscript, there’s something infinitely more satisfying about revving the motor and powering through it with a vengeance.

Are there any areas in your life or your writing where you use a Shop-vac when a scalpel will do? You’ll have to write it in the comments. I can’t actually hear you right now, what with all the ringing in my ears.
The lovely Shop-vac, the centerpiece of our living room.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Inviting public mockery, one blog post at a time

There’s been a lot of buzz in the writing community this week about a situation that turned ugly in a very public fashion.

I’m staying out of the fight mostly because authors like Myra McEntire and Kirsten Hubbard already said it better than I could.

For those of you outside the writing community (or those who missed the showdown because you were doing something productive like laundering your belly-button lint) here’s the quick rundown:

Agent receives query, responds with professional rejection, author responds in an ass-hat manner, agent posts author’s ass-hat rant on blog with author’s full name, author responds with further ass-hat comments, agent holds Twitter contest inviting participants to publicly mock author.

I’m not going to jump on my soapbox and say who behaved more stupidly – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Suffice it to say, we all do dumb things. What alarms me is the fact that nearly every stupid act you might commit these days has strong potential to become horribly, painfully public.

It wasn’t so long ago you could perform a bonehead maneuver and truly believe only your closest friends would know.

When I was in high school, I used to do a trick that involved smearing my hand with rubber cement and lighting it on fire.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Since I’d done it dozens of times without incident, I was honestly surprised one day when I couldn’t get the flames out. I ended up in the hospital with second and third degree burns.

Sympathy was in short supply – I had, after all, deliberately set myself on fire.

To top it off, I had the pleasure of learning that I’m violently allergic to codeine – a discovery made when my parents found me running around the living room throwing up and kicking walls while hallucinating I was in a house of mirrors.

A proud moment all around.

I had no problem then or now admitting that I had done something stupid. At the same time, I had the comfort of knowing my college application packets wouldn’t include a write-up of the event. My future job interviews did not have screenings of the video footage, and I was not forced to add it to my agent queries.

I also have the benefit of being a humor writer. As such, one of my favorite targets for mockery is myself. I’ll gladly blog about getting caught having fake car sex or dropping gristle in a stranger’s purse. I’m happy to tweet about the dog licking my armpit or hitting myself in the head with the car door.

I don’t mind you laughing at me. I encourage it.

But that’s the difference. I ask for it. I’m choosing to post my embarrassing moments for everyone with an internet connection to enjoy.

Not everyone asks for it.

Just something to think about before you hit the “post” button on that video of your co-worker break-dancing topless to Neil Diamond at the company Christmas party.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On risk-taking and bikini skiing

So I didn’t tell the whole story in yesterday’s post about my husband’s Vixen toenails.

No, I’m not suggesting there was a matching manicure and he likes me to call him Sally.

I’m saying that on the day of his ski accident, there was drama beyond the potential threat to his life over purple toenail polish.

Pythagoras was injured in a ski jumping competition that was part of a larger event held each year at that ski hill. In addition to all the “real” ski contests, there is a longstanding tradition of a bikini ski competition.

A competition I was somehow persuaded to enter that day.

I should mention that I do not ski. Not downhill, anyway, and certainly not in attire more suited for a Caribbean beach.

I don’t mean that in the faux-modest way that implies I’ve taken years of lessons and honed my skills to mediocrity. I mean that on the day of the competition, I had been on skis precisely once.

But this was a time in my life when I was young and bold and, admittedly, a little broke.

Pythagoras was fully supportive, and the contest was an equal-opportunity affair with both men and women swishing their way down the slope for a chance at the $300 grand prize.

Well, the others were swishing.

For me, it was more of a snowplow. This was a black-diamond run, and my greatest desire was simply to remain upright and not lose any body parts to frostbite.

Somehow, I did that. I even had the foresight to cross my arms when passing the judges’ table and perform a little half-shiver, half shimmy maneuver that, miraculously, did not cause me to topple headfirst into a tree-well.

By the time I reached the bottom, I was so delighted with my own survival that claiming the $300 grand prize almost seemed like an afterthought.

I used the money to buy an ancient Volkswagen with no door handle and a non-working heater, and I’ve used the story time and again to remind myself to take more risks.

I think of it whenever I’m being a chicken about trying something new – writing my first manuscript, querying agents for the first time, trying a different style of writing – anything that’s a little bit terrifying.

I remind myself of the day I was brave enough (or insane enough) to strip off my clothes, strap sticks to my feet, and point them down a snowy slope.

If I can do that, what’s a little literary terror?

So what is the scariest thing you’ve done? What bold maneuvers are you planning in your future? Please share in the comments!
Getting ready for my bikini ski competition.
A bystander attempts to capture footage of me getting dressed afterward. Classy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pythagoras and the Vixen toenails

As I slowly get to know the characters in my new novel, I’m thinking about the small quirks that define people.

There are a million ideas bubbling in my brain, and a million decisions to make – does the heroine’s dad hate food that’s brown? Does the hero secretly read Glamour magazine?

These may seem like tiny details, but they’re a big part of developing characters, particularly in romantic comedy.

Fortunately, Pythagoras offers endless inspiration for the sort of quirks that can comprise a human male. I thought of this yesterday when he was searching for paperwork from a knee surgery he had years ago in Montana.

We had only been dating a short time, and Pythagoras was working as a ski school director while I put my newly-minted English degree to good use tending bar at the ski lodge.

One weekend, Pythagoras took a road trip to coach several teenage ski racers for a Junior Olympics qualifier. He called from the road that evening.

“I fell asleep with my socks off,” he informed me. “The girls thought it would be funny to paint my toenails.”

Knowing many men would be horrified to be decorated with a female cosmetic product, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Wow,” I said. “What color are they?”

“Vixen,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s sparkly.”

As it turned out, Vixen was a rather disturbing shade of purple. As it also turned out, we couldn’t find nail polish remover in the boxes from our recent move. Since Pythagoras didn’t seem too concerned by the color of his toenails, we both forgot about it.
Pythagoras prepares to go to the hospital
with Vixen toenails

Then came the ski accident. Pythagoras was rushed to a tiny rural hospital where we waited for the doctor to inspect the damage.

“Oh,” said the doctor the instant he pulled off a sock. “Is this bruising, or—”

“No, it’s Vixen,” Pythagoras offered helpfully.

The doctor and nurse stared, probably trying to recall whether this was a jailable offense in Montana.

“He didn’t do it himself,” I stammered.

The nurse looked at me, then back at Pythagoras. “Who did this to you?” she whispered.

Pythagoras shrugged. “Some girl on the Junior Olympic team I coach. I was asleep.”

The doctor blinked at him. “You were sleeping? With a teenage girl who painted your toenails?”

At that point, I began to wonder if the hospital had a policy permitting medical staff to shoot patients if they deemed it appropriate. Not wanting to find out, I smiled brightly at the doctor.

“So about his knee—?”

Eventually, Pythagoras was sent to a larger hospital for surgery. Through it all, we never got around to removing the polish. The color eventually wore off, and Pythagoras’ knee soon healed.

But I’ve never forgotten the Vixen.

It wasn’t that he enjoyed wearing it. It was just that he was so blissfully immune to the rule that says men – especially men in Montana – should be horrified at having their toenails painted purple.

That security in his masculinity and general obliviousness to the “rules” is one of the things I love best about Pythagoras.

It’s also something I’m hoping to capture in the hero I’m writing for my new book.

What quirky traits do your characters or real-life loved ones have? Please share in the comment trail.

I’ll be waiting for my husband to fall asleep so I can test out my new eyeliner.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Feather boas, heaving bosoms, and my first RWA meeting

Well, I survived my very first RWA meeting.

Not only survived, but I had a pretty good time.

Those of you who’ve been reading awhile will be disappointed to know I did not flash my underwear or drop gristle in a stranger’s purse.

In fact, I deliberately avoided a tempting box of Krispy Kreme donuts for fear I might fling one Frisbee-style across the room while bleating like a goat.

What? Don’t pretend you’ve never considered it.

The thing that most impressed me about the group was its diversity. Though I’ve been proudly crafting smut for awhile, I’ve never spent much time around my fellow romance authors.

Even though I know better, a tiny part of my brain still pictured a room full of nubile twenty-somethings tossing their raven locks as their feather boas fluttered in the breeze and they pranced around calling each other “dahling.”

Apparently the retired Air Force master sergeant seated next to me forgot his feather boa. It’s understandable, since he’s 81 years old.

But his respect for the romance genre – as well as for his late wife, who inspired his interest in it – was enough to make me consider the possibility that my preconceived notions about romance authors were a bit off-base.

I met authors who write Christian romance, and authors who write explicit smut. I met authors who are just starting their first books, and one author who’s spent so much time on the New York Times bestseller list they’re considering renaming it for her.

Suffice it to say, I would be hard-pressed to draw you a picture of the “typical” romance author.

And that’s not just because I can’t draw.

If you aren’t already a fan of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, you must stop what you’re doing right now and visit heir blog. Then order a copy of their divine book, BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS.

In addition to being the queens of snark, the Smart Bitches are the ultimate advocates of the romance genre. They’re clever, hilarious, and have built an impressive community of like-minded readers devoted to exploring romance novels from all angles (including some that are illegal in most Southern states).

If my first RWA meeting served to break down my preconceived notions about romance authors, the Smart Bitches will break down any you may have about the genre itself.

On that note, check out the contest they’re running. Readers were invited to create a romance novel cover using a photo they provided. As a devout Photoshop nut, I couldn’t resist the urge to play. Can you guess which one is mine?

No, I won’t tell you – it seems unfair somehow. But if you’ve been following this blog awhile, you probably find yourself saying, “I just look for the weirdest one, and that must be Tawna’s, right?”


Friday, April 9, 2010

If you are what you wear, I'm in big trouble

Tomorrow I’m traveling to Portland for my first meeting with my new RWA chapter, the Rose City Romance Writers.

Can I confess I’m a little nervous?

Oh, it’s not that I’m afraid of dropping gristle in someone’s purse or shoving a half-cup of butter in my mouth.

They aren’t serving food, which cuts back significantly on my ability to embarrass myself.

I am, however, faced with the age old question that has plagued women since the first cavewoman studied her reflection in a pond trying to decide if the mastodon pelt or the T-rex hide was more flattering to her skin tone:

What do I wear?

In most parts of Oregon, “dressing up” means putting on a clean fleece hoodie. However, having a good friend in the fashion industry has made me dimly aware that there are fashion rules I should attempt to comply with.

Rules that aren’t carved in stone.

Several years ago I worked for a large corporation with a dress code that hadn’t been revised since the Nixon administration. A handful of female employees dared to question the company’s pantyhose requirement, and were quickly slapped down by a posse of matronly executives who considered bare legs just slightly below murder on the scale of mortal sins.

After several attempts to make my point through professional channels, I decided to challenge the hosiery policy by complying with it in theory, but looking as ridiculous as possible in reality.

One day I wore a forest green skirt with neon pink fishnets. Another day I showed up in a pink silk skirt and rainbow striped toe socks.

I looked horrendous. I was so proud. Certainly, I’d proved my point.

Then a co-worker returned from a meeting looking bemused. “I was just talking with one of the executives,” she said, naming the grandfatherly director of one of the company’s most influential departments. “He thought you looked nice today. Said you really brightened things up.”

I stared at her. “He was being funny, right?”

She shook her head. “You know him. He isn’t funny.”

As it turned out, the guy was dead serious. He thought I looked wonderful – bright and cheery, and as far as he was concerned, perfectly fashionable.

Eventually, the hosiery policy was changed – not before I trotted out a few more ridiculous outfits and withstood the threat of firing.

But the lesson I took with me is that fashion is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. What’s ridiculous to one person might be the height of haute couture to another.

If writing is the most subjective business on the planet, fashion must run a not-so-distant second.

On that note, I have to go figure out what to wear tomorrow. Parachute pants, perhaps?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Successful public speaking 101: flash your underwear

Since the announcement of my three-book deal, I’ve had a number of writing groups ask me to come speak to them.

Most are calling dibs for the months surrounding my book release, which is funny – the idea that not only am I a desirable public speaker, but that booking me requires a 16-month advance notice and anything beyond the promise of free cookies.

Though I’m an introvert who’d be happy to live in a cave eating roots most days, I actually don’t mind public speaking. This is a contrast to Pythagoras, who if given the choice between speaking at a funeral or being the guy in the casket, would gladly climb in and pull the lid closed.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’ve warned these groups not to expect a stand-up comedienne. Blog-funny and book-funny don’t necessarily translate to in-person-funny.

I tried to explain this to my mom last night, but she disagreed. “You’ve always been a funny public performer. Remember the Christmas dolls?”

Ah, yes. My first foray into the world of professional presentations.

I was maybe four at the time, and all the girls in my Sunday school class were outfitted with obnoxious dolly costumes, herded onto a stage, and forced to bleat out a song that went, “We are pretty Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls…”

Not being a particularly gifted singer or an especially cute child, I wasn’t singled out for any special position in the chorus.

But during our first live show, it was clear to me someone needed to step up to the plate. The other girls seemed content to shyly murmur the words with downcast eyes and voices that couldn’t be heard over the piano.

This would never do.

Boldly, I stepped up and began to scream – yes, scream – the chorus.

“We are pretty Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls…”

Since the director hadn’t provided any choreography, I took it upon myself to dance along the top riser, lifting my dress up and down over my head in time to the music.

It’s possible I knocked another performer off the risers, though my mother assures me there were no lawsuits.

By the time the performance was over, several girls had fled the stage in terror, and at least one audience member had fallen off his seat laughing.

I wasn’t trying to be funny, but apparently I accomplished it. That’s often how it works for me.

So if you’re thinking of asking me to come speak at your writers’ group – hey, I’m flattered. If you have cookies, I’m in.

But I make no guarantees I’ll be funny. Not intentionally, anyway. And if you want me to lift my dress over my head, that requires an extra cookie.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Note to self: write better notes to self

I was in the shower yesterday when an idea hit me like a pair of lard-filled pantyhose dropped from a skyscraper.

Since I wasn’t in the mood to run dripping and naked down the hall for a notepad, I did what most writers in my position would do.

I scrawled it on the glass shower door with a broken piece of soap.

That evening, I saw Pythagoras studying it. “What does ‘gma gw wd bsd msct’ mean?”

The funny thing is, I knew exactly what it meant. By then I had already written a draft of the scene and found the idea to be perfect for what I’d hoped to accomplish.

There are oodles of tools on the market to help writers arrange their thoughts in an orderly fashion. There are special notebooks and software programs and gadgets whose primary function is to make us feel inadequate for not being more organized.

To be honest, I don’t know many writers who are very organized. Most of us, it seems, live our lives surrounded by scraps of paper we’ll spend hours squinting at in hopes of determining whether we’re looking at a brilliant plot twist or a reminder to schedule a pap smear.

I felt better about this recently when I stumbled upon a blog entry by my idol, Jennifer Crusie in which she posted a photo of her office. If the grand dame of romantic comedy can write masterpieces in a workspace like that, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Pictured at right is my trusty palm pilot. Please note my highly complex system for separating shopping lists from general household errands and more complicated plot ideas.

OK, admittedly the color-coding was an accident. It’s less a system of organization and more a matter of which pen I grab when an idea strikes, but it looks nice, doesn’t it?

The thing is, it works for me. My flesh and my work surfaces may be covered with words that look like gibberish, but they all mean something to me. More often than not, the system works.

How about you? Is your workspace a mess? Are you surrounded by a confetti of notes to yourself? Or are you one of those disturbingly organized writers the rest of us secretly want to smack? Please share in the comments.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Me, myself and I: we aren't all good writers

Several weeks ago I blogged about the importance of not comparing yourself to other writers.

Today I feel compelled to blog about the importance of not comparing yourself to yourself.

It’s something I’ve found myself doing a lot the last few days and I’m driving myself a bit crazy.

(Insert joke here about the short drive)

I’m generally a pretty fast writer. On average, it takes me about three months to write a novel from start to finish.

However, that doesn’t take into account the fact that I’m abysmally slow at writing the first three chapters of any book. I spend those first 50+ pages figuring out who the characters are, where the story is headed, and what might take place between “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the end.”

Half of my brain is occupied by this task, while the other half is occupied by the dual tasks of berating myself for my slowness while distracting myself with more pleasurable tasks like clipping the dog’s toenails.

The conversations in my head go something like this:

Responsible Tawna: Hurry up already! You wrote five pages yesterday and we just deleted four of them because they sucked donkey dongs.

Slacker Tawna:
I wonder if I could find that funny online video about cats?

Responsible Tawna:
This book is already sold and your editor and agent will both hate you if you don’t finish it.

Slacker Tawna: Yup, found the cat video. Still pretty funny. It’d be even better if I had an ice cream bar.

Responsible Tawna:
Don’t you remember that weekend you wrote 75 pages in one sitting? Now you can’t even do five pages in a weekend? You’re blowing it, blowing it!

Slacker Tawna:
Heh-heh – you said blowing.

And on and on and on until I’m forced to find a bottle of Tylenol and/or Chianti to make the headache go away.

Though I probably do deserve the occasional scolding from myself, I also need to learn to cut myself a break. The me who can crank out four chapters in a weekend is still the same me who can stare at a blank page all day and accomplish nothing more valuable than cleaning the keyboard with a Q-tip. Both the speedy writing and the ridiculous time wasting are a part of the process, and I have to let that process run its course.

Even if I’m not always running at a very consistent pace.

So I’ll continue to slog through these early chapters until I reach a point where I feel more like the me who writes clever prose at a quick clip instead of the me who just spent an hour deciding what color T-shirt my hero is wearing.

How about you? Which part of a novel do you struggle with the most? Do you compare yourself to yourself? Have you found any effective medications to deal with it? Tell me about it in the comments.

I’ll be over here picking dog fur out of my mouse.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Matt the Cat picks blog contest winner

Pythagoras has today off in celebration of Dyngus Day.

I don’t know what that means either, except that my trusty spouse/research assistant was available to help with a very important task.

“Hey Pythagoras,” I said this morning. “Can I get your help today?”

He sighed. “Where are we having fake sex this time?”

“No, it’s not that at all,” I assured him. “Today we’re going to pick a winner for the blog contest I held last week.”

He was visibly relieved. “That sounds easy enough.”

I didn’t say anything. He stared at me for a few beats, waiting for me to reassure him the task was indeed quite simple.

“Well, I had this idea…”

He covered his face with his hands, knowing these words seldom bode well for him.

“OK, you know how Matt the Cat loves to fetch little pieces of rolled up paper?” I prompted. “See, I was thinking I could write all the contenders’ names on little pieces of paper – one for each entry they earned – and then we’d throw them down the hall and whoever Matt picks up first will be declared the winner.”

My husband looked at me and shook his head. “Can’t we just draw a name out of a hat like normal people?”

“Normal?” I asked, infusing the two syllables with enough disgust to imply this was my idea of a curse word.

He sighed again. “Right. I’ll go get the paper.”

So here’s how things unfolded:
First I prepared the entries, taking note of how many each contender earned.

Next I explained the rules of the game to Matt the Cat.

Then I tossed all the entries across the bridge that spans the second floor of our house.

Matt enjoyed knocking a few entries off the bridge to disqualify them.

Then he got serious and picked a winner.

Unfortunately, he ran out the cat door with the winner in his mouth.

This unexpected turn of events forced us to gather up all the entries (including the ones knocked off the bridge) and use the process of elimination to determine who was missing.

This is about the time I think Pythagoras began to seriously consider running away from home.

But we persevered, and a winner was selected. Drumroll, please...

Congratulations to Candace Ganger, aka. Candyland, aspiring YA author and creator of the hilariously funny blog  The Misadventures of Candyland.

Candace, you've won a custom, hand-carved wine bottle stopper. Though you may select any shape you wish, be sure to take a look at the blog entry that inspired this contest to see one highly desirable option.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated by citing your favorite blog entries, making suggestions for future posts, and helping promote this contest on your blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Your support was outstanding, and I wish I had a phallic wine stopper to offer everyone.

But right now I have to make a call to the White House. I think I've stumbled upon a great way to settle all future presidential elections.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What's in your fridge?

As I’ve mentioned before, I love to cook.

As I’ve also mentioned, I’m lazy.

But since I’m a bit of a food snob, I’m seldom satisfied with a dinner of Pop Tarts and root beer.

Fortunately, my good friend Larie shares these same three admirable traits, which often leads to conversations like this:

Me: Want to do dinner?

Her: Sure, what do you have?

Me: Half-a-pound of leftover taco meat, four tomatoes, and a beet. You?

Her: Leftover roast chicken and some Gorgonzola not too far past the expiration date.

Me: Lettuce?

Her: Uh-huh. You have wine?

Me: Do fish fart bubbles?

Her: Be here at 6:30.

The two of us will spend a few minutes clicking away on our favorite recipe websites, and will soon formulate a plan for homemade gourmet pizzas (one barbecue chicken, one taco) with a nice side salad of fresh greens, beets, Gorgonzola, and candied pecans.

Much better than sitting home alone eating leftover taco meat, plus our husbands enjoy getting together to talk about cars and scratch themselves.

Writing is a lot like that.

I don’t mean the scratching (though I won’t judge if that’s part of your writing routine). I mean the idea of creating something fresh and new out of the hodgepodge in several people’s refrigerators.

I was stumbling the other day trying to get a handle on a couple of the characters in my new manuscript. Right away, critique partner Cynthia Reese threw me the names of several actors she thought might fit the bill, giving me a much better mental picture of who these guys are.

One of the wine industry professionals I met last week told me about holding tastings in a barn, and it gave me a nugget of an idea for this scene I’m working on. Hot Lips (my grandma) said something funny on the phone the other day, and it sparked a thought about another character I’m writing.

Does that mean I’m packing my novel with descriptions of Owen Wilson, the layout of Illahe’s winery, or the joke Hot Lips made?

Nope, not at all. When I’m done chewing on them, the characters, places, and phrases bear little resemblance to their original inspiration.

Kinda like the pizzas. In either case, devouring someone else’s leftovers can be remarkably satisfying.

Do you repurpose things from other people’s kitchens or lives and make them into something deliciously new? Do share!

I’ll be over here nibbling on leftover pizza. Hmm…wonder what this could be tomorrow?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

CONTEST! Celebrating 2 months and 100+ followers

Yesterday, I sat here hitting “refresh” like a neurotic narcissist, just waiting for my number of blog followers to go from 99 to 100 (thank you Angela Ackerman for bumping me over the top!)

After I stopped dancing around my living room, I checked the calendar and realized that today – April Fool’s Day, as luck would have it – marks two months since I started blogging.

Seems like a good excuse for a contest.
Oh yes. It could be yours.
Based on your intense interest in yesterday’s phallic wine bottle stopper, I tracked down the artist and asked if he’d be willing to make another. Not only did he agree to carve a new masterpiece to the length and girth specifications of the winner, he offered to carve an alternate shape if the winner doesn’t happen to want a giant wooden phallus protruding from his/her Pinot Noir.

(Go ahead – insert penis/pinot joke here. You know you want to).

In case you missed it, check out yesterday’s blog post for details on this truly magnificent work of art.

OK, now that you know what the prize is, what do you have to do?

1) To earn yourself one entry, tell me your favorite blog post from these past two months. Um, my blog posts. No fair telling me how much cooler someone else’s blog is.

2) To earn yourself a second entry, tell me something you’d like me to blog about in the future. No guarantees I’ll do it, but hey, I like suggestions.

3) Mention this contest on your own blog, Twitter, or Facebook and I’ll give you another entry for each of those things. Tell me in the comments that you’re doing it, since I’m too lazy to go traipsing all over the Internet for evidence.

Put your responses in the comments section. I’ll keep this contest open until Monday, April 5 at noon EST because I’m nice like that.

And for those who desperately want a phallic wine stopper of your very own and can’t bear trusting your fate to this contest, email me at tawnafenske dot com and I’ll hook you up with the artist (who, oddly enough, doesn’t wish to have his name attached to this lovely creation. He is, however willing to carve more for just $25 + $5 shipping).

Thanks to everyone for reading these last two months. Stay tuned! With 16 more months before my debut novel hits the shelves, there’s a whole lot of crude humor still to come.

CLARIFICATION: In case you missed it above because I was too busy being a smart-ass, you don't actually have to get a phallic wine stopper if you win. The artist is happy to carve an alternate shape. Really, I think he'd prefer it.