Friday, October 29, 2010

On face blindness, brain damage, and gravatars

Just a reminder, I'm blogging at The Debutante Ball today. Our topic for the week is "a good scare," and I wrote about my dad's storytelling. Judging from the comments, I'm pretty sure everyone's been too busy ogling my dad to notice there are words on the page.

Since I started my new job a few weeks ago, I’ve been introduced to lots of new people. Lately, the introductions have gone like this:

Staff member: Tawna, I don’t know if you’ve met Jane yet, but she’s our Tuesday volunteer.

It’s great to meet you, Jane. How long have you worked here?

Jane (looking slightly annoyed):
We met yesterday. We spent 10 minutes talking about my grandkids.

Right. It’s the story of my life. While I have a terrific memory for most things, faces and names have always been tough for me.

This is in direct contrast to Pythagoras, who has no idea where he left his keys 30 seconds ago, but who once approached a stranger and asked, “do you work at the Welcome Center?”

She eyed him warily, “Um, well, I did 11 years ago.”

“You gave me some brochures when we first moved to town.”

Me, on the other hand – well, it's not so easy. I read an article a few years ago about a condition called prosopagnosia or “face blindness.” People with prosopagnosia have an impaired ability to recognize faces, though their ability to recognize other objects is generally intact. When I first read the article, I was certain I had it.

“Look!” I told Pythagoras, waving the article at him. “This explains everything.”

He skimmed it, his scientific mind quickly absorbing the big words I’d chosen to ignore. “I see. It says it’s generally the result of acute brain damage. That part actually explains a lot more.”

OK, so I don’t have prosopagnosia (though I do like to say it ten times fast after drinking pear martinis).

Nevertheless, I do have to work extra hard to keep track of faces and names. That’s one reason I love it so very much when people using social media like blogs and Twitter and Facebook are kind enough to get a gravatar.

A gravatar is a globally-recognized avatar, and it allows the user to have a single photo for use in all sorts of online communities. I mentioned it here a few months ago, and I shared a fabulous post by Author Jamie Harrington about gravatars (where she even included a link to help people set up a gravatar totally free).

I know, I know…the online world should not be forced to cater to me and my lame-ass inability to remember faces. “I like to change my avatar every week to keep things fresh,” I’ve heard people say.

I get it. I do. But just know that if you’re an author trying to establish a brand, you make it tougher for people – even normal people without face blindness – to remember you.

Ditto that if you’ve got different user names for all the different social media platforms. When you’re trying to build a brand for yourself and get to know authors, editors, agents, and readers in online communities, why wouldn’t you want to make it easy for everyone?

Feel free to disagree with me on this. I know plenty of people do, and I’m OK with that. Do you like to change up your pictures and user names, or do you keep things consistent? Do you have an easy time remembering faces and names, or is it a struggle for you, too? Please share.

And if we ever meet in person, please wear the exact same shirt, hairstyle, and facial expression as you do in your online photo. That would really help me out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The rejection sweater – a must-have fashion

Since we talked about cupcakes on the blog yesterday, I figure I might as well keep the topic going to infect you with the same cupcake lust that hit me last week.

Author Karen Amanda Hooper had a hilarious blog post in which she revealed a clever strategy for making rejections sting less. She and her writing pals decided to substitute the word “cupcake” for “rejection.”

I see the appeal. I just got three cupcakes from agents today has a pleasant ring, doesn’t it?

It reminded me of a habit several writing buddies and I adopted back in our earliest years of the submission game. This was before I sold my first book to Harlqeuin/Silhouette’s Bombshell line (which was canceled one month before my debut was scheduled to hit shelves…er, not that I’m bitter).

I had been waiting nearly a year for a response on a requested full manuscript, and the stress had taken a toll. One night, I had a dream I went to a big party attended by several editors. Since things always happen like this in dreams, I spotted the editor who had my submission.

I mustered the courage to approach her. “Have you made a decision yet?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied. “We’ve decided we aren’t interested in your manuscript, but we do have some lovely gifts for you.”


“Yes, here. We'd like you to have this apple and this sweater. Enjoy!”

I accepted the two items without question, since in the dream, it seemed perfectly logical to receive fruit and clothing from an editor.

When I told my writing pals about the dream, they were delighted. For the next year, each time on of us received a particularly heartbreaking rejection, the others rallied around her and bought an inexpensive sweater and an apple. We’d have coffee together and wear our rejection sweaters as badges of honor.

Even now – with countless rejections under my belt and a three-book deal to show for my struggles – I’m warmed by the idea of the rejection sweater. I know people say writing is a solitary pursuit, but I’ve never found that to be true. Everywhere I look, I see writers offering each other pats on the back and clever cupcake humor to cushion the blows.

Do you have any strategies for coping with rejection? Any interesting ways you’ve supported fellow authors in the face of a setback? Please share.

I have to go find my sweater.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do you lust for your own cupcakes?

Last week, I overheard some people talking about cupcakes.

My brain switched quickly to lust mode. Must have cupcakes, it demanded all afternoon.

I ignored it. Though I love cooking, I’ve never been much of a baker and am indifferent to most baked goods. The craving would pass.

But my lust was persistent.

Must have cupcakes, my brain snarled all evening.

I went to bed, assuming I’d forget the cupcakes overnight and move on to craving frozen peas or tater tots.

But there it was, screaming in my brain first thing the next morning – MUST HAVE @#$% CUPCAKES!


I had to bring something to a dinner party anyway, so cupcakes were as good as anything. I got out my mixing bowls and cookbooks. I sifted and measured, sampled and adjusted, whisked and tasted.

I produced a dozen chocolate cupcakes – half with a dark chocolate Grand Marnier frosting, and the other half with a light chocolate raspberry concoction I made up as I went along.

And by the time I got to the dinner party, I wasn’t the least bit interested in those cupcakes.

It happens that way a lot, which is probably why I don’t bake much. I taste and sample and tweak and adjust as I go, and by the time I’m done, I’m so sick of what I’m baking that I’d just as soon feed it to the dog.

It’s something I’ve found myself doing with writing, too.

I’m not sure if any of you noticed, but something funny happened early in the summer. I was on track to finish LET IT BREATHE within my normal 3 or 3.5 month time frame. I had about a chapter left to write and was already plotting the wine I’d drink when I typed “the end.”

But guess what? I haven’t. I haven’t typed “the end,” and I haven’t opened the wine.

The closer I got to the end of that story, the more I realized there was some “stuff” I wasn’t sure about. Some emotional baggage that wormed its way in and threatened to choke the comedy. I’m an edit-as-I-go sort of writer, but instead of achieving the desired polish by tweaking and retweaking my scenes, I was starting to wonder if the dog would eat manuscript pages.

Lucky for me, LET IT BREATHE is the third book in my contract and isn’t due on my editor’s desk until February. The way the timing worked, MAKING WAVES and BELIEVE IT OR NOT (which are already written) were due at the end of September, so I gave myself permission to switch gears.

I went back and polished the first two to a high sheen. It was a chance not only to perfect things for my editor, but to remind myself of the tone I set with the first two.

Then it was time for the online revision class I’d signed up to take from New York Times bestselling author Lani Diane Rich. I used those six weeks to absorb all the wisdom and strategy I could to prepare myself to return to LET IT BREATHE.

On one hand, I’ve been kicking myself for the hiatus. How silly to stop with so little left to write.

On the other hand, I know myself as a writer. I needed to take a few steps back to gain perspective and curtail the distaste I could feel building in the back of my throat.

Have you given yourself permission to step away from a story when something isn’t right? Do you ever get sick of your own baking or writing? Please share.

And please give me an easier food to lust for next time. Carrot sticks, maybe?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mood music and earworms

Yesterday was rough.

I don’t mean that in the “if it’s not rough it isn’t fun” way, either (though I’m kind of impressed with myself for combining my dog’s death with a raunchy Lady Gaga lyric).

I’m a fiend for music – even Lady Gaga, though that’s not generally my first (or second, or twelfth) choice of ear candy. I can’t stand to be in a car or at my computer without music playing. If someone cut off my access to Pandora, I’d probably never write another book again.

I’ve seen authors who compile soundtracks for their books, and while I haven’t gone that far, I definitely have songs that capture the mood I’m trying to create in certain scenes.

When I wrote the final love scene in LET IT BREATHE, I played Patty Griffin's "Change" over and over again. I must have hit replay 25 times before I had things nailed down just the way I wanted them (note the clever use of the word “nailed.”)

The Push Stars’ song “Claire” became my unofficial theme music for the budding relationship between Drew and Violet in BELIEVE IT OR NOT.

And every time I hear Joseph Arthur’s “Tattoo,” I’m back in the early chapters of MAKING WAVES, trying to capture the rhythm of a boat crashing through the ocean.

For me, it’s about mood more than lyrical content. “Change” isn’t the least bit romantic if you’re only paying attention to the words, but it set the tone I wanted for that scene in LET IT BREATHE. There’s no character named “Claire” in BELIEVE IT OR NOT and no one ever utters the phrase “I would die for you,” but there’s still a certain vibe to the song that captured the relationship between those two characters.

I was curious if my idea of vibe would match someone else's, or if it’s one of those subjective things. I whipped out the iPod in the car one afternoon and made Pythagoras listen to “Claire” first, then “Change.”

“So based on that,” I said. “What sort of mood would you guess each of the two love scenes might have?”

Pythagoras laughed. “Why do I think that last one is something I don't want my mom reading?”

Pretty much.

Do you listen to music when you write? Do certain songs catch in your brain when you’re reading scenes in books?

Please share. I need to go download something new to scrub that Lady Gaga earworm from my brain.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saying goodbye

This is one of those days where I can't be funny or clever or entertaining.

Right here is where you make a crack about how I've never been any of those things, and we both laugh because it's always possible to laugh.

But it's tougher to do it today because we're having to make the hard decision to say goodbye to our older dog, Ozzy.

You've met Ozzy a couple times before on this blog. He chose the winner in my last blog contest, and I also showed you how our younger dog, Bindi, learned to compensate for Ozzy's deafness by herding him back to us on hikes.

Oz is 15 years old. He's deaf, mostly blind, arthritic, and has a torn ACL, a vestibular disorder, and escalating doggie dementia. Despite all this, his spirits have stayed high, and our vet has continually assured us his quality of life is still good.

But we reached the point this weekend where we aren't sure that's still true.

The significant part of that sentence is "we aren't sure." Friends have always told us, "you'll know when it's time." The thing is, we don't know. Not for sure. Ozzy still has moments where he's the happiest, spunkiest dog at the park, and we think he might just outlive us all.

But those moments are starting to seem more fleeting. I guess that's as close as we can come to knowing?

We've been braced for this for awhile, and we're frankly surprised he's lasted this long. Still, it's not easy. For childless-by-choice couples like us, your pets become your family. Even when you think you're prepared for the inevitable, you never really are.

Stop by tomorrow and I'll be back to my old self. For now, you can see me being my old self young and vivacious self at author Brenda Sedore's blog, where she interviewed me about books and publication and the fact that I often dress like a homeless hooker when I'm writing. Go here to check that out.

But for now, it's time to say goodbye. We'll miss you, buddy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jennifer Crusie (my idol) blogs at The Debutante Ball

OK, so it's no secret that I worship at the altar of Jennifer Crusie, right? And that I've read her books over and over so many times I can recite long passages? And that I adore her so much I sleep with a lock of her hair under my pillow?

Wait, maybe that last one was a secret.

Several weeks ago I mustered up the courage to contact Jennifer Crusie on behalf of The Debutante Ball. That's a group blog I'm part of (now in its fifth season) that chronicles the debut year of five new authors from different genres, and I was honored to be chosen for it several months ago.

Every Saturday, we host a different guest blogger. Since Jennifer Crusie is my idol, I decided to be bold and ask her to participate.

And get this – she said yes.

Not only did she say yes, but she emailed me back within minutes with a message began, "Hi, Tawna. Of course I know you."

OK, OK...I don't delude myself into believing she knows me as an up-and-coming romantic comedy author. I'm sure she just knows my name since I comment on her blog from time to time. Still, I might've swooned a little. And maybe peed myself.

I've been swooning all week with the knowledge that she's blogging TODAY (that's Saturday, October 23) at the Debutante Ball. I've already read her post two or three or twelve times, and it's fabulous. She's funny and smart and all those things that make her the author whose books I adore with a blinding passion.

And speaking of those books, she's giving away two of them. And they're signed! All you have to do is leave a comment. Go now. Here's a link. Go. What are you waiting for?

Friday, October 22, 2010

My crush on the guy with the big probe

Thanks to everyone who participated in my “favorite place to be kissed” poll the last two days. Want to know what that was all about? You’ll have to stop by The Debutante Ball and read this week’s post.

Now that we got that out of the way, I have some exciting news – I get to go to the dentist this morning.

This fills my heart with joy like composite resin in a decaying tooth. I’ve been going to the same dentist for about nine years, and I’m not ashamed to admit I have a small crush on him.

OK, maybe I’m a little ashamed to admit it. It’ll be just my luck he’ll visit my blog today and will promptly transfer my records to one of the other dentists.

Honestly, it’s a harmless thing. He’s happily married, I’m happily married, and our contact is limited to him shoving his gloved hands in my mouth once every six months. Hardly the basis for a romantic tryst.

I will confess right now that the second romance novel I ever wrote had a hero who bore a striking resemblance to my dentist. The story is one of my abysmal early attempts, so there’s little risk it will ever find its way to the bookstore shelves where my dentist – who, naturally, would be browsing the romance aisle – would stumble upon it and bellow, “wait a minute, that’s me!”

That’s true for pretty much any character I write. People often ask me if I base characters on real people. The short answer is, “of course!”

The long answer is that my characters – especially the male love interests – are almost always an amalgam of many different people. I’ll borrow eyes from a guy I pass on the street, arms from some sexy stud I spot on the internet, a smile from my high school boyfriend. I’ve told my husband before that he’s the inspiration for every hero I’ll ever write, and while that’s true, I mean it more in a big picture “you’re the reason I believe in true love” sort of way.

But I’d be lying if I pretended little parts (and not-so-little parts) of other men don’t help form those characters.

Especially my dentist.

When I had a cavity filled several years ago, he dosed me liberally with laughing gas (knowing my crippling needle phobia and the likelihood I’d punch anyone who came near me with the Novocain.)

The whole thing is a blur to me, except the faint memory that I was very, very happy for the duration of the procedure.

I walked home afterward, and was still a little loopy when I strolled through the front door with a big, drooly smile on my face.

“You’re baked out of your gourd, aren’t you?” Pythagoras asked.

I grinned. “Uh-huh. Nitrous Oxide. Good stuff.”

“Please tell me you didn’t hit on the dentist.”

Truly, I have no idea. That’s probably best.

Have you ever developed a harmless crush on your doctor, dentist, or the clerk at the adult video store? Do any traces of these people appear in your novels? Please share.

I have to go primp for the dentist.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting lipstick on another man's shirt

I had lunch yesterday with a former co-worker I’ve been friendly with for maybe six years.

This is a male friend – someone I’m delighted to catch up with over lunch a couple times a year, but not someone I go out with for girls’ night and spend the evening swapping fashion tips and ass pats.

We met at the door and exchanged the customary hug. One problem – the angle was off. You know those hugs where things don’t line up quite right and you end up with your faced squashed against someone’s shoulder?

Not usually a big deal. Unfortunately, I’d just applied a fresh coat of lipstick and my lunch companion was wearing a light colored dress shirt. As we headed off toward a table, all I could think was, “crap, did I just get lipstick on his shirt?”

By then, he was off and running with the conversation, so I settled for discretely trying to get a look at his right shoulder. Just my luck, he sat down at an angle that made it impossible to inspect him for makeup damage.

At this point, I probably should have said something, right? “Dude, I think I just smeared Créme Sable on you, here’s a Tide Stain Stick.”

But the moment never seemed to present itself. And I wasn’t really sure about the lipstick. Maybe I really didn't get it on him at all. If I could just get a look at—

“So the writing career is going well?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied, tearing my eyes off his shirt. “Very well. Just ten months until the release date. Um, look—”

“Would you excuse me a second?” he asked as he frowned down at his phone. “I have to take this call.”

I tried to get a look at his shirt as he stood up, but no luck. I was staring at my own phone when he returned, so I missed my chance then. We went back to chatting about his kids’ activities, and I was just working up the nerve to say something when I heard a commotion behind me.

I turned in my seat to look. “What is it?”

“Must be a kitchen fire,” he said. And since he’s technically the guy in charge of such incidents, he got up to deal with it.

By the end of lunch, I was exhausted from my covert efforts to look for lipstick, my thwarted efforts to address the issue head-on, and my fretting about the scene that could await him at home later.

“What did you do today, dear?” his wife might ask.

“Oh, I had lunch with an old friend.”

“I see,” she’ll say, folding her arms over her chest and narrowing her eyes at his shirt. “Was this a female friend?”

Sadly, I’ll never know. And since he was hopping on a plane last night for two weeks of travel– followed by the inevitable six-month gap that always occurs between our lunch dates – the odds are slim I’ll ever find out.

Have you ever been in a situation like that? You want to say something, but you’re not sure you should, and then when the opportunity presents itself things don’t quite work out? Feel free to share. Or feel free to tell me what I should have done differently. There’s always that.

By the way, there’s still time to weigh in on the “favorite place to be kissed” poll at the top right of this page. I’m pulling it down at 7 p.m. PST Thursday evening, and yes, it will all make sense tomorrow. Sort of.

Also, I was thrilled recently to be interviewed by Gabriela Lessa as part of a series for Women’s Fiction Month. She kicked off her interview series chatting with Jodi Picoult and concluded with me, interviewing a lot of other fabulous authors in between. That probably makes me sound way cooler than I am. Never mind, no it doesn’t. You guys know better. Anyway, go check it out here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

People who help me not suck:
The value of critique partners & beta readers

Let me tell you about my flaws as a writer.

I should mention this is not the ideal way to begin a job interview.

Nevertheless, here are my major shortcomings:
  • My failure to plot ahead means I sometimes back myself into corners.
  • I lose track of details like the color of a character’s shirt or the day on which a scene takes place.
  • My fashion sense leaves something to be desired.
  • I am an insensitive bitch.
Fortunately, I know my failings. Even more fortunately, I have two amazing critique partners and three fabulous beta readers chosen precisely because they make up for what I lack.

Allow me to introduce them:

Critique partner Cynthia Reese has published four books with Harlequin Superromance, and is an infinitely better plotter than I am. Because of this, she can catch me before I veer too far off track, and brainstorm with me until I figure out where I’m headed. As a multi-published romance writer, she knows the “rules” of the genre much better than I do, and has a strong sense of overall story structure.

Critique partner Linda Brundage is also a much savvier plotter than I am, so between my two critique partners, my biggest weakness is covered. Because Linda doesn’t read or write romance, I can count on her to nudge me outside that box. She's got a flair for scene-setting and description, and is also my most sensitive, emotionally driven reader.

Beta reader Larie Borden an insensitive bitch like me. It makes her a good reader not just because I count on her for the harshest feedback, but because if she agrees with Linda that a character is a jerk, I know I’ve got some serious rehabbing to do. She’s not a writer, but a voracious reader with a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of what she likes. As an added bonus, she’s a savvy fashionista who outfits my characters so they don’t look like they got dressed in an unlit thrift store.

Beta reader Bridget McGinn is a former marketing colleague and the most voracious romance reader in the bunch. She’s been reading the genre her whole life, so she has strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t. Besides being wildly smart, she’s got a sensitive streak like Linda. That means I can count on her to be my second gut-check after I’ve fixed whatever rubbed Linda the wrong way on the first round.

Beta reader Minta Powelson is another former marketing colleague, and she gets the manuscript after I’ve made everyone else's changes. She’s my reader with the keenest eye for grammatical details, punctuation, and consistency, so I trust her for the final polish when I’m so tired of a manuscript I want to hurl it out a window. If a character had a pink bandana on page 64 but a yellow one on page 297, I can count on her to notice.

I do venture beyond these five readers – for example, when I need a male perspective, a fresh set of eyes, or specific expertise – but this is my core posse. It’s no accident their strengths are my weaknesses. I consider this one of the most valuable things I gain from these critiquing relationships.

Incidentally, I met four of the five readers through different jobs I’ve held in the last 10 years. The fifth (Cynthia) I’ve never met in person, though we’ve critiqued together for 6+ years since we met in an online writers’ forum.

So there you have it – the people who keep me from sucking. What do you look for in critique partners and beta readers? What weaknesses do you need help overcoming? Please share.

And don’t forget to thank all the people who make you the best writer you can be. I’ve got some phone calls to make now.

P.S. See that little survey box at the top right of the page? I'm conducting some highly-scientific, very valuable research about kissing. OK, it's not very scientific or valuable. Still, would you mind taking a second to click? Thanks!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stuff that scares me in bed

It happened again last night.

Honestly, it had been so long since last time, I’d forgotten what it’s like.

I’m talking about the recurring dream I’ve had since childhood. It’s the dream that bubbles up out of my subconscious in times of stress, bad meals, or for no discernible reason I can fathom.

I call it “the tooth dream,” or more accurately, “holy @#$% my teeth fell out.”

Sometimes it’s just one tooth. Sometimes it’s the entire mouthful crumbling to dusty bits as I sit in a meeting trying to pretend everything’s normal.

My brain has gotten clever over the years, prompting my dreaming self to think, “damn, all these years of dreaming about it and now it really happened.”

Last night’s version was particularly disturbing, with a chunk of my jaw and three teeth just popping out like my grandma’s dentures. In the dream, I was traveling in another part of the state and decided the logical course of action was to go to the city's visitor center and call my veterinarian. She suggested I put the teeth in a padded envelope and mail them to her before eating a chocolate croissant.

I swear I couldn’t make this stuff up. If I had half the imagination when I’m awake as I do asleep, I’d be a New York Times bestseller by now.

I’ve looked up the tooth dream several times online and in dream identification books and have learned it’s actually quite common.

I can’t decide if that’s a relief or very, very disturbing.

There are a variety of theories about what the tooth dream means, ranging from stress (probably) to self-consciousness (probably not) to a fearing a loss of fertility (um, definitely not).
Nope, looks like they're all still in place.

I’m inclined to think the culprit this time is a conversation I had with my mother about the tooth fairy. Then again, it could be the overwhelming urge I felt to bite a guy who pissed me off yesterday.

Sometimes I wish I had more fun recurring dreams, like flying or showing up naked to work. Instead, I'm stuck with the damn teeth.

Do you have any recurring dreams? Have you tried to interpret them? Is your dreaming mind more creative than your wakeful one when it comes to writing?

Please share. I just realized I haven’t checked my teeth in the mirror yet this morning. Holy crap, maybe it really happened?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The downside of nookie in the woods

There aren’t many hiking days left before the ground is covered in crotch-deep snow. That – and a desire to see some fall foliage – prompted Pythagoras and me to hit the trail on Saturday.

We’d been hiking a few miles when we came across a lovely and secluded spot along the water’s edge. I looked at Pythagoras, who was glistening handsomely with sweat. My bosoms were heaving from the exertion of the hike.

OK, so I had romance writing on the brain. Sue me.

I gazed out at a grassy patch between two forks in the creek. “That would be a nice spot to set a love scene in a book.”

Pythagoras turned and stared at me for a few beats. “No.”

I gave him my most innocent expression. “What?”

“The trail is just over there. You saw that whole family piling in the car at the trailhead. It’d be our luck they’d all come trooping along, picnic basket in hand, kids racing out in front—”

“I wasn’t propositioning you.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“OK, fine,” I admitted. “I was propositioning you but—”

“There’s also the dog. You want her grabbing your underwear and running off into the woods?”

That actually seemed like a great scene for a romantic comedy, but perhaps not the best way to seduce my husband.

Fine, he had a point. Even so, I heaved a dramatic sigh. “OK, but you’re missing out.”

“On being arrested for indecent exposure? I’m all right with missing that.”
We threw sticks in the water for the dog for a few more minutes before we set out hiking again. We hadn’t gone more than 30 yards when we saw evidence that someone – presumably someone on horseback or afflicted with severe gastrointestinal issues – had passed by while we were debating the wisdom of getting frisky in the grass.
To my husband’s credit, he did not say I told you so.

Nor did he say it 15 minutes later when we passed a happy pack of hikers headed straight for our spot along the creek.
OK, OK…those romantic, outdoorsy trysts in romance novels and movies are seldom very realistic. There are fire ants and poison ivy, foul weather and fellow hikers.

Still, you can’t blame a girl for trying.

Do you roll your eyes when you watch a Hollywood love scene with a couple frolicking in a lagoon you’re certain would be filled with leeches in real life? Or do you suspend disbelief and just enjoy the fantasy?

Please share. I’ll be busy plotting my strategy for that snow-cave rendezvous I’ve been picturing in my mind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kind words that fuel the fire

Yesterday was a good day.

I was still basking in the glow of the “fan letter” I posted on the blog when I headed off for work (yes, I started a new job – part-time so I can stay focused on writing).

Mid-way through the workday, the boss threw me a last-minute project that called for some fast creative copywriting. I did it, sent the file, and was eating leftover lasagna at my desk when the boss walked in beaming and holding the printout.

This is why we hired you.”

Such a simple statement – only six words – but it totally made my week.

I’m going to go way out on the limb of total obviousness and say that humans need positive feedback to keep ticking.

Author Cynthia Reese and I have worked together as critique partners for 6+ years, and one thing we’ve always cited as a reason we work well together is that we both have hides of Teflon. We don’t get our feelings hurt, and we don’t flinch over negative feedback. We don’t need to be coddled with compliments or have criticisms sugar-coated in any way.

And yet when I get a critique back from her, I still feel warm and glowy each time I see those three little letters – LOL – inserted in random spots to indicate where something I wrote made her laugh out loud.

I don’t care if she follows it up with six pages of notes describing the precise method I should use to dig a hole in my backyard and beat myself over the head with the shovel until I fall in – those three little letters are enough to keep my spirits high.

There’s something called the “sandwich method” that’s common for writers doing critiques or judging contests. The idea is that you offer negative feedback “sandwiched” between two pieces of positive feedback, making the negative a whole lot easier to take.

I’m a big fan.

I’m not suggesting it should be done in a contrived way, or that you should offer anything insincere or meaningless. “I really like the way you capitalized the first word of each sentence,” will probably not achieve the desired result.

I’m also not suggesting you should limit it only to the writing world.

But even a small shred of something genuine and positive can be enough to buoy someone’s spirits. Newbie or New York Times bestseller, writer or non-writer, everyone needs to hear something nice about themselves. It’s easy to forget how much fuel a few simple words can offer, but they’re the things we store in our subconscious and drag out to keep us going out when setbacks threaten to crush us.

Do compliments make you warm and glowy? Do you try to offer them regularly to writing pals or loved ones, or is it tougher for you to do? Please share.

And hey – that’s a really nice shirt you’re wearing. Brings out the color in your eyes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mail that makes my day

As a romantic comedy author, I don't entertain many fantasies about readers crafting heartfelt letters to tell me how my books changed their lives.

Maybe someday I'll get a note saying I gave someone a chuckle or some frisky inspiration in the bedroom, but for the most part, I'm writing to entertain – not to educate or inspire.

Maybe that's why the email I got yesterday made me smile. I asked the author if I could share it here in case it makes you smile as well:

Sent: Wed, October 13, 2010 1:39:09 PM
Subject: Your blog post, September 21, 2010

Hi, Tawna!

I wanted to thank you for sharing this "show, don't tell" story on your blog. I used it today with my 7th grade students (I'm an English and reading teacher) – it's PERFECT for this age group. My kids are such soft-hearted, animal-loving young people (at least, most of them), so your husband's actions in this story had a big impact on them. I didn't "show" the blog to them (language!) :o) but read them the story, then stopped to ask what they know about your husband from hearing that, before I read the points you intended to make. MOST of them came up with all of the points you mentioned on their own. Very powerful! Of course I showed the picture of Ozzy with a sock on also, to increase the impact (so cute!). Now we'll see if they can transfer this knowledge to their own situations – so far, after discussion with a partner, they've come up with good examples of "showing, not telling" in movies or other books they've read, and in a few cases students made up stories of their own which made good points about characters without using the words they're demonstrating. We're off to a good start!

I felt you should know how you've impacted people as far away as [location withheld] with your writing! Thank you so much!

[name withheld]

P.S. I'm trying to remember how I found your blog - I believe I started with Jenny Crusie's blog, then followed links to Lucy March's blog and followed your link to your own blog from there.

Isn't that nice? And maybe a little unsettling to think I'm warping young minds on the other side of the country.

The funny thing is, I forget people read this blog. I see the comments and track my Google Analytics stats, but deep down I still think it's my mother and my agent clicking over and over and making up different user names so I'll think lots of people are stopping by.

When I was at the Emerald City Writers' Conference a few weeks ago, strangers kept coming up and telling me they read my blog. The first time it happened, I thought it was a joke. When it kept happening, I felt a weird sort of panic. Have I written anything really dumb lately? I hope I didn't offend her with that one post. Or that other one. Or...

I guess I need to get over having a mild freakout when someone reads something I've written. Either that, or come up with a plan to purchase every printed copy of my book next August so no one else can see it.

How do you feel about the idea of people reading something you've written? Does it excite you, or make you want to hide under your bed? Have you ever thought about what sort of fan mail you might someday receive, or are you more inclined to fret about eventual hate mail?

I'm sort of thinking they'll start the same way for me. Dear Pervert...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bad behavior in cheap hotels

The other day I heard two travel professionals debating the desirability of a certain group of tourists.

I forget who they were discussing or what criteria they used to determine the likelihood of a hotel guest blowing snot rockets on the shower curtain, but it reminded me of one of 1,000 jobs that helped pay my college tuition.

I cleaned rooms at a mediocre hotel, which is precisely as glamorous as it sounds. I got to handle people’s soiled bed sheets and wonder about the crusty things clinging to damp towels.

In mid-summer, we got word that a big motorcycle rally was passing through town. The hotel staff braced for the worst, picturing leather-clad bikers smashing televisions and punching holes in the walls.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

They made their own beds and picked up their towels. They left generous tips and arranged their leathers neatly in the closets. One biker even left a rose and a heartfelt note thanking me for my service.

I felt guilty for equating Harleys with bad behavior and gratefully pocketed the cash.

Two weeks later, a well-known symphony group booked a block of rooms. I prepared for more tips, perhaps an entire bouquet of roses from the well-heeled musicians.

They trashed the place.

Puke glued to the side of the toilet, unmentionables stuck to the sheets, furniture destroyed, and not a single tip for any of the maids.

In a way, it was a better lesson for me than the bikers had been. The cultured symphony folks were just as capable of bad behavior as I’d assumed the bikers would be, and the bikers were as tidy and thoughtful as I’d naively thought the musicians were. Bottom line, you can’t judge a book by its cover, a biker by his chaps, or a pianist by the fact that is job title sounds delightfully like penis.

It’s been 15 years, but I still cling to my mental picture of the tattooed biker in his leather jacket writing a poignant thank you note to the maid, or the violinist standing atop the television to urinate on the carpet.

That may be one reason my books always end up with characters who bend stereotypes. MAKING WAVES includes a former NFL tight end turned cross-dressing gourmet chef, along with a ruthless pirate who happens to be a literary theologian. The romantic hero in BELIEVE IT OR NOT owns a male strip club – something that made my editor nervous when she first read the manuscript.

I had fun mulling people’s preconceived ideas about those characters and then turning those stereotypes on their heads. Toying with the unexpected is what romance writing is all about for me.

Do you play with stereotypes in your own stories? Do you like reading books where people aren’t what they seem? Please share.

And please tell me you never touch the comforter in a hotel room. Not unless you’re wearing rubber gloves and a HazMat suit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A little rain must fall

For all the non-Oregonians reading, what do you think of when you picture my fair state?

Hats off to those who said “wine,” but I’m guessing at least half of you said “rain.”

(Feel free to insert your own Oregon joke here about how we don’t tan, we rust. Or maybe the one about how our state flower is mildew).

While it’s true spots like Portland and Eugene are supremely soggy, that’s not the case here in the high desert of Central Oregon where it seldom rains. Though Pythagoras and I both grew up in rainy parts of the state, we’ve been on the dry side for 13 years.

That’s just long enough to alter our perception of rain to the point that we briefly considered canceling our hike when we woke Saturday morning to see drizzly conditions. Then we remembered real Oregonians have gills. We scoff at umbrellas. We don’t consider it a true hike unless there’s mud, dammit.

So we set out for a hike around Tumalo Falls. By the time we returned to the car, it looked like we’d both spent the last few hours standing fully clothed beneath the falls.
I posted that picture on Twitter with some silly comment about it looking like I peed my pants in reverse. I didn’t think much of it until an online pal wrote that she was sorry the rain ruined my hike.

That struck me as funny.

Maybe it’s the fact that if Oregonians let rain ruin things, we’d have very little bliss in our lives.

Or maybe it’s that the rain kind of made the hike.

I left my jacket at home, so Pythagoras chivalrously loaned me his. The dog – unaccustomed to soggy soil – kept spinning out and making us laugh. And the smell of the high desert when it rains is the closest thing I can think of to heaven.

I guess I never considered the rain might be a negative.

Admittedly, I’ve always been an optimist. I probably couldn’t have endured such a bumpy journey to publication if that weren’t the case.

Even so, it can be tough to keep a positive attitude when you’re in the trenches gathering rejections or struggling with a book that won’t cooperate. You have it in your mind how things should go, and any deviation from that can send you into a tailspin.

But sometimes what seems like a setback can turn out to be the best thing. There’s no doubt I was crushed years ago when Harlequin/Silhouette canceled the Bombshell line a month before my debut was scheduled for publication, but I look back now and breathe a sigh of relief. That’s not the sort of book I wanted to write in the long-term, but it took a major shakeup to prompt me to realize I should take a different path.

While you probably won’t always feel like dancing for joy when the downpour hits, there’s almost always something to be gained from it.

Are you an optimist, or do setbacks tend to hit you pretty hard? Can you recall anything that’s happened to you that seemed heartbreaking at the time, but turned out to be the best thing for you?

Please share in the comments. I’m still trying to get the rainwater out of my underwear.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The pleasure of touching other people's things

I love estate sales. There's a thrill in pawing through a stranger's stuff and scoring that half-full bottle of Windex for a quarter.

What I don't love is knowing estate sales seldom occur under happy circumstances. They usually happen when someone dies or moves into a nursing home. I went to one that took place after a bitter divorce where the couple just walked away from everything – family portraits in the frames, popcorn in the popper, rows of sexy nightgowns in the closet.

Thoughts like these can temper my enthusiasm for getting a great deal on a set of avocado green mixing bowls. As I walked around the strange home Saturday afternoon, I couldn't stop wondering about it. Who died? Did he have a happy life? Would his wife think the price was fair on their unopened box of enema bags?

Then I wandered out to the garage. The clouds parted, the birds sang, and I saw my very favorite thing in the world – garage porn.

In case you missed my previous installment on this subject, go here to see what I found in my own garage.

But here's a glimpse at what was in theirs:
The only thing worse than small rubbers is unclean ones.

If you're going to have a power stripper in your garage, make sure you get the super hot one. Even better if you can score the accessories.

Sheet screws? As opposed to the ones atop the quilt?

I honestly have no idea what this means.

The rubbers were small, but the knobs are large. This seems unfair.
Do you enjoy going to estate sales and pawing through other people's things, or do you find the whole business depressing?

If it's the latter, I suggest you visit the garage. Seriously.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shocking truths about editors and agents

I have a few things to share that might totally rock your world. You’d probably better sit down.

Ready? OK.

Shocking fact #1: At the writers’ conference I attended last weekend, I saw an editor take the elevator upstairs to her room. She did not fly there, nor did she head below ground to the basement to sleep in a cocoon of her own wings.

Shocking fact #2
: I had dinner with an agent and she did not bite heads off bats or kill our waiter and suck his brains out through his ear. She ate salad – spinach and goat cheese, to be precise.

Shocking fact #3:
I saw an editor go into the ladies' room. While I didn’t peer under the stall to confirm this, I’m fairly certain she was taking care of a basic biological human need.

From these facts, we can draw a startling conclusion – editors and agents are human.

But seeing the terror in the eyes of authors lined up to pitch last weekend, you would have thought they were all being covered in peanut butter and marched into a pit of starving vampire mice.

I know I speak from the position of already having an amazing agent and a fabulous editor. Hell, it was only eight months ago the aforementioned agent had to talk me off the ledge before my first phone call with the aforementioned editor. Believe me, I understand the terror.

But I guess I’m thinking about this because of something that happened last weekend.

I was herded into a pitch session with a pack of other authors, all of whom immediately grabbed seats on the opposite side of the table from the editor. I looked at the empty chairs beside the editor and thought, “that looks lonely.”

I also thought maybe she had a communicable disease the other authors knew about and I’d somehow missed the memo, but I took my chances and took the chair next to her anyway.

She looked at me in surprise, then smiled – a genuine, warm smile. “Thanks for sitting by me.”

Then we braided each other’s hair and had a pillow fight.

OK, maybe that part didn’t happen. My point though, is that authors can get so worked up by fear and respect for agents and editors that we widen the chasm between "us" and "them." While it’s true the balance of power can feel skewed, the bottom line is that we’re all people. We all have families and friends, food cravings and bathroom breaks.

And we’re all united by the same goal – to make our books great and get them into readers’ hands.

I know that perspective is one I’ll carry with me as I move forward with my writing career. Who knows, maybe I’ll even stop hyperventilating when I see my editor’s name in my email inbox.

Do you fight terror when you write query letters or pitch at conferences? Do you sometimes suspect editors and agents are all otherworldly beings? Please share, I’d love to hear your experiences.

Oh, and for the record, you know that old trick about picturing people in their underwear so you’re less nervous? Don’t do it when you’re sitting beside an editor. I’m just saying.

Just a reminder, it's my day to blog at The Debutante Ball.
We're talking about change, so stop by and visit!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How to measure the smut?

I told you last Friday that the most common question at the “librarian speed dating” event focused on what each book was about.

Want to know the second most common question?

It was always accompanied by a slight shift in the chair, maybe a glance to one side or the other, even a blush in one case.

Then the librarian would clear her throat. “How steamy is your book?”

The first time someone asked, I choked on the grape I was eating. Then I quietly gave myself the Heimlich maneuver while the other two authors at my table used words like “closed door” and “discreet.”

When it was my turn, I shrugged. “My debut, MAKING WAVES, includes the word ‘vibrator’ 17 times.”

The number was on the tip of my tongue because I’d counted the previous week to amuse myself. It’s true, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. The book contains a fair amount of bawdy humor, but the hero and heroine don’t consummate their relationship until fairly late in the story. Technically, the scene fades to black before the actual “moment” occurs (depending, I suppose, on how you and Bill Clinton define “moment.”)

That differs a bit from the second book in my contract, BELIEVE IT OR NOT. Though it may change if my editor requests it, the “moment” in that book lasts for nearly 20 pages and actually made me blush once on a read-through.

Both books are packed with a lot of risqué humor that might not resonate with all library patrons, and there’s a helluva lot of sexual tension in both. But steaminess? I’m not sure how to define that.

I did have to laugh when one of the librarians described an elderly patron returning to the library with a romance novel that had been recommended.

“This is the filthiest book I’ve ever read!” she declared as she thrust it at the librarian.

“Um,” said the librarian, fumbling for words.

“Where can I find more?”

How do you judge the steaminess quotient in a book? How do you measure the smut? Is it risqué language, sexual tension, the duration or graphic nature of actual love scenes, or something else entirely?

More importantly, does it matter?

In case it maters how many times the word “lust” is used, that would be 10 times for MAKING WAVES, 14 times in BELIEVE IT OR NOT, and 6 times in LET IT BREATHE.

Just thought you should know.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dead plants aren't always dead

When I left town last Wednesday for the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, I wrote detailed note for the pet-sitter. I covered everything from the dogs’ exercise habits to the location of the frozen blood worms for the eel.

But one thing I neglected to request is that someone – anyone – water the basil on my desk.

This is what I found when I returned on Monday:
I took one look at it and knew it was a goner. The leaves were crispy, and the stems drooped like braless D-cups.

Still, I had some water left in my Nalgene bottle from the drive, so I halfheartedly dumped it in knowing full well I’d be throwing the thing in the garbage and holding a basil funeral the next day.

But when I woke up in the morning, here’s what greeted me on my desk:
Less than 24 hours had passed, and the basil was magically resurrected. Well, it's not perfect. The leaves are still a little limp in some spots, and it could use a good pruning.

But I’m glad I didn’t toss it in the trash.

It made me think of a conversation that’s been taking place in the discussion forums for writers in Lani Diane Rich’s online revision class. Many are discovering they need to hack out entire scenes and rewrite fresh ones to make their stories stronger.

A newer author recently asked whether she should scrap the dead scenes altogether or keep them somehow. Several of us who’ve been there before suggested she save everything in an old draft while creating a new one to incorporate changes.

That’s always been my preferred method. Many times I’ve written a scene and realized later it just wasn’t right. Though the temptation is great to just hit the delete key, I never do it – not permanently anyway.

I’m a fan of creating a new version of a manuscript every time I open it to make changes. I use the date in the file name for each new version, giving myself the option of going back to those earlier versions in case I wake up one morning shrieking, “Noooo! Give me back my scene with the hubcap and the chocolate frosting!”

I’m not saying there aren’t times when those old scenes really do need to land in the trash pile and stay there. I’m just suggesting it’s smart to give yourself the option to go back and salvage or simply learn from them when you return for another look someday.

Are you trigger happy on the delete key when it comes to edits, or do you save old drafts in hopes of making them new again someday? Please share in the comments.

Either that, or come on over for dinner. I’ll be making a lovely caprese salad with my resurrected basil.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pondering the age old question

Pythagoras just had a birthday.

Since I was en route home from a writers’ conference and not there to wake him with cake and a pony, he didn’t realize it was the anniversary of his birth until he got to work.

I suppose it’s like this after a certain age. Unless it’s a milestone birthday like 21 or 50, you stop caring about waking to find a banana-seat Schwinn at the foot of your bed.

For me, the most important aspect of my husband’s birthday is the chance to remind him he’s five years older than me.

There’s a window between August and October when this isn’t the case, and for two months he can claim a four-year gap. I like having him restored to his rightful place as five years my elder. I am 36 and he is 41 and that is as it should be.

We met when I was barely 19, and one of our first conversations kicked off with Pythagoras informing me it was his birthday. When he told me his age, I was dumbfounded. 24? That seemed ancient. I wondered if we’d be eligible for the senior discount if I accepted his dinner invitation.

In all seriousness, the age difference has never mattered much, except to provide entertainment when pondering what the age gap would have meant when we were younger.

When he was 16, I was 11. Though we didn’t know each other, I suspect a relationship would not have been satisfying for either party.

When he was 20, I was 15. I’m sure that arrangement is acceptable in some cultures and jail cells, but there’s an ick-factor I’d prefer not to contemplate.

When it comes to writing, I don’t give a lot of thought to the ages of the characters. The hero in MAKING WAVES is 42, while the heroine is 37 – both a bit older than in many romance novels. It was a deliberate choice based on the setup for that story, but I tend to do that in most of my romances. I’d much rather write a 35-year-old heroine than a 25-year-old one, and it’s what I prefer to read as well.

I deviated from this in a mystery we shopped several months ago with a cast of 20-somethings, and an editor flagged it immediately. She felt my books were more likely to appeal to readers in their 30s and 40s and suggested I pad everyone’s résumés to add a few years. It was an easy fix, but certainly gave me something to ponder.

As a reader, do you prefer stories about characters in your age range? What do you tend to do as a writer? Where’s the oogie-threshold when you’re considering a large age gap between a hero and a heroine, and does it matter which one is older?

Please share, I’m curious.

Oh, and for the record, I think I’ll just keep aging my characters as my career progresses. I’m looking forward to the day I get to write a 78-year-old heroine being thoroughly ravaged by her 72-year-old lover.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Getting nailed in Seattle

During a routine conversation at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, someone asked me what I write.

“Romantic comedy,” I replied, preparing to ask her the same question while assessing her attire to see if I could guess on my own.

Before I could ask, she gave me an incredulous look. “Romantic comedy? Why?”

I’m not sure if it was a comment on the volatility of that sub-genre or the fact that I hadn’t managed to say anything hysterical in the eight seconds we’d known each other.

Either way, I thought about the nail.

If you read the blog on Friday, you know I got a flat tire on my journey to the conference. I discovered it just after I arrived in Issaquah, WA for a “librarian speed dating” event. Though I’ve never been to Issaquah and found it to be a lovely town, I wasn’t keen on roaming it on foot to search for the event location.

A smart person would have assessed the tire damage and contacted a repair professional.

I made jokes on Twitter.

Then I called Pythagoras and described the tire’s condition in a conversation that may have included the phrase “flaccid manhood.”

Don’t get me wrong – there was some crying and cursing, and the obvious panic about whether I was going to have to turn tricks in the hotel parking lot to secure a ride to the event.

As it turned out, prostitution wasn’t necessary. The kind and lovely Marcella Burnard – a sci-fi romance author with no way of knowing whether I routinely kill sci-fi romance authors and bury their bodies in my vegetable garden – read of my flat tire woes on Twitter. Since we have a mutual Twitter acquaintance and were both attending the librarian event, she offered to pick me up and drive me to our destination.

Forget Fabio on the cover of a bodice ripper, Marcella is my hero.

In the morning, I limped my pitiful car to a nearby shop and alternated between sniffling back tears and giggling each time someone began a sentence “I just jacked…”

I stopped giggling when the repair guy suggested the tire was likely ruined, and since the car is all-time all-wheel-drive, would need four new tires.

But luck was on my side, and by “luck” I mean a giant nail the size of my middle finger.

“Turns out the tire isn’t ruined,” the repair guy told me. “We were able to pull out the nail and fix the tire after all.”

I’m pretty sure I swooned with relief. “That’s so great. Can I have the nail?”

He looked at me like I was nuts – an expression you’ll be surprised to hear is familiar – and retreated back to the shop. He returned to hand me the evil implement, which I tucked inside my wallet for safekeeping.

It's possible I was the only romance author at the convention who routinely whipped out a rusty nail in the course of routine introductions, but I thought it made a lovely conversation piece.

It also answered that author’s question – albeit, in a vaguely weird way . This is why I write romantic comedy. Because I can find the humor in all situations. Because flat tires and rusty nails really are funny if you look hard enough. Because even though it annoys the hell out of loved ones from time to time, the fact that I can find the funny in anything is what makes me who I am.

Why did you pick your genre? Was there an epiphany involved, or did you know from the moment you started writing? Please share.

I will share a picture of my nail. Impressive, huh?

Friday, October 1, 2010

But what's the book ABOUT?

If I were the sort of person who believes in bad omens, yesterday’s flat tire might’ve seemed like a foreboding start to my very first writers’ conference.

Fortunately, I didn’t take it that way. Much.

Admittedly I was a bit frazzled by the time I walked into the event touted as “librarian speed dating” – a chance for romance authors to meet with librarians from around the Seattle area and let them know why they should consider buying our books. Though no no one said this outright, I suspected headlocks were not the appropriate method of persuasion.

The preferred method was a simple question from the librarian that goes like this:

What’s your book about?

It’s amazing how hard it can be to answer succinctly in one or two sentences. The temptation is to want to throw in as much detail as possible – the character names, the subplots, the inciting incidents, the name of the main character’s dog. Even in a roomful of published authors who presumably know their way around the English language, I heard a lot of “ums” and “kind ofs.” Not all of them were coming from me.

I was fortunate that earlier in the week, I had a telephone brainstorm session with one of my critique partners. She’s going through some gnarly revisions on a challenging book with several plotlines and four points of view, and was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. When I asked her to break down the “what’s your book about?” question in two sentences, you would have thought I asked her to touch her eyelid with her tongue.

But it was a good exercise to nail down the core of the story. What’s the central idea that everything else revolves around? The temptation is to give a longer, rambling answer – something like this big block of text we’ve been using online and on a few random print pieces for MAKING WAVES:

Juli lost count of the number of jobs she’s held, but she definitely never applied to be a pirate. Or a stowaway on a pirate ship, for that matter. But when fate lands her on boat captained by Alex – a man whose unscrupulous boss kicked him to the curb after 20 faithful years – Juli finds herself in the middle of a revenge-fueled diamond heist in the Caribbean with a crew more suited to the boardroom than the poop deck. For his part, Alex didn’t plan to be a pirate, either. He just wants his dignity, pension, and normal life back. But normal flies out the window once Juli enters the picture – a twist Alex wishes he didn’t find so exhilarating. Soon, the two discover that while normal is nice, weird can be wonderful.

While that certainly answers the “what’s the book about?” question, it’s not the breezy one or two sentence summation I’m talking about here. It’s not succinct or conversational, and it doesn’t truly break it down to the bare bones.

What I ended up telling the librarians was something more like this:

Alex’s sleazy boss kicks him to the curb and steals his pension, so he and three colleagues head to the Caribbean to intercept the boss’s illegal diamond shipment in the most dysfunctional pirate mission in history. Things get complicated when Juli – who’s supposed to be dumping her dead uncle’s ashes at sea – has an allergic reaction to seasickness pills and accidentally stows away on their boat.

It’s shorter, it’s conversational, and hopefully prompts someone to ask the question “so then what?”

I’m not claiming I rattled that off without stammering or rambling, but just having it clarified in my head not only helped me feel like I know my own book, but that someone else might want to know it, too.

Are you able to sum up your own story in one or two sentences? Is it tempting to want to throw in too much detail, or do you have trouble zeroing in on the central idea?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

I’d also love it if someone could come out here and fix my @#$% tire. Anyone? Anyone?