Monday, February 28, 2011

It plumps when you rub it with lotion

I hate cleaning. If given the choice between tidying my house or removing my own spleen with a pair of rusty pruning sheers, I’d honestly have to weigh the decision.

But it’s my turn to host book club, and though I’ve been with this group for over ten yeas, I like to think I can still fool them into believing I’m not a disgusting slob.

I’ve been dragging my feet on most of the chores but there’s one I look forward to two or three times a year.

I love rubbing lotion on my sofas.
I'm not talking Jergens hand cream, mind you. It’s some sort of fancy conditioner meant for leather furniture. When we bought the sofas six years ago, the sales clerk offered strict instructions for keeping them nice.

“Leather furniture can dry and crack in the high desert,” he warned. “Just like skin, you need to keep it supple and moist.”

Once I stopped giggling about the supple and moist thing, I gave in and bought the ridiculously expensive leather cleaning and conditioning kit.

It’s been well worth it.

I start by rubbing both sofa and loveseat with a special cleaning solution. Once they’re dry, I lube up a sponge with special conditioning lotion and carefully, gently massage it into every nook and cranny.

Then I stand back and watch.

Right before my eyes, the cushions start to plump. Little wrinkles vanish, and the whole sofa perks up like a pair of sweater potatoes with new silicone implants.

I swear I’ve considered rubbing the stuff on my face.

Porny sounding imagery aside, there's something so gratifying about tackling a task with such visible, instantaneous results. It's like a long run of writing where you watch your word count double in an hour, or the satisfying sensation of draining that wine glass down to empty.

Do you have any household chores you find oddly enjoyable? Are there tasks you undertake with your writing that give you more satisfaction than others? Please share!

And if you’re really nice, maybe I’ll let you rub lotion on my leather.

Friday, February 25, 2011

One year ago today...

I've been staring at the computer for 30 minutes thinking, "Would readers feel ripped off if I skipped this post and just suggested going over to The Debutante Ball to read what I blogged about there?"

I've also been thinking about how much I like wool socks and wondering when I last washed my hair. It's been a busy 30 minutes.

But I just looked at the calendar and realized it's a significant day. Maybe not to everyone, but certainly to me.

One year ago today, my amazing agent Michelle Wolfson called to say Sourcebooks, Inc. had offered a three book deal for my romantic comedies.

It's funny to look back now on the blog entry I posted that day. I wrote about visiting my grandmother (a trip I took to get my mind off the fact that the Sourcebooks editorial board was deciding my fate).

Michelle called a few hours after I got home, and I remember panicking as I saw her number on my caller ID. Did she usually call with bad news or email it? I couldn't remember.

I do remember there was a long pause after the preliminary hellos, and in that pause, I was certain we'd been rejected.

I'm no pessimist – far from it, in fact. But I'd had my fair share of calls that left me nodding and squeaking out, "it's OK," while trying to pretend it didn't feel like I'd just been bitch-slapped with a spiced salami.

But there was no bitch-slapping on February 25, 2010. Just a lot of squealing and jumping around and maybe dancing the cat across the bedroom.

He's still pissed about that.

I didn't get the go-ahead to squeal publicly until the next day, so I settled for calling friends and family that evening.

Then I went out and dyed a purple swatch in my hair (a tradition started by my agency sistah Kiersten White and soon to be continued by our other packmates Linda Grimes and Kimberly Sabatini who both just landed book deals. Have I mentioned how much it rocks to be part of Michelle Wolfson's Wolf Pack?)

Anyway, happy anniversary to all of us. Some of you have been reading since I started this blog a few weeks before the book deal came through, and some of you are brand new within the last few days or months. I appreciate every single one of you, and am so thrilled to have you as part of this journey.

Now go out and celebrate. Hey, we can all use the excuse, right?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

READ! A public service announcement

At least once a week, someone asks me the secret to writing a good book and getting it published.

I'm always tempted to make up something fun, like insisting the key is to send three devastatingly handsome, shirtless men to the home of a romantic comedy author with strict instructions to arrive bearing a full bottle of Chianti and an insatiable urge to wash dishes.

But the truth is, I know the answer to the question. And it's staggering in its simplicity.


Read everything. Read fiction and non-fiction, erotica and sports trivia, blogs and magazines. Read books on writing craft and books on how to repair your carburetor. Read short stories and poetry and the back of the deodorizer can in the bathroom (you know you’ve done it).

I’m always astounded when writers tell me they don't read much. "I don't have time," they might say. "I don't want to be influenced by someone else's writing."

Isn't that a bit like a gourmet chef suggesting he only eats Big Macs or a porn star saying she doesn't put out?

Studying other people’s writing – the good, the bad, and the holy-crap-please-stick-a-fork-in-my-eye – is the best way I know to hone your own skills as a writer.

It’s something I’ve always known, but I allow myself to forget from time to time. This past weekend, I had no pressing book deadlines for the first time in a year. My third contracted book is off my desk, and I don't need to start a new one right away. I gave myself permission to read.

I have to tell you, it was glorious. Toe-curlingly, knuckle-bitingly amazing.

Don't let the fact that I was with my cousin and his wife ruin that poetically orgasmic image.

While we’re on the subject of reading, here's a link to an amazing essay on why you should date an illiterate girl. It's darkly funny and a little crass, but beautifully written. Don't click if you're easily offended (but if that's the case, why are you hanging out on my blog?)

Are you a reader? How does it impact you as a writer? Are there certain books that have influenced your writing more than others? Please share.

And please read. For the good of all mankind.

Or at least the readers among us.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Diva demands for a writing workspace

Every now and then I’ll read one of those lists of crazy celebrity demands. You know the stuff I’m talking about – the model who requires an assistant to pre-chew her bubble gum or the rock star who insists everything in his dressing room be orange.

We snicker at those lists because they’re absurd, but I confess – I have a few requirements for my writing space. While I won't hurl myself on the floor and scream until my demands are met, here are the things I find it hard to work without when I'm writing.
  • Water. Not just water, but ice water. I probably drink gallons of it every day, and I get twitchy if I don’t have a full glass within reach.
  • A keyboard and mouse. Though my main computer is a laptop, I keep a wireless mouse and full-sized keyboard hooked to it. I can deal with the regular laptop keyboard and trackpad if I’m traveling, but I don’t like writing that way for any extended period.
  • Music. Blame it on tinnitus (a constant ringing in my ears that will drive me bat-sh*t crazy if I’m forced to sit in a silent room) but I absolutely must have music at all times. Pandora internet radio is my favorite, but I’ll sit here humming show tunes if it’s the only way to avoid silence.
  • Warmth. I get cold easily, and there are few things I hate more than having to sit on my hands every 20 seconds to keep my fingers from freezing. I have a small space-heater under my desk and I’ve been known to crank it even in summertime.
  • Pets. While it’s not an absolute requirement, there’s something I love about having a living, breathing, panting, purring creature near me while I write. The dog’s bed is right under my desk, though it’s most often occupied by Blue Cat. There’s also a cat tree in on one corner, though Matt the Cat prefers my lap.
So those are my five diva demands for my writing workspace. What are yours?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Zen drank margaritas and laughed at me

I went to yoga class Friday evening in search of a little Zen. 

The Zen apparently had better places to be, like happy hour at the Mexican pub down the street. That probably would have been a better spot for me to go looking for the calm, centered aura I so desperately craved.

For starters, my hair wouldn’t cooperate. With hair that’s almost waist-length, it’s tougher than you might think to find a good yoga hairstyle. Ponytail? It gets stuck in my armpits. Braid? My hair is too slippery and comes unraveled when I’m flopping around on the floor. Bun? Not bad until the teacher orders us onto our backs (which, sadly, is not as pornographic as it sounds) and I lie there wondering who shoved a grapefruit under my head.

On the advice of some Twitter pals, I attempted Princess Leia buns. It didn’t work out so well.

I finally gave up and headed off to class with pigtail braids. Already running late, I was forced to park my mat between an angry-looking woman and a guy who might as well have worn a T-shirt that said, “sweaty farter.”

I’m not certain which of them consumed six pounds of garlic prior to the start of class, but I can assure you it’s difficult to focus on your third eye when your first and second are watering.

Perhaps fearing my senses hadn't been adequately assaulted, sweaty farter did his part to ensure there was no risk I might slip into a serene, meditative state.

Then my feet got sweaty. Not normally a problem, except I was using a new yoga mat that wasn’t as grippy as my old one. I kept sliding into an accidental splits, then frantically over-correcting just before my crotch hit the floor.

When I wasn’t panicking about pulling a groin, I was spitting out my pigtail braids, which, predictably, had come unraveled.

Then the instructor turned off the lights. I think she was hoping to send us into calm, enlightened zone as we approached the end of class. Instead, I ended up accidentally groping the woman beside me. I couldn’t tell from her yelp which body part I grabbed, but it was a sticky one.

In the end, the distractions proved to much for me. I never achieved the Zen-like state I hoped for, though I did make up for it by treating myself to sushi and Sake afterward.

Do you have trouble with distractions pulling you out of a mental zone you’re trying desperately to reach? How do you deal with it? Please share your tricks.

Oh, and share your yoga hair ideas if you’ve got ‘em. Maybe a turban?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Will walk for beer

Suited up for the Bend Ale Trail.
My cousin and his wife came to stay for the holiday weekend. As luck would have it, their visit coincided with Zwickelmania.

No, that’s not something dirty. It’s an annual statewide celebration of breweries and beerpubs, something many Oregonians consider only slightly less important than major religious observations.

I got outfitted for the occasion in my “girl versus beer” t-shirt and we vowed to hit seven local breweries in one afternoon. We plotted our course along the free shuttle route, budgeting time for lunch and mapping out walking paths between a few breweries.

We didn’t count on the snow.

An irresponsible oversight, perhaps, give it’s wintertime in a freakin’ mountain town. Odds of snow are high in February.

But the storm that blew through on Saturday morning caught even the snowplows off-guard. We had to push the car just to escape my street.

The free shuttle picked us up at the first brewery about 30 minutes behind schedule, which was impressive given the amount of snow on the roads. Our plan called for walking between three or four of the downtown pubs and reconnecting with the shuttle to reach the more distant locales.

Somehow, that didn’t happen. We kept missing the shuttle, so we kept walking. And walking. And walking. With snow flying at us from all directions, I felt bad for my sneaker-clad guests.

“Do you want to stop?” I called.
Chilling beer with snow at Silver Moon.

“Are you nuts?” they yelled back. “Of course not!”

We had a goal, you see. Those who complete the Bend Ale Trail and get passport stamps at all seven breweries get a commemorative silicone pint glass.

We wanted that prize.

More than that, we wanted to succeed. At some point, our mission had nothing to do with the beer or the prizes. We wanted to reach our goal, and we were willing to sacrifice a few toes to frostbite if necessary.

So we pressed on, stumbling from brewery to brewery with our passports clutched in frozen fingers. Most of our destinations were less than a mile apart – easy distances to cover in ideal conditions.

But these weren’t ideal conditions. These were sidewalks coated with crusty snow that came to our knees in some places.

“The next brewery is just around this corner,” I called as we trudged along. “Or wait – maybe it’s this one?”

We kept marching, our bodies numb more from cold than beer. We shouted with triumph each time we got a new passport stamp, knocking back a few small samples before heading out into the snow again.

When we walked into the final brewery, the fire alarm went off. We grabbed the fleeing hostess by the arm.

“Can we get our passport stamps before we evacuate?”

In the end, we sat in the bar oblivious to the alarm blaring around us, basking in the satisfaction of our achievement. When the shuttle driver arrived to retrieve us, we hugged him.

Snow, endless snow.
Later as we sat by the fire at my house eating chicken and dumplings, we commended ourselves again for our fine achievements.

“That was a lot like writing,” I told my cousin.

“You mean all the beer?”

“That too. But also the fact that success is a lot more satisfying when you have to struggle like hell to get there.”

We all nodded wisely, still too numb too figure out if we’d just stumbled upon something very profound.

Have you ever accomplished anything that felt a million times better than it would have if you hadn’t worked your butt off for it? Please share.

And please don't ask me to take you out on the Bend Ale Trail anytime in the next week or so. I'm still thawing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The secret identities of authors

At a conference last fall, I sat in on a few sessions where authors pitched their stories to editors.

One session had maybe a dozen authors, and I was surprised when at least four of them began by announcing, “my name is Jane Smith, and I’m writing as Suzie Brown.”

OK, they didn’t all use those exact names, but you get the idea.

More surprising to me than those introductions, however, was the fact that the editor stopped each author after that.

“Why are you using a pen name?” she asked.

Sometimes, the author had a good reason – a churchgoing family of five and a fondness for writing steamy lesbian erotica, for example.

But at least one author blinked at the editor with a confused expression. An expression that said, “I thought making up a pen name was the first thing a new writer is supposed to do.”

I know that look because I once had it. I’ll admit that one of the first things I did the summer of 2002 when I decided to try my hand at fiction was conjure up a good pen name.

Well, good may not be the right word. Atrocious might be more appropriate.

I don’t know why a pen name seemed like a more logical first step than, say, reading a book on plotting or joining a writers’ group.

But I know I’m not the only author to think that way. I’ve heard the same story from tons of others. Some have perfectly legitimate reasons for it – a real name that’s too common or unpronounceable, or a secret career as a spy.

I’m curious why the editor asked the question. Was she watching for signs that a newbie author had her head so far in the clouds she was more enthralled by the idea of a nom de plume than learning the craft or the business side of publishing?

That certainly would have been true for me back in 2002.

But like I said, there are perfectly legit reasons for using another name.

Once I got serious about writing, I never again considered a pen name for my fiction career. In a funny ironic twist, there was a brief moment last fall when the issue came up again. I was interviewing for a new marketing/PR job and wondered if I should offer to use a different name there. I knew the job required occasional high-profile media stuff, and I worried the organization wouldn’t want public ties to an author known for risque humor.

It never became an issue, since it turned out they were delighted to embrace my smuttier side. Still, it was the first time I’d given much thought to pen names in years.

Do you use a pseudonym for writing? If so, why? If you don’t, do you have any early moments where you toyed with the idea? Please share!

Oh, and before you ask, I’m not sharing that early pen name. Not even if you hold me down and tickle me until I pee. Some things are just too embarrassing. Yes, more embarrassing than throwing up in my underwear or spitting gristle in someone’s purse. That bad.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writer fantasy #259: Nailing bad guys

One of my best friends owns a designer handbag boutique. Because of her, I sometimes manage to look fashion-savvy instead of like a homeless person carrying my keys and lipstick in a paper bag.

A few weeks ago, her store was robbed by a guy who waltzed in and nabbed her laptop. Several people saw him, and since he has a mohawk in a city where two people sport that particular hairstyle, we’re hopeful he might eventually turn up.

Can I confess something? I’ve fantasized about helping catch him.

In my imaginary scenario, I’m walking down the street when I fall into step behind him. Since my fantasy version of myself knows how to operate my iPhone camera to photograph something besides the inside of my pocket, I snap a covert picture and email it to my friend at her shop.

Then I call her.

“So you know that hot guy we were talking about?” I say in my best wink-wink nudge-nudge tone. “I totally started following him on Twitter.”

Since my friend is also a super spy in this scenario, she instantly decodes my clever message to understand I'm following the bad guy on foot.

“I just got the photo you emailed, that’s totally him!” she shrieks into the phone. “Which way is he going?”

“Well get this – he’s all ‘let’s meet up for dinner at Soba,’ and I’m like, ‘why don’t we try Summit instead?’ And he goes, ‘I guess that’s cool if you want to grab a drink at Common Table beforehand.’”

See how savvy my imaginary self is, naming the restaurants we're walking past to signal which direction I’m headed?

You'll also notice my imaginary self sounds disturbingly like Paris Hilton.

Our conversation continues as my friend slyly uses three-way calling to phone the police and alert them what’s happening.

The fact that neither of us knows how to use three-way calling in real life and we can’t actually utter the phrase three-way without giggling doesn’t hinder my fantasy.

Eventually, I follow the guy to a dingy bar several blocks away, where he sets up the laptop in a cracked vinyl booth and begins using it to download illegal porn. I signal the cops, who come rushing in and wrestle the guy to the floor. Though he makes a brief escape attempt, I subdue him with my badass kung-fu moves and a bowl of peanuts grabbed off the bar.

I might also be wearing a cape and a pair of really hot stilettos.

Am I the only one who entertains hero fantasies like this? Is it a case of overactive writer's imagination, or just narcissism on my part?

Wait, don't answer that.

But I would look good in that cape, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 tips for squashing self-doubt demons

I recently invited questions from blog readers. I figured it might be handy on days I’m too lazy to come up with a topic on my own.

Like today.

A great question came in from Malin:

I suspect you're just as human as the rest of us (most of us) and therefore get assailed with doubt. When you've hit the bottom of the well of writing despair, how do you get back on your feet?

First off, I appreciate the vote of confidence in my humanness. There are days I’ve questioned it myself, though it’s less about self-doubt than the fact that I have really freaky toes.

Indeed I do have days when the self-doubt demon creeps up and gives me a big wedgie. It’s something every writer faces, so I've learned a few strategies for coping:

Recognize toxic thoughts. Some writers are prone to telling themselves, “you suck,” or “you’re stupid.” I’m more passive-aggressive with my self-doubt, offering it up as a negative comparison. “I’ll bet that author never backs herself into a corner like this,” I’ll mutter. No matter what form your toxic thoughts take, learning to recognize them is the first step toward squashing them under your heel like a discarded sheep testicle.

Create an “I don’t suck” file. This doesn’t have to be an actual folder on your desktop or in a file cabinet (though if that works for you, go hard). For me, it helps to have a few little treasures to prove to myself that I do not, in fact, suck. Maybe it’s that blog post by my idol Jennifer Crusie reminding me that even after 20 books and countless bestsellers, she still struggles. Maybe it’s that special email from a critique partner, friend, or massage therapist praising your prose, cooking, or supple backside. Whatever it is, keep it handy for occasional ego pick-me-ups.

Take a break. When I feel myself starting to spiral, the best medicine can be a change of scenery. There’s nothing like a yoga class or a walk with the dog to recharge my batteries. Reading a good book is another great option, with the added bonus of stimulating my writer brain. Don’t feel bad about giving yourself a mental health break. It’s part of the necessary care and feeding of an author’s well-being.

Recognize that sometimes you do suck. Hey, I’ll admit it – there are times I say, “I suck,” and I’m right. Besides enjoying the satisfaction of being right, I use it as an opportunity. Maybe I’m just not feeling “on” with my writing, but it’s a great time to tackle the research I’ve been avoiding. It can also be a good chance to edit a critique partner’s manuscript. You can still be productive even if you aren’t feeling like the sharpest meatball in the pot.

Compensate for what sucks. We all have strengths and weakness. My biggest “I suck” moments come during times of frustrating plotting. It’s not my strength, and I’ve come to terms with it (as have my wonderful critique partners, who more than make up for my weakness). Even if I’m not the best plotter in the world, I’m pretty handy with characterization and scene setting. I write a damn fine sex scene, if I do say so myself. I can hold a pen with my toes and write my name. Recognizing specific things I’m good at can help me believe the things I'm not good at don't matter so much.

What are your strategies for dealing with self-doubt demons? Does hiding under the bed work, or are you partial to getting out your feather boa and your “princess” T-shirt? Please share!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Critique partner cage fight

I’m cycling through the final round critiques for LET IT BREATHE, and I’ve noticed something interesting.

More interesting than the fact that I used the word sorry 84 times and the word hand-job seven times, which is an imbalance I plan to rectify at once.

As I shared previously, I have two regular critique partners and three beta readers. I rounded things out this time by adding a third critique partner (my amazing agency sistah, Linda Grimes, who was worth every penny I didn’t pay her).

There’s a very deliberate balance in what each of these individuals brings to the table, and the idea of eliminating even one of them is like contemplating cutting off one of my nipples (assuming I had six nipples. Hey, I might. How do you know?)

One critique partner and one beta reader are particularly harsh when it comes to characterization. They have strong opinions, and aren’t afraid to share them. If my heroine is bitchy, they tell me. If my hero is wimpy, I hear about it.

These two come from vastly different backgrounds and often have different opinions, so when their critiques match up, I pay attention. That was the case with an early draft of MAKING WAVES, and the manuscript ended up much stronger as a result.

But what happens when they don’t agree?

That’s been the case with LET IT BREATHE. I suppose I could stage a cage fight between them, but I doubt they’d find that as satisfying as I would.

One of the two found my heroine too angry with the hero for past offenses and current difficulties

The other found her too understanding, too apologetic.

One adored a scene between the hero and the heroine’s cousin, describing it as her favorite in the whole book.

The other found it annoying and out-of-character for both of them.

In my earlier years as a writer, I might have found this frustrating. On some levels, I suppose I still do.

But in other ways, it’s thrilling. What better reminder that every reader’s experience is different, and that this whole business is so very, very subjective – with agents, with editors, with readers from all walks of life.

Since I’ve been at this for awhile now, I know to take a step back at this stage. Though I trust my instincts as a writer more now than I did a few years ago, it’s worth figuring out ways to smooth some of the edges.

The observation that my heroine is too understanding and apologetic is probably legit, given the number of times sorry appears in the manuscript. Can I tone that down a bit?

And can I find other ways to balance her sympathetic nature with her occasionally snarly urge to protect herself?

These are questions I’ll be asking myself as I go through a final round of revisions before handing this off to my agent

In the end, it’s true that you can’t please everyone. But it’s also true that if you plan to write for public consumption, you have to be willing to at least consider how readers from diverse backgrounds might be impacted by your story in different ways.

How do you find the balance between trusting yourself as a writer and making changes in response to feedback? What do you do when two readers disagree? Please share!

I have to go do something about that whole hand-job imbalance.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Questions, answers, and one shriveled brain

I'm peering into my mental gas tank right now, and I've gotta confess, I'm running on fumes.

It's been a crazy week, capped off by 7 hours of round-trip driving and a speaking engagement at the monthly Rose City RWA meeting where I was honored to be part of a panel of authors who are much, much cooler than I am.
(left to right) Cathryn Cade, me!, Kristina McMorris, Delilah Marvelle and Jessa Slade

Those of you who read Friday's blog post will notice I took my speaking coach's advice and wore the glasses.

On Sunday, my local paper ran a wonderful feature story about me and my dual life as a romance author and marketing/PR chick. I tried unsuccessfully to scan it for posting, and also made several attempts to work around the newspaper's insistence you sell a kidney in order to view the article.

I briefly considered calling each of you at home and offering to read it aloud to you, but finally decided to just create a PDF from the online version and post it to Google Docs. You can see that right here. It might look a little fuzzy or small, but click the plus sign off to the right and it should be easier to read.

Though my brain is shriveled and useless at the moment, I'm hopeful it will improve shortly.

In the meantime, I'm feeling inspired by the author panel where audience members peppered all five of us with great questions. I'd like to offer the same opportunity to blog readers. Well, not the exact same opportunity – you're stuck with just me, instead of the other four authors (who, as I mentioned, are much cooler than me).

Is there anything you want to ask me? It can be writing-related or not, I don't care. I haven't decided yet if I'll do a single Q&A blog post or if I'll just use your questions to inspire a whole bunch of future posts. Why don't we see what we get?

And if anyone has a brain to loan me, could you set it on my front porch within the next 24 hours? That would be helpful.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Taking candy (and comments) from strangers

I wear glasses.

That sounds something I’d say at the start of a self-help group, and in some ways, it is. I don’t think of myself as a person who wears glasses, but I’ve had them since college and wear them for everything from grocery shopping to driving.

But I’ve still never adjusted to them. I don’t know if it’s some bizarre, deeply entrenched notion that glasses aren’t cool, or if it’s just that they irritate the crap out of me. Probably both. When I meet new people or if I see a camera headed my direction, you can bet I’m stashing them in a pocket.

My boss recently hired a nationally-recognized public speaking coach to work with everyone at my day job. I was thrilled, since it’s something I can use both there and when I speak to writing groups.

Midway through our first session, the coach asked me to read a passage from a book I’d brought (Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, in case you’re wondering). I picked up my glasses and opened the book.

“Wow,” he said. “Why aren’t you doing that all the time?”


“Wearing those glasses. It completely changes your look. For the better,” he added, probably because he saw me cringe. “You’ve got this whole sexy librarian thing going on now.”

He went on to explain how it could benefit me both in my marketing/PR career as well as the romance writing realm, with the glasses lending me a note of seriousness and intellect.

Out of context, this probably sounds like he was trying to get into my pants, but that definitely wasn’t the case. His job was to critique every aspect of how we present ourselves publicly, and that was part of it.

I don’t know why those words from a stranger had such an impact on me, but they did. The whole rest of the day, I caught myself being less self-conscious about the glasses. It’s ridiculous, I know, but certainly not the most ridiculous thing about me.

What is it about comments from strangers that make them so powerful?

Earlier in the week, I got some negative feedback on Making Waves from someone I’ve never met but whose opinion I value a great deal. I won’t lie, it hurt. Two days later, another stranger whose opinion also matters a lot – perhaps more so than the first person – offered gushing, unsolicited praise of the book.

I was on cloud nine.

People often comment that I seem to march to the beat of my own drummer without caring what others think. The former may be true, but the latter? Not so much. I care a lot more than I wish I did. Isn’t that part of becoming a published writer? If we didn’t care about other people seeing and responding to our work, wouldn’t we just hide out in caves and scribble to ourselves in the dark?

Have you ever received feedback from a stranger that impacted you in a good or bad way? Please share.

Oh, and please don’t feel you need to comment on the photo – I’m not fishing for compliments, I swear. I only included it because I went searching for a picture of me with glasses, and out of hundreds of pictures on my desktop, could only find one. Strange, no?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tasty blog spam with a side of "fr33 pr0n"

When I started this blog, I made several decisions about comment settings.

One was to allow anonymous comments. I realize some people might be shy about asking questions using their own names, and I’m fine with that. I also realize some people might wish to anonymously tell me I’m an asshat, and I’m fine with that, too.

The second decision was not to make blog commenters jump through the hoop of entering a word verification. These annoy the holy living crap out of me on other blogs, and at least three dozen times I’ve lost comments by navigating away before realizing I’m supposed to type ZUFfUgaG in the little box.

While I’m still committed to those two decisions, my spam comments have been increasing steadily each month. Blogger catches most of them before they ever appear in the comments section, but I still get email messages alerting me about each one.

The spam comments usually target older posts, with charming messages like these:

Willkommen und Hallo im Sexcommunity.

Hello. And Bye. fr33 pr0n this is it!

I removed the hyperlinks from those, so don’t go trying to click through for fr33 pr0n or the Sexcommunity.

One recent comment gave me pause:

Received a great trip and also a excellent encounter simply by reading the blog.

For the briefest moment, I tried to remember if I’d given away any free trips or excellent encounters on this blog. If I did, they clearly weren’t as excellent for me as they were for the commenter.

Then there are the comments in foreign languages. Blogger usually nabs those before they post, but sometimes I’ll be curious enough to plug one into a Babelfish translator.

Take this one for example:


According to Babelfish, this is the rough translation from Japanese to English:

It can sneak away from boring every day the chance which here! Various opposite sex being, being able to encounter securely from the [ru] you are not wrong! It is the [tsu] [te] rumor which also the show biz celebrity has registered in

I hope that clears things up for you.

What are your thoughts on the issue of anonymous blog comments and word verification? If you have a blog of your own, what settings do you use? Are you inundated with charming blog spam like those? Please share.

And make sure to share all your good fr33 pr0n links while you’re at it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

5 tips to avoid being a media moron

I’ve worked in marketing and communications for over a decade, and as a reporter before that. In my current job, it’s not unusual for journalists to call and interview me.

I’m pretty adept at spouting clever quotes about tourism and recreation, but yesterday’s call threw me for a loop.

“We’re doing a special feature about you that’ll run this Sunday,” the reporter informed me.

“Great!” I chirped. “Is this about the mountain bike race or the brewery tours?”

“Um, no. We’re doing a feature about you.”

Apparently the world of Tawna-the-marketing-geek has collided with the world of Tawna-the-romance-author and I wasn’t entirely ready for it. I’m hoping years of media experience kept me from making a total ass of myself, but I’ll find out for sure on Sunday if I'm quoted saying I like to run around naked with a glove on my head pretending to be a giant squid.

In the interest of helping you prepare for the moment you might be caught off-guard by a reporter, here are a few tips:

Speak slowly, enunciate clearly. This is crucial whether you’re interviewing for radio, TV or print. It’s natural to talk fast when you’re nervous, so make a conscious effort to speak like a kindergarten teacher on valium. Print journalists in particular will appreciate shorter sentences and longer pauses so they can jot your words correctly.

Keep the audience in mind. The reporter who called yesterday works for a mid-sized community newspaper with a readership comprised of a lot of people who may have never read a romance novel. With that in mind, I shared a few facts about the genre and followed up by emailing links to RWA stats and a blog post I wrote in defense of the romance genre. Had I been talking to someone from Romance Times, that wouldn't have been necessary.

Don’t assume anyone will know what the hell you’re talking about. Several times during yesterday’s interview, I caught myself speaking in vague terms about my bumpy road to publication or my blogging role at The Debutante Ball. These are things I’ve talked about so many times here I assume people are sick of them, but I realized quickly it was all new to the reporter. Even if you’re sure the journalist googled your name and gathered preliminary facts, don’t be afraid to reiterate. You’re providing a usable quote in your own words.

Be sensitive to deadlines. Publishing moves at a glacial pace, but news moves fast. Even though I knew the reporter was likely working on a tight deadline, I still cringed when he asked if I could connect him with someone at Sourcebooks within 24 hours for a quote about me. Everyone in my editor’s office is crazy-busy and I don’t like demanding they drop everything on account of me. Nevertheless, I know the publicity will benefit us all, so I bit the bullet and sent the email.

Don’t be a control freak. Plan in advance what major points you want to make and control the message that way. Beyond that, don’t demand a reporter let you read an article before it goes to press. You can ask, certainly, but many reporters will say no. Trust that you’ve done your job conveying your key messages and then trust the reporter to do her job sharing the story in her own words.

Have you ever been caught off-guard by a question from a reporter or anyone else? How did you deal with it? Please share!

I think I have to go lie down now. I just realized it’s possible I really did say the squid thing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Revenge in a red dress

I attended a ladies’ fashion luncheon on Saturday, and I’m pleased to report I didn’t spit gristle in anyone’s purse.

OK, I did roll up my sleeves and fix a broken toilet at one point, but I swear I washed my hands before picking up my champagne flute.

The event involved an impressive number of amateur models of all ages, shapes and sizes mingling with guests and describing their outfits and accessories. Near the end of the show, a petite fifty-something model strode out in a saucy red dress no twenty-something in that room could have worn half as stunningly.

You could tell it wasn’t the sort of thing she’d normally wear, but she was rockin’ it. When I told her she looked beautiful, she leaned close and addressed me in a conspiratorial whisper.

“This is the dress you wear when you’re meeting your ex and his new girlfriend for the first time.”

I loved her for saying that. Not that I have a fervent desire to strut around in a red dress in front of any exes, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Deep down, don’t we all have someone we hope we run into on a very good hair day? Haven’t we all entertained a fantasy that someone will just happen to skim the New York Times bestseller list on the day our name appears?

Not that revenge or a desire to show someone up is the best motive to fuel a workout regimen, a career, or a writing goal, but it’s not the worst, either.

No need to name names, but is there someone you desperately hope witnesses your successes someday? Do you picture yourself in your saucy red dress signing books hand-over-fist when that someone just happens to walk by?

OK, you male readers can stop picturing yourself in the red dress now. Boxer briefs and a bowtie, perhaps?

I’d go to any book signing by an author dressed like that. I’d also fix the toilet if you needed me to. That’s just the kind of lady I am.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How a cat butt made my night

Friday was one of those evenings.

You know the kind – everyone's cranky for no particular reason, and determined to stay that way for at least a few hours.

Pythagoras and I were snarling at each other over something that seemed stupid even then. Since we weren't about to let lousy moods come between us and cheap pizza, he stomped out to the car to do some impatient engine revving. I sat inside for a few more minutes tinkering with my Twitter account for the pleasure of making him wait.

By the time I sashayed out to the car, he was glaring at his watch. "We're going to miss happy hour."

"You can't drive yet," I snapped as I buckled my seatbelt. "The cat is on top of the car."

"I thought he moved."

Intent on proving my point, I reached up and yanked back the cover on the sunroof.

We both looked up to see a big, hairy cat butthole pressed against the glass above our heads.

I don't know about you, but there's pretty much no way I can stay in a pissy mood after that. We both laughed so hard we scared the cat into standing up and peering down at us through the sunroof. I finally got out and moved him to the safety of the lawn, and we continued our evening in much better spirits.

Have you ever had one of those moments? You're stuck in mad-zone, determined to stay there for a good long while, and then something absurd snaps you out of your funk?

Please share! I could use a stockpile of these stories for the next time I'm having a bad day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Victims aren't sexy

Though I realize the term “wall-banger” sounds decidedly filthy, it’s how avid readers describe a book that frustrates them to the point that they hurl it across the room.

Each reader has something different that might prompt them to chuck paperbacks at the wall. For me, what sets my throwing arm in motion is a character stuck in victim mode.

Everything happens to this character. The character doesn’t actually make anything happen.

I’m not just talking about a string of bad luck, either. Plenty of authors expertly throw all manner of atrocities at their characters, from famine and pestilence to a bad case of jock itch. But how the character responds to these things makes me decide – usually within the first chapter – whether I’m willing to stick with the character through 400 pages, or if I’d prefer to do something more pleasant like unclog the hairball from my sink.

The reason I’m thinking about this isn’t because I’ve had a recent wall-banging experience with a novel. It’s because I feel some obligation to remind authors at all stages in their careers that agents and editors don’t like victims, either. Not just in your manuscripts, but in authors.

Every time I see someone taking to the interwebs to lament a rejection or setback, I cringe. I totally understand the need to share experiences with other writers and to gather support. Believe me, I get it.

But it’s the tone that can be a red flag.

Pop quiz, let’s pretend you’re an agent. You aren’t dumb, so you know an author is querying widely. You know there have been some rejections along the way.

But if you see something like this on a writer’s blog, what are you going to think?

I got three more rejections this week. Obviously they don’t understand my vision. Whatever, I don’t want an agent who isn’t willing to take risks.

I’m not quoting anyone directly there, but I’ve certainly seen similar diatribes. The statement smacks of victimhood. Woe is me. I’ve been wronged.

How likely is it that an agent or editor will want to work with someone who has that attitude?

My amazing agent and I had a pretty bumpy path to this current three-book deal. But no matter how many roadblocks we hit, I made damn sure I never fell into victim mode. Oh, sure – I might have muttered quietly about my own crappy luck and even placed curses on several editors’ genital function. But I didn’t do it publicly, and I sure as hell didn’t mention it to my agent.

The fact that she had the same approach made me admire her all the more. Maybe she screamed at her computer or got out her editor voodoo doll in the privacy of her home. I’d be surprised if she didn’t. But the tone of her interactions with me was always this:

It sucks, but here’s what we’re going to do next.

That approach in the face of setbacks is the #1 thing that kept both of us committed to plodding forward together.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that you pay attention to the tone of your public declarations of rejection. If you do decide to share your setbacks, do it in a way that suggests you’re capable of getting back up and marching forward instead of wallowing in a pool of your own bodily secretions.

What do you guys think? Have you seen the sort of thing I’m describing? Have you done it yourself? Do you disagree about what’s OK to vent in public? Please share, I’m very interested in a discussion.

I’m also very interested in knowing how to repair a paperback-sized hole in my drywall. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Terror, excitement, and a mild case of amnesia

It’s been a weird week.

First, I totally spaced the one-year anniversary of this blog. Not that I planned to hold a parade, but I did intend to acknowledge the milestone in some small way.

Next, I failed to notice MAKING WAVES got listed on Amazon. You can’t pre-order yet, and there’s no cover, but it’s up there. And if not for a tip from Jason at My Northwest Experience, I’m not sure I would have spotted it at all.

I did figure out on my own that I’ve been listed among the authors on the Sourcebooks website, so I guess I’m not completely out of the loop.

Even so, I have the odd sense that things are starting to speed up after what seems like a very long, slow buildup. I’ve written sex scenes like that, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, it’s unnerving.

When my amazing agent first landed me this three book deal in late February 2010, I was thrilled with the knowledge I had over 17 months to promote, prepare, and prepuce (OK, that last one isn’t a verb. Don’t google it unless you want your retinas scarred. Here’s a picture-free definition if you need it).

Where was I before I got all distracted by foreskin?

Oh yeah. I’ve spent the last year starting from a place where almost no one knew my name, and working like hell to make sure at least a handful of people might know I have a book coming out in August. It’s been rewarding to watch blog hits climb and Twitter followers grow and to have my agent tell me she’s getting queries in which authors compare their writing to mine.

But I still have the sense it's just me sitting here in my jammies screwing around online. To recognize there are things starting to happen – things I’m not even doing on my own – well, it’s a little terrifying.

I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. But you know that feeling you get at the top of a roller coaster when you’re hoping you don’t hurl on the guy in front of you, and you’re wondering if you should have stuck with the pony ride instead? That’s kind of what it’s like.

Of course, if this week’s trend continues, I might just fail to notice my entire book release. Promise me you won’t let that happen, OK? And if I do end up hurling, will someone hold my hair back?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My history with perverts

My grandma has a thing for perverts.

She’s convinced they’re lurking everywhere on the internet, ready to grab hapless victims logging on to check the weather. Surprisingly, she doesn’t see pervert accessibility as a good thing. I tried to explain I’m counting heavily on perverts to boost the sale of my books, but she wasn't appeased.

I do grasp the distinction between fun perverts and creepy perverts, and I know firsthand both types hang out even in internet-free zones. My first exposure (pun intended) to a creepy pervert was at the mall when I was ten. A bald man in a trench coat approached me outside a toy store where I was giggling with a classmate.

“I have the best pantyhose money can buy,” said creepy pervert man. “Would you like to see?”

We actually did kind of want to see, but settled for declining politely and then scampering off to find my parents. To this day, I’m still curious about the pantyhose.

My next memorable pervert experience came in college when I worked as a housekeeper at a budget hotel. There were rules for entering a room if you weren't certain the occupant had left. First, you knocked loudly. After waiting a few seconds, you knocked again and yelled, "housekeeping!" As you knocked the third time, you opened the door, yelled "housekeeping!" one more time, and anchored the door open with a doorstop.

I did all this before marching into room 117 that memorable July morning. As I neared the bed, I froze.

There, in all his naked glory with his baloney pony hanging down his leg, was a middle-aged man with a pot belly and a beard.

I thought he was dead at first. I stood there and stared, blinking in case I’d somehow managed to hallucinate the whole thing. Nope, he was still there. And he was breathing.

Panicked, I backed out of the room, struggled to free the doorstop, and yanked the door closed behind me.

For the next two hours, I avoided the entire first floor. I cleaned rooms at a feverish pace, certain the manager was going to come yell at me for barging in on an embarrassed guest. In the break room at lunch, I finally broke down and confessed to another housekeeper.

“So he was just lying there naked with his eyes closed?” she asked.


“Was this room 117?”

I nodded, not liking the direction of the conversation.

“Yeah,” she said. “You're the third girl he's done that to this week.”

Part of me was tempted to run back down the hall and spray the creepy pervert with disinfectant. I settled for spitting on his toothbrush when he left the room to get breakfast.

I suppose I have to admire the creativity involved in both encounters. If you're going to be a pervert, you might as well do it with an imaginative flair. Lord knows plenty of writing careers have been built around that principle.

Have you had any interesting pervert experiences? Please share.

And please know that if you feel the need to flash me, I carry a camera at all times now.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wherever you go, there you are

I mentioned last week how orgasmic it was to sample unique cuisine throughout my Southern travels.

I made it my mission to find the most unfamiliar item on each menu and order it. The very first restaurant I visited in Savannah, Georgia boasted hoards of authentic Southern dishes, but a closer look revealed something all too familiar:
For those of you not from the Pacific Northwest, Tillamook is in Oregon. My family would visit the Tillamook cheese factory every summer on vacation (which sounds weirder than it is. Never mind, it’s exactly as weird as it sounds).

Looking at that menu in Savannah, I couldn’t help but think I should have hitched a ride with the cheese. Does cheese get frequent flyer miles? Does it get sleepy traveling all day with nothing but a tepid ginger ale and some stale peanuts?

My brushes with the familiar didn’t stop there. During my first day out on the town with Harley May in Florida, we went for a stroll. We hadn’t been walking more than 20 minutes when I looked up to see this sign:
Even during my lunch with Linda Grimes in Virginia, we discovered several Oregon offerings on the wine list. What gives? Is my home state really that cool?

I doubt that’s it (though for the record, it is pretty cool). More likely though, my brain is wired to seek the familiar. No matter how hard I tried to find experiences that were new and different and exciting, I still wound up drawn to things that reminded me of what I already knew.

It’s something I’ve caught myself doing in writing. I’ve been bouncing between all three manuscripts in my contract lately, doing copy edits on MAKING WAVES before jumping back to put the final touches on LET IT BREATHE. Though one takes place on a ship in the middle of the Caribbean and the other is set at a winery in Oregon, I realized the other day that I used precisely the same language in both books to describe my heroine taking off her shirt.

Not that stripping should be performed differently depending on your geographic locale, but still. The exact same wording? Not what I meant to do.

I suppose it’s just human nature to fall into well-worn patterns. We use the same route to drive to work every day, order the same thing at a favorite restaurant, put our underwear on starting with the same leg each time. Even if we try to shake it up, maybe we're just destined to gravitate toward the familiar.

What do you think?

I think I want some cheese.