Friday, April 29, 2011

Let's talk about money...or let other people do it

Yesterday's post about doing things for love or money generated some fascinating discussion about finances, passion, prostitution, and the potential ogling of my new young tenant (for the record, he's a sweet, slightly naive young man to whom I could have easily given birth. Definitely NOT going there!)

A lot of authors shy away from talking about money in public forums. I'll admit it, I'm one of them.

I vowed at the start that I wouldn't discuss my advance, royalties, earn-out, or any other specific financial details. It's just not something I wish to share, but that doesn't mean I don't admire the hell out of authors who choose to. They're the ones who help keep the rest of us firmly grounded and remind us we probably shouldn't begin drafting a scathing resignation letter to the boss the day book deal comes through.

There's a statistic I've seen thrown around again and again that I'm too lazy to go out and confirm right now: Less than 10% of published authors are able to make a living solely on their careers as authors. The vast majority maintain a day job. I remember being stunned by that when I first read it. The more I learned the facts, the better I understood.

One of the best explanations I've seen on this subject was written by New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries. If you haven't read The Big Misunderstanding about Money and want to know more about the financial side of writing, I encourage you to check it out.

Another amazing (and more recent) article on the subject comes from author Lynn Viehl. She vowed several years ago that if she had a book hit the top 20 on the New York Times mass market bestseller list, she'd share every scrap of information including her advance and royalties. She made good on her promise with an article titled The Reality of a Times Bestseller. If you want the nitty-gritty details (including a look at her actual royalty statement) it's an incredibly enlightening article.

Finally, there was a post just last week from romantic comedy goddess Lani Diane Rich (writing as Lucy March). She's a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who's published nine delightful novels all with "big six" New York publishing houses, and I adore her so much I want to pick her up by the ears and squeeze her.

But I'm leery about the restraining order, so instead I'll share a link to her ballsy, beautiful blog post about how she recently took a part-time job working retail in a mall. It's not packed with numbers and specific financial details like the other two, but it's a fascinating glimpse into the realities of author ego and the fact that most of us are not rolling in piles of cash tossed at us by our nude cabana boys.

So there you have it. While I won't share my financial details, I'll happily share them for other authors. Nice of me, huh?

For those of you still in the early stages of your writing career, do you entertain the "quit your day job" fantasies of authordom? For those at a different stage in your careers (or those who aren't writers at all) have you stumbled upon anything that's shaken your preconceived ideas about authors' financial lives? Please share!

Oh, and if you do happen to have those nude cabana boys who throw money, please share them as well. It's only fair.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do you do it for love or for money?

Life's been a bit chaotic lately, as you might have guessed. One result of the divorce and my intent to hold on to this house without resorting to prostitution is that I've rented a room to a 20-year-old college kid.

It's not as inconvenient as you might imagine. The house is quite large, and most of the time I don't even know my young tenant is here. He stays in his room listening to music and doing whatever it is young males do behind closed doors.

I'd rather not dwell on that.

The other night, I wanted pork chops. Since I love to cook and it's not any tougher to prep a dinner for two people than for one, I invited my young tenant to join me. He seemed downright giddy at the prospect of a home-cooked meal, and chattered amicably with me as I prepared pork chops braised with shallots in a honey balsamic reduction, rosemary garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus.

Once he stopped being perplexed at the lack of a frozen pizza on the table, he dug right in.

"This is amazing," he gushed between bites. "Why didn't you become a chef?"

It was such a funny, typically 20-year-old question that I almost laughed.

"Because I like to cook," I told him. "If I had to do it for a job, I might not like it anymore."

It was such a foreign concept to him that he stopped chewing and stared at me. "You mean you want a job you don't like?"

"Not exactly. It's just that loving to do something doesn't necessarily mean it's a good career choice."

I refrained from adding that if I set out to pick a career based on what I love most, the prostitution thing might not be such a bad idea after all.

It did get me thinking though. Not about prostitution, but the fine line between loving to do something and making a living at it. In a roundabout way, I've been writing for my supper my whole adult life. The bulk of my career has been in marketing and public relations, so the writing portion of it taps a different part of my mind than romantic comedy does.

Still, there have been times when the day job sucks the creative writing center of my brain to the point that it resembles a deflated udder. To say that makes it tough to come home and crank out chapters in a novel is a bigger understatement than if I told you I have a mild fondness for being groped.

My urge to protect my creative energy is the main reason I avoid accepting freelance writing projects on the side unless I'm bribed with large amounts of free food and cash. I know my well can run dry, so I'd prefer to save the water for a sexy bubble bath rather than a load of laundry.

I didn't say any of this to my young tenant, of course. By then he'd grown bored with the conversation and was busy texting someone with one hand as he shoveled up the last of the mashed potatoes with the other.

"You're a very good cook," he said politely.

"Thank you," I replied. "You're not going to eat the asparagus?"

He frowned. "It's green."

"I can't argue with that."

How do you find the balance between having a job you love and one that pays the bills? If you're a writer, do you ever reach a saturation point where you fear you might kill your own desire to do it?

Speaking of doing it . . . oh, never mind. Writing is pretty much like prostitution anyway, right?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

3 writing contest landmines to avoid

Let me state for the record that I don’t hate writing contests.

Is that like starting a conversation with, “no offense, but—” which pretty much ensures whatever you say next is going to piss someone off?

Well, I don’t. Hate contests, that is. It’s possible what I have to say about them is going to piss someone off, and I do apologize for that.

I’ve been playing the fiction writing game for almost nine years, and I’ve been around writing contests a lot. I’ve judged, I’ve entered, and I’ve offered moral support to contest loving pals by drinking large quantities of wine on their behalf.

While writing contests can offer excellent things like the promise of feedback and the hope of a career jumpstart from a win, there are a few contest landmines you’d be wise to watch for:

Becoming a contest whore
Entering a contest is a bit like drinking a glass of Chianti – it’s tough to stop at just one. I’ve watched countless writers start with a tentative toe-dip in the contest pool and end up ripping off their clothes to dive headfirst into a drunken, chlorine-infused orgy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s a high risk that entering contests can become your entire focus — instead of, oh, say FINISHING A BOOK.

There’s an art to getting a contest entry just right. You make sure the synopsis is properly formatted and those first few chapters have perfect pacing. Many contest fans get it down to a science and rack up contest placements like girl scout badges. But the risk here is that you lose (or never fully develop) the ability to carry a story past those first 100 pages. If you do decide to enter contests, don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal — writing the best book possible, not just the best contest entry.

I’ll admit I’ve judged more contests than I’ve entered, which probably makes me a judgmental bitch. My one experience entering a fiction writing contest happened in 2005. I won’t name the contest, except to say that it was a well-regarded one in my genre. I submitted my entry and stalked my mailman until he got a restraining order against me waited patiently for the results. While I waited, I got THE CALL from Harlequin/Silhouette saying they’d like to buy the book for their Bombshell line of action/adventure novels. Suffice it to say, I was thrilled. I forgot about the contest until the results arrived in the mail — incidentally, the same week my advance check showed up.

The judges were not impressed by me. One questioned my research (something I found laughable since, if anything, the book was over-researched). Another judge just didn’t fall in love with my heroine and also attempted to make a point-of-view correction that was just plain wrong. Overall, the results could best be described as lukewarm. My entry was not chosen for the final round where — ironically — it would have had the opportunity to be judged by an editor from Harlequin/Silhouette.

It behooves us all to remember that contest judges don’t know everything. I say that having been one, and knowing I’ll certainly be one again. Learning to trust yourself is one of the toughest things a new author can do, so be wary of anything with the potential to derail that learning process. Judges' comments can be useful, but they should also be taken with a grain of salt (preferably on the rim of a margarita glass).

Crushing your fragile ego
Constructive criticism is as vital to the writing process as heavy petting is to any good game of hide the salami. But there’s a time and a place for it.

A New York Times bestselling author once told me that during her early stages of any manuscript, she deliberately uses a beta reader who will do nothing but gush with praise. I laughed when she told me that, and then decided she’s the smartest person I know. She’s wise enough — and experienced enough — to realize exactly what she needs at different stages in her writing process.

I tend to prefer having trusted critique partners beat the holy living crap out of me pretty early in my drafts. Even so, I treasure their gems of positive feedback as a big part of what keeps me going. I know what I need and my author friend knows what she needs, and they aren’t the same thing.

Hurling yourself at the doors of the publishing industry is a brutal process, and it takes time to learn your own capacity for rejection and negative feedback. If there’s a chance that a savage beating from a contest judge will kill your desire to keep writing, don’t risk it. Check out books on writing craft. Join a critique group and ask them to go easy at first. While you shouldn’t shy away from constructive criticism, you also shouldn’t go chasing after it if you aren’t certain of your own ability to handle it at this stage in your process.

Are you a fan of writing contests? What sort of experiences have you had with them? Please share!

And rest assured that if you ever enter a contest I’m judging, I am a gentle lover who doles out ample praise with bits of heartfelt honesty. I also have soft hands.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Give me your best (or worst) pickup lines!

Yesterday’s post about horny honkers prompted some great comments, including the following from regular blog reader Claire Dawn:

At home in Barbados, guys used to make a sort of catcall (Seets) and say, "My friend..." and start their pick up lines from there. I always wondered if a single girl ever fell for a guy seetsing.

The comment got me thinking about pickup lines and how they vary from culture to culture.

When I was in my early 20s, I taught English in Venezuela. Most students were roughly the same age I was, and teachers were encouraged to make the lessons relevant to normal American life. Song lyrics, curse words, and popular slang were all fair game.

Hanging with my students in Venezuela circa 1997.
So were pickup lines.

I can’t remember how I got the idea for the lesson, but I do remember explaining the term “cheesy” and making sure the students understood that most pickup lines aren’t particularly effective. It turned into an excellent cultural exchange, with everyone trying to outdo each other using terrible pickup lines in multiple languages.

“Here’s a good one,” I explained to the class. “And by ‘good’ I mean ‘don’t say this unless you want to be slapped.’

I had their attention.

“You can approach a woman in a bar and say, ‘Wow, that blouse is very becoming on you.’ Then you pause for effect and smile. ‘If I were on you, I’d be coming, too.’

There was a long silence during which I realized I was going to have to add a new term to my students’ vocabulary.

But they were game, and the rest of the lesson went swimmingly.

I soon forgot about it, and that round of students went on to pass their exams and move on to other teachers who probably employed more appropriate methods of instruction. A few months later, I ran into one of my former students in the library.

“Hey, Julio!” I called. “I hear you’re doing great in level eight.”

“Yes, teacher. Thank you very much.”

“I like your new haircut. It looks very nice.”

“Thank you teacher,” he said, blushing a little. “That dress is very becoming on you.”

I beamed, completely oblivious. “Thank you, Julio.”

“Teacher, if I were on you—”

I didn’t give him the chance to finish, though I did offer him a solid pat on the back for his good memory. To this day, I live in fear of Julio roaming the Venezuelan countryside using that line on unsuspecting women in bars.

What’s the worst pickup line you’ve ever heard? On the flip side, can you think of a good one that might actually work? Please share!

Oh, and by the way – that shirt looks great on you.

It would look better on my bedroom floor.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Honk if you're feeling horny...or obnoxious

In Oregon’s mountainous high desert, spring is a fickle bitch.

Last Wednesday I woke to an inch of snow on the ground. By afternoon it was so sunny I stripped off my sweater and went for a walk in short sleeves.

The walk got me feeling warm and smiley and pretty delighted with life in general. I was lost in a daydream involving a grassy hillside, a bottle of almond oil, and a guy with fabulous hands when suddenly…


It wasn’t a flock of geese issuing a mating call. It was a mating call though.

I turned to see a dude grinning and pointing at me from behind the wheel of a two-tone muscle car. Just in case that failed to turn me on, he leaned out the open window and shouted something that was either, “nice ass” or “how do you feel about poststructuralist strategies toward the interpretation of New-Americal poetic dissidents?”

It was tough to tell over his thumpin’ bass.

Seriously, what the hell?

I get honked at a lot. It’s not that I’m so wildly attractive men can’t control their horns. More likely it’s that I often travel on foot and my long hair readily identifies me as female. I don’t kid myself that the horn honkers have higher standards than that.

The honking phenomenon fascinates me. Somehow, somewhere, this must have worked for some guy. A nubile female must have jumped at the sound of a car horn and promptly stripped off her clothing before diving into the passenger seat of a passing vehicle.

That’s the only reason I can think of why men continue to do this.

I used to work in an office that was only a mile from my house. Because I walked to work every day, I got honked at pretty regularly. On one particular morning it happened twice within a three block stretch. The sound of a blaring car horn at close range is pretty startling, so after the second time it happened, I was feeling pretty irritated.

When a third car horn sounded, I whirled around and flipped off the driver.

It was the CEO.

He was waving hello.

We never spoke of the incident, and I learned to control my impulses a bit better. OK, that’s a lie. But I did learn to look before making obscene gestures at passing motorists.

Can you offer a reasonable explanation for this honking phenomenon? Have you ever been guilty of it yourself? Is homicide considered justifiable if the horn honker startles me badly enough that my finger slips on the trigger of my sawed-off shotgun? Please share!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Alien boobs and frolicking in the flowers

I am not here.

The reason is because I'm here:
No, those aren't alien boobs. They're the Painted Hills on the fringe of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, and I'm taking an impromptu road trip to see them at the height of wildflower season.

But hey, I still blogged. Just not here. I'm over at The Debutante Ball today where we've been discussing family members reading our books. Stop by for a visit if you want to know how my parents handle reading some of the more risqué elements of my stories.

I'll return from frolicking in the flowers shortly. Until then, I encourage you all to fill your weekends with as much frolicking as possible.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The power of hasty grabbing

I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday. I was supposed to be buying something for the day job, but as is often the case when I’m allowed out in public, I got distracted.

I started out admiring all the Sourcebooks titles on the special display rack at the center of the store. Then I headed to the YA section (pausing en route to admire the sex books) and made certain agency sistah Kiersten White’s book was shelved front and center. Then I headed over to new releases and began picking up random books and reading first pages.

I’ll admit it – nothing grabbed me. That’s unfortunate, since I’m rather fond of being grabbed in public.

Eventually, my inner cheapskate led me to the clearance table where I spotted a familiar book. Johnathan Tropper’s How to Talk to a Widower delighted me several years ago when my book club read it, though I hadn’t seen my copy since I tipsily loaned it to someone whose name I’ve now forgotten.

I picked it up. I started reading. I forgot about the other books. I forgot about the ice cream melting in my car. I forgot about the very real possibility my dog would eat the sofa if I didn’t get home and walk her.

From the very first page, I was sucked in (feel free to insert the dirty joke here, since I already confessed to the fondness for public grabbing).

Before I knew it I was marching up to the cash register to purchase a book I ALREADY OWN.

That’s the power of a great opening paragraph.

And it’s something every writer needs to remember regardless of what stage you’re at in your career. When you’re querying agents or editors, you have a tiny number of words to catch someone’s attention. You might have the most magnificent novel on the planet, packed with swordfights and erotic sex and monkeys riding unicycles.

But if you don’t grab someone’s attention in the first few paragraphs, it doesn’t really matter. No one will read it.

It’s a lesson I sure as hell need to remember as I prepare to start putting words on the page for my next book. I’ll admit it, I’ve been known to start a book in the wrong place from time to time. The action lags or the sentences are too long or a joke falls flat as a flaccid beef baton.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten pretty good at catching myself before I show it to anyone. Years of writing snappy leads as a journalist fine-tuned my ability to do a decent job grabbing the eyes of ADD readers just like me.

Still, I have to work at it. We all do if we want someone to take that scary step that starts with picking up the book and ends with a reader upending her purse on the bookstore counter to paw through gum wrappers and penis pens to find exact change to purchase the book.

Not that I’ve done that.

Are you a picky reader when it comes to opening paragraphs? How long do you give a book to catch your attention? If you’re a writer, how do you make sure your opening paragraphs don’t just grab your reader, but reach out and give a friendly nipple tweak? Please share!

I’ll be skimming the Johnathan Tropper book for that scene where the narrator ends up without pants on a first date. Trust me, it’s worth buying the book twice just for that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Get ME for free!

Thanks so much to author pal Jeffe Kennedy for the heads-up on this…

Over at the uber-fabulous Dear Author blog, they’ve posted a list of upcoming Sourcebooks titles for 2011.

I can’t decide which is cooler – the fact that I’m on the list (which means this whole “you have a book coming out in August” isn’t just a story my mom and agent invented to make me feel good about myself) or that Dear Author and Sourcebooks are giving away copies of a whole bunch of books on the list.

All you have to do is leave a comment saying which book you’re looking forward to the most. I won’t twist your arm or threaten to pee on you if you don’t name me.

OK, I might threaten those things, but I won’t really do them. Probably.

Seriously though, free books. How can you beat that? Go now. The contest ends at 8 p.m. CST on Friday, April 22 and winners will be announced on Saturday.

Hey, I wonder if I’m eligible to win?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How awkward humping can inspire your writing

The advantage of having a dog with extraordinarily high energy is that I have to drag my lazy writer butt out of the house to walk her each day or risk having her explode in a fit of pent-up frustration.

Dog guts are hell to get out of heater vents.

Long walks alone with my dog are a great way to let my brain chew quietly on a plot point or character issue, but there’s also an advantage to skipping the solitude in favor of a more social locale. The dog park is fabulous place for people watching.

For many authors, people watching is a key part of developing strong characters. Here are just a few of the interesting specimens I’ve met on my recent forays into off-leash areas.
  • The TMI dog lady. If you’ve ever been to a dog park, you’ve met this person. You ask her where she got her leash and 20 minutes later, you’re halfway through a detailed story of her dog’s history with gingivitis. I’m pretty sure TMI dog lady actually lives at the dog park and spends her days prowling for someone eager to hear every intimate detail of her canine’s life. I’m also pretty sure I wear an invisible beacon identifying me to TMI dog lady as just that person.  
  • The awkward humper. Though it’s generally the dog doing the humping, the level of shame the owner feels suggests he may as well be the one gyrating awkwardly atop hapless strangers. As the dog frolics about mounting anything that moves, the owner alternates between scolding the dog, apologizing to other dog owners, and nervously explaining to everyone that it’s a sign of dominance and not sexual frustration. Personally, I’m a big fan of both the awkward humper and his enthusiastic charge. Such single-minded devotion to an illicit pursuit is the mark of an excellent romance author.  
  • The foot-in-mouth guy. This is a more rare specimen, which is one reason I love him so much. On a recent dog park visit, I saw a gentleman tossing a ball for his dog. Several other dogs joined in the fun, prompting the owner to give an impromptu talk about the desirability of rubber balls over tennis balls for fetching. “The texture on a tennis ball can wear down a dog’s teeth,” the man explained. The man beside him nodded in agreement. “I know! My dog will sit there all day trying to chew the fuzz off his balls.”  
  • The poop ignorer. If you own a dog, you know it’s your responsibility to pick up when Fido does his duty. But there’s always one person who believes she’s been given a special exception. She stands there feigning intense interest in a rock while Fido hunches up and builds a log cabin. Everyone sees it. The poop ignorer certainly does, but instead of whipping out her little brown bag and doing her part to combat canine landmines, she continues on her merry way. Perhaps she has a severe poo allergy for which she wears a medical alert bracelet. I can truly think of no other explanation, but I do spend an awful lot of time hoping she steps in a pile on her way out.
    Are you a people watcher when you’re writing? Where do you go to catch a glimpse of interesting individuals to inspire you? Please share!

    And please let me know if you happen to be any of the aforementioned characters. If you’re the awkward humper, I’d like to buy you a drink.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    3 myths about agents

    I’ve had the divine pleasure of being represented by the amazing Michelle Wolfson for over three years now.

    I spent a year before that represented by another agent, plus a stretch of time managing my own writing career without an agent (go here if you want the whole sordid story).

    While that history doesn’t necessarily make me an expert on agents, a lack of expertise seldom deters me from getting on my soapbox. I’ve heard a few assertions about agent/client relationships lately that don’t match my experience, so I’m in the mood to argue. Feel free to disagree or feel free to squeal “ohmygod you’re so right!” (something I routinely pay strangers to do).

    Here are my top three agent myths.

    Agent myth #1: Bigger is better
    Agencies can range from small one-person operations to groups with enough agents to round out a complete (and mildly terrifying) hockey team. There are advantages to each, and it’s important to remember that a high number of clients or major deals on an agent’s tally sheet isn’t a mark of quality any more than the number of notches on a guy’s bedpost is a reliable indicator of his ability to make your toes curl.

    In December 2006, I was lucky to have four excellent agents offer to represent me. I mulled my decision long and hard (pausing only a few times to snicker over “long and hard”) and ultimately went with the one with the largest agency and the longest track record of sales in my genre. Seemed like a reasonably wise decision at the time, but I soon realized it wasn’t the right decision for me. While there are surely oodles of happy clients on that agent’s roster, there’s a disadvantage to being an oodle. At times, I felt like a number (and as a new author, not a very high one). Communication was infrequent and not particularly personal. While this might suit other authors’ preferences, it didn’t suit mine.

    When I signed with Michelle Wolfson, things were much different. It was unusual to have a week pass without some form of communication. I was in the loop on everything, from where my projects were being sent to how editors were responding. When editors didn’t instantly throw open the doors, she looked for windows to smash. While plenty of agents might consider dropping an author who didn’t quickly earn her keep, Michelle never lost her passion for my writing or for finding me the right home.

    Is that all because she’s a smaller, one-woman boutique agency? Not entirely – a lot of it is just Michelle’s general fabulousness. But I have come to believe that a single agent with an overwhelming enthusiasm for your work is the most powerful force on the planet. Size doesn’t matter.

    Well, in this context, anyway.

    Agent myth #2: The agent works for me
    I’ve heard this philosophy tossed about most frequently by unagented authors. In their minds, the agent is there to serve as an author’s private doorman to publishing houses. Sure, the agent has the connections, but the author should decide where the work should be sent and how it should be edited. This is so laughably inaccurate that I had to stop twice to choke on my Chianti while typing that line.

    The agent client relationship is a partnership – period. Each person brings an integral set of skills, connections, and knowledge to the table. The author isn’t the agent’s boss any more than the agent is the author’s boss (though I’ll admit it – I kinda like it when Michelle tells me what to do).

    Agent myth #3: You should fall at the feet of any agent who offers to rep you
    I recently spoke as part of a panel of authors addressing an RWA group about what we learned in our first year after the sale. Of those of us with agents, every single one of us had been through more than one relationship. Finding the right fit is crucial both for the client and the agent. If an agent is considering offering representation, you can be damn sure he/she is checking you out and weighing whether you’d be a pleasure to work with or the equivalent of a wolverine on LSD.

    Do your homework, too. Ask questions of existing and former clients and check out what’s being said around the Absolute Write Water Cooler. I’ve heard it said over and over, and it bears repeating – having an agent who isn’t the right fit is worse than having no agent at all. You owe it to yourself to be choosy.

    Those are my top three agent myths. Do you have any to add? Care to disagree on any of those points? I won’t even insist we take it out back to the bicycle racks. Discuss freely!

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    No longer the girl who sleeps around

    Last June, I blog-bragged about my ability to sleep anytime, anywhere, in just about any conceivable position.

    I should be slapped for that.

    Because after a lifetime of smugly delighting in my Olympic-caliber sleeping skills, I've been struggling with it these past few months.

    I can still fall asleep easily enough, so hope isn't lost there. It's just that I find myself popping awake at 3 a.m. with my brain saying, "let's go!" and my body saying "are you @#$% nuts?"

    Then they fight it out with medieval weaponry and a pancake turner until I finally drag my sleep-deprived butt out of bed and get on with my day.

    I've had a few returns to normalcy in the last couple weeks, which probably has more to do with staying out until ungodly hours for day-job functions or more amusing pursuits. Even my unrested brain sees the mathematical challenge in waking at 3 a.m. if I stay up until 4.

    Still, I know I have to get myself back on some sort of routine. I've tried not looking at the clock when I pop awake, figuring I can't stress about the time if I don't know what it is. A friend suggested leaving my iPhone downstairs so I'm not tempted to check messages while tossing and turning (something that inevitably clicks my brain into fully-awake "are we working now?" mode).

    Another pal told me to lie there and count my blessings. It's a pleasant enough endeavor, but perhaps not well-suited to a romance writer whose imagination tends to drift toward the more x-rated blessings.

    Do you have any tricks for falling back asleep when you wake up at a ridiculous time? Please share!

    Also, don't forget to stop by The Debutante Ball today where we've been blogging about "big breaks" all week. Mine involve drugs, nudity, and obscene gestures.

    Why do none of you seem surprised?

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    On hope, bad advice, and positions that cramp your thighs

    Yesterday morning, I had a call from one of my critique partners.

    “I’m stuck,” she said.

    “You’ve got your ankles behind your head again?”

    I could almost hear the eye roll. “Do you ever stop being a pervert?”

    “Tell me you didn’t just ask that.”

    “Right,” she said. “Whatever, I’m stuck on these edits and I just can’t seem to make anything work.”

    I felt her pain instantly, which isn’t terribly unlike getting your ankles stuck behind your head. You want to get free, but you can’t find a way to do that, so you’re sitting there with a cramp in your thigh and an overwhelming fear things will never function properly again.

    So I offered her the worst advice I could think of.

    “You should quit.”


    “Quit,” I said. “Set the book aside and start a new one. You can always come back to this one later. Or hell, don’t come back to it. You don’t even have to start a new one, right?”

    She was quiet for a long time. Such a long time, I started to worry she was really attempting ankle thing.

    “I can’t,” she said. “I can’t be that person who starts writing and gives up.”

    I should note that this is my critique partner who isn’t published or agented yet. It’s a distinction that’s almost not worth mentioning because she’s an incredible writer – better in tons of ways than I am, and better than plenty of published authors I know.

    But publication is her ultimate goal, and she wants it badly.

    Badly enough that she won’t quit, not even if she hates her manuscript, or she can’t dig her way out of a plot hole with a backhoe, or she wants to scream from the thigh cramps.

    Someone a whole lot wiser than me once said, “the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the published one didn’t give up.”

    I believe that with every fiber of my being.

    An hour after I hung up the phone with my critique partner, she sent me an email. Her message was so insightful, so lovely, that I asked if I could share it here. She refused, so I beat her with an empty wine bottle until she relented.

    Here’s what she wrote:

    Why I write
    Shared with permission from Linda Brundage
    First of all, thank you for letting me be where I was at today. For saying it is “okay” to not keep writing this book. Somehow, it was what I needed, to be free to actually consider it. I suppose it had the reverse effect in that suddenly in my mind I was thinking of all the reasons why I write. All the reasons why I cannot stop. (At least not today.) The most important of all is because I like myself a lot when I am being creative, when I am writing. I love words and the ideas that come from stringing words together. It is a challenging, rewarding and ultimately a magical process. I like the feeling of hope that comes from writing (the idea that yes, I can get published.) Without hope, I am lost.


    I couldn’t possibly have said it better myself (which is why I’m certain we’ll eventually see her name in a bookstore – not just on a wanted poster in the lobby, but on an actual book).

    And even though she and I are at different points in our writing careers, those words apply to me, too. I know I’ll encounter plenty of new stumbling blocks as I go along. Bad reviews, bad sales, bad hair days. The hope that things will get better is precisely what will keep me going.

    Well, that and a fervent desire to make obscene hand gestures at anyone who doubted my ability to succeed.

    Have you ever considered quitting when it comes to writing or any other pursuit that means something to you? What made you keep going? Please share!

    I’ll be limbering up for my next attempt at the ankle thing.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    The great blog blowoff

    In 14 months of blogging here each weekday, I’ve never skipped a post without previous warning or explanation.

    Yesterday was my first time, so thanks for making it a gentle yet pleasurable experience.

    I’m traveling for the day job, and though I thought I could keep up with the blog during downtime, I forgot there is no downtime in public relations (not that I’m complaining about late nights of free food and wine tasting, but still). I’ll be back home soon, and promise to return to the regular blog schedule in a day or so.

    I actually wasn’t sure what to expect of my first time blowing off the blog. Would the police drag me out of the conference and take away all my free water bottles, or would my mom be the only one to notice my absence? 

    The cops didn’t show, which is disappointing since I had plans for those handcuffs. I’m not sure if my mom noticed the missing post, but a good many readers seemed to. If you emailed or posted on my Facebook wall or nudged me on Twitter or shook your fist at me under the bathroom stall at the conference, I want to thank you for missing me. You’re too kind.

    Feeling guilty about the whole thing, I set my alarm to get up early this morning and write a meaningful post.

    Then I decided sleep was more meaningful. 

    Instead of being awakened by an alarm or by the lusty nuzzle of a Brazilian boxer-brief model, I woke to the cheerful “ding” of my iPhone alerting me to an incoming message. I want to share it not because it strokes my ego, but because it’s a good reminder for any author/blogger that THIS is why we do what we do:

    Hi Tawna,
    My name's XXX, and I'm an 18 y/o writer and reader. I stumbled upon your blog a few months ago with links from Kiersten White, but it wasn't until this past week that I realized—"hey, this woman's hilarious!" As I do whenever I like a blog, I went through and read the entire backlog of entries on Monday (being a fast reader helps). When I started reading, I had no interest in buying Making Waves because I never read romantic comedy, let alone romance, but as the entries passed, I realized how much I enjoyed your humor and your voice. Look at that—social networking does sell books!

    Anyway, I wanted to email you to tell you how helpful you've been. Though it's hidden under a friendly tone and raunchy jokes, there's a lot of good advice in your entries. I revisit the show-don't-tell post all the time, and basically anything is good for a laugh or a reminder to persevere. I'm crossing my fingers that you'll be at a writing event in XXX this summer, as that's where I live, so I can thank you in person.

    As a sidenote, the writer’s name isn’t XXX and she doesn’t reside in a town by that name, though either of those things would be extraordinarily cool.

    As was that message. Thank you so much to the writer for making my morning.

    Since I doubt many of you have a fervent desire to read my entire backlog of posts, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve categorized past entries by topic. The label titled “popular posts” contains the ones that seemed to resonate most with people (including the Show-Don’t-Tell post the letter writer mentioned). In the event that I fail to show on some other morning and you have an urgent need for inappropriate humor or musings about writing, that’s a good place to start.

    Thanks so much to all of you for reading this blog, and for reminding me every day in a multitude of ways why I show up here and do this. 

    Don’t forget the handcuffs next time though, OK?

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Fiddling with my knobs

    Today I'm going to remove the doorknobs in my house.

    No, that's not something I routinely do for my own amusement. It's also not some sort of bizarre sex ritual (though I'd like to pause for a moment and envision how that might work).

    I've never locked the doors to my house. Truth be told, I don't even own a key. While my town doesn't have a particularly high crime rate, my laziness about locking is still probably dumb.

    It's a bad habit I developed while living in Montana where I not only never locked the doors to my house, but also routinely left the car keys in the ignition. That came in handy when I prepared to leave the state and move home to Oregon. I lived in the middle of nowhere with the nearest town an hour away, so I placed an ad in the paper advertising the car for sale.

    "It gets great gas mileage and does really well in the snow," I'd tell people who called.

    "Great! I'd like to see it and maybe take it for a test drive."

    "Well, I'm out in Polaris," I'd explain, "but the car is in the grocery store parking lot in Dillon. The keys are in it, so go ahead and take it for a spin and call me back if you want to buy it."

    Not only did no one find this odd, I had at least six people drive it and never once worried about it being stolen. Things might have been different if it had been a Porche instead of a rusted Honda, but still.

    Alas, I'm no longer in Montana. I know my laziness about personal security isn't such a good idea anymore, so that's why I'm removing my doorknobs. I have a drawer filled with 37 random keys, and none of them seem to go to any of the doors in this house. My friendly Home Depot associate (who seemed delighted to spend 20 minutes talking about my knobs) suggested my cheapest option would be taking them to a local lock shop and having them all set to a single key.

    Seems simple enough, though I suspect he doesn't realize I'm too lazy to hunt for a screwdriver and will probably end up attempting the task with a butter knife.

    Are you a stickler for locked doors and personal security, or do you have my lax habits? Please share. And keep in mind that if you want to break into my house, you're going to need to do it in the next hour or so. After that, I'll be standing smugly behind my locked doors with a butter knife in hand.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    The wine between my legs

    I can be a bit of a wine snob.

    I’m also a cheapskate, which you’d think wouldn’t mesh with the wine thing. In truth, it just means I’m skilled at finding bargains on good stuff.

    When it comes to red wine, I’m a big believer in decanting – pouring wine from its bottle into a receptacle that allows it to breathe. For older wines, it’s a good way to separate out sediment. For younger wines, the act of mixing the wine with oxygen brings out its best characteristics.

    I see the non-wine drinkers among you yawning, so I’ll get on with the story.

    If I’m bringing a wine to dinner party and I know it will be served early in the evening, I’m faced with a dilemma. It makes sense to pour the wine in my decanter and drive slowly to my destination with the receptacle anchored between my legs.

    But like most states, Oregon has an open container law. I’ve read the law, and I don’t disagree with its intent. I’m as eager as the next person to reduce the number of folks swigging from bottles of Mad Dog as they cruise the streets looking for transvestite hookers.

    I also know I’m not going to be drinking straight from my decanter. Aside from the physical impossibility of it, it’s unlikely anyone would be refined enough to bother decanting a wine but gauche enough to guzzle it behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

    Let’s all pause here for a moment while we finish laughing at the fact that I just implied I’m refined.

    Nevertheless, the open container issue is something I’ve considered. If a police officer pulls me over, I’m technically in violation of the law. I recognize that, but can’t help but wonder if a cop would be a little understanding. It’s not like I’m slurping it through a twisty straw, and I really can’t throw the decanter in the trunk to roll around with my spare tire. I'm also a stickler for making sure I don't drive home later in the evening if I've had more than a few sips.

    In truth, I don’t spend a ton of time worrying about this. I usually just opt for wines that don’t require decanting, or make sure the wine I bring won’t be served until later in the evening. Problem solved.

    But I do think about this in the context of writing rules and when it’s OK to break them.

    In romance writing, there are plenty of subjects and situations authors have avoided over the years. While the implied rules have loosened and plenty of authors break them, it's still risky.

    For instance, in a love story where the hero and heroine will end up pledging eternal devotion to one another, it's tough to include earlier scenes where either character is bumping uglies with a different person. There are plenty of reasons for doing it, but it takes a careful hand and an acceptance of the risk that some readers might lose sympathy or question the central relationship.

    But some authors can smash the rules so beautifully you forget they're there at all. I’ve been re-reading Jennifer Crusie’s FAST WOMEN for the millionth time, enjoying the humorous look at divorce and relationships. 

    The fact that Crusie can write a funny book about divorce is one of many reasons I worship at her altar. Another reason is that the book includes a glorious scene in which the heroine sleeps with the hero’s best friend, cousin, and business partner (that’s all the same guy – it’s a fling, not a gang-bang).

    The scene is there for a lot of good reasons, and it moves the character development in ways that couldn’t have happened without it.

    But talk about risky.

    I’ve reread the scene a lot, not just because it’s hot, but because it’s a good study in how to get away with something most authors wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

    While I don’t know that it’ll help me much if a cop pulls me over with a decanter of wine and a transvestite hooker in my car, I do think it’ll help me the next time I decide to break an implied writing rule.

    Are there times you’ve found yourself breaking rules for a good reason? When is it justifiable and when are you just being bratty? Please share!

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Did you lose your undies?

    I have a fine appreciation for underwear.

    Show me a strapping young man sporting six-pack abs and a pair of boxer briefs and I’ll show you…well, pretty much anything you want to see. I believe in fair exchange.

    But there’s something about seeing abandoned underwear that takes away the appeal. Sort of like how you wouldn't think twice about kissing a loved one on the head, but if the same person loses a hair in your salad, there's no way you're shoveling another bite of spinach in your mouth.

    Maybe that’s why I’m disturbed by a trend I've noticed lately. Abandoned underwear has been turning up in a lot of public places, and I'm not certain why.

    Last week, I spotted a pair of boxer shorts on an empty lot near my house.
    I'm not sure if this violates the “no trespassing” rule or the “no dumping” one, but either way, my retinas are scarred.

    Then yesterday I was walking to a friend's downtown handbag boutique to say hello at lunch when I spotted these on the sidewalk:
    I looked around to see if there were more articles of clothing. Maybe someone decided to do an impromptu striptease in the downtown streets on a 30-degree day.

    But no, there was only the thong.

    I walked into my friend's shop. "Did you lose your black underwear on the sidewalk again?" I asked.

    "I saw that this morning!" she said. "I thought about picking it up so it doesn't look trashy in front of the store, but–"


    "I know."

    We pondered it for a moment. How did the underwear get there?

    "Maybe someone was trying on a dress at the boutique next door and brought special underwear to see how it would go?" my friend suggested.

    "Could have just gotten stuck in someone's pant-leg in the dryer and fallen out," I suggested. "Or maybe someone was having a tryst up against a car in the middle of the night and–"

    "Don't start with the romance writer crap."

    We both glanced outside at the thong. It sat there looking forlorn, fluttering a little in the breeze.

    "Want me to go kick it into the street?" I offered.

    "I don't think a thong on the street is any better than a thong on the sidewalk."

    "Good point."

    We finally gave up talking about the thong and had a polite chat about something else. OK, it probably wasn't polite, but it was about something else.

    Finally, it was time to leave. Just as I reached the thong, I ran into the Executive Director of the Downtown Business Association.

    I pointed at the thong. "Yours?"

    He stared at it for a moment, blinking a couple times with the possible hope of making it disappear. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of gloves.

    "Gotta keep the sidewalks looking nice," he said, and bent to pick up the thong.

    I didn't watch as he walked away, and I think I'd rather not know what he did with it. Either way, I'm pretty sure that's not something he ever imagined in his job description.

    So what's the deal with the abandoned underwear? Does anyone have a theory? Am I the only one who keeps seeing this stuff? Please share.

    And please let me know if you happen to need some underwear. I'm sure I'll run across another pair again soon.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Scary stuff for authors

    I got some great news last week that I’ll be included a September 2011 Writer’s Digest magazine feature on debut authors. 

    I sat down yesterday to answer the questions and had a moment of panic. It’s one thing to amuse myself on this blog by telling jokes about hurking in my underwear or peeling a banana with my toes.

    But for a major industry magazine, I suspect that’s not appropriate. They might even expect me to know something

    And that’s when it hit me – all the interviews I’ve been doing, blog posts I’ve been writing, stickers I’ve been slapping on the butts of random strangers – they’re all aimed at getting people to eventually buy my book.

    And if people buy my book, they might read it.

    And then ohmygod, what if they hate it?

    It’s weird to think that way. I’m not an insecure person, and I'm not prone to sentiments that smack of “what if the football captain laughs at my training bra?”

    Still, I know I’m not the first author to have pangs of fear. 

    Last summer, my book club not only had the divine pleasure of reading author Sean Ferrell’s fabulous debut novel Numb, but talking with him on the phone. In the months leading up to it, I swapped a few emails with Sean to coordinate details. At one point, he confessed something surprising (besides a fondness for not wearing pants in public).

    “I’m terrified you guys won’t like it,” he wrote.

    I’ll admit it, I thought it was false modesty. The book was getting all sorts of amazing reviews and publicity buzz. I wasn’t worried, and I didn’t think he would be, either.

    Now I’m not so sure.

    I’m not egotistical enough to think everyone will love my debut novel. I’m also not insecure enough to fear everyone will hate it. I’ll be happy to land somewhere in the middle, and I’m braced for anything from negative reviews to stalkers grabbing hunks of my hair. 

    But those moments of sheer terror where you worry people whose opinions you value might be disappointed? Those are very real.

    For now, all I can do is what I’ve been doing. I’ll keep using blog posts and interviews to establish the same offbeat, humorous tone I use in my books.

    OK, maybe I’ll dial it back a notch from time to time. It’s possible Writer’s Digest subscribers won’t appreciate stories about hairy butts.

    Are you skeptical when you hear authors worrying about people not liking their books? Do you have fears about how other people will react to your writing? Please share.

    And please promise that when you do see those negative reviews rolling in, you’ll shred them up before I see them.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    A word (and a winner!) from my lovely editor

    As most of you know, Sourcebooks recently asked for your feedback on a couple titles they're considering for my debut novel.

    They're now mulling the data and all your wonderful comments. Thank you so much from all of us for being a part of the process!

    I asked my editor, the amazing Deb Werksman, to choose a winner. Much to my surprise, she did not do so by fetching a giant bucket of balls or employing the services of a giant Cheerio-eating fish.

    She used logic and reason.

    It's possible this is the reason publishers pick titles instead of authors.

    Deb chose Allie Sanders, who left the following, thoughtful comment:

    I went with Making Waves for a lot of reasons.
    1. Rock the Boat makes me think of that Janet Evanovich romance "Love Overboard" which isn't a bad comparison from me but I like something different.
    2. I already have "Making Waves" on my wish list & have a high chance of forgetting it if you change the name.
    3. Making Waves sounds more fun than Rocking the Boat. Everyone says not to do that but a large portion of people enjoy waves. Why else vacation at the ocean?
    4. I already told my gran she should buy Making Waves because Tawna cracks me up & I have a feeling book will too. It'd be a long conversation trying to explain the name change.
    Congratulations to Allie, who wins a signed advance reading copy of the book as soon as it's available.

    For Allie and everyone else who helped with this process, editor Deb would like to share the following message:

    From Deb Werksman

    Thank you so much to everyone who voted and everyone who left comments. Now we’re going to analyze what you all thought, and put our heads together on the next step. Since the voting was pretty close to split, we need to do some more thinking and analysis. As soon as Tawna knows what’s next, she’ll let you know! Thanks again and congrats to the winner, who really took us through her thought process.

    And thanks again from me as well! It's fabulous to see your level of excitement about the process and this book. I really appreciate you being a part of it. Big, slobbery, butt-grabbing smooches to all of you!

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    This is a test of the emergency broadcast system

    You know that sound your radio makes when they're testing the emergency broadcast system?

    That's the sound in my brain right now as I stare at the blank screen trying to think of something clever to blog about.

    I'm usually better about scheduling this stuff ahead of time, but the last three weeks have been screwy as I've worked extra hours at the day job to make up for the time I took off to go to Hawaii. My schedule will be back to normal next week. I make no promises about my own normalcy, but I'm getting there.

    I can offer you a blog post though. Head on over to The Debutante Ball where we've been talking about favorite places to read. I may have gotten a little sidetracked by saucy descriptions of bathing with a Kindle named Giancarlo, but I am interested in the discussion. Do you have an eReader? If so, how has it changed your reading habits? If not, do you plan to get one?

    Discuss here or over there, whichever rolls your socks up. And have a lovely, suds-filled weekend!