Monday, June 27, 2011

Why social media matters

As you read this, I’m probably landing in New York City after flying all night to attend the national conference of Romance Writers of America.

My two male housemates are at home plotting new ways to use my dog to pick up girls.

I’m expecting to be overscheduled, over-stimulated, and sleep deprived all week, so I may or may not be blogging.

But I did want to leave you with a thought. Well, a few of them, really, but they all tie the basic notion that social media makes a difference for authors. I can prove it.

I know a lot of us get overwhelmed by all the blogging and tweeting and Facebooking involved in building a platform and a career. It’s easy sometimes to beat your head on a wall and wonder if it even makes a difference.

Here’s how I know it does:

On Friday I told you I was attending a concert of one of my favorite performers, Marc Cohn. It was my seventh time seeing him, and the show was spectacular, as always.

Then he started to introduce the song “True Companion.”

“I saw a blog post today that said someone was considering throwing a brassiere at me,” he began.

I swear to you, my knees buckled.

He went on to talk a little more about the post, leaving no doubt whatsoever he was referring to my blog. At the end of the show, my hands were still shaking as I walked up to the table where he was signing autographs.

“That was my blog post you mentioned,” I stammered like an idiot. “The one about the bras and 'True Companion' and—” 

He stood up and gave me a giant hug. Marc Cohn – one of my favorite musicians on the planet – GAVE ME A HUG!

And then he smiled at me. “You’re an author, right?”

I did not French kiss him right then. I also didn’t hand him my bra or grope his ass, though I strongly considered doing all of those things.

Instead, I asked how he came to read my blog. “I have people who keep an eye on that sort of thing,” he said, which is probably a cryptic way of saying his publicist has Google alerts on his name to watch for potential stalkers like me.

Still, I’m dumbstruck. Sixteen months ago, nearly every single one of you reading this blog right now had never heard my name before.

Now Marc Freakin’ Cohn knows who I am?

That’s the power of social media.

And here’s a second piece of evidence. The morning after the concert, I woke to an email telling me I had a private message on Facebook. The message was from author Xandra James, and I asked her if I could share it with you here:

Hi - just wanted to say something without sounding really nuts... :)

Have been following you and your blog for some time now and was looking forward to your book release from the start. I clicked on your link today to pre-order at Amazon and suddenly realised something. I have no idea what the book was about! How dumb was that? lol.

I guess what the point of this message is (and there is a point, promise) is that the power of social networking and blogging is just as big as the experts (Kristen Lamb for one) say. I knew I'd purchase your book because I liked your quirkiness and fun personality that's apparent in everything I read about you and from you. It didn't matter what the book was about, I'd have bought it anyway. (note - I've read up on it now and it sounds great, LOL).

So congrats on the up and coming release and am looking forward to reading it.

Have a lovely day :) Xandra

In the sixteen months I’ve been blogging and tweeting, there have been moments I’ve wondered how much it matters. Will it make a dent in book sales? Will it really get my name out there?

Though I believed the answer was yes, I also knew that could never be what it was all about for me. If I didn’t come here every day because I genuinely love interacting with you guys, I would have burned out months ago.

But seeing now that it has made a difference – at least in small ways – well, that warms the cockles of my heart. 

So thank you from me and my cockles. 

And behave yourselves while I’m in New York.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On throwing my bra and changing my life

Tonight I’ll be attending a concert by one of my favorite artists on the planet, Marc Cohn.

I’m still mulling whether to toss my bra at him, and trying not to be offended he hasn’t thanked me for the previous six.

Though he won a Grammy in 1991 for best new artist and has produced a number of albums in the past 20 years, he’s known by most people for one of only two songs: “Walking in Memphis” (which I’ll admit I’m not terribly fond of) or “True Companion.”

If everyone who used the latter as part of a wedding ceremony had to pay Marc Cohn a dollar, I suspect he could retire tomorrow. It’s a lovely song Cohn wrote for a woman he was dating and eventually proposed to. They got married, had two children, and lived happily ever after, as the song suggests.

Only…well, they didn’t. Live happily ever after, that is, at least not with each other.

Like a lot of marriages, theirs ended in divorce. Before you shed too many tears for Marc Cohn, you should know he’s happily remarried to television journalist Elizabeth Vargas and they have two lovely children.

And yet, at every Marc Cohn concert I’ve attended (six, in total—just like the bras), audience members continue to shout requests for “True Companion.” You can’t blame them, and I’m as happy as the next person that he plays it at every show.

While introducing the song a few years ago, he made a comment I wish I’d written down, but it went something like this:

I’m so glad this song continues to have meaning for so many people long after it’s lost its original meaning for me.

I’ve thought about that a lot lately as reviewers say wonderfully kind things about Making Waves and as I work through edits on the other two books in my contract.

Though all three books have gone through oodles of rewrites, they were originally created while I was married. It’s probably not surprising to anyone that I can see traces of “married me” in the stories.

When things were still pretty raw a few months ago, I’ll admit that made it tough to get through edits. Now? I can read any of them with a sort of clinical detachment. It’s not that there’s no emotion in them for me, but just that it’s a different emotion now.

I suppose this is something all kinds of artists deal with throughout their careers. Even if whatever sparked the original idea isn’t there anymore, the work itself takes on a life of its own.

Does anyone besides me find that fascinating? Have any of you looked back on something you wrote at a totally different stage in your life and thought, “who the @#$% was I then?” Please share!

I’ll be looking at my bra collection thinking I’ll give Marc one last chance. Black lace, maybe?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sex and the (big scary) city

I’m a pretty experienced traveler.

I’ve sailed along Australia's Great Barrier Reef, snorkeled with giant manta rays in Fiji , hiked through the Amazon jungle in Venezuela , climbed in the Swiss Alps, and ridden a camel into the Sahara at sunset to camp in the desert. I love seeing new places and racking up new experiences like notches on my bedpost.

So now I have to confess that I am completely, utterly terrified of traveling to New York City next week for the national convention of Romance Writers of America.

I’m not sure what’s got me so freaked out. Probably a combination of things ranging from my general social awkwardness (the sort that causes me to spit gristle in strangers' purses) to the fact that I have no idea what to wear to a dinner when the invitation includes the phrase, “the limo will pick you up at...”

My only visit to New York consisted of a night spent sleeping on the floor of the JFK Airport in a skirt while blazing with fever from a weird bug I’d just picked up in Morocco. While I’ve certainly spent time in larger cities, there’s something about the idea of this city that terrifies the holy living hell out of me.

Then there’s the fact that I’m a serious, serious introvert. People tend to assume introvert is a synonym for “shy,” which I can promise you is not the case. While I'm capable of being bubbly and outgoing in large groups of strangers, I get my energy from being alone. My fear is that after two days in New York, I’ll be so over-stimulated by human interaction that I’ll end up spending the rest of the week hiding under the bed with my hands over my ears humming Motley Crue's, “Home Sweet Home.”

Fortunately, I have a close girlfriend with a designer handbag boutique and a finely-tuned fashion sense that extends beyond knowing which yoga pants pair best with the mustard-stained t-shirt. I’m bribing her with wine to come over tonight and go through my closet so she can tell me what to wear, what not to wear, and what to burn in my backyard barbecue pit before anyone realizes I actually own something that ugly.

So that helps.

But I’m still freaked. I haven’t had time yet to research the logistics of finding my way from the Newark airport to the Marriott Marquis hotel at 5:30 on a Monday morning, nor have I explored options from getting from there to La Guardia when I head home Saturday.

Hell, for that matter, I’m not even sure how I’m getting from my house to the airport for my 1:30 departure on Sunday afternoon.

I know I need to just chill out. Everything will be fine. I will likely not get lost or mugged or overwhelmed with the sudden urge to climb topless onto a table at an awards banquet and do a finger puppet routine.

Actually, I make no promises on that last one.

But there are some things I’m REALLY looking forward to. For one, I’ll be rooming with uber-cool author pals Jeffe Kennedy (who I’ve never actually met in person but feel like I’ve known for years) and Marcella Bernard (who you may recall came to my rescue when I got a flat tire en route to a conference in Seattle last fall).

For another, I’ll finally, FINALLY get to meet my amazing agent in person. I’ve been represented by Michelle Wolfson for 3.5 years, so it’s about damn time I bought her a drink. Or twelve.

And then I’ll get to meet all the Sourcebooks people, including my editor, Deb Werksman, and all the cool publicity and production people and...

Holy crap. That's a lot of people. I think I need to lie down now.

For those of you who've been to New York (or those who've been to big-ass conferences like this) do you have any tips for me? For my fellow introverts, do you have any tricks for handling extended periods of being "on" in settings like this? Please share. I need all the help I can get!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Introducing the new man in my life

There’s something important I need to share with you. I’ve met someone.

A man, if you must know. I know it’s a little soon after announcing my divorce to be sharing this, but you really can't dictate when you're going to find someone special.

I met him yesterday when I took some skirts to my favorite seamstress to be hemmed. There he was, standing by the door like he'd been waiting for me my whole life.

I know it sounds cliché, but it was love at first sight for both of us. His name is Ewan, and he's the most amazing man I've ever met. Would you like to see a photo?

I'm sure it's easy to see why I'm smitten. Right after we met, I posted his photo on Facebook and Twitter so friends and family could share in my joy. I was delighted to discover not only were people supportive, but eager to point out the advantages to having a romantic relationship with someone like Ewan.

For example:
  • Since he has no arms, Ewan will never hold me back.
  • Without feet, Ewan is unlikely to run away or step out on me.
  • Ewan will never whine, belch, fart, curse in front of my grandmother, or say anything insulting.
  • Ewan is always hard. Always.
  • I can be certain Ewan is unarmed. 
Admittedly, there are a few drawbacks to the relationship. As I'm sure you can see, Ewan isn't particularly well endowed. Then there's the fact that his knees don't bend, which will make air travel challenging. Of course, the two things probably cancel each other out, since his lack of endowment means I'm not eager to jet off to an exotic locale for a romantic getaway.

So what do you think of Ewan? Can you offer any additional commentary on the advantages of this new relationship? Please share!

Ewan and I will be over here gazing into each other's eyes while we hold hands.

Um, wait–

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My dog the chick magnet

There are many things I like about having two single male housemates in their mid-twenties. Some of those things don’t even involve watching them repair their motorcycles shirtless in my driveway.

I’m fascinated by the inner-workings of the male mind, particularly when it comes to the most noble of male pursuits: meeting women. Since this theme factors prominently into the plot of most romance novels, I pay attention when the boys start talking.

The other night, Housemate 1 and Housemate 2 were gathered at my kitchen table eating mint Oreos and discussing the motorcycle rally Housemate 2 just attended. My dog Bindi lay adoringly at their feet, waiting for someone to either throw a ball or drop a cookie.

The conversation went something like this:

Housemate 2: Lotta guys at the rally had sidecars so their dogs could ride along.

Housemate 1: We should get one for Bindi. Can you imagine what a chick magnet she’d be riding in a sidecar wearing a pair of Doggles?

Housemate 2: Doggles?

Housemate 1: Goggles for dogs.

They both sat and pondered that for awhile, probably imagining a string of women lined up waiting to dive topless into the sidecar upon seeing my adorably attired canine.

Housemate 1: How hard do you think it would be to teach her to chase a ball in the park and then drop it at the feet of a good looking girl?

Housemate 2: Probably not too hard. She’s smart. There could be a special command so she knows which girls are hot.

Housemate 1: It’d be even better if we could convince girls she’s a puppy. Puppies are good chick magnets.

Housemate 2: She does look sort of like a German Shepherd puppy.

They both stared at my dog, still contemplating her chick magnet properties. Bindi whined and nudged her ball toward Housemate 2’s shoe.

Housemate 1: Or we could just throw the ball and accidentally hit the hot girl with it.

Housemate 2: Yeah, and then go apologize and let her pet the cute puppy.

Housemate 1: And offer to help wipe the dog slobber off where the ball hit her.

The conversation continued on like this for quite awhile, with the housemates contemplating several more strategies for using my dog to get girls.

Part of me wanted to ask if it had ever occurred to either of them to skip the gimmicks and just TALK to a girl.

Then again, what’s the fun in that? Isn’t there something flattering about being approached in a unique way? Not that getting smacked in the forehead with a slobbery tennis ball is a turn-on, but it’s certainly an attention-getter when someone makes a creative effort.

It’s true especially in romance novels, where you seldom have two characters get together without a meet cute. The hero and heroine in Making Waves meet in a Caribbean bar and end up posing as honeymooners to win money in a beachside Newlywed Game. The twosome in my second contracted novel meet when she mistakes him for an intruder in her mom’s psychic studio and threatens to brain him with a Budha statue.

Got any examples of a “meet cute” from your real life or your writing? What’s the most interesting way someone’s approached you or you’ve approached them? Please share.

I’ve got to get my dog ready for her debut as a chick magnet. Do you think she needs the pink Doggles or the red ones?

Monday, June 20, 2011

I have no nuts or bolts

Over the weekend, I made a startling discovery:

I am not a machine.

You would think this might have dawned on me at least once in 36 years. I inspect my parts routinely, and should have noticed there were no wires or bolts or screws.

OK, there have been screws. Maybe that’s what threw me.

Nevertheless, my new epiphany came as a big surprise. I had my weekend all plotted out. I would get home from the day job on Friday and work until 11 p.m. on the large-scale edits for the second book in my contract. On Saturday, I’d get up at 6 and work straight through on those edits until at least 11 p.m.

And if I finished round one by noon on Sunday, I could reward myself by spending a few hours with friends before diving back in and editing all evening and all day Monday.

The first sign that my plan might be overly ambitious came late Friday evening when I started to peter out around 9:30 p.m. It had been a long work week, and my attention span just wasn’t what it needed to be. I kept cranking slowly, but wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped to be.

On Saturday morning, I got up early and got busy with the manuscript. Though I moved more slowly than I would have liked, I was doing pretty well until I hit a section of the manuscript where my editor had requested some particularly big edits.

A machine could have done it.

But me? Well, I considered lying down on the floor, kicking my feet, and screaming, “I don’t wanna!”

I refrained from doing this, mostly because the floor was filthy. Instead, I leashed up the dog and took her for a long walk. By the time I got home, I had reached a point where I could grudgingly muscle through the scene.

Then came another one. A scene requiring even bigger edits that triggered another “don’t wanna” response. I tried hard to stay on task. I stared blankly at the screen and willed the words to come.

But I couldn’t seem to force myself to slash ruthlessly like I needed to, nor could I spark any brilliant ideas for replacing whatever I might slash.

So I stared at the screen some more, and that’s when the anxiety kicked in.

You’re never going to figure this out. Do you even want to? Maybe slashing the scene is a bad idea. Or maybe it’s a good idea, but you’ll do it so poorly that your editor will call you up and say, “um, that three book contract? We’re taking it back because you suck.”

Oh, and while you’re sitting here getting nothing done, your lawn needs mowed, your floors need swept, the cats need shots, you need to go grocery shopping, and oh, by the way, you leave for a week-long RWA conference in New York in one week and you have absolutely NOTHING TO WEAR.

A machine could have handled all that. A machine would have powered through and put words on the page and groceries in the fridge and a whole bunch of designer dresses in the closet with just a few clicks of some flashy buttons.

I got up and found my car keys. Then I drove to the store and bought a few groceries, tried on some shoes, and came home feeling…well, a little better.

And that’s where it’s frustrating. No matter how much you might want to, a writer can’t force machinelike productivity. Even if you’re careful and give your brain a break and do all the right things to relax and battle anxiety, you still can’t force it if it won’t come.

I’ll pause here to let you snicker at that last line.

I’d love to be able offer a bunch of wise tips for forcing productivity, but you know what? I can’t.

And one thing that makes me feel better about the fact that I can’t is this blog post by genius author Neil Gaiman. (Scroll down to the part that begins “Hi, Neil,” and take it from there.)

I bookmarked that post over a year ago to remind myself that even authors in the big leagues deal with these issues. This part, in particular, is something I’ve considered tattooing on my arm:

You don't choose what will work. You simply do the best you can each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.

And sometimes, and it's as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply don't feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the backup drive as well...

And life is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.

Amen, brother Neil. Amen.

Do you struggle with expecting machinelike productivity from yourself and getting frustrated when it doesn’t happen? How do you push through? Please share!

I’m thinking about the levitating cat thing now. I really need to check on that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My real advice to new writers

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. One question I answer frequently is what sort of advice I’d offer to new writers.

Since no one wants to see me blather for twelve paragraphs on a single response in a long Q&A, I generally offer something pithy and concise and only moderately useful.

You want the real answer?

I have to tell a story.

When I was 23, I went to Venezuela to teach English. It’s the sort of thing you do when you’re young and crazy with a freshly baked college degree and more wanderlust than money or common sense.

Hiking in the Andes mountains.
I was there for almost 5 months, and when I wasn’t in the classroom, I was traveling around the country. I backpacked through the Amazon. I climbed in the Andes. I swam in the Caribbean.

I was also robbed at gunpoint in a remote beach town. I contracted a weird intestinal parasite. I came this close to being bitten by a mapanare while hiking in a jungle so isolated it took several days to reach the spot on foot and in a dugout canoe. I was detained along the Colombian border in the middle of the night by two guards who ushered everyone off the bus except me and a friend, and then questioned us while holding machine guns inches from our heads.

Writing those things just now gave me goosebumps. At 36, I look back at my 23 year old self and shake my head at my own youthful naïveté.

Did I even have health insurance? Would I have made it home safely without the money stuffed secretly in my bra when I was robbed? If I’d been bitten by that snake, is there even a remote chance I would have survived with no medical care nearby and no way to phone for help?

The answer to all those things is “probably not.”

But I look back on those experiences now as some of the most exhilarating and educational moments of my life. I was hopeful. I was brave. I was too young and fearless to consider all the scary things that could happen.

Those are the same feelings I had when I started writing fiction. I believed success was just around the corner. I hadn’t yet experienced the sting of my first rejection letter or the niggling fear I might be writing a long damn time before I landed a book deal. I got to enjoy the exhilaration of spreading my wings without the knowledge that a strong wind or a powerline or a kid with a slingshot might knock me out of the sky.

What I want to say to new writers is this: slow down. Don’t fill your head with fears about querying agents or building a platform or the possibility you might die from an infected papercut obtained from your 2000th rejection letter.

Enjoy your early efforts. Just write for the pleasure of writing, and know that you’ll have plenty of time later to fret about the things that might go wrong. Don’t worry that you don’t know enough about plotting or publishing or branding strategies. That comes later. For now, enjoy your own goofy, hopeful, deliriously dopey moments as a new writer.

I know I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We have a winner! (Not to be confused with weiner. I do not have one of those)

Thank you to all the lovely readers who were kind enough to vote for your favorite reenactment of the Making Waves cover.

The polls have closed, and victory belongs to...

(drumroll, please?)

Jenna McCarthy!

Applause! Applause! Jenna, would you like to do a victory dance?

Speaking of Jenna and book covers, she let me have a sneak peek at the cover for her upcoming release (get ready for this title) If It Was Easy, They'd Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon: Living with and Loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married.

It doesn't hit shelves 'til October, but you can bet your sweet bacon bits I've already pre-ordered that bad boy.

Congratulations to Jenna, and thank you to ALL OF YOU who submitted entries in the contest. I wish I had an advance reading copy of Making Waves to offer everyone, but alas, I do not.

I can offer a special Making Waves booty bag to everyone who submitted a photo reenactment of the cover. Send your snail mail address to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I'll hook you up.

Oh, and as promised, I picked one random commenter to also receive a booty bag. Well, I didn't actually pick. I wrote all the entries on little slips of paper, put them in a mixing bowl, and went upstairs to knock on the new housemate's door.

"Could I get you to pick a blog contest winner for me?" I called.

"A what?"

"A blog contest winner. You see, I have this blog..."

It dawned on me that if my housemates aren't already aware of this blog, perhaps it's best if I don't alert them. I held up the bowl and smiled.

"How about you just choose a piece of paper?"

So he chose. Congratulations to Crystal Posey! Send me your snail mail address and I'll make sure you get a booty bag as well.

Thanks again to everyone for playing!

Oh, and in case this post is a little too boring for your taste, stop by The Divining Wand where I guest blogged about how "Finding where you fit is harder than it looks." Over there, I politely refrained from making a sex joke about that title.

Here on this blog, however...


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

3 tips to set the mood for romance

You know how sometimes, you just aren’t in the mood for romance?

Yeah, me neither.

But I’ll admit there have been moments I’m not in the right zone to write love scenes. Since that’s a big part of what I do as a romance author – and since deadlines often force me to get in the mood RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT! – it can be a challenge to produce the desired results under less-than-ideal circumstances.

So what’s a struggling romance author to do?

Provoke your senses
We read it all the time in women’s magazines – the key to stimulating the libido is stimulating the senses. It’s not much different when it comes to prepping for love scenes. Is there a fragrance that tends to put you in the right mindset? I keep an array of candles in my office and try to pick the scent that’s likely to get me in the right mode for a certain scene. Ditto that for scented lotions and perfumes. Music? Check. I make iTunes playlists that tend to trigger certain moods.

Even what I’m wearing can have an impact on my writerly mojo. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve found myself churning out ho-hum dialogue and looked down to realize I’m dressed like a colorblind, homeless yoga instructor. That’s usually enough to send me marching upstairs to don something with a little more sex appeal. That doesn’t mean I sit here writing in stilettos and a sequined bustier, but if you’d wandered into my office yesterday afternoon, you would have found me in a short skirt and cute top. Hey, whatever works.

Learn your triggers
A lot of people believe romance authors work in a perpetual state of sexual arousal. OK, sometimes that’s true. But I’ve discovered there’s not necessarily a direct correlation between my mood and the tone of the scene. Many of my sexiest love scenes have been written when I’m in a more melancholy frame of mind. If there’s a thunderstorm outside, even better.

While I don’t necessarily need to be in a flirty mood to produce a playful love scene, I’ve learned never to attempt one when I’m angry. There’s something decidedly unsexy about two naked people bitching at each other as a form of foreplay.

Find a fluffer
Raise your hand if you know the term “fluffer.” For those of you less familiar with the pornographic arts, a fluffer is a hired member of an adult film crew whose job it is to sexually arouse the male performers prior to filming.

I’ll pause for a moment so you can go scrub your brain with sandpaper (or for those of you intrigued by the idea, so you can go google the phrase “fluffer job opportunities.”)

In all seriousness, there’s a lot to be said for this concept. Is there a scene in your favorite book or movie that leaves you feeling warm and tingly? Take advantage of that when you need it. Is there a person in your life who produces the same result with flirty words or a smoldering look? Put yourself in that person’s proximity when the need arises. Find a source you know consistently leaves you squirming, and keep that source handy for when you need to flip the switch.

With a little imagination, you can extend most of these tips to apply to just about any sort of scene you might need to write. Bottom line, it’s worth knowing what sort of mood you need to have to create the tone you’re aiming for. Once you’ve nailed that down, figure out what it takes to get yourself there.

How do you set the mood for specific types of writing? Please share!

And please let me know what you learn about those fluffer job openings. Hypothetically, of course.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Show Don’t Tell: Brought to you by another new housemate

On Saturday, a new twenty-something male housemate moved in.

Lest you think I’m building a sizeable harem of strapping young men, I should clarify that the 20-year-old moved out at the end of the college term, leaving me with only the 27-year-old who moved in right before my Pure Romance party.

The newest housemate is 26, and yes, I’ll admit it – adorable.

Notice I said “adorable” and not “hot.” It’s one reason I’m fond of living with boys in their twenties. They’re good at opening jars and staying out of my way, but way too young for me to think of them as anything other than puppy-dog cute.

The unique thing about the new guy is that we’d never met before he showed up and dragged his dresser into my house. We exchanged countless email messages after he responded to my craigslist ad, and a thorough background check assured me he wasn’t an escaped inmate intent on stealing my underwear and fornicating with my household pets.

But since he was moving from out of state, an in-person meeting wasn’t an option.

Based on what he’d told me about himself – and on what others told me in reference checks – I knew he’d be a good fit.

But email messages and conversations with someone’s references – well, those all involve “telling,” don’t they? It’s not the best method to reveal character in a novel, and it certainly doesn’t provide the whole picture when scoping out a new housemate.

So after he arrived, I was on the lookout for “showing.”

My first clue came as he unloaded boxes from his ’78 Landcruiser. He’d told me via email that he’d restored the vehicle himself, but until I saw it up close, I didn’t appreciate the significance.

It’s hardly a sportscar. Douchebag adjectives like “sweet ride” or “souped up” would never apply to this automobile. It’s functional and well-maintained, but it’s not a penis extension on wheels. During the week it took him to drive from his home state to Oregon, he camped out of the back of it.

All of that told me something about him. Handy. Down-to-earth. Refreshingly ego-free.

The other housemate meandered out while I was pretending not to inspect the Landcruiser. Apparently, he had the same idea I did.

We both spent a few minutes trying to look like we weren’t studying the bumper stickers on the Landcruiser as we studiously washed our own cars.

Feeling stealthy and covert, I sidled up to him with my soapy sponge still dripping.

“Did you notice the sticker that says—”


“So, um…socially and politically speaking—”

“On the same wavelength.”

Not that housemates are required to share politics, but just knowing our value systems are similar assured us we won’t feel compelled to duel in the driveway when the next election rolls around.

Further clues about his personality came a few hours later when he returned from grocery shopping and began unloading his purchases. I was making lunch at the time, so I watched in curiosity to see if he’d stock his cupboard with Oreos and Top Ramen.

He pulled out the ingredients to make brownies. From scratch.

While those baked, he got to work shaping giant, meaty hamburgers that he proceeded to cook on a grill that he built himself.

Then he washed his dishes and put everything neatly away.

Throughout the afternoon, I heard him upstairs unpacking his things and singing in a deep, cheerful Southern drawl. My dog went upstairs and adoringly parked herself on his floor. A few minutes later, I heard him carrying on a conversation with her about her preferred technique for belly scratching.

When I talked to my parents that evening, they were eager to hear about the new guy.

“Did he call his family to let them know he arrived safely?” my mom wanted to know.

“Within five minutes of getting here,” I assured her.

Apparently, that showed my mom what she needed to know about his level of thoughtfulness and courtesy. I suppose if you’re planning chop up your new housemates with an ax and eat their eyeballs, you don’t first phone your father to let him know how the roads were.

When it comes to meeting new people, do you watch for subtle clues about their personalities? When it comes to writing, how do you “show” someone’s character through small actions, mannerisms, and personality clues? Please share!

Speaking of which, I sincerely hope the new guy is planning to share those brownies. They smell delicious.

Monday, June 13, 2011

And the winner is....well, YOU decide!

We got some truly fabulous entries in the cover reenactment photo contest for a chance to win an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Making Waves.

Ever notice how "fabulous" and "disturbing" are sometimes eerily similar?

I considered asking one of my housemates to judge the entries, but a new one just moved in Saturday and I'm hesitant to scare him the way I did with the other guy.

I tried to get my dog to judge, but she wouldn't stop licking the computer screen.

I decided it's best to go ahead and put the vote to you guys, my fabulous blog readers. I was going to omit the names of the contestants to keep things fair, but at least one of the entries makes it pretty obvious. Besides, since when is life fair?

So here's what we'll do: I'll stick a little clicky-box poll at the bottom of this post. Vote for your favorite entry by 8 p.m. PST on Wednesday, June 15. I'll tally them up in the evening, and will post the winner on Tuesday. That person will receive the ARC of Making Waves.

In addition, I invite you to leave a comment telling me why you voted the way you did. Though I don't have any extra ARCs to give away, I do have a very special Making Waves booty bag I'll send to one commenter. Sound good?

So now, without further ado, here are the entries...

From the amazing Harley May:

From the amazing Jenna McCarthy:

From the amazing Michelle Wolfson:

From the amazing Kimberly Sabatini:
Kimberly also included this as extra credit:
So there are the entries. Tough choice, eh? Cast your vote in the poll below, and don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to win the booty bag.

Thanks for playing!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Money for nothin' and your books for free

So I'm probably supposed to be encouraging you all to go out and pre-order Making Waves with actual money.

OK, fine. You can do that on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Powells or Borders or IndieBound or probably some dark alley out of the trunk of an El Camino.

Now that I've got my fake sales pitch out of the way, how about I just recap where you might be able to get it for free?

Today is supposedly the last day to send me an entry in my contest where you create a photo reenactment of my cover to win an advance reading copy (ARC) of the book. Details are here and because I'm feeling generous, I'll go ahead and extend the deadline through 10 p.m. PST on Saturday, June 11.

Author Trisha Leigh is also giving away an ARC in a 150-word writing contest on her blog. Deadline for that is Sunday, so hop on over there and give it a shot.

Last but not least, Sydnee Thompson is also doing a blog giveaway for an ARC of Making Waves. You have until June 25 to enter her contest, but you might as well jump on it now before you forget.

So there you are. Three possible ways to get a free copy of Making Waves before it hits shelves August 1.

Ever notice how free food usually tastes better? I can't promise the same with this book (and I really don't recommend consuming paper products) but free is always a good price, right?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stick it in, stroke it hard, paddle me

On the big list of cool things I get to do for my day job, taking a standup paddleboarding lesson yesterday was pretty high up there.

Not just because the sport itself was fun, but because I’ve truly never found an activity so ripe with double entendres.

I was holding back giggles from the very start when my instructors began explaining strategies for mounting the board (a process that involved getting down on my hands and knees).

It was actually a good thing I was down there, since many of their subsequent instructions had me rolling on the ground in laughter.

For the record, these guys were 110% professional. I truly don’t think they realized most of the stuff they were saying could be twisted around by a dirty-minded romance author.

Here are just a few gems from the afternoon’s lesson...

On sizing my paddle: You need a good eight inches here.

On learning to move the board through the water: Stroke it hard at first – you want to really stick it in there.

When my board got a little tipsy: Did you bring a change of clothes in case you get wet?

As one of the instructors and I began to collide: We’re gonna bang rails. Hang on, I’ll get us off.

One instructor to the other on how he likes his new paddle: It’s great! I love how stiff it is.

Expressing concern the water was too shallow for getting on the board: You need to get it deeper when you mount.

Upon spotting a trout upriver: That’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen.

On techniques for maneuvering through a section of swift current: Sometimes you paddle and paddle and paddle and then you just ride it.

Honestly, there were at least a dozen other phrases that struck me as hysterical, but I didn’t have a notepad with me out there on the water. At one point, I sprinted back to my car to make a note of some of those gems on my iPhone. The instructor followed shortly behind me, along with a mutual professional acquaintance we’d run into on the river. The instructor knew I was within earshot, but the mutual acquaintance did not.

This is all setup for the following dialogue I overheard...

Mutual professional acquaintance: The girl you’re teaching? She’s just great. Really wonderful person.

Instructor: Yeah?

Mutual professional acquaintance: Super smart, really funny, very sweet, and great tits.

Mumbling ensued…I assume this is when the instructor suggested I might be close by. Then there was a lot of uncomfortable silence.

I emerged from my car, figuring I’d better put them out of their misery.

Me: Sorry to keep you waiting, I was just jotting down all the filthy comments you guys have been making unintentionally.

Long silence.

Mutual professional acquaintance: Did you…um…happen to hear my comment just now?

Me: Of course. Don’t worry, I’m not offended. I do have great tits.

OK, so it wasn’t a double entendre. There’s a time for wordplay and a time to just be blunt. I don’t always get it right, but based on their expressions right then, I think I got it right that time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What are they saying about me?

When it comes to marketing, it's always more powerful to have someone else sing your praises than to stand on a soapbox and do it yourself.

I won't go so far as to suggest I'm deserving of praise (though I'm totally worthy of the singing).

There have been some very nice people saying some very nice things about Making Waves lately, so today I'm going to step back and let them do that.

Sydnee Thompson got her hands on an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Making Waves and posted a lovely review of it. Allie Sanders also reviewed the book after winning a copy on this blog, and her kind words made me feel all glowy and tingly.

Over at, Making Waves was included on a lovely list of "must grab summer reads." I'm a little disappointed no one has shown up to grab me yet, but I'm leaving my front door open and feeling hopeful it'll happen soon.

And in case you really need to hear me talk about me, I'm being interviewed today over at The Divining Wand. Before you ask, yes – I really can tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.

It feels a little funny to have my book out there in the world right now, and to have someone besides me talking about it. I'm not sure I'll get used to that anytime soon, but for today, it's nice to shut the @#$% up and let other people talk about me.

Wait, what did you just say?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Size matters, but it's the little things that count

As a romantic comedy author, it's crucial to me that my blog, Twitter presence, Facebook posts, and personal interactions reflect my quirky, humorous brand.

As a fallible human being going through a divorce mere months before the release of my debut novel . . . well, sometimes it's hard.

Go ahead and make the hard-on joke. I'll wait.

Monday was one of those days I felt overwhelmed and sad and stressed and decidedly unfunny. Hey, it happens. I'm learning to cut myself some slack.

One thing I've been grateful for these last few months are the little bitty ways people brighten my days. Often, the bright things come the instant I most desperately need them.

Like this photo my brother sent of his brand new puppy napping with their older dog:
Seriously, if you can look at that without smiling, you are dead inside.

Another bright spot was this photo a friend texted me while browsing a local department store:
Which reminds me, aren't we due for another round of Garage Porn?

And speaking of porn, here's a photo a friend snapped in Newport, Oregon and sent to me because she knew it would make me laugh:
Then there are the people who make me smile in other ways. No, I'm not talking about that.

I mean the friendly pokes on Facebook or the silly jokes sent via email or the Twitter posts from people saying they just pre-ordered Making Waves.

And of course, there are the blog comments here that never cease to make me smile. I've slowed down lately on replying to comments like I used to, but rest assured, I read and adore every single one. You guys leave me grinning constantly.

So on that note, what little things have been making you smile lately?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Things you shouldn’t peddle at yard sales

Ever have one of those days where everything is one big sex joke you really shouldn’t make?

It started Friday evening. I was gathering things to take to a friend’s yard sale when my 20-year-old housemate came home from Bible study. Since he’s moving out next week when the college term ends, I asked if he had anything he’d like to sell so he won’t have to move it.

“Let me check,” he said, and bounded off up the stairs.

I wandered out to the garage to survey my own collection of saleable crap. When I returned to my office, I discovered he’d left a small pile yard sale goodies for me to take. The pile included the following:

  • A lamp
  • A recipe box
  • Several articles of neatly folded clothing
  • A pocketknife
  • A poster

And these:

I stared at them for a long time, wondering if it was a joke, a mistake, or genuinely his idea of good yard sale merchandise.

I was also kind of wondering if he had the keys.

But by then, he’d gone to bed. Knocking on his bedroom door to inquire about a pair of red fur handcuffs seemed like a bad idea on several levels, so I set them aside and called it a night.

The next morning, I headed off to the yard sale. Included among my items for sale were two giant boxes filled with 10 years’ worth of Playboy magazine. Yes, the subscription is mine. What? I love the recipes, articles, and political commentary. I’m only dimly aware there are naked pictures inside.

I was a little worried my friend might balk at the idea of selling big boxes of nudie magazines, but realized I had nothing to fear when she began setting out an array of sex manuals for sale.

“Maybe we should set these on the other side of the yard so people don’t have to dig through the boxes right next to us and worry we’re judging them,” she mused.

“It’s our stuff,” I pointed out. “Why would we be judging?”

So we sat and waited. It hardly took any time at all before a guy came up and made an offer on an entire box of Playboys.

Then a few of the sex books sold.

Then the rest of the Playboys sold to a guy who couldn't fit the box on his bike, so he opted to leave the bike with us and walk home with his box of magazines. I wish I was kidding.

I should point out we weren’t just peddling porn. There was furniture and clothing and appliances and artwork and everything else under the sun.

But even so, the sex thing permeated every exchange.

“Are you allowed to go down on things?” a woman asked as she marched up to my little cashier table.

I looked up in alarm. “Um—”

My friend kicked me. “Prices. She means prices.”


An hour later, my friend got a similar inquiry. “How firm is this?”

By the end of the afternoon, all the risqué merchandise was gone. It’s possible one of the books made it into my pile of purchases.

It’s also possible those handcuffs never made it to the yard sale at all. What? They're fuzzy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

CONTEST: Win an ARC of Making Waves

Thanks so much to everyone who offered suggestions yesterday on how to handle distribution of the small handful of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) I received for Making Waves.

My mom is touched by how many of you are looking out for her and want to make sure she gets a copy. She'd like to adopt those of you who suggested she receive an ARC, and spank those of you who didn't.

As I mentioned, I got five ARCs. The copy that went to The Debutante Ball authors won't likely make its way back to me, and I probably shouldn't ask the blog contest winner to return hers after she wrote that nice review and everything.

It did dawn on me that the copy viciously stolen by generously gifted to a friend could be un-gifted. Who needs friends anyway?

Once I wrestled the book back from my pal's evil clutches, I reviewed all your wonderful ideas for holding a blog contest. Several of you suggested asking readers to submit photo-reenactments of the book's cover, an idea I find so brilliant I want to run out and try it right now.

But I will restrain myself (rare, I know) and leave the fun to you guys.

So here's the deal:
I want you to give me your best reenactment of the cover for Making Waves. That doesn't mean you and your sweetie have to go out and risk arrest at your local boat storage facility (though I'll totally come visit you in jail if that happens). Feel free to get creative with this. You can be literal with it or do your own special interpretation of the cover art. Whatever floats your boat.

Ha! Get it?


Send the photographs to me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com no later than noon PST on Saturday, June 11. I'll announce a winner here on Monday, June 13.

Questions? Complaints? Throw 'em in the the comments section and I'll try to respond.

Now go out and make some waves.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why I can’t look at my own book

I’ve been writing for my supper my whole adult life.

I was a journalist many moons ago, and eventually made my way to a career in marketing/public relations where I’ve grown fairly accustomed to seeing my byline in magazines and newsletters.

That’s a lie, actually.

I pretty much never see my own byline because I can’t stand to look at anything I’ve written after it’s printed. I’m terrified I’ll see mistakes and won’t be able to fix them. That doesn’t hold true for blog posts, which can be edited and tweaked even after publication.

But anything in print that can no longer be corrected? Forget it. I refuse to look. I’d rather slam my hand in the car door repeatedly until I pass out. I’ve had this hang-up since my days of writing for the high school newspaper, so I doubt it’s going to recede anytime soon.

What this means is that even though I received five Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of Making Waves in the mail Friday, I haven’t done more than take a quick glance at the acknowledgments page.

I’m kind of not sure what to do with the books, to be honest. One copy is making the rounds with my fellow authors at The Debutante Ball. One copy went to blog contest winner Allie Sanders (who read it in less than 24 hours and already posted a lovely review). One copy was viciously stolen by generously gifted to a close friend.

That leaves me with two copies. I suppose I should keep one for myself for sentimental purposes or just to wave around and show people.

So what should I do with the last one?

I emailed the Sourcebooks publicity director to see if there’s some special way I’m supposed to use the ARCs. Like maybe this is one of those things all the real authors know about, but I somehow missed the memo.

She wrote back with a few suggestions, but ultimately, left it up to me:

I send these copies for your own use, so do what you will! she wrote.

So I’ll go ahead and turn this over to you guys. What do you think I should do with this extra ARC? Offer it to my mom? Do a blog contest giveaway? Bury it in a time capsule in my backyard?

I’ll open this up for your suggestions and will decide this lonely ARC’s fate within the next few days.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here not looking at it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

3 multitasking tips for swamped writers

As I’m sure most of you do, I live a pampered life.

I rise at noon and summon my lady-in-waiting to attend to my grooming needs. While my personal assistant pays the household bills from my vast and endless checking account, the chef whips up a caviar omelet in the gourmet kitchen of my mansion.

If you believe that, I’m a better fiction writer than I thought.

The sad fact is that most authors have the same money and job woes as everyone else. Most of us balance day jobs and writing and family and sex toy parties and household demands. There’s inevitable overlap between obligations and plenty of moments when you freak the hell out because you can’t possibly do it all.

Not that I’d know anything about that.

I’ve come up with a few strategies for when I’m way beyond trying to keep my head above water and have settled for breathing through a cocktail straw from the bottom of the ocean.

Write fast or forget
My brain has a limited capacity for remembering things, and when I’m bombarded by a million tasks at once, it’s easy for good ideas to start leaking out my ears. While I try to keep a separation between my day job in marketing/public relations and my life as an author, it’s inevitable some of the ideas hitting me in the middle of the workday will pertain to the job I don’t happen to be doing at that moment.

I’ve learned to keep an email document open and addressed to myself either at the day job or at home. When I’m struck with a good plot idea in the middle of crafting a press release at the day job, I jot a fast note in the email and get right back to work. Likewise, if I’m at home editing a manuscript and an idea sneaks up on me for a media pitch at the day job, I make a note in the email addressed to my work account. At the end of the day, I hit “send” and know the tasks and ideas are preserved for when I’m in the right environment to do something about it.

Ask for help
I’ll admit it – I suck at this one. I’d generally rather remove my own kidney with a felt pen than admit I can’t do everything myself, but there are times I just have to pick up that Sharpie and be done with it. I hit a breaking point yesterday where I realized that if I truly intended to keep up with editing, writing, blogging, yard work, divorce proceedings, day job tasks, and household responsibilities, I would have to give up both eating and sleeping.

I finally cried uncle and asked my parents for help checking references on a potential housemate to replace one moving out at the end of the college term. Not only were Mom and Dad happy to help, but I think they secretly enjoyed playing private investigator. While my mother stalked the young prospect online, my father called everyone from his high school guidance counselor to his cardiologist. The kid got the all-clear, and my parents got the reassurance of knowing my new housemate is unlikely to dress up in my underwear and stab me with a letter opener in the middle of the night.

Most importantly, I gained a few hours I desperately needed to make a dent in my workday.

Timing is everything
I’ve experimented a lot with finding balance in my schedule, and I’ve learned a few things about what works for me. Blogging is a huge time commitment at this point in my career, between daily posts here and weekly posts at The Debutante Ball and the day job. I’ve tried getting a jump on things by pre-writing a week’s worth of posts and scheduling them to go up at different times. This works great for plenty of bloggers, but it’s not the best method for me. Large chunks of time are precious and sacred, and when I get one, it’s best used for something meaty like editing a manuscript or writing new chapters.

There are evenings when I drag my butt home from the day job with just enough energy to lie down in front of the fridge and open my mouth hoping something edible falls in. After that, I usually have the free time and mental capacity to tackle a smaller, bite-sized task like a blog post or an interview. That means weeknights tend to be my best times for maximum productivity on those smaller tasks. Knowing this about myself, I can manage my schedule in ways that allow me to keep weeknights open for blog posts while preserving big chunks of time on weekends for tackling bigger writing projects.

Do you have any tips you use for multitasking or budgeting your time between “writing life” and “real life?” Please share!

We could all use the help.