Friday, September 30, 2011

The secrets I don't tell you

I'm in the middle of attending a two-day marketing conference for the day job. That means I've spent a lot of time stabbing myself with the back of an earring to stay awake.    picturing the presenters in their underwear.    learning about social media.

I'm a big believer in the importance of building personal relationships in social media, but the way I approach it is different for my author career versus my day job. As the marketing/PR manager for  my city's tourism bureau, I make an effort to connect with people seeking hiking tips or navigating the Bend Ale Trail.

I don't spend a lot of time talking about how I hurked in my underwear or the time I waxed off my own eyebrow.

If you want an example of how I've dealt with a single topic from the two different platforms, you can read my day job blog post about my standup paddling adventure (clearly geared toward marketing an event) versus the way I told the story on my author blog (a post titled Stick it in, stroke it hard, paddle me).

Same voice, different approach. Both have humor, but one is more factual, while the other is more personal. One blog keeps a professional reign on my inner juvenile, and the other lets her out to run naked through the yard anytime she wants.

Well, mostly.

I do keep some clothes on from time to time. Obviously I reveal quite a bit of personal information on this blog, but you probably know I hold some things back. Those of you who've followed me awhile know my ex-husband was a regular character on the blog before "ex" was part of his title. What most of you didn't know until I announced the divorce was that I spent the year prior to that refraining from telling you the marriage was doing a long, slow swirl down the drain.

I shared the story of explaining to my new housemate that I was hosting a Pure Romance party, but I stopped short of telling you what I might have purchased.

For the most part, I feel wise for holding a few things back. I'm pretty sure you don't want to know every detail of how I spent my last bathroom break.

But sometimes I feel bad about it. Sometimes I feel itchy to share more. Sometimes I'm not allowed to, and sometimes I'm choosing caution on my own.

For instance, I just learned the book slated as my third release next September has a new title. And though I'm giddy with love for the new name, I've been ordered not to tell anyone what it is yet.

I'd also love to tell you about a super secret project I've been working on. It has to do with a big shift in the publishing world and a story I'm REALLY excited about, but that's pretty much all I'm permitted to announce for another couple weeks.

And then there's my personal life. Part of me kind of wants to share that I'm dating someone who makes me swoon on a daily basis with his kind heart, clever mind, great hands, and sense of humor that might actually be filthier than mine.

But with the divorce still fresh and romance the last thing on earth I thought I was looking for, I feel like keeping my cards close to my chest.

(Insert joke here about what else might be on my chest. Go ahead, I'll wait).

I guess it's all about balance. You share some, you hold some back. Sometimes you toss your panties on the chandelier, and sometimes you just hike up your skirt a little.

How do you strike a balance between what you make public and what you keep to yourself? If you have more than one public profile, does your approach differ? Please share!

And I promise I'll share more about some of that stuff when the timing's right. Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pardon me, did someone drop a comma?

Did someone forget to tell me it’s comma appreciation month?

It started with an email from a new writer last week remarking on my use of commas in blog posts and asking for some advice about comma usage.

After I stopped inspecting the email to see if it had been sent by mistake, I responded by saying I’m hardly a comma expert. Yes, I’m the daughter of two teachers (one of whom taught middle school English for 30 years), and yes, I do have a degree in English Lit.

I’ve made my living as writer my whole adult life – first as a journalist, then in marketing/communications, and currently as a published author – and the only thing I can tell you about commas is that no one really knows all the rules.

Sourcebooks gave me two different copy editors for Believe it or Not and Making Waves. I recently worked with a third editor for a top secret new project I’m not allowed to tell you about yet.

Not one of them edited my comma usage in quite the same way.

So while I do my best with commas, and I like to think I have a decent grasp of where they go, I operate mostly on instinct. And you know what? Unless your use of punctuation is truly, truly abysmal, the odds are slim it’s the sort of thing that will preclude you from getting an agent or a book deal.

I see a lot of new writers stressing about nitpicky details like this – comma usage or manuscript formatting or font choice. Trust me when I say there are better places to focus your energy when it comes to writing. Like, I don’t know…WRITING?!

Do you feel like you have a good grasp of comma usage? Are there areas where you feel less sure of your skills? Got any recommendations for good punctuation guides? Please share!

For now, I’ll leave you with two comma-related graphics that made me smile on Facebook this week:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The boys who live with me and pull my hair

One of the best things about having two 27-year-old male housemates is that they sometimes walk from the shower to their bedrooms wearing only a towel.

I’m lying. I’ve never seen either of them do that, and frankly, I’d be a little creeped out if I did.

Though I joke about my little male harem, our relationship is definitely more brother/sister than Charlie Sheen/porn star. In fact, one of the things I love best about “the boys” is how completely oblivious they are to me.

It keeps me humble.

Several weeks ago, one of the housemates stomped in after having dinner with his parents visiting from Chicago.

“My mom thinks you’re famous,” he muttered. “She wants your autograph, and now I have to go buy your book so she can send it to my grandma. What the hell is your book called?”

I glanced from the giant stack of Making Waves bookmarks on the kitchen counter to the assortment of Making Waves notecards on my desk. Then I toed aside the big, open box of Making Waves author copies in the foyer.

“Let me write that down for you,” I said.

So he headed off to Barnes and Noble and returned with my book and a very nice bottle of Pinot Noir from his mother. “How the hell did she know you like wine?” he asked.

“Everyone knows I like wine,” I admitted as I signed a book for his grandmother (who later sent me a delightful thank you note).

Another time I decided I wanted a photo of me being dragged by the hair to accompany my final Debutante Ball blog post. A friend offered to snap the picture and approached one of the housemates to assist.

“Would you mind grabbing Tawna by the hair and pretending to drag her out the door while I take a picture?” he asked.

The housemate shrugged. “Sure, as long as you hurry up,” he said. “I don’t want to miss the sunset.”

The phrase, “what for?” never crossed his lips.

Not that any explanation beginning, “there’s this blog…” would have been met with anything but a blank stare.

Both housemates have been called upon to draw blog contest winners at one time or another. Despite me informing them on multiple occasions that I mention them sometimes (like here or here or here or here or here), they always look a little mystified when I say anything about the blog

“Do people read it?” one of them asked in a rare moment of faked interest.

“Er, sometimes.”

“And I’m in it?”

“Well, that’s not all it’s about,” I started to explain.

“Bummer. People would probably like that.”

Indeed, they would. Maybe we should consider changing up the blog so it’s all housemates, all the time?

Or maybe I’ll just lurk in the hall until the opportunity presents itself to snap one of those towel photos.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Worthless crap that's not so worthless

The price of gold is at record highs. My first thought upon hearing this was to hijack a cargo ship carrying gold Krugerrand in the Caribbean.

Though that worked fine for the crew in Making Waves, I decided I should have a backup plan just in case. I did the next best thing and cleaned out my jewelry box.

I was a little surprised at what I found in there. I had at least half-a-dozen earrings that have been missing mates since well before I was doing any mating of my own. Ditto that for rings, one of which was a gift from a high school boyfriend, and the other a childhood present from a relative who believed a December birthstone ring was an appropriate gift for someone born in August.

I gathered all these items in a little baggie and headed to a local event that advertised cash for silver and gold. I waited my turn in a roomful of people nervously clutching bags of old flatware and coins.

When my turn came, I dumped my bootie on the table and watched while the appraiser performed an array of tests involving magnets, several chemicals, and possibly a chicken foot.

“Here you go,” she said as she handed me a fistful of money. “That’s $70.”

“Seriously? For a bunch of crap I haven’t even looked at for 20 years?”

She pulled the little pile toward her and smiled. “Your bunch of crap is worth something. It’s getting a whole new life.”

I pocketed the money and promptly went home to see what other crap I might have that could be worth something.

Then I thought about what might be lurking on my laptop. How many old stories are buried in files I’ve considered renaming “crap I wrote before I knew what the hell I was doing?”

How much of it might be salvageable? A sentence here, a plot point there? While there are a few manuscripts I’d prefer never see the light of day, there are others I still love with all the passion of a throbbing baloney baton. I do hold out hope that some of them will be worth something someday.

Perhaps more than $70.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised to discover something you thought was worth nothing actually had value? If you’re a writer, do you have little gems tucked away that you hope to someday take out and polish? Please share!

I’m going to paw through my jewelry box one more time. What do you think I could get for those brass nipple clamps?

Monday, September 26, 2011

My cat is a filthy pervert

Three years ago, I walked into a pet store and spotted Blue Cat in a lineup of death-row shelter cats. He was enormous and mostly shaved, and his tags declared him to be 12 years old. Minus a brief stint where he was adopted, matted beyond repair, and returned to the shelter, Blue Cat had been incarcerated for over a year.

I’m a sucker for hard-luck stories, so I adopted Blue Cat and hauled him off to the vet where I learned he not only has a temper, but he wasn’t 12 years old. He was more like three or four.

It also didn’t take long to discover that Blue Cat is a filthy pervert. At first I thought he was just friendly. Whenever pals would visit, Blue Cat would climb into their laps for an affectionate greeting.

I soon realized that while he greets everyone, his greetings with female guests are especially friendly. Heaven help the bosomy houseguest who reclines on my sofa to watch a movie. Within five minutes, Blue Cat will locate her sweater potatoes, curl up between them, and purr until he drools.

Did I mention he’s male?

I’m subjected to the worst of it since I live with him full time. If I’m on my back asleep, Blue Cat will wake me with a dance routine conducted entirely on my chest. If I’m seated at my computer writing, he will find his way into my lap, stretch one paw up, and hook his claws in my boob to anchor himself in place.

I try not to be embarrassed when he cops a feel with female visitors. All things considered, it could be worse. When I was a kid, my parents had a Chihuahua with a humping habit. It wasn’t so bad when he confined the activity to his teddy bear or bed, but things got dicey when he took a fancy to my aunt’s fluffy perm and mounted her head from the back of the sofa.

Have you ever had a pet with poor social skills? Is it best to just ignore my pervert cat’s behavior, or should I make an effort to civilize him? Please share!

And please let me know if you have a good method for extracting cat claws from tender flesh. Hypothetically speaking.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The best of the blog, courtesy of...well, you guys

I often insist the comment trails you guys leave on my blog posts are infinitely smarter, funnier, and more clever than the posts themselves.

Now that my schedule has eased up enough to let me jump into the comment trail dialogue again, I’m even more convinced.

Here’s a collection of some of my favorite snippets from this week’s posts…

The suckhole that soaked my pants & exposed my weakness

There were plenty of funny comments in response to my post about losing my glasses in a giant suckhole, but the most helpful was this comment from Lindsay:

First of all, LOL. Second of all, SERIOUSLY. Xo
Holy crap! How have I never known about this website that allows me to buy unlimited glasses for as low as $6.95 a pair (plus $4.95 shipping for the whole order)? For cheapskates like me who lose or break glasses frequently, this is a godsend. Thank you!

Then, of course, you can leave it to one of the male readers to focus on the most important line from the original post. Jason wrote:
I'm sorry - I can't get past "potential nutsack frostbite." That is so not cool. Or maybe it is. Yikes.
Does the shoe fit you now?

This may be my favorite comment trail from any post I’ve ever written, and a lot of your insights had me in tears. Here are some of your wonderful comments about what comes after the happily ever after:

Shakespeare wrote:
With your book, the main conflict is resolved, along with several other subplots... all resolved. Readers aren't wondering whether the two main characters will have 82 children and raise them on some tropical island... they want to know how their relationship forms now, and helps resolve the mess they've gotten themselves into.
The "ending" is another book entirely, and is not necessarily a romance novel, since it would be dealing with a whole other set of dramas (or perhaps their life is just blissfully happy, and thus pretty gooey-sicky-sweet and boring).

Michelle Miller wrote:
We live in cynical times, and many of us have lost faith in 'happily-ever-after', but as my own relationship enters it's 21st year (my husband will tell anyone who listens that our marriage is finally old enough to drink) I have enough experience to say that the 'happy' part of 'ever' doesn't mean that we're blissful every moment. It means that no matter how much he ticks me off during the day, there's still no one I'd rather have in bed with me at night. All relationships end, if nothing else, some day one of us is going to have to bury the other. It is all the stuff that happens in between now and then that matters.

Alex and Juli sailing off into the sunset together isn't an end, it's a beginning, and it leaves me wondering what happens next.
Bethany Elizabeth wrote:
I do think about the rest of characters' lives a lot. That's the best part. Falling in love and getting married is a beautiful story, but in my experience, it's the real-life afterwards stories that change you, make you stronger. It doesn't always end happily, and I don't think that literature really pretends it does. A lot of books get criticized for happy endings - 'it never works that way in real life' - but the fact of it is that it does. Then it changes. We fall in love just like in the books. Then the hardships kick in.

Literature realizes that, immortalizes it, and makes sure we understand that just because something is over, it doesn't mean it was a mistake. It means our next 'mistakes' will be better, bigger, and more worth making.
And as always, we can count on Patrick Alan for a different perspective:

This is why I prefer Fantasy novels rather than straight romance. In a Fantasy novel, the dude saves the world AND gets the girl. Who cares if she goes crazy in a year or two, he saved the freakin' world!!!!
A few hours later, he added this:
What do you want from me? Pick up my socks? My socks are that important and so heavy that you can't pick them up? Are they as important as two years ago when I SAVED THE FREAKIN' WORLD? You picked up my socks then? Why is it a freakin' big deal now? You only like me when I am saving the freakin' world?

Fine! Fine! I'll save it again. I'll go release all those dragons and let them rain down hell and then when you're sure we're all going to die, I'll come kick their asses!

'Cause I am done talking about stupid socks!!!!
I got rammed and had an evil thought
Yesterday’s post generated some thought-provoking discussion about my experience getting rammed in the McDonald’s parking lot. Was it awful that I had a fleeting thought about not admitting my bumper was already damaged? Would it have mattered if the other driver was belligerent instead of kind? Here are some of your thoughts:

Matthew MacNish wrote:
There are no evil thoughts, only evil actions. The mind comes up with all kind of depravities, but no matter what kind of person you are, there's nothing wrong with them unless you act on them.
Shannon wrote:
Dude, if I shared all the evil thoughts I have throughout the day, I'd be institutionalized in a red hot minute.
Leave it to Patrick Alan to jump all over that:
I’m afraid of Shannon.
Me too, Patrick. Me too.

Thank you to everyone who voiced concern about any long-term damage to my car or my person, including Sierra Godfrey who offered excellent advice for anyone in a fender bender:
Tawna, no one else said this but it needs to be said: you may not know if there's further damage to YOU or your car until later, and it's imperative you trade insurance info anyway. I'm glad you did rather than just drive off but it's possible damage will surface later--this happened to me after getting hit by a red light runner and my car looked fine. Except its wheels were knocked off the shafts (giggle) and I had to be towed after driving a half block. Never would have known that initially. Glad you're ok. I expect you'll be bruised in the days to come.
Do you have any favorite comments or discussion points from this week’s posts? Please share!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I got rammed and had an evil thought

My Egg McMuffin lust landed me at the McDonald’s drive-thru yesterday morning, just like it does on more mornings than I care to admit.

But something odd happened yesterday.

This drive-thru has two lanes. When I arrived, a maroon minivan was idling at the fork between the two, waiting to see which lane might open up first.

I pulled behind her to wait my turn. Suddenly, the driver threw the minivan into reverse.

I had a split second to honk my horn. I didn’t actually locate the horn until after the minivan slammed into me. Hard.

I sat there stunned for a moment. I don’t generally expect to be rammed at 9 a.m., especially not by a stranger in the McDonald’s parking lot. With my whole body shaking, I stepped out of my car and surveyed the front of it.

A few words about my car: it’s old. It was the first new car I ever bought, but that was almost 14 years ago. It runs fine, but the front bumper has been smashed on one side for more than two years. Since it’s expensive to fix and the car is no showpiece, I’ve never bothered.

But as I stood there staring at a car that bore no damage beyond what existed when I got into it a few minutes before, an evil thought flitted through my brain:

The driver doesn’t know the bumper was already damaged. No one’s insurance company knows. They could pay to fix it.

No sooner had the evil thought crossed my mind when the other driver came hustling toward me. I didn’t even look up. “I’m OK,” I said. “The car is fine. That bumper was already damaged.”

Her expression was unreadable. “It was already like that?” She bit her lip. “Here, let me get my insurance information for you anyway.”

And so we did that awkward exchange people always do when they try to play it cool and pretend they know what they’re doing, but all they’re really thinking is, “holyshitholyshitholyshitholyshit.”

The other driver had trouble finding her insurance card at first, so while she fumbled and phoned, I pulled into the drive-thru.

What? I still needed my Egg McMuffin.

As I circled back around to meet the other driver, I mulled the evil thought. I know I’d never really lie like that. I don’t have it in me (insert additional ramming joke here).

Still, the evil thought was there, if only for a split second. I’m not proud of it, though maybe I should be proud I never would have acted on it. Does that cancel it out?

Once the Egg McMuffin was in my system and my hands stopped shaking, I got a closer look at the minivan. It was well-aged like my car, and the tires were bald. The driver was kind and a little frazzled.

Would I have felt differently if she’d acted belligerent? If she’d been driving a brand new Mercedes? If it bore an offensive bumper sticker?

As I drove away, one last thought hit me: the insurance info I scribbled for her was on a business card identifying me as an author with a new release and a three book deal.

What? Never miss a chance to sell a book.

I saw her studying the card as I got back in my car, and wondered what she was thinking.

If she’s like many people unfamiliar with the publishing world, she might operate under the misconception that published authors make tons of money.

One look at my car probably disavowed her of that notion. Did knowing my profession change her view of me? Did it change her view of authors?

Feel free to speculate on any of the questions I’ve posed here. Or hey, feel free to make a ramming joke.

Here, I'll get you started: Wow, my neck is kinda stiff from that hard ramming. And speaking of stiff...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

3 small ways to flip the off-switch & reclaim “me time”

It’s not easy balancing life, work, family, and vital household chores like organizing your whip collection.

When I created the schedule for juggling my author career and day job, I was thrilled with the balance. Tuesday through Thursday, I’d put on my marketing/PR hat and head to the office. Friday through Monday, I’d don my author hat and focus on revisions, new writing, and book promo.

It sounded like the perfect arrangement until it donned on me that I hadn’t actually budgeted any me time. Not only that, but the fact that I toted my iPhone 24/7 meant I spent pretty much every waking hour (and some not-awake hours) tethered to one job or the other.

No wonder the whip collection never got organized.

Since then, I’ve tried to be smarter about giving my brain a break from constant on mode. Aside from some of the bigger efforts I’ve made to take full days off for pleasurable endeavors, here are a few small ways I flip the off switch from time to time.

Let’s NOT do lunch

Once upon a time, I had a standing lunch date with my iPhone. That was unfortunate, since it never put out even if I bought an expensive meal. It didn’t matter if I was taking a break from the day job or meandering out to my front porch with a sandwich – the damn device always joined me. After all, my boss might need me or my editor might email with an important question.

But nine times out of ten, my neurotic email checks revealed nothing more pressing than an ad for discount penis enlargement. And while I enjoyed getting the occasional flirty lunchtime text, I discovered my brain felt a lot more rested if I left the phone on my desk and spent an hour reading a good book without distractions. Since I stopped inviting the iPhone to lunch, I’ve been amazed to discover the world has not collapsed.

Keep ‘em separate

Being an author isn’t a 9-5 gig, and there are plenty of times my day job requires a skewed schedule as well. I’m prepared to deal with that, but I also know I need to carve out boundaries to protect my sanity. Though I sometimes check my day job email from my laptop at home, I’ve drawn the line at doing it from my phone. If day job colleagues need to reach me during non-work hours, they know a text or phone call is best.

And while a big part of my day job revolves around being present on Twitter and in the blogosphere, I make an effort to take off my author hat and post using only my day job persona during the hours I’m paid to do that.

Let the wine flow! Just not yet…

One hard and fast (snicker) rule I’ve held since launching this blog in February 2010 is that I’ll never post if I’ve had anything to drink. Not even a couple sips of wine. You may find me in other social media sandboxes, but the blog is off limits. That creates a dilemma if I’ve found the perfect bottle of chianti to accompany my dinnertime lasagna, but haven’t yet written the next day’s post. What to do?

For starters, I’ve gotten better about planning in advance. A snack near the end of my workday means I can push dinner a little later and use the extra time to write a post before the oven timer dings. If a last-minute girls night pops up, I may just decide the world won’t end if the next day’s post isn’t up until later the next morning.

What are your strategies for flipping off switches and creating boundaries to preserve me time? Please share!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Does the shoe fit you now?

I love to get a jump on things, and not just in the filthy sense of the phrase.

Though snow won’t fly for at least a month in Central Oregon, I spent yesterday driving to the middle of nowhere for a good deal on a set of snow tires. It was a three-hour round trip through cattle country, with directions that included phrases like, “head west past Beaver Street, turn right on Cum Flat, and go 13 miles until the pavement ends.”

(I swear I that’s what I heard – I even asked the woman to repeat “Cum Flat” three times before I gave up and wrote it down. Turns out “Combs Flat” sounds different with a western twang).

There’s something about that sort of road trip that puts me in the mood to listen to country music. It’s not my normal fare, but since I went to college in Montana, I was required by law to listen to it and even have a few songs on my iPod.

The stories appeal to my author sensibilities. If you can listen to Rascal Flats sing Ellsworth and not sob like a baby over Grandma’s descent into dementia and unwavering love for Grandpa, you are dead inside.

I rolled down my windows and sang at the top of my lungs with Pam Tillis and Trisha Yearwood, and I swear only two or three cows covered their ears with their hooves. But when Suzy Boggus started singing Cinderella, I shut up and listened to the lyrics.

It starts with one girlfriend reminiscing about the other’s fairy tale wedding, then cycles through the realities of their happily ever after – kids, jobs, disillusionment, aging, lost dreams – all the fun stuff country music is made of.

It was the chorus that really caught my ear:

Hey, Cinderella, what's the story all about?
I’ve got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow
Oh, Cinderella, maybe you could help us out
Does the shoe fit you now?

There’s something ironic about a romance author divorcing the year her debut novel hits shelves. I’m doing ridiculously great now, so you can skip the butt pats (though you’re welcome to give me a flirty little pinch if the urge strikes). I can say with 110% certainty that things happen for a reason, and I’m in a damn good place now.

Still, my happily ever after doesn’t look much like I imagined, nor does it look much like the ones I write. Or does it?

I doubt I’m giving away any shocking spoilers by telling you that Alex and Juli sail off into the sunset together at the end of Making Waves. But then what?

As a romance author, I’m forced to end the story there, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining what might happen next. Maybe Alex waits five years into their marriage before confessing he’d like Juli to spank him with Cookie’s pancake turner on a nightly basis.

Maybe Juli’s OK with that.

Or maybe Juli gets drunk one night with Malcom the literary pirate and neither of them can remember later how she ended up with paper cuts on her thighs.

Given what I know about real-life happily ever afters, those things could happen. Does it make the ending of the novel any less poignant? Does it taint the tenderness of the happily ever after to know it might not look exactly the way you picture it when you’re surrounded by candlelight and the heady scent of squished roses?

I don’t think so, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you ever consider what comes after the happily ever after in love stories? Why or why not? Please share!

Oh, and just so I’m not the only one with that song stuck in my head all day, here you go:

Monday, September 19, 2011

The suckhole that soaked my pants & exposed my weakness

Sunday offered a burst of unexpectedly gorgeous weather, which seemed like a good excuse for a late-afternoon hike.

I set out with a friend along a scenic trail beside the Deschutes River. We’d gone a couple miles when I suggested stopping to enjoy the scenery from a giant rock overhanging the river. The sun was starting to dim, so I pulled off my prescription sunglasses and set them in my lap.

I know myself well enough to realize the likelihood I’d forget the glasses was the same as the likelihood I’d make inappropriate jokes about the giant suckhole formed by the water swirling beneath our rock.

It didn’t take long for both things to occur. With a soft kerplunk, my glasses tumbled off my lap and into the water.

“Uh-oh.” I peered over the ledge and into the swirling eddy of chilly whitewater sloshing over jagged rocks. “My glasses.”

My companion was on his feet in an instant, clambering down the rock ledge on an optical rescue mission. Since it didn’t seem wise to let him drown while I stood on the ledge and made more suckhole jokes, I clambered down the rocks to assist.

The river was icy and swift, but I rolled up the legs on my capris and stuck a leg in to test the depth. It came just above my knees, so I lowered myself into the chilly water to peer beneath the rock.

Two seconds later, I was in it up to my crotch. I yelped as the glacier-fed river hit my lady bits, but since I was already soaked, I made a good show of pretending to look for the glasses I knew I’d never find.

Then I crawled out of the water and added a few wet panty jokes to my growing repertoire of suckhole humor.

Still fretful about the glasses, my companion stayed below, braving the frigid water and potential nutsack frostbite in pursuit of the drowned spectacles.

“It’s OK, really,” I called down from the ledge. “This I why I buy cheap glasses. I basically bank on losing four or five pairs a year.”

It’s sad, but true. In my younger years, I thought I could change my habits. I focused hard on keeping track of my glasses. I bought fancy cases to keep them in, and even tried splurging on nicer pairs in hopes of tricking myself into being more responsible.

It never worked.

These days, I accept my weakness. I know I’m not going to change, so I’ve learned to buy cheap prescription glasses and not get too attached.

It’s the same with writing sometimes. Try as I may to be a responsible plotter who plans out her stories before spewing words onto the page, I know I’ll never manage to do it. I compensate by surrounding myself with critique partners and beta readers who are skilled at digging me out of my plot holes.

I know I’ll never feel like writing a blog post after a big dinner and a glass or twelve two of good wine, so I’ve learned to write earlier in the evening and reward myself afterward with the food and drink.

Do you have weaknesses you’ve learned to work around as you’ve aged? Got any good coping strategies or ways you’ve overcome your own weaknesses? Please share!

I have to make an appointment with the optometrist. Here’s hoping he enjoys a good suckhole joke.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shouting from my social media soapbox

Last Saturday, I went to Portland to be part of a panel presentation on savvy social media for authors.

As a sidenote, it's not wise to drink fourteen gallons of caffeinated iced tea before getting in front of a group for an hour-long presentation, unless the image you're trying to project is that of an incontinent crack addict.

It also might not be wise to sit there with your iPhone posting to Twitter while you're in the middle of the presentation.

Or at least that might be true under normal circumstances. In this instance, the Twitter dialogue that took place turned out to be the perfect illustration of many of the points I hoped to make on the topic of social media, so I'll share it with you here.

Some background, for those who aren't Twitter-savvy: The first tweet in this series is a general message I posted to all my followers just a few minutes before I got up to do the presentation. Malin is a regular blog reader and Twitter pal who lives in Sweden. She replied to my initial tweet with what I thought was an exceptionally keen observation about social media, and the conversation unfolded from there:
A couple things are noteworthy about the exchange.

For one, Malin is exactly right about social media being personal. It's one of the reasons I tweeted what I did. Though I'm not generally nervous about public speaking, I was feeling a little pressure to get up and say something smart. There's always a risk my brain will decide to take a mini-vacation just as I open my mouth to speak or click on my iPhone to tweet. It happens to all of us, and sharing that fear in a public forum gives us all an opportunity to relate to each other.

The second thing that's noteworthy is that I've never met Malin. She lives on the other side of the world, and half the time she's tweeting in Swedish. My book isn't even sold in Sweden, but because Malin follows this blog and pals around with me on Twitter, she ordered Making Waves online. She even emailed me this screen shot a few months ago so I could see what my book looks like on the Swedish site where she bought it:

Now here's the thing: I never asked Malin to buy my book. I never asked her to send me that delightful screen shot. I never asked her to banter with me on Twitter in a way that made me look smarter than I am in front of the assembled group.

She did those things because we've forged a sort of friendship through our months of banter on social media sites. In the spirit of that friendship, you can be damn sure I'll line up to buy Malin's book someday when she achieves her goal of becoming a published author.

It's that sort of friendship – real, genuine, honest-to-goodness human connections – that make social media a valuable tool for authors.

I think about that every time I see an author cramming her tweet stream with messages urging people to buy her book. I think about it whenever I see an author on a message board asking people to visit his blog without bothering to interact with other authors there or considering the fact that at least 90% of them have blogs, too, and that the way to get someone to visit yours is not to beat people over the head without engaging in a real, meaningful way.

Social media isn't about selling. It's not about self-promotion. It's about forging connections and trusting that the rest will happen naturally.

Any thoughts on this subject? Feel free to tell me if you disagree – it's all part of engaging, right?

I'll leave you with a few photos someone was kind enough to snap for me on Saturday. Note the giant iced-tea cup. It was on its third refill, and I was preparing my second potty sprint. I'm not proud.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How the freaks and perverts find me

Last November, I shared some of the weird search terms people have used to find this blog.

With eleven months and one book release behind us since then, I figured it was worth revisiting the subject to see if search habits have changed much.

The top terms people used to find this blog were pretty much the same – stuff you’d expect like my name, my book name, or the name of the blog.

Then there’s the stuff I found a little odder. Between November 2, 2010 and yesterday, 188 people found this blog by searching “romance authors and pets.”

I can see the Playboy centerfold now…

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never mentioned my mother’s first name on this blog. Still, 72 people found this blog by searching “Dixie Fenske.”

Maybe she should have her own guest post?

I’m disturbed to see that this post about fornicating monkeys in Gibraltar remains one of the most popular ones I’ve ever written, and that nearly 200 people found it by googling some variation of “monkey sex” or “sex with monkeys.”

Seriously, people – therapy. Give it some thought.

Then there’s the weird stuff. Because monkey sex isn’t weird enough.

Behold, I give you some of my favorite bizarre search terms that led people to this blog in the last eleven months:

  • Creepy pervert tomato
  • Alien boobs
  • My husband bathed me
  • Women’s pigtail buns
  • Diaper under clothes
  • Chinese giant salamander
  • Big hairy butt
  • Penis pen
  • Check written for a traffic ticket in Montana on a pair of clean but tattered underwear
  • Accordion potatoes
  • You will not be disappointed i will make your toes curl in pleasure lets chat
  • Vasectomy wound left unstitched
  • Wearing pantyhose on the subway stories
  • 4 guys sharing hotel bed with
  • am i over the speedlimit while driving if i eat too many chocolates containing alcohol?
  • bad underwear ideas
  • boobs flash why do truckers honk at me
  • cats butt looks really big

Several of those I can figure out based on a handful of words I’ve used in blog posts, but many leave me scratching my head. If you’re a regular reader here, do you have any guesses how some of those searches led people here? Does Google Analytics give you any bizarre data about how people are finding your blog? Please share!

I really need to spend some time looking into that creepy pervert tomato thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I don't know my brother's name

My brother called yesterday at lunch.

“My boss read your book,” he reported. “Now he’s calling me Russ.”

I had to think about that for a minute. “What was he calling you before?”

I could hear the eye roll from 150 miles away. “My actual name? Aaron?!”


See, the thing is, I forget my brother’s name. It’s not that we aren’t close. On the contrary, we talk several times a week and I consider him one of my best pals.

But from the time we were very young, everyone in the family called each other by the names of the characters in National Lampoon’s Family Vacation. Though my parents will answer to Clark and Ellen and I perk up if someone yells Audrey, the name stuck most solidly for my brother.

There are times I forget his name isn’t Russ. My mom will tell me she talked to Aaron and I’ll say “who?” and she’ll make an exasperated noise and say, “your BROTHER?!” and I’ll feel like a dumbass.

Which is why I chose to thank him as Russ in the acknowledgements for Making Waves. To my credit, I gave his real name as well.

And in my defense, I’m not the only sibling who does this. To the best of my knowledge, my brother has called me nothing but Butthead since before either of us hit puberty.

There are times I forget that’s not my name.

Some of that may be a guy thing. Very few of my brother’s friends are called by their real names, but cheerfully respond to endearing monikers like Slimer or Aboo or Dirty.

Most memorably, my brother once spent an entire college term working on a project with a buddy he called Pecker. When Pecker failed to show on the day the project was due, my brother was dismayed to realize he didn’t know Pecker’s real name.

I still laugh picturing that professor grading a term paper submitted by Aaron Fenske and Pecker.

All that to say, I don’t feel too bad about my brother’s boss calling him Russ. Frankly, it’d be a lot easier for me if everyone called him that.

Wait, does that mean I have to start signing books as Audrey or Butthead? If that’s the case, what embarrassing nickname shall I use when signing the book for you?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Make time for a paw in your butt crack

Every now and then, someone at a book event will ask about regrets in my writing career.

My off-the-cuff answer is that I don’t tend to regret much because every bonehead move has taught me something important.

While that’s totally true, something occurred to me yesterday when I was lying facedown on an air mattress with my dog’s paw wedged in my butt crack and the icy river turning my boobs to frostbitten bricks.

Once upon a time, I was represented by someone other than the amazing agent who currently reps me. This agent took me on for a project that didn’t end up selling, and as sometimes happens, seemed to lose interest after that.

I went through a long dry spell without much contact from my agent until I got an email from out of nowhere asking if I had any romantic comedy to pitch.

I didn’t, but since I write fast, I vowed to come up with something quickly. For two straight weeks, I brainstormed and noodled and drafted and polished and revised. I worked late into the night. I skipped road trips and family outings. I devoted everything I had to cranking out those manuscripts as fast as possible, determined to impress my agent and meet the arbitrary deadline I’d set for myself.

At the end of two weeks, I sent my agent the first three chapters and a synopsis for two proposed romantic comedies. Then I waited.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

A few months went by, and several “just wondering if you got it” emails went ignored. Finally, I caught my agent on the phone.

“Those romantic comedies,” I said breathlessly. “What did you think?”

“Oh,” said my agent. “I don’t know. Not really my thing, I guess.”

I wasn’t crushed by my agent’s words. Not really.

But what I did regret was missing those final weeks of my summer. I thought about the camping trips I could have taken, the hikes I missed, the outings with friends I gave up to focus every ounce of my time on those damn manuscripts and my self-imposed deadline.

I’m going to fast forward through the drawn-out saga that took place over the next few years, because that’s not the point of this story. Suffice it to say I left that agent, signed with the amazing Michelle Wolfson, and in February 2010, she landed me a three book deal for those same romantic comedies.

But did you notice those dates?

September 2007 – I was convinced that timing mattered. That I absolutely, positively, had to sacrifice every moment of those final weeks of summer to impress someone with my speed and efficiency.

But it wasn’t until February 2010 that anyone offered to buy those books. That urgency I felt way back then – all the stress and sacrifice and hurry-up-and-write-you-moron sentiment was completely in my head.

I thought of that yesterday when I tallied up my to-do list. Update website. Revise third contracted novel. Write a blog post. Clean my office. Write marketing copy for Sourcebooks. Comb the cat. Giggle about unintentional dirty euphemism.

Then I studied the list and considered which things absolutely, positively had to get done that day. I spent the morning doing them, then shucked my clothes, donned a bikini, blew up an air mattress, buckled the dog into her life jacket, and set out to float the river.

Because the thing is, summer will be gone in a few weeks. I can always find evenings and weekends to tackle that list, but spending time doing pleasurable things that can only occur during a small, precious window of time?

That has to happen now.

Besides, it’s all research for a humor writer. I have to appreciate the comedic value of the dog deciding thirty seconds into our float that paddling along beside me in her life jacket was an unsuitable means of transportation, and that she’d really rather hoist herself onto the air mattress, shake her soggy body, and spend the duration of the float standing on my back.

There’s also humor in the logistics of a solo float, which requires a half-mile walk lugging a limp air mattress, dragging a reluctant canine, and trying to pretend I’m not a 37-year-old woman walking through a busy shopping district in a bikini and ugly sandals.

That’s good stuff there. And that’s what I remind myself when I realize I’m loading myself with arbitrary deadlines and preparing to skip something fun in favor of tacking a to-do list.

Don’t sacrifice pleasure for tasks that can wait. Don’t miss moments you can’t make up later. Don’t forget that living is what gives writers the raw material we need to keep writing.

And don’t forget to clip your dog’s toenails before she uses your butt crack for balance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You dirty little beach

Burying my toes in the sand.
This past weekend marked my last scheduled book signing or speaking engagement until mid-October, and I capped it off with a day trip to the Oregon coast.

A day at the beach with family and friends should be innocent enough.

In theory.

But here are a few of the filthy phrases that had me rolling in the sand with laughter yesterday...

On ocean tides:
Wow, it's really coming in hard.

On building sand castles:
If you get it wet, you can pack it a lot harder.

On digging a fire pit:
That's a nice hole. Can you make it a little deeper?

On building a bonfire:
I need a couple really big logs.

On keeping the fire going:
It's hot enough, so go ahead and stick it in.

On kite flying:
Do you need a little help getting it up?

On packing up the beach blanket:
Don't shake too hard or you'll get it all over everything.

On the importance of resealing the picnic Tupperware:
Well of course you'll get sand in it if you leave it wide open on the beach.

So how was your weekend? Any filthy innuendos to offer up, beach-related or otherwise? Please share!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Staggering my way back

I know many of you noticed that for the last few months, I haven't been so good at replying to blog comments.

It was something I did religiously for the first 15 months or so after I began blogging in February 2010. I adored having the interaction with you guys, and I know some of you enjoyed it, too.

But then....well, life got in the way. Blame the crazy schedule in the months surrounding my book release. Blame the divorce. Blame the day job. Blame the aliens, since they make good scapegoats for most things, including the fact that I showed up to work yesterday wearing mismatched shoes.

No matter, my virtual book tour is over, as is my one-year term blogging at The Debutante Ball. Though I've got a speaking engagement/book signing in Portland this weekend, that's the last time I'm scheduled for any big book-related events until mid-October.

Can I get a collective WOOOHOOOO!?!?!?!

Oh, there will still be copy edits to do, new books to write, promotional obligations to fulfill, and sex toy collections to alphabetize. Still, I'm going to do my very best to get back to replying to blog comments on a regular basis. I can't promise to do it every day, but I'm going to try.

Er, is there anything you want to talk about?


Right. Um, well, just a reminder that you have until noon on Sunday, September 11 to harass friends, family, or strangers to purchase Making Waves, and then email me your proof for a chance to win a signed copy. Details are here.

Now how about a group hug?

Hey, who grabbed my butt?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Things that make me feel guilty

I have this giant stash of magazines, and I feel guilty about it.

They’re not porn. I’ll gladly fan those magazines out on the coffee table and invite guests to browse at will.

No, the guilt-inducing magazine is Romance Writers Report. I get one every month as part of my membership to Romance Writers of America, and each time it shows up, I want to slam my head in the door.

It’s not a bad magazine. It’s actually chock full of amazing articles about the romance genre, the publishing industry, and writing craft. I desperately want to read every page of it from cover to cover.

But somehow, I fail to do that. On a good day I might skim the headlines on the cover. Most days I don’t even find time to do that.

The magazines get tucked in a lovely metal in-basket that’s reserved for the day I have time to sit down at leisure and read every article from start to finish until I am the most knowledgeable romance author on the planet. Other authors will whisper about me. "She's the one who read every article ever written in Romance Writers Report. She knows everything!"

As you might imagine, that day has not arrived. That means my pile continues to grow like an unwanted meat wand. It sits there leering at me, reminding me every day that I’m a poor excuse for an author.

I solved the problem temporarily by shoving the basket in a cupboard. Still, I have to open the cupboard each month to put the new issue on top of the pile, and the whole thing is beginning to teeter dangerously.

Maybe I should throw them all in the recycle bin. Maybe I should blow off my copy edit deadline and spend the entirety of tomorrow reading those magazines.

I’m not sure what the answer is here, but I know the guilt is getting to me. The last time the mailman showed up with a new issue, I ran screaming up my driveway and hid under the bed until he drove away.

Is there anything in your life that makes you feel inexplicably guilty? Something you know doesn’t truly warrant the guilt trip it heaps on you, but you still succumb anyway? How do you deal with it? Please share!

I’ll be looking for matches. And lighter fluid. And maybe, just maybe, if the whole stack goes up in smoke….

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The magazines you don't want to know about

A big part of my day job involves pitching story ideas to various media outlets. The object is to look for journalists and publications likely to write about intriguing aspects of my fair city, and then to annoy the crap out of them until they do what I want      suck up as shamelessly as possible    use my professional powers of persuasion to elicit the desired coverage.

Several weeks ago, I was pitching a piece on a conference scheduled for this fall. I used my handy PR software to search keywords like "technology," "design," and "creative" in hopes of finding publications that might have an interest in this particular conference.

I found what I was looking for, but I also found some publications with titles that made me laugh until my boss came in and asked what was so funny. In case you find them amusing as well, here's a list of honest-to-goodness publications:

  • Archives of Oral Biology
  • Cretaceous Research
  • Fish & Shellfish Immunology
  • Hormones & Behavior
  • Hot Rod Deluxe
  • Journal of Elastomers and Plastics
  • Journal of Pain
  • Knives Illustrated
  • Mushroom Growers’ Newsletter
  • Mutation Research and Genetic Toxicology
  • Pest Bulletin
  • Physics of Fluids
  • Poor Magazine
  • Smallbits Magazine
  • Threat Level
  • Tomato Magazine
I opted not to target any of those magazines and newsletters, though I do plan to keep the list handy for future reference. Who knows when I might need to pitch someone a piece on elastomers?

Got a favorite on that list? How about a publication or book title that's not on the list, but still makes you smile? Please share!

I need to go renew my subscription to Knives Illustrated.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Who has the right to say you suck?

I hate to wreck the fantasy for those who believe debut romantic comedy authors spend their days rolling naked in piles of cash while cabana boys bring frozen grapes and fresh feather boas, but I should tell you I have a day job.

It’s a job I adore working part-time as the marketing & communications manager for my city’s tourism bureau, but it’s a day job nonetheless.

When I interviewed for the job a year ago, I took great pains to explain my author career. I figured if they had any reservations about hiring a risqué romance writer for a high-profile PR job, we all needed to figure that out up front.

As it turned out, this blog was one of the things that caught the CEO’s attention, and a post titled My hole got plugged so my jugs aren’t full was the first taste he had of my writing.

So everyone is well aware of my other life.

Shortly after the Chicago Tribune gave an unexpectedly glowing review of my book, I was in a meeting with the marketing director and the CEO. They had a few tweaks to some copy I’d written for a new program, and I jotted notes so I’d know what to change.

Suddenly, the CEO stopped talking. “I feel weird making changes to something written by a critically acclaimed, published author.”

You’re probably not supposed to laugh at your CEO, but I did.

When I stopped laughing, I shook my head. “Every writer at any level needs feedback from other people,” I told him. “And feedback is equally valid whether it’s coming from my editor in New York or my CEO in Oregon or the guy selling soup at the food cart on the corner.”

He probably thought I was kissing up, but it’s true.

And it’s something I think about every time I see writers doing that bizarre little dance over critiques. Can I criticize the work of an author who’s published when I don’t have a book deal yet? Should I join a critique group with authors who have less experience than I do?

Though everyone should make that decision for herself, here’s what I think: A book deal doesn’t make your own critiques more valid, nor does it mean you don’t need input from those without publishing contracts. Subjective, varied opinions are a crucial part of honing any piece of writing.

I work with three critique partners and three beta readers for every book I write. Of the three critique partners, one is multi-published, one has a debut novel coming out next year, and one isn’t published yet. None of my three beta readers is a writer.

But guess what? I value their input equally.

And there’s not a single fiber of my being that feels I’m somehow elevated above the feedback of someone who doesn’t happen to have a published book. On the contrary, the different perspectives and life experiences are precisely what I need from the critique process.

How do you feel about accepting writing feedback from people whose backgrounds are different from yours? Do you take criticism differently if it’s coming from an editor, a CEO, or the guy who drives your neighborhood garbage truck?

Please share!

I’ll be huddled in my office, waiting to hear if the CEO read this post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A shirtless man holding my book. Need I say more?

It was a good weekend for learning important life lessons.

I mean besides the fact that you shouldn't play badminton in the dark unless a mild concussion is your idea of a good time.

The most significant lesson I learned is that you shouldn't hold a blog contest over Labor Day weekend.

I'm choosing to believe that's the reason I got exactly one entry (since the alternative is to accept the possibility that no one wanted to win a signed copy of Making Waves).

No matter, the one entry I got is so hysterical, so charming, that I feel like it should count for ten entries. That pretty much guarantees Geoffrey Cubbage wins, so congratulations to him!

Geoffrey made a crack in Thursday's blog comments about dropping his pants in WalMart to cause a scene that might prompt people to buy Making Waves. I told him that if he did, I'd make sure he got one of the signed copies.

Here's what Geoffrey emailed me Sunday evening:


The very nice elderly lady working at Barnes and Noble asked me to keep my pants on but seemed fine with me posing open-shirted, so here you have it: a picture inside with the book, a picture outside the door with it and one of us attempting a car roof pin-up, and then a shot of the attractive lady who bought the copy looking strangely excited about Battleships for some reason! (You can't see "Making Waves" in that one because we're forgetful and bad at photos, but it's totally in the purse there.)

Just don't tell my poor old mother that her sons are sending half-naked pictures of themselves to young women on the internet now.


Geoffrey Cubbage

Let's have a huge round of applause for Geoffrey, shall we? Nicely done.

Want to try it yourself? I've still got two copies of Making Waves I'd be happy to sign and send out into the world. Show me how you convinced someone to buy the book. You don't have to send embarrassing photos (though obviously that's a whole lot of fun). Get creative! Perhaps an email to friends urging them to run to their nearest WalMart and buy the book? Skywriting? A strategically placed Making Waves tattoo?

The possibilities are endless, and I'm extending the deadline through Sunday, September 11 at noon PST. Send what you've got to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com. I'll pick two winners and will announce them on Monday, September 12. Questions? Leave 'em in the comments.

And how about another round of applause for Geoffrey?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Who's saying what?

I keep getting scolded for forgetting to share good news with you guys.

The thing is, I forget who I've gushed to about certain things, and I also kinda hate bragging.

But I'll admit I've been over-the-moon thrilled with some of the reviews Making Waves has gotten lately. Especially this one in the Chicago Tribune.

I had to go back and look at that at least six times to see if that was really my name on the same list as Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Mary Kay Andrews and Cherry freakin' Adair. If it's just an elaborate practical joke, I don't want anyone to clue me in.

The Sourcebooks publicist has been an absolute godsend when it comes to assembling the reviews into one tidy place and giving me lists of all the best snippets. To avoid another scolding, I'm going to share the list with you here:

Praise for Making Waves by Tawna Fenske, a 2011 Writers Digest Notable Debut
August 2011, ISBN 9781402257216

Fenske's wildly inventive plot and wonderfully quirky characters provide the perfect literary antidote to any romance reader's summer reading doldrums. –The Chicago Tribune

A zany caper... Fenske’s off-the-wall plotting is reminiscent of a tame Carl Hiaasen on Cupid juice. -Booklist

[An] uproarious romantic caper… Great fun from an inventive new writer; highly recommended. -STARRED review, Library Journal

This delightfully witty debut will have readers laughing out loud... 4 1/2 Stars and Top Pick of the Month -RT Book Reviews

This book was the equivalent of eating whipped cream … sure it was light and airy, but it is also surprisingly rich. -Smart Bitches Trashy Books

I really had fun reading this quirky romance... an awesome debut novel. A Night Owl Reviewer Top Pick -Night Owl Reviews

Fresh and sassy...

Hilariously funny... wacky and quirky. -Sugarbeat’s Books

Entertaining and hilarious with quirky and very likable characters. A solid debut. -Under the Boardwalk

Utterly sensational and entirely unique. -Romance Fiction on

Pure wacky fun... -Cheeky Reads

A light, enjoyable read. -All About Romance

A laugh a minute adventure that is perfect for a reading escape... -SOS Aloha

This story hits the spot for laugh out loud, fun reading! -Reviews by Martha’s Bookshelf

Quirky, sexy and funny... -A Good Addiction

A funny, sexy, screwball romance that is reminiscent of early Jennifer Crusie. –The Romance Reader

Pure romantic and comic entertainment. –Romance Novel News

Hilarious and a little bit dirty. –Devourer of Books

I’ll be snatching up the next Tawna Fenske book the instant it hits the shelves. – Everybody Needs a Little Romance

Did anyone else get teary-eyed reading that, or is it just me?

Just me. Right.

At any rate, I sure would love your help seeing if we can make book sales match the reviews. Did you see the contest in yesterday's blog post? I'm giving away three signed copies of Making Waves to people who gush to friends or strangers about the book. Every little bit counts!

And thanks for joining me on this wild and crazy ride.