Monday, July 30, 2012

How to dress for your 20-year high school reunion

For the record, I ditched the mask before heading to the event. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I carried the light saber.

Based on the number of former classmates who referenced, "your gentleman friend," a surprising number of old acquaintances either read this blog, follow me on Facebook, or go through my mail.

The highlight of my evening? Stopping at the grocery store en route home from the reunion to buy a bottle of wine to thank my cousins for hosting us. The wine itself wasn't the highlight. The fact that the cashier carded me (yes, carded me) pretty much made my month.

And no, I wasn't wearing the mask.

Today we get the keys to our new place, and begin the arduous process of moving. My gentleman friend and I will be relocating to a home about half-a-mile from this one. The housemates show no signs of vacating the premises, despite the fact that I've sold the house and the new occupants take possession in a matter of days.

It's shaping up to be an exhausting week, but thrilling in a lot of ways that may or may not involve the light saber.

How's your week looking?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I may be a moron, but I have a new release today!

What kind of moron ends up with the following major events all packed within the same few weeks:
  • A 20-year high school reunion
  • A family reunion
  • A household move of every earthly possession owned by two adults, two kids, five cats, and a dog
  • Planning a major event for the day job, including coordination of national media
  • Crunch-time on a book deadline
  • Release day for another book
  • An aggressive schedule of book signings & speaking engagements

I'm the moron.

And I apologize in advance if I'm a bit of a scattered blogger for the next couple weeks. It's not you, it's me. Really.

But I can offer you two things (neither of which requires us to make up a lie about how we got rug-burn on our knees).

The first is my sincere promise that I'll keep up the best I can, and that I hope to return to normal (or my version of normal) very soon.

The second is some pretty big news . . .

The second episode of Getting Dumped is now available!

In case you're new to the party, Getting Dumped is my active-fiction release from Coliloquy. It's a serialized romantic caper about a woman who loses her job but finds love, intrigue, mayhem, and a new career buried in the unlikeliest of places (her local landfill). Think of it as a sort of modern choose-your-own-adventure where readers make decisions and I get readership data that helps me shape future episodes of the story.

The first episode came out back in January, and ended with a major cliffhanger that left a lot of people wondering who the hell is at the door with a gun!??!

Want to know?

Episode two is now available on Kindle, Kindle Fire, NOOK Tablet, and Android!

And yes, that list includes a few platforms that didn't used to be available, so I'm very excited about that.

If you want to read more about the second episode, you can go here. If you want to read an author Q&A with me discussing the new episode, go here.

And if you want to entertain yourself while you wait for my life to settle down a bit, Pure Romance has some lovely products designed with your amusement in mind.

Now who wants to help me pack?

Monday, July 23, 2012

I'm stopping at two. I swear.

Let me state, for the record, that I have no intention of becoming one of those women with 28 tattoos and enough piercings to set off an airport metal detector.

Not that I don't love a good TSA strip search, but the look just isn't me.

If you're a regular reader, you know I got my first tattoo back in April, and you know I lifted my shirt to show it to you here.

That post explains the significance of my chosen ink, and I'm happy about when and where I got it.

But technically, it's not the first tattoo I ever tried to get. Back when I was a 19-year-old college student, I was certain I'd someday make my living as a writer. I was right about that, though clearly there's a fuzzy path between "serious journalist" and "author of funny smut." No matter, a writer should have a tattoo symbolizing one's writerly ambitions, and my 19-year-old self settled on the quill.

Keep in mind, this was in the era before internet was readily available, so I pored through the clip-art books in the student newspaper office where I worked. I printed my favorites and saved them to floppy disc (remember those?!).

And then...well, I didn't get around to doing it. Several times over the course of the following 18 years, I meandered into tattoo shops and inquired about placement and pricing. Once in Venezuela and once in Eugene, Oregon, I showed up at a tattoo parlor with my mind made up to get the ink RIGHT THEN....only to discover the shop was closed.

I took that as a sign, and eventually gave up.

But I've recently been feeling a renewed vigor both for the tattoo idea, and for my own identity as a writer. And so the time seemed right to do this:

No, the initials don't belong to my gentleman friend, nor are they an abbreviation for the punchline of my favorite dirty joke. They're my parents' initials (yes, my mom and dad have identical initials) and they're intended as a tribute to the people who deserve credit (or blame?) for making me the person and the writer I turned out to be.

By sheer luck, my appointment landed on my mother's birthday, so I got to honor her big day by desecrating my virgin flesh with her initials.

Feel free to insert your own "virgin" joke here.

I'm utterly delighted with the new ink. I can also tell you without reservation that a tattoo on a nice, squishy, fleshy body part like this is a whole lot less painful than one on a bony, thin-skinned ribcage.

So there you have it. My new tattoo, and a tangible badge of honor that I am a writer.

Wait, does this mean I have to toss my laptop and start crafting manuscripts with quill and ink?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On serendipity and drunken, barefoot dancing

Two of my best pals celebrated their third wedding anniversary yesterday.

I remember their wedding vividly, which is surprising since I spent much of the blessed event attempting to drink my own body weight in chardonnay.

It's staggering to look back on that day and consider how different my life was then. I was married and figured I'd stay that way forever. I'd never met the boys who would eventually be my housemates. I didn't have a book deal, and if memory serves, had just been rejected by Sourcebooks for Making Waves (the book they eventually acquired as part of my three-book deal for romantic comedies).

But what's most interesting to me now is to realize my gentleman friend was also at the wedding. We were seated at the same reception table, and had a brief conversation about the divorce he'd been going through that year. I remember feeling sympathetic, but smug in the knowledge that would never happen to me.

It's funny to look back now and realize the significance of that seemingly-insignificant conversation with a guy I barely knew. I'm fascinated by these random, frozen moments in time when I imagine some lingerie-clad fairy godmother swooping in to interrupt the discussion. "Pardon me," she'd say. "Three years from now the two of you will live together and will be hopelessly, deliriously in love with one another."

I'm certain I would have smacked her with a fly-swatter and snorted, "Bitch, get real."

As a romance author, I'm particularly drawn to these odd little moments of serendipity.

Flipping through my pal's wedding photos last summer, I stumbled upon a picture that seemed like nothing significant at first:

That's me in the blue and white dress dancing very, very badly.

But take a closer look at the picture:

That's my gentleman friend, long before he was anything but a random acquaintance taking photographs of drunken dancers at a wedding.

The pictures he took that night floated around on Facebook for awhile afterward, with none of us thinking twice about there being anything remotely significant about the moment captured on camera:

One of the photos my gentleman friend snapped that evening.

It's funny to look at the photos now and think about who I was in those moments – who he was – and how truly bizarre it is that we've ended up where we are right now. I can sit back pretending to be an outside observer and wonder, "how did those two people end up together?"

That question is at the core of every single romance novel I've read or written. It's one of the most intriguing questions I can imagine, and one of the reasons I love writing the sort of stories I get to write.

Can you think of any serendipitous moments in your life? Any conversations or images frozen in your mind that turned out to be more meaningful than you realized at the time? Please share!

And please take a moment to offer a heartfelt HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to my wonderful pals. Now where's the rest of that chardonnay?

Monday, July 16, 2012

What's in it for me?

After three solid weeks of meeting my aggressive writing goals on the new manuscript, my productivity screeched to a stop like a makeout session awkwardly halted by someone burping in your mouth.

It wasn't that I lost my writing mojo. Ten months ago, I agreed to give a workshop in Portland on Twitter basics for authors. Knowing the class was slated for Saturday, and that attendees might expect me to stand before them offering something more than penis jokes, I switched gears last week and devoted all my free time to prepping for the presentation.

I'll admit it – I was annoyed.
Part of my prep work for the presentation
involved making myself this shirt that says,
"I tweet my blog and it feels good."
Oh, and accidentally arranging my
skirt to look like I have a penis.

I was annoyed at myself for committing to something that gobbled up precious writing time. I was frustrated at losing a week of productivity, plus seven hours of round-trip driving, plus money spent on gas and food and time I should spend packing to move my entire household in two weeks and . . . do I sound like I'm whining?

Because that's a rarity for me, and I don't do it often. I'm very much a glass-is-half full sort of person, so when I catch myself spiraling into negativity, I like to pick up the glass, spike it with a healthy shot of bacon vodka, and remind myself that what I get out of experiences like this doesn't always translate into author-tangibles like book sales or new contracts.

Sometimes, I get something better.

If you attended my talk and thought it sucked, feel free to disagree with me on the following. But from my vantage-point at the front of the classroom, I saw about 40 authors who were excited and eager to learn. I heard people asking great questions, and more surprisingly, heard myself offering intelligent answers. I got to discover all over again why I'm passionate about social media and helping authors use the various platforms to connect and engage, rather than sell sell sell.

And most importantly, I got to remember why the question shouldn't always be "what's in it for me?" but rather, "how can we all take turns helping each other?"

Take last week's contest, for example. Oodles of you came through for me when I asked you to share your best Twitter advice using the hashtag #tawnatweettips. You offered tons of great tips, and I displayed them in my Powerpoint slides during Saturday's talk. As promised, I drew a name from the bunch, and Mary Brebner has won her choice between a signed copy of of either Believe it or Not or Making Waves. (Mary, email your pick, along with your snail mail address to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com.)

And here was Mary's advice, which I think holds true in real life as well as in the Twitterverse:

Amen, sistah.

Oh, and in the spirit of sharing, I'd like to pass along a few of the links I shared during my talk. These are some of the best roundups I've found of Twitter-related information:
Can you think of a time you took on a task that turned out to have added benefits you didn't expect? Please share!

And shout if you'd like to help me move. Just don't look inside any of the boxes that vibrate, OK?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Phrases I never imagined I'd utter until I lived with two 27-year-old male housemates

Late Monday night, I came home from a friend's house and opened my freezer door. Inside, I spied a Tupperware container that hadn't been there when I left. Curious, I opened it up.
Naturally, the freezer is the perfect place to store dead bugs.

Words can't accurately describe the feeling of discovering a giant, dead moth that's being intentionally stored in your freezer at 11 p.m. on a Monday. Since neither of my two 27-year-old housemates was awake, I had to wait until the following evening to question them about it.

"Why is there a big dead bug in a Tupperware container in the freezer?"

It's a phrase I never thought I'd speak aloud until I lived with two twenty-something boys. While we're on the subject, here are a few more unexpected phrases I've caught myself uttering in the last few months:
  • Please don't feed beans to the dog.
  • No, you can't hook the lawn mower to your motorcycle and ride around the yard.
  • Thank you for the offer, but I don't want you to batter & deep-fry the pineapple.
  • I'm sure you're right that the 38 boxes of old National Geographic magazines are worth money, but can you please move them so I can get my car in the garage?
  • Who's been eating the bloodworms in the freezer? 
  • I do respect your goal to watch 16 straight hours of Miami Vice, but would you mind turning it down?
Oh, and to answer the moth-in-the-freezer question:

"Because it's really big. Did you see it?"

And that explains that.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tweet me, baby! (And win a signed book)

Next Saturday, I'm scheduled to give a talk to a group of romance authors at the Rose City RWA meeting.

I was perplexed to learn I'm expected to have a topic for my presentation, as opposed to standing in front of the group making armpit noises for an hour.

My topic (at least according to the group's website) is Twitter 101. Lucky for them, I know a few things about Twitter. I'd feel differently about my prospects of success if my topic were The Joys of Celibacy or Why Penis Jokes Aren't Appropriate at the Dinner Table.

One thing I'd like to cover in my presentation is the degree to which the different social media platforms are connected. While I know plenty of blog readers reach their Tawna-blather-saturation-point just reading this blog twice a week, some of us are connected with each other through other channels like Facebook, Twitter, and that group orgy we agreed never to speak of after the unfortunate incident with the grape jelly and the wombat.

For the sake of research, I'd like to conduct an experiment. Mostly, I just like the way it makes me sound all professional to throw out words like "research" and "experiment" so I can pretend I'm not just sitting here feeling giddy about writing a makeout scene in the new manuscript later today.

So here's the experiment: between now and noon on Friday, July 13, I would love it if you could head out to the Twitterverse and tweet your best Twitter tip using the hashtag #tawnatweettips.

Wow, I didn't even mean for that hashtag to look filthy, but it kind of does.

Using that hashtag, please offer up your best piece of Twitter advice. You can tweet as many tips as you like, though I'll only enter you once for each tip (unless, of course, you ask me not to enter you, because no means no, people.)

Each separate Twitter tip you offer using the #tawnatweettips hashtag earns you one entry into the drawing.

But in case you're not on Twitter, don't worry – you get to play, too. For the non-Twitter users among you, please leave a detailed blog comment telling me how you found your way to this site. It might be as simple as, "I got drunk one night and googled 'star-nosed moles' and there you were."

 But in some cases, I'm expecting to see something like, "My friend Suzie told my friend Janice that my friend Petra follows you on Twitter and also reads your blog, so I thought I'd check it out." It's entirely possible none of you will say anything even remotely like that, in which case my entire presentation will be ruined and I probably won't even bother showing up Saturday morning and will instead spend the day lurking around the juggling store where I set a scene in Believe it or Not.

I'll throw all the entries into a hat, and will draw a winner sometime over the weekend. The person I pick will get his/her choice of a signed copy of either Believe it or Not or Making Waves.

Questions? Leave 'em in the comments! And thanks, in advance, for helping me create my talk for RCRWA. If one of you wants to go ahead and assemble the entire Powerpoint presentation for me, I'll just be over here sipping Chianti and making up penis jokes.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Push it real good

Raise your hand if you're a child of the '80s and the title of this post has the Salt-N-Pepa tune humming through your brain right now.
OK, I'm putting my hand down now because that makes it kinda hard to type. And typing is what I wanted to talk about today.

Well, not just typing, though sometimes writing a novel does feel like an exercise in typing random, disconnected words with only a dim hope you're forming coherent sentences.

One of the most common questions I field when I run out of things to discuss at cocktail parties and confess I'm a published author is, "how long does it take you to write a book?"

It's a question I hate for several reasons.

My cocky answer is "about three months," which is technically true. I wrote Making Waves in that amount of time, and Believe it or Not took just a week or two more than that. Factor in another couple weeks for revisions from critique partners and beta readers, and a few more for back-and-forth edits with my publisher once both novels sold as part of my three-book deal. Still, it's true I completed pretty solid drafts of two novels in 12-14 weeks apiece.

But the reason I say that's cocky is the same reason I hate the question – who the hell can live up to that?

Not most writers, and I'm sorry to say, not me.

Because while I can claim I did it in the past, I'm not so sure I can do it now. The last novel I completed took over a year, and it still has some issues. Admittedly, that year was filled with a lot of life drama like divorce and the chaotic publicity of an impending book release, but it's still clear to me I'm slower than I used to be.

That's hard to swallow (snicker).

A headline caught my eye the other day when I was trolling the internet to procrastinate doing real work conducting important online research.  The headline was 4 myths about your ideal weight, and I clicked on it for the same reason I'd click on a headline about lesbian Eskimo porn (morbid curiosity, general perversion, boredom...take your pick).

One part of the article jumped out at me:

That seems like sound advice whether you're discussing weight or writing. People change, lifestyles change, brain/body chemistry changes. You'll go nuts if you spend your life trying to live up to some impossible standard set by your younger self or by someone else.

And yet...part of me still wants to try.

Not the weight thing, since I was living in Venezuela with an intestinal parasite after college graduation, and my freakishly low weight and equally freakish boobs made me look like a toothpick spearing a pair of olives. I'm quite fine looking the way I look now with fifteen years and 20 extra pounds on my frame, thankyouverymuch.

But part of me wants to push it (and push it real good) on the writing front. Part of me wants to see if I still have it in me to write at my old pace.

I sat down a few weeks ago to map out my word count goals for a new novel. It's something I used to do back in my speedy heyday as a newer writer, so I thought I should revisit the habit. I determined the date I needed to complete the novel, and marked 85,000 words on that day to remind myself what my final goal will be.

Then I worked backward from there, marking each Monday (the day I consider the end of my writing week) with the word count I want to achieve by the time I switch off my computer that day.

At the end of the exercise, the pace I'd set for myself was 7,000 words a week. I stared at the numbers for awhile, trying to figure out if it was a realistic goal or an are-you-out-of-your-mind-idiot?! goal.

Then I decided to stop thinking about it and just give it a shot. That was two weeks ago. So far, I've managed to meet my goal both weeks. I may have done it by the skin of my teeth, and I can assure you many of the words I've written would make you cover your eyes in horror and rock back and forth humming Warrant's "She's My Cherry Pie" until the memory of those words disappears from your brain.

But I can't tell you how good it feels to switch off the computer at the end of the day and realize I've met my goal.

Can I keep it up? (snicker). Time will tell. I have my doubts, since the next few months of my life will include a fairly aggressive book tour schedule, some speaking engagements, my 20-year high school reunion, and a complete household move for myself, my gentleman friend, and our assorted pets and kids. Oh, and did I mention we still have no idea when or where we're moving?

But still, I want to try. There's a satisfying balance in learning to celebrate when you meet a seemingly unachievable goal, and learning to cut yourself some slack when you don't. I'm still figuring out that balance.

And there's something rewarding in making a conscious decision to replace, "I can't possibly," with "what the hell, I'll give it a shot."

For what it's worth though, pushing it real good feels damn nice sometimes. Just like the song says.

What's your take on this? Do you tend to set stretch goals and forgive yourself if you don't quite meet them, or do you prefer to keep goals more achievable to ensure the satisfaction of meeting them? Please share!

Oh, and I can promise you'll have that song stuck in your head all day. You're welcome.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The day I acted like a huge geek (otherwise known as "what's new?")

I almost hesitate to mention this here, because if you follow me on Twitter or we're friends on Facebook, this is obnoxiously old news.

I'm taking a vow of celibacy and entering a convent.

I'm kidding. Wait, why are you lying on the ground clutching your stomach and howling with maniacal laughter?

OK, the real news is that my active fiction title, Getting Dumped, was mentioned in The Wall Street Journal on Friday. You can see an online version of the article at this link. It's a long article, so I won't think less of you if you do what I did the first time and skim straight to the final few paragraphs where my quote and book description appear.

When the Friday edition of The Wall Street Journal hit newsstands, I called my local bookstore to ask if they had it.

"We only get one copy a day, and I can only hold it for you for one hour," the salesgirl informed me.

So I jumped in my car wearing a t-shirt with a smear of scrambled egg on the left boob and a cotton skirt covered with three pounds of cat fur. Then I jumped out of the car again because I realized I wasn't wearing shoes. I found a pair of flip-flops that didn't match and drove to the bookstore to claim my newspaper.

As the salesgirl rang up my $1.80 purchase (Barnes & Noble member discount, thank you very much!) I tore open the paper. Literally, as it happened – I ripped that thing right down the middle like a cheap condom. But I found the article and I found my name and I squealed so loudly that two people in line behind me took a big step back.

"That's me!" I shrieked. "That's my book."

The salesgirl gave me a funny half-smile suggesting she was uncertain whether to believe me or to summon authorities. "What do you write?" she asked.

"Funny smut," I informed her. "Also known as romantic comedy."

"That's–" she paused,  searching for the right word. "Nice."

Before I left the bookstore, I went searching for copies of Making Waves and Believe it or Not, since I always make it a point to sign them when I'm there. They had zero copies of either, which is either a good sign or a bad one.

I'm going to go ahead and pretend it's good.

Then I drove home and found one of the housemates in his bedroom. In the year they've been renting rooms from me, I've made it a point never to invade their personal space.

But I was giddy enough that I marched right down the hall and knocked on the housemate's door. The door was already open, but it made me feel polite to knock anyway.

"Can you take a picture of me?" I asked.

He looked up and blinked at me. "Am I dragging you by the hair again?"

"Not this time. I just need a photo of me holding The Wall Street Journal."

"Don't we all?"

"I'm actually in it," I said. "Not an arrest record or anything. And not a photo of me flashing my lady-bits as I get out of a limo."

"Thank you for clarifying."

"There's an article with a really nice description of one of my books and a quote that doesn't even make me sound like an idiot."

"Always a plus." He surveyed his room, taking note of the dirty socks and underwear and the lumpy mattress lying on the floor. "How about we take this photo someplace besides my room?"

"Good thinking."

So we marched to the end of the hall and he snapped a quick photo and if you don't look really closely, you won't even notice the page is ripped in half.

When we were done, my housemate nodded at the page. "If you leave that in the dining room, maybe I could read it."

"Sure," I agreed. "It's kind of a long article. I'd offer to leave it in your bathroom so you could read it the next time you take a dump, but it's my only copy."

He gave me an odd look and turned back toward his bedroom. "The dining room will be just fine."