Thursday, September 27, 2012

Believing in just because

Years ago I watched the 1995 romantic comedy Forget Paris in the company of a female acquaintance. When the end credits rolled, so did her eyes.

“Why would we believe they’re going to live happily ever after now?” she asked. “They just spent the whole movie breaking up and getting back together and breaking up again.”

Her perspective startled me, though I knew she had a point. Why should we believe in happily ever after when the harsh nipple-tweak of reality shows us time and again how unlikely that is?

Do I need a smarter answer than, “just because?”

I think that’s what I told my acquaintance 16 years ago, and I’m not sure I’ve crafted a more intelligent response since then. But I do write romance novels underscoring the notion that happily ever after is a real thing.

I know, I know…show me the statistics suggesting half of all marriages end in divorce. I know about that firsthand.

But I like these statistics from Romance Writers of America instead: Romance fiction is consistently the largest selling genre, generating $1.368 billion in sales in 2011. In 2008, 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel.

That’s a whole lotta people believing in happily ever after. That’s a whole lotta people saying “just because” is enough for them.

This subject is on my mind a lot right now, since my current manuscript stars a character with some serious trust issues and a tough time believing in happily ever after.

And I guess you could say that theme landed in the manuscript as a result of what’s been simmering in my brain these past 18 months. I sure as hell didn’t expect to end up in a serious relationship so soon after my marriage of 13 years screeched to an unexpected halt.

But that’s what happened, and at least a dozen times a day, I thank my lucky stars for it. Still, I sometimes hear echoes of that old acquaintance’s voice:

“Why would we believe they’re going to live happily ever after now?”

As a recovering literature major and word nerd, I get poems stuck in my head the same way most people are plagued by earworm songs. When I started dating my gentleman friend that dreary spring, this poem bubbled around in my subconscious for weeks:

by Grace Bauer

March has come in roaring.
My dues are paid. I think
I'm in love and wonder
how I dare to trust the warmth
after living through so many winters.

Despite the dirty you bury
it under, the perennial
heart persists in breaking
through the cracks and into blossom.

Always counting on the odds
that April may be kind.

Lest I give the impression I’m a poetry snob immune to the allure of catchy love songs, I’ve got a playlist for my current manuscript that includes a song with a similar theme. The first time my Pandora station played “Crazy Faith” by Alison Krauss and Union Station a few weeks ago, I went scrambling to Google for a look at the lyrics.

These lines near the end of the song gave me goosebumps (not to mention a few ideas for character development in my story):

Love your losing, lose your love
Let the hawk fly from the glove
Do not search the skies above
Search your crazy faith

Love is lightning
Love is ice
It only strikes the lucky twice
Once so you will know the price
And once for crazy faith

I wish I could find a video of the band performing the song live, but this link will at least let you hear how chillingly beautiful it is:

Sappy? Perhaps. Brimming with foolish hope and crazy sentimentality? Definitely.

Sign me up, please.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why I love to suck

Saturday marked the second stop on the Crazy 8s Author Tour in Cannon Beach, Oregon. The next time I think it's wise to commit to two consecutive weekends of book tour driving at cities 400 miles apart, will someone please punch me in the crotch?

Now that we've got that out of the way, I'll say I've very much enjoyed being part of this group tour. As the lone romance author in a group of 28 writers ranging from poets to award-winning literary novelists, I sometimes feel like the chimpanzee crashing a party of swans.

This was apparent Saturday when two authors preceding me devoted their five minutes to discussing cancer, child abuse, and historical massacres. I kicked off my five minutes by squealing – literally squealing – about being introduced by Barbara Roberts, Oregon's first and only female governor and my longtime political idol. Then I launched into my five minute talk dispelling myths about the romance genre, a speech I begin by calling audience members perverts, sexual deviants, and lonely spinsters living in a fantasy world.

I capped it all off by handing my penis pen to a respected poet and asking him to sign a copy of his latest book.

But speaking of sucking (we were, weren't we?) I listened raptly to every word my fellow authors uttered during their five-minute talks. In her talk about the challenges of the writing process, author Ruth Tenzer Feldman said something so wonderful I snatched my penis pen back from the poet and scribbled the quote on the back of my own speech:

"Some of the words are no better than guano, but they serve to enrich the words that come after."

She was discussing the importance of continuing to write, even when it's rough going or the words flow slower than frozen KY Jelly. It's one of the toughest things for new writers to wrap their brains around. Why on earth would you keep writing when you know for certain you're producing absolute drivel?

I love Ruth's take on it – the notion that the crap fertilizes whatever crops you're planting after that. Though I love poop humor as much as the next person, I tend to think of my own lousy writing more like a skeleton. It's not too pretty to look at on its own, but it needs to be there so I can start adding layers of guts and skin and hair and sex organs.

I've seen other authors describe this as, "embracing your suckage" or "giving yourself permission to suck." Whatever you call it, it's an important part of the process whether you're a poet or a governor or a romance author prone to inappropriate public behavior.

How do you allow yourself to suck, either as a writer or in another professional capacity? Please share!

And if you're in Oregon, please mark your calendar for Friday, September 28 at 6:30 when the Crazy 8s Author Tour will make its way to Paulina Springs Books in Redmond.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A tribe of perverts and sexual deviants

Being the lone romance writer on a book tour of 28 Oregon authors is an odd experience. If anyone sees you smiling, they assume you’ve been doing something torrid.

They may have a point.

I’ve had a great time being part of the Crazy 8s Author Tour, and I’m stoked to head to Cannon Beach this Saturday for our next tour stop.

I couldn’t help noticing a common theme in the speeches given by my fellow authors at our first event last weekend. Many poked fun at themselves for using Facebook to procrastinate book deadlines. Some made reference to Twitter, and during the Q&A portion of the presentation we fielded several audience questions about writers’ groups.

Are we all a bunch of social media addicts with the attention span of a porn addict at a nude beach?

Possibly, but there’s more to it than that.

A few weeks before my agent landed me my three-book deal for romantic comedies, I was laid off from my job in marketing and corporate communications. I spent the next nine months living the dream of being a full-time, stay-at-home writer.

As it turned out, the dream wasn’t nearly as fun as the one where I’m flying naked around a room full of firemen.

Left to stew in my introvert juices, I’d go for days without leaving the house. As my volume of outside stimuli decreased, so did my creativity. During that lonely nine months, fellow writers in the social media realm became my support system, my friends, my tribe.

There’s something powerful about being part of a group of people who share your passions and creative quirks. It’s one thing I love about the work environment at my part-time day job, and something that fascinates me about the instantaneous chemistry that erupts when groups of writers get together.

It’s been said that writing is a solitary profession, but I’ve never believed that. Without other people around to stimulate my brain and offer a sense of belonging, my creative juices shrivel like a skin pencil in an ice bath.

Whether you’re a writer or someone with a slightly more sane profession, do you crave the camaraderie of other like-minded professionals? Do you sometimes have to work to find it? Please share.

And for the record, I probably am up to something torrid.

Monday, September 17, 2012

On souvenirs, poop jokes, and regrets

The kickoff of the Crazy 8s
Author tour in Baker City, OR.
Friday night's first stop on the Crazy 8s Author Tour went phenomenally well. Pretty much.

My gamble of calling audience members perverts and sexual deviants to kick off my talk about stereotypes in the romance genre produced the desired laughter. My jokes about hating another Crazy 8s author because his book wasn't released yet fell a bit flat.

No matter, there are more tour stops coming up, and I have a few more opportunities to pull my head out of my butt  improve my approach.

The best thing about signing on for a multi-stop book tour spanning far-reaching corners of Oregon is the chance to explore areas of the state I've never visited. This is a hard concept for people in smaller states to grasp. You can drive across many east coast states in a couple hours. To cross from the Oregon coast to the eastern border of the state would take you about nine hours and nearly 500 miles of driving.

Though I've lived in Oregon for most of my 38 years, I had never spent time exploring the northeast part of the state. The Crazy 8s stop in Baker City was the perfect opportunity to see areas like Wallowa Lake on the fringes of the state's largest wilderness area, and Hell's Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America (don't think I missed a single opportunity to make deep gorge jokes).

The new theater chair in our home office

My gentleman friend and I stopped in charming small towns along the way, pausing to explore antique shops and quirky little art boutiques. In one shop, we discovered a seat that had been rescued from an old theater and lovingly restored by an artist. My gentleman friend – who has a master's degree in theater – was smitten. He'd always wanted to own an antique theater chair, but this wasn't a splurge he'd budgeted into trip planning.

"You know the number one thing I've learned about traveling over the years?" I asked.

He smiled. "Check to be sure you aren't in someone's driveway when you pull off on a deserted gravel road to get frisky in the car?"

I splurged on a memento of my own.
Earrings made from real pennies
stamped with the word "lucky."
One penny is from 1997, the year
I moved to Bend, Oregon.
The other is from 2006 – the year my
gentleman friend moved here.
"Right," I said. "That too. But one thing I've learned is that you never walk out of a shop after purchasing a travel memento and think, 'I wish I hadn't bought that.' But if you leave to think about the purchase and end up forgetting, you'll always, always regret not buying that souvenir."

It's absolutely true, and the reason nearly every piece of artwork in my house has some special meaning from a trip I've taken. It's also true of life in general. I'm a whole lot more likely to regret the things I don't do than the things I do do.

And now I've gone and ruined this post with doo-doo humor.

Do you find your regrets tend to center more around things you haven't done than things you've done? When it comes to travel, do you ever regret souvenirs you don't purchase, or are you the sort to go crazy with the credit card in cute little shops? Please share!

Oh, and for the record, not every travel memento I bring home costs money or requires purchase in a shop. My gentleman friend's casually-snapped photo of me wading in Wallowa Lake will be taking my breath away for years to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is that an eggplant in your pants, or are you happy to see me?

I was gushing to a friend the other day about a salad I’d tried at a local restaurant.

“It was really good,” I said. “It had zucchini and artichoke hearts and roasted berenjena and the best balsamic dressing.”

There was a long pause. “Roasted what?”

I hit the rewind button in my brain and scrolled back through my statement.

“Eggplant,” I muttered. “Not berenjena, eggplant.”
It’s a mistake I’ve made more than once. I’m a native English speaker, born and raised in the United States.

But I studied Spanish from ages 13-23, and after college graduation, I lived in Venezuela for five months teaching English. During those five months, I grew increasingly experimental in my cooking. Each day on the walk home from work, I’d hit the produce stand and select some unfamiliar fruit or veggie. Then I’d scurry home and figure out how to prepare it.

It was my first real introduction to eggplant, which is how I came to know this funny, bruised-looking veggie by its Spanish name – berenjena (pronounced “bare-en-HAY-na,” in case you’re wondering).

It’s been more than fifteen years—not to mention endless exposure to this purple produce in grocery stores, restaurants, and that one unfortunate incident with the Vaseline and pliers—but I still can’t reprogram my brain to remember the English word for eggplant.

It’s a good reminder to me as a writer. I recently started reading a new book, and the heroine kicked off some of the early chapters with narrative that struck me as immature, whiny, and entitled. I’m sure the author has grand plans for a growth arc that will rehab her to something less obnoxious, but I can’t shake my initial, negative impression of the character.

Why yes, I did just make a jump from purple nightshade vegetables to whiny bitches. You still with me?

First impressions are powerful things. The word or attitude filtering through your brain when something new is introduced will be tough to change later. A writer may think, “I’ve got 350 pages to make you like him,” but the truth is, you only have a handful. Maybe ten or twenty pages before your reader chucks the book at the wall and wanders off to find a more satisfying way to occupy her time. 

Perhaps something involving purple produce.

Can you think of any instances where you’ve formed an early impression of something that you couldn’t shake later? Any occasions when you learned a word or phrase a certain way, and never quite fixed it in your brain even after you learned an alternative? Please share!

And is anyone else craving eggplant parmesan now?

Congrats to Lesleen for winning the signed copy of Linda Grimes’s debut novel, In a Fix. Shoot your snail mail address to me at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com and I’ll get that out to you right away.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pimpin' my agency sistah, yo (and giving away a signed copy of her debut book!)

Several years ago before I ever had a book deal, my amazing agent Michelle Wolfson  mentioned in casual conversation that she'd just signed a new client.

"I think you two would really hit it off," Michelle said. "You have similar writing styles and a similar sense of humor."

And I thought to myself (with all the maturity of a spoiled six-year-old who's just been informed she's getting a new baby sister) "but you already have ME! Why do you need another?"

Eventually though, I connected with Linda Grimes in the Twitterverse and blogosphere and we ended up meeting in person when I took a trip to the oposite side of the country.

Obviously, we hated each other:

OK, so WonderAgent Michelle was right. Linda and I adore each other. Well, I adore Linda. It's possible she's only tolerating me because she thinks I have access to good wine and dirty movies, but that's a fine basis for a friendship as far as I'm concerned.

The similarities in our writing and our sense of humor means we're well-suited as critique partners, which is how I knew even before her debut novel, In A Fix, hit shelves last week that it's a hilariously fantabulous book.

Here's a blurb:

Snagging a marriage proposal for her client while on an all-expenses-paid vacation should be a simple job for Ciel Halligan, aura adaptor extraordinaire. A kind of human chameleon, she's able to take on her clients' appearances and slip seamlessly into their lives, solving any sticky problems they don't want to deal with themselves. No fuss, no muss. Big paycheck.

This particular assignment is pretty enjoyable...that is, until Ciel's island resort bungalow is blown to smithereens and her client's about-to-be-fiancé is snatched by modern-day Vikings. For some reason, Ciel begins to suspect that getting the ring is going to be a tad more difficult than originally anticipated.

Going from romance to rescue requires some serious gear-shifting, as well as a little backup. Her best friend, Billy, and Mark, the CIA agent she's been crushing on for years—both skilled adaptors—step in to help, but their priority is, annoyingly, keeping her safe. Before long, Ciel is dedicating more energy to escaping their watchful eyes than she is to saving her client's intended.

Suddenly, facing down a horde of Vikings feels like the least of her problems.
I'll be honest, I'm not generally a fan of stories with heavy paranormal elements. That's actually one reason I love this book. There's nothing heavy about it – it's just good, whimsical, entertaining FUN. I love that in a book (go figure).

And even though I've already read In A Fix several times throughout the critique process, I couldn't wait to hustle down to my local indie bookstore, Between the Covers, to buy a copy of the book.

Since I was squealing like a little girl in all my excitement, the store owner suggested I might like a photo in one of the shop's kiddie chairs. I was a little afraid my butt might get stuck, but I rarely let that stop me from doing anything.

If you want to squeal with excitement of your very own, I encourage you to go out now and acquire a copy. Here are some helpful online shopping links:
Want a chance to win a signed copy? Linda has graciously agreed to sign mine and mail it along to one lucky winner. Just answer a simple question in the comments: If you could take on someone else's identity for a day, who would you be and what would you do? 

We'll choose one commenter at 5 p.m. PST Wednesday, Sept. 12 and he or she will win a signed copy of d In A Fix.

Trust me, it's worth playing for.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On struggles, sacrifice, and drinking wine while being groped

I love concerts more than drinking wine  being groped  drinking wine while being groped

I love concerts a lot.

For a pair of tickets to see a performer I really admire, I'd gladly give up drinking wine  being groped  drinking wine while being groped  my morning mug of tea.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing Brandi Carlile live for the first time. I've attended hundreds of concerts in my 38 years on the planet, so you know it's a big deal when I say this one made my top five list.

Brandi charmed me not only with her passion and musical talent, but with the stories she told between songs. Stories about struggling to make it as an artist. About the roller coaster of creative successes and failures. About what it's like to perform at outdoor venues in the summertime and finally, finally be the one standing onstage when the sun goes down.

I wish I'd written down the precise words she spoke about the things people are willing to give up to chase their dreams, but I was too busy drinking wine  being groped  drinking wine while being groped  enjoying the music.

But it struck a chord with me anyway. And it got me thinking about how many artists have that thread running through their words. Shawn Mullins is another one of my favorite performers, and though he's from the South, I've had the pleasure of seeing him several times in Oregon. He often opens with a song titled, "Twin Rocks, Oregon" about a chance meeting with a transient man offering a unique perspective on life.


The lyrics that always sock me in the gut are these ones:
I told him I, too, had been travelin' around 
Living out of my van from town to town 
Playing for tips and whatever records I could move
I said, "I don't reckon I'll be making it big 

It's hard to get rich off a tour of coffeehouse gigs."
He said, "yeah, but ain't it a blessin' to do what you wanna do?"
I've thought more than once about having those last few words tattooed on my arm, particularly during the post-divorce struggles of this past year.

I make it a policy not to share specifics of money when it comes to my life as an author, but I don't think it will surprise you to learn I don't travel around on book tour in a pink Leer jet with shirtless male flight attendants groping me while I drink wine offering me in-flight magazines. Until last week, I drove a 15-year-old car with a dented bumper and a cracked windshield. Nearly every stitch of clothing I own comes from thrift stores, and my annual expenditure for haircuts & styling is under $100.

In the years before I had a book deal, I worked full-time in marketing & communications earning surprisingly good money. I was laid off just weeks before my agent landed me my three-book romantic comedy deal with Sourcebooks, and when I went job-hunting after that, I opted to find a part-time job that allowed me more time for writing.

The pay cut stung, and it stung a lot harder when I suddenly found myself single with a mortgage to pay. Over and over, I asked myself if I'd be smart to swap those extra writing days for the paycheck of a full-time job.

That might have been the smart thing to do, but it wasn't what I chose. Even though I knew it meant a lot of life changes – taking in housemates to pay the mortgage, eventually selling the house – I was willing to make sacrifices to give myself the time I knew I needed to pursue this writing career as wholeheartedly as I could.

Will that choice pay off?

If you mean will I eventually acquire that pink Leer jet with shirtless male flight attendants groping me while I drink wine offering me in-flight magazines, I can assure you it probably won't.

But that was never the payoff I expected anyway.

The thing I want most from my writing career is to wake up every morning knowing I'm doing what I want to do. Maybe not every moment of the day, and Lord knows there have been moments I wanted to stuff my laptop in the neighbor's septic tank and set fire to it.

But certainly I spend the bulk of my waking hours thinking I'm damn lucky to have the opportunities I've been given as an author. The fact that I've made a few sacrifices to achieve that only serves as a reminder how much I truly want to spend my time doing what I've chosen to do.

What are your thoughts on the subject? What struggles and sacrifices are you willing to endure to reach your goals? Please share.

I'll be over here drinking wine  being groped  drinking wine while being groped  working on my next novel.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A tasty spam sandwich for Labor Day

While I'm delighted to see comments of any sort on my blog posts, I'll admit there are some that entertain me more than others.

Alas, these are the ones readers rarely see, since Blogger has a rather aggressive filter for spam comments.

Some of the comments popping up this holiday weekend lead me to believe the spammers are laboring hard on Labor Day Weekend. In honor of their devoted work, creativity, and diligence, I'd like to share a few of their literary masterpieces:

Comment on my post "Does this book tour make my butt look big?"
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 My thoughts exactly.

Some of the spam comments offer valuable, unsolicited advice I've found helpful in my day-to-day routine.

Comment on my post "On topless bike riding and other things that shape an author's perspective"
Make eye drops one of your essential beauty supplies. A little trick to getting a great sharp point is to put them in the refrigerator or freezer 10 minutes before you are going to sharpen them. Small changes can often provide a significant impact to your beauty.

I can't count the number of times I've wished for sharper eye drops. I plan to put this into practice at once.

Sometimes, spammers are generous enough to offer kind words or compliments about my blog.

Comment on my post "Wild monkey sex" 
Whаt's up to all, how is the whole thing, I think every one is getting more from this web site, and your views are fastidious in favor of new people.

Why thank you!

And thank you to all of you for reading. Have you seen anything interesting in your spam filter lately? Please share!

And happy Labor Day to all.