Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The value of being a year-round slut

Saturday night, my gentleman friend and I attended a wild Halloween party that included two live bands, fire dancers, tightrope walkers, and vouchers for unlimited adult beverages.

Because we're losers highly sophisticated introverts, we sat on a couch in the corner all evening and watched people.

"Do you notice a theme with a lot of the female costumes here?" he asked about an hour into the party.

"You mean the fact that everything has a slutty twist?" I replied. "Slutty vampire, slutty cat, slutty Wonder Woman, slutty witch, slutty giraffe–"

"Where's the slutty giraffe?"

I pointed out the group with the African Safari theme, and we both sat quietly for a moment and pondered the idea of a slutty giraffe.

"Is it more politically correct to say sexy instead of slutty?" I asked.

"When did you start caring what's politically correct?"

"Good point," I agreed. "For the record, I don't see slutty as a derogatory term. In the right context, I see it as synonymous with sexually empowered."

"Duly noted."

A moderately slutty ninja, and Dexter the serial killer.
We studied the crowd some more, more acutely aware of the number of women who'd seized the chance to appear in public wearing their bras. To be fair, I spied several men wearing bras as well.

"I think it's sad," I said.

My gentleman friend shot me a startled look. "How is it sad?"

"Women should be proud to be slutty all year-round," I said. "Not just Halloween."

"I think I saw that on a Hallmark card."

"It's true," I said. "I write romantic comedy, so it's not like I set out to deliver some big moral message with my writing. But if there's one soapbox issue I feel passionate about, it's that women shouldn't be afraid to be open about sex. To be able to approach it with enthusiasm and pride and a whole lot of humor."

Awhile back, someone asked me if there's any subject or theme I'd never write about in one of my books. Though I never like to say never, I don't believe I could write a romance novel with a sexually naive heroine who magically discovers her inner slut under the careful tutelage of the wise and experienced hero.

It's a theme I've read many times in romance, and I always have trouble wrapping my brain around it. I don't deny there are plenty of women – and men, too, for that matter – who are raised to feel shameful or embarrassed about their sexuality.

I can't relate.

In the little utopia that exists in the back of my romance author brain, there's a world where people of all ages and genders are comfortable with their bodies and all the magical things they can do. A world where everyone can embrace their inner slut 365 days a year.

Admittedly, that's not as inspiring as Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, but I'll take it.

How do you plan to celebrate your slutty self this holiday season? Please share! And please let me know if you find that phrase on a Hallmark card. I'd like to buy a case full.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The moments that leave you panting

Tuesday afternoon, my gentleman friend came home to find me in a disheveled state. My hair was tousled, my clothes rumpled, my cheeks flushed, and my pulse racing.

No, he didn't catch me doing something illicit. He needed to come home at lunch for that.

But he did discover me in the midst of one of the most breathtakingly giddy parts of my writing process. It generally occurs around the 70,000-word mark when I know I've hit the home-stretch and all the loose threads finally start coming together.

(Let's all pause here and giggle about "coming together" being an integral part of concluding a romance novel).

According to my contract, my romantic comedy titles should be around 80,000-90,000 words. I tend to fall a little short of that on a first draft, and add at least 5,000 words once my critique partners and beta readers finish beating me up.

That means I have roughly 10,000 words left to write. More importantly, the plot holes that have been gaping at me for months look less like craters and more like shallow crevices that are a true pleasure to fill.

(Who wants to make the crevice-filling joke?)

In all seriousness . . . oh, who am I kidding? I write romantic comedy, why would I be serious?

But in reality, this home-stretch of writing is one of the rare and precious times I don't feel like a complete disaster as an author. Writers often divide themselves into two categories – the "plotters," who carefully plan out their plot points prior to starting a book, and the "pantsters" who fly by the seat of their pants with no plan at all.

I am a pantster. I am the worst kind of pantster in that I honestly have no earthly idea who my characters are or what they'll be doing for 85,000 words when I begin a book. I could feed you some line about how this free-spirited approach lets my creativity flow more fluidly, but that's a lie. The fact is, I'm a pantster because I'm too damn lazy to plot a book beforehand.

Which means I spend an awful lot of time fretting that I've just written myself into a corner. If you saw an early draft of any of my books, you'd notice at least a hundred instances of "XXXXXX" where I've marked things I need to return to because I have no idea how to complete the thought.

But honestly, that feeling of cluelessness is worth it so I can enjoy the rush that comes when things finally, finally start to gel. When I can go back and begin lacing in red herrings and character traits and details I omitted during my first stumbling trek through the story.

Few things are more exhilarating than seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing I might get there walking upright instead of crawling on all-fours through a pile of broken glass.

(Anyone want to take the all-fours joke?)

Years ago when I first discovered the thrill of this stage in the writing process, I dubbed it, "the audible clicking of puzzle pieces." There's this moment where I truly believe I can hear those crooked jigsaw parts falling into place, and it's the best sound in the whole wide world.

If you're a writer, do you have a favorite stage in the process? For the non-writers among you, can you relate to the giddy feeling of hitting a turning point in your life or your career? Please share!

I'll be fiddling with my puzzle pieces and giggling like a giddy kid.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Body language sounds filthy if you say it right

Though I make it a point to keep politics out of my social media activity, I'm passionate about the subject (and not in a "presidential kneepads" sorta way).

Since my gentleman friend shares my political passion, we were disappointed to realize the 2012 U.S. vice presidential debate was scheduled in the middle of our road trip to Seattle two weeks ago. Attempting to view a live, televised program while driving slick mountain roads seemed unwise, so we opted for finding a radio broadcast of the debate.

The aforementioned mountain pass made for spotty radio reception, and the debate broadcast was punctuated by loud bursts of static and the occasional evangelical sermon. But we made the best of it, and the two of us enjoyed a rousing post-debate discussion of how things had gone for our preferred candidate.

It wasn't until we arrived at our destination and reconnected with modern technology that we got any sense of what the rest of the world was saying about the debate. Regardless of political persuasion, most seemed to agree that body language set the tone for the exchange. There was eye-rolling, smirking, head-shaking, wild gesturing, and possibly a wedgie issued by one candidate to the other.

We missed all of it. As a result, we had a very different perspective on the debate.

Regardless of whether that's a good or bad thing, it got me thinking about writing. Every year, I volunteer to judge a writing contest through my local RWA chapter. In this year's batch of entries, I came across one that was enchantingly well-written and clever. The dialogue in particular was fast-paced and witty, and moved the story along at a delightfully quick pace.

But that was also a bit of a drawback. The exchanges of dialogue were so fast and snappy, there were few words devoted to body language. There was very little scene-setting, and not enough context clues to inform the reader where the characters were sitting, how they were speaking to one another, and how they were impacted by each other's words.

Is she shouting or whispering? 

Is he surprised by what she's saying, or did he already know?

Is she sitting back in her chair, or perched nervously on the edge?

Is the room dim, or well-lit?

Is he hearing what she's saying, or distracted by her hair or her eyes or bad breath or a scar on her face or the button that's come undone on her blouse?

These are the kinds of comments I made throughout the manuscript. Though judging is always anonymous, the contest coordinator forwarded me a lovely thank you note last week from the author of the entry. The writer was grateful for the feedback, and expressed amazement what a difference the added detail would make in overall character development and scene-setting.

This did not prompt me to give myself a smug pat on the back or smirk over how I never make such a mistake in my own writing. On the contrary, it's easy for me to spot because it's something I fall prey to constantly as an author.

It's easy to get caught up in the quick pace of a scene and forget the need to show your reader what's happening. I'm not talking about injecting huge blocks of copy that slow the pace of the writing. Just a few small details giving someone's tone of voice or facial expression can make a huge difference in how the reader experiences a scene.

If you're a writer, how do you remember to show (rather than tell) the body language and interplay between your characters? Or for the non-writers in the group, what sort of difference does it make being able to see a conversation or debate, as opposed to just hearing the words? Please share!

And lest you think I forgot Friday's book giveaway contest, congratulations to C.L. who offered up this terrific idea for a Halloween costume:

A friend of mine created the best Halloween costume ever (IMHO) and one I think you'll appreciate. She was a "One-Night Stand." She wore a lampshade on her head and built a "table" out of cardboard which encircled her waist. The table had champagne glasses (plastic), condoms, handcuffs, Cosmo magazines and a lipstick tube glued to it.

Love it! If I didn't already have my ninja costume prepared, I'd totally steal this. C.L., shoot me an email to tawnafenske at yahoo dot com letting me know your snail mail address and whether you'd prefer a signed copy ofBelieve it or Not or a signed copy of Making Waves.

And thanks to everyone for playing!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Giving away a free signed book!

In what I'm fairly certain is a massive conspiracy, my gentleman friend's car died around the same time my computer decided to make the trip to laptop heaven.

Luckily, I have a perfectly functional car. And he has a very nice computer.

I also happen to have six straight days scheduled for supergluing my butt to my home office chair and working like mad on the end stages of my manuscript. I don't particularly need my car, and my gentleman friend doesn't need his computer while he's off at his day job.

I think there's an O. Henry story in there somewhere, but I'm too tired to think about it after staying up half the night fretting about broken cars, busted computers, battery-dead adult toys, and impending book deadlines.

In lieu of a real blog post, how about we just have a contest? Leave a comment sharing either your most creative pumpkin-carving idea, or your favorite Halloween costume.

I'll pick a winner sometime Sunday evening, and he or she can choose between a signed copy of Believe it or Not or a signed copy of Making Waves.

Alternately, you could just give me your car or your computer. Or a jumbo pack of AA batteries. Whatever.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Groping myself in mixed company

On the spectrum of "girls you take home to meet your parents" and "girls you fervently deny knowing when asked by a member of the clergy," I've always fancied myself among the former. Admittedly, I may have startled my gentleman friend's family with my post about his offspring finding an adult toy under our bed, but I try hard to be a respectable catch.

This past weekend, we journeyed six-and-a-half hours to Seattle to visit my gentleman friend's hometown. Family medical issues made this a somewhat somber visit, and I was conscious of my need to be on good behavior. I'm never certain what good behavior entails, but I know it doesn't permit licking my dessert place, telling penis jokes, or groping myself/others in mixed company.

The latter proved more challenging than you might guess.

Following a Friday night dinner at the home of my gentleman friend's parents, I was invited to tour the house. His father escorted us around the premises, ending up in his woodworking shop in the basement.

For the record, I did not snicker even once when instructed to feel the wood or admire the hardness of  various pieces.

As we stood in the shop studying the tools, I felt something tickle my right boob. I turned to glare at my gentleman friend, only to discover he was five feet away.

He's skilled, but not that skilled.

Since no one else was in boob-grab range, I turned my suspicions elsewhere. My long hair has the tendency to get caught in my bra, so I tugged my tresses over one shoulder as my gentleman friend's father described the lovely cedar chest he'd made. Fluffing my hair, I kept my eyes averted from my own chest.

Something tickled my boob again.

I squirmed, fighting the urge to stick my hand down the front of my shirt. What the hell?

Discretely, I pretended to scratch my back while tugging hard on my bra strap. A wayward wood chip, perhaps? A bizarre nerve twitch? I squirmed, hoping things would adjust themselves. Eyes watering, I made a valiant effort to ignore the situation. The conversation continued, with my gentleman friend handing me various blocks of wood to show the different textures and colors. I nodded enthusiastically, turning the wood over in my hands.

Something wriggled again in my bra cup.

"Aaack!" I yelped, and clutched the wood to my chest. Both men stared at me.

"It's um – very nice." I  handed the wood block to my gentleman friend with a tense smile.

"It is," he agreed, eying me oddly. He turned back to his dad and asked a question about wood grain.

Something poked my boob. Hard.

I couldn't take it anymore. Feigning intense interest in a collection of saw-blades behind me, I stuck my hand down the front of my shirt and scratched like a flea-infested lemur.

"Are you okay?" my gentleman friend asked.

"Fine, fine," I said, turning back around. "That's really nice wood."

He gave me a funny look and turned back to his dad.

At last we left the wood shop and headed back upstairs to join the rest of the family. I scurried to the bathroom where I tore off my shirt and bra so fast you'd have thought George Clooney waited for me in the shower with a bottle of olive oil. I studied my boob, locating a small, red dot that looked like a spider bite. Seeing no sign of the alleged spider, I scratched like mad, put my top back on, and returned to the living room.

"Is everything OK?" my gentleman friend whispered.

"Absolutely," I answered. "Can we see if your sister has any bite ointment for my boob?"

This may have been the moment he second-guessed whether I'm the sort of girl to bring home.

But we procured a tube of hand cream, and I felt much better after smearing it on the bite. I spent the remainder of the weekend trying very hard not to scratch the itch, but mostly failing. The bite is finally fading, and I'm hopeful any poor impression I made on the family will fade as quickly.

So that's why you may not want to bring me home. Anyone else have any embarrassing "meet the family" stories? Please share.

I'll be over here trying not to grope myself.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

When sexting isn’t sexy

Sixteen months ago, I visited New York City for the first time and met my amazing agent in person. The meeting occurred just two months before the release of Making Waves, and two months after I found myself in a new romantic relationship for the first time in fifteen years.

My agent and I discussed the strangeness of those life events colliding, and she offered miscellaneous bits of advice. “You should probably steer clear of sexting,” she suggested.

She was either joking, or making a sincere effort to safeguard my budding reputation as a debut author. Joking seems more likely, since I write romantic comedy. Where a sex scandal might damage the career of a children’s author, it would only pique public interest in mine. Not that I’m planning to release amateur porn videos (hi, mom!) but suffice it to say, I don’t fret about leaked text messages harming a reputation based largely on risqué humor and inappropriate sexual innuendo.

In any case, I can’t say I took the advice to heart. I love naughty text messages, especially the ones from potty-mouthed gal pals trying to get a laugh out of me.

Most sexy messages I send are meant for my gentleman friend, though admittedly not all reach their intended destination. A few months ago, I mistakenly sent my realtor a frisky lunch invite. Thoroughly amused when I cleared things up, she inquired if I might be free for a fully-clothed meal instead.

One of my best girlfriends told me recently about a sexy text exchange she had with her traveling husband. In the midst of their spicy correspondence, autocorrect issued a message from her declaring, “my piss is so wet for you.”

Her husband was not aroused.

My worst blooper occurred the first time I met my gentleman friend’s ex-wife. The meeting was arranged to ensure she felt comfortable with the new woman in their offspring’s life, and the mood was friendly but awkward.

During a lull in conversation, my gentleman friend tried to lighten the mood by texting me something hilariously filthy from across the table. Unfortunately, it was the precise moment I handed my phone to his ex to show her the cracked screen.

The look on my gentleman friend’s face is one I’ll remember ‘til I die.

I’m still not sure the ex-wife read the note, though I doubt she’d be surprised by her former spouse’s habit of easing strained moments with risqué humor. It’s one of the things I love best about him, and I doubt I’m alone in admiring the trait.

Do you have any awkward sexting moments you’d care to share, either intentional or unintentional? I’d love to hear about ‘em! So would my mom. It’ll take her mind off that amateur porn thing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Making time for Windex and moldy grapes

I am a horrible slob.

I cringe a little as I put that in writing, because I'm not sure my gentleman friend has realized this about me yet. We've resided under the same roof for almost a year now, but nine months of that was with the housemates. It was easy to point fingers at them as the root of all slovenly behavior in the household (though admittedly I had a tough time convincing him they were responsible for the lipstick on the milk carton).

But we've lived in our own place a little over two months now, and I suspect my untidy nature has become apparent. He hasn't fled yet, though that's probably because there's a large stack of books and laundry blocking the door.

When I'm cranking hard on a book deadline, I give up on even the most basic desk tidying efforts. A week ago, I sat mindlessly munching from a bowl of grapes while I typed with one hand. By Friday, the bowl was buried under a layer of papers with a dozen grapes shriveling beneath them and I thought, "those can stay there 'til I meet my Thanksgiving deadline."

It was getting pretty bad.

So when I headed down to my office for some early morning writing on Sunday, I felt the usual pang of disappointment upon seeing the housekeeping fairies had not arrived in the night to clean and organize my workspace. Then I steeled my resolve to finish this book in six weeks and then clean my desk. I shoved aside the withered grapes, a leaky tube of hand cream, and enough paperwork to make the world's largest papier-mâché phallus, and I got to work.

At least, that's what I tried to do. Within five minutes, I discovered my laptop had other ideas. It refused to start, no matter how many tech-savvy strategies I employed. (Note: My tech-savvy strategies include turning the computer off and on, unplugging and replugging all the cords, picking it up and shaking it, smacking it with the palm of my hand, and cursing at it).

When none of my methods worked, I was forced to accept that my computer was taking a good long nap. A close friend is a skilled computer repair guy, but he's out of town until Thursday. My last backup of the manuscript was over a week ago, but I tried hard not to dwell on that. For me, trying not to dwell involves staying busy.

So I got to work cleaning my desk. I filed papers, organized pens, dumped out moldy grapes, and even took a bottle of Windex to my glass desktop (a surface I hadn't seen for two months). By the time I finished, I was so pleased with the results that I got busy organizing the top of my dresser. Then I vacuumed the bedroom. Then I laid down in the driveway and took a nap (what? The concrete was nice and warm).

My computer still isn't fixed, but I've managed not to panic. My gentleman friend offered me the use of his computer for now, and we're both fairly confident mine is repairable. In the meantime, having a clean desktop has me feeling downright happy to walk into my office right now.

Why do I always forget that aspect of tidying? I get mired in the belief that I can't possibly spare the hour it would take to organize my workspace, and I completely forget how wonderful it feels to have a sparkling clean desk. To spend my writing days knowing exactly where to find that pen or that notepad or those research notes on the mating habits of porcupines.

Are you a slob, a neat freak, or something in between? Do you ever catch yourself thinking you can't spare the time to perform a task you know damn well will make a huge difference in your overall well-being? Please share!

I'm going to go curse at my laptop again. This time, it might just work.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stop the glorification of busy

Last week, I hustled into the building for my day job  running late   with wet hair   sloshing lukewarm tea all over myself   professionally-attired, five minutes early, and ready to begin my workday.

That's when I spotted this tacked to my boss's office door:

"Is this new?" I asked the boss, pointing at it as he passed me en route to  the refrigerator   the bathroom   an important meeting.

"It's actually been there a few weeks."

You could take that as a commentary on my poor observation skills, but I prefer to see it as a positive sign that my boss rarely has his door closed, which makes it less likely I'd notice anything tacked to it. There may be a coupon for a year's worth of free wine tucked below his nameplate, and I'd never notice.

That's a lie. I always notice free wine, but that's not the point of this post. My point is that the sign resonated with me, and not in a, "hey, my boss is telling me to slack off" sorta way.

On the contrary, our entire team works very hard. We all have packed schedules, and I can guarantee no one has ever uttered the phrase, "I'm bored" in our building.

But there's a difference between working hard for the sake of a goal, and working hard for the sake of impressing someone. There's a difference between being a good employee and being a martyr. There's a difference between being productive and being busy.

The latter was on my mind this past Monday in particular. Since I work part-time for the day job, Mondays are my day to stay home and focus on author stuff. When I'm in the middle of a manuscript like I am right now, I become neurotically focused on building word count. If I don't write at least 4,000 new words on a Monday afternoon, I feel like slamming my head in the garage door.

But this particular Monday was not a word-adding day, and I knew that up front. I'd had a hardcore brainstorming session with one of my critique partners, and I knew heading into Monday that it was a day for finessing, tweaking, and weaving delicate little plot threads together. A vital task? Absolutely. Crucial to making progress with the story? Of course.

But not something that was going to boost my overall word count by much.

I knew this Monday morning, and by the end of the day, I'd made a lot of really great strides with my plot. But when I looked at my word count, I still felt glum.

Then I wanted to slam my head in the garage door again, because seriously – WTF?

I need a copy of my boss's sign for my home office. I need to remind myself that "progress" doesn't look the same every single time. I need to do a better job accepting a certain flexibility in the tools I use to gauge success. Sometimes, moving forward requires moving backward, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I'm guessing I'm not alone in my constant need to remind myself of these things. Do you have an urge to be busy? Do you sometimes gauge your own success based on arbitrary measurements instead of less-tangible forms of progress? Please share!

I'll be  fleshing out this character arc   developing a new subplot  writing blog posts to support my marketing plan  sitting on the sofa thinking. It might be about writing, or it might just be dirty thoughts.

And that's OK.

Monday, October 1, 2012

STDs make lovely birthday gifts

My gentleman friend's offspring is celebrating his eleventh birthday today, an alarming fact considering he was nine when we began dating.

I'm going to leave that poorly-used pronoun so you can decide if I'm a creepy pedophile, or merely mind-numbed by the number of times I flagged awkward pronoun usage in manuscripts I judged for a writing contest this weekend.

For the record, my gentleman friend is a consenting adult, and his offspring is celebrating his second two-digit birthday. Since I'm still pretty new to this kid thing, I sought my gentleman friend's counsel on selecting an appropriate gift for his spawn.

"What about giving him crabs?" I suggested as I perused the internet a few nights ago.

My gentleman friend didn't look up from his computer. "Did you just suggest a venereal disease as a potential gift for my son?"

"No, hermit crabs," I said, pointing at a photo of a beautifully-decorated terrarium advertised for sale on craigslist. "They're pretty low-maintenance as far as pets go, and it might be fun."

He politely refrained from pointing out that we already have that brand of fun in the form of five cats, a dog, and two large fish tanks. In fact, he agreed it would be a fine gift for me to present his offspring, so I promptly emailed the man who posted the craigslist ad.

After a bit of haggling, we settled on a price and agreed to meet in the parking lot of a nearby fitness facility. I arrived first, and when I spotted the car he'd described on the phone, headed over to claim my new purchase.

"Are you the guy with the crabs?" I called as he opened his car door.

Two strangers entering the gym turned and stared. The seller frowned and glanced toward his trunk. "I have the terrarium," he announced loudly enough for the strangers to hear. "Also known as a crabitat."

"Right. A crabitat. I have the cash right here."

At this point, things started feeling a bit like a drug deal. Not that most drug deals involve shredded coconut husks and invertebrates with claws. As we retrieved the tank from the back of the man's car, he kindly shared tips on proper care and feeding of hermit crabs.

"It's important to keep things moist," he said. "Wetter is better."

"Absolutely," I agreed, trying not to snicker.

"Need help carrying it to your car?"

"Nah, I've got it."

I hoisted the large tank into my arms and got halfway back to my car before realizing the tie on the side of my wrap skirt had come undone. A smarter woman would have set the terrarium down on the pavement and retied the skirt.

I opted to bare half my backside to the patrons of Xcel Fitness. I finally got the crabitat loaded into my car, got my skirt retied, and headed home to request my gentleman friend's help in moving the terrarium.

"Did everything go OK?" he asked.

"Definitely," I said. "I showed everyone my underwear, but at least I got the crabs."

"Only you," he said, and carried the tank up the stairs.