Monday, February 28, 2011

The Beautiful Ones

If you remember Aaron Spelling, raise your hand... Just kidding, you can put your hand down. I know thanks to the 90210 redux, and Tori's ubiquity, that name is pretty familiar.

Well, Aaron Spelling was a funny-looking fellow, something like a taller, skinnier Hobbit.

His famous quote about what makes successful TV is this: Nobody wants to watch ugly people do stuff.

OK, I made that up.

He didn't say those exact words, but the creator of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie's Angels, Dynasty, Melrose Place, 90210, Charmed, 7th Heaven, etc., etc., etc. built his career on beautiful characters. (And I really did read that he said something like that quote; I just couldn't find it.)

The man was a gazillionaire, so clearly, he was onto something. And true confession, I don't prefer movies or TV shows in which bad stuff happens to a bunch of unattractive people. I like the pretty, rich people to suffer.

I especially like it when they suffer in fabulous ways--like in slap-fights in the lily ponds out behind their 5,000-bedroom mansions. (link)

Why am I bringing all this up?

Because I write YA romance-assorted-sub-genre books, and all of my main characters are attractive.

JRM went through a nonstop-request phase that I write an ugly character with a big nose in one. So I relented, and naturally, when he read it, his comment was, "This character shows potential. She should take a more prominent role..."

How do you guys feel about this?

I think there have to be at least a few drop-dead gorgeous characters for the stories to work at the pace they must follow. Sure, it's not realistic, and unattractive people make up 95 percent of the population according to Jerry Seinfeld (link).

But is this wrong? Exclusive? Reinforcing stereotypes?

Personally, I just think it's fun. And if I'm not having fun writing, I can't expect my reader to have fun reading what I've written...

Sometimes misery is appropriate to the story. But for the most part, I'm in the entertainment business.

Also, if I need Character A to fall in love with Character B by Chapter 3, for better or worse, one or both of those kids'd better have something eye-catching going on. Yes?
Super-Congrats to Tami-Hart (also my super-critter), Michael, and Myne for advancing to Round 2 of ABNA!!! I am so psyched for you guys--let us know if we need to vote or anything. (And if anybody else made it, let me know!)

Also, keep me in mind as I prepare to send my revision back to R&R Agent 2 this week. I have absolutely no clue how that will go, and my brain is so fried. But surveys say, it's ready.

Have a great week, reader-friends! Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Found Him

Note: Special Thanks to the Hollywood Spy himself, Dezmond for my super-awesome new header up there! Isn't it gorgeous??? I LURV it! I feel very official and cool now~
I wonder if anyone else has experienced this... (I've learned recently that when I think I'm the only writer something's happening to, five other of you are having the same thought, experience, issue, whatever...)

Well, most of you know I completed a light-historical YA romance last fall set in 1890s-ish New Orleans. Well, as I was writing it, I kept running into this issue: I never could get a good picture in my head of what the primary male love-interest looked like.

He was just sort of this faceless image in my head.

I knew he was tall, I knew he had dark blue eyes--a color that reminds my MC of Louisiana Iris, the state wildflower. I knew he had medium brown hair, I knew he was muscular from working on a farm in Ascension, but he wasn't beefy.

I gave him an intentionally over-the-top Old South name: Beauregarde Faire. But everyone calls him Beau for short. (Also intentional.)

He's 17 years old, and he sets out with a small inheritance from his dead father (killed in the War of Northern Aggression) looking for adventure--not romance. Wine, women, and song.

Mishandling of his money lands him broke, working in a cabaret-slash-(secret) bordello as a stage-hand, where he meets the star of the show, my MC, also 17.

Naturally he falls in love with her. Who wouldn't? I always knew what she looked like--long brown hair, hazel eyes, petite, slightly olive-complected thanks to her runaway Creole father.

I always knew what the ringleader of this little circus looked like, as well. I got the idea for his character (and the working title of the MS) from a song.

The chain-smoking, piano-playing, velvet-coat-wearing, abuse-hiding composer, who was our leading lady's first kiss and her first love, until he confides that he plays for the Other Team was always clear in my head.

I always knew what the bane of my MC's existence looked like. The little orphan who's her love, her heart, and the one who drives her to the lengths she takes to protect the unofficially adopted child. (She's my oldest daughter, Catherine.)

But the face of my swoony Ascension native, who was raised by a mysterious "old gentleman" after his mother died and his father was killed, was a mystery to me.

He's innocent, fresh-faced, frustrated (and surprised) by his inability to control the object of his affection. He saved her life, he knows she has feelings for him, but she refuses to act on them.

Our MC has her mind set on marrying a rich Parisian expatriate and moving with him back to the richest street in the City of Light, with her little copper-headed waif safely in tow.

The signature dialogue between MC and Beau, when he discovers they're the exact same age, goes like this:
B: "Why you're just a kid like me."
MC: "I have never been a kid like you."

sigh. Those two.

He gets his poor heart ripped out and handed back to him by her. He even sheds a few tears of which he's horribly ashamed, but don't think less of him. He's learning...

Then my Entertainment Weekly came last week, and as I was flipping through the pages, I nearly dropped it on the floor. There he was! And it all clicked in place. Now I can fill in the blanks.

Critters, fuss no longer! I give you Beauregard Faire of Ascension. [Note: Photo removed due to copyright concerns.]

True Confession: This post is really an ode to photographers.

Those witch doctors the Indians believed could steal your soul with the little boxes they used to capture your image.

I honestly had no clue who this fellow was, and I didn't care. Since learning his name, I've looked at a few other shots of him, and none of them capture Beau's personality in my mind.

So there you have it. Photographers, man.

Now, am I the only person who's ever written an entire novel without knowing what a main character actually looked like?

And why does this even matter so much? I have a good feel for his key features, background, and personality, after all. You think this phenomenon is genre-specific? Or just me-specific?

So yay--I found him! Have a great weekend, reader-friends--I'm ready to get back in there and start revisions. Til Monday~ <3

Monday, February 21, 2011

This One's a Writer

Elle Strauss had this interesting video up last week that featured Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (link to post) discussing the idea of creative genius.

Gilbert talked about how assigning all the credit for great works of art to mere humans rather than some "other" force (or God) puts too heavy a burden on individuals, and results in self-destructive behaviors, depression, sometimes suicide.

I agree. But at the same time, I think these artists put way too much mystical emphasis on what they're doing--telling stories, writing songs, seeking to entertain.

Now if someone's writing spiritual documents or attempting to interpret religious texts or to provide some message or enlightenment, I think it's absolutely appropriate to bring in the concept of mysticism or divine inspiration.

But memoir writing? Fiction writing? Twilight? C'mon, people.

Personally, I do say a quick prayer many times before my fingers touch the keys. I'll pray either for the right words or clarity of thought, peace, good ideas, to write a classic... (wink). And then it's just me doing what I do with some days being better than others.

Maybe it's because I taught writing to high school students and watched as they practiced and improved. Maybe it's because I've seen myself improve as I practice.

Maybe it's because for the last 15 years, regardless of how I feel, if I don't write, I don't get paid. That doesn't mean I don't love it any less. But my writing is directly related to my income, and at times, it can feel, well, like a job.

I do get satisfaction from my subjects coming back and saying they liked what I wrote about them. I do get real satisfaction the times people tell me they had an emotional reaction to what I wrote--whether laughter or tears. But day in and day out, I just have to keep writing.

What do you guys think? Am I missing something here? Do you think some "other" force takes over and occasionally uses you as an instrument when you write?

I think, the divine act occurs when we're born with whatever gift we have--whether it's to design buildings, cook fabulous dishes, listen to others and help them solve their problems, or create entertainment.

I'm so thankful for my gift, but I'm also thankful for yours.

It's equally divine to be a loving, involved parent (or teacher or friend) who produces a child who turns around and writes a beautiful song or poem or story and who feels safe enough because of your love to face the challenge of trying to share it with the world.


Have a great week, reader-friends! Til Thursday~ <3

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In which I am both Early and Late

Early because in lieu of a Thursday post, I signed up for Nicole Ducleroir's Bernard Pivot Blogfest today!

It's a fun little "getting to know you" kind of thing that I completely forgot. So I'm late getting it up here... (Today is also my big brother's birthday, so Happy Birthday to him!) 

Now for my late post that's actually early.

1. What is your favorite word? Although my crit partners would disagree, my favorite word is not "frowned." Or "looked."

I actually don't have a word that I savor as my favorite, but if there's one I use frequently in conversation, it would probably be Wow. Because, there's just so much to say wow about. In every way.

2. What is your least favorite word? It's a tie between "moist" and "snot." I also hate "glowered" (which is why I opt for "frowned"), and I've only recently come to terms with "chuckle."

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Music. I've always loved music of all kinds. I'm not really a genre stickler, although there are certain types of country music that are like nails on a chalkboard to me. My favorite is singing in a gorgeous four-part harmony.

I'll never forget this one time, JRM and I were visiting one of his former law school classmates in Georgia, and the classmate's girlfriend was there. The guys were sitting around playing guitars, and we all just joined in at this place where the song went into a four-part harmony... I can't remember what the song was, but I swear, my body vibrated with the beauty of that sound. We all stared at each other for a second like, "Did you just feel that?"

Yep. That'll do it.

4. What turns you off? The noise of a lawnmower engine early on a Saturday morning. Oh, and fearful people who refuse to change and grow. Especially the ones who  try to control others as a result. I've talked about this before--individuals who approach the world through the lens of "what I'm not" rather than defining what they are and trying to find common ground.

But that lawnmower engine. That really irritates me.

5. What is your favorite curse word? (This question just assumes that I use profanity. *smile*)

6. What sound or noise do you love?  Wait. Is this the same as Question 3? A nice, four-part harmony. And just for a Bonus, the sound of my little girls giggling. When they get all cracked up, it's impossible not to laugh with them. But I have a rule about laughing and crying alone in my presence...

7. What sound or noise do you hate? OK, time out. I'm seriously fouling this all up... I probably should've read the questions before starting... See Question 4--the lawnmower thing.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Hmm... I really, really liked working at the TV station, and that was never my actual profession. So either that or Oh! I know--Broadway performer. That would be awesome. (And it would incorporate Question 3, which seems to be where I got stuck in this exercise.)

9. What profession would you not like to do?  Doctor or nurse or anything involving bodily fluids or giving people shots. Or that hospital smell. Or snot. Moist snot. (All of these things can be added to Question 4.)

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "Those poor angels can finally take a break now." Wait. That's what he's going to say. What I'd like Him to say would be something along the lines of, "See? You did better than you thought."

Now I can't wait to get around and read everyone else's answers! Have a great weekend, reader-friends. Til Monday~ <3

Bernard Pivot is a French journalist who liked to use a variation of the Proust (personality) Questionnaire at the end of his television interviews. James Lipton of The Actor's Studio took the questions and modified them for American audiences.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Very Superstitious

First, Happy Valentine's Day, lovebirds. I'm looking forward to reading all those lovey blogfest posts~

In the meantime, anybody out there superstitious about your writing? Like those baseball players who don't change their socks because they think it helps them make home runs or something?

I don't keep up with baseball, so that's probably mixed up. I'm also not superstitious... but I am nervous as our little family faces some enormous changes in the coming months.

Most of you know I'm no spring chicken. I'm not fresh out of college, MFA clad, sitting down to write the Great American Novel.

Nope. For some reason unknown to me, I sat down at the computer in September 2009 and started writing. And it was very much like Forrest Gump starting that run. You know, the second run--where he ran coast to coast after Jenny left again?

In 18 months I wrote four complete books, 45,000 words of a third, 15,000 words of two more, and sketched out the storylines for two more.

My hair grew long, I stopped shaving and cleaning the house regularly. When I needed to go, I went.

I also dropped out of many of my pre-writing social and school-related activities. I basically became a hermit.

And for a while, I kept waiting to start having seizures or passing out or something like that. You know, signs that it really was a Brain Tumor a'la that Awakenings film or something.

I mean, seriously. There was no explanation for me suddenly behaving this way. OK, sure, my MOM always said I'd write a book. But pfft. What does she know?

I did always want to be a writer, but I never thought I could write a whole book. I was thinking more like news articles or magazine columns, which I did for many years.

Suddenly, here I was writing like some kind of maniac, with ideas appearing everywhere I turned. And people seemed to like it. (That part was really cool.)

Well, now everything's about to change--we're moving 800 miles due north, we've got to sell a house, buy another, find schools, meet parents, reconnect with folks we haven't seen regularly in seven years, rediscover a city JRM and I knew as single adults and then very new parents... NOW as parents of two little ladies who are trusting us when we say this isn't going to screw up what until now has been a pretty sweet existence for them.

The only life they've ever known has been 30 minutes from the beach in a tiny town where they know everybody and everybody knows and looks out for them. Laura's told me on two separate occasions her teacher has said the following to her:
  1. "You make me smile." And
  2. "You're my sunshine."
Wow. The fear that grips me at not being able to find that for them again is almost as big as the fear that this writing thing I love will simply stop.

I don't know what started it. And as I've told my friends here who complain about my new absentee lifestyle, I have to keep going with it. I don't know when it's going to disappear.

So what to do? Hope and pray for the best?

Have any of you gone through significant life changes since starting your writing journey and made it through, creativity intact?

In other news, any encouraging words for this mommy who's shaking in her boots that she's wrecking her daughters' Mayberry childhood?

Have a lovely Valentine's and great week, reader-friends! Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Revision Wisdom

I don't think Jesus was thinking about revisions when he called out the Pharisees for being so quick to notice others' flaws while being so blind to their own. But he was God, so it's possible he knew how his words would be twisted.

In a previous life, I was an editor for ten years, and I loved my job. Line editing was second-nature to me. I didn't even notice correcting grammatical errors as I read manuscripts, and like a good detective, sought out where they fell short or where passages overlapped or repeated. I could even suggest ways to fix them.

Why is it so hard for me to do this with my own writing?

I'm deep in the Heart of Revisions (which is like Darkness, possibly even west Texas), I'm also juggling near full-time employment, so my blog-rounds have been poor. But I see the light way (way) ahead, and I know it won't be long (maybe) before I'm finished and I can get back to normal human existence.

I can bathe, clean my house, rediscover friends and family, bleeps.

A critter gave me one of the best pieces of revision wisdom recently--maybe it was the way she said it, I don't know. I'm going to share my paraphrase of it with you now. She said, "Don't take for granted that your reader will intuitively understand this."

She was talking about a scene in which my main character chooses not to do something because of her background and location. Her background is she's a preacher's kid, so she's grown up saturated in religion and seeking God's purpose in everything, and her location is Smalltown, U.S.A., which has its own unique forms of social control.

Now to a secular reader not raised in church, living in Big City, U.S.A., why my MC makes the choice she makes could easily be baffling--and clearly is based on the revision letter I received.

My job is to make it clear.

That sounds really easy, doesn't it? (insert laugh track)

Your turn! What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever gotten? Besides "just keep writing" (or my version, "just keep swimming"?)

Have a great weekend, reader-friends. Even though I'm missing, as Willie and Elvis said, you're always on my mind.

Til Monday~ <3

Monday, February 7, 2011

Making the sausage

Over the weekend, one of my good bleeps was debating her author photographs on Facebook, and it got me thinking about how the Information Age is eliminating the distance between readers and writers.

We live in a time when readers can find out everything about their favorite authors. Where they get their ideas, how long it took them to write their books, how many times they were rejected, the plot-choices they made during revisions, the music they listened to while writing. Even mundane stuff like where they live, their favorite ice cream, the brand of laundry detergent they prefer. We can read their blog posts and tweets...

And I wondered (again) if all this knowledge kills the author's power.

(I've wondered this before with regard to my own blogging. I haven't cultivated a persona, and I've considered whether my silly, southern-girl self might influence how seriously my books are received.)

It's the whole thing about not seeing how the sausage is made. Like, take Stephen King for example. I normally don't read his books because they scare me.

And in the past, my imagination of what he was like (based solely on his author photo) really boosted that sense of creepiness for me.

I don't mean to be rude, but I think his unique appearance fits perfectly with the subject matter of his novels. Creepy person = creepy books, right?

Then he started writing a column in Entertainment Weekly about all his favorite movies, music, and books and why he liked them. And many of them were just so regular and not creepy at all. Then I read On Writing and got all his thoughts on the craft and his approach to writing books...

Now I wonder if I'd be as frightened reading one of his novels as I used to be. Or if I'd approach it as "Oh, this one's by that fellow in Maine, who's just like (insert favorite uncle). He's not so scary."

On the other hand, a response I've been hearing lately from my local friends when they read one of my books is, "(As I read) I completely forgot you wrote this." Or, "It's so weird to think you write these books."

So I don't know. Maybe it doesn't matter how well your audience knows you...

What do you guys think? Is the Information Age killing the author-mystique? Does it matter if an author cultivates a particular persona?

Try it this way: Would you have read Twilight differently if Stephenie Meyer behaved more like Anne Rice than just an average, middle-class Brigham-Young grad? 

Did knowing her background and religious views influence your perception of the story?

Have a great week, reader-friends! Until Thursday~ <3

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Matched Plot Points

I finished reading Ally Condie's Matched over the weekend. Time constraints prevent me from writing a review, but I will eventually.

I can say I enjoyed the novel. Even with all the turmoil that's been swirling around in my personal and professional life, every time I picked it up, I was pulled back into the story.

And I love, love, lurv the cover. It's gorgeous.

It's also perfect, with the green dress under glass and the girl inside the shape of a seed pushing to break out--alluding to what Cassia's mother said about breaking the glass, what would happen, and what eventually does happen.

Touches on every major plot point. I want whoever did this cover to do mine. (Pretty please?)

Instead, I'm thinking today about similarities in books. I read a two-sentence review of Matched in Entertainment Weekly that said it echoed The Hunger Games and gave it a C+.

Some of my bleeps who also read the book disagreed with the Hunger Games comparison but thought the grade was correct. I disagree with the grade, but I do think if you strip The Hunger Games of all the blood and gore and simply focus on the love story and the social uprising, out would fall a little green copy of Matched.

So is it fair to use plot similarities between the two books as a strike against Condie's debut?

Anyone who knows anything about how the publishing process works will agree that it's impossible one influenced the other. Even if we put the process at a Stephenie Meyer's pace, it would take three months to write and polish it. Then say, give her another two months to land Jodi Reamer. Give Reamer a month to sell it, and then give it a year to be published.

That puts her starting the book, which was just released, in early 2009. The Hunger Games was released in Sept. 2008. (OK, it could have happened. But I'm willing to bet Condie had not read THG when she got the idea for Matched. Although she is/was an English teacher...)

It got me to thinking about my own little YA Sci-Fi Jackson, which is sitting on hold with lots of notes. In it the 17 year-old female MC has a part-time job assisting a large-animal vet, and she's taken as prisoner to a working farm run by aliens.

The aliens are in hiding on Earth, and they're not so much interested in hurting the humans as they are in keeping them quiet, unnoticeable to passing intergalactic hunters. I was thinking of the humans as being like a group of five year-olds in the aliens' eyes, and the aliens being desperate parents. (Must make these humans behave/be quiet!)

My point is, there were a few eerie similarities in Condie's debut and in the notes I've made for Jackson. But I just read her book!

I started Jackson last summer--seven months ago--before I'd even read either Matched or The Hunger Games. (Here's the link to my post about it from July.)

So what does this mean for me? Scrap my whole idea? Come up with another idea?

But my ideas fit perfectly with the experience and personality of my MC, and with the motives and goals of the aliens. My novel's not dystopian. There's no uprising against a seemingly perfect society or government...

What do you guys think? Is it inevitable in the literary world that plot points are going to cross at times? Is this grounds for ditching/changing a manuscript (MS)?

Have a great weekend, guys! Til Monday~ <3

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Buckle up

Seems I've been apologizing a lot lately. I'm sorry.

I really do have a good excuse, though. You might remember my post back in October about several things happening at once. I'd gotten a revise/resubmit request from my all-time Dream Agency. The first agency I ever queried back in Sept 2009 when I was just starting Debut Novel.

(Yep, in 2009 I sent a million-page query letter re: an unfinished novel... and then when I didn't hear back a week later, I sent a follow-up email. I was clueless. And rejected.)

Back to the story: I got right on the R&R, polished it up, sent it through the critters, and had that MS back in DA's hands by Thanksgiving.

All through the holidays, I bit my nails and refreshed my inbox while JRM admonished me that no one's working through Christmas. Me: They might!

January 4, I heard back from DA saying she really liked the revision and would I send my synopsis for others in the office to review. I didn't think I could breathe when that happened.

Naturally, I fretted that my synopsis wasn't good enough, but I sent it on and waited.

And waited.

And in the meantime, a different agent contacted me about liking my MS and would I be interested in talking on the phone about revisions and possibly resubmitting? Me: Yes, yes, nice to meetcha New Agent, but you see, I've got Dream Agent on the line here.

New Agent: Give that person a nudge and see where you stand.

So I hesitantly sent an email nudge, and guess what? That person was an assistant who is now gone. In a puff of smoke, she got a job elsewhere--a great job for her--but she left me high and dry.

I dragged my feet back to my chair and sat. Then I went under the desk and cried. And then my little gmail sing-song went off. New Agent wanted to know if I still wanted to talk--?

Me: Oh, right. Right. What were you saying again?

We made a date. And literally the same day, things at home went Off-the-charts Crazy. I'm not kidding.

Some of you knew unexpected schenanigans were happening on hubs's work front. Well, that day it became imperative for me to bring home the bacon. And a lot of it. Fast.

Thankfully, I've got one of those hourly jobs that never ends. So I was able to plant my butt in my seat and work nonstop for the last days of the month clocking hours.

Last Monday I posted about going down to stare at the waves so I could calm down. When I first got there, repeating in my brain over and over was the sound of Dorothy's voice: "I'm frightened, Auntie Em. I'm frightened."

(I know. I'm a goober, right?)

Those words were very formal for the panic gripping my chest, but I don't know. My brain.

I left after an hour of watching those glassy waves rolling in, one after the other, never stopping for centuries, at peace. By then my only thought was, "Thank you."

We really are going to be fine. God's been setting up a safety net for us since September--and we weren't even looking! I've got work, we've got a cushion, and there's even a job waiting that we simply have to accept. It's a good one, too.

It's just been... an exciting seven days.

And what about that call? Well, unfairly, I know, I put a lot of pressure on it to bail us out. You know, the Hollywood ending where the big offer comes and the music swells and we all click our heels because There's No Place Like Home.

It didn't happen. New Agent and I basically just chatted about the changes she thought I should make, and it now stands as another R&R request. The ball's back in my court.

I need to get started on it, but right now I feel completely winded. Motivation has abandoned me. And I've got bacon to bring home.

But I appreciate all your hugs and well-wishes and prayers. And I'll get back on my feet. We've got a mountain to climb before June (a yellow-brick road to follow?), but I'm hoping once we get there, we'll find out it had to get worse before it could get better.

More soon~ <3