Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Seasons of Writing

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s still jacket weather outside. Even though I’ve seen evidence that spring is on its way – crows gathering sticks for nests, buds darkening on our silver maple on our boulevard, large clumps of brown grass, litter, and mud poking through the shrinking clumps of snow – the temperatures here in the Midwest are still hovering awfully close to freezing.

Yet the novel I’m writing is taking place in June, in the full blossom of summer.

Sometimes, when I sit down to write a scene, I forget. I find myself typing “she shrugged out of her coat” because that’s what I would do, now, when coming in from outside. After tapping the delete button, I have to take a moment to remember what summer was like. I have to mentally call up nights so hot that the only relief is a bathtub full of ice cold water. I have to remember sundresses and sandals – or even bare feet on hot sidewalks or through stiff pokes of drying grass. I have to picture birds – summer birds, not the winter juncos, chickadees and cardinals, but the great blue herons, noisy red-breasted robins, and squawking blue jays. Bugs! Mosquitoes, cicadas, blue-bottle flies, crickets, gnats, ants – all the stuff that’s EVERYWHERE during the summer, that, somehow, I completely forget about during the winter.

It’s weird to write out of season, but I kind of enjoy the process of trying to recall a summer day while snuggled under six blankets. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about writing contemporary settings. I love the challenge of trying to convey what a Midwestern season is like. I try to imagine someone who’s lived their entire life in southern Texas cracking open my book and being (hopefully) transported to a farm in the upper Midwest in springtime. I want that reader to smell the clover and alfalfa in the gentle spring drizzle. Just the way I FELT the oppressive heat and smelled the magnolias the first time I fell into the New Orleans of the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke.

Burke made me appreciate location. He made me realize that if you’re going to write about a place, you should fill it with the sights and sounds that are unique to the place you’re writing about. Why? Because, as a reader, I like going there as an armchair tourist – and weather (along with fauna and flora) is a surprisingly large part of that experience. Some of it didn’t work, because I didn’t have reference points for some of the specifics, but most of the time that didn’t matter because he gave me enough that I could imagine it (however wrongly.)

Eh, besides, you know us Minnesotans. We love to talk about the weather.

Vampire Books -- An Unscientific Survey (by Michele Hauf)

Check out this great post about vampire lit at Dusted Michele Hauf's blog. Interesting stuff, especially if you're curious about whether or not vampire fiction has "jumped the shark."

Writing and Ego: A Love Story

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years I’ve been a writer is that I write better (stronger, faster) when my career is going well. This is frustrating if only because the times when I most need to produce are often the times when my career is in need of a boost.

For instance, I have a hard time starting the next book until the contract is signed. (By “signed,” I don’t mean literally, since getting an actual copy of the contract often takes months after the deal has been struck, but more when my agent calls and says “they’re buying it.”) This, of course, is absolutely stupid. It’s a little like waiting for “inspiration to strike” before sitting down at the keyboard. Lois McMaster Bujold once told me in an interview that the best thing a writer can do when s/he finishes a book is start the next one. Editors always want to know “what else you have” and it behooves a writer to have lots and lots of offer. (Would you like this flavor? No, how about this one?)

I could do that, and did, before I broke into publishing. Now, I find that if I don’t have a deal on the table (or if I feel like my career is in any kind of jeopardy) I choke… or at least sputter.

If I have any concerns about my sales figures or whether or not my publisher is going to buy the next book, I find myself so consumed by those thoughts that I have trouble getting words onto page. Thankfully, even though my writing becomes more labored, I have yet to be completely paralyzed by this problem.

I need to learn how to get over this because in today’s publishing climate careers stall – a lot. Currently, I’m needlessly fretting because my editor informed me that the publisher is not printing any galleys for the second book in my current series. She says that in series romances, they often don’t print galleys, which may well be true. To me, the importance of advance copies is that they often mean advance reviews in places like Booklist and Library Journal (places that libraries, a big buyer of books, scan for titles of what they should be ordering next.) I believe my editor, I do. But, I’m suffering a bit of “once bitten, twice shy.”

Because... when my previous publishing house (which is actually my current publisher, only a different imprint) was unhappy with my sales figures and were trying to “shuffle me out the door” (my then-editor’s phrase) the thing that prompted my discovery of their disinterest was the fact that they didn’t print a galley for my fourth book. Thus, when hearing that I’m not getting a galley for the current book out in May of 07, my first thought is, “Oh, crap, time to come up with another pseudonym.”

As far as I know, my current book has sold well. At least, it’s sold well for a book of mine, which given that I was in a different genre all together, might not be saying very much. I also know that publishers these days are expecting bigger and better things from books that in the past would have happily taken up residence on the “mid-list.” My book made some bestseller lists, but not the bragging rights ones like New York Times or USA Today. My editor tells me that my publisher has ordered a larger print run for book two, which she says is a vote of confidence.

What scares me about the bigger print run is that without any advance reviews (or few) how are they expecting to sell all those extra books they’re printing? And when all those extra books are rotting in the warehouse, the publisher is going to turn to me and say “your book’s sales figures sucked. We’re dumping you, you loser.”

Thoughts like that keep me up at night.

And not writing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vampires in the News (and my website)

From = 'Impaler' Pledges to Impale Bush and Guards to Protect Milosevic's Body from Vampire Hunters from

Also, if you've been trying to connect to (or Other Me) lately, I got word from my provider that the server got "fried" and they're "working on it." But, apparently the damage is quite extensive and it may be a matter of days before the site is active again. Until then, my photo won't appear on the sidebar here either, since that's where it lives.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Alex, I’d Like to Buy A Clue for 200, Please.

I feel dumb. I’ve been really very stuck on Bloody Charming. There are a number of contributing factors, not the least of which is my ego (but I’ll write about that tomorrow) and the fact that I’m writing “late at night” (read: 8:00 pm and know that by nature I’m a lark, not a night owl.) However, while talking to Shawn the other night I realized something so profoundly obvious that I nearly smacked myself in the head hard enough to give myself a concussion. Here it is:

If you’re going to have a mystery, you need to provide some clues as to “who dun it.”

Wow, Tate, really?

Yep, really.

Turns out that if person x is casting magical attacks on your heroine, you can’t just keep that information in your head until the final “ta-dah!” The reader needs to see person x on stage doing something that makes them go “hmmm, that’s curious.” So that by the time you get to the end the reader can say, “Ah ha!”

Writers even have a special word for this. It’s called “foreshadowing.”

As many novels as I’ve written, you’d think I’d know this by now. Other me has even won the Shamus Award, so you’d assume I might be familiar with the basic principles of mystery writing, right?

Apparently, not today.

What this means is that I’ve had to revise the entire novel starting at page 50 or so. The good news is that when I’m finished with this backtracking, I should be primed to write straight through to “THE END.” Wish me luck.

This goes with my theory that every novel, for me, is like starting over. People always ask me, “Does it get any easier?” I’m supposed to say yes, of course, the more you write the easier the whole thing becomes, but the truth is that getting words down on page becomes easier the more you do it – structuring a novel, at least for me, is complicated every time because each novel is like the next baby, complete with their own personality and quirks.

As I often say with a sigh, “Someday I’ll learn how to write a novel.”