Wednesday Word: Ass

It’s been quite a while since I found the time to post a Wednesday Word, but I’m struggling with the words I’m supposed to be writing today and this particular post has been rolling around in my head for sometime. So, I thought, what the heck? Maybe writing a blog post will shake loose other writing.

A while back, I read a Regency-set erotic romance. While the story had its strong points, it nearly became a wallbanger for me when I read the first love scene. Why? Because the author used the word “ass” to mean “buttocks.” And that, my friends, pulled me right out of the historical, English setting. It also made me giggle and squick out at the same time, because I wondered when and how the donkey had gotten into the bedroom.

In a British historical, the proper word for this context is always “arse.” From one of my favorite references, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

ass (2)
slang for “backside,” first attested 1860 in nautical slang, in popular use from 1930; chiefly U.S.; from dial. variant pronunciation of arse (q.v.). The loss of -r- before -s- attested in several other words (e.g. burst/bust, curse/cuss, horse/hoss, barse/bass). Indirect evidence of the change from arse to ass can be traced to 1785 (in euphemistic avoidance of ass “donkey” by polite speakers) and perhaps to Shakespeare, if Nick Bottom transformed into a donkey in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1594) is the word-play some think it is. Meaning “woman regarded as a sexual object” is from 1942. Asshole first attested 1935.

Now, I’ll admit, the above suggests that the spoken word had begun to lose the -r- sound well before 1860, but even so, I still cringe if I see it spelled that way in a historical novel, especially one set in Britain. It’s just the wrong word.

Even today, I believe British English speakers use “arse” more often than “ass” as the dirty term for the human backside, although I’m more than happy to be corrected if that’s not the case. (My favorite modern slang use of the word is as a verb meaning “take the trouble,” as in, “I can’t be arsed to post to the blog more than once a week.” Those Brits do have a way with the English language!)

YOUR TURN: Are there any words you find used in historical novels that can have the effect of pulling you out of the setting? What are they? Why do they bother you?

Opinions Are Like…

x-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

Gotcha, didn’t I?

I’m not going to complete that thought quite the way you probably expected. You see, I’ve been following the kerfuffles in the blogosphere over some authors’ bad behavior vis-a-vis negative Amazon reviews. While I have no intention of bringing the heated debate here, it’s made me realize one of the most important mantras an author can learn after being published is:

Opinions are like backsides: it’s best to keep yours to yourself.

Now, I don’t mean published authors are enjoined never to express opinions about anything. I think, for example, it’s perfectly okay to state their opinions about thong underwear (I hate them), brussel sprouts (am slowly coming around to them, and sushi (yum!).

But when it comes to other people’s opinions about your work (aka reviews, particularly the negative ones), it is never a good idea to argue, explain, or otherwise defend yourself, even when the reviewer is clearly wrong. Because just like it’s the kid who throws the retaliatory punch on the playground that gets sent the principal’s office, when an author responds to a negative review, it never ends well for the author.

Before my first story was published, I worried a lot about how I’d feel about negative reviews. I’m an inveterate fixer, and if someone doesn’t like something I’ve written, my natural impulse is to want to make it better. But a work of fiction, once finished and published, isn’t fixable. It is what it is. And I didn’t know quite how I’d handle that impotence.

As it turned out, I’ve only seen one review of the story that could be considered negative. And I’ll admit, reading it didn’t make me feel great. But it was also a very honest and well-reasoned opinion, and I appreciated that the writer took the time to think about my story and express her feelings about it so clearly. At the same time, however, my impulse was to explain away her criticisms, but I managed to refrain. It wasn’t easy, but in the end, the story has to speak for itself, and it didn’t speak to her. And that’s okay.

To further illustrate my point, I entered Wickedly Ever After in a contest for unpubbeds a while back. It didn’t final, and when the scoresheets/comments came back in the mail, I deliberately didn’t open them because I didn’t want to be discouraged from completing the story by what I found there. Good thing I didn’t. I finally got around to opening them yesterday, and the scores and comments were not encouraging. Oh, they weren’t horrible, but I’d certainly never have had the audacity to submit the story to Kensington if I’d read that feedback first.

Which just goes to prove–one reader’s “meh” is another reader’s “fabulous.” And you just never know.

It’s certainly difficult to separate our personal feelings from our work. We pour so much of ourselves into every page, it’s hard not to want everyone to love our every word. Realistically, though, that’s not going to happen. Not even the world’s greatest writers are universally loved, after all. There is, as they say, no accounting for taste!

YOUR TURN: How do you handle “constructive criticism?” Do you think an author can ever respond to a negative review without coming off badly?

Time Flies…

…when you’re panicking.

There is, of course, no objective reason for me to panic. By anyone’s estimates, I can complete the two novellas I have to deliver by September 1 with time to spare. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that I am a procrast–er, percolator of the first order. I’m not known for completing stuff much ahead of time because I like to roll everything around in my head for a long time before committing it to paper/screen. For me, work always expands to meet the time available.

None of this stops me from worrying about my percalotory tendencies, however. Every time it happens, I wonder if this is the one where I blow it. Where I fail to deliver the goods when I should.

It doesn’t help that a story idea I had a good 10-15 years ago chose this moment to pop into my head and demand to be written. I am referring to this as the SuperSecret Sci-Fi/Futuristic (SSFF) book because I actually think I have a concept here that’s original enough, I need to keep it under wraps until it’s done.

In the interest of shaming myself into production, I’m adding word meters back to the side bar. Let’s hope I can keep them all moving in the right direction!

Odds and Ends and Thank You’s

I’m off to Memphis tomorrow morning on a short business trip, so I’m frantically preparing for that (I need a haircut, the laundry’s not done, etc., etc.) while trying to get all the details of my contracts (agency and publisher) squared away. My agent sent me the Deal Memo last night (which outlines the basic elements of the contract without the legalese), and it looks fine. My delivery date for the three novellas is September 1st of this year, which is definitely doable. According to the memo, anticipated publication date is June, 2009, though that isn’t set in stone.

Kevan (my agent) is hoping to get the deal announcement written up today, which means it’ll be appearing in Publisher’s Lunch and/or Publisher’s Marketplace soon. How’s that for unreal? I think we’re going to give the anthology a different title–my current suggestion is Beyond the Red Door, but we’ll see if that’s what we go with or not.

In honor of my sale, I registered for the RWA National Conference over the weekend (good thing, too–looks like there were only a few hundred slots left at most) and bought plane tickets. I’m still working on lodging. Being terminally cheap, I’m hoping to stay with a family friend who lives in the city and am still waiting to hear on that.

I also finally sent in the paperwork to join my local RWA chapter. I didn’t join in the past primarily because their meetings are held on Saturdays, and it’s hard for me to get away on Saturdays. On top of that, the meeting location is very inconvenient–something like an hour from home. Buuuuut, they’re holding a mini-conference for their May meeting at which Kevan will be a featured speaker, AND I really would like to have that community of local writers to rely on, so I decided to go for it.

Completely appropos of nothing else in this post, I saw the GREATEST vanity license plate this weekend: TO BLAVE. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to chase that green SUV down and pull them over, just so we could trade lines from The Princess Bride!

Last, but not least, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who commented here, on the Mavens, or sent me private email congratulating me on my sale. It means so much to me!

Publishing Moves At Geological Speeds…

…except when it doesn’t!

(Cross-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog)

This past week has been quite the whirlwind for me as my writing career has taken a giant leap forward in the span, literally, of days. I’m still pinching myself, not quite able to believe I didn’t accidentally wake up in someone else’s life.

So, to tell the story from “the beginning” (and no, I don’t mean the “I was born in a small town…” sort of beginning), in early February, I sent queries to a couple of agents and John Scognamiglio, Editor-in-Chief at Kensington Books, pitching Wickedly Ever After. Within hours, I had a response back from one agent requesting a partial and one from John, requesting that I send the full.

I printed the manuscript and gave it to my husband to mail out from his office the very next day. I figured it would be easier for him to use his company’s meter to figure and print the postage than for me to go to the post office. I later discovered that, though he did eventually send it out, he let it sit on his desk for at least ten days before he actually bothered to post it. Remarkably, he is still alive :).

At the end of February, I received an email from John, asking whether the two related novellas I mentioned in my query letter were completed or, if not, available in outline form. I shot back with outlines the following Monday afternoon and posted a rather excited comment on my blog that I might have some big news soon.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. THIRTY WHOLE DAYS!

Yeah, I know you’re laughing. But seriously, that first nibble of interest, which came so quickly–and seemed even quicker once I knew that rather than having had the manuscript for a couple of weeks, John had had it only a few days–had me hoping I’d hear something, one way or the other, within a very short period of time. And it was short, as it turned out. It just didn’t seem that way at the time! (Does it ever?)

“The call” came last Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Now, for those who don’t know, I live on the left coast, which means the last call I was expecting to get at that time was one from an editor in New York City. My son answered the phone and hollered for me, and I made my way down to take it (in my bathrobe) expecting it was someone from my office or a client. When the person at the other end announced, “This is John Scognamiglio at Kensington Books,” well, I think you can pretty well imagine my reaction. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest because I knew, even before he said another word, that I was about to get an offer of publication.

John rattled off the details of the offer, but I have to admit that I barely heard them. All I could think of was that I had an offer from a major New York publisher for a single author anthology. That my dreams were coming true. Words really cannot adequately describe how amazing and surreal that moment was.

When John finished telling me the details of the offer, I was still coherent enough to explain that I was searching for an agent and that I’d be in touch with him once I’d selected someone to represent me. I had the manuscript with one agent already, and I let her know I had an offer right away. She said she’d read it over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I contacted four other agents who were on my A-list and received four additional requests for the manuscript.

And then things REALLY got interesting. By Friday afternoon, I had two offers of representation. By Monday evening, I had five. I was floored. And it was a tremendously difficult decision, because I felt a real rapport with every one of them. At no time did I feel that any of them was in it “just for this deal.” All of them seemed genuinely interested in helping me build my career and representing me for the long haul. Their faith and belief in me and my work blew me away.

In the end, I chose Kevan Lyon at the Dijkstra Agency (they don’t have a website, so I can’t link you up, but I’m told they’re working on getting one) as my agent. She’s been a literary agent for a relatively short period of time, but has been in the publishing industry in one way or another for something like twenty years. And the agency itself has an amazing reputation, with a client list that includes Amy Tan, Lisa See, and Chalmers Johnson, to name a few. I know I’m in good hands.

Even though I’m incredibly pleased with my choice, it was tough to write those rejection letters to the other agents. I honestly don’t believe I could have gone wrong, whoever I chose. (And I tip my cap to all those agents and editors who have to write rejection letters on a daily basis. It is no easy task, and I look at my rejection letters with a whole new eye now that I’ve written a few myself!)

This post has already gone on quite long enough, so I’ll close by saying how much I appreciate the friendship, support, and encouragement of all the friends I’ve made in these past few years of writing, but most especially Maven Lacey. We’ve told the story of how the Mavens got together, but Lacey was the first person who really worked with me and convinced me I could do this writing thing. Without her, I’d never have kept going, never have met the other Mavens, never have stepped fully onto the path that led me here. There have been lots of other people along the way who’ve made a difference, and I plan to publicly thank each and every one of them over the course of the next few weeks.

But in the meantime, Lacey, this one’s for you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ll always be a rockstar in my world.