When the Pieces Fall Together

When I tell other authors that I write historical, one of the more common responses I get (assuming they don’t write historical themselves) is something along the lines of “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a historical, but the all the research and the accuracy and the details are just too intimidating.” They prefer to write contemporaries, set in a world they already know, or perhaps paranormals, where they not only get to do a lot of world-building but also get to make all the rules for how the world works. After all, if you write a book set in a fantasy world of your own creation, no one can come along and complain later that you got some fact about that world wrong :).1

But one of the things that I find most rewarding about writing historicals is making the details of a story match the actual facts of the period. Sometimes, this can be a real challenge. Other times, it almost seems as if the gods are smiling down upon you and granting you a historical fact so pertinent and perfect, you wonder if the annals of history haven’t been altered just to suit your book.

Such a thing happened to me today. The book I’m currently working on is set in 1817 during the London (and Parliamentary) Season. My hero is a duke and takes his responsibility in the House of Lords quite seriously, attending sessions with near religious zeal. (As an added bonus, this devotion to duty keeps him busy enough that his absence from most Society functions, which he prefers to avoid, is mostly unremarked by his peers.)

In the next scene in the book, however, I wanted him to be sitting in Parliament, listening to arguments over a bill–a bill he and his block would normally vote against. But, because he is so distracted by recent events involving the heroine, he quite loses track of the discussion and inadvertently votes in favor of something he finds reprehensible. The question was…what could that bill be? I wanted to find a bill that was actually put up to a vote during the legislative session of 1817, and I wanted it to be something my hero should obviously not favor. And I didn’t want to have to order a book from Amazon and wait a week or more for it to be delivered. I need to write this scene today, not sometime in February. Unfortunately, I wasn’t having much luck finding what I needed, even using the awesome Google Books search feature.

Thanks to The Beau Monde’s wonderful Yahoo loop, which is populated with people who really know their stuff, and the amazing Nancy Mayer in particular, I was able to find exactly what I was looking for. She pointed me toward the Annual Register, which covered the political and cultural events of each year. I found the perfect bill for my hero to vote for by accident. Even better, it was brought to a third reading and vote on June 19th, which was a Thursday. And as it happens, the events which have so distracted him occured, according to what I’ve already written, on a Wednesday.

Squee! I can’t wait to write the scene!

YOUR TURN: How about you? Do you love research? Hate it? Do historical details like this even matter to you? Do tell!

1I have been known to point out logical inconsistencies in the rules for a paranormal world, however. If, for example, you say at one point that it is totally impossible for a werewolf to impregnate a human, you had better not come along later and get your human heroine pregnant by your werewolf hero. Ahem. I digress.

It’s Nailbiting Time Again!

Last week, I sent my option book proposal to my agent (the uber-fabulous Kevan Lyon) and sweated for what seemed like days on end. Would she like it? Would she like it but think it needed major revisions to be saleable? What if it was so bad, I had to start over from scratch? (Having already started over once, I was in no mood to do so again!)

I would claim to be the queen of AIS (Author Insecurity Syndrome) if I didn’t know quite a few other writers who suffer from forms of the same malady. No matter how much our critique partners, agents, editors, and/or readers tell us they love our work, we still worry that this time, we’ve managed to produce the stinker that outstinks them all. I like to tell myself that this particular trait is what keeps me honest as a writer–it makes me work hard to produce the best possible story I can and to never be satisfied with a mediocre effort. The truth, however, is that it’s probably more self-defeating than anything else, since it all too often paralyzes me.

So, suffice it to say that I angsted over my agent’s response to my proposal until I heard back from her yesterday. She found a few typos and one place where a POV character’s thoughts weren’t entirely clear, but other than that, she thought it was ready to go. I cleaned up the errors, added a few lines to the problem scene to clarify, and sent it back. And last night, she sent it off to my editor.

In other words, I just traded one week of nailbiting for (up to) six more while we wait to hear whether my editor wants to make an offer on the book or not.

Yes, I’ll keep you posted.

YOUR TURN: What’s keeping you up nights? The economy? Global warming? The Israeli-Palestinian crisis? Tell me all and remind me that this is small potatoes!

The Meaning of “Published”

If you’re a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) or are at least tangentially interested in the organization, you’re probably aware that it sponsors two annual contests for writers:

  • The Golden Heart: For completed, uncontracted manuscripts in one the romance/YA genres by authors who are not published in novella or novel-length fiction.
  • The Rita: For published romance novels and novellas (though novella is its own category) with a first print run in the past calendar year (i.e., the Rita in 2009 will be presented to a book first published in 2008).

There has, for some time, been a bit of heartburn on the part of epublished authors that, due to the print requirement of the Rita, they are ineligible to enter either contest. But this year, the low, slow burn has been fanned into a full-blown conflagration by the addition of these words to the Rita eligibility guidelines:

Be mass-produced by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher in print book format.

The “mass-produced” is the problem.

First, this wording is completely vague. How many copies must be printed in order for the book to be “mass-produced”? Without any clarity on that subject, how is an author to determine whether or not her book qualifies for the Rita? In fact, a fair number of people entered their books in the contest only to be informed that their book didn’t meet the “mass-produced” requirement.

But second, why should it matter? It’s pretty clear that this clause is designed primarily to eliminate print-on-demand books from the competition, but I have yet to understand why that is either necessary or desirable.

The reason this has caused massive unrest and anger, I think, is that epublished authors were willing to accept (if sometimes grudgingly) that the Rita is a contest for print books and that their ineligibility was solely a format issue. But when RWA moved to exclude some print books as well, it looked suspiciously like the rules had nothing to do with format and everything to do with trying to limit the competition to books published by major New York houses. And that, in turn, looked suspiciously like a statement that authors published by epublishers (with or without print programs) and small presses aren’t “published” at all.

This brings me back to the eligibility guidelines for the Golden Heart. The manuscript must be uncontracted at the time it’s entered and the author must not have published a fictional work of 20,000 or more words with a non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher. No problem, right? Except–here’s the kicker–an author could be eligible to join RWA’s published author network (PAN) by virtue of having earned $1,000 or more on a single work in the romance genre, and yet remain eligible for the Golden Heart because that published work was under 20,000 words!

My first published manuscript was just shy of 15,000 words, and therefore, qualified as a short story, not a novella. While I didn’t earn the $1,000 minimum for PAN membership on it, Harlequin’s Spice Briefs program offers (I’ve heard; maybe it’s not true!) advances in the range of $1,000 for stories under 15k in length, and I did (belatedly) get an offer on that manuscript from them. In other words, I could have earned the PAN minimum on a short story, yet remained eligible for the Golden Heart.

/blink

Now, I’ve heard some authors argue that PAN eligibility and Rita eligibility have nothing to do one another, and rightly so. After all, I’m a PAN member now, but my print book isn’t eligible for the 2008 Rita because it doesn’t come out until May of 2009. It would be ridiculous for me to bellyache that I can’t enter because my book’s not out yet.

Notwithstanding the accuracy of that observation, the fact remains that what’s getting up people’s noses here less to do with the Rita than with what it means to be “published.” Authors who have been offered a contract for publication by a non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher want (by and large; I imagine there are exceptions) to be considered published by the professional organization to which they belong–and they want that regardless of how long the manuscript is, how much money they’ve earned from its publication, or what format(s) it was released in.

The current system for PAN eligibility is, IMO, both unnecessarily invasive and unfairly restrictive. To join, authors must submit proof of their earnings (in the form of either royalties or an advance or a combination of the two) on a single published work over a period of 18 months. RWA’s argument in favor of the earnings clause is twofold:

1) It establishes the notion that money should flow from the publisher to the author, not the other way around.

2) RWA wants to support the idea of professional writers; that is, writers who earn a decent income from their work.

I think those are both worthy goals. The problem is that the non-vanity, non-subsidy clause already makes #1 clear. And as for #2–the percentage of published authors who earn sufficient income from their writing to do it as a full-time job is very, very small. It’s greater than zero, but my understand is that the majority of published authors either have a wage-earning spouse/partner or work a day job in addition to writing. Writing has never been a “get rich quick” scheme, and it never will be.

Furthermore, requiring that authors earn a minimum of $1,000 on a single work to be treated as published ignores and excludes many epublished authors who actually are making a living from their writing. These authors have multiple books, none of which individually breaks the $1,000 threshhold but which, together, easily provide $10,000 or more in income each year. These authors are, IMO, as “professional” and “published” as an author who has received a $10,000 advance on a two-book contract from a NY house, yet they are excluded from being treated as such by the very organization that claims to represent their interests!

In the end, it isn’t about whether or not an author can enter the Rita; it’s about receiving a modicum of respect for what you’ve accomplished. Published ought to mean “published.” And I am radical enough to think that a short story writer is just as published as a novella or novel writer. Brokeback Mountain is a short story–does anyone really think it’s less worthy of recognition as a “published” work because it’s less than 20,000 words long?

I honestly believe that resolving the issue of what constitutes a “published author” would go a long, long way to resolving the internecine battles within RWA over the Rita. Granted, it won’t make the “print” vs. “ebook” problem go away, but that is going to go away in the next twenty years or so, regardless of what RWA does. Because print is on the way out as the primary method of distribution for books; ebooks are the future.

But that’s another post!

Lyric Thurs–er, Saturday: B Side of Life by Timbuk 3

Okay, I really intended to do this on Thursday, but the problem is, these lyrics seem to exist nowhere on the Internet. Which is kind of amazing, if you think about it. I thought EVERY song in the universe had lyrics posted on the ‘Net.

Anyway, I may be breaking some sort of rule, but I don’t care. I just love the poignant, incisive way this song takes on both the up and downsides of being rich and famous. Not that I ever expect to be either, but maybe that’s why I like it so much. I, too, am happy enough on the B side of life!

The B Side of Life
by Pat and Barbara MacDonald

Grandma, do you recognize me?
Course you don’t, I’m nobody,
I have no money, I have no name,
I tear the tickets at the Hall of Fame.

I buy my dinner at the 7-11,
Eat it in the kitchen while I watch TV.
I like my free time and I love my wife.
You’ll find my number on the B side of life.

Once I got lucky, I had a band.
We had a song, it got to number three.
Made lots of money, made lots of friends,
Had lots of pretty people hanging ‘round me.
Now all I want is a place to hide,
To feel safe from the chaos outside.
A cold refrigerator, a warm bed,
A place where no one will stick a gun to my head.

I buy my dinner at the 7-11,
Eat it in the kitchen while I watch TV.
I like my free time and I love my wife.
We’re happy living on the B side of life

We had the key to the city,
But the rooms it did unlock,
Were full of overpriced portraits,
Engaged in cheap small talk.

So turn out the lights, turn up the radio.
Don’t know the singer, but I love that song
I know that I’m no Barishnikov, baby
But I want to dance with you all night long.

I’ll buy you dinner at the 7-11,
We’ll eat it in the kitchen while we watch TV.
Tonight’s my birthday, let’s have a party,
I’m thirty with a bullet on the B side of life

The Return of Lyric Thursday: Jane by Barenaked Ladies

I used to do a feature in bygone days that I called Lyric Thursday. I stopped doing it because…well, because I got lazy.

But a few minutes ago, the song that tangentially inspired large parts of the plot and conflict in Sinfully Ever After, the third of the novellas in Behind the Red Door, and I felt the sudden need to bring it back. So, for your lyric-reading pleasure today, I present Jane by Barenaked Ladies.

Jane
by Stephen Duffy/Steven Page
copyright 1994 Sire Records Company

The girl works at the store, sweet Jane St. Clair
Was dazzled by her smile while I shopped there
It wasn’t long before I lived with her
I sang her songs while she dried my hair

Jane, divided, but I can’t decide which side I’m on
Jane decided only cowards stay, while traitors run
Jane, Jane

I’d bring her gold and frankincense and myrrh
She thought that I was making fun of her
She made me feel I was fourteen again
That’s why she thinks it’s cooler if we’d just stay friends
Jane doesn’t think a man could ever be faithful
Jane isn’t giving me a chance to be shameful

Jane, Jane

I wrote a letter, she should have got it yesterday
That life could be better by being together
Is what I cannot explain to Jane

The girl works at the store, sweet Jane St. Clair
Still dazzled by her smile while I shoplift there
No promises as vague as Heaven
No Juliana next to my Evan
Jane, desired by the people at her school and work
Jane is tired, ’cause every man becomes a lovesick jerk

Jane, Jane

Squee!

Since she FINALLY posted the announcement on the Mavens blog today, I can finally stop biting my tongue and tell you all that my dear friend and critique partner Erica Ridley sold her Regency-set gothic mystery/paranormal romance, TOUCHED, to Kensington Books in a two-book deal. Even better, we both have the same editor (John Scognamiglio). How awesome is that?

And since the book is freaking fabulous, I am even more assured of my editor’s amazing and wonderful taste ;).

Woohoo! Party time. Can’t wait to see her with that gorgeous First Sale ribbon at next year’s conference!