Fun, Fun, Fun

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be getting up early and driving up to Orange County. Normally, I wouldn’t be thrilled to be getting up before eight a.m. on a Saturday morning, but in this case, I’m making an exception. You see, I’m going to attend the Orange County Chapter’s meeting, where I’ll be sitting on a panel to talk about the epublishing industry. My friend Tessa Dare invited me in December, and I have been looking forward to it ever since.

I love being around other writers, but I don’t get the opportunity very often. Getting away from my family on a Saturday, when my local chapter holds its meetings, is tough. Between our obligations to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Girl Scouts and the general craziness of trying to keep up with general household chores, weekends always seem to be packed. The only reason I’m able to go up to do this panel tomorrow is that I planned WAY in advance and there was nothing on the Scouting schedule on Saturday.

Anyway, I’m expecting to meet some wonderful new people, including my fellow panelists. I’m particularly excited about meeting Jennifer Haymore, whose June 2009 release from Grand Central, looks extremely intriguing. And, of course, I’m thrilled that I get to see Tessa, whom I first met online during the Avon FanLit contest two years ago and then met in person at RWA National in Dallas the following summer. It’s going to be awesome!

YOUR TURN: Have any fun plans for the weekend? Spill!

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring

Literally. And Southern California is supposedly in the midst of a terrible drought. Go figure!

A rainy day should, of course, be the perfect sort of day to cuddle up in front of the fire with the laptop and write stories set in merry old England. Except…the firewood’s all wet, the fireplace wants cleaning, and the kids are all home from school.

So much for the weather setting the mood!

YOUR TURN: Does the weather affect your writing? Or reading?

Lyric Thursday: The Pretender

I’m probably showing my age by posting these lyrics, but I have to say that this is one of my favorite songs ever, and a large part of the reason I love it so much is because words literally send a shiver down my spine. To me, it’s a classic example of a song with lyrics so profound and beautifully composed, it can stand with the very best poetry, with or without music.

The Pretender
copyright 1976, by Jackson Browne

I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again
Say it again

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again

Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender
Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor
Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there

Ah the laughter of the lovers
As they run through the night
Leaving nothing for the others
But to choose off and fight
And tear at the world with all their might
While the ships bearing their dreams
Sail out of sight

I’m going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we’ll fill in the missing colors
In each other’s paint-by-number dreams
And then we’ll put out dark glasses on
And we’ll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We’ll get up and do it again
Get it up again

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Though true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Choosing Names

As I’ve gotten into the nitty-gritty of writing my new novel, it struck me that one of the most important things we writers do when constructing a story is to choose the names of our characters. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but a heroine named Rose is likelier to catch our readers’ fancy than one named Skunk. (Yes, it’s silly, but it illustrates the point.)

Often, I find I choose my characters names without much thought or effort. The character’s personality traits just seem to “fit” a particular name, or the hero/heroine comes to me with a name before I’ve even thought up more of the story. (In one case, I thought up a whole series of books based on a single name, Liberty Jenkins. Not that I’ve had time to write it, yet!)

To me, the fact that a name can suggest a story (or a story a name) illustrates just how powerful they are to shaping what your book becomes. A heroine named Hortense or a hero named Ernest will have far greater hurdles to overcome in playing against “type” than one named Angelina or Brad. That’s not to say an author can’t overcome those hurdles, but that by choosing those less attractive (apologies to all Hortenses and Ernests present) names, the author sets herself up from page one with a hurdle to overcome.

In the book I’m currently working on, the heroine’s name was decided before I wrote the first line. Because she appears in Sinfully Ever After, the last of the novellas in Behind the Red Door, I had to use the name I’d given her in that story. If I had known, however, that I would be giving her a book of her own, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the name Marianne.

It’s not that I have anything against the name Marianne. It’s a pretty name. It’s also a perfectly Georgian and Regency-era correct name for a lady (and there are precious few, as Jo Beverley points out here). It’s just that it’s not the name I would have associated with this particular character as she has evolved. That said, it’s what I had to work with, so it’s what I went with.

I had more leeway with the hero, since he doesn’t appear in any of the other stories. I also had to provide his nephew, who plays a pivotal role in the story, and his three daughters with names that seemed to “suit” them (and, as an added bonus, might provide me with grist for more stories down the road).

As is sometimes the case, the hero’s name presented itself almost immediately. Sterling. As soon as it popped into my head, I knew it was right. He’s hard and a little tarnished, but with a bit of polishing, his true worth shines through.

Okay, two down, one to go.

The nephew took a little longer. I started with Benjamin, and even used it in the first draft of the first chapter, but it just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t say why, I just knew it wasn’t the name that character wanted and needed. I knew the name needed to start with a B (again, there’s no rhyme or reason to why I thought that…I just did!), so I kept trying and the name that kept coming to me was Bernard. It’s perhaps a little nerdy sounding, but for this character, that fits. Not that he’s nerdy exactly, but…well, let’s just see if someone actually decides to publish the book and you can find out for yourself!

YOUR TURN: Are the names of the characters in a book important to you? Will you deliberately pass over a book because you don’t like the name of the hero/heroine? Pick up a book specifically because you like the names? And if you’re a writer, how do you choose your characters’ names?

Is Erotica Irreligious?

Sometimes, events conspire to occur in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to believe life is in any way random.

So it was at church this Sunday when the sermon title was “Sex and the Bible.” Given that there’s been a bit of dust-up between the erotic and inspirational factions of RWA over the RITAs (again) this past week (you can get the gist from this post on Kate Rothwell’s blog), it seemed almost surreal that our pastor would have chosen to address this topic in such a timely (and entirely satisfactory) fashion.

I won’t go into the details of his sermon, but I walked without a smile on my face. For those who feel “on-screen” sex is incompatible with “Christian” values, I point to:

1) The Song of Solomon

2) The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini

I rest my case.

Why RWA Needs to Revisit PAN Eligibility Rules

Last week, Emily Veinglory reprinted a fantastically perceptive Absolute Write forum post by Xandra Gregory, a Liquid Silver Books author, on the EREC blog about RWA’s current rules for Published Author Network (PAN) eligibility. I hope Xandra (whom I’ve never met) won’t mind my reproducing here what I think is the most interesting and salient point of her post:

RWA’s biggest problems stem from the dual need it has to both encourage its members in their careers (providing markets, growing readership and increasing visibility for the genre, etc.) and act as a guardian/advocate against the career paths that take undue advantage of authors. For starters, there’s just no real good way to do that except on a case-by-case basis. RWA’s best intentions are setting up an environment where the organization “norms” include a career path that enables a writer to earn decent money, see his or her books in places where they can be bought by customers, and retain reasonable rights to his or her intellectual property.

What this does is sets up a tacit approval of the “proper” way a career should progress. What this fails to do is take into account new markets, emerging markets, or “breakout” situations where an author can expand the reach of romance, grow her audience, or explore new methods of getting stories in front of people and getting money for said stories.

This is a perfect assessment of the “devil and the deep blue sea” dilemma in which RWA has found itself. Any set of rules it defines for determining what constitutes a “professional” career path for a romance author will inevitably result in some very professional authors falling through the cracks.

But there are ways RWA could improve the definition to better identify and distinguish between members who are making a serious effort at building a publishing career versus those who are primarily hobbyists. This isn’t to say that I think all writers who have yet to receive a publishing contract aren’t serious about having a publishing career, but to say that I think the RWA PRO designation does a pretty good job of identifying those people. (For those not “in the know,” a member can apply for PRO status by submitting a copy of a completed manuscript and evidence that said manuscript has been queried to an agent or editor.)

While I’m sure my suggestions won’t meet with universal agreement (nothing ever does), I think they are a darn sight more fair and realistic than the current rules. With that in mind, here are four (IMO) modest proposals:

  1. The income eligibility guidelines should be scaleable based on the length of the published/contracted work. At present, an author must earn a minimum of $1k, either in the form of advance or royalties, on a single published novel or novella. This is patently absurd because an author who earns $500 on a single 20,000 words novella is clearly getting a better rate of return on her work than one who earns $1,000 on a 100,000 word novel.
  2. Recognize authors of short stories (works under 20,000 words) into the “published” club, again using the sliding scale for payment. I know authors who have earned upwards of $2,000 on short stories in the 15,000-19,999 word range, yet because those stories don’t qualify as novellas, RWA doesn’t allow them to enter PAN. That’s just silly, IMO.
  3. The requirement that the minimum income threshhold must be met on a “single work” within 18 months of publication should be revised. The epublishing model works best for authors who put out multiple, relatively short works in a calendar year. As the author builds readership, sales build steadily for her backlist, which allows her to increase her income over the years as new readers discover her and purchase her backlist. Moreover, I would argue that the epubbed author with multiple releases over several years has clearly established a pattern of publication that indicates she is serious about pursuing a writing career. In fact, I believe I could make the case that the multi-published epubbed author has a better “career” in publishing than the print author who received a single two-book contract five years ago but has never sold since (and that’s not making any judgments about why that author hasn’t sold again–it may be by choice or by fiat, but the principle holds either way).
  4. Authors who do not meet these eligibility criteria should be permitted to enter the Golden Heart. If they are not “professional” enough as writers to be recognized as such by one set of criteria as published, their publication credits should not count against them when it comes to the premier unpublished contest.1

I believe that adopting these proposals would go a long way toward meeting the needs of RWA’s published members. If RWA truly believes in advocating and supporting its members’ publishing careers, it can’t continue to be blind to the changing landscape of publishing and the new ways iin which savvy authors are working new markets and new models to their advantage.

1This doesn’t mean that I think the RITA must be restructured to allow all members who are published to enter it. After all, not all unpublished members can enter the Golden Heart, either. To enter the Golden Heart, the member must have a completed novel-length manuscript. If a member’s manuscript is either unfinished or less than 40k in length, she’s out of luck. So, I have no particular problem with the notion that a published author can only enter the RITA if her book meets the contest’s requirements, including by being bound in print by the publisher.