Balls!

Hey, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about those kind of balls; I’m talking about the ones we often have to keep simultaneously in the air so our entire lives don’t crash to the ground in a pathetic heap of broken glass.

I’m in heavy-duty balls-mode right now. In addition to juggling my kids’ school and homework schedules (always a source of pain for me even though it’s nice to get a few hours of peace and quiet each day while they’re at school), getting them to various activities (I’ve got a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout, and a Girl Scout, yikes!), and keeping food in the house/getting meals on the table, next week is my company’s conference for our clients and I’m a major player in that event. This means I’ve spent most of the past three weeks making final preparations for various presentations I have to give (researching content, rehearsing, and tweaking as necessary). And next week, I will be knee-deep in the conference, which means I have to line up after-school care for all three kids, since I won’t be home when they get out of school as I normally am.

Needless to say, this puts a huge crimp in my writing style. Oh, I’ve been trying to beg, borrow, and steal a few hours here and there, but honestly, I’m so mentally exhausted from keeping track of everything else, the well’s pretty much dry. So, I am hoping that once this craziness wraps up next Friday and I’m down to just the “regular” balls, I’ll get my brain back and actually be able to dig back into writing. Because not writing gives me sad.

So, tell me, how do you keep the “balls” in the air? Do you ever find yourself just too exhausted from all the effort to keep them up there that you can’t do the things you really want to (whether it’s writing, reading, or something else)? Tell me about it :).

I Love You, but I Didn’t Love Your Book

I have to say, one of the hardest things for me about having many friends who are also writers is that there are writers who I dearly love on a personal level, but whose books, for whatever reason, just don’t work for me. I actually live in a kind of perpetual dread of the release of my dearest writer friends’ books, because I want to love them, but sometimes, I don’t, and then I feel stuck. Can I tell you, my dear friend, that I didn’t like your book and STILL be your friend? Should I lie and say I loved it? Hedge? Or just say nothing at all?

Now, I have to say that if one of my friends (writer or not) told me she didn’t care for one (or even all) of my books, I would not hate her. I would not cut her off and refuse to speak to her ever again. I would still consider her a friend and be happy that she felt she could be honest with me, because I value honesty above empty flattery. And I actually believe, in my heart of hearts, that most of my writer friends feel the same way.

Still, it’s tricky, and one of the reasons I don’t review books and rarely ever really enthuse about a book online. I will do it in certain cases (Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords is a recent example of a book I’m raving about, but although I’ve met Jeannie and consider her a friends, I didn’t know her before I heard about the book, so I feel a little more sanguine going ape over it), but by and large, I don’t talk a lot about the books I’ve read–whether I liked them or not–because I don’t want anyone to feel criticized by omission.

It’s a sort of crazy world I live in, then. Am I a lunatic? Too worried about the fragile feelings of others? Or just being prudent?1 I honestly can’t decide.


1I strongly suspect that posting this is not prudent, but I’m doing it anyway :).

The 7 Stages of Grief as Applied to Rejection

In honor of all authors who’ve recently experienced a series of rejections, whether from agents or editors, I offer the following somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and somewhat NOT) overview of the process of moving on.

The Seven Stages of Grief

  1. SHOCK & DENIAL

    You read the rejection letter for the third time. Then a fourth. And it really IS a rejection, not an offer disguised as one. You double-check the envelope. Maybe it was meant for Mrs. Hinklemeyer, who lives next door. Granted, it’s unlikely she also wrote a romance novel titled LOVE IN THE TIME OF DYSENTERY, but then, they do say there’s no such thing as an original idea. But no, the envelope is definitely addressed to you. But still, there must be some mistake. This just can’t be right.

  2. PAIN & GUILT

    After the shock wears off, you feel like crap. Plus, you get five paper cuts from reading and rereading that damn rejection letter. You start to second guess yourself. Maybe you shouldn’t have killed your hero off on page 5 of the manuscript (but hey, you did resurrect him on page 15!). Maybe you shouldn’t have used the word “turgid” quite so many times. And trying to write a historical paranormal comedic thriller horror mystery romance might not have been the best idea, but damn it, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time!

  3. ANGER & BARGAINING

    What do these publishing professionals know anyway? They wouldn’t know a good book if someone hit them upside the head with it. They’re all a bunch of risk-averse weenies who wouldn’t buy the Bible if God submitted it for publication. But hey, what if you sent chocolates with your submission? Or maybe if you promise you’ll give up chocolate…

  4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS

    Aw hell, they’re right. Your book sucks used tea bags. You’re a complete loser who couldn’t even write the phone book. You lose all hope and motivation. Writing is a waste of time, effort, and emotion. You feel like a whiny crybaby and refuse to log into any of the social networking sites or your email for fear someone will ask you how you are. Or worse, announce they’ve just sold in a ten-book deal for seven figures.

  5. THE UPWARD TURN

    Just when you think you’ll never write again, you get a glimmer of an idea. Something so good, you can’t NOT write it.

  6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH

    You slowly put the pieces back together. You start writing because you have to. With some help from your friends and critique partners, you realize that there are a lot of reasons your previous manuscript was rejected, and none of them are that it was actually bad. Plus, the only way to be sure you’ll never sell a book is to quit. And that’s just not an option.

  7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE

    You put your much-rejected manuscript in the Magical Mulch Pile* under the bed. The publishing world just isn’t ready for it yet. But wait until they get a load of your new project, a historical paranormal comedic thriller horror mystery young adult romance. Working title: LOVE IN THE TIME OF ACNE. Yeah, this time, you’ve got it nailed!


*Magical Mulch Pile is an UNregistered trademark of Erica Ridley, my friend and author extraordinaire of Too Wicked to Kiss.

Goal Setting Time!

I’ve often said I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because I figure if there’s anything I should stop or start doing, I should start doing it/not doing it when I think of it instead of waiting until January 1st. Something’s either virtuous and a good idea or it’s not, right?

That said, goals are not the same as resolutions. Goals are the targets you set for yourself and you don’t expect to wake up on January 1 and have them all accomplished. And I do think goals are useful, as long as they fall within the Erica Ridley guidelines for goal-setting, which are as follows:

* Goals should be specific
* Goals should be quantifiable
* Goals should be realistic
* Goals should be attainable
* You should be accountable

Erica gave a great explanation of all five guidelines on the Manuscript Mavens back in January of 2007, which you can still read here. (By the way, have I mentioned recently that Erica’s awesome paranormal gothic Regency, Too Wicked to Kiss, will be released by Kensington Books in their Zebra line in just two months’ time? If you haven’t already, hop over to her website for the book. It’s chock full of fun stuff and extras.)

So, now that we are a full week into the new year, here are Jackie’s specific, quantifiable, realistic, and achievable (cough) goals for 2010:

1. Write or revise every workday, even if I don’t feel like it and even if only dreck comes out.
2. FINISH at least two projects with word counts over 40,000 and two under 40,000. (In 2009, I was real good at starting, but very bad at finishing. Aside from one novella and two very short stories, I didn’t actually write THE END on anything.)
3. Submit at least three proposals/completed manuscripts to major publishing houses.
4. Submit at least two short stories/novellas to major epublishers.
5. Read a minimum of one book per week (I have really been falling down on this one and I know it’s not helping my writing).

That’s it. Pretty simple, really. I could have been a lot more specific about the individual projects I’m planning to work on, but decided that probably wasn’t a good idea since a sale of any one project could derail my plans to work on others (especially since they’re mostly unrelated to each other and/or targeted to completely different genres/publishers).

Check in with me again in about 358 days to find out how I did ;)!

NaNo–Nah, No

Today marks the second day of November, which means it is day number two of that much-heralded event, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month). If you’ve never heard of NaNo, I suspect you of having lived in a cave for the past 3-5 years or of not being in any way connected to the writer community. Because NaNo haunts the consciousness of writers everywhere, even those of us who don’t “play.”

Just in case you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, let me explain the “rules” in brief. The idea is to start a fresh WIP on November 1 and to write 50,000 words by November 30th. If you write those 50,000 words, you’re a NaNo “winner.” If you don’t, well, I wouldn’t say you’re a loser, but you don’t get to call yourself a winner, either.

I know a lot of writers who swear by NaNo. It pushes them to set aside everything else and just pound on that WIP for a month. It forces them to turn off the nasty internal editor and write like the wind. And a fair number of folks have had amazing success with books they wrote for NaNo. Carrie Ryan, author of the much-celebrated YA novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, wrote that manuscript for NaNo in either 2006 or 2007. She “won” NaNo, then won a very nice contract with Delacorte Press and a movie deal (after, I have no doubt, my revising of the initial manuscript).

But for some of us, NaNo just doesn’t work. I’m one of those someones. I’ve tried a couple of times, but I’ve never managed to stick to it for more than a week or so. There are lots of reasons for that, not the least of which is that I am, by nature, a slow, plodding writer. A 25,000 word month is cooking for me! But there are other factors as well.

First of all, what lunatic decided November, of all months, should be the one we use to pound out 50k? Did they forget Thanksgiving in the US is in November, not to mention Black Friday? (I never, ever shop on Black Friday, but that doesn’t mean I forget its importance.) In addition to the three days to a week kids usually get off from school for Thanksgiving, there’s also the Veteran’s Day holiday, and (in my school district) the dreaded weeklong early dismissal for parent-teacher conferences. Seriously, even if I thought I had a prayer of generating 50k in a month, it would never be in November (just as it would never be in the summer months, during the Christmas holidays, or spring break). Also, as an aside, why not choose a month with 31 days rather than a measly 30?

For me, I think the perfect NaNo month, were I to choose one, would be May. It has 31 days, only one brief holiday (the three-day weekend for Memorial Day), and the kids are in school full-time. The weather’s nice, but not so nice you can’t bear to be indoors.

But even then, I doubt I’d really ever be able to commit to NaNo to the point of being a winner. In the final analysis, it’s just not set up for the way I write. And while I have nothing but respect and encouragement for those who do NaNo, and I hope they’re all winners. Meanwhile, I’ll keep plodding away on my WIP at my 1k-per-weekday-if-I’m-lucky pace and watch you all fly by me.

Writing What You Don’t Know

I’m a little less than three thousand words into a new project, and already I’m angsting about its direction. Now, I’m always a trifle neurotic about whatever I’m writing, but usually the actual worrying about whether I’m “doing it right” waits a little longer than one chapter to settle in. The “OMG, what if this sucks?” anxiety normally sets in at around 10-15k.

I know why this is happening, though. It’s because this book ventures into territory I haven’t explored before–not just in writing, but in reading as well. I think I can say that the story revolves around vampires without revealing too much about the premise, so with that much in mind, I will admit my deep, dark secret: I don’t read vampires.

Oh, I’ve read some of the vampire classics, including the book I really think of as the definitive modern take on vampire life, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and, of course, all of Emma Petersen‘s vampire romances (because she’s my best bud, critique partner, and awesome too boot), but in general, I’ve never been that interested in the vampire genre. I’ve never read either Stephanie Meyers or Charlaine Harris nor have I seen the movies/TV series based on their books. What’s more, I don’t intend on starting now.

I just heard your gasp of horror. But Jackie, if you’re going to write a vampire book, shouldn’t you read a lot of vampire books so you know the genre?

Well, yes, there’s something to be said for that approach. In general, I write the genres I like to read. I cut my romance-reading teeth on historicals and, therefore, when I started writing them, it was natural for me to write historicals. It’s what I’m familiar with and what I love as a reader, so of course, it’s where I went.

So, why not apply the same strategy to my foray into the vampire world? Mainly because, as much as I fear that my interpretation of the vampire genre will be either too dark or not dark enough, I worry even more about having my vision influenced by other writers and therefore “diluted” in some way. I don’t want the what I hope is my vampires’ uniqueness leached out by getting commingled with too many other people’s take on them.

Which is why I’m taking the scary step of writing what I don’t know. Yes, it’s risky and a little panic-inducing, but on the whole, I think it’s the right way to approach this project.

What do you think?

What Do Your iPod Listening Habits Say About You?

So, I’m sitting here this morning listening to my iPod and just really getting a kick out of my music. (Partly, this is because the darn thing wasn’t working for months. I thought I was going to have to take it to the Apple store to get it fixed, but my 12yo son figured out how to reset it manually, bless his heart. I must say his efforts on my behalf validate my decision to continue to feed, clothe, and house him.)

Because I have the iPod set on shuffle–and I have almost 600 songs loaded on it–I have no idea what’s coming next (except that it can’t be anything I’ve already heard). To start this morning, I got Thriller by Michael Jackson, then True Love Travels on a Gravel Road by Nick Lowe followed by A Day in the Life by the Beatles, Fame by David Bowie, and now, Shoebox by Barenaked Ladies. I’d never have CHOSEN to listen to those five songs in particular if I’d been scrolling through my music, but they’re all awesome songs.

My husband, though, hates it and complains vigorously when he has to listen to my iPod in shuffle. Some of that is that we don’t completely share musical tastes, but mainly, he hates NOT knowing what’s coming next and that it might be thematically/musically out of sync with whatever he just heard. When he plays his iPod, he always chooses either artists or albums and plays them straight through. He talks a good game about creating playlists, but I’ve never actually known him to do it except for specific circumstances (i.e., a Cub Scout meeting/event).

Anyway, it occurred to me that this difference in our iPod listening habits pretty well describes the primary difference between our personalities. I’m incredibly unstructured in my approach to life–one of the hardest things about having kids for me was the whole notion of having a schedule…or even a routine. I like spontaneity and unpredictability–to the point that some might consider me flighty or flaky (or both!).

My husband, by contrast, likes everything just so. If anything comes along and pushes him off his well-thought-out path, he gets cranky. Predictability and routine is the name of the game for him, which probably explains why we’ve managed to stay married for almost 20 years. A guy who likes variety and spontaneity a whole lot is probably not the best bet for husband material, after all :).

All in all, I think it’s a good thing that I married someone who is my polar opposite in this regard. He keeps me from flying off in fifty directions at once (keeping me to a solid 20 or so at a time, lol). And I keep him from being way too rigid and plodding. It’s a good match!

Anyway, this got me wondering about you all. What kind of iPod listener are you? And what, if anything, do you think your iPod listening habits say about you?

[poll id=”6″]

Commitment Phobia

I think it’s safe to say that one of the most common conflicts for heroes (and to a lesser extent, heroines) in romance is a fear of commitment. This fear usually extends from an incident in the character’s backstory wherein said character loved and lost in a big way. Having been hurt by one woman (or man), the character has lost all faith in the opposite sex and must overcome this internal conflict to reach a wonderful HEA with the person he/she was truly meant to love all along.

Recently, I’ve seen a few reviewers and commentators say they’re pretty sick and tired of this trope, and just what the hell kind of weenie has ONE bad experience and extrapolates from it a lifelong mistrust of ALL members of the opposite sex. I kind of agreed…until it hit me today (as the result of the insightful comments of my dear Amie Stuart) that I’m having exactly this kind of commitment phobia. It’s just that it’s about falling in love with a story, not a person.

Ever since the book my agent and I shopped over the summer failed to garner any offers, I’ve been flitting from story idea to story idea like a Regency rake from one eligible young lady to another. Each one seems more attractive than the last, but there’s always the possibility that “Story Right” (SR) is hiding just around the corner.

The thing is, I’ve had an absolute surfeit of really great story concepts in the past few months. I’ve written a dozen or more blurbs for various ideas and a few pages here and there of this or that, but then a new idea comes along and knocks the latest SR off its pedestal. I have a brief fling with new SR, and then, voila, that one is also shoved aside by the next Bright New Shiny.

I’ve always been prone to this. Until I finished my first single title (the one gathering dust under my bed) back in late 2007, I think I’d only ever managed to complete one other story of more than a few thousand words in length in my life, and I wrote a lot. I just rarely found stories that so engaged my imagination that I couldn’t easily be distracted from completing them when a “better” idea came along. So this is nothing new…

But it is backsliding. For a while there, I finished a lot of stories. None of them single title, I grant you, but still–I maintained enough interest in them to get to The End. Now, I’m finding myself barely able to get to 10k before I start to have doubts and look for something else to work on.

Amie suggested to me earlier today when I sprang my latest and greatest Really Cool Idea(TM) that maybe the reason I’m coming up with all these great ideas is to avoid actually writing anything. And I realized, damn her, she’s right! It’s purely subconscious, of course–or it was until she pointed it out to me, drat it–but my mind is shying away from committing to any one book because I am afraid of getting hurt again. I don’t want to pour my time, energy, and yes, love, into another story only to have it rejected. It’s easier to avoid love altogether than to risk getting hurt.

All of which circles back around to my original point. Do I believe that ONE bad experience can lead to a longterm inability to trust in love? Absolutely. In fact, I’d say it’s the oldest plot in the book :).

Sayonara, Sweethearts!

I’m off early Monday morning for a five-day visit with my aunt and uncle in Minnesota. It’s become something of an annual tradition since we went the first time back in 2007, and my kids were pretty disappointed when we told them we might not be able to fit it in this summer. As luck would have it, though, we found a few days to squeeze it in and a bunch of frequent flyer miles to pay for the tickets.

I don’t expect to have the computer with me, which means I’ll be away from email, Twitter, and the blog for the whole time. Hopefully, you’ll all still remember me when I get back :).

In the meantime, here are some photos from our trip to Yosemite earlier this month (the camera was out of battery by the time I got there, so there aren’t any of little ole me–I consider that a plus) to entertain you. Hey, they’re pretty!

vernalfalls
Hiking up to Vernal Falls

vandavernalfalls

Vernon and Aurora at the top of Vernal Falls

haqlfdome

Half Dome

julianrock

Julian on a rock at Mist Lake

kidsriver

All three kids on the Merced River

tenayalake

Everyone but me at Tenaya Lake

 

 

tuolomemeadows

Tuolome Meadows

aurora

Aurora, who turns 10 today!

vernonironman

Vernon does his Iron Man impression

snowinjuly

Snow in July!

campfireHanging by the campfire

Hope you enjoy the photos and I’ll see you in a week or so! 

Musing on Monday: Keeping the Faith

It’s over.

The proposal we had out on submission didn’t pick up any offers. Most of the rejections were along the lines of “love the writing, but…”

(FWIW, I always think that’s a cop-out. If you really loved the writing, there would be no “buts” because the writing is what makes the characters come to life and plot work.)

Naturally, I was discouraged and upset, even to the point of railing that boy, this time, I am really quitting.

“Why do I put myself through this?” I asked myself over and over.

It’s a damn good question. In publishing, you hear no a lot more than you hear yes (even if your book sells, you probably got a “No, thanks” from at least one editor on the way to garnering that contract). Even if you are lucky enough to land a contract, the publisher is probably not going to throw large wads of cash at you (unless you happen to be one of the tiny subset of writers who are already so “proven,” you could write the phone book and NY would want to buy it for six figures).

And guess what? After you do that the first time, you’re not done. No, it’s wash, rinse, repeat…possibly for years until you have that “breakout book” and possibly for always.

As my dear friend and CP Lacey Kaye said to me in email yesterday, this business is not for the faint of heart. I’m not even sure it’s for the bold of heart.

You see, I was pretty upfront and honest with myself about the relative chances of getting a contract for this book. Now, I still happen to think it’s a good book, more than good enough for New York publishers, but I also knew going in that even good books don’t always get contracted, and for reasons that don’t have all that much to do with their quality. Just for example, Several editors mentioned, for example, that their historical lists were very full and they had very few slots to acquire for.

So, before the proposal went out, I told myself in no uncertain terms that I would not EXPECT it to sell. None of this “positive thinking” stuff for me, no sir! I knew it wouldn’t sell and if it did, it would be the rough equivalent of winning the lottery.

Now, I think it served me well that I didn’t have high expectations, but I’d be lying if I said I truly had no hope. I did have hope. I mean, if I really thought it was so bad it had no chance of garnering an offer, I wouldn’t have put it out on submission in the first place. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I’m not that big a glutton.

When I realized it was definitely not going to sell (which was actually the day before the last two rejections came in), I didn’t cry, but I came pretty close to it. And over the next couple of days, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to decide whether I’m cut out for this or not. Because if I could be that upset when my expectations were low, how could I put myself through it again and again? What would happen the next time a project I really loved was rejected? And the next and the next? My answer to myself was pretty much that I’ll be just as crushed and raw as I was this time.

So, am I hanging it all up? Honestly, I sometimes wish I could.

The problem is, I can’t seem to stop writing. I can’t seem to stop. It happens in my head whether I want it to or not. Even while I was grousing to myself about this whole gig being so not worth it, I had multiple stories and characters pop into being and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. It’s kind of like a disease. In a way, I’d love to be cured. In another, it would be the rough equivalent of excising a part of my personality and changing the essence of “me.”

So, chucking the towel probably isn’t a choice. But I did come to a couple of conclusions about how my own goals need to shift as a result of this experience. Maybe, if you’re also out there chasing that contract, be it the first one or the one after that or the one after that, something here will keep you from contemplating towel-chucking:

1) It’s not about the contract; it’s about the writing. You don’t stop being a writer just because you don’t pick up a contract for publication. You stop being a writer because you stop writing. Period.

I know this isn’t an original thought, but I came to the conclusion that I’ve been far too focused on landing that next contract and a lot less focused than I ought to be on writing a book that pleases me, regardless of whether it pleases anyone else. It’s also something I have to remind myself of over and over and over again. Because I will forget sometimes.

2) Bite the bullet and write the whole book before trying to sell it.

I’m not saying this because I don’t think I can sell a book on proposal. It’s just that, if it’s rejected by all the NY publishers, I’m left with a book I can’t sell to anyone else without finishing it first. That’s a dilemma, because while it could earn me some money with an epublisher, there’s no guarantee that it will be worth the investment of the time and writing resources to finish it when I could be writing something else instead.

I am in a bit of a quandary over UNASHAMED, the book we just shopped unsuccessfully. It’s about half written. I love the characters and I really want to see them through to their HEA. But I also don’t know if that’s a worthwhile investment of my time when I have dozens of other things I could be working on that haven’t made the NY rounds and been rejected.

In other words, while there’s no guarantee that anything else I write will sell to an NY publisher, there’s a 100% guarantee that UNASHAMED won’t. Do I write it anyway? Decisions, decisions…

Decisions I’d rather not have to make next time!

3) Rejections are neither bad nor good. They just are. Overanalyzing them will only drive you crazy, so just set them aside and move on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “Oh, but that’s a good rejection.” I’d be equally hard-pressed to recall how many times I’ve used those very same words with my writer friends.

Now I think there’s no such thing as a good one. There’s equally no such thing as a bad one (well, perhaps if the editor tells your agent to stick this writer’s garbage where the sun don’t shine, but I don’t think that happens too often).

A rejection is a rejection, period. It means you didn’t sell the book. It sucks. No amount of positive feedback can sugarcoat that, nor do any glowing comments about this or that aspect of your project mean that this editor is any more likely to offer for the next one than for this one. Ditto the editor who loathed the book and apparently thinks you should go back and read Novel-Writing for Dummies a few more times. There’s nothing to say the next project you offer up won’t be right up that editor’s alley.

So, don’t try to figure them out. Don’t second-guess the book you wrote and wonder what if you’d just done this or that differently. It will only drive you crazy and keep you from focusing on the next project.

And whatever else we can say about ourselves as writers, it’s that there’s always a next project.