Hey! I'm over on the Casablanca Authors blog writing about how great you are for reading romance! Click the image to check it out!
There's a ton going on for V-day in the world of Romance and I'm super-stoked to be a small part of all the fuss! First, on February 8th, check out my post at www.booksmarttarts.com as part of the huge amazing author extravaganza (plus giveaways) that is #ValentinesRewind. Seriously, guys, tons of amazing authors are sharing never-before-read stuff, with gifts and prizes galore! AND, this is the very first snippet I've ever put out there from Book 1 of Blank Canvas... GULP.
And then, I'm sitting on a fabulous panel of local writers at the Ashburn Public Library in Northern Virginia for a screening of the Romance Documentary 'Love Between the Covers'! Want to watch the movie? Want to watch me stutter? Now's your chance on Saturday, February 13th at 2:00 for the movie. The panel starts at 3:30. Oh, and there'll be a gift basket (with books!) for one lucky winner! It's part of the #LBTCScreenathon!
Just home from a friend’s house, a little tipsy, Le Husband driving and the kids in the back. They’re two and four and it’s summer—the end of the summer, which feels even more nostalgic than usual. We’re home and we brush teeth and I’m happy that the little ones fall asleep right away and I’m thinking, a lot, about the memories we helped them make tonight.
A part of it—a big part—is who we spent the time with. A wonderful, close friend and then someone I recently reconnected with: O, I’ll call her. She’s this awesome, strong, tattooed, sweet woman, with a husband who’s all wry humor and carefully-bestowed eye-contact. We ran into them at our CSA a couple years ago, our kids are in preschool together and, it turns out, we played soccer on the same team when we were youngsters—miles away and decades ago. And now, our children are pals, at the same school.
There was a sort of ecstasy in the kids’ playtime tonight. A starry-skyed, firelit, costume-clad joy, fueled by late bedtimes and ghost stories in an unfamiliar backyard. There were lightning bugs and mosquitoes and a swingset and parents happy just to watch and stand around barely talking—not needing to talk—while the kids entertained themselves. I remember those parents, when I was a kid—unhurried, unworried.
My folks really were just there for the ride, whereas I? Oh, man, today, I’m worried about making memories for my babies.
Why? I keep asking myself. Why were my parents so laissez-faire and yet I’m convinced I’m bound for failure?
It's so different today, I think. That must be it.
I remember using a computer for the first time. Logo, they called the program back then. It is the least important of my memories. I remember when MTV aired ‘Video Killed the Radio Star,’ and you know what? That made no difference in my life. What did make a difference, at the time? Fireflies in jars, holes punched in the lids. Running free with neighbors, kids I barely knew whose faces take up more bandwidth in my memory than entire presidential terms. Trailing sparks and hot dogs and the oddly pleasant smell of DEET. None of my fondest recollections involve smartphones or apps or movies geared towards kids. The books we read were on paper that was rippable, the stories never-ending, imagination the magic ingredient.
What strikes me the hardest is how badly I want my kids to have what I had. I see parents all around me, doling out screen time like popcorn and all I want is for things to stay special—as special as they were for me. Not the magic of technology, but the magic of real life, which feels rare today—precious.
So, for now, and as long as I can make it last, here is what I vow to my kids (no matter how much they may hate me for it in the short term):
I’ll keep you from the screen, though it’s so damned hard. I’ll point you to the page and to real-world adventures. I’ll give you memories as strong and as real and as lasting as mine. And, all the while, I’ll pretend I don’t notice when you’re having a blast—I’ll be nonchalant and laissez-faire and lazy. It won't be easy, but I’ll stand by and watch and pretend I’m not there while you’re making your life’s best memories.
While I was pregnant with my second child (my daughter), I became obsessed with sex. It wasn’t a new obsession, but the hormones re-ignited my interest, opening me back up to something I had completely left behind: dirty books. About a decade before, I’d had a rocky, guilt-ridden relationship with the works of writers like Bertrice Small, Susan Johnson and Thea Devine. Luckily, my reacquaintance with the world of word smut came at a very fortuitous moment. It came just after some pretty amazing authors had turned the genre around, modernizing it and making it relatable on so many levels. Even more importantly, for me, who’d been writing for marketing and video games, these authors inspired me, finally pointing out a direction in which I could venture… if only I dared.
There were other factors involved, like a job I couldn’t picture myself doing forever, my maternity leave looming like a last chance saloon: three months to write my book. Three months or bust. Throughout those months of gestation mayhem, I read. And read, and read. I soaked it up, returned to my old love of romantic fiction, re-reading old classics and discovering new favorites; becoming obsessed with some pretty incredible authors and horrified by shit that I just couldn’t finish. Sometimes the shit gave me hope, because if they could do it, why the hell couldn’t I?
And I had a natural deadline: three months after the birth of my child, I had to go back to work. The only issue was that I’d never written that much in my life, was convinced that I couldn’t. Grad School? I’d love to, but no way, I’d have to write a thesis for that! I’d have to finish it. But that deadline, those three months… they just sat there, waiting for me, letting me know that this might very well be my last chance. Ever.
And then it arrived. Or rather, she did: a busy, brassy, beautiful little girl. And I wrote, with her attached to my breast or strapped to my chest. Honestly, it was crap, but I wrote it and I finished it: a filthy-ish novella, set in a small town in Virginia. I never really revised it, but I finished it. It had an end, dammit. Not a good one, but an end.
And I, in the meantime, had begun the long process of learning how to write.
I say begun because I’m only partway through it now and I suspect that I’ll be finished learning when I die. But I got it. I truly understood the drive and dedication that it takes to make that book happen. Plotting? Sure, I can power through. Character? Yeah, I’m getting there. But the best thing I learned was that writing is truly amazing. Once you get your groove, it’s the most magical thing in the world. Here I’d gone and tried being an actress, when all along the voices in my head weren’t interpreting things! No, they were telling me to write the shit down!
So I wrote for real and, with the help of my poor, clueless, wonderful best girlfriends in the world, I made it to the end of a novel. Oh, you girls deserve so, so many vodkas for the hours you listened to me plot and fret and doubt myself. But, with your help, I did it: I made one. A real, honest, whole book. And, with the help of those same amazing friends, I worked on it until it became something close to what it is today. After that, the isolation of working nights and weekends by myself got to be too much and I sought out other lonely writers, who’ve also become friends and today, life is so full and writing has become such a lifesaver and I can’t, for one single moment, take credit for everything that has happened.
Today, my daughter earned a fake tattoo by taking her first poop in the potty and I'm still woozy from signing a book contract, hard at work on my third full-length novel. So, you amazing writers who write your own thing, who forge your own paths (filthy or not), know that you forge it for all of us. And please never stop. Friends, who listen, who critique fearlessly or roll your eyes and can’t even read the smexy bits, know that you help us get through. And you daughters, you tiny ticking time bombs, whose births gave us our last chance at personal fulfillment, well… how can we ever thank you for spurring us on?
There’s only one way I can think of. And that’s to write.
Ok, there. It’s out! Now, for the details: my (fabulous) agent, Laura Bradford, sold my book (Blank Canvas is the working title) to Mary Altman at Sourcebooks in a three-book deal!
Those of you who know me can confirm how very hard it’s been for me to keep this in for so long! I have not the words. Thankfully, I have just the GIF!
More to come when I can write a full sentence again.
I’m writing a lot right now, which is pretty amazing. Actually, the current situation is a bit of a dream come true—daily writing, watching a manuscript expand and expand. But, while the word count increases, I’m just not feeling my story and the characters, they’re… meh. At best.
Thankfully, since the last time around, I’ve developed something of a network of expert writers who, I’m pretty sure, just saved me from a lot of pain. And by pain, I mean many wasted days and angsty tears. Writing, when it goes smoothly and the characters speak to you and the plot works like well-oiled gears, well, that writing is heaven. To me, it’s like a really, really good conversation with a best friend, where you’ve already interrupted each other for three hours and you never ever want to go home. That conversation. But when it doesn’t work, writing really messes with your emotions. It makes you think that maybe you didn’t actually just finish two other books. It makes you feel like you might as well give up because you just don’t have it in you and these stupid characters deserve about a half sentence in a How Not to Write manual. You get the picture.
This weekend, thankfully, when presented with my character/plot dilemmas, a rather excellent group of women helped talk me off the ledge of writing despair and into a better plot. I came out of that conversation jazzed and ready to go. The final piece of advice I received was to try starting with the juicy scenes--the ones I couldn't stop thinking about--and expand from there.
So, this morning, I sat down and started to write. Only, when things got really, really good--when my heart got all tight with excitement and the ideas started streaming in--I stopped. I set it aside and thought, ‘Great, now I can tackle the harder stuff.’ But there’s an issue with that and it’s something I forget about myself: I save my favorite for later. Always. Over the years, I’ve adjusted, forced myself to wear a favorite sweater or dress, rather than pushing it to the back of the closet. The same with books: I save that one I’ve been wanting to read forever, until… well, later. Which I realize is pointless.
It’s weird. I’m weird. But at least I know it, right?
And I even think I know where it comes from. By nature, I'm not a delayed gratification type of person. If they'd given me that marshmallow test as a child, it's pretty clear that I'd have swallowed that thing down in seconds. From the age of five until I was about ten, I had a best friend who knew how to wait. In fact, she made something of an art of it. While the rest of us gobbled our treats down, she collected them. By the end of the day, when the rest of us were just starving for a new round of treats, that bitch always had a marshmallow or ten. Eventually, I learned my lesson. After too many years of disappointment and end-of-day envy, I began to copy her, finally training myself in the art of delayed gratification.
But I'm older now. And I'll eat marshmallows for breakfast, if I want to. Besides, this is about more than a stupid marshmallow.
So, this morning’s new task is easy, because there’s no word count goal and I’m not looking to get any major plot work done. All I’ll do today is draft a fabulous love scene. That’s it.
I wonder if this auto-withholding is a kind of self-sabotage. Am I the only one who puts off the good parts or are there other writers out there torturing themselves for no earthly reason? And, if you've done this, but fixed it, how did you go about that? I'm dying to know.
This week, I'm reviewing a book written by the author/bloggers from Lady Smut. I've had the pleasure of meeting a couple of these ladies and one of the things that's so exciting about romance and its sub-genres is the unexpected writers hidden within the people. Who would have guessed that the little lady in the corner had such a dirty mind or that the brassy broad was such a romantic? But rather than go too far down that road, I give you... Sexsomnia, from the Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires.
It’s erotic romance, no, it’s erotica. Um, no, it’s paranormal. In fact, it’s all three. And why should you have to choose? Whatever your take on it, Sexsomnia delivers some of the things I most enjoy in a book: mystery, magic, hot, hot sex… oh, and love. Never forget the love.
I went into this expecting pure erotica, since Sexsomnia is presented alongside some pretty dark examples of the genre. But it mixed me all up, swinging me into the world of erotic romance and then back, finally landing me—elsewhere.
Because I’m me, I’ll dive right into my favorite bits: the naughty ones.
Shy economist, Jenny, is tired. Luckily, she befriends a sleep disorder specialist who helps her figure out what’s going on. What Jenny discovers is that her nightlife is much more active than her waking hours and, if her exhaustion, along with the “musky stank” on her body is anything to go by, she’s not your garden-variety sleepwalker.
The novella’s setting has a camp-like atmosphere, which thankfully provides Jenny’s sleepwalking self with a contained environment in which to frolic. Although, that’s really not the right word, since, what Jenny’s body (or Jennifer) does in those night-time hours is pretty darned nasty. She teases, she tortures and, above all, she gets it on with hot biologist, Turner—the guy Jenny hasn’t had the guts to talk to in the light of day.
After all this powerlessness, Iva gives Jenny the chance to take back the night—allowing us readers to experience Jenny’s unconscious meanderings, for the first time, alongside the character. The scene that emerges is full of sensual self-discovery, during which this shy academic finds out just what it takes to turn her own crank. It’s sexy and filthy and oh so delightful.
What pulled me from Jenny and Turner’s story was a bit of (unintentional) promiscuity, which, in my mind, moves this from erotic romance into the realm of erotica. After that, it swings toward the paranormal and the forces Jenny must face are larger than herself. You feel for the woman, you really do. Her body has gotten away from her and she’s trying to keep up. I couldn’t help but root for her.
Overall, the sex is frank, the writing clear, the prose easy on the brain—and there’s humor. Besides a few editing errors, which pulled me out of the fascinating weirdness of this story, I was in it, completely. Sexsomnia pushes envelopes and shifts genres—neither of which I’m necessarily comfortable with, but I don’t have to love a genre in order to love a story. Right now, I’m still pulling this one apart…and hoping for a sequel.
The rest of the anthology is interesting, the stories shorter. The styles and subject matters, while all dark, are wildly different and not necessarily what I’m normally into. I would certainly consider reading these authors elsewhere, perhaps in genres that are more along the lines of what I generally read.
I’m just back from the New Jersey Romance Writers’ annual conference and it was great! As a new writer, I went there with no friends, no experience and absolutely no idea of what to expect. I came back with a first place plaque for Blank Canvas, a request for a full manuscript from an Agent and, most importantly, a bunch of wonderful writer friends.
For unpublished authors still hesitating as to whether or not to attend next year, I highly recommend this event. Here are a few important things to remember, before heading out.
Rule #1: Bring a big bag.
For all the swag, of course! I’ve been to conferences and trade shows before, but never to one where the swag was exactly what I wanted!
Rule #2: Rest up.
Get some sleep before you go, because at the conference, you’ll be too busy to rest.
Rule #3: Make friends.
For every person who’s confident, there are about seventeen who are not. Just remember that. Talk to them and they will be forever grateful. I know I was!
Rule #4: Ask questions.
Learning sessions are great, especially for us newbies, because you really do learn a ton about writing, marketing and even surviving. The presenters have lots of valuable information to impart and they’re happy to chat. Don’t hesitate to approach them after a talk.
Rule #5: Finish your book.
Even if it’s not completely ready to go, it’s good to have something to shop around once you’re there. This may be your chance to get some feedback from peers, published authors, editors and agents.
Rule #6: Volunteer!
If possible, spend some time helping out at the conference. This is a great way to meet other writers. It also gives you an in at, say, the pitch sessions, where the volunteers are the first to know when a slot opens up!
Rule #7: Pitch, pitch, pitch.
Take advantage of those pitch sessions offered at many writing conferences. Where else can you immediately gauge reactions to your story and see if your log line works?
Rule #8a: Bring wine.
At the end of the evening, when everyone else is spending exorbitant amounts at the bar, you and your new-found friends can retire comfortably to your hotel room for more chatting, pitch-practicing, plotting and everything else under the sun.
Rule #8b: Bring painkillers.
See rule #8a.
Rule #9: Go outside.
Oxygen is really and truly good for you. Don’t forget to head out the hotel doors every once in a while and get you some.
There’s a lot of satisfaction at completing that last page of a manuscript. Before revisions and second-guessing, outside perspectives, critiques and more self-doubt, there’s excitement. And fear. Lots and lots of fear. I’ve got it in my belly right now—not butterflies. More like angry little guys fighting in there. Churning things up and making my life more exciting, in a virtual way, than it is in reality.
This manuscript, tentatively titled Thirst, is short at about 62,000 words. It’s short and I think it’s choppy, although I haven’t gone back to read it yet. It’s short and it’s choppy and I started it over two years ago—before my daughter was born. This book is the result of more than two years of writing and bringing up children and working the day job and writing the other book in between. Coffees and scotches and moving houses and having babies. Jesus, it’s a wonder I managed to follow the thread at all.
When I wrote those initial few pages, I was sure that this book was a kinky sort of futuristic looking into power relationships. Oh, how wrong I was. It’s not about that and, frankly, it was clearly never meant to be.
This book, which takes place in a thirsty, post-apocalyptic future, takes a different look at love. Not to mention courage and trust and knowing yourself, truly knowing your strengths enough to know how to use them in order to survive. It’s weird how I start these things, these multi-year, word-based relationships, with a very specific view of what I’m writing about. And then it’s thrown on its head.
Well, it’s nowhere near being finished, so I’ve got work to do. I’ll export this as an e-book and read it. I’ll let it surprise me, since I probably won’t recognize two-thirds of the words as my own. Funny how my own words surprise me, each and every time.