Sunday, July 10, 2011

the stories that change us

If you've ever read a novel you couldn't stop thinking about, where you cared about the characters as if they were dear friends, where you couldn't wait to get to find out how it ended but mourned when there was no more to read, then you've probably found yourself wondering: How did the writer do that? How did they make me care so much? How did they make me like (or loathe) that character?

Even as a child, I tried to pick apart the books I loved best to discover why they affected me so profoundly. The first books I remember doing this with were Bambi by Felix Salton and Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter. The longer I worked to disassemble the gears, though, the less I understood the mechanics. At some point I finally gave up and decided that great writers were akin to great magicians. It was better to simply enjoy the performance than try to peek behind the curtain.

When I became serious about writing novels the question resurfaced. Finding the answer became more urgent. Though the experience of writing novels helped me better understand the mechanics of how they tick, however, the magic spark continued to hover just beyond my grasp.

Fortunately for me and every other aspiring novelist (not to mention all of us who love to read), Donald Maass never stopped asking the question. As a writer and literary agent, Maass came at it from a pragmatic, businesslike angle. He wondered: Why do some books become runaway bestsellers while others -- even ones written by the same authors -- don't?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

love alone

In the countless hours of media coverage devoted to the royal wedding of William and Kate, you would think that absolutely everything has been commented upon: the historic tradition, the dress, the tiara, the ceremony, the simplicity, the grandeur, the remarkable appearance of trees in Westminster Abbey, the adoring crowds and, of course, the outlandish hats.

Oddly, though, I heard almost no references in all those hours of coverage to what is, to me, the most remarkable aspect of this remarkable marriage: the obvious, radiant love between Prince William and his Kate.

British kings, queens, and those in direct line to the throne have traditionally been denied that which we common folk have long taken for granted: the right to marry for love. From the dawn of the nobility, marriage was a strategic political and business arrangement. Noble -- and especially royal -- marriages have been carefully calculated to amass land and wealth, gain control of strategic military positions, and forge political and military alliances. Love never entered the picture.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

drowning in a flock of classes

Yes, they look cute now... but just wait.
It happens every year about this time, when all the chickens I adopted in January come home to roost.

In this case the chickens are writing classes. Every January, my inbox fills up with promos from the dozen or so writers' groups I belong to for a breathtaking array of classes. As I believe that even a good writer can always get better, I sign up. And sign up. And sign up.

At $10-$20 each, the online ones are a bargain, and even the bad ones generally produce at least one usable tip. Unfortunately, my aspirations always outpace the hours available in my day. Especially in those months when I discover that I've signed up for six classes at the same time (what was I thinking?), I invariably end up archiving the materials for at least half of them. The result: I have stacks of class materials I've never even opened.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

of country songs and romance novels

I love all kinds of music, from opera to Celtic to rock. But in my humble opinion the best storytellers to be found anywhere on the airwaves are consistently on American Country music radio.

From Brad Paisley's "Anything Like Me," in which the singer sees a first sonogram of his son and imagines who he'll grow up to be, to Kenny Chesney's "Somewhere With You," about a man pining for a lost love in a heart-wrenching minor key, the folks who write and sing modern country music are even better than Conway and Loretta were at telling stories that speak to the masses and tug at the heartstrings. What impresses me most is that they do it so effectively in three minutes or less.

One crop of songs that has been resonating lately with the romance writer in me deals with the theme of intimacy, with getting to know another person on a very private level. They focus on the gift of being permitted to see the person that most of us never show to the outside world, and with the trust required to let down your guard and expose the silly, messy, vulnerable and sexy sides of yourself to a lover.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

all we have to fear...

And don't you come back!
It's a new year, which means a renewed commitment to marketing my books. Since I'm a professional marketer by day it should be easy. Next to crafting a novel into something that works, however, promoting myself is the toughest job I've ever done.

I've boiled down why, and what I'm left with is the same cold, black lump of coal that virtually every artist faces at one time or another: Fear. Little wonder. Each foray into marketing, each query letter, synopsis, or partial I send is another invitation for disappointment and rejection. Another chance for someone who doesn't know me -- and who knows only the barest details of my work -- to proclaim that it isn't good enough.

As I look at the black lump before me, however, I'm reminded of the auditions portion of American Idol.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

when 2nd feels like 1st

They've finally posted the news on The Golden Network website, so I feel free to announce here at last that my manuscript Traitor to Love placed second in the 2010 Golden Pen contest in the "Novel with Strong Romantic Elements" category.

Placing in a contest is always a great feeling, but I'm at least as excited about this second-place finish as I am about some of the first-place wins the manuscript has racked up. The reason is the nature of the contest.

The Golden Network comprises past winners and finalists in the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart contest. The Golden Heart draws 1,200 entries every year and taps just a handful of them as the most promising, yet-to-be-published voices in romance writing. The Golden Network, therefore, is a group of talented, proven writers who know what makes a romance manuscript work because they've passed a test that is, in many ways, as selective as being signed to a publishing contract.

Monday, September 6, 2010

seven stages of editing grief

I learned a lot about how I process feedback on my manuscripts from a post on Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz's blog about editor and writer Karen McGrath's Seven Stages of Editing Grief. The stages, for anyone else who might benefit, are:

1. Denial: This feedback is stupid and useless. 
2. Pain and Guilt: How could I have made such a mess of this?
3. Anger: Who does this editor/crit partner think she is?
4. Depression: Why did I ever think I could write?  
5. Acquiescence: Maybe I should at least give these comments a serious look.
6. Reconstruction: If I do this and this and that, maybe I can make this work.
7. Hope: This is better than before. Maybe I can even take it a little bit beyond what she suggested.