Thursday, October 16, 2014

Diversification Confusion

There a recent RWR article about the value of diversification in writing. There were a lot of good points made, that the market need is always changing and a steady brand might limit a good writer from bringing in a broader readership.

The problem I have run into with diversification is that my own writing identity is unclear. Voice is, I think, one of the most important aspects of a successful writer. Readers respond to good stories, yes, but they make a connection to the unique voice of the author.

When I was writing Tudor historical romances I knew my voice. There was a consistency from book to book that would help my readership great each book with a sense of familiarity. Yes, each book offered a unique story, but the readers knew what they were going to get.

When I branched into paranormal stories in contemporary settings I redefined my voice. Contemporary meant less formal speech patterns. It allowed the characters to be less confined by social mores. My voice changed and I liked it. Alongside all of that was the fascination with the mystical, with the supernatural -- this influenced my voice too. With this, my identity as a writer shifted.

Then I switched into contemporary. The internal stakes became primary (which is surprisingly difficult for me--I really want to throw in an external problem) and the ancillary characters play a bigger role toward building the small town setting (which is like a character in itself.) Again, shift of voice.

The problem I am left with is: WHO AM I (the answer is not Jean Val-Jean)?

Many writers, to solve the problem with name branding, write under many pseudonyms. I have always been willing to do this, but thought my agent/editor/professional something-or-other would make that decision. I realize now that I should have made that choice when I started to split into multiple writer personalities. I think it would help me compartmentalize my various voices. When people ask what I write, I come across as having no focus and this is not an accurate assessment. When writing these different areas I have focus, I just have a hard time explaining the nuances of each genre.

So, here's my solution:
Historical =  something classic and more formal than my actual name, but with a surname in the first quarter of the alphabet (for shelving purposes). Suggestions are welcome. :)
Paranormal: Elaina Fay (for my 2 daughter's middle names, Elaine and Fay. Yes, I took a page from Stephanie Laurens). And...
Contemporary: Erin Kane Spock, my actual name.

Thoughts?

At least this will help me designate an identity to my diversified voices.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feminine Gross Stuff

It's there in the title. If you're squeamish, stop reading now.

My cake walk of a year teaching art part-time became more labor intensive when the 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher quit right before school started. Being nice, I agreed to cover the post temporarily. Obviously, ELA is something I'm passionate about -- I just didn't want to invest the time necessary to be the full time teacher. English= a lot of grading. Art= almost no grading. I chose to work part time to focus on my writing and my kids.

Week one and two pass with me still chipper about the students, the learning, etc... I'm looking forward to still being able to be there for them even when I'm teaching art, I love their enthusiasm, blah blah blah.

Week three and four pass and the light at the end of the tunnel flickers out. Week five and it's Back to School night and if they get a new teacher at this point the kids are going to have a big transitional time. On top of that individually, my students are awesome: collectively they are not the easiest group of kids I've ever taught.

That brings us to today which began with the air conditioning not working (again) and the understanding that I was going to be in my classroom from 7:30am to 8pm (Back to School night, remember?). I constantly rebooted my attitude, but then something else would hit the fan (and yes, I did have a fan courtesy of no a/c - an industrial one that sounded like a train was going down the hall and even made the floor vibrate, kindly lent by the construction guys at the school ). Without going into much detail, during the last period of the day I ended up crying like an idiot instead introducing them to the joys of NaNoWriMo's Young Writer's Program.

Maybe it's harsh to say I was an idiot, but I definitely was not an adult, professional qualified to teach children. My students apologized for being less than angelic, but I realized my true reason for tears was my own sense of failure. I've been teaching for fourteen years and I can't keep it together when the room is eighty-three degrees and the kids are making monkey noises. I can't blame them or the situation, I can only blame myself. I needed to suck it up, grow up, and be professional.

My solution? Thirty minutes of sustained silent reading, and man did I mean SILENT.

So the day ends and I'm frazzled but listening to happy music in major keys as I choose a better attitude and ready myself to meet my student's parents.

And then I use the restroom.

Well, no wonder I felt crappy -- I was bleeding to death! All over the place. Serious murder scene in the staff bathroom. If CSI had come across the evidence, they would have assumed the victim couldn't survive. If I'd had a longer shirt on I would have stayed. As it was I told the male teachers I work with that I had a 'feminine emergency' and they didn't ask me more and just took up the slack (I have a great team). I made my long commute home praying that the layers of paper towels between my underwear and pants would save my upholstery. I sit at home now in my Tinkerbell pajama shorts, my underwear in the trash and my brand new, Not Your Daughter's Jeans pinstripe slacks in the wash despite my intention to only dry-clean.

The good news is that I can now blame my period. Thank you, uterus, for this out. I am not a failure, I am just hormonal and, very possibly, low on iron.

What does this have to do with writing? Not much except that this post began as an excuse for my blogging silence of late. I can make a connection though, if you like... ummmm... well, writing... maybe you can make the connection for me. I'm going to go eat some chocolate.
Why, you ask, did I feel it necessary to write this? To find a moment of zen, perhaps. I spent the drive home composing it in my head and found myself funny, if TMI. Also, I haven't blogged in a long time and have felt the lack of it. So here it is. Take me as I am, lack of filter and all.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Showing Your Sketch

This past week my school provided training about project based learning (PBL) from the Buck Institute of Education (BIE). I'm happy to say that the training was not a waste of time. I came away with some great plans for the year but, even more importantly, I gained tools to help the students recognize that the crazy stuff I do in class is part of a learning process. I always considered my teaching style to be one where I tricked students into learning. Unfortunately I'm so good at it that the students think we're not doing anything until they get that "OH!" moment at the end. Lesson learned: I'm good at projects, I'm bad at linking objectives to the content in a way the kids understand.

During these workshops we participated in an exercise called "Show Your Sketch." You get a ridiculously low amount of time to draw a sketch of a person across the room... then you show it to them. The perfectionists didn't just cringe, they cursed. How can you be expected to share work that is sooooo rough? Doing so makes you very vulnerable to criticism. It's not fair for my artistic skill to be judged after so little time. The purpose of this exercise was not to show how bad we were at art, but to open ourselves up to critique early in the creative process, to be vulnerable, and to be all in it together. My colleagues and I all had that, "a-ha!" moment and were able to apply this early/often critique need to the project designs during the remainder of the workshop.

Writers are not foreign to the concept of perfectionism, insecurity, and critiques. We are constantly revising and praying for a better quality product. Critiques are gifts, even when they make us doubt ourselves. Without them we exist in a bubble. Thank God for being able to show your sketch early and often BEFORE putting it out there to be judged by the writing industry.

As much as I like to think that I'm secure in my skills and strong enough to take criticism and turn it into a better book, I'm freaking out a little right now. For whatever reason, I'm comfortable sending my manuscripts to complete strangers, but when I got a  request from a writer friend, I got all nervous. It might be easier if I was showing a sketch, or the first chapters of a book in progress: sending a completed, revised, revised again and then one more time, manuscript to a friend (who asked for it, which is a blessing in itself), someone I've known for years, makes me doubt the quality of my product. The vulnerability involved here is tremendous and it shouldn't be. I can't place why -- I only know that I'm trying to write right now, and keep wondering if she's reading, what she thinks, etc... and can't get it out of my head.

On that note, I'll put my contemporary aside and get back to planning my projects for this year. I may be teaching middle school art (which was the plan) or 7th and 8th grade English (which meets a need), so I'm prepping for both.

How do you feel about showing your sketch? Any advice for taking criticism?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stupid Alphas

At the Romance Writers of America conference in San Antonio this summer I attended a workshop titled Deconstructing the Alpha. To be honest, I only attended because Eloisa James was one of the moderators and I have a fangirl crush that leads me to believe everything she touches will be golden (justifiably so).

I have struggled with the alpha male ever since I cracked open my first romance novel. He frequently frustrates me. Usually arrogant and domineering, it doesn't make his personality any more palatable to see that he's right in most instances. As a reader I think one of the factors that makes a book re-read-worthy is that you fall in love with the guy a little. I have a hard time falling for the alpha .

That said, alpha sex is hot (disclaimer: the modern alpha male is no longer the date rapist from the '70s -- I can't even read those plots without gagging. It's one of the only things that will make put down a book unfinished). In the workshop, the authors and editors hosting discussed why the modern woman responds to the alpha. In a world where women are expected to be super mom and super executive and super hot, it's a great fantasy to have that cave man who will carry throw you over his shoulder and be counted on to provide for his woman's every need. Sophisticate that a few notches and you have Gabriel Cross. The uber powerful, ruthless, unattainable, implacable, hard bodied demigod who has a soft spot for that one woman. The alpha is a fantasy in regard to appeal and resources, but also in that the woman tames him (breaks him like a wild mustang, painfully, without a horse whisperer) and, ultimately, she has the power because she has his heart (or other parts as the case may be).

I write about this today because I'm trying to write an alpha. I think my fatal flaw is in including his point of view. Already, I've made him too vulnerable. I went for someone who strategizes and assumes the role needed to win in a Machiavellian vein rather than a straight up confident/arrogant master of the universe. Strategists weigh probability, consider outcomes -- and this is taking me out of alpha territory. Would an alpha care about the outcome? Not really, because he KNOWS he's right. My pseudo alpha might be too human.

This my fifth book and my first attempt at alpha. I chose this course on the advice of a friend. I'm trying to hybrid the sexy hard edges of Sylvia Day with the quirky fun of Kristan Higgins and I think I have to step back and regroup. It may be like trying to cross a tea cup poodle with a Saint Bernard--what could possibly go wrong?

That I'm writing this book at all is a departure for me. Call me a whore in that I'm writing what I think will sell (versus my other books which I wrote because I wanted to tell the story). I'm not prostituting my talent completely though, because I really am invested in this story (now). It's actually the best pre-plotted story I've created so far (pantser!), but I'm worried it's not staying the course (which makes it more organic, a good thing) and who knows how it will end?

Sigh.

Point of this blog post: Do you like alphas? How do you define an alpha? Do you think seeing the alpha's gooey center is a turn off or downplays his power?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stalking Agents

This will be my third year at the Romance Writer's of America conference and every year I use their spreadsheet of agents hearing pitches to create a stalking list. It's not creepy at all. Well, maybe a little -- I prefer to think of it as being prepared.

I make a list in order based on how well I think we'll fit. I include their picture, a list of clients that I have read and those that seem to be similar in theme/voice, and a quote from their site about what they're looking for. The list has been helpful (even though I remain sans agent)

I write this today, not to creep you out, but to share an epiphany. Year to year I use the RWA area of interest grid to update my prey potential agents and it changes very little. This year I noticed that only half the agents want paranormal romance. Given that I am pitching one paranormal and halfway through a second, I have to curse under my breath. Three years ago they all wanted paranormal. This year they all want contemporary. Did that last year? I don't know, I didn't look for that information because I only had historical and paranormal. This year I'm adding contemporary to the mix and it seems like a smart move.

My point? I was using the grid to see if I'd want them, if I had a chance. It never occurred to me to use the grid to guide what I should write. In a way, the grid acts as a not-so-secret view into the mind of the agent based on what they think they can sell. It is a prediction, if not of future trends, of what IS selling. Of course I wanted to be aware of the market and I did that by looking at the best seller lists, etc... I realize now that RWA gave me a tool, a comprehensive list of things agents actively want. I'm just lucky that this year I have something to offer within that area. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Making the Dress



A few years ago I wrote a post about how Irish dance is like writing. Basically the analogy was based entirely on how you don't quite realize what you've gotten yourself into until you're neck deep. Irish dancing, I thought, was just a nice little dance class where the girls didn't have hooch-y costumes. It's not. It's a huge competition based tier system with increasing difficulty and expense, but once you've invested yourself there's no getting out.

As Irish dancing is not just about dance lessons, writing a book is not just getting the story out, it's immersion in a writing community, hours of inspiration and perspiration, lack of sleep, excitement and dismay, great and crappy writing, and all of it hinging on non-objective opinions that could make or break you, but once you've written that first book there's no getting out.

Lily's dancing is now at the point where a solo dress is required (not technically, but it's allowed and not having one might put her at a disadvantage). Without going into every step of the process (which began months before I ever put scissors to fabric), I designed, redesigned, researched, watched tutorials, analyzed the current trends, made a bodice, started over with a whole difference fabric, made a dress, cut off the sleeves and made new ones, beaded and
embellished, removed beads and added better ones and, when it was finished and Lily was dancing happily in it, I still saw room for improvement. I'm adding more embellishment before the next feis, just a bead here and there that, from the audience perspective (you can't see these things when you're too close) were clearly missing.

I have written books and thrown out chapters. I
recently threw out most of my first book in a rewrite attempt that basically turned into a completely different book. I've taken critique that I didn't understand until I gave myself space from the project. I've put a lot of work into things that will never see the light of day and I've gotten better with each step. Lily's dress is fine, but I know that it's not going to be the best I'll ever do, and that makes it hard to put it out there and be open to criticism.

Lily did not place high enough in any of her dances to be promoted to the next level and that's fine with me. This dress is a fine novice level dress, but not prizewinner.


As I get ready for another conference, I have to take a look at my writing from a distance and see how it stacks up against what's out there. Does it stand out? Does it stand out for the right reasons? Does it stand out so much that it doesn't belong? This is all something that is hard to determine from a close perspective. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Genius Lost

I have a fair to middling commute daily during which time I listen to talk radio, sing along with my iPod playlists, or drive in silence.

Driving in silence, more and more, is becoming the norm. During this time I brainstorm plot lines, get to know characters, and come up with amazing blog posts. The problem I have is transferring all this genius down later. The result? My blog posts are few and far between.

Blogging used to be a precursor to writing. I would check the blogs on my feed, compose a post or two, then get down to the dirty work. Time seems scarcer of late, so if I want to write forward in my manuscript, I can't dillydally. My blog has suffered.

But, oh, those unwritten posts would have rocked your world. :)

In tribute to those never-written posts, I leave you with this. Enjoy.


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