Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Post-RWA Recuperation

Tessa Dare accepting the RITA for Regency Historical
Romance Writer's of America's national conference in Anaheim is over.

There was so much stress and planning in leading up to it, I was sure that it would be like my wedding -- over in a flash and leaving me with a compromised immune system. Not so. The three days did blend into one, but every moment was full of opportunity. Yes, I had a schedule (that I sort of kept to), but I had to be open and accessible at all times because I never knew who I was going to bump into (I got all 13 year old fan girl on Zoe Archer in the bar).

It was amazing.

I was able to pronounce empire correctly without feeling pretentious. I learned the true definition of steam-punk (thank you Karina Cooper)as a genre. I even had a discussion about butt plugs and the evolution of what was acceptable in mainstream romance.

I came home with over 100 books, most of them signed by the author. I spoke with many of those authors (who include, but are not limited to, Lynsay Sands, Julia Quinn, Christina Dodd, Suzanne Enoch, Tessa Dare, Mary Wine, Darynda Jones, and Rebecca Coleman... to name just a few).

I pitched to a few agents, all of whom asked for my submission. I tackled in the hallway spoke with a couple editors who also asked for my submissions. Almost everyone, except for one person (if you know who you are, you don't care so it doesn't matter), was accessible, courteous, and receptive.

I've been emailing off the requested first chapters and such over the past few days. I plan to start writing new material tomorrow. As for right now, this very moment, I'm just exhausted. That last hour of the conference, my feet hurt so badly that I wanted to just lay down on the floor and fall asleep. I liken it to that image of the dehydrated man in the desert who just needs to get over that next hill or he might die -- same feeling. Not that I'm complaining about the conference.. I just know that next time I'll need to eat more protein or something (and splurge for a hotel room at the conference site regardless of the ridiculous cost).

Yes, there will be a next time. The conference was so awesome on so many levels. I really, for the first time, felt like a contributing part of the industry. 

See you next year in Atlanta!

Monday, July 23, 2012

You Have Me At A Disadvantage, Sir

The subject here: male vs. female orgasms.

Reader beware, this post may be crude. Surprised? You shouldn't be. I've never been accused of being too classy.

Female virgins are the norm in my genre. It's a tried and true cliche of the young, untried virgin and the experienced rake who initiates her into the realm of pleasure. Sure, there's deviation from this norm, but even when the woman wasn't a virgin coming into this new and oh-sweet-mystery-of-life-at-last-I've-found-you relationship, she may as well have been. Usually her past sexual experiences were sub-par, which generally meant she had never experienced orgasm.


When it comes to sexual gratification, men have women at a disadvantage. They've been experimenting with their 'doofinky thingy' (thank you Mrs. Manno) since their very first bath. One day, it did something miraculous and that meant daily experimentation. It is really, really easy for men to end sexual encounters with orgasms (whether or not anyone else is involved).

Women don't have it quite that easy, especially virgins. Now I know this is not true for all women, but I feel safe in making the generalization that MOST women don't take matters into their own hands and ALL men do (and the ones that say they don't, they lie).

I have read that the romance genre creates unrealistic expectations in women in regard to sexual encounters. I'll agree that romance novels make female orgasm look incredibly easy to attain. I read a few novels (including some written by Fabio) whilst virginal and, yes, when I had my first encounter, I was expecting something... more. Even following that time, I kept waiting for that something to happen. Was it my fault? Did I not work right? Or was my boyfriend a douche-bag that didn't care about anyone but himself? I'll bet you can guess the answer.

I will agree that women should not use romance novels as a how-to manual when it comes to sex (but guys, the whole seduction idea? Maybe you should read a few. I mean, if women think they're sexy, then maybe you could get some pointers). If you take the stories at gospel, yes, you're going to be disappointed both with yourself and your partner (unless you're Salma Hayek and your partner is Joe Manganiello -- then you're good). But if read it for the fantasy it is, the sexual aspects could be inspiring and leave behind a feeling of hopeful optimism.

When it comes to real life, the statistics about female orgasm are really, really sad. Maybe that's why women enjoy the fantasy of the 100% guaranteed orgasm (or 300% in the case of Fifty Shades). Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that women are sitting around all day wishing they were orgasming (at least I don't, I don't know about you), but, when it comes to sex, it would be nice to have the same surety that men do.

It might be funny to write a scene in one of my novels where she does not reach earth shattering heights and assures the nervous guy that everything's all right, it was still enjoyable. Or, she fakes it for his ego's sake. :) Somehow I don't think that would go over well with readers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning to Walk

Ignore the socks.
I was cleared for jogging, wearing heels, and beach volleyball. I plan to do two of the three, but it's going to take time.

I got my first pair of heels when I was eight. I bought them for 25 cents at the local thrift store. They were white leather pumps with a clip on rosette and I loved them. I wore them whenever my mom would let me. Thinking back, I'm surprised at how often she let me.

Today I'm wearing a sturdy pair of heels around the house. It really is just as foreign feeling as transitioning from THE BOOT to sneakers. It's silly to put a lot of energy into something as trivial as heels, but I have a shoe collection that I plan to wear again someday. Call me shallow, but it's a goal that will take working towards.

*Insert smooth segue into writing here*

When I wrote my first book, I was sure it was great. It was going to take the romance world by storm and I would be an overnight sensation. Maybe I wasn't quite that starry eyed, but I did think it was awesome and no one could tell me any differently. When I did get negative feedback, I soothed my defensive spirit by saying the reader just wasn't in my demographic, didn't understand my artistry. I revised and revised and cut/pasted/rewrote/renamed until that book became a Frankenstein. Looking at it now, it is not a bad book, but it's not a great book either (though my mother-in-law would disagree ). I have since gotten over the disappointment and recognize it as a great learning experience.

As was my second book.

And my third book.

Of all my completed novels, I think books two and three are publishable as they are. Book one may be as well, but I'd rather not have it out there with my name associated with it. I would hate for it to be the one book someone reads and the reason they don't buy anything else from me. I have learned so much from the process of creating these novels. I'm an entirely different person than when I started this journey. I know who I am as a writer, I know more about the industry and genre norms. I am part of the writing community. I've come a long way from that first chapter (which I ended up cutting) that I carried around and forced everyone to read.

The RWA conference is just one more step toward being the author I know I can be. Whether or not it provides miraculous connections or leads to contracts, it will be an experience that I can use to hone my craft. I can only get better from here. Do I think I'm ready now? Of course -- but then I thought I was ready three books ago. Each book has been better than the last and I hope I feel the same way even when I am published. I don't ever want to stagnate as a writer. The RWA conference will, at the very least, be a tool to improve. If that is all it is, I will still be grateful for the expereience.

The conference is just one more baby step on the road to publishing (a very expensive baby step). I'm both excited and scared, but know I'll come out of it better than before even if I get nothing but rejection.

I just hope I can do it comfortably in heels.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Secret Stash of Clothes

I have dreams all the time about houses in which I've lived in the past. I always discover a secret basement or a whole floor I didn't know existed.

Today I discovered a secret compartment of my closet. No, I'm not joking. In the far back corner, near my wedding dress, is a whole section of "nice" clothes I've bought for cruises, concerts, etc... I wear the item once, dry clean, then hang it behind my wedding dress and forget about it. There is about 15 years of stuff there.

Disclaimer: the above scenario is fiction.
In the pre-RWA conference stress of wondering what I have that is professional, yet youthful, yet serious, yet quirky, yet edgy, yet respectable I started ordering stuff online (that, and I was laid up and unable to go out for a while). Those items have been trickling in and, guess what? When something is too good to be true, it is. Things are cheaply made, funky fits, and generally unflattering.  Last night, I actually cried. I know, sad.

After my crying jag and subsequent ice-cream fest, I pulled myself together and convinced myself that my appearance is really not important. As long as I have good hygiene, am personable, and show that I am a serious author, no one is going to reject me based on the fit of my trousers. I went to bed last night in a better frame of mind.

This morning, on a whim, I looked behind my wedding dress. It was like finding a hidden room in my house. So many NICE items that I would never wear in my everyday, middle school teaching, suburban Mommy, life. Even more amazing -- things fit. And there were enough black and white ensembles that I can mix and match and pack smart. It's such an awesome find that I expect to wake up and realize it was a dream.

It's wonderful to have that stress gone. Now it can go back to being 100% about the books (which it should be anyway). Yes, I have to pack. Yes, I still need my orthopedic surgeon to clear me for heels. Yes, I still have to reign in my social awkwardness and pretend to be a confident and not-too-weird. All of these things are manageable (yay for medication!). In the meantime, I now have a week and half to have my one-sheets printed in color. I may even be able to take a day or so and write new material. The options seem limitless.

In other news, I've decided to stay at the Hilton Double Tree on the other side of the Marriott parking lot. That means no big fat commute, which is nice. It also means potential for social time with fellow authors and more agent stalking opportunities. Are you going to RWA 2012 in Anaheim?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More One Sheet Madness

I've finished rough drafts on my three completed courtly books. My poor critique partner has a mailbox full of attachments and is probably cursing my name about now. Still not done, but getting there. I need to revise my synopsisisis on Courtly Pleasures and Courtly Scandals. Courtly Abandon will be written from scratch.

As for Possessing Karma, that book is only 20ish% written. I know promoting it is putting the cart before the horse, but I think I need to show that I'm versatile. I will write a one sheet and synopsis on that one, too. Soon. Eventually. Sigh.

Anyway, here are my revised courtly headers (Photoshop is fun) and taglines. Still having trouble with the '25 word or less' aspect of that, but hey...

 A newcomer to Queen Elizabeth’s court, Frances finally gets her husband's attention, and the attention of a killer.

 Amid the revelry of the Queen Elizabeth’s court at Christmas, Mary is desperate to hide her sordid past, but now a new shame threatens her future.

Fear is the only obstacle to Jane's future happiness. She must be brave enough to choose love over security. 
New version:  Trapped in a web of her father’s lies, Jane must find the strength to choose love over obligation

Question -- should my tagline be specific to the story? That's how I was approaching it.  OR should it be specific to my writing'? A riotous romp through Elizabethan England -- or something. I don't know. So tired. And sweaty. And I'm beginning to suspect I may be lactose intolerant. And I need to put away the laundry...

More writing specific tag line fun:
Dancing and drinking and feasting, oh my!
The Elizabethan court, deflowering maidens since 1558!
Loosen your corset and have a glass of wine. You may need a cigarette after this book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

One Sheet Chaos

Seriously, do I not know what my book is about? I wrote it, for goodness sakes! It's about... ummm.

Good greif.

I plan to have pitch sheets/one sheets on all three courtly books, even though Courtly Pleasures (previously known as Courtly Love) is my under-the-bed book. I figure, at the very least, it will show what I have produced even if it's not sellable.

My trouble lay in paring it down to the key points. I think I'm too close; I see all the little details as very important, too. Not only that, but my key story elements have to be powerfully worded. They must grab you and make you read my book. That's a lot of pressure.

So, to alleviate the pressure, I decided to write this blog. You will get to share in my process of stripping my stories down to their bare bones - but I'm not trying for finesse, just to get words on the page.

Courtly Pleasures:
Frances, suffering from post-partum depression, feels numb. She joins Queen Elizabeth's court at Hampton Court Palace in effort to feel something again. There she undergoes a transformation, Cinderella style, which shocks the pants off her husband. Henry, a slave of duty, has been too busy and stupid to ever notice how lovely his wife was. His service to the crown has gained him enemies -- one of whom is a crazy Papist out for blood and obsessed with Frances. A frequently used plot device, the danger to his wife makes him realize how much he loves her.

Now, to pare that down...
Frances goes to court, rediscovers herself and learns to live rather than survive. Her new joie de vivre gets her husband's attention, and the attention of a killer.

Courtly Scandals:
Mary was told, on the heels of an attempted abortion, that she could never bear children. This means she is not wife material. Her only worth lay in her reputation, which she blows by becoming scandalous over the twelve days of Christmas at Queen Elizabeth's court. Sir Charles, a knight and member of the Queen's guard, believes nobility lies in merit, not title. he wants to save Mary from the court, but also from herself. Mary needs to forgive herself and come to terms with her past and her worth as a person, to realize she deserves happiness, before she can accept Sir Charles. Besides, what do Elizabethan midwives really know about conception and gestation?

Now, paring that down:
Mary has a fling with Charles and falls in love. The problem is she can never marry because she believes she cannot have children. On top of that, she makes herself notorious with scandal after scandal, so no longer has value as a reputable gentlewoman companion. She has to move on and accept that she's worthy of love.

Sigh, still too long.

Okay, so here's Courtly Abandon:
Slutty but lovable Jane has to remarry in order to escape the influence of her abusive father. She chooses a husband, one wealthy and titled enough to ensure she'll never have to see her father again. Love is irrelevant, until Percy shows up. Percy and Jane were childhood sweethearts before her first arranged marriage. He's never forgiven her for not running away with him, but hasn't stopped loving her. Percy is shocked at how worldly Jane has become, but Jane is striving to be even more courtly, a lady, in order to attract the titled husband. On the cusp of success with her viscount, Jane realizes love matters and grows a backbone. With the deus ex machina of Queen Elizabeth, she and Percy get married.

Short version:
Jane and Percy were childhood sweethearts. Four years and an arranged marriage later, Jane is a widow who needs to marry again to escape her father's influence. Percy mans up this time, but Jane has too much fear of her father to trust in love. Eventually she does. The end.

Man, I suck. This is a really pain in the petunia. One thing I have done is (dun, dun, DUN!) created headers. Here they are. Enjoy.

Each story is set in a season, so I went with that rather than cheesy Renaissance Faire images.

Anyway, if you actually took to the time to read all this, take another moment or two to help me finesse my blurbs. I'm flailing here and the RWA conference is in 21 days.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Damn You, Passive Language!

I write in past perfect, third person alternating. I don't know why I decided to do this when I started writing. It wasn't a conscious decision. I assume I was influenced, unknowingly, by gender norms. Most historical romance is written in past perfect, third person. (A recent exception - Keeping the Castle by Patricia Kindl. I recommend it to anyone. A joy to read).

My poor critique partner, Raquel Byrnes, is a trooper when it comes to slapping me regarding passive language. She writes first person present Romantic Suspense and her scenes are active. Of course, I don't have car chases, drug cartels, or hurricanes (Hurricane Erin is coming soon in Bayou Blue, the third Shades of Hope books-- Raquel is awesome) but my story still needs to have a driving pace. Actually, what I have that she doesn't is sex (that's a no-no in Inspiration genre norms). It's hard for a sex scene to feel intense when it's full of had, and then, that, and was.

Ridiculously passive and awkward: He was aroused by her, so he had bent her over the railing.
Active: Aroused, he bent her over the railing.

Yes, I know, that was tacky. I was proving a point. Plus, I never claimed to be classy. Just know that it could have been worse -- much worse.

Right now Raquel is helping me fine tune the start of Possessing Karma. This last critique I received from her was full of yellow highlighted 'had.' Earlier I said she slapped me because that's what it feels like; seeing a page full of yellow squared is really an eye opener. I have to reprogram myself or something.  Thank God for Raquel.

I would say passive language is my biggest challenge -- besides procrastination.

What is your Achilles heel of writing?
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