A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

This is my Ellora’s Cave editor, Grace Bradley, sharing a meal and cocktails with me and Laura Bickle. I’m not sure why Laura looks so glowy – must be her radiant spirit.

This week I’m doing a series of posts over at Novel Spot, for their “Behind the Scenes” feature. This series lets authors tell, over the course of seven days, how they got where they are today.

So you can go see Day One: The Before Time and Day Two: Putting It Together, Making It Happen.

It was interesting to write these, to go back over the last twenty-some years and see how my writing career – and my ideas about it – have changed. And grown. Always a good thing to see some growth.

I think you have to register and log in to comment there, which I know is a  pain, so feel free to comment here!

Battle of the Butt Ruffles

I’m back from convention!

And getting my bearings. While I recombobulate, I have a bit of a contest to offer you.

See, because Marcella, Laura and I are all on the cutting edge of fashion (ahem), we all ended up wearing butt ruffles to convention. I know – it truly boggles the mind.

Highly amused, we decided to take pics and let YOU, our fond audience, determine which butt ruffles belong to which person.

Choose wisely.

Keep in mind we returned burdened with swag and free books. I myself, scored a copy of Anne Rice’s new book.

(You’ll also be glad to know that I didn’t lose my fangirl mind and get lipstick on her or anything…)

Let’s hear those guesses!

Tag You’re It! Lucky Sevens…

Okay, I got tagged once before and ducked it, but @katiebabs tagged me today. Since I didn’t post to the blog today and likely won’t tomorrow morning, I gave in. I adjusted slightly though to keep it PG. Here’s the deal.

It all started when Thea Harrison posted this on her website:

“Whee, authors are tagging each other to post 7 lines from page 77 of our latest book or current manuscript, starting after the 7th sentence.”

So here’s mine, from the recently completed and sent to my editor, Platinum.

“Come on down, princess!”

She held onto the rail and clicked down the unsteady stairs to find a grinning Steel waiting for her, swathed in his welding coveralls, goggles perched on his head.

“I’m glad you stopped by—I need you.”

“I can’t stay long.” She scanned the room, wondering what he had in mind, but he held up a digital timer, ostentatiously holding his thumb over the start button, the display showing thirty minutes.

Off to Convention!

It’s that time of year again: the RT Booklover’s Convention!

I head out tomorrow morning and I will *try* to keep up with pics and gossip here as best I can. (But those of you who’ve followed along before know how well this usually turns out. I always think I’ll have plenty of time and then suddenly it’s Sunday, I’m on a plane home and all I can remember is a blur of faces and one, long, nonstop conversation. I suspect time-warp – I really do.)

If you’ll be there, look me up! Here are some for-sure appearances:

Tuesday, 6:30 pm, Ghost Tour – this should be super-fun. And Cindy Spencer Pape and I will likely be in the hotel bar afterwards.

PANELISTS: Lynne Connolly (AKA Lynne M. Connolly/Lynne Martin), Seleste deLaney, Jeffe Kennedy (AKA Jennifer Paris), Cindy Spencer Pape (AKA Cian Fey), Hunter Raines (AKA Lacey Savage), LaVerne Thompson (AKA Ursula Sinclair)

Wednesday, 3:30-4:30, Reader Party! – THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE SIDEKICK
HOSTS: Laura Bickle (AKA Alayna Williams), Marcella Burnard, Jeffe Kennedy (AKA Jennifer Paris)

Wednesday, 9:00-Midnight, Party! – ELLORA’S CAVE STEP UP & STOMP



Saturday, 6:15-7:30, Party! – FAN-TASTIC DAY PARTY

Saturday, 8-9, Moar Party! – CARINA PRESS COCKTAIL PARTY
Join Executive Editor Angela James, Carina Press authors and other members of the Carina Press team for cocktails during a celebration to thank everyone for their support as we head into our first anniversary!

Saturday, 9-Midnight, Still MOAR Party! – HARLEQUIN DANCE PARTY
Harlequin Enterprises hosts a spectacular dance party and an evening of glamour where you will meet the stars of romance.

I’ll be at workshops and private events here and there, too. Otherwise your odds are pretty good of finding me in the bar. Look for the hat. Feel free to stop by and pull up a chair!

Deciding on Genre

The conversation prompted by yesterday’s post on writing in multiple genres, both on the blog and elsewhere (sorry, some people ping me in other venues, rather than commenting – it’s all good to me), has gotten me thinking about genre.

First of all, someone pointed out to me that Kris Rusch posted on a very similar theme yesterday, which is well worth reading. Essentially she agrees that it’s good for authors to write in multiple genres because it broadens audience. She also pointed to a workshop conducted by her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, on writing to genre and genre conventions. She kind of complains that only a few writers sign up for this every year, implying that this shows poor business sense.

On top of that, I’m cross-posting this to the Here Be Magic blog, because someone else wasn’t able to, and the theme this month is “Fantasy Romance Favorites.” For those of you not in the swim, fantasy romance is its own sub-genre now.

So I blithely agree to cross-post, then starting racking my brain for fantasy romance books. You’d think this would be easy for me, since Rogue’s Pawn, the novel I have coming out July 16 from Carina, is fantasy romance.

Heh. And yet – not so much.

See, if I’d taken that workshop from Dean Wesley Smith, I would have written the book to the genre I picked. I can see how this would make good business sense. I totally did not do this. I started out with a character. I knew she was a scientist and that she became a sorceress. There were seed images and feelings that I dreamed. The stuff with the bathing chamber deep underground and the Black Dog – all stuff I dreamed.

(I know very few of you have read it yet – soon, soon!)

I did *not* dream the genre. Nor did I decide, “oh! I’ll make this a fantasy romance, which means I need to follow this genre conventions.” No, I wrote the story and there ended up being this waltz of seduction with a manipulative Fae in the story and there were my romantic elements.

Did this method cause me problems? Of course it did! I can tell people it’s kind of like Jacqueline Carey and a bit like Anne Bishop, kind of like Diana Gabaldon and with hints of J.R. Ward. Which, if you have read those writers, probably sounds like a muddle.

Would it have made better business sense to take Smith’s workshop and get good at writing within genre conventions? Probably so.

And yet. I don’t wanna.

This might mean I will never be a hugely best-selling author. Today, I am at peace with that.

Categorizing books by genre help readers find what they want, but that way of defining is only one tool. As readers, we all know it doesn’t always work. How many times have you have to ask the person in the Big Box Bookstore where they shelved a particular author? When I was on my Laurell K Hamilton kick, I had to ask. They’d put her under Mystery. Okay. I’ve read numerous pieces speculating that Fifty Shades of Grey has hit this new audience so big because none of them know it’s a romance novel, much less “erotic romance with BDSM elements.” Young Adult (YA) didn’t even become a genre until recently. What were reading, those of us who were young readers in the 70s and 80s? Hard to say.

This is my problem as a reader, thinking about Fantasy Romance Favorites. Does Jacqueline Carey count? I bet not, because the romantic arc, while important, isn’t the main backbone of the stories. The ISBN has it under “Kings and rulers, succession,” which really amuses me. 

What this comes down to for me is that the whole concept of genre is a construct. It’s not real. It’s about branding and marketing and expectations and easy sound bites, but it has nothing to do with the actual story.

And isn’t the story what it’s really all about?

Being Practical about Writing in Multiple Genres

Don’t worry – the snow is all gone now and we’re back to spring sunshine. I just thought it looked really neat, the way the snowy tree made a cave with treasures beneath.

So, Rachelle Gardner, literary agent, posted on her blog today a whole bunch of really good reasons for debut authors, in particular, to stick one genre. Yeah, we’ve all heard this advice multiple times. Stick to one genre. Build an audience. Develop your brand so readers know what they’ll get when they pick up your books.

It’s undoubtedly good advice. Angela James, who you all know I think is a smart cookie, gives the same counsel. I appreciate that agents and editors take the time to explain these things. It’s helpful for writers to get the business perspective.

But that’s exactly what it is: the business view of things.

Of course that’s how editors and agents see the world of writing. That’s their job. Books are more clear from their side of the desk. They like the genre to be clearly defined, from manuscript to where it will sit on the bookstore shelf. They know about building readership and how that best works. Thus it’s easy and simple for her to give advice such as:

If you’re writing in several genres and you’re not published yet, be aware that the first book you sell and publish will determine the genre you’ll be working in for quite a while. Choose carefully!

To me, this is akin to the advice to pick your top three dream agents and direct all your efforts to winning their representation. Again, I’m sure this seems very clear from the other side of the desk, but for a writer who’s trying to wedge her stories into a difficult market, this is far from an easily defined effort.

For example, let’s talk about me. (My favorite topic!) I started out writing nonfiction – personal essays, creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction. I did fine. But not well enough to make a living at it. Then I got the Burn to write this fantasy, full of sex and romance and science. All you writers know what I mean by the Burn, right? It’s when that story idea is smoldering away, like money burning a hole in your pocket, dying to be spent. The Burn is what makes the story come to life for me. And when it’s not there, it seems the story just stays this wooden construct, a corpse on the slab.

Unfortunately, my wonderful fantasy was not a clear genre. I couldn’t sell it. (Though I have now – that’s Rogue’s Pawn which comes out July 16!) So I wrote the next book. And in between there, I did what Rachelle says not to do. Rather than focusing on one genre, I wrote a BDSM erotica, Petals and Thorns. I sold that nearly immediately.

See, the thing is, agents and editors make these things sound like they’re under our control. From their perspective, I’m sure it seems that way. Choose carefully! But very often what sells first is dictated by the market, not by what we decide.

Rachelle says: I don’t hear Stephen King bemoaning that no one wants to read an Amish romance from him.

This is actually a really bad example because, as many writers know, Stephen King really wanted to write more literary, contemporary fiction. He has written some of it. And I’ve read interviews where he talks about how, by selling Carrie first, that set his path. He didn’t choose it. He was poor, eking out writing time and trying lots of different stories. That’s the one the market fastened on.

Rachelle says we need to focus on our main goal: to sell books. Now, while all authors love to sell books, I feel it necessary that it’s really the agent’s main goal to sell books. As it should be. Selling books is a wonderful thing because it means people read what we write and it brings in the monies, which enables us to write more books. Because, really and truly, for most writers, our main goal is to write. If my main goal was to sell books, I’d be an agent or a publisher or a bookseller.

I’m not those things because I’m a writer. Writing stories is the most important thing to me.

So, while I think it’s good for us to consider the marketing perspective, in some ways I think this kind of advice is fundamentally unhelpful. It’s how the agents and editors would like us to think and we can try to harmonize with that. But I also think that writers are dancing to a different melody. We’re following the Burn.

There’s rarely anything practical about that.

The Product of Sex Coaching

Does anyone remember the Mickey Mouse Club on TV? They’d run around singing “Today is Tuesday – we’re gonna have a Special Guest!” Like it was totally the Best Thing Ever.

Today *I* have a Special Guest! And she may or may not have referred to me as her sex coach, which tickles me so. Please welcome Marcella Burnard, celebrating the release of ENEMY MINE. I’ll buy a copy for a lucky commenter!

It was a priority-two alert for beautiful Commander Cashel Khaleize: a contract put out on the life of Xiao Zhong. Professionally, Xiao was the Captain she reported to. Personally, he was man she desired. But as female Guild Assassin Mekise Tollenga closes in, Xiao wonders if even Cashel can be trusted with his safety. And with a tenuous bond between them, Cashel wonders how far she’s willing to go to earn that trust.

Amazon Barnes&Noble

Enemy Mine began as a dare issued in the midst of an instant messenger conversation. I think I made the comment that I wished I could write something sexy. Jeffe instantly said, “You totally could.” I laughed and said, “Doubt it.” She said, “Bet you could.” After a bit of possibly childish back and forth, I relented and said, “Fine. I’ll try. But it’ll suck.”

“No, it won’t,” Jeffe declared. “I’ll be your sex coach.”

Okay. It didn’t really happen like that. But Jeffe did offer to act as a resource – in case I had questions about the arc of an erotica (as opposed to the arc of my usual scifi romance novels). I did have questions. Lots and lots of them. Ultimately, I’m not sure who won what or where. I set out to write an erotica, but this story isn’t that quite. Hot? Yes. With a few minor BDSM themes thrown for good measure, because the romance was much more fun that way. Throughout the process, Jeffe very patiently answered questions, and explained psychology. She’s just that kind of friend.

I’m sure I owe Jeffe at least one drink at the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention being held in Chicago. I mean, she offered expert advice – no, I will not specify what kind – and even kindly critiqued the various drafts of Enemy Mine. If you’re going to RT, look for us in the bar! Or check in at one of the reader parties or the book signing. I have silly goodies to offer. You see, to celebrate the release of the novella, my twelve-going-on-thirteen year old niece helped me assemble swag for RT. We stapled glow in the dark, bug-shaped rubber bands to cards with the novella cover – just silly, fun promotional freebies. (Yes. I’m *that* aunt – the one corrupting the preteen.)

She looked at the cover. “What’s it about?” she asked.

I shrugged. “It’s mostly sex.”

“Oh.” All interest went out of her eyes. “Can I have a bug band??

For helping me staple two hundred plus of those things? The kid got a bug band. If you’re in Chicago in mid-April for the convention, come find me, and get your own bug band. If you read Enemy Mine, I’d love to hear your assessment of the story. Scorching sexy? Slightly toasty? Luke warm? Of ice age?