Meeting Real Writers and Readers

I had to be in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the #dayjob this last week. One of the best parts of traveling for the job is getting to meet the people I usually only talk to online. On this trip, I got to meet two people, one who was already a good friend.

In the last six months, Carolyn Crane has become first a favorite author, then an online friend and then a critique partner. We were hooked up through a bit of savvy writer-matchmaking by Sullivan McPig. This was our first time, after increasingly copious online conversation, to meet in person.

We had dinner twice and, yes, talked a whole bunch. She even introduced me to her husband, who was a little dubious about who the hell I was, anyway. Carolyn got to meet my boss, Laurie, who joined us for some wine. We ruminated on how much the internet has added to our friendship connections this way. Without the internet, it’s highly unlikely that an enthusiastic reader in The Netherlands would have connected me to a writer who lives in another city and with whom I share so much.

The other person I met up with is Susan Doerr, who works at a book publisher (U. Minn Press). We had drinks after work and chatted about books we both love. She’s been lovely to me about my own books and asked lots of questions. When I told her about plans for stories I’m working on (*cough*Rogue’s Pawn 2*cough*), she actually jumped up and down with excitement about getting the “inside scoop.”

We may also have gossipped a little about various industry folks. Shhh….

But the whole conversation made me think about what readers like to know about the authors they read. I fill out the blog interviews and it’s hard to answer some of the questions because I often feel like so much of it is old hat. What can I possibly say about myself that everyone doesn’t already know? It’s easy to forget the enthusiastic readers on the other side of that equation – even though I am one, too.

So, I’m back home again at my house in the country, and savoring the wonderful in-person conversations I was privileged to share with these two very sharp, totally fabulous women. And I’m going to try to remember that, despite the physical distance and the lack of cocktails, real people are on the other side of these conversations.

Here’s to internet friends!

Author Intrusion – and How to Avoid It

Wow – welcome to September everyone!

(And how the hell did THAT happen, anyway??)

I have to give a little shout-out to friend and CP Carolyn Crane, whose book Head Rush is out in paperback today. This is kind of significant because the ebook version came out in 2011, but this particular publisher (Samhain) takes a long time to get their print versions out. In this case, it was too bad for hard-copy readers, because Head Rush is book 3 in the Disillusionists trilogy and book 2, Double Cross, ends on this heart-wrenching cliffhanger. It’s a totally earned cliffhanger (which I rarely think is true), as the title suggests. (If you haven’t read this trilogy, start with book 1, Mind Games – you’ll be glad you did.) At any rate, I feel for those hard copy readers, because I finished book 2 on my Kindle and IMMEDIATELY downloaded book 3. (I may have been chanting something to myself like “no, no, no – it can’t be true.”)

(Apparently I’m feeling parenthetical and all-cappy today – sorry!)

And then it was SUCH a good book. You know how some trilogies peter out by book 3, like there’s just not that much to say anymore? But in others, book 3 is the capstone, the final arch that brings the pillars of books 1 and 2 together into a magnificent edifice. (The other one that springs to mind is Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, which brilliantly tied up the heroine’s entire journey.) I love how Carolyn handled Head Rush, exploring the nature of memory and reality. Deft and wonderful.

Now, you might be sitting there thinking, oh yeah, of course she says these things because Carolyn is her friend and crit partner. She’s totally biased. She HAS to say these things. While it’s certainly true that writers support their friends, the thing is – Carolyn became my friend AFTER I read these books. I read them on Sullivan McPig’s recommendation. (She does a terrific review blog here.) And then I was so impressed by these books that I twitter-stalked her and made her be my friend.  Mostly so we could talk about her hero Sterling and how much I liked him. And so I could complain that I felt CHEATED of certain moments with him.

Carolyn, being who she is, let me bitch and we ended up having a great conversation and the rest is, proverbially, history.

This is an important point, because I *do* have one here. I reached out to this author to talk about her hero and the story and she responded to me. This is something readers do a lot – they take possession, particularly of the hero (some of the bloggers call them “book boyfriends”) and want to communicate with his handler (as the bloggers also say).

Carolyn recently suggested I read another series because she thought I’d enjoy the hero – and she was absolutely spot on. I read the books, tweeted about them, and another gal I tweet with quite a bit responded that she loved this hero, too. We riffed about him and she looped in the author, who I hadn’t met before. The author replied (good) and then started telling us about the hero in her NEXT book and he’s EVEN MORE ALPHA.

And well, hmpf.

Totally defizzled my fizz, if you know what I mean.

Now, I can see why she did what she did. Here are fangirls of her books and she wants us to be fans of not just these books that we already bought, but of her upcoming books. I totally understand this kind of marketing impulse. She’s likely thinking, please don’t be fans of just that one hero.

But I think it was a mistake. She diverted us from talking about something we were really enjoying, killing our buzz. Also, by telling us the next hero would be even more something, she subtly made us think less of the one we’d liked so much. (Who, btw, I hadn’t thought of as particularly alpha, so that sort of impinged on my fun, too.) I think the other reader felt this way, too, because this ended the conversation. We had nothing left to say.

I’m not sure what caution I’m offering here. It’s easy to obsess about social media, to be afraid of missteps. That one little mistake will be a fatal one. But I think the message is to be always wary of letting that marketing urge overtake the social one. Readers and writers love to talk about books and that love leads to sales, which is a good and organic thing. Careful though, if the “leading to sales” bit gets stronger than the “loving to talk about it” bit.

And, on that note, you should totally go buy Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionsts Trilogy. 😀

(Okay, I really just laughed and laughed at myself.)

Focusing a Murky Story

I really wanted to capture how these 4 o’clocks glow in the evening light – their luminosity – but then the focus isn’t crisp. It makes me wonder if it’s always a trade-off between the two.

I’ve been working up the third story in the newly christened Facets of Passion series, which started with Sapphire (last October), continues with Platinum (out in February) and will culminate with Ruby. Normally I wouldn’t have started on this third novella yet, keeping to my established rotation. (And because I need to work on RP2 for all of you bugging me for it!) But Editor Deb asked me to work up a polished partial and a synopsis for her, with an eye to bundling the three books. Very exciting! This is something you only get to do after you’ve proven yourself to your editor and your press.

She’s so funny, because she asked how long it would take me to do that and I said, it depends on the amount of partialness she’s looking for – and I assured her that is, indeed, a word. She told me she told me she needed 20-30 pages of extra sparkly partialness. I love her.

So, at any rate, I’ve been working up Ruby. Even though each story involves different characters, and different emotional arcs, they are intertwined for me, thematically. Ruby is a kind of culmination of the three. (Though I do have an idea for Book 4.) I know this is part of me being a character-driven writer, who doesn’t really plot ahead, but some stories just feel “murkier” than others. The characters in Ruby are more complex people in many ways, with layers of “psychological candy,” as CP Carolyn Crane just put it.

It took me longer than it should have, to work up these sparkly pages – maybe because I felt more pressure, knowing I couldn’t just spin along with the story to see what happened. I reworked the opening several times. The whole thing felt a little formless still. Out of focus But I sent it to the CPs for feedback, cringing, waiting for them to ask me WTF I’m doing.

And they say it’s working!!

Funny how, as a writers, sometimes you just can’t tell.

But Carolyn just told me she thought this is a super strong book shaping up. Which is so good to know. Laura said “very complex and fun stuff!” Marcella just wants more. This all reassured me that the luminosity is there, shining through – and the comments they gave me are helping me to focus it.

Maybe I *can* have both.

Ghost Romance Anyone?

My lovely friend and one of my favorite writers, Carolyn Crane, has a story out in this anthology tomorrow!

Her story, “Old Salt,” is about a snarky woman tour guide at a seaside tourist trap in North Carolina (‘the haunted pier’) who wishes that a certain strapping young sea captain who died in 1870 had a less pathetic haunting technique.

Sounds just fun and fab to me!

Sunshine and Silken Sands

Okay, I’m getting my feet under me again. Thank you, everyone, for all your kindness and support.

I might even have looked at some kitten pictures yesterday. David is egging me on for a Norwegian forest cat. Wouldn’t that be fun?

So, finally, here’s my break-down of the Gulf Coast Writers Silken Sands Conference last weekend. It was a lovely conference and I’m so glad I went, even with what happened while I was gone. A small conference like this lets you have so many more opportunities to hang in a casual way with the editors and agents in attendance. That OMIGODINEEDTOPITCH OCD frenzy just never develops.

It’s actually fun.

So, when I got in, the fabulous conference organizer, Jillian Chantal, picked me up from the airport. My hotel room had a view of the beach.

AND of the pool bar. You folks know me. I just love me a pool bar.

I soaked in the view – and the moisture – then hooked up with Jillian and Angela James, executive editor of Carina Press, to head to this We Got Crabs place next door.

Very fun place. We sat outside, enjoyed the live band. AND they had $2.50 martinis.

There’s Angela, looking happily dwarfed by her martini.

I got to have fresh crab. Even though it took me a while to get the bib open.

Thank you, Angela, for the picture!

On Friday morning, I grabbed a little beach time with Carolyn Crane’s second book in her Disillusionists trilogy, Double Cross. Man, did I gobble up these books. Such a fascinating approach to the use of psychic energy. Her cast of characters is like a deeply twisted Justice League. I’m working on getting her to write more! This is one of my favorite parts of being an author – I can stalk other authors without them being so suspicious and then badger them into giving me more of what I want. Guerilla author – that’s me.

Then Angela took me and two other Carina Press authors out to lunch. Katie Reus and Wynter Daniels were delightful companions and Angela a charming and generous hostess. I got this amazing shrimp boat platter:

Afterwards, we attended Angela’s seminar on building your author brand and author websites. Very informative. And she analyzed our websites, too. She took great care to make us feel like valued members of her publishing family. It was really lovely.

That evening was the costume party – come as your favorite literary character. That’s the picture at the top. Me as Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. I carried the book with me as a clue, but nobody got it. Mainly because very few people there had read the book. Seriously people, this is such a good book! How can I make more people read it???

On Saturday morning, I got to pitch The Middle Princess to a lovely editor from St. Martins, who I’d already chatted with (small conference for the win!), so it was laid back and pleasant. It helped that we sat on the patio overlooking the beach. Okay, it was a little weird because Angela and my Ellora’s Cave editor, Grace Bradley, were also taking pitches at nearby tables. I felt like a pitch-slut. But, I also know that Middle Princess isn’t right for either of those presses and I’m writing stuff for them.

I may or may not have put in a little more beach time after that.

After that, I had lunch with Grace, which was lovely and low-key. The conference provided yummy box lunches and they made a (mostly) Vegan one for her, so we took our lunches and had a long, leisurely conversation. I attended some workshops that afternoon and spent a bit of time at the pool bar with the charming Keri Ford.

This was St. Patrick’s Day and by evening the beach was a MADHOUSE like you would not believe.

I had a lovely low-key dinner with several author friends, Katie, Wynter, Cindy Eden and new friend Manda Collins, who suggested a perfect high-concept pitch for Middle Princess.

Sunday morning – well, if you’ve been reading you know Saturday night and Sunday morning were bad for me. But I did my workshop on the Erotic Story Arc. (Thank you Keri Ford for the pic!)

Grace came to the workshop and had great input. Keri took a pic of us together, but it’s on Grace’s phone and she’s on vacation in the Caribbean, which makes me bitter on several levels. Hopefully I’ll get that eventually and post it here.

The always-generous conference organizers gave me a ride back to the airport, along with Jenny Bent. It was fun to get to talk to her and discover we have surprising things in common. What a delightful person she is.

That’s the round-up. In case you haven’t been reading carefully: try the small conferences. *Totally* worth it.

PayPal Backs Down

A shot from poolside in Las Vegas last weekend. I finally finished my RITA duties (eight novels in eight weeks – oy) and got to read this book. Wow, did I enjoy it. Fascinating new world. Like Anne McCaffrey’s psychics, only grittier.

And, um, yeah – that may or may not be a slice of my winter-white thigh in the photo. I’m working on it, okay?

The big news is: PAYPAL BACKED DOWN on their stupid, invasive censorship policy (which I ranted about before). I’m really loving how the internet is allowing people to speak up and protest nasty behavior like this.

Speaking of which, you might also check out these elegant and hilarious responses to legislative attempts to govern women’s reproduction and reproductive health.

MO Rep. Stacey Newman Proposes Bill to Restrict Vasectomies

Ohio Bill Hopes to Help Protect Vulnerable Men from Dangers of Viagra

(Thanks to alert Bloggobblers KAK and TheAntiM for sharing these!)

And that’s all for today. Tomorrow I’m off to Pensacola Beach (with a bit more of a tan now), to attend the Silken Sands Conference. SO looking forward to this intimate conference with some of my favorite writers and editors.

I’ll try to post pics, etc.!