Most Depressing Person on Facebook

There’s this gal I know on Twitter, Keri Stevens, who’s been posting over the last week or so about this stray cat they took in. A cat that almost immediately produced three kittens. Bemused, she began suggesting kittens as Halloween gifts.

Then the story turned.

Keri doesn’t blog regularly, so the story has unfolded all in Facebook posts and 140-character tweets. But it turned into this kind of horrible, I-can’t-bear-to-look tale. She’d hoped to show her boys the miracle of life and instead they witnessed the blunt cruelty of nature. One of the kittens, Runty, was too small to nurse. Keri suspended all family plans over last weekend to stay home and nurse the kitten hourly.

The kitten died anyway.

Soon followed by another of its siblings. Keri grew increasingly despondent as the days passed and she reported the last kitten was growing weak and momma had moved it to a corner behind the desk. The vet thought that perhaps a kitten had remained in the cat’s womb, turning it septic.

Keri said that we should probably vote her Most Depressing Person on Facebook.

Of course, everyone offered her advice. And it was clear she felt crushed by the responsibility and by her failure to save the kittens.

Yesterday, after the third kitten died, Keri took her “free” cat, which in the end cost her nearly $1,000 to the vet to be spayed, to hopefully save her from the potentially septic womb.

Guess what?

The vet found two more kittens! Alive, healthy and thriving.

No, really.

The vet has never seen anything like it and thinks they may have been in another horn of the womb. These kittens, born a week after the first three, are much larger and healthier, which makes me think the first three were premature. This time, the vet is keeping the kittens for next seven weeks, to nurse them there and ensure they make it. A responsibility my friend gladly relinquished.

I told Keri she needs to use this story in a novel. When readers complain something like that could never really happen, she can say oh, no! It did! It did happen!

It seems we so rarely get the happy ending in real life. Part of it is the nature of storytelling. What will Keri post now? Kittens are doing great! Kittens are getting bigger! Kittens still doing great!

But now they have a special existence as the miracle kittens. No longer is this about a stray’s get that will have to be distributed around Halloween. The three kittens who didn’t make it are now just the darkness before the dawn.

After the dawn, the glory of that moment, we segue into the long day.

But maybe the sun is just a bit brighter.

Writerly Angst

My mom said yesterday that my recent posts sound full of writerly angst.

I mentioned it to one of my writerly friends, Marcella, and she asked if my mom reads the comments to my posts.

“Sometimes?” I ventured.

“See,” Marcella said, “the comments on your posts are all the ‘oh, yeah, I hear you’ type. Nobody is telling you to chin up or that things will get better. That,” she concluded, “is how you can tell if you’re leaking too much writerly angst.”

Marcella is very wise.

What normal people don’t understand, she agreed, is that writers are pretty much always full of writerly angst of one kind or another. It’s really just a matter of how much normal people notice it. We’re kind of like highly functioning alcoholics. Most of the time, we seem like everyone else. Until you notice that we always have a drink in our hands.

“Oh this?” we say with nonchalance, swirling the wine in the glass, “no, no – this just the usual.”

Then we kick the empty wine bottles behind the recycle bin.

My folks have friends who do something like this. On recycle day, he goes up and down the block putting empty wine bottles in other people’s recycle bins, so it doesn’t look like there are *so* many in theirs.

We all have our issues.

The hummingbirds area study in frenzied activity right now. We have a regular crew of five to seven rufus hummingbirds flying about in a near-constant assault on the feeders. They’re forever zooming in, squabbling, squeaking, snatching a drinking and rocketing off again. I’ve been playing with the tripod, getting action shots.

I’m getting a new camera for my birthday – everyone who loves me is chipping in for it and I’m tremendously excited. I’m graduating from my point and shoot. Hard to say if my photos will get better with a better tool. I’ll have a steep learning curve.

You can look forward to me posting about it, full of photographerly angst. Which just doesn’t sound nearly as profound, does it?

But you all can stand ready to tell me to chin up, stick with it.

Or hand me a glass of wine.

Sweet Peas and Gratitude

Remember back in March when I planted my sweet-pea seeds and wondered how they’d do here?

Oh yes – so very pretty.

I was all about planting the seeds then, about six weeks into what would become The Body Gift. Full of hope and uncertainty.

Now my sweet peas are blooming, The Body Gift is done, but I’m still waiting to gather my rosebuds.

(I know – I’m just full of poetic references these days. No, I have no idea why. I’ve been working on burning fat. Perhaps the old lines of poetry, like emotional energy and toxins get stored in the fat cells, too? When that cell is emptied, it all dumps into the bloodstream, pathos and literature together.)

What I’m reaping lately is favors. People have been helping me in a way that touches my heart. An author friend wrote an email to her agent introducing me and saying all kinds of nice things. An editor friend gave me a list of agents she likes and told me to drop her name at will. Another author friend maneuvered me at convention to sit next to agent and editor friends.

I’m supposed to be good with words, but they fail me on this.

To have people go so out of their way to help me – well, it moves me. I get a little teary about it. So many people complain about the cutthroat nature of publishing, the competition, the professional jealousy. It’s the incredible generosity that stuns me.

The Body Gift has all the help she can ask for. Two of my readers promise me comments soon, so I can take action if the novel isn’t snapped up.

If I don’t hit it with this novel, it’s not because no one cared.

Waiting for the Rain to Fall

I love living in a place where I can watch the rainstorms arriving.

This is how a lot of our weather hits – a train of thunderclouds rolling up the valley from the Sandias. Clearly you have to be in the exact right path to get the rain. Fortunately, it’s a slightly different path every day, so everyone gets the rain at some point.

Much is made of being in the right place at the right time with publishing. It’s true of all endeavors. Serendipity, synchronicity, just plain luck – all factor into whether something hits the right person at the right moment. In publishing, I think it’s particularly easy to observe, because the business is so terribly subjective. Reading is for pleasure and what gives people pleasure is something that’s constantly changing.

You have to hit the right agent at the right moment, who hits the right editor at the right moment, who hits her administrators and marketers at the right moment, who do their best to stack the deck and manipulate the market, but in the end, you have to hit the right readers at the right moment.

Small wonder full many a flower is born to blush unseen.

(No – that’s not me. It’s Thomas Gray. Just in case you were inclined to give me more credit than I’m due.)

But the flip side is, if you patiently persist in waiting, one day the rain will fall on you. Maybe on many days. I’m quite sure, however, that if I spent my days dashing about the valley, trying to get under the rain, I might hit it more often, but I’d exhaust myself in the process. Besides, it’s hard to move a whole garden around.

Some days, the rain dries up before it reaches us. Or it takes an abrupt turn. What looks like a sure thing can evaporate in moments. Other days, the rain sneaks up from another direction, slipping over my shoulder from the north with an abrupt drenching.

It’s not something I can control.

The people who are reading my novel read at their own pace. I won’t know what they think until they tell me. In their own time, according to their own busy calendars.

Until then I wait. Enjoying both the sunshine while I pray for rain.

I Need a Heroine

We’ve fallen into our pattern of afternoon monsoons here in the high desert of New Mexico.

Our mornings are bright and clear for the most part. Mid- to late-afternoon brings the storm clouds. Black bottomed, they lumber up the valley from the Sandias and drop rain in great washes of benediction.

The dog cowers in terror at the storms, sleeping as nearly under my chair as he can manage, while the cats snooze in the cool damp air.

Sunset blazes into glory, illuminating the scattered storms, turning the clouds into pink and cold fantasies. Sometimes the rain comes in again, rising and falling through the night.

Apropos of nothing, I know. But it sets the pattern of our days.

I haven’t liked the last couple of books I’ve picked up. I thought maybe it was me and my mucus-addled, over-tired brain, so I kept trying. One, though, I’ve given up on. I just couldn’t like the heroine. She’s a succubus and a victim. She staggers from one sexual encounter to another, as she has for centuries. The sexual acts are unrelentingly graphic and, worse, repetitive. I know this might sound funny coming from me, but I get bored of it. Worse, I feel soiled. I know that she must get her act together at some point, become strong and triumph over all. In my heart I don’t believe it. She’s not real to me and I’m halfway through. I couldn’t bear it any more. I finally put it down.

The book I picked up is by a totally different premise, by a Famous Author, who I hadn’t read before. This heroine is sweet, nobly wanting to save everyone. She is also a victim, passed over at work, unlucky in love for unclear reasons. I’m wanting to like her and I’m having a hard time. I don’t quite understand why the author is so highly regarded. The insidious thought creeps in, even as I’m talking to editors and agents about my own beloved novel, will I become one of these authors who resents the bestsellers?

I’ve never been that sort of person.

But the market is funny now. There’s gluts of certain kinds of books, publishers hopeful of tagging along with a trend. Everyone is searching for the new permutation of the kick-ass heroine. Maybe the drug-addicted, the abused and overlooked are the natural starting points. Maybe it’s just me.

I find what I’m missing is really good characterization. I mentioned the other day that Susan Elizabeth Phillips advised that you should write characters the reader can’t bear to be parted from. Her heroines are not always admirable to begin with. In Ain’t She Sweet, the heroine was a stuck-up, nasty girl in high school who treated people badly. She returns to her hometown, where everyone hates her, broken and defeated by life. By the end of the book, you just love her and how she overcomes it all.

Susan is right – when I think of the books I love most, I think of the characters. They’re like real people to me. I miss them and sometimes go back to re-read, just to spend a little time with them again.

That’s the magic.

Like a Bolt from the Blue

The great thing about a lightning storm is you don’t have to be all that lucky to see it.

Contrary to the common wisdom about lightning, it strikes lots of times, over and over. I set my camera up on a tripod on our patio last night and just kept pressing the button until I caught the lightning. It didn’t take long. A little persistence. A lot of faith. And being willing to enjoy the night and watch the show while you wait for the perfect opportunity.

A lot like writing, yes.

Allison asked me if I was going to get my “First Sale” ribbon for my nametag at National. She was surprised that I said no. Technically, I could have, for Petals & Thorns, my Loose Id novella. Because, oddly enough, my erotic take on Beauty and the Beast qualifies as a first sale in the genre to RWA. If I make enough money on it, which it looks from early sales like I might, I can qualify to be part of the Published Author Network, or PAN. I’ll probably take that.

But first sale? No way.

I remember my first sale and what it meant to me. I sold an essay, Bullets, to Wyoming Magazine in 1997. They paid me and everything. Then I had a few pieces in literary magazines that didn’t pay, but made me feel snazzy. Redbook published one essay in 2000, which paid really well and made me feel snazzy. Everyone said I’d “arrived” at that point, which really wasn’t the case at all, but was nice to hear.

I remember when the acquisitions editor at University of New Mexico Press asked if she was in time to publish my first book. And when she told me the review board approved the essay collection she helped me put together. My launch party in January of 2004 for Wyoming Trucks was one of the best nights of my life. I was all about the first sale jubilation.

So, you can see why I didn’t care to get the ribbon. Or the notice in RWR (the RWA magazine).

I came to terms with this long ago (though I know I bring it up now and again), that RWA only considers an author published if the work is in a romance genre. It’s their prerogative and in line with the organization’s mission. What I do mind, though, is that somewhere along the way, I allowed this to make me feel like a newbie again. I feel like the kid sister tagging along with the “real” authors.

My friend, Tawna Fenske, says that one of her most popular blog posts ever is “You ARE a Real Author, Dammit.” In it, she talks about how people treated her differently after she had a book contract. She was suddenly validated in their eyes. Tawna makes the excellent point that it’s up to us to validate ourselves.

To sit quietly in the dark and wait for that bolt from the blue.


To celebrate convention recap wrap-up and the return to normal life, I’m using a Jeffe-at-home photo today. We’ve been getting tons of rain, so the desert is very green right now.

It’s good to be home.

As I tag today’s post with “writers life,” it occurs to me that I should have been tagging all of the convention posts as that. No, it’s not actual writing, but it’s a part of being a writer. In fact, I haven’t written (aside from blog posts) since I did my final read through revision of The Body Gift on July 18. I mentioned it before – I really depleted myself to finish that novel. That, on top of a tough day-job project with many deadlines and requiring lots of thinking (*gasp*), plus David’s birthday, traveling to Denver for my high-school reunion, then turning around to go to RWA National Convention and all that entails…well, I got sick.

Big surprise there.

I came home Sunday tired and with this hoarse throat and a cough I was afraid might be settling into my lungs. David hit me with herbs and mucus-dissolving foods, which is good because I’m not developing bronchitis or pneumonia now. I do, however, have a full-blown sinus dealie. I even took two full sick days from the day-job. I don’t remember the last time I did that. Not to mention the 3-hour afternoon naps each day, after sleeping 10 hours at night.

Guess I did a number on myself.

So, while I was planning to get back on the writing schedule Monday morning, I took sick leave from that, too. Which is okay. I clearly need it.

David mentioned that Sir Richard Burton took two years to recover from cholera. This was part of the same conversation where David was telling me that a teacher at his acupuncture college, who’s been hospitalized twice this summer for pneumonia and is now on oxygen, won’t be teaching her class for the rest of the semester. Of course, her physician had advised her not to teach at all this semester, to give herself time to convalesce.

Much is said about our fast-paced culture, but I think this is one place we can really see what we do to ourselves. In some ways we can blame antibiotics and other interventionist medicines. They’re a blessing, but they also replace the long, slow convalescence. No months in the country with lazy days for us. Instead we pop some pills or take an injection and get back to work before we use up our 40 hours of sick leave for the year. Most of us will say we can’t possibly afford to take more time off than that.

But if we don’t, do our bodies ever truly recover?

The natural health people think that running ourselves in a state where we’re forever trying to recover health is what lays the foundation for chronic diseases, like Type II Diabetes, cancers, fibromyalgia, etc. Taking that into consideration changes the scale on what’s affordable, I suspect.

Not to be a downer.


At any rate! Thus I’m giving myself time to recover. I’m waiting on other people on The Body Gift right now anyway. I have a couple of leisurely day-job QA projects to work on. I might start writing a new erotica to follow up on Petals & Thorns, which has been getting nice reviews (here, here and here – you have to scroll down on that last one), and I’m told the readers want more. Most gratifying. It’s been called “high-brow p0rn” and “elegant erotica.” I think Anais Nin would be proud.

I might also have another afternoon nap…

Convention – The Final Installment

Thanks to Cynthia Eden for snapping this pic of my Gathering costume. Obviously, I went for whimsical steampunk rather than accurate, but it was a wild and wonderful party.

I’ll get to that.

Friday dawned with me hustling to hear Susan Elizabeth Phillips workshop on the Six Secrets of Being a Bestselling Writer. I’ve heard her speak before and she’s dynamic, inspirational and spot on. I tweeted a lot of her workshop, which turns out to be useful because it’s almost like I took notes.

She says that a bestseller is first and foremost compelling. The six magic words are: Keep the Reader in the Story.

1st tip to keep the reader in the story: Craft. Bad craft pulls the reader out of the story. Good craft won’t guarantee a compelling story, but bad craft is certain to ruin it.

2nd tip: Characterization. Write characters the reader can’t bear to be parted from. In popular fiction, characters should be larger than life. As opposed to literary fiction, where characters are frequently the average or smaller than life person.

3rd tip: Have a believable plot. Don’t manipulate your characters just to advance the plot. The plot should aid how the characters change. Characters should be capable of doing something at the end of the book that they couldn’t do at the beginning.

4th tip: Keep the pages turning. Create a fast-moving plot to keep the reader in the story. The secret? Cut out the boring parts! The boring parts are usually backstory, description and research you love.

That’s the nuts and bolts. She said a lot more, but that’s the gold. Sounds like simple advice, but the hard part is following it.

I popped in on the St. Martin’s Press spotlight. Editors Jennifer Enderlin, Monique Patterson, and Rose Hilliard spoke. They were a breath of fresh air. They talked about how much they love writers and books. They refused to talk about what’s hot or not because trends are irrelevant. They want good stories. Interestingly, they also said they don’t make acquisition decisions by committee. It’s up to the individual editor.

In a serendipitous turn of events, I ran into Cynthia Eden and her fabulous agent, Laura Bradford, on the way to lunch. We scored a table directly behind the one reserved for the RWA Board of Directors and so had a great view of Jayne Ann Krentz for her lecture. She also writes as Jane Castle and Amanda Quick. While we ate, Laura told us an interesting story about how she’d tweeted “If you did decide to go w/ another agent, I would appreciate it if you would sell yr ms RIGHT AWAY, so I can have closure on my bitterness.” Followed by “Seeing news of your giant 7 figure deal helps me with my healing process.” A blogger tore her up about it, thinking she was insincere. It was a great insight into the agent’s world.

Jayne talked about her multiple pen names and reinventing yourself as a writer. Not many know that she invented the Amanda Quick name because she’d had several poorly received books under Jayne Ann Krentz. She’d become unsellable by trying to do paranormal romance before its time. She didn’t give up at that point, but reinvented herself as a historical author. Great testament to persistence.

That afternoon, I pitched to an agent and an editor. For those who have never seen the Great Hall of Pitching at an RWA National Convention, this is what it looks like. The people in front are queued up to check in. The rows of tables behind them contain an agent or editor on one side and a hopeful writer on the other. The cavernous room is filled with hush and angst.

My agent pitch did not go well at all. She glazed over immediately. Actually I think we just didn’t click with each other. I would say she hated me on sight, but that would be overly dramatic. The editor loved the sound of The Body Gift and requested a partial and a synopsis (which I now have to write -erf). Technically the agent requested, too, which was courteous of her. However, one of the great benefits of face-to-face pitching is getting a feel for each other. Even if my manuscript excited this agent, I don’t think we’d enjoy working together.


But then it was party time! FFP’s Gathering came off in a splendid way. Thanks and love to everyone who helped and didn’t mind me racing around like a mindless ninny. There’s the wrap-up of the costume contest, with our three celebrity judges conferring behind, from left to right, Chris Keesler, editor at Dorchester Books, writer Cynthia Eden and Lindsey Faber, managing editor at Samhain Publishing.

We stayed up way too late after the party, having drinks and talking. I particularly enjoyed hanging with Laura Bickle and Linda Robertson. Terrific writers and very supportive gals. They didn’t even mind that I wept a little into my martini over the lackluster agent encounter.

Saturday I spent by the pool. I hadn’t really played much during the conference. People kept asking me if I’d seen the sights and I kept saying, um, no, but it’s a pretty hotel!

One really lovely thing, an editor friend sent me a note about the lackluster agent encounter offering me a list of agents she likes and permission to name-drop her, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

By the time Linda, Allison and Laura suggested that we bail on the Rita and Golden Heart awards ceremony and hit the Magic Kingdom instead, I was all for it. (And no, I did not get the khaki pants memo – but at least I’m not in the picture.) We had a great time wandering around, being kids and not industry professionals.

And Space Mountain was just as fabulous a ride as I remembered.

Convention Continued

This is actually from Wednesday night at the conference, but it makes a nice segue from yesterday’s post.

At any rate, here’s me and Allison toasting her fabulous, supportive and oh-so-sweet editor at Pocket, Danielle Poiesz. Danielle might have been just the teensiest bit disappointed not to attend the conference, but she was with us in spirit. And on Twitter!

And here’s one more from Wednesday night: the delightful Leanna Renee Hieber and Lindsey Faber, managing editor at Samhain Books. (If you don’t know, Samhain is one of the best e-publishers out there right now.)

So, Thursday morning was recovery time. Sadly I was coming down with a respiratory something. I met up with some fabulous FFP’rs to stuff goodie bags. (Which ended up being abortive, but alas…)

Then we were off to the keynote lecture from La Nora, the amazing Nora Roberts. I was too far back to snap any good photos of her. The woman has written 190 books, 164 of them bestsellers. Her message? For everyone out there who says the writing/publishing business is hard, she says, yes it is. That’s what makes it great. She called “bullshit” on anyone who says it used to be easier for writers. She cited typewriters, white-out, carbon paper, no email and research at, of all things, the library. Nora is a down-to-earth, hard-working gal. It was wonderful to hear someone say that if you work hard and stay in the swimming pool, you will make the money. She was also in the bar with a friend later and totally gave my outfit a nod and smile. From a multi-millionaire writer who spends most of it on shoes, that means a great deal!

The PRO retreat started after lunch. “PRO” is RWA’s category for writers who are still unpubbed in romance, but have provided documentation of a completed manuscript and interactions with agents and editors showing active querying for publication. One of the best parts of the PRO retreat was the big slide showing our membership loss: all the people who’d gone to being PAN, part of the Published Author Network. Allison, at the PAN retreat next door, complained about the wild cheering, but this was why.

Donald Maas, of the Donald Maas Agency, spoke. My favorite line from him? “The most important thing to know about our changing industry is that nothing has changed. It’s still about story and the contract between the author and the reader.”

I truly believe this.

I ducked out of the retreat to hear a workshop on writing in multiple genres (my personal curse) by Cynthia Eden, Ann Aguirre and Julianna Stone, along with a couple of other authors I’ve forgotten. (I threw my conference program away in the hopes of making weight with my suitcase despite the added books. I came out at 51.5 and the Southwest lady didn’t even blink. I’m just loving Southwest these days!)

All this while, one of my favorite twitter people and new author-finds, Victoria Dahl, kept tweeting about being out at the pool. (My favorite tweet? “Thunder! If I die, tell my kids I was doing something I loved.” I went to find her and she bought me a wine spritzer. We had a great conversation. (Did I babble? I might have babbled.) But she’s even more fun in person. I loved her “Talk Me Down,” which finaled for a Rita.

Victoria had to rush off to a Readers Choice party – and this is my public confession that I made her late; it’s all my fault – so I sat by the pool for a bit and enjoyed the oh-so-warm evening. I was supposed to meet people for karaoke, but the respiratory crud overwhelmed me and I crashed, bringing Thursday to a close.

Convention: The Recap

I hear there’s been muttering in the blog follower ranks about the dearth of postings during RWA National.

I’d like to point out that, technically, I only missed one day.

But I’m making up now. I’ll cover a day of conf for the next few days.

So there.

Backtracking in time…

Wednesday, I spent the day at the RWA leadership retreat, which is always full of great information. Allison and I also managed to get a room change with this view, which was infinitely better than the big piece of roof equipment crouched menacingly outside our windows in the previous room. If you ever go to the Dolphin, don’t let them put you in room 10033. Just sayin’. FFP’rs Florina Craven and Nancy Badger were there, too, representing their local chapter.

Boone Brux, FFP’r and president of her Alaska chapter, bought me a martini and snapped the now-famous pic immortalized previously. Little did I know Boone had left her billfold in the seatback pocket on her flight to Orlando. You know how they tell you to check it? Exactly. So, turns out she spent some of the money her husband wired to her on my dirty martini. What a stand-up gal.

The Dolphin was exceptionally well -suited to a conference like this because the bar was in a large hallway that everyone passed through. Many of the tables were in the middle, flanked by wide passageways and the bar on one side and more private alcove tables on the other. Thus we easily spotted passersby and said hi. Here’s FFP’rs Lizzie Newell and Michelle Miles stopping by.

Then it was literacy fest time. And wow, what a major event. I took lots of photos of FFP authors – the ones I knew offhand – and put all of the pictures up here. (Actually, pretty much all of my conference photos are there.) RWA announced that the 2010 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing was a huge success with approximately 3,600 attendees and 500 participating authors. This two-hour event raised $55,000 for literacy, with the proceeds going to ProLiteracy Worldwide, Orlando’s Adult Literacy League, and the Nashville Adult Literacy Council.

Pretty damn nifty.

Never mind that I blew out a strap on my favorite high-heeled strappy sandals. I think I can sew it back.

After that, Allison and I ate dinner at the pool bar, where they also played Mamma Mia. A perfectly silly and wonderful thing to have playing. Then we had to search for the enormous, bigger-than-her-head Rice Krispie treat Allison had spotted in a candy store on the Boardwalk the night before.

I’m supposed to say she didn’t eat it all, but she totally did.