Before You Weep Over that Review…

I made a mistake when I took this photo. Apparently I moved the camera at precisely the right moment to create a shadow image. I had no idea I’d done it at the time. Only when I looked through the backlog of images on my camera this morning did I see it. I kind of like it.

It’s a good reminder.

The hoopla over “bad” reviews and various author reactions seems to be growing worse, not better. I put this down to several factors. Mainly, there are a lot of people who eat up this drama and love it when a new fight breaks out. These are the people who run around yelling “Fight! Fight!” while rounding up everyone they can find to scream from the sidelines. This is the reality TV of the interwebs. And, to follow up that analogy, the book reviewers and authors have discovered that this kind of fame is still fame. It’s all, as I’ve mentioned before, the chocolate-covered heroin of attention. A hit is a hit, after all. It might be the poisonous grade, but it’s better than jonesing.

At any rate, I don’t read all of my reviews. I read some, here and there. Especially if the reviewer calls my attention to it. But I’m fragile enough that I often skip the low-star reviews. I know, I know. Toughen up, sweetheart.

Eh, I’m not much for pain, outside certain contexts.

Then, the other day, I saw a book blogger on Twitter mentioning my name along with several other authors, saying she was doing a giveaway of some of her new favorite authors. I tweeted her back with a thank you and she replied that she was happy to, that she’d loved Sapphire. Surprised I’d missed a “loved” mention on a book blog – and, ok, maybe ready for a little hit of heroin – I looked at the review. Now I remembered seeing it. I hadn’t read it before, because she only gave it three stars.

Turns out, she uses a scale of zero to four stars. And she rated it low because she thought it was too short. (It’s amazing how many reviewers will do this. Feeding the Vampire gets low stars all the time for being too short. It’s one of the great drawbacks of digital presentation, I think. Had Feeding the Vampire been in a short story collection, for instance, no one would have felt betrayed by its brevity. But, because readers don’t necessarily pay attention to length when they buy and download, they settle in to read a novella or novel, only to have it end when they expect the story to be ramping up. I don’t blame them a bit – I’d likely feel the same way.)

Still, the point is, you never really know what you’re going to get and who will turn out to be a supporter. She didn’t have to include me in this special giveaway with these well-established authors. I didn’t expect such enthusiasm from that quarter.

Sometimes you look again, and see something you didn’t before.

How Do You Know When You’re “There”?

Yesterday, I ran across some promo for the Clarion program, which teaches Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. I read through the requirements, the FAQs. And I seriously considered doing it for a few minutes.

An intensive course in SFF writing that has turned out people like Octavia Butler, Marjorie Liu and Vonda McIntyre? Oh yes, yes, yes. I started contemplating how I could take six weeks of leave from my job – and, not incidentally, my salary – and from the man and fur family. After all, the blog I read talking about how fab the program is, said it required sacrifices. Uh yeah – that pricey tuition and the non-refundable $50 application fee.

And then I realized, erf, that the workshop would interfere with me attending RomCon and RWA National. Not to mention the release of my own fantasy novel the first week of July.

Then it hit me – what the hell was I thinking?

It reminds me of when I was a brand-new grad student. I’d graduated from college in May and showed up at my new school in August, to start my PhD in physiology. With great excitement, I’d pored over the course offerings and had picked out (way too many) classes I figured I should start with. I met with the department head, to discuss this class schedule, my research plan and my Teaching Assistant assignment. He told me, that, given my excellent background, they wanted to put me in charge of the entire physiology lab program. Stunned, I looked at my list of proposed courses and told him I’d been planning to take the physiology course and lab. He laughed at me and said I was way past that.

And they put me in charge.

Now, I won’t say that I didn’t learn a lot as I went along. The old saying about the teacher being one step ahead of the student is not far off the truth. Still, it turned out that I knew more than I thought I did.

The rest I learned by doing.

It’s tempting to think that the fab writing workshop will hand us the keys and open the doors. I’m an absolute believer in ongoing education, too. The workshops also have a vested interest in convincing you that you need them if you want to succeed. Still, there comes a time when you have to simply plunge in and learn by doing.

And doing.

And doing.

Accept no substitute.

Does a Book Deal = Happily Ever After?

Everyone likes a happy ending. Even the people who think the traditional Happily Ever After (or HEA as the romance-world calls it) is trite, still love it when the hero or heroine triumphs, when good defeats evil, when they finally blow up the Death Star.

It’s just human nature.

It’s also tempting for writers to view signing with an agent or getting that Book Deal as the HEA. After all, we labor for years, querying to silence, receiving rejections, going back to the drawing board and trying again. When someone signs with an agent, there is much cause for celebration. When Carina offered to buy my novel, I confess I cried tears of relief and joy. The moment was a culmination of so much effort. But is it really a happily ever after?

Those of us familiar with romance tropes know that, for a very long time, every romance novel culminated either with an engagement or a wedding. The exception to this was the Marriage of Convenience story, where the wedding takes place early on, emotional obstacles must be overcome and the story resolves with declarations of true love. However, that’s still usually very early on in the marriage. This kind of thinking was largely a product of the times. Happiness was found in commitment, which meant marriage. Now there’s more flexibility. Finding love is enough. Many romance books end in very satisfying HFNs – Happy for Now. As society has discovered: marriage isn’t necessarily the answer.

The other problem with this trope of ending with the wedding is, though we all loved the idea that they’d ride off into the sunset and lead deliriously perfect lives, we all also know that the wedding is really just the beginning of the story.

It’s the first step on a long, often difficult, road that you’ll walk the rest of your life, if you’re lucky.

You see where I’m going with this.

Signing with that agent or getting that Book Deal is just the beginning. Basically you’ve gotten the job you applied for. Someone is willing to invest in you being a Writer. Hooray! Now the real work begins. And not the glamorous honeymoon stuff, either. It’s the dividing the chores and staying up all night to soothe the colicky baby. It’s the fighting over money and in-laws and the temperature of the bedroom. It’s worrying that maybe you’re not as attractive as you used to be and wondering about that sexy new assistant. It’s about dealing with health issues, tax audits and job layoffs.

It’s not that marriage is always about the difficulties. But it’s not skipping down the beach hand-in-hand, either. (Except maybe on vacation.)

Having a writing career is like having any career. There’s the day to day work, the highs and lows. The struggles and the moments of sweet triumph.

So celebrate that book deal. Enjoy the validation of an agent representing you.

Just remember that, after the honeymoon, that’s when the story really begins.

Picking a Good Book Title

We get the most spectacular sunrises this time of year. I’m not sure why. All that mysterious meteorology stuff.

I’ve been noticing something interesting since Sapphire came out. One word titles suck for tracking.

Not that I don’t love that title – I do. It was my title all along and Carina let me keep it. It matches the cover nicely (or vice-versa) and reflects a crucial aspect of the story itself. Now, it was counter-productive in a way I didn’t expect because I now have to change the title of my novel coming out in July, formerly known as Obsidian.

I know, I know – me and my one-word precious and semi-precious gem titles. I don’t know what my damage is there. At any rate, Carina said I should retitle Obsidian, because it would sound like a sequel to Sapphire. Since the novel is a totally different story, genre and heat-level, there’s no case for that. I saw their point, brainstormed a list of titles and we’ll see what the marketing team decides.

I’m interested to see what they decide on.

And I hope it’s better for tracking.

See, I have Google alerts set up for mentions of my titles. And Twitter columns set up for those searches. Correction – I have Twitter columns set up to watch for “Petals and Thorns” and “Feeding the Vampire,” but I only lasted about a week with the “Sapphire” column. Seriously. Do you know how many mentions there are of Kate Middleton’s sapphire ring? Or of some credit card? There’s also a Gentleman’s Club (which apparently markets ALL THE TIME), a fancy mall in Istanbul, a watch, a “nettop” computer and a surprising number of people celebrating their 65th wedding anniversaries.

In short – finding mentions of my book is like wandering through a supermodel convention hoping someone will tell you you’re pretty.

Just ain’t gonna happen.

Not to mention that there just happens to be a kind of famous author named Sapphire who hogs all the Amazon searches.

So, I’m extracting a lesson from this one. I know we don’t always have control of our titles, but so far, everyone I know at least gets to send a suggested list. I wonder how people with even more common one-word titles like “Fallen” or “Fated” do. I would think it’s even worse. (Though, for the record, “Twilight” totally rocks the Google search at this point.)

So my whole list of really fab one-word titles? Eh. Send those to circular file #13.

A Little Piracy

Today, many internet sites are running a black-out boycott to raise awareness about the ill-conceived anti-piracy bills before the congress and senate. Now, piracy is a major concern for many people on the internet. I don’t worry about it personally, as I’ve posted before. Basically I’m a subscriber to the what-goes-around, comes-around philosophy of life. However, even the people really concerned about it don’t like this bill. I think the Oatmeal said it best, so I totally pirated this Gif today.

You all know what to do.

Best Writing Retreat Ever

You all know the saw – writing is a lonely gig. And that’s why having friends and critique partners can be so very important.

This last weekend, Laura and Marcella came to Santa Fe to visit me. We had a lovely time. We toured around the countryside – I’m sure they’ll share some of the adventures – soaked in the hot waters at Ten Thousand Waves and did some major shopping. We each managed to buy a few special somethings, to reward ourselves for hard work and to provide inspiration in the next year.

Over our last lunch, Laura made us get down to business and set goals and plans for the coming year. She’s the accountability girl.

We’d been talking writing all weekend, of course. Chewing over plot ideas, sympathizing over business annoyances, coming up with great book ideas and insisting that the others write it. The goal setting was the culmination of all those winding conversations. We probably wouldn’t have come up with the same things that first day. But after all those hours of working things through, everything seemed much more clear for what needs to happen in the coming year.

It wasn’t a writing retreat, because none of us really wrote. (Except for Marcella who was dutifully marking down ideas in her notebook.) I kind of think that if we’d formalized it, the energy wouldn’t have worked so well. No lectures, workshops, official brainstorm sessions. Instead the ideas ebbed and flowed in a natural way.

We’re thinking about doing it every year.

Thanks ladies!

Writers’ Heroin

These little bushtits are such happy birds. They swarm the bark butter, singing a whispery tune and vanish again.

I’m going to take a bit of a departure today from my series on How My Day Job Has Made Me a Better Writer, but I’ll be back with it tomorrow.

I was talking with a Twitter friend who’s looking at having her first book published. She’s all agog with excitement, of course. And the online community has been great to her, with congratulations and support. Now, however, it’s hitting her that by the time the book comes out, people’s attention may have drifted and maybe no one will notice at all then.

She’s actually pretty insightful to recognize this pitfall.

See, for writers, attention is our most addictive drug.

We’re like affection-starved children who’ve grown up without human contact. It sounds dramatic, but so much of being a writer, especially in the early years, involves being alone with only your words for company. Nobody else sees your work, largely because no one cares, even if you dare tell anyone about it. You begin to feel like the mad scientist hermit, muttering to yourself, chasing some ever-mutating dream of creation. You become very accustomed to not being noticed. Even if you have a regular life, with people who love you, the crazy-writer side is usually locked away where she can’t frighten people.

Then, when she’s cleaned up enough to be trotted out into polite society and people pay attention to that side of you – and bettter, PRAISE you for it – well, it’s overwhelming. It’s like getting chocolate after a lifetime of rice. It’s rich and lovely and can totally screw you up.

Because, you see, the attention is almost instantly addictive. You find yourself craving just a little more. You start doing and saying things just to elicit a little more attention. You search for reviews and mentions. You reread old praise, reliving the glory days.

Before you know it, you’re the crack-whore on the corner of Twitter offering anything if people will just throw a crumb of attention your way.

I can’t tell you not to taste the attention. After all, it’s arguably one of the few rewards writers receive, until they’re really making the money. And besides, unless you’re a total recluse, you’re gonna get it. But know that it’s addictive. That it’s chocolate-covered heroin with no nutritious value.

In the end, the only thing that really matters is the writing.