Liking the Writing, but Not Liking the Story – a Conundrum

BXYkp_ICYAAcNAIThe combination of purple and orange in my Halloween display was serendipitous – I’ve been loving how it looks.

I’ve been reading a book by an author who writes in one of the same genres that I do, a genre I love to read. This is the second book of hers I’ve read – both of which I picked up due to enthusiastic reader responses. I didn’t like the first book, but I thought I’d give this new one a try. They’re unrelated stories. Maybe I just didn’t click with that book?

But this new one isn’t working for me either.

But in a funny way, because – as with the first one I read – I’m finishing it. Regular readers of this blog know I have the 25% rule. I commit to reading 25% of every book I pick up. If I’m not engaged by then, I can bail without guilt. (If I really hate it, I can stop before that. But most books I try to give 25% to hook me.) I have a fairly high percentage of DNFs (Did Not Finish). My reading time is precious and I don’t need to waste it on books I’m not enjoying.

In this case, I’ve kept going. Even though I *knew* by 10% in that I didn’t like the story or characters very much. It’s bizarre to me, because the writing is smooth and polished. I enjoy the author’s voice. I find her interesting in her blog posts and so forth. I’ve met her and find her to be a lovely person. I even like her story premises and get excited to read the book. As I read, however, I get that sinking sensation that I don’t like how she’s telling the story. I never emotionally engage with the characters. There’s far too much angsting and emotional retread for me and I find myself growing impatient with it all. But I still want to know how it ends.

I mentioned this on Twitter and one of my editors chimed in saying this was the most difficult kind of manuscript submission for her to deal with – the polished writing and engaging voice, but a story and characters that fail to grab her.

I realized, during this conversation, that I hear that kind of response from editors and agents all the time. I suppose I always interpreted it as a sort of faux excuse. They’ll say “love the writing, love the voice, but the story didn’t work for me.” And then they’ll add the reminder that this is just their personal opinion and someone else will likely love it.

After all this time, I suddenly get what they’re saying. You can love a writer in every way, except the actual stories they tell. And there’s nothing wrong with this.

I’ve been known to say that I love Ann Patchett’s writing so much that I don’t care what the story is about – I’ll read her regardless. Then, the unthinkable happened – I didn’t like her last book. I didn’t like what happened in the story, particularly something that occurred at the end. So, has that changed things for me? Yes. Now I’ll look at what the story is about. A minor shift perhaps.

There’s been several instances lately where authors of very popular series have ended them in unpopular ways. Charlaine Harris and her Sookie Stackhouse series is a good example. Just this week, Veronica Roth came under fire for the way her trilogy ended, prompting arguments over what authors owe readers – especially manic fans. I’ve seen numerous fans say they won’t read anything Roth writes again, because they feel they can’t trust her now. I never read the books, but – having heard the spoilers – I think, as a reader, I’d feel the same way.

At the same time, as an author, I respect her right to stay true to her vision and do as she wishes with her story.

I suppose, what this all comes around to, is what we’re “buying” when we commit to reading a book. In that link about Veronica Roth, John Green says, “Basically, I would argue that books are not primarily in the wish fulfillment business.” Yet, I know I do read so I can be transported. I do want my wishes fulfilled. I don’t expect that in life, but I do want it in my entertainment.

In the end, it’s a more or less democratic process, I suppose. We buy what we want to read. I can hope that readers enjoy what I write.

But neither team can control the other.

Life Cycles – or How I Became a Teenager Again

002 crop House is decorated for Halloween! Always makes me happy. I’ll even be home for Halloween night this year, for the first time in a couple of years.

I’m over at What the Cat Read today, with a variety of quotes about writers and cats.

The post ahead might be a bit TMI. Fair Warning.

I’ve been hitting a funny place in my life lately. Now that I’m in my late 40s, I’m looking at the whole menopause thing, though I’ve had blessedly few symptoms. More in the radar sites right now is dealing with my blood pressure. It’s just a little high. “Pre-Hypertension,” they call it. Not high enough to medicate, but high enough to be of concern. So far, I’ve been doing about everything I can. My diet is good – low fat, veggies, no fast food. I exercise. With the treadmill desk I’m walking 7-8 miles/day. No caffeine. Trying various herbs.

I recently switched practitioners and she suggested that I should go off the birth control pills, as a next step. It’s funny because I’ve been on the pill for over 30 years. I started on it when I was 16 and had met the guy I wanted to lose my virginity to. And I’ve never looked back. Taking the pill every night has acted as a calendar for my adult life. Likely what I’ll do is get a copper IUD. I still have my biases left over from the IUD horror stories of the 80s, but apparently they’re tons better now. Funny to me that I never tracked those changes.

For the time being, however, we’re using condoms. The other day, I went to the pharmacy and bought a box – for the first time in my whole entire life.

Because, back in my youthful, non-monogamous days, STDs weren’t emphasized so much. AIDS really became a major concern by my junior year in college. But even then, we tended to think in terms of exposure and whether or not we’d been tested. Because I was on the pill and reasonably discriminating in my lovers, we just didn’t use condoms. In fact, I never had sex with a condom until I met David and I was on antibiotics at one point, that could interfere with the efficacy of the pill.

So I never had that rite of passage until just the other day. And yes, I felt totally like a teenager. Plus, with my ovaries and uterus waking up from their long sleep and positively throbbing, I feel like I did when I first started getting my period when I was 12. Also, “they” seem to be right that the pill suppresses desire. While I never felt like I didn’t want sex, now… let’s just say I’m feeling teenagerish that way, also.

Not really what I thought I’d experience in my late 40s, but also cool in many ways, to revisit my youthful feelings. I feel like I’ve come full circle.

And that’s a nice place to be.

Discovering the Power of the Disabled Protagonist


Isabel was in this spot before the sun sank low enough to hit her. Excellent strategy.

This week’s topic over at Word Whores is The Physically Disabled Protagonist. Keen-eyed readers might remember that I wrote “Discovering the Power of the Disabled Protagonist” back in August on the Here Be Magic group blog. So, I’m totally taking the bye and reproducing it.  Hie on over if you missed it last time!


Why We HAVE to Program in Mental Downtime

BWzfVORCAAAGYbSI emerged from my office yesterday to happen upon this scene. Both cats were passed out, nearly nose-to-nose, amidst the detritus of cat toys. As one Facebook commenter pointed out, they look like they partied hard all night.

Cats are admirable for their ability to relax. They can go from 60 to 0 in a blink. Wild rocket-cat to full-out, belly-up sprawl. There’s fascinating biology and animal behavior theories around this. Because felines are the most efficient predators out there, they have a lot of down time. They basically snooze so much because they can.

Wouldn’t that be nice, if we could be so super-productive with our time that we could spend the rest of it goofing off?

That’s part of the thrust of this fascinating article from Scientific American about why our brains physiologically require downtime. This bit, in particular, stood out for me:

Based on his own work and a thorough review of the relevant research, Ericsson has concluded that most people can engage in deliberate practice—which means pushing oneself beyond current limits—for only an hour without rest; that extremely talented people in many different disciplines—music, sports, writing—rarely practice more than four hours each day on average; and that many experts prefer to begin training early in the morning when mental and physical energy is readily available.

I also liked this:

Many recent studies have corroborated the idea that our mental resources are continuously depleted throughout the day and that various kinds of rest and downtime can both replenish those reserves and increase their volume.


By adulthood, most of us have adopted the habit of sleeping through the night and staying awake for most or all of the day—but this may not be ideal for our mental health and is certainly not the only way people have slept throughout history. In somewhat the same way that hobbits in Tolkien’s Middle Earth enjoy a first and second breakfast, people living without electricity in preindustrial Europe looked forward to a first and second sleep divided by about an hour of crepuscular activity. During that hour, they would pray, relieve themselves, smoke tobacco, have sex and even visit neighbors. Some researchers have proposed that people are also physiologically inclined to snooze during a 2 P.M. to 4 P.M. “nap zone”—or what some might call the afternoon slump—because the brain prefers to toggle between sleep and wake more than once a day. As far back as the first century B.C. the Romans regularly took midafternoon breaks, which they called meridiari from the Latin for midday. Under the influence of Roman Catholicism, noon became known as sexta (the sixth hour, according to their clocks), a time for rest and prayer. Eventually sexta morphed into siesta.

See, I tend to be the kind of person who works non-stop. I’m not much of a napper. I’ve always been blessed with good concentration – which is a handy skill for a novelist – but it means I can work for hours on end without noticing the passage of time. I’ll emerge from the trance utterly exhausted. And yes – it’s almost never more than four hours.

I rarely take this exhaustion seriously because, after all, I was only writing. Just thinking and keyboarding. It’s  not like I was working four hours digging ditches.

But what all this research implies is that, energetically, it is the same.

So I love this concept of introducing deliberate mental downtime in my days. I think it’s so true that, as Americans, we get into this mode of working All The Time. For my day job, I work for a consulting firm much like the one cited in the article. During the recently ended government shutdown, we could not work on our projects – because our work is almost entirely for the EPA, which was deemed non-essential. I took leave and spent time on writing (of course), but it was fascinating to see so many of my colleagues not know what to do with themselves. I know of two gals who took vacation leave and went to work in the soup kitchen, just to feel productive. That’s great that they wanted to do it, but my first thought was, take vacation leave and go rest.

A lot of people in my company don’t use their vacation leave – and they’re proud to say so.

Thus, I’m working on freeing up my work habits and introducing deliberate rest time. It turns out that even closing my eyes for a few minutes should restore my mind. I also need to walk away from the computer more often – mini-breaks to switch up those energy-draining activities.

Oh and hey – it’s almost the weekend! Let’s all go do some restorative activities!


Why I’m Proud to Say I Write Erotic Romance



Many things going on today. Why today, I don’t know. Beware the Ides of October?

I’ve got a guest post over at What’s Beyond Forks today. She also gave Rogue’s Possession a lovely review.

I also am up over at Paranormal Romantics, talking about the map I drew for my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy and why maps of imaginary worlds are so compelling.

Finally, the BDSM Goodreads group is featuring Ruby on the group homepage. You can listen to a clip of it, which is really quite fun, I think. There’s also an interview with me, in case you don’t know everything already. :-p


That’s stuff for Covenant of Thorns, Twelve Kingdoms and Facets of Passion, all on one day. What I get for simultaneously writing erotic romance, fantasy romance and fantasy.

It’s funny because I was at a conference this last weekend sponsored by a non-RWA writers’ organization. So the attendees wrote in a wide mix of genres. I gave a workshop called “More than Wham, Bam, Thank-you Ma’am: Wooing the Female Reader.” I wanted to make the case for adding love and sex to a story in ways that appeal to women. A number of the writers present came from a more hard-core epic fantasy lens. In fact, one guy handed me his book to peruse and, though the jacket copy mentioned probably five or six characters, not one was female. I nearly said I’d never read a book that doesn’t even mention a female character in the jacket copy, but I figured he wouldn’t care. I wasn’t his reader.

But I think I did take people aback a bit – even though I dedicated a slide at the start to a Fair Warning! that I write erotic romance and talk frankly about sex. A few people did leave, but more stayed. We had a great discussion. One question that comes up over and over is if I admit publicly to being a writer of erotic romance.

I find it funny that people ask that question. As if it’s something to hide, possibly to be ashamed of.

The gal who gave the opening luncheon address tossed off a remark that she wouldn’t want E.L. James’ paycheck (the writer of Fifty Shades of Grey) because she wouldn’t be able to face her grandchildren.

It struck me as a very odd thing to say.

After all, I have grandchildren. They’re obviously too young to understand now, but when they grow up, I’d be honest about what I write. I’d hope that they’d be proud to have me for a grandmother.

At a neighborhood party recently, the mother of three kids down the road said something interesting to me. She told me that she grew up in a farming community, filled with corn and conservative people. I wasn’t sure why she was telling me about it, but she finally said, “I am just so happy that my kids are growing up in a neighborhood where an erotic romance writer lives up the street. Even if they can’t read your books, it’s so good for them to know amazing people like you.”

It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Multi-Genre Writer

BWbnsk6CcAE7ystThe conference is over and I’m heading home this morning!

 Last night my wonderful Kensington editor, Peter Senftleben, took us out to dinner at the Chart House at the Golden Nugget. Agent Pam and David came along, too. It was excellent and very fun.

I’m over at Word Whores this morning talking about the pros and cons of writing in multiple genres. And also panda bears.

This Stuff Ain’t Stayin’ in Vegas!

hotel viewSo, I’m here in Las Vegas, downtown at the Plaza Hotel. The hotel website referred to the pool as “iconic.” David asked me what that meant and I said probably that we’ll recognize it from movies. We’ve now decided it means “old, but not neat enough to be historic, but you still can’t bitch about it being ugly.” We’ve also labelled the elevators iconic, the strange service and the decades-old cigarette smell. I noticed this morning that a casino hotel on the next block is labelled “legendary,” which suspect means the same this as “iconic.”

I met my Kensington editor, Peter Senftleben, last night. He’s just lovely in person. Agent Pam arrives this morning, so it should be a good time to be had by all. Now I need to work on my presentation for tomorrow!

Also, I’m guesting on the fabulous Suzanne Johnson’s Preternatura blog today, talking about worldbuilding as gardening. Comment to win a copy of either Pawn or Possession!

But first… You guys have to read the joint review Bookpushers gave Rogue’s Possession. Okay, you don’t HAVE to, but it’s the most wonderful, amazing review ever. Just to indulge myself, here are some quotes. You’re welcome.

This is one of the most imaginative, seductive and darkly sensual fantasy romances I’ve ever read.

There is a real emphasis on the characters and the plot as well as the world-building which is explored in much more depth but retains the surreal and dreamy tone with great touches of humour as well as darkness.

This was another great installment that was well worth waiting for. Now I can’t wait for the next one!

The tension between them which I thought was hot and sizzling in the first book, was an inferno for this one!

I stayed up into the wee hours of a workday morning because I was so hooked.

All right. Thank you for indulging me. You may now go on about your business.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Dream Casting the Movie

Armitage_New_York_December_2012I’m on the Carina Press blog today, talking about who’d I’d cast to play Rogue and Gwynn in the movie. Stop by to add your votes for alternative casting or for the secondary characters!

Tomorrow, I’m heading to Las Vegas (VIVA!) to attend the Nevada Writers Fiction Writing in the Digital Age Conference, where I’ll be giving a workshop on Saturday, More than Wham, Bam, Thank-You M’am – Wooing the Female Reader and signing swag at the Atomic Book Signing on Friday night.

If you’re in the area, come on by!

Release Week Shenanigans

Jeffe & DaryndaWHEW!

You know, we call it Release Day, when our books hit the market, but it’s more like Release Marathon. My mom has a friend who says “the birthday isn’t over until all the gifts are in.” That’s a bit how this feels. Yesterday was like my birthday, with all of the congratulations on the release of Rogue’s Possession, and now there’s more today and for the foreseeable future.

You guys are so great!

So, there’s all sorts of things going on.

My fabuloso buddy, Darynda Jones, also has a release today, making us Release Day Twins. Thus, we’re doing a Trivia Showdown over on Facebook. It’s pretty damn funny, I think. See, I asked her five questions and she gave me her answers. I posted them as multiple choice, filling in the other options myself. Maybe it’s diabolical of me, but I get pretty tickled when people choose my red-herring answers. Today she’ll ask ME five questions. Top prize is a $50 gift card to Wolferman’s Bakery, for the sheer numminess. Book giveaways are naturally also part of the deal!

I’m also over at Here Be Magic today, with an excerpt from Rogue’s Possession, just for fun – and wishing sister Word Whore, Veronica Scott a very Happy Birthday!

There’s a couple of giveaways in progress also. Hie on over to Pearls Cast Before a McPig or, if you want to read a chat between Rogue and Gwynn (who doesn’t, right??) you can visit So Many Reads.

See what I mean?

Send baked goods!