What Genres Do You Read While Drafting?

Edward Zelster Photography

This is the Kensington cocktail party at the RWA conference. I’m apparently describing something very large to Alexandra Nicolajsen, who manages the digital marketing for the house. Maybe a bus ad.

(That’s the lovely Carolyn Crane sitting next to me.)

As I mentioned previously, I brought back a lot of paper books from RWA, along with a wish list of ebooks I want to download to the Kindle. However, I also have a big road trip coming up. Today I’m flying up to Denver where I’ll help my mom and Stepdad Dave rent a U-Haul truck. My mom has sold my childhood home – after 41 years! – and they’re moving permanently into their Tucson house.

I’d already taken some things a few weeks ago and my aunt went and took some things. Then they had their friends over for a “take some things” party, followed by an estate sale. So there’s not THAT much to convey to Tucson. But there will be two vehicles and neither of them are all that comfortable driving alone for long periods of time. We’ll drive down to Santa Fe on Saturday (about 5.5 hours), spend the night, then go on to Tucson (~8 hours). I’ll hang out on Monday, then drive their “extra” vehicle back to Santa Fe, where it will now be ours. All of this boils down to one thing: audio books.

I sorely need to listen to some books, to help pass the solo driving time.

So, I went to Audible to find the right ones. After all, this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on books I really want to read – for research or because friends wrote them or because they’ve been on my list for a while. But then the two books I wanted most weren’t on Audible! I considered doing them on the Kindle text-to-voice, but I don’t LOVE that. The robo-voice takes away from the story for me. My friend, Sassy Outwater, who is blind, essentially told me I couldn’t bitch about that because, hello, welcome to HER world. I see her point, because Audible books are *expensive* – but I still like them better.

At any rate, I was in the odd position of finding books, any books, on Audible that would be good for the trip. And I didn’t want to burn a lot of time searching. Also, since I’ll be losing writing time doing this trip, I wanted books that would at least feed the story I’m working on, which is an Adult Fantasy. (Book 2 of Twelve Kingdoms, for those who don’t have my life memorized.)

Here’s where I get to my point, because I do have one (shocking!). I wonder what better feeds an in progress story – the same genre or a different one? Someone at the conference says she never reads books in her own genre, because she’s afraid of accidentally stealing ideas. That doesn’t really resonate for me. But I do think it’s better for me to read other genres than the one I’m cooking in.

I ended up choosing the first in Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English m/m detective series, as it’s been recommended to me many times. I’ll listen to Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ contemporary romance Ain’t She Sweet, though I’ve read it before, because it’s practically the text book on how to redeem an unlikable heroine – which I’m dealing with in the story I’m writing. Finally, I got Christina Lauren’s erotic romance Beautiful Bastard, so I can find out what got people so excited about it.

So, I’m curious. For writers, what do you read while you’re drafting? And for the non-writers, do you choose genre by what else is going on in your life?

One commenter will win a book from the ones pictured in Tuesday’s post. Except Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name – that one has been snapped up by a previous winner.

On Being a Disgruntled Kitty

at Harry's 5_27_13My folks came through this weekend, so we spent time doing fun things like going out for breakfast and visiting galleries. It’s important to make sure you match the tablecloth at fine-dining establishments.

My mom and Stepdad Dave are on their way to Denver for the summer and stayed two nights with us. Because this is their spring migration of the household, they have their cat, Sally, with them. Sally stays safe in the guest bedroom and bathroom, where our kitties won’t bother her. Sally is a rescue cat so she’s particularly shy and sensitive. She went on strike, not eating or drinking, which made my mom anxious to get her home.

This morning I’m feeling all discombobulated, which is what happens to me when I break from my routines. Not just the family visit, but we’ve been having some work done on the driveway and the influx of people coming and going has me all rattled. It doesn’t seem reasonable that just having worker people around the house would make that much difference. At the same time, I look at Sally and recognize that the animal in me reacts much the same way. It’s not a logical thing, but it is real.

I need a few days of quiet in my den to get myself settled again.

Maybe roll a rock over the door.

I’ve got 55 pages left on my developmental revision of Master of the Opera. This has just been one of those difficult books. It was hard to write and the revision has been carving out my gut, too. I’ve rewoven threads from beginning to end and now I just have to adjust this final episode. I’ve been procrastinating on it, even, which is just not like me.

Time to put my head down and get it done.

~rolls rock over den opening~

Creating the Ideal To-Do List

Middle Sister WineMy stepsister brought this wine over on Christmas, by way of celebrating my three-book deal. Isn’t it great? Just love it! Thank you, Hope!

You all know how much I love my lists. And spreadsheets. Over the holiday, I was comparing To Do lists with Stepdad Dave, who shares my Virgo inclinations and loves a good To Do list. We discussed the merits of various approaches – the long-term To Do list versus the short-term one. We gave him a Boogie Board a while back – an electronic listmaker – and he complained that, because of the way it erases, that he has to write down important tasks that he won’t do later (like after the holidays) over and over again.

What? This is so interesting!

Plus, there were cookies.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking about my lists and how I have them set up. The long-term vs. short-term thing can be an issue. Especially when a long-term task is something like “write this novel.” Of course, that kind of thing one breaks out into daily word counts, but it’s still on the list, at least mentally. Hovering out there, like a grinning hot air balloon on the horizon. Other long-term tasks are things I’ve been meaning to do – like contacting certain bloggers for reviews, or putting tax information together. No deadline (yet), but needing to get done.

My big problem is that I tend to load too many tasks onto a single day. With an entire day ahead of me, I become flush with ambitious optimism. I truly believe that I will accomplish All The Things. The problem then is that, if I don’t, I get all sad. It doesn’t matter that I finished ten tasks, those two things still lurking on my list, undone, taunt me. Worse, I have to move them to the next day, or back to my long-term list.

What I’m thinking of for the New Year is making a tiered list, one that reflects priorities. I might make a Must Do list, followed by and optional list. I wonder, though, if the stuff on the optional list will *ever* get done, if they’re not prioritized enough…

What – you’re still reading? If so, you might be a listmaker, too. What are your secrets for prioritizing tasks??

First Day Disaster

Snapped this pic with my phone on the way to St. Thomas. Sunsets from above can be great, too.

We landed after dark and stayed at a semi-skeezy hotel near the airport, because we couldn’t check into the timeshare until the next afternoon. In the morning, we ate breakfast at a restaurant on the beach, which was lovely and warm. Then we loaded up the car and headed to the timeshare hotel. Stepdad Dave asked for early check-in, but that still wouldn’t be until about 1 or 2. But the hotel stored our bags and we got to walk around and see the premises.

After this pic, my mom took my phone and tried to take one with me in it. Somehow she hit the button to make it into a video. I think it’s so funny to watch – turn on your speakers, too. Sorry it’s so huge. If anyone knows how I can reduce the size (decrease resolution maybe?) with Windows Live Movie Maker, let me know!


So, then we traipse off to find a restaurant David and I ate at when we were on St. Thomas years ago. It was part of this hotel of individual condos, with these great walking trails that switch back and forth down the hillside to the beach. The steps are natural rock and my mom tells Stepdad Dave to watch his footing. He complains that my mother thinks he’s clumsy, but that was one trip to Mexico and it was because his glasses were bad.

We find the place. Have a fun lunch with beers. (I’ve been asked to add that Stepdad Dave wants it known that HE did not have anything to drink – only Diet Coke.)

All is well.

See the happy fun?


So, Stepdad Dave gets a call from the hotel that our rooms are ready. He’s all excited to go check in. We head up the first hill and we’re all kind of dragging rear. I jokingly say that the climb back up is the price we pay for all the beers. We cross the little asphalt road and Stepdad Dave is huffing a bit. He tells us to go ahead. My mom is perkily climbing away. David, behind me, asks Stepdad Dave if he needs to rest. Or, I say, over my shoulder, we can bring the car down to pick him up.

We hear a funny noise.

I look back and Stepdad Dave has fallen off the path, rolled down the hill and is clinging to a root at the edge of the drop-off. David is already running down the path to get to him from below. I’m wondering how the hell we’ll do this, that maybe David can push from below and I can get to him from above.

Then the root breaks and he drops over the side. Of this.

That’s looking up from below.

My mom didn’t see any of this, but she’s coming back down. I yell at her to go slow (very helpful of me, I know) and I’m running down, thinking he could be dead, with his skull cracked open. I’m wondering mainly how I’ll explain to stepsister Hope that I got her dad killed on St. Thomas.

Fortunately, he didn’t die. He came down that embankment, rolled over the retaining wall and landed on the road. The ambulance came to get him. We spent most of the rest of the day at the hospital. The doctor on duty was fortuitously a guy who’d trained in the Los Angeles Trauma Center. After multiple x-rays, it turns out that Stepdad Dave broke his shoulder blade. An amazingly minor injury, all things considered.

No surgery. No vacation cut short. Just an immobilization sling and pain meds.

Here he is a few days later, looking jaunty with the carved walking stick we found for him. We’re hoping he’ll get in the habit of using it, just to stabilize himself. He didn’t get to snorkel, alas, but we had a great time anyway.

How to Stay Young Forever

We just spend the weekend in Las Vegas, celebrating my mom’s birthday.

I may or may not be hungover still.

This was a big birthday for her, with a zero at the end. I’m not allowed to say how old she is, but I’m 45 and she was 24 when I was born. You do the math.

And, yes, feel free to be awed by how fabulous she looks.

The four of us, my Mom, Stepdad Dave, my David and I had the best time. We went to see a burlesque show that was amazing (Crazy Horse, at the MGM), drank pitchers of mojitos at the pool, walked all over, saw Phantom of the Opera, lunched at Sammy Hagar’s and walked all over some more. My David commented that we could hardly keep up with them.

Good times.

When my David said how full of energy they are, they said they just don’t feel old.


And many, many happy returns, Mom.

Who’s Your Audience?

On Saturday, my mom mentioned that they were heading out to a fun local bar to watch the Aggie’s football game. Now, this is the woman who advised me that I could find the perfect man by trolling the aisles at Tattered Cover bookstore during a Bronco‘s game. It used to drive her crazy that my stepfather, Leo, would loll around all weekend long watching football games. And basketball games. And baseball games. Leo passed away a few years back and now my mom is remarried – this time to, Dave, a Texas A&M graduate. When she told me about the plan for the game, I said, “I wonder if Leo ever realized that all he had to do to get you on board with football-watching was to take you to a fun bar?”

“Even if he had,” my mom replied, “he would never have paid to watch a football game.”

It occurred to me that Dave is a wise man, who knows his audience well.

I read an interesting review the other day of Margaret Atwood’s new essay collection, meant to be an examination of fantastic stories. (Caveat: I have not read the collection myself and am relying on the reviewer’s assessment here.) Margaret Atwood has always been a favorite author of mine and I’ve admired her ability to straddle genres. It’s always been my impression that people are somewhat bemused by her science fiction books (Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood), sprinkled amidst the “literary” ones (Cat’s Eye, Robber Bride, Lady Oracle). The reviewer confessed disappointment that she really had little illuminating to say about the genre for anyone who is a dedicated SFF reader. He suggests that those who pick up the collection only as Atwood fans who otherwise don’t read much SFF might get something out of it. And I thought, yeah, but I bet most of the people who aren’t SFF readers won’t pick up this book.

Writers and, more to the point, publishers and marketers, often ponder who the audience for a particular work will be. As a newbie writer, I really hated that question. It was very difficult to imagine who my readers might be, besides “someone like me” (my standard answer) or people who already loved me and thought I was wonderful. I think this is something you get better at knowing, the more you publish. Meeting readers goes a long way towards this. You discover who these people are, who don’t know you but love your stories.

I’ll give you a hint: they’re not like me, either.

In many ways, I still believe that writing the story should be all internal, about what the story and I decide it should be. But there’s a point at which you have to bring your critical eye and think about who will be reading this. Will they understand that reference? Will they squick at some dark detail? Deciding what to do from there is part of the acquired skill of being a professional writer.

Sometimes it means paying out a little bit, in whatever currency that might be, a bit of sacrifice, a little pain, in order to achieve the greater goal.

Good Times

Yesterday, my mom and I spent the day doing the funnest thing ever. At least, exactly tailored to what is fun for us.

My mom and Dave arrived late on Saturday. One of the perks of us being in Santa Fe is that we’re now on their migration route between Tucson and Denver. They left this morning, heading north to Denver for the summer. Maybe for the last year. After this they might commit to Tucson full time.

We’ll see.

But yesterday, my mom and I got to spend the day doing the Eldorado Studio Tour. It was a gorgeous day, so we drove the convertible with the top down. There were 117 artist displaying work in 83 studios, all around the community of Eldorado.

This provided fun for us on so many levels: we got to see the houses and the way people set up their studios. We looked at landscaping and entryways. We saw how people decorated their homes, how they dealt with their culverts (very important to me these days) and who had the best views. (I still think ours is one of the very best – we totally lucked into that.) We saw so many different kinds of art, talked to the artists and their spouses and met lots of fun and interesting people. I even met a spouse who’s a writer and might be a new friend.

The guys would have hated every minute.

So it was serendipitous my mom came through this weekend and was able to spend the day with me. We were out for six hours. I bought some notecards from a couple of artists and a giclee page proof of Moonlight Madness by Julia Cairns – the pic above. It reminds me of some of the things I’m writing now. There’s another painting by Daniel Huntsinger that really reminds me of Sterling in this very dark way. (That’s not it, but it gives you a feel for his work.) I kind of want it and I kind of think it’s too dark.

I’ll probably go get it. I’m eying the spot on my office wall where it should be.

See how I am?

That’s the best part: it’s what my mom and I share.

Best day ever.

Thanks for All the Fish

I had this vague Idea that I would write a Thanksgiving post.

I mean, I didn’t do the whole Facebook thing of daily posting what I was thankful for, because, hey I have a blog and would write all about that. In my own time.

Which turns out to be days later.

I did post that I was considering just reverting to childhood at my mother’s house, which would consist of lying about reading and generally being a parasite.

The beauty of the adult version of this is, you get to drink beer, too!

So, yes, this is what happened to my Thanksgiving post. I was sitting in the sun on the patio, drinking beer that my wonderful Stepfather Dave stocked in his special Corona cooler, reading and being a parasite. Here is my list of thankfuls for that:

To my mom, for making sure I got to relax;
To Dave, for being a great host and for putting up with HER side of the family;
To David, my love, for being the kind of guy who loves to sit and read on the patio with me;
To the sun, for shining.

I wasn’t a complete loser, but I came quite close. Somewhere around the Monday of Thanksgiving week, between emails and phone calls, it occurred to me that my mother hadn’t even mentioned the dinner menu, much less asked me for input.

This is what’s known in the business as a Bad Sign.

When I asked my mom about the plans for the holiday meal, she replied that Thanksgiving is a slam dunk, she and Hope had it handled. So, while I did make my cranberry/pear chutney on Thanksgiving Day, it was an afterthought. Here’s me, in my desultory cooking, laptop at the ready. And no, my mother’s kitchen is never that cluttered. That’s my fault, too. Thus I am thankful:

To Hope, best stepsister anyone could ask for, for stepping up when I didn’t;
To my mom, who never once bugged me about the dinner menu and who just wanted me to relax.

So, while I managed to make chutney, consult on the stuffing and set the table — yes, I was totally 13 again — I was worthless this Thanksgiving. Even for giving thanks.

In the end? Hands-down winner: I’m thankful for my mom. Who promises that I get to make it all up by hosting Christmas. And she won’t do anything, especially not scrubbing my stove top in the middle of the night.

I love you Mom!

Dave Beck Living

When his wife of 35 years succumbed at last to cancer, Dave Beck began to purge their possessions.

Dave is now my mother’s husband, my second stepfather. But before he met my mother, Dave had determined that he would be a lonely widower for the rest of his days. He began to eliminate. He decided it was foolish to have more than one cup, one plate, one bowl. No Martha Stewart enhancements for him; if Dave couldn’t use it on a daily basis, off it went.

We’ve been living with just a few things this past week. My mom came up mid-week and packed up the remaining books and all of the kitchen. Except for those dishes we needed to live on for the week. We wash those few dishes frequently and it’s just fine. They’re our most favorite dishes and utensils, so it doesn’t feel like a hardship.

In fact, it feels liberating.

I can see the sense in Dave Beck living. The simplicity. The aescetics of it.

Purging is a kind of catharsis. A release of all the power that objects hold. It can be saddening, to rid oneself of possessions, remembering how it came to you, what it meant. But in releasing it, you also liberate those things.

Perhaps then they float back again. Unencumbered.