With a Little Help from My Friends

The first morning at the RWA conference saw us playing. There’s not much going on that first day, until you get to the Literacy Signing that night. (There’s a great video of the madness that is the Literacy Signing here, if you care to see.)

So, with no need to attend the business meetings, we took off on a long walk with my roommates. The lovely Tawna Fenske already did a blog post (she’s so efficient) about me and Marcella as bunk mates. The thing is, we had a great time together. I wanted to see Rockefeller Center, Tawna wanted to see Central Park.

Of course we did the carriage ride.

Our driver had a lovely Irish accent, too. Amusingly his patter consisted of him pointing out sites where movies had been filmed. Most of which we’d never seen. I finally asked him if he’s a movie buff and he admitted that, no, it was just part of the job. He seemed surprised to be carting around a carriage-full of romance writers, particularly when I told him what I write.

More and more, conference for me is about spending time with friends like this. People I usually only “see” online. Laura Bickle is one of those. She arrived later that day, with just enough time to tie a little wine on before I had to work the registration desk before the signing.
Turns out that’s a great time to work the desk, because a lot of the big authors arrive right before the signing. The best part? They’re all registered under their REAL names.

So when Eloisa James stepped up and I couldn’t find her packet, I had to ask her if she has another, legal name. At this point, they look abashed and glance around to see who’s nearby. She leaned over the desk and said, “…” See, I swore not to tell. But I learned at least five secret identities. And yes, it’s totally enough just to know that I know the secrets.

The other funny thing was that the big speakers, like Diana Gabaldon, were done the great favor of having their registration stuff put in their rooms. Only a lot of them hadn’t BEEN to their rooms yet. Ironically, they couldn’t enter the signing without a name badge. When I told Diana her stuff was in her room, she gave me the terrified puppy-dog eyes. This was half-an-hour before the signing. She was afraid that, if I sent her to check-in and go to her room, she’d never make it through all the people in the lobby.

I ranted once before about how writers will never be rock stars. But Diana Gabaldon at a huge gathering of romance writers and readers? Totally a recognizable rock star.

We printed her up a special name badge. She was charming and grateful.

As I do every year, I also attended the Secrets of the Best-Selling Sisterhood seminar with Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This time I asked how they’ve maintained their friendship over all these years – if they have strategies. They seemed taken aback by the question and I wondered if maybe it wasn’t always easy. Finally they said that they don’t live near enough to irritate each other.
See? Just another reason to value those online friendships.

But it was really lovely to spend some in-the-flesh time with them, too.

PRISM Final

You’ll note this trophy has someone else’s name on it. That’s because I haven’t actually WON. But Petals & Thorns is a finalist in the 2011 PRISM awards for Best Erotica and Best First Book. I’m so delighted and thrilled.

And I really want one of these trophies.

Pretty.

Shiny.

And congrats to Marcella, for finalling with Enemy Within for Best Futuristic. She might also be up for Best First Book. If she knows what’s good for her, she won’t get her dirty fingerprints on MY trophy!

Pressing the Sheets

This begs a comment about all reproductive activities following certain patterns…

I took this pic near my folks’ house in Tucson. The agave plants are sending up their spires, with varying kinds of blooms. Some of them will use up all of their resources to make the spire and flowers, much like a spawning salmon, dying to reproduce. That’s my biologist lens coming into play.

Tawna Fenske would undoubtedly find a rude joke to make, perhaps even run a contest about it.

Marcella Burnard would undoubtedly buy a huge textbook on agaves and write a mini-dissertation on them.

Linda Grimes would find an array of dirty pictures derived from cactus to share.

We all see these things differently because we all have different ways of processing the world, particularly sexual matters. Even if it’s plant sex. Sex is a deeply personal and intimate thing. It’s also one of those things where what we SAY about it doesn’t necessarily match what we DO. Because the doing, except in certain circumstances, is usually done privately with only one other participant, or maybe several, plus the dog.

(Had to throw that in, for my CPs!)

At any rate, this is on my mind, not just because of the prodigious agave spawning we witnessed, but because of this article. The author’s intent is to make the argument that if a married man isn’t getting satisfactory sex at home, then it’s better for him to pay a professional than to have an affair.

It also has the, perhaps unintended, effect of illustrating how the author feels about sex in general. To sum up, she finds it normal that she declined sex with her husband so as not to mess up the nicely ironed sheets.

Worse, *all* her friends that she polled agreed. They don’t like sex, don’t want to have it. From this she extrapolates that women don’t like sex.

See, I have a really different circle of friends.

Most of whom still have their mouths hanging open, muttering “she IRONS her SHEETS???”

This is, of course, why I love you all. And hey – if you’re a sheet-ironer out there, you can still hang with us. Then you can explain where you find the time!

I once went to one of those Chippendales shows, back in small town Wyoming. You know the thing – the male dancers take over the bar, women patrons only, they strip and strut about, dancing sometimes an overstatement. I went with this group of gals I worked with. Over the evening, they transformed. Some of it was the drinking, sure, but there was more. These usually demure wives and mothers, who would be disgusted if some cowboy in a bar stripped his shirt off and grabbed their hands to run over his chest were screaming in delight and tipping guys to do this.

You could say it’s a power thing, which could be true, but I suspect it’s more that it’s how they thought they should behave. After all, the guys like that kind of thing. Men are openly honest about enjoying sex and sexual things, whereas women range over the spectrum in how frank they are.

There are lots of reasons for this. But it’s not that all women don’t like sex.

In fact, my main response to that article was a fervent wish that the author would seek counseling. You don’t have to be that woman, screaming with desire and pawing young dancers, but if perfect sheets are more important than being intimate with your life partner, then something likely needs revisiting.

Actually, if perfectly pressed sheets takes priority over anything at all, I think you need to come sit on my patio and have a glass of wine.

We’ll talk.

Enemy Games on Tour!

Look what arrived in the mail last Saturday, just in time to join us on our road trip! Yes, Marcella Burnard’s Enemy Games! As I mentioned on Word Whores yesterday, she’s a frisky and flirtatious sequel. Her big sister hit the bestselling charts, and is short-listed for the RITA awards, the romance community’s highest honor and has been listed as a book your boyfriend would like, too. Enemy Games wants her piece of the action, too. She officially comes out tomorrow and she’s ready to take on the world.

She started out with some pool time in Phoenix. Rumor is she was spotted at the bar drinking margaritas and flirting with the cabana boys.
She spent a bit of patio time in Tucson, checking out the flying pigs.
Then she headed for Pacific Beach in San Diego!
Some surfing lessons got her revved to try the water.
Testing the surf. A bit cool.
Sometimes wallowing in the sand is enough.
And cuddling with the pelicans.
Then a bit of sedate pool time.

Now she’s tanned, rested and ready to hit the shelves!

RT 2011 – the recap


In no particular order, because it’s all a blur at this point. I really thought I’d keep up, but no. I blame Twitter this time. So easy to tweet pics in real time.

At any rate, this is me (duh) at the eBook eXpo signing. (No, that’s not their capitalization, it’s mine – but wouldn’t that be cool?) I went with roses, for the Petals & Thorns theme. One guy stopped and told me I’d done a great job and that he does product placement for movies, so he knows of what he speaks. This is what you get when you have a gig in Los Angeles.

Still I was pleased and it went great.

I love this pic of Tessa Dare, Victoria Dahl and Courtney Milan, who kept cracking up while posing.

I put in a little pool time and, sweet serendipity, there just happened to be a shirtless photo shoot for Mr. Romance.
My toes, for verisimilitude.
Marcella received her trophy for Best Futuristic Romance. The trophy is super-sexy.
And here she is, chatting it up with readers and booksellers at Club RT.
Allison, doing likewise.
Marcella in Faerie mode, offering advice.
Here’s Danielle Poiesz, formerly of Pocket Books, now with the Sekrit Projekt at Penguin, which she revealed at the conference to be xxxx. Oops, I can’t say online yet. If you’d been at RT, you’d know. Just saying…
Here she is giving a demo to a bunch of potential beta testers.
She arrived at the Vampire Ball as Buffy.
And demonstrated her mad staking skills.
Danielle met up with agent Suzie Townsend for dinner. They both had to finish urgent tweeting before they could be fully social.



Left Turns


This morning, as I ran on the treadmill, I saw a woman step out of the Spin class in the shop next door. She’d bundled into her parka, had her hat and gloves tucked under her arm and held her smartphone in the other. Reading some message on the phone, she smiled, pleasure suffusing her face.

I like that about seeing people texting and tweeting and messaging on their various handheld devices. It’s kind of replaced the old pastime of watching people greet each other at the airport, the hugs, squeals and laughter. People’s faces respond to the messages, making the same expressions they’d use in a face-to-face conversation. They grin. Sometimes they laugh out loud.

It’s not always the frowning and blankness detractors like to cite.

Marcella taught an online class recently on using acting devices in writing. She asked me to read over a description of a “left turn” that she wanted to use as an example. Here’s her lesson:

You’ve gone out for the evening, you and your spouse. It’s the first nice dinner you’ve had since the birth of your child. Dinner was relaxing. You actually got to have a glass of wine. You engaged in adult conversation. It was lovely. When you get home, the babysitter greets you at the door with a smile saying everything went fine. The baby is asleep. Looked in not ten minutes ago. You pay the sitter and she hops in her car for the short drive home. You sigh, content, as you and your spouse make your way upstairs to look in on the baby before getting ready for bed. Except, the nursery is still. Silent. Your heart stutters. You reach down to touch the infant. Cold. No breath. No life.

How do you react?

This was an acting scene set up. It isn’t real. Not here. Not today. Shake off any residual emotion, then come back with your response. When I asked, “how do you react?” What was your first, gut response? To scream? That impulse is the most common response to this exercise. It’s expected, which means it’s also a little trite as far as emotional reactions go. This is the point at which a director yells, “Take a left!” meaning, don’t go for the easy reaction. Do something fresh.

We’re not? here to talk about how to find the unexpected actions and emotions in scenes, but actions and emotions that ring true on a gut level for you and for your reader. In the scene set-up above, the actress playing the part turned to the man behind her, all the breath rushing audibly from her lungs, and began pounding her fists against his chest as he stood staring at the crib.

I’m Marcella Burnard. I write science fiction romance for Berkley Sensation. I also spent three years in the acting conservatory at Cornish College of the Arts, which resulted in a BFA in acting. It was there that one of our teachers gave us this scene as a way to introduce text analysis so that we could break down a scene, moment by moment, identify what the people in the scene want (their objectives) and then decide how each person goes about getting what they want (their tactics).

This idea stuck with me, that it can be fruitful for characters to behave in an unexpected way, to take a left turn instead of a right. (A recurring conversation during Christmas was that UPS and Fed Ex drivers are instructed to use only right turns, never left – urban myth or no?) I loved this example of a left turn – a simple thing that instantly enriches the characters and deepens the story.

It’s easy to write about people frowning at their Blackberries, to describe the unsettlingly blank expressions of teens absorbed with the iPhones. Seeing that woman’s smile this morning gave me ideas for ways to show all kinds of character from the one-sided silent conversations people have all around us.

Also? We followed a Fed Ex truck and it totally turned left. It’s all around us.

Strangeness and Dreamthink

A quietly intense sunset last night. A storm is coming our way that’s meant to last several days. No more clear skies for a while.

Because it’s to get snowy and blustery, David and I went out to dinner last night. On New Year’s Eve we’ll stay home. That probably makes us sound like fuddy-duddies. But I really wanted some time to walk around the Santa Fe Plaza to see the lights. This is not nearly so much fun in bad weather. We had drinks at one of our favorite bars and then dinner at Luminaria. This way we got to indulge in their really wonderful menu and not be limited to the New Year’s Eve prix fixe menus everyone does, which never seem to be as good. And we didn’t have to worry about road stops or drunk drivers. Friday night we’ll do our little tradition of lots of hors d’oeuvres and non-stop movies.

We’re simple souls, I suppose.

Yesterday I mentioned that I hadn’t even thought about any of my now-several works in progress. Marcella (who I see hasn’t posted to her own blog since November 9, but her first book just came out, so she can be forgiven) asked me what it was like for me, getting back into it.

Specifically, she asked me if it looked a bit strange at first. Which was funny to me because it really did.

I opened up Sapphire, read the first line, which I’d last read – and edited – just a week before, and it was like I’d never seen it before in my life.

I went back and read the revise and resubmit email from the editor who’d read it, to reground myself in the changes she’s looking for. I don’t know that I needed to, because a big piece of me was nodding, saying “yeah yeah yeah.” Okay, I’d read it a bunch of times before and had already started the revision.

Still I didn’t quite have my head where it had been.

So I started reading. I figured the edits would come, which they did.

The advantage of having that time away is it does create a very useful distance. I could read the story more like a reader would, which helps me see what information I’m giving or withholding. When I write the story, it’s playing out in my head. I’m seeing through the characters’ eyes and describing what’s happening to them. This kind of thing makes it easy to leave out important information. Sure, I feel what they do, but do I describe it so someone else understands?

The downside is I miss the dreamthink (which I’ve talked about before here and here). The dreamthink allows me to swim in the story and not have to, well, work at it so hard. I dream at night about my characters. I wake up in the morning with the story spinning in my head. Ideas for it pop into my head throughout my work day. It’s kind of like part of me is running a subroutine.

Unfortunately, to extend the analogy, that subroutine absorbs a lot of disk space. I find that when I’m heavy into dreamthink, I don’t have a lot of brain power for much else. Sometimes I think that I’m so weighted in right-brain, hey-we-got-no-rules, wow-man, everything-is-beautiful activity that the left brain stuff gets rusty. Pulling out my logic and math feels more difficult. Also employing those extrovert skills.

I can’t really be in dreamthink and be around people. Not counting David, of course. Though he’ll occasionally point out I haven’t spoken aloud in hours. That’s why, when on a family visit, I don’t even try.

So yes, Sapphire did look strange. But, like picking up a book you started a while ago and set down, after a few pages the story drew me in again. I’m about 10% through the revision now.

It feels good to get in the swim again.

Diapers and Destiny


This weekend I went shopping for diapers.

Along the way, I stopped into the Borders and found Enemy Within cozied up with the Iron Duke. In broad daylight, even.

I started reading Enemy Within, too, and *love* it. No, I hadn’t read it before. I read a draft of Marcella’s second book and my comments resulted in her gutting it, rewriting and missing her deadline by, oh, a couple months. She says I shouldn’t feel guilty.

Now I don’t because if Enemy Within is what she’s capable of producing, then I’m glad I held her to a high standard. I realize I haven’t read any classic sci fi in a while. I know I’ve never read a post where the main character has been imprisoned and tortured by insectoid aliens. The latent psychological trauma is gritty, moving and incredibly well done. Romance-wise, I’m all about the hero getting through to trauma-girl where no one else can.

(Currently plotting time away from work today to read more, more, more!)

Anyway – I went shopping for diapers for little Aerro. I mention this here because everyone seems to forget I have grandchildren. I bought a few cute things, too, but for a tiny baby she has lots of stuff already. My stepdaughter and son-in-law are doing cloth diapers this time around and they do need more of those. Lauren told us the brand they planned to use, which I ought to be able to buy in Target.

So, I went to Target, I went to the cute baby stuff section. Nope. Several burgeoning couples were there with the baby-registry scanners having a grand old time, but no sign of diapers anywhere. I went wandering forlornly, expanding my circles outward through the various stages of clothing for kids, teens, adults, fat adults, cars. Finally a worker in the automotive section spotted me for what I was, completely at a loss. I hesitated to say I was looking for diapers – of course, he immediately laughed at me. I wanted to explain that I figured they didn’t keep diapers in automotive (being clever like that) but that I was on my way to somewhere else where they might more logically keep it.

The baby section, right? No no no.

He says “see this big wall right here?” Yes, even I can spot that big wall. “Go to the opposite wall on the other side of the store.”

Right. Paper towels, cotton balls, Q-Tips, tampons, depends and…diapers! Organization by function. All absorbent materials must be shelved together.

Then they didn’t have the kind Lauren said. So, I’m the woman on her cell phone getting the man at home to look them up. Turns out Target sells them in Colorado, but not New Mexico. Not in Wyoming, either, David discovered. Why? It’s a mystery. Emptier landfills in Wyoming and New Mexico, perhaps.

So, we’ll order online. I bounced off to the bookstore and to get a pedicure like the light-hearted non-diaper buyer I normally am.

I’m not quite sure at what point in my life I became the non-maternal type. When I was younger, I babysat all the time. I didn’t have much social life, so I babysat pretty much every weekend and on weeknights, too. I cared for newborns, even, which was the big money in those days. I could change any diaper in a flash.

A friend of mine has a daughter who just started her sophomore year at a prestigious Ivy League college. She’s always been a startlingly intelligent and talented girl. However, she has never had a job. Last summer, strongly encourage by her parents to start getting a feel for the earning money thing, she babysat for a friend’s baby. When the baby’s mother returned home, she saw a Google page up for “how to diaper a baby.”

I love this story.

But I was not that girl. I always had the idea, as most girls do, I think, that I’d have babies someday. Somewhere in the sweep of graduate school, acquiring stepchildren, and trying on careers, I never got really excited about having babies. Once, when I was 36, a woman I knew asked me if I’d regretted never having children. I replied that I didn’t know I’d never had them yet.

Yeah, it was a bitchy thing for her to say.

I did think, though, for a very long time, that I might wake up one day and have the overwhelming urge to have a baby. That clock that women talk about would suddenly tick-tock in my head and I wouldn’t be able to hear anything else until I had a baby in my belly.

Didn’t happen.

Instead I became completely obsessed with writing and becoming one of the great writers of my generation. Or possibly just supporting myself as a writer. Both of which have the added bonus of never requiring diaper-shopping.

People talk about being childless-by-choice. I’m not that. I helped raise Mike and Lauren from the time they were five and seven years old. And I never really decided not to have children of my own. Instead, I never decided to have babies. Kind of like I never decided to move to Thailand. It’s just that, most people never decide to move to Thailand.

It could be pointed out that a lot of people don’t necessarily decide to have babies either, but fall into parenthood, as it were.

I suppose I’m just on the opposite wall from everyone else. On the other side of the store, wondering why anyone would dress up their car in zebra print.