This reminds me of hot summer afternoons, lying on suburban lawns and watching the clouds drift by. These are from sunrise this morning, though, thus the pink, and I was never up that early in my teenage summers.

Things change.

Irene Goodman, described as a “leading literary agent in New York who has has many New York Times bestsellers,” which means she’s one of the hottest agents out there, authored an article for the September Romance Writers Report. (RWA’s industry magazine.) She titled it “Common Mistakes by New Authors” and lists five mistakes. Of those, three are related to genre:

1. They don’t pick a genre and stick to it.
2. They choose uncommercial subjects.
3. They choose genres that are out of style.

(The other two are about plot and conflict/tension.)

This article immediately annoyed me. I can see her points, sure, but I think the article could be better titled “How to approach your writing like a product.” To me, this is something for the agents to think about, not the writers.

I could be wrong, but hear me out.

Genre is a marketing thing. It’s a false line drawn to give bookstores and libraries a way to shelve books. It’s intended to give readers a way to find the kind of book they love best. Music and movies are divided up the same way. And we have all had that experience, as readers or listeners, of vainly searching the shelves for a particular author or movie, only to resort to the teenage cashier with a slow computer.

“I think this movie is drama, but clearly you guys don’t.”

“Oh! That’s in comedy, actually.”

I have had this conversation any number of times. I’m sure you have, too. And who knows? Maybe the writer and director absolutely believed they’d made a comedy and I’m the odd one focusing on the drama. Or, maybe they made a drama and the marketers said, look! right there, someone laughed! and stamped the nicely selling “Comedy” label on it.

I’m seeing a lot of this from agents lately, that we as authors should know what genre our book is. They consider it fundamental. Irene says that we should pick a nice, fashionable and commercial genre and write exactly that book. This completely ignores the fact that most writers aren’t writing genres, we’re writing stories. Once we’re done, and we’re writing up our queries, we tilt our heads at it and say, “well, it’s got an urban fantasy premise in a non-urban landscape with high fantasy elements and also contemporary romance… I’ll call it dark fantasy.”

Yeah -all you agents out there (I fantasize that you read my blog – I have a rich imagination) are clutching your heads in despair. We’re sorry. We really are. But you knew we were doing this, right?

Fact is, I have two writer friends with books coming out soon, who were coached to revise their books towards one genre or another, after they had the publishing contract. I suspect this happens a lot. And really, both were fine with it. Shape it in this direction? I can do that. Plan it that way to begin with? That means you’re planning a product, not spinning a story. To me, as a writer, the two come from very different places in myself.

I’ve been president of the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA for almost two years now and a frequent topic of debate is which genre to sandwich a story into. We’re obviously a polyglot of a chapter, with writers of Science Fiction Romance, shape-shifters, time-travel, vampires, swords & sorcery, ghosts, everyday magic. Really, if someone writes anything kind of weird, they end up with us.

I absolutely understand that this is something that publishers, editors and agents have to think about. That’s their business. I suspect it’s an interesting aspect of the business for them. I would think they’d have to get really good at it, to succeed.

However, I think it’s a mistake to exhort writers to get on board that wagon.

And let me say, right here and now, that I do believe the agent/author relationship is a partnership. You have to work together for mutual success. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s very difficult for me to look at my story, which is this great swirling mass in my head of faces and feelings and conflicts and desires, and slap a label on it. If someone else looks at it and says, well, with a few tweaks, it would fit nicely here, I would be grateful.

To me, that’s part of what an agent brings to the relationship. You wrote it, now I’ll help you sell it.

Finally, the other day I watched Oprah’s interview of JK Rowling on You Tube. (It’s well worth watching and broken out into segments so you don’t have to commit to the whole thing at once.) At one point, Rowling talks about signing the publishing contract for the first Harry Potter and how her agent said, congratulations, but you’ll never make any money writing children’s books.

Of course, Rowling is now the only billionaire writer in the world.

I totally don’t hold this against her agent. Harry Potter could be slotted as a children’s book and they didn’t make money at that time. They were uncommercial and unfashionable. But if you walk into a store today, to buy a Harry Potter book – do you head for the children’s section?

Yes, I know Harry Potter was an unpredictable phenomenon. Like Twilight, like a bunch of others we could name. They broke new ground, because they were new stories. Genres lines are bent to accommodate them.

Things change.

I wonder, if those new writers had followed Ms. Goodman’s advice, would they have written those books? Of course, 99% of us will never become phenomena like them, so maybe it’s good advice for the working writer. And yet, I think most of us write, not to churn out a product, but because we become obsessed with a story.

Of course, we’d love to sell it, too. Have patience with us. Help us out here.

Maybe it’s really a High Paranormal Fantasy?

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.

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.

Our Story Thus Far

Was it only this morning I swore to take more photos this year?

Well, I promptly left the camera in the hotel room. But I have it in my pile for tomorrow.

But today went great. At the Albuquerque Sunport, it turned out that five other gals from LERA were on my same flight to Orlando, including Gabi Stevens and Belle Sloan. Then someone called my name in the Orlando airport and it was Patti Osbeck, from the Phoenix Desert Rose chapter. Apparently all desert Southwest flights get in at the same time.

Allison got in ahead of me and immediately hit the pool bar and cabana. I unpacked and went to look for her. I ran into Darynda Jones, also of LERA, and Bria Quinlan, formerly of LERA and defected back to Boston. Michelle Miles grabbed me and introduced me to a couple of her Yellow Rose pals, while I drank my richly-deserved dirty martini.

Then Cynthia Eden and Jenn Dorough, fab FFP Secretary, came walking by, along with their chapter pal, Lee. They invited me to go eat dinner. (Okay, I glommed on, as I was resolved to make sure I actually ate something, rather than sitting and drinking martinis all night.) We snagged Allison from her socializing and ended up on the Boardwalk eating dinner in the hot, humid night with Toni Blake, Nikki Enlow and Samhain’s Managing Editor Lindsey Faber.

I might or might not have had a second dirty martini.

I wish I’d taken pics, but Cindy did take videos for her vlog, which includes me talking while Nikki Enlow makes Shiva hands behind me. I’ll probably link to it when she posts it….

At any rate, for this, my third RWA convention, I feel I’ve discovered the secret: have people recognize you, so you don’t have to worry about recognizing them. This is a great boon to me.

So, if you see me, come up and say hi!

That Time of Year

This year, I’m resolved to take more photos.

All of my pictures from last year are from other people’s cameras. (And no, we have no idea what Jeri Smith-Ready is doing in this picture. My theory is vampire dog, but you never know….) But then I was crazy busy/stressed last year. Hopefully this year will involve less of me running around like a manic person.

Tonight, the lovely and serene Cynthia Eden will host a pajama party, I believe. That ought to make for good photo opportunities.

Stay tuned – I’m off to Orlando. Save me now…

Go-to-Meetin’ Clothes

Isabel is ready to go to the RWA conference!

Now if only I was…

Actually, it’s not that bad. My plane doesn’t leave until about 12:30 tomorrow, so I don’t have to leave the house until 10 am. I’m mostly packed – including feline companion – and everything else is stacked up. We got back from Denver early enough yesterday for me to finish all the laundry and get organized on FFP’s big party at the convention – something that actually took hours and hours of work. And I finished my costume. I don’t like to do these things too far ahead of time…

People keep asking me if I’m excited to go. I should just lie and say “yes!” like they want me to. Truth is, I kind of dread going. Once I get there, I’m fine. I’ll see lots of friends and it will be a non-stop whirl of fun. I’ll have a great time; I know that. There’s just a big part of me who’d like to curl up in the suitcase, too, and stay in the den.

It’s funny having just come from my high school reunion. The turn-out was quite small and many people I would have liked to see didn’t show. But it was funny to hear some of the stories and have people ask me didn’t I remember that party? No, because I was almost never at the parties. I always thought it was because I wasn’t invited, but I think now it was more that I was usually so happy to have “my nose in a book,” as my mother would say, that I rarely got up the gumption to go socialize. When I did, I had fun.

Just like convention.

Odd, at this stage in life, to recognize this pattern in myself. It helped, oddly enough, to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test and discover that I test as an introvert. I’ve always thought of myself as a basically social person and I’m socially confident in general. But my little introvert heart is happier tucked in where it’s quiet and people don’t ask me questions.

(No, I won’t start mumbling to Precious. Much.)

Fortunately, fence-sitter me, I just barely score into the introvert category, so I can dig up some extrovertedness if necessary. The thought just sounds draining at the moment. Once I get there, the excitement will pump me up.

So – am I excited? No. But I will be.

Fragments of Something

I’m calling it “Fragments.”

Yes, I finally did something with the pot Alex shattered. I planted some little heat-tolerant plants around it, too – they’re just difficult to see in the photograph. All in all, I think it looks pretty decent. And I planted the roses, too.

I thought about calling it “Fragments of a Dream,” but that seemed, well, spectacularly melodramatic, especially since there aren’t any shattered dreams around here. So I decided to leave the title of my found art as just “Fragments” – that way the viewer can fill in his or her own thing that’s disassembled.

I went through The Body Gift, too, and made everything match up (I think, I hope, I pray). Sent it to three of my Critique Partners and one, who hasn’t seen any of it, has declared herself in love already. Big sigh of relief there. The agent I’d love to sign with said to send it so she could read it before the National convention, so I’m going to have to trust in the story and send her off soon.

Yeah, okay, I’m nervous.

And depleted.

My well is bone dry. I think I’ll even take this week off from writing and not even look at any wordcounts. Plus, this will be a busy time. David’s birthday is Wednesday. We go up to Denver for my high school reunion on Friday. Then next Tuesday, I head to the RWA National Convention.

Somehow my Julys always seem to end up really busy. Here’s hoping for a lazy August!