Sweating the Small Stuff

One good thing about dark winter mornings is that I’m awake for the sunrise. Not something I would otherwise make an effort for, but look what I miss in the summertime.

Today is our 21st anniversary. On this date, lo these many years ago, David took me out for a drink and to see a movie after the Superbowl. I’m terrible at dating and neither of us had much fun. Still, he persisted and I liked him, so we had a little fling.

We’re still flinging.

Funny how that works out. More and more I think that life, the universe and everything doesn’t take well to being planned out. Certainly not to being controlled. That’s why I like the idea of Tao – grab a wave and do your best to ride it without drowning.

It seems I see a lot of people grasping for control lately. Maybe it’s a feeling of instability embodied by that deathless phrase “in this economy.” I don’t even know what that means anymore, except that it somehow conveys that people are afraid. And fear often makes us hold on tighter, with clenched fists and squinched-up eyes. We might become less tolerant, rather than more flexible. Less inclined to let the small stuff go. Less able to see that it’s all small stuff.

One of my book blogger Twitter pals posted this today – a contract that an author sent to a book reviewer. It seems to be yet another attempt to control the uncontrollable – if, when and how a book gets reviewed. And, it’s ultimately an unenforceable contract. I’ve heard of other authors telling reviewers that they can only post reviews of three stars or better. Or arguing with readers who give story “spoilers.”

Ultimately it’s like trying to keep Tom Cruise from being cast in your movie: it might be terribly wrong, but it’s not a fight you can win.

As my friend Laura Bickle says, “I don’t want to die on that hill.”

A particularly poignant way of pointing out that we have to pick our battles. Fight for what you want, for what’s right, necessary and important.

But, really – don’t sweat the small stuff.

(Hint: it’s pretty much all small stuff.)

It’s a New Dawn…and I’m Feeling Good

There’s this song we sang in Girl Scouts that went

Why sleep when the day has been called out by the sun
From the night? Cuz the light’s gonnna shine on everyone.
Why sleep when the sleep only closes up our eyes?
Why sleep when we can watch the sun arise?

It goes on from there in a perky fashion. And all you former Girl Scouts out there? You’re welcome for the ear worm.

Now, I’ve mentioned many times that I am not a morning person. Never have been. At girl scout camp, when they programmed us with the song and then encourage us to go on the sunrise hike? I opted out. (Actually “sunrise hike” is a misnomer. It was a pre-dawn hike UP the mountain to then watch the sunrise. One girl in my group got hit in the face with a backlashing branch that split her eyelid open, so I felt totally vindicated.)

I used to make smart remarks like, why bother to watch a sunrise when the sunset is the same thing in reverse.

Over time, however, I’ve taught myself to get up early – not to hike up mountains in the pre-dawn dark, which still sounds insane to me – but to get all the things done that are important to me. And I’ve found that sunrises do look different.

I kind of like seeing them. I like how the sky goes from dark to day. It is like the fulfillment of a promise.

My friend, the fabulous writer and blogger, Tawna Fenske, let everyone know last week that her marriage is breaking up. Then she went on to mention conversations she and I had about her next husband, Xavier. I made him up for her partly to make her laugh when she was sad.

But also, I believe it’s important to remember that there will be new dawns. It’s easy, in the depths of despair over a breakup or loss, to think that you’ll never meet anyone ever again. Building the fantasy of the possibilities is part of dragging yourself out of that mindset.

Why not imagine the fabulously wealthy man with a chateau in the South of France who learned sensual secrets in Thailand? Dreaming something wonderful lifts us up and opens our eyes.

I learned this from my mother, who’s been widowed twice. And married three times. Always she looked beyond the dark days of grief to sunlit days ahead.

That’s probably even worth getting up early for.

Trans-Genre’d

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?

Patience Panties

A gal I talk to on Twitter, @Uppington, recently finished reading Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, which remains one of my all-time favorite novels. There’s this exquisite moment when the mother shows the children the sun setting at the exact moment the moon rises. Conroy is a master of character and setting. He weaves both together to create in the reader the magic of that moment.

I don’t know if Conroy suggested it to me, but I always feel the magic of that moment. Here it’s the moon setting into the valley, an ocean of fog, the quiet blues and blacks of night giving way to glimmering pinks. I turn around, and there is the sunrise, blazing into the fire of day.


Those moments between are unbearably full.

I’m waiting between things right now. Writers are often cautioned to be patient. (I’ve mentioned before, this is not my forte.) The romance writers often put this in terms of “putting on your patience panties.” I don’t know if this is because the overwhelming majority of romance writers are women and identify with the lessons of girlhood or because they’re accustomed to the language of motherhood. Writers who become upset about bad contest scores or book reviews are often advised to put on their “big girl panties” and suck it up. I suppose men will tell each other to “cowboy up” or some such. It’s the same thing.

So, what’s happened is, an epublisher offered to buy this little erotic novella I wrote. They have a good reputation, so that will be fine. Another epublisher with a slightly better rep also has it, so I inquired with them if they were close to a decision or if I should just withdraw the novella and go with the other publisher. I got a very strange, misspelled, answer back that basically said I’d hear when I heard. The first epublisher is looking better and better all the time.

Meanwhile, this agent has my full manuscript. She requested it from a query I sent, so I’ve been somewhat more hopeful on this one. The other agents who’ve requested my full MSS are ones who met me at conferences. When agents or editors meet you in person, I think they’re somewhat more inclined to ask for the full MSS, because they know you and want to give you the best opportunity they can. One of those agents also has Obsidian: The Revision. She’d passed on the original version, but agreed to read the revision. I haven’t heard from her, so I’m not holding out much hope there.

But the agent reading from the query… Well, let’s just say I’ve been to this prom before and came home without an engagement ring.

At any rate, I emailed her to ask if she cared if I entered a deal on the epubbing of the novella. I expected her to say no, but she answered and said she’d read the full right away and we could discuss then.

So, I’m waiting. Knowing she’s reading it. Making a decision. Totally out of my control. I’m afraid to check my email, since that will likely be a “no.” I’m carrying my cell phone out to the mailbox with me, in case she calls with a “yes.”

I’m thirteen again.

At the same time, I know this day will end with the sun setting and the moon rising to replace it. Fire will give way to black and tomorrow morning it will all repeat.

And I have my own washer and dryer, so I can wash my patience panties as often as necessary.