Stupid Mistakes You Can Make in Your Writing Career

I’m over at Word Whores today, blathering about how Rogue’s Pawn releases tomorrow. Oh, and about the stupidest mistake I made on the path to publication.

And, because I’m promo girl, I’m also over at the LERA blog, talking about what I learned from Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ visit yesterday.

I Need a Heroine

We’ve fallen into our pattern of afternoon monsoons here in the high desert of New Mexico.

Our mornings are bright and clear for the most part. Mid- to late-afternoon brings the storm clouds. Black bottomed, they lumber up the valley from the Sandias and drop rain in great washes of benediction.

The dog cowers in terror at the storms, sleeping as nearly under my chair as he can manage, while the cats snooze in the cool damp air.

Sunset blazes into glory, illuminating the scattered storms, turning the clouds into pink and cold fantasies. Sometimes the rain comes in again, rising and falling through the night.

Apropos of nothing, I know. But it sets the pattern of our days.

I haven’t liked the last couple of books I’ve picked up. I thought maybe it was me and my mucus-addled, over-tired brain, so I kept trying. One, though, I’ve given up on. I just couldn’t like the heroine. She’s a succubus and a victim. She staggers from one sexual encounter to another, as she has for centuries. The sexual acts are unrelentingly graphic and, worse, repetitive. I know this might sound funny coming from me, but I get bored of it. Worse, I feel soiled. I know that she must get her act together at some point, become strong and triumph over all. In my heart I don’t believe it. She’s not real to me and I’m halfway through. I couldn’t bear it any more. I finally put it down.

The book I picked up is by a totally different premise, by a Famous Author, who I hadn’t read before. This heroine is sweet, nobly wanting to save everyone. She is also a victim, passed over at work, unlucky in love for unclear reasons. I’m wanting to like her and I’m having a hard time. I don’t quite understand why the author is so highly regarded. The insidious thought creeps in, even as I’m talking to editors and agents about my own beloved novel, will I become one of these authors who resents the bestsellers?

I’ve never been that sort of person.

But the market is funny now. There’s gluts of certain kinds of books, publishers hopeful of tagging along with a trend. Everyone is searching for the new permutation of the kick-ass heroine. Maybe the drug-addicted, the abused and overlooked are the natural starting points. Maybe it’s just me.

I find what I’m missing is really good characterization. I mentioned the other day that Susan Elizabeth Phillips advised that you should write characters the reader can’t bear to be parted from. Her heroines are not always admirable to begin with. In Ain’t She Sweet, the heroine was a stuck-up, nasty girl in high school who treated people badly. She returns to her hometown, where everyone hates her, broken and defeated by life. By the end of the book, you just love her and how she overcomes it all.

Susan is right – when I think of the books I love most, I think of the characters. They’re like real people to me. I miss them and sometimes go back to re-read, just to spend a little time with them again.

That’s the magic.

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.